Detroit Lions – Draft A Running Back!

There…that picture right there is what I want other teams to see when they think about the Detroit Lions running game.

Most NFL draft experts are seeing the Lions leaning toward focusing on defense for the 2017 draft.  I seriously think that would be a mistake.  The Lions need to cultivate a highly-effective running game and soon.

Yes, yes, I know that mantra “Defense wins championships.”  So I did a bit of research.  Granted, my research isn’t on the level of some (ok, most) sites but I think it tells a story.

Over the past 10 years, winning Super Bowl teams have ranked, on average, about 15th in the league in rushing the ball with a 114.8 yards per game.  Losing teams were ranked 14th at 120.8 yards per game.  Over that same 10 year span, the Lions average rank was 27th with a 90.8 yards per game average.

As for defense, I used total yards allowed for ranking.  On winning Super Bowl teams, they ranked on average 11th in the league, giving up 317.8 yards a game, while the losing side ranked 12th while giving up 323 yards per game.  The Lions?  A dismal rank of 21 with a 356.7 yards per game average.  However, over the last five years, they rank right with Super Bowl teams at 13 while giving up 338.6 yards per game.

Not so with the running game over the past five years.  The Lions ranked at an average of 26 with a 93.4 yards per game.

While I agree that there are some defensive needs, I think getting a 3-down back to go with a healthy Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah  and Zack Zenner would do a couple of things.

First, it would allow the Lions to improve on time of possession.  Keeping opposing QB’s on the bench is a huge deal, especially when it comes to Aaron Rodgers.

Second, it would allow the Lions defense to stay fresh.  They could pin their ears back and get after opposing QB’s for the entire game instead of being out on the field all the time gasping for breath.

Third, it would make Matthew Stafford a much more effective quarterback.  Since the Lions running doesn’t scare opposing teams all that much, play fakes aren’t near as effective.  Imagine the Lions are in a tight game late in the third quarter with a 7 point lead.  But instead of a rushing total of less than 40 yards by that time, they have a back that’s at 75 yards or more.  Stafford can either give the ball in a draw situation which freezes D-lineman and allows the offensive line to block effectively and the play gains 7-10 yards, moves the chains and the clock keeps moving.

Or, Stafford pulls the ball back, the runner dives into the line which forces the secondary to come up…Stafford drops two more steps, turns and throws a 30-yard strike down the sideline to Golden Tate who takes it in for a score.

A big running back with speed and good hands can do all that for a team.  Just ask the Dallas Cowboys how they feel about Ezekiel Elliott these days.

I know Darius Slay needs help in the secondary but I also believe that can be had in the later rounds.  I love Sidney Jones’s potential but to be honest, it’s not the most critical need.

Lions need to get a running back and I think they should do that in the first round.   Then they can focus on other needs with the other 6 picks.  Keep in mind that selecting any of these could mean using Abdullah or Riddick as trade material for future picks.

Options at 21:

  • Alvin Kamara – Tennessee.  5-10, 215 lbs.  4.55 40 time.
  • Christian McCaffery – Stanford.  6-1, 200 lbs.  4.49 40 time
  • Dalvin Cook – Florida State.  6-0, 203 lbs.  4.52 40 time
  • D’Onta Foreman – Texas.  6-1, 249 lbs.  4.55 40 time.

Kamara is a Jamal Charles style runner.  He is a fast-slasher type of runner with some power.  He has great hands and can be used as a slot receiver.  If the Lions are confident with Kamara, they can trade Theo Riddick for multiple draft picks to use later to shore up the defense.  I love Riddick but I think Kamara can be an every down back and be just as effective on third down as Riddick.

McCaffery has acceleration and explosiveness that separates him from other runners.  Think Reggie Bush with some power.  He may not run over tacklers but he does make yardage after contact.  He is a home run threat on every down, has a great first step and doesn’t need much of a hole to get into the second level of defense.  A patient runner, he can wait for the hole to develop as well and he is a capable receiver.  He is the fastest of the four backs I have targeted.  McCaffery could make Abdullah expendable while keeping Riddick as the 3rd down back and Zenner as a capable back-up.

Cook is reminiscent of Marshawn Lynch.  Good speed, athleticism and versatility.  He is put together well with a thick lower body that allows him to keep his balance and pick up additional yards after contact.  He is fast to the hole and has serious acceleration when he gets into the secondary.  There is some off-field issues that the Lions may want to be cautious about.  Last thing we need is another Titus Young issue.  But Cook has some serious upside to him with speed to run away from most defensive backs and is a threat to score from anywhere on the field.

Foreman, the biggest back isn’t much of a receiver but is a load who can and will run over the opposition.  With an average of 6.3 yards a carry and rushing for 2,028 yards, he was one of the most productive runners in the nation.  Might also resolve some of the red zone issues the Lions have.  With 15 touchdowns last season, Foreman knows how to get into the end zone.

My gut tells me they should draft Foreman.  Lions have their slash and speed runners in both Riddick and Abdullah.  Foreman would be the grinder the Lions need to have time of possession stat improve.

The other back I would love to see in Honolulu blue would be McCaffery.  He just looks like he would leave it all out on the field and would take so much pressure of Stafford.

Then the Lions would have six other picks to concentrate on defense.  There would be some great options for the Lions with their second pick for cornerback.

  • Tre’Davious White – LSU.  5-11, 191 lbs.  4.53 40 Time
  • Jalen Tabor – Florida.  6-0, 191 lbs.  4.49 40 Time
  • Gareon Conley – Ohio State.  6-0, 195 lbs.  4.45 40 Time
  • Cordrea Tankersley – Clemson.  6-1, 195 lbs.  4.43 40 Time

White played well in 2016.  He made 35 tackles and broke up 14 passes to go along with two interceptions.  He’s a good corner to run with receivers and prevent separation.  He does have issues with big receivers.  He can return punts so he can pack a lot of bang for the buck.

Tabor has good ball skills and has the instincts to make big plays.  He also gambles and can struggle with receivers that have deep speed.    However, he is very good at running the receiver’s route and prevent separation in the short to intermediate part of the field, an area where the Lions have struggled.  He uses his quickness and athleticism to stay with wideouts in and out of their break which puts him in good position to drive on the ball and he breaks on the ball hard.  Tabor has good hands and times his contact with receivers to lead to incompletions rather than penalties.

Conley recorded 26 tackles, broke up 8 passes and intercepted opposing quarterbacks 4 times in 2016.  He is a solid defender who could go in the first round but if he is available with the Lions at 56, they might be wise to take him while they can.  He has a good skill set and pairing him with Darius Slay would improve the Lions secondary nicely.

Tankersley was part of a tough cornerback duo for Clemson in 2015 when he was paired with Mackenzie Alexander.  He showed impressive skills with five interceptions and nine broken passes.  He was thrown at more than Alexander but he was up to the task.  He followed up with four interceptions and broke up 10 passes in 2016.  He has the size and skill to be a starter in the NFL and could be a steal if he is still available when the Lions pick in the 2nd round.

Lions need to improve the running game to make Stafford a much more effective and a deep passing threat.  They also need to improve in the run game to not be one-dimensional.  Once the Lions got pinned and had to pass, with no threat in the run game, opposing defenses went after Stafford hard.  A good to great running game protects the Lions biggest asset and allows him to perform to a much higher level.

So Detroit Lions, DRAFT A DAMN RUNNING BACK!

Patriots Play Lucy to Falcons Charlie Brown, Win 34 – 28

I hate Tom Brady.

I hate Bill Belichick.

I hate the New England Patriots.

I hate the fact that Tom Brady is so freaking good and comes up huge in big games.  I am not looking forward to all of the GOAT talk that will invariably surround him from this day forward until he mercifully retires from the game.  But the way he has been playing, that may not be for another five years or so.

I hate the fact that Bill Belichick is always so calm during the face of adversity.  Granted, he came close to being unglued a few times in the first quarter but by the end of the first half, down 21-3, you could just see that he was going to come up with something to get back into the game.

His quarterback was getting hit, a pick-six interception was forced as well as a fumble.  Just how good was it going for the Atlanta Falcons?  Better than head coach Dan Quinn could have imagined.

In the third quarter, Atlanta thought they had put a strong nail in the coffin by going up 28-3.  But New England came back and put six on the board.  Normally reliable Steve Gostkowski went wide with the extra point.  Personally, I thought that would have taken the wind out of the Patriots sails and lift Atlanta a bit.  But that wasn’t the case.

The crucial turn in the game, for me was at 3:56 left to go in the fourth quarter.  Atlanta was up 28-20 and driving from New England 23 yard line, second down and 11 yards for a first down.  They were in good shape for a field goal, about a 33-35 yards away, well within the range for Falcon’s kicker Matt Bryant.  One would think with the success Atlanta had running the ball, they would have kept it on the ground.

And for some damn reason, the Falcons choose to pass the ball.  New England’s Trey Flowers dropped Falcons QB Matt Ryan for a 12-yard loss.  Now it’s third down and 23 yards needed for a first down.  Still within range for Matt Bryant from 47 yards out.

Again, they dropped back to pass and completed a nine yarder to Mohamed Sanu to give Bryant just a little more insurance.  But a flag was thrown on the play for offensive holding on lineman Jake Matthews.

In two plays, the Atlanta Falcons went from 2nd down from the 23 yard line to 3rd down and 33 yards.  From New England’s 23 yard line to New England’s 45 yard line, making a field goal attempt of 55-58 yards.  Even indoors, I don’t think Matt Bryant has that kind of leg.

On third down, Matt Ryan threw an incomplete pass and the Falcons were forced to punt.  And that was the ball game.  From there, New England marched down the field to score and then made the 2 point conversion to tie the game at 28.

New England won the toss and in 3 minutes and 58 seconds in overtime, became the winners of Super Bowl LI.

There are two questions I have for the Atlanta Falcons:

  1. Why change the defensive strategy of going after Brady?  Atlanta was getting to Brady often, getting him out of rhythm and making him throw when he didn’t want to.  Later in the second half, Brady was barely touched as the Falcons chose to drop back in coverage and play a prevent defense.  All that did was prevent them from winning the Super Bowl.
  2. Why didn’t you run the ball at 3:56 to stay within Matt Bryant’s range to make it a two score game?  Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman had run the ball effectively and had in fact, gotten into the Patriots secondary a few times.

If the Falcons would have stayed with the game plan of going after Brady, I’m convinced they would be the champs instead of New England.  Yes, it is a tiring effect on the defense to chase the QB all the time.  But when you have one of the best passers in the game on the ropes, you don’t let him get up.  I would have even been OK if the Falcons had taken a couple of roughing the passer penalties if it would have caused Brady to be looking out of his ear hole of his helmet.

And giving up points is perhaps the worst thing a team can do.  Those three points the Atlanta Falcons didn’t score when they were up 28-20 were the biggest three points they could have ever scored.  It would have made it a 2 score game and even as hot as the Patriots were, I just don’t think they would have had the time to win it.

The Atlanta Falcons are a young team with an experienced QB who did fairly well on the big stage.  And in the end, there were only two outcomes that could happen for them:  Win or Lose,  This time they lost but I believe there will be a next time for the Atlanta Falcons.

Dan Quinn has  good scheme in place.  And even though he will be losing Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shananhan, who will become head coach for San Francisco, he is getting another offensive wizard in Chip Kelly.

And yes, those gosh-darn New England Patriots (did I mention I hate these guys?) will also be in the mix yet again.

Remember, only 214 more days until the 2017 season begins!

Super Bowl LI Prediction – Going With The Atlanta Falcons

super-bowl-li

I just know everyone has been waiting for the Beer Thinker’s prediction on the Super Bowl.  And to be quite honest, I needed to really do a deep search on what my prediction would be.

Everyone knows that Bill Belicheck’s philosophy in winning games is to take away the opponent’s strength.  It’s been a great strategy for them over the past 14 years.  One can hardly argue with a team that has gone 176-48 over that span, winning 78% of the time.

There are a lot of teams in the NFL that would love to say a 10-6 season was an “off” one.  Just ask the Detroit Lions and the Cleveland Browns.

Back to Belicheck’s philosophy regarding taking away a teams strength.  In the case of the Atlanta Falcons, I believe they just have too many weapons, starting with quarterback Matt Ryan.

Ryan passed for 4,944 yards with 38 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions.  He has been cool and calm under pressure and with the myriad of targets he has available, he has also come adept at finding the open man.

Let’s start with Julio Jones who is the most potent offensive weapons that Ryan has available to him.  While Jones has missed some playing time this year with various injuries, he still put together a stellar season…1,409 yards receiving along with 6 touchdowns.  And let’s not forget the monster game he had against the Carolina Panthers when he torched them for 300 yards and a TD.

Going to take away Jones?  Now you need to worry about Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel.  Combined they have caught 131 passes for 1,232 yards and 10 touchdowns.  And let’s not forget running back Devontae Freeman coming out of the backfield with 54 catches for 462 yards and 2 scores.

Take away the passing game?  No worries, Freeman put up solid numbers there as well with 1,079 yards rushing and 11 TD’s.  And his partner in crime, Tevin Coleman, rushed for 520 yards with 8 scores.  Both Freeman and Coleman average 4 plus yards a carry and both have breakaway speed once they get in the secondary.

New England just won’t have enough defense to focus on just one area of the game.

That’s not to say that they are just going to roll over.  Admittedly, I am not a Patriots fan, I have to admire there consistency and game planning.

Tom Brady, despite missing 4 games because of the Deflategate fiasco, still passed for 3,554 yards with 28 TD’s and just 2 interceptions, completing 67% of his passes.

With Rob Gronkowski out with a back injury, the remaining Patriots receivers have stepped up.  One of Brady’s favorite targets has been Julian Edelman who led the Pats wit 1,106 yards receiving but only 3 scores.  Edelman’s job has been to be Brady’s go to guy on third down and he has excelled at it.

TE Martellus Bennett has done a serviceable job.  He comes in with 55 catches for 701 yards and 7 touchdowns and has a knack for making a big play when the Patriots need it.  Chris Hogan has come on strong in the playoffs, especially against the Steelers when he lit them up with 9 catches for 180 yards and 2 TD’s.

Patriots rushing attack, while not as strong as Atlanta’s two headed monster of Freeman and Coleman, isn’t anything to sneeze at.  LaGarrette Blount had a fine season with 1,168 yards and 18 scores.  Not much of a receiving threat as he only had 7 catches for 38 yards in 2016.  For a receiving threat out of the backfield, Brady will rely on RB James White who had 60 catches for 551 yards and 5 TD’s.

It could be said offensively that who is better is a toss-up.  I give a slight edge to the Falcons…they just have too many weapons and they can hang with the Patriots offense just fine.

Defensively is ultimately where this game will be decided and I believe that Atlanta will have the edge.  Atlanta has great team speed defensively and I can see them getting some hits on Brady.

Atlanta tallied 34 sacks in 2016 with linebacker Vic Beasley racking up 15.5 of them.  The defensive line collectively sacked opposing QB’s 12 times.  The ageless wonder of Dwight Freeney recorded 3 sacks used in situational schemes.

As for the secondary, the Falcons intercepted opposing teams 12 times running back 3 of them for scores.  Linebacker Deion Jones led the way with 3 interceptions, 2 of them the pick-six variety.

Atlanta defended 90 passes and many of those were clutch 3rd down situations to force three and outs, getting the ball back to their offense.

New England also racked up 34 sacks in 2016 with D-Lineman Trey Flowers leading the way with seven.  Jabaal Sheard recorded five sacks and former Ram Chris Long chipped in with four.  The have a pretty good defensive line scheme that will attack QB’s from different directions.  Matt Ryan will need to rely on his offensive line to give him the time he needs.

New England also intercepted opposing teams 13 times but none resulting in a score.  New England defended 68 passes but also gave up a lot of ground while doing so.

What I see is Atlanta being able to control the clock better than New England to keep Brady on the sidelines.  They will take there shots and once they start scoring, head coach Dan Quinn and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will step on the gas and stay on it until the game clock reaches 0:00 and Lombardi Trophy for Super Bowl LI will be theirs.