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Cumbleton's Conclusions - The Jonathan Cumbleton Column

31.03.2016
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Free agency began on March 9th and there have been a number of impressive moves. Let's go shopping - The Raiders took steps to protect their star quarterback Derek Carr and have now assembled what could be the best offensive line in football. They signed tackle Kelechi Osemele to a five-year contract and T Donald Penn on a two-year contract. Those two will help to keep the Raider’s Carr to Cooper connection alive and well. With a large amount of cap space available the Raiders were also able to make some key signings on defence, adding cornerback Sean Smith and priced rush linebacker Bruce Irvin. A former Seahawk, Irvin brings a proven ability to get to the quarterback (with 22.5 sacks in his first 4 years). Meanwhile Sean Smith was one of the reasons why the Chiefs made the playoffs Taking the next step - The Jaguars took some steps towards the playoffs in 2015 and look to continue to improve. To that end they T Kelvin Beachum, G Mackenzy Bernadeau, injury prone first round pick,  CB Prince Amukamara, DL Malik Jackson, RB Chris Ivory and S Tashaun Gipson. Ivory will provide a solid ground game to compliment last year’s rookie TJ Yeldon whilst former first round pick Amukamara, if he can stay healthy, could be a steal. Add the impending return of last year’s first round pick Dante Fowler and Jacksonville are a team on the rise. Addition by subtraction – The Philadelphia Eagles fired Chip Kelly after a disastrous 2015 season. New head coach Doug Pederson and executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman began free agency not by making big splash signings, but by undoing some of last year’s mistakes. Under Chip the Eagles signed DeMarco Murray and Byron Maxwell to huge deals and traded away star running back LeSean McCoy for linebacker Kiko Alonso. All three players were disappointing to say the least. Now, all three are gone. Maxwell and Alonso were traded to the Dolphins along with the Eagles first round pick, in return for the Dolphins first round pick, the eighth overall. Murray was traded to the Titans in exchange for a swap of fourth round picks. The Eagles will now pick second in the fourth round. Whilst these moves bring nothing to the team they did release the Eagles from significant cap numbers an allowed the Eagles to resign Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, Lane Johnson, Pro Bowl safety Malcom Jenkins and Vinnie Curry and sign exciting safety Rodney McCleod, guard Brandon Brooks, veteran cornerback Leodis McKelvin backup quarterback Chase Daniel and linebacker Nigel Bradham. The team also added CB Ron Brooks, T Donald Stephenson and wide receivers Chris Givens and Reuben Randall. Whilst there have been some great moves and some solid resigning there have also been some teams that have had off seasons that are questionable at best, and disastrous at worst. Same old Browns - The Cleveland Browns were a team in disarray last year. With free agency coming they had the ideal opportunity to spend big and sign several free agents right? Wrong. Like rats leaving a drowning ship centre Alex Mack, tackle Mitchell Schwartz, receiver Travis Benjamin, linebacker Karlos Dansby and safety Tashaun Gipson have all moved to pastures new. The Browns one addition of note to date has been quarterback Robert Griffin III. Griffin was the poster child for success a few years ago with Washington but has seen his stock fall as a result of injury, poor play and an inability to slide! Still, the move makes sense for both parties. The Browns get a quarterback that has the ability to play at a Pro Bowl level whilst Griffin gets a shot to repair his legacy as quarterback of the Browns.  Dynasties are hard to come by - The Broncos may have won the Super Bowl but since that day they have seen the sheriff, Peyton Manning, ride off into the sunset of retirement and then several of their key players leave in free agency, including Peyton’s presumed successor Brock Osweiler. Linebacker Danny Trevathan, rising defence lineman Malik Jackson, S David Brutonand Pro Bowl guard Evan Mathis have all left. All were key players in the Super Bowl run. Personally the loss of Osweiler may turn out to be a long term blessing. He was the starting quarterback for only 7 games last year, playing in eight. During that time he passed for only 10 touchdowns and threw 6 interceptions. He was also sacked 23 times, or an average of 2.875 times a game. Not exactly star player material, and certainly not worth the $18 million the Texans gave him. However the signings of Mark Sanchez and former Seahawks tackle Russell Okung are not going to see the Broncos return to the Super Bowl. Send help! - The San Francisco 49ers haven't lost a huge haul of players to free agency like the Broncos, but then again they didn't have the players to lose in the first place. Now under the control of Chip Kelly they are in a state where the cupboard is bare and appear to be rebuilding as they look to get whatever they can for Colin Kaepernick, a player who has endured a fall from grace similar to RG III’s in Washington.
The Playoffs are done and we know that the Broncos and the Panthers will be playing in Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara for Super Bowl 50. Their final matches before the greatest show on earth couldn't have been more different.   The Broncos were generally considered as everyone's underdog and were expected to roll over as they faced the Patriots. It didn't happen like that. The Broncos were ruthless in their attack of Tom Brady, it seemed like every other play he was getting knocked down. If he wasn't getting hit he was being forced into releasing the ball a second earlier than he wanted. This resulted in several errant throws by Brady. 27 of 56 for 310 yards with 2 interceptions and a touchdown. The complete lack of a running game was staggeringly evident. Brady’s 13 yards rushing was good enough to lead the team! The Broncos were able to tee-off on the pass blocking Patriots and collected four sacks as Von Miller and co. took control.   Although Brady and Gronkowski came within a failed two point conversion of taking the game to overtime, losing 20-18, the real question was “have the Patriots finally realised that they do need some offensive weapons aside from Brady and Gronk?”. Belichick’s offensive scheme has made stars of players like Julian Edelman and before him Wes Welker but they can't do so against a top flight defence. Threats on the life of Stephen Gostkowski for a missed extra point show a shocking side of what is actually a game. No-one was threatening Brady over his two interceptions!   Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers offence did little wrong, but it wouldn't have mattered if they had. The Panthers defence looked in complete control against the vaunted Arizona Cardinals, and they made play after play.     Newton passed for two touchdowns and ran for two others. Greg Olsen and Corey Brown combined for over 220 yards as the Panthers scored six touchdowns, including a nail-in-the-coffin interception return by star linebacker Luke Kuechly. The result never looked in doubt and seems a lifetime away from the pre-season predictions of a disaster season following the pre-season injury to Kelvin Benjamin.   Super Bowl 50 will feature two strong defences that will limit the offences and present matchup issues across the field.  Each team also has its own superstar quarterback. The style of the two players, however, couldn't be more different. The old guard, Peyton Manning, is a classic pocket passer with an unparalleled understanding of the game and fading arm strength. For Carolina the latest mobile quarterback to make the leap from offensive weapon to team superstar, Cam Newton aka Superman, will line up under centre. Newton has a cannon for an arm and is always a threat on the ground. Based on their Conference game performances the Panthers look to be favourites but I'd never bet against Peyton.   The 2016 Pro Bowl saw the annual farce of a game post its lowest ever TV ratings but there was some real football action. College football’s Senior Bowl highlighted a selection of draft hopefuls being coached by Gus Bradley and the Jaguars coaching staff. Most of the hype from the week long practices was around North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz, who certainly passes the eyeball test at 6’5, 233 lbs. Wentz took the next step in his move from small school quarterback to first round pick in the NFL draft last night, although his time under centre was nothing spectacular (6 of 10 for 50 yards). Although many draftniks are already cementing Wentz to the Cowboys with their first pick I personally think he looked a bit raw to be a top 5 pick!   On the other side of the ball a couple of pass rushers really stood out. The first, Eastern Kentucky Colonels star defensive end Noah Spence, was a disruptive force all week in practice, he continued to be nigh on blockable in the game and picked up two tackles and a sack. The other, Baylor Bears defensive end Shawn Oakman, also had a good showing as he picked up 2 sacks and improved his draft stock.  
16.01.2016
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The Texans might finally be thinking that it's time to pick a quarterback in the draft. Brian Hoyer showed once and for all that he isn't a franchise QB as he imploded, completing only 15/34 passes and tossing 4 interceptions. Credit to a very good Texans defence, they kept the game close throughout the first half even after Knile Davis returned the opening kick-off for a 106 yard touchdown.   Alex Smith repeatedly made plays both in the passing game and with his legs. The Chiefs took control in the second half on their way to a 30-0 shutout of the Texans and their first playoff win since when a certain Joe Montana was at quarterback. Travis Kelce showed why he’s one of Smith’s favourite weapons. The tight end exploded for 128 yards on just 8 catches.   Think special teams aren't important? Ask the Vikings. After keeping his team in the game, Blair Walsh gets labelled as the goat for missing the 27 yard field goal that could have won the game for the Minnesota Vikings. But it was the whole threesome of long snapper, holder and kicker that failed to produce in the tightest of moments. Walsh didn't hide for the miss, "You're confident, but you never think that you have it or take it for granted," he said, subdued with glassy eyes in the locker room afterward. "I just didn't put a swing on it that would be acceptable by anybody's standards." But for my money it was holder Jeff Locke leaving the laces facing the kicker that led to the miss    It was a bitter pill to swallow for the Viking faithful as they had kept the Seahawks offence struggling for the majority of the game and only a broken play kept the Seahawks in the game. On a wild snap that Russell Wilson wasn't ready for, the athletic quarterback managed to avoid getting tackled for a huge loss and hit Tyler Lockett for a 35 yard catch and run that led to the go ahead score. Whilst the kick took centre stage little was made of the fact that the Vikings repeatedly failed to get touchdowns and settled for field goals, despite all their pressure.   Resilience is a key trait in the truly great quarterbacks and on Sunday Aaron Rodgers showed it in spades when he bounced back from four drives that had less than impressive results; punt, safety, punt, punt. Rodgers and the Packers offence started to warm up in the second quarter and several times Rodgers caught the opposition with too many players on the field as he moved to a hurry up offence that proved too much for the Redskins.   All the talk prior to the match had been of up and coming Redskin’s quarterback Kirk Cousins and the poor play of the Packers, the lack of a Packers running game and the number of times Aaron Rogers had been hit. Throughout the game though it was Cousins who was getting hit. He finished the game being sacked six times for 59 yards. And that much maligned Packers run game? Against the Redskins they showed signs of life as Eddie Lacy and James Starks combined for over 100 yards (63 for Lacy and 53 for Starks).   The one Redskin the Packers had no answer for was Jordan Reed, who at times seemed unstoppable, as he accounted for 120 yards of the Redskins 329 passing yards. With a few more pieces the Redskins will again be in the hunt for that most elusive of things back-to-back NFC East crowns. They'll do so without RGIII as the player cleared out his locker following the loss and completed a Darth Vader-esq fall from grace.   In one of the weirdest games in recent playoff history the Steelers were completely in control for the first three quarters of the game, as they took a commanding 15 point lead. The Bengals fought back hard and scored 16 unanswered points and had the ball and the lead with 1:30 to go. But these are the same Cincinnati Bungles we expect and they continue their 25 year search for a playoff victory.   First, Jeremy Hill fumbled the ball.  Then the defence gave away two 15-yard penalties, the first on Vontaze Burfict after a hit on defenceless Steeler’s wide receiver Antonio Brown and another on Adam Jones. Chris Boswell promptly kicked a field goal to give the Steelers their first playoff win since the 2010 AFC championship game. In a game in which both Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown played through significant injuries the Steelers were just thankful to finish with the win.   Finally, many of the available head coach vacancies have been filled. Tampa Bay and the New York Giants kept things in house as Dirk Koetter was promoted by the Buccaneers from offensive coordinator to head coach and the Giants did likewise with Ben McAdoo.   The Philadelphia Eagles go back to the Andy Reid coaching tree, hiring Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson.  Pederson is no stranger to the Eagles; he was their quarterback for one season, before Donovan McNabb took over, and was also their quarterbacks coach under Andy Reid.   The Dolphins turn to their ninth successive first year coach as they attempt to recapture the winning culture that has been missing since the Don Shula era. They tagged Adam Gase, the Bears offensive coordinator and the man behind Jay Cutler’s resurgence. Gase will tellingly also have control over the Dolphins roster. Expect plenty of changes here.   Will Hue Jackson will become the next casualty of the Browns ownership after the 2016 season? He’s just been hired by Jimmy Haslam to be next year’s head coach – the fifth in only eight seasons! Jackson has already said that Johnny Football’s time with the team is over. The Browns also made changes in the front office, promoting Sashi Brown to Vice President of Football Operations. They also win the Outside the Box thinking award for hiring Paul DePodesta, former executive of baseball’s New York Mets, as their Chief Strategy Officer.   Perhaps the most intriguing hiring, and certainly the one that gained the most media attention, is the San Francisco 49ers hiring of former Eagle’s head coach Chip Kelly. Kelly inherits a team that was decimated by retirements last off season but may have a quarterback that can run his offensive in Colin Kaepernick. He just has very little else. Maybe he’ll trade for DeMarco Murray!  
In a league that is trying to improve player safety, Odel Beckham, for whatever reason, was thrown completely off his game by Carolina Panther’s cornerback Josh Norman. Uncharacteristically Beckham had several drops, but it was his helmet to helmet hit on Norman that should have seen him ejected. It was a hit that was both dangerous and completely unnecessary.   There's no doubt that the NFL MVP this year should be Cam Newton. He's playing some impressive football and led the Panthers to a 38-35 win over the Giants, including 5 touchdown passes. Newton creates plays both running and passing and is a big man to have running at you. He's in control of his team and is the unquestioned leader demonstrated when he was calming down Norman after his run in with Odel.   Meanwhile, elsewhere in the NFC East, the Redskins ended the Bill’s playoff hopes, and the Eagles were soundly beaten by an Arizona Cardinals team that is setting the tone for the NFC. Sloppy play from several Eagles (dropped passes and fumbles on back to back drives), interesting calls (not using bigger back DeMarco Murray on short yardage plays) and injuries to their secondary saw the Eagles limited. But it was the strength of the Cardinal’s receiving corp that impressed me. Larry Fitzgerald, Malcolm Floyd and John Brown are as formidable as any receivers in the league and rookie running back David Johnson also flashed potential.   Tennessee Titan’s fans haven't had much to cheer about other than the potential of Marcus Mariotta this year, and they are again in the running for the first overall pick. The one bright spot on the team has been Delanie Walker and it is ridiculous that he was not voted to the Pro Bowl. As well as being a great blocker for a TE Walker will break the 1000 yard barrier again (he currently has 935) and has six touchdowns. On a bad Titans team he is doing all he can and it’s a shame he doesn't get the recognition he deserves.   When I interviewed the Chief’s players for their Wembley appearance they were struggling. Since then they have seen a considerable change of fortunes on their way to winning seven straight games. Part of the credit must go to head coach Andy Reid. Reid kept the Chiefs hungry and believing through their early struggles and they are now playing some impressive football. The signing of Jeremy Maclin looks like a master stroke as he has quickly become the weapon of choice for Alex Smith down the stretch. The Chief’s defence can be dominating and they made plenty of plays this week as they walked away 34-14 victors over Baltimore.   The Packers showed what they can do again with a win over the Raiders, and fans are hoping that they can round into form. Watching this game my one takeaway was how quiet Kalil Mack was. A week after having a 5 sack performance that took over the game against the Denver Broncos, Mack barely saw his name called. He registered one sack, one solo tackle and tackle assist. He has 15 sacks so far in 2015 and is becoming one of the league’s young superstars.   The Steelers got a win against a very good Broncos team but it was a game of two halves. The Steelers were in complete disarray in the first half and were down by 17 points but bounced back on the back of another huge day from Antonio Brown. Denver on the other hand failed to score in the second half for the third week in a row. Denver have named quarterback Brock Osweiler as the starter for their Monday night game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Peyton Manning is expected to be inactive. Going into the offseason Denver will have a decision to make about who they want at QB in 2016 as Osweiler will be coming to the end of his contract and Manning has a huge cap figure.   The Cowboys quarterback carousel saw yet another player under centre. Former Boise State star Kellen Moore became the latest player to step up and kept the Fitzpatrick led Jets team close, eventually losing 19-16. Since the ups and downs of Sanchez and Geno Smith, Fitzpatrick has steadied the Jet’s ship. He may not be the most athletically gifted player or put up showy numbers but Fitzpatrick is consistent and with a player like Brandon Marshall to catch the ball and an imposing defence he will keep them in the hunt.   The Jaguars continue to show promise and Gus Bradley has them heading in the right direction thanks to the consistent play of receiver Allen Robinson (1141 yards and 13 touchdowns). The Jaguars could finish the season with two 1000 yard receivers with Allen Hurns needing only 93 yards in the last two games. Their defence is the real issue. They are the NFL’s 30th ranked team, giving up an average of 27.1 points and 361.5 yards.   The Pro Bowl teams have been announced and once again there is much outrage as players that have had amazing seasons have again been ignored in favour of those that are big names or happen to play for large market teams that have prime time games.   Neither LeSean McCoy nor Jason Peters were the best at their positions this year yet both made the Pro Bowl. McCoy has been injured often this year and has only played his best in patches whilst Peters has played reasonably well but has not been at his dominating best. Continuing the theme of Pro Bowl snubs a minor surprise for me is the omission of Denver cornerback Bradley Roby. He's been consistently impressive in coverage and while he hasn't made as many flashy plays and pick sixes as Kansas City’s Marcus Peters he has been far more consistent.   It's a broken system but is a lot better than the AFC vs NFC games before them. If you have a player that you don't think deserved their Pro Bowl place or think another player was snubbed why not tweet me and let me know @Cumbleton
Tyrod Taylor gives the Bills a weapon both running and throwing the ball and he kept the ball alive time and time again against the Texans. Meanwhile Sammy Watkins had several long plays as the Bills kept their playoff hopes alive.   Odell Beckham was making plays all day long against the Jets as he made their vaunted defence look ordinary on his way to his fifth straight 100 yard game. Revis is no longer the elite player that he once was.   Blake Bortles to Allen Robinson looks quite the combination. Bortles set the Jaguars single season record and Robinson became the first Jaguars receiver to reach 1000 yards since 2005. They did this without injured WR Allen Hurns on the other side. The Jags are really assembling some good pieces to the puzzle.   The Blaine Train continues to roll! Blaine Gabbert continues on his road to redemption with two huge plays to lead the 49ers to an overtime win against the Chicago Bears. He pulled the game level with his 44 yard TD run and won the game with a 71 yard touchdown pass to Antonio Smith.   The Giants blew a 10 point lead and saw their game go to overtime before eventually losing to a Brandon Marshall led Jets team. Marshall became the first ever player to have 1,000 yard seasons for four different teams. For all his personality issues Marshall, like TO before him, is an outstanding playmaker.   Regardless of how the rest of the season turns out and whether Chip Kelly stays or goes, the Eagles need to be more disciplined. They had 4 penalties on one drive in the first quarter! Although they went on to defeat the Patriots they relied heavily on special teams and defence. The defence was hugely improved from the unit that has allowed 90 points over two games. The main reason for this, I believe, was the fact they were able to consistently put pressure on Brady. Eagles defensive end Fletcher Cox is having an amazing season and should make the Pro Bowl.   After another embarrassing loss the Browns have named Johnny Manziel as their starting quarterback, something they should have done weeks ago (and technically did before Manziel made the front office think twice with his off-field hijinks). The Browns look like favourites for the first overall pick and so essentially get four games to see if they have their QB of the future in place or need to look to Paxton Lynch or Jared Goff.
The early playoff picture is starting to take shape and there are still two unbeaten teams, the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers. It's quite a feat when you consider that the Panthers had been written off at the start of the season and the Patriots have an ever increasing injury report.   The Cardinals and the Bengals showed that they're for real in an impressive head to head. It was Carson Palmer who made his case for player of the week with an impressive second half showing through the air. Thanks to Palmer the Cardinals pulled off the win, 31-34.   The Falcons continue their free fall with a loss to the Colts who started Matt Hasselback at quarterback. The Eagles continue to have an inconsistent season as they were demolished 45-17 by first overall pick Jameis Winston. Winston looked ridiculously good for a rookie as he threw five different touchdowns to five different players!   Denver travelled to Chicago with untested QB Brock Osweller. He had a strong showing and may be the successor to future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. Osweller did a pretty good job against Chicago and will get at least two more games to show that he is for real.   London has proved to be somewhat of a talisman for the Chiefs. They have carried on their good form and move into playoff contention with a win against the terrible San Diego Chargers, who look like they are firmly in the hunt for the number one overall pick. This week Dontari Poe became the heaviest player to score a touchdown as he rumbled in from a yard out.   The Blaine train came off the rails against the Seahawks but the 49ers will continue to see what they have in Blaine Gabbert, especially now that they have put Colin Kaepernick on IR. If Gabbert plays well he's likely to secure a job for next year at the very least. At worst he becomes the short term answer to their quarterback problem.
In the NFL, as in life, things often seem to come back into fashion given time. On Sunday Blaine Gabbert, a former first round pick once laughed out of Jacksonville for repeated failure with meagre resources, took over from the ultimate shooting star, Colin Kaepernick. With relatively little help from the ground game Gabbert mostly made good decisions and was able to do enough through the air with 185 yards and 2 TDs, but also 2 interceptions. Gabbert made several nice throws and the win was enough to inspire coach Jim Tomsula to name Gabbert as the starter next week -  his second start of the year.   It was a rough week for franchise quarterbacks with injuries to both Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger and Colts’ Andrew Luck. Despite Roethlisberger’s injury the Steelers, led by Antonio Brown’s 284 yards receiving, were too much for the Raiders as Penn State tight end Jesse James collected both his first deflection and his first touchdown. Meanwhile after an impressive day going 21 of 36 for 252 yards and beating the man he replaced in Indianapolis, Peyton Manning, and Andrew Luck later revealed that he’s suffering a kidney laceration and will be out for 4-6 weeks.   A week after being demolished by the Patriots, the Dolphins were taken to pieces by the Bills, losing 33 – 17. LeSean McCoy and promising rookie Karlos Williams rushed for over 100 yards each and Sammy Watkins caught 8 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown. It was a promising look at what the Bills offence can achieve with all of its weapons in place.   Whilst the Buccaneers lost, their young players gave reason for hope. Second year man Mike Evans is a star, accounting for 152 yards receiving. Rookie quarterback Jameis Winston continues to improve week on week with guard Ali Marpet doing a good job of protecting him.   After suffering a loss last week against the Denver Broncos, which saw a miserable 77 yards, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers were largely ineffective for the first two quarters against the Panthers. Despite a valiant fight back by Rodgers and his largely unknown receivers it was not enough.  Have injuries finally caught up with the Packers? It sure looks like it. Conversely the Panthers remain unbeaten and are playing some impressive football behind Cam Newton.     The Eagles running game showed up once again and proved how much damage they can do once they get going. With DeMarco Murray gaining 161 total yards and a touchdown, Ryan Mathews gained 67 yards and a touchdown and Jordan Matthews had an impressive 133 yards. But the dropped passes continued. The Cowboys lost in overtime 27-33. Brittle running back Darren McFadden showed that he still has the talent (117 yards on 27 carries) if he can only stay healthy. This game saw Eagles promising rookie middle linebacker Hicks lost for the year with a torn pectoral muscle.   Drew Brees seems to be trying to win in New Orleans despite them having no defence. Case in point, that awful bobbled pass by a Saints defender that Delanie Walker grabbed and ran all the way to the end zone. Drew Brees cannot constantly be expected to throw for 5 touchdowns week in, week out.
The NFL may have a pretty impressive redemption story in the case of the 49ers. It says something about the state of the San Francisco offence that they've benched starter Colin Kaepernick in favour of Blaine Gabbert, the former first round pick who flamed out of Jacksonville.   The Chiefs game at Wembley was impressively one sided as the Chiefs dominated every phase of the game. It was an impressive performance by the Chiefs, especially on defence. But the difference in the teams may start with the quarterbacks. Alex Smith was more than happy to run the ball as he helped his team and he made every effort to get first down after first down, only sliding once he'd passed the marker. Stafford, however, was sliding way before the distance needed for a first down. This is not behaviour that is going to win over the locker room and unite the team.   It would be a great boost to the team if their win on Sunday was the start of a winning streak as they make a push for the playoff. By contrast things in Detroit became more unsettled with the firing of the Lions GM. Andy Reid later said that he is behind the move to an NFL franchise in London once logistic problems are worked out.   Todd Gurley continues to make plays every week and is already looking like one of the best backs in the NFL.  He has the power to run over people and the speed to take the ball to the house and outrun defenders. The Rams draft pick looks like a steal!   The Broncos demolition of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers was worth noting for two reasons. The Broncos defence was around Aaron Rodgers all game and gave him no opportunity to make plays and when he did his receivers were generally covered. Secondly Peyton Manning looked much happier throwing the ball and got the ball out with a lot more power than in recent weeks.    
Week 7 got underway in London as the Jaguars and Bills squared off at Wembley Stadium in what was probably the most exciting of all the International Series matches. The match was notable for more than the action on the field. It was the first time that the Jaguars seemed to have a ‘home field advantage’ from the fans. Perhaps this was helped by an impressive second quarter which saw them score two defensive touchdowns in quick succession. The Bills must be praying for the return of Tyrod Taylor after EJ Manuel turned the ball over three times in 8 plays. But it wasn't all bad for Manuel. With a Bills team that was missing Sammy Watkins the second year player generated several scoring drives and at times made some impressive touch passes. In fact Manuel and the Bills looked to have done enough to complete an impressive comeback before Blake Bortles took over and hit Allen Hurns for the winning touchdown. Finally the Jags won in London.   The Patriots are 6-0 and Super Bowl bound right? Not so fast. Tom Brady and the Patriots narrowly defeated the Jets on Sunday. But look at who they've beaten; the Bills, an improving Jaguars, the downtrodden Colts, an impressive but stalling Steelers, Romo-less Cowboys and the Jets. Not exactly the Power Ranking top 10!   The Eagles continue to improve despite losing to a Carolina team that has an extremely aggressive defence. The Panther’s linebackers looked quicker than everyone on the field and their defensive line gave the Eagles fits.  On offence the combination of Mike Tolbert and Jonathan Stewart frequently ran through the Eagles defence (Byron Maxwell I'm looking at you) like it wasn't there. The Eagles defence did keep them in the game with turnovers but in the end the dropped passes and stupid penalties were too much. Last year’s first round pick Marcus Smith has still yet to contribute in any meaningful way and seems destined for bust label.   Two first round picks who definitely weren't busts are Oakland’s Amari Cooper and St Louis’ Todd Gurley. Amari seems to catch everything thrown his way and already has 519 yards and 3 touchdowns. Gurley, seemingly fully recovered from his ACL injury in college, added 128 yards to his rushing total for the year which now stands at 442 yards. He also scored the first two touchdowns of his NFL career.   The Lions prepared for their trip to Wembley with a loss to the Vikings. Teddy Bridgewater had a fantastic game and made several plays that suggest he could be an NFL star. Whilst the Chiefs looked impressive at times in their win over the Steelers was even more impressive when you consider they were without Jamaal Charles (torn ACL) and Jeremy Maclin (still recovering from a concussion). It was good to see Eric Berry playing at such a high level after battling Hodgkin's Lymphoma.   Bill O’Brien is in the hot seat, and if he's not he certainly should be. The Texans lost yet again and were not helped by the fact that their supposed starting quarterback this week Ryan Mallett, missed his flight (seriously, how does that happen to a supposed professional football player?!) and had to fly commercially. It's not the first time that Mallett has been late. He overslept and missed a pre-season practice earlier in the season. Personally that's not the sort of player I want leading my team, and it appears the Texans agree with me – Mallett was released on Tuesday. Tebow for the Texans anyone?   The Dolphins won their second straight match and the game was over by half time! Lamar Miller finally gets a significant number of carries and how does he respond? He rushed for 175 and chipped in with 83 receiving yards before being taken out of the game at half time. Ryan Tannehill passed for four touchdowns and the much maligned defence chipped in with a touchdown and 4 sacks.  Dan Campbell certainly has Miami playing with some intensity.   A year ago running back Chris Johnson was a New York Jet and only managed to rush for 663 yards in 16 games. Everyone was predicting the end of his career. A year later and after a drive-by shooting in which he nearly died, Johnson is looking rejuvenated in the desert. Now with the Arizona Cardinals, he's started the season with 567 yards rushing in seven games, including 122 yards on Monday night against the Ravens. Johnson looks to have found his speed and vision after looking lost at times for the Jets.   Tyrann Mathieu looks a little bit like Brian Dawkins. He's got a chance to be a really special player if he can stay healthy. The guy’s 5’9 but tackles like he's been shot out of a cannon and has instincts in spades. Arizona say he studies hard too. He's a fun player to watch.
The Jaguars really need T.J. Yeldon to return from injury ahead of their match against the Bills in London next week.  Dernard Robinson can do a lot of things but simply isn't as good when running the ball. This game saw the Jaguars take a backward step offensively as Bortles made some bad decisions behind an offensive line that can be described as inconsistent at best!   Meanwhile DeAndre Hopkins was breaking out for the Texans. He made all kinds of acrobatic catches, against what was often good coverage, on his way to 10 catches, 148 yards and 2 touchdowns. Hopkins is rapidly becoming one of the better receivers in the league. He was no doubt aided by Arian Foster who looked much faster than earlier in the year, suggesting that he is returning to full health.   The Dolphins change of coaching staff seemed to make a difference as they ran the ball right down the Titans throats. Lamar Millar ran for over 100 yards and the Dolphins really got after Marcus Mariota, sacking him 5 times. Cameron Wake was a force and accounted for 4 sacks and two forced fumbles. The Dolphins scored 38 points having averaged 16 for the year. With just under two minutes left and the game effectively over Zach Mettenberger took over and looked pretty good even though Bishop Sankey had two drops on the drive. If I'm the Texans I'm at least inquiring about Mettenberger. The Jets Cory Ivory ran the ball exceptionally well against the Redskins on Sunday as he rushed for 146 yards. Brandon Marshall had over 100 yards receiving and Ryan Fitzpatrick rushed for a touchdown as they were simply too strong for the Redskins. It looks like it could be another long year in America’s capital!   Neither quarterback looked impressive in the Cleveland vs Denver game as both had two interceptions. Each team’s defence scored and the ground games took over. The Broncos eventually scraped another win, making enough plays to secure the victory in overtime and are now 6-0. Should Manning work through his poor form then Denver will really be a team to watch out for.   Two games went to overtime this week.   The Arizona Cardinals fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers despite Carson Palmer passing for over 400 yards. The Steelers started second string quarterback Mike Vick in place of injured starter Ben Roethlisberger, but when Vick went down it was Landry Jones who sparked the offence to an upset win. Mattavious Bryant had 167 yards and 2 TDs and it was enough to see the Steelers go to 4-2. Andy Dalton has been phenomenal all year and continued to play at a high level, adding another 3 touchdowns. The Bengals were far too much for the Bills, lead for the first time this season by EJ Manuel. A healthy LeSean McCoy produced 90 yards and a touchdown but there was little competition. The worst loss for the Bills was the injury to second year receiver Sammy Watkins. Watkins, perhaps the lone bright spot on Buffalo’s offence last year, was returning from injury and will be a huge loss if he can't play when the Bills arrive in Wembley next week. Ok, so it was against the Bears but a week after I dropped him in my fantasy league Calvin Johnson returned to fantasy relevance as he saw his Lions to their first win of the season. Johnson had 166 yards and a touchdown and Matthew Stafford rallied after getting benched last week, throwing for 4 touchdowns and over 400 yards.   Every year there’s a team that shows how difficult it is in the NFL to pass the ball if you don't have a legitimate running threat. Last week the Chiefs lost Jamal Charles for the year to a torn ACL. The result? They struggled to replace Charles’ elite skill set. This allowed the Vikings to focus on the pass and stop the Chief’s offence. Meanwhile the Vikings managed to make enough plays to win 16-10 despite two interceptions from Teddy Bridgewater.   As an Eagles fan it was great to see the Eagles start to make some offensive progress. The defence is continuing to play at a high level but the Monday night game was just ugly for both teams. Neither offence could put together a sustained drive on a regular basis nor the pass protection of both teams failed frequently as attested by several sacks and pass deflections.  Riley Cooper is the Eagles leading wide receiver in yards per catch with 19.8 and he seems to have little or no connection with quarterback Sam Bradford who frequently made horrible plays. Could it be time to bring out Mark ‘The Sanchise’ Sanchez in Philly?