Rams face Rob Ryan and Saints

Last January, St. Louis thought it had a new defensive coordinator.

Rob Ryan “committed” to the Rams and had everybody thinking his next job would be under the Arch in St. Louis. He attended a Blues game, was given a key to the Rams facility in Earth City and was present during an offseason staff meeting, according to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Suddenly, Ryan had a change of heart. Rather than joining a staff responsible for the NFL’s youngest roster, Ryan bolted for New Orleans.

“He made a commitment to us, but he didn’t sign a contract or anything,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said, according to the Post-Dispatch. “But he made a commitment to us.”

Ryan’s vow was nothing more than word of mouth.

With the Saints, Ryan has resurrected the league’s worst defense from a year ago into one of the most rugged units this season.

In 2012, the Saints defense ranked last in total yards allowed per game, rushing yards allowed, was 31st in points allowed per game and passing yards allowed per game, and were in the bottom tier with just 30 sacks.

This season, the Saints (10-3) rank in the top echelon of virtually every defensive category.

“He has done a great job,” Fisher said, according to the Post-Dispatch. “He is an outstanding coach. He has them playing well, and he has the pieces now. There are no holes in the defense. Everyone is playing well together.”

If such a hole existed, statistic point to the Saints run defense, which ranks 17th in the league, allowing over 114 yards per contest.

However, statistics are often misleading. On Nov. 10 against Dallas, the Saints held the Cowboys to just 89 yards rushing. A week later, they held San Francisco to just 81 yards on the ground.

Lacking physicality and edge a year ago, the Saints no longer need a boost in that department. They flock to the ball and wreak havoc on opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks.

Defensive end Jordan Cameron heads the Saints defense with 11.5 sacks on the year, second in the NFC behind the Rams’ Robert Quinn.

On the other hand, the Rams have regressed from a year ago. They rank 19th in yards allowed per game, 23rd in pass defense and 14th in run defense this season.

To say the Saints will be an easy matchup come Sunday afternoon would be a drastic understatement.

“They’re talented everywhere,” quarterback Kellen Clemens said, according to the Post-Dispatch. “They get after the quarterback. Rob does a nice job of mixing coverages and pressures, and he does a really good job of making them look the same.

“So, sometimes it looks like they’re pressuring and they bail into coverage. Or it looks like they’re going to cover and they bring a lot of pressure. … They’re talented across the board. It’s going to be a great matchup for us.”

 

 

 

 

 

Former Patriots Tight End Aaron Hernandez Charged With Murder; Could He Walk Free?

Police have charged former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez with murder and five counts of gun-related charges in the death of former semi-pro football player, Odin Lloyd, whose body was discovered in an industrial park about a mile from Hernandez’s home, according to ESPN.com.

The facts are blunt; there is enough evidence present to convict Hernandez twice. That said, I wouldn’t find it overly shocking if Hernandez walks scotch free after his yet-to-be-determined trial. Don’t get my wrong, I’m not saying Hernandez should get off with a slap on the wrist. Justice deserves to take its course. But this kind of thing isn’t new to the world of professional sports, nor society.

In 1994, O.J. Simpson walked after being charged with the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman. In 1998, former St. Louis Rams defensive end Leonard Little killed a woman after an alcohol-related accident. Six years later, Little was arrested again for drunk driving. Little walked free. Two-time Super Bowl champion Ray Lewis was proven innocent of murder and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and testified against two co-defendants in 2000.

In a more popular and widespread case, Casey Anthony got off the hook after being charged with killing her own child in June 2011.

Rehashing the past, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Hernandez walk free, especially in today’s day and age. However, for now, it appears Hernandez, who has pleaded not guilty, is in a world of hurt.

Hernandez, who signed a long-term deal worth nearly $40 million last summer, was released by the Patriots early Wednesday morning.

2013 NFL Draft: Rams, Vikings Pull Away with Stellar Picks in First Round

The first round of the 2013 NFL Draft was as unpredictable as the weather in the Midwest. If you like the unexpected, look no further than Radio City Music Hall, where the events of Day One were as erratic as ever.

Day One featured the St. Louis Rams and Minnesota Vikings separating themselves from the rest of the pack.

Rams Trade Up, Land West Virginia’s Austin

Entering the draft boasting two first-round picks (No. 16 and No. 22), the Rams traded their No. 16 pick to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for their second-round pick (No. 46), and their seventh-round pick (No. 222). The Rams also swapped third-round picks with the Bills, moving up seven spots to No. 71. The trade allowed the Rams to leapfrog into the No. 8 spot in the first round (ahead of the New York Jets), where they snagged West Virginia speedster Tavon Austin.

Rams head coach Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead were under the impression Austin’s draft stock was rising as the clock continued to tick, essentially meaning the Rams would have to go up and get him.

“We had a feeling interest was increasing,” Fisher said, courtesy of Yahoo!Sports. “We felt a few days ago that we were probably going to have to go up and get him.”

The Rams were familiar with Austin. A week before the draft, the Rams held a private workout with Austin in Morgantown W.Va., where they caught a glimpse of what the speedster can do with the ball in his hands.

 

“Me and the coaches just clicked,” Austin said, courtesy of Yahoo!Sports. “I had a good feeling just off the vibe they were giving. It was all smiles and everything when I was there.”

This was a stellar move by GM Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher. Austin is an all-around baller. He can line up in the slot, or in the backfield. He can return kickoffs, punts. You name it, Austin can do it. His lightning-like 4.34 speed in the 40-yard dash is dazzling. Moreover, Austin is just 5’8”, 174 pounds.

Though undersized, Austin’s game speaks for itself. Last season, Austin caught 114 balls for 1,289 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. He ran the ball for 643 yards and three touchdowns on 72 attempts. Not to mention, Austin returned both a kickoff and punt for a touchdown. When it was all said and done, Austin finished last season with the most receptions in the Big 12 (114) and the most yards from scrimmage (1,932).

It was the first time the Rams took a receiver in the first round since selecting Torry Holt sixth overall in 1999.

“I would have to say we’re very excited, to say the least,” Fisher said, according to Yahoo!Sports. “It was a scenario we had been discussing for several days. We got two very explosive, talented young players that are going to help us right away.”

The second player Fisher referred to is Alec Ogletree, the Georgia linebacker taken No. 30 overall after the Rams made their second trade of the first round, getting two picks from Atlanta for the rights to Ogletree.

The Rams were in desperate need of an outside linebacker–one responsible for wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks and offensive linemen. Now, they have their man in Ogletree.

Ogletree was, perhaps, still on the board after a four-game in-season suspension and DUI arrest one week before the combine. But Ogletree has put his prior complications behind him.

“I was just happy to hear my name called,” Ogletree said, according to Yahoo!Sports. “I was dumb. I made a mistake and i just want to move forward.”

Fisher doesn’t mind dealing with Ogletree’s extensive college transcript. He’s dealt with similar situations before. (See Janoris Jenkins).

“We had Alec way up there,” Fisher said, courtesy of Yahoo!Sports. “People are going to make mistakes. This was a maturity issue.”

Vikings Land 3 Players in First Round

Minnesota began Day One of the draft with the No. 23 and No. 25 overall picks. However, when word spread that New England was shopping their first-round selection, Vikings GM Rick Spielman was bewildered at such an opportunity. The result had Spielman working the phones. After a few minutes, a deal was in place. The Vikings shipped a second-, third-, fourth-, and a seventh-round pick in exchange for the Patriots’ first-round spot. Stockpiled with picks, the Vikings took Florida defensive tackle Sherrif Floyd at No. 23, Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes at No. 25, and Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson with the 29th overall pick.

“I don’t know if it could have worked out any better,” Spielman said, courtesy of the Pioneer Press. “with the caliber of players we got with all three of those kids coming into our program.”

It was the first time the Vikings boasted three first-round picks since 1967. Ironically, the Vikings made their first Super Bowl appearance two years later.

 

New season with plenty of questions

After the longest work stoppage in league history, the NFL is finally back in business. Football is upon us, at last. With that said, so many questions remain unanswered, many of which will remain unsolved until the regular season rolls around on Sept. 11.

All 32 teams are in the same position. Each team begins this 16-week marathon with a clean slate, and for the most part a healthy roster. The dust from training camp has settled, with the season just days away.

Who has the edge in 2011? Can the Packers, who will begin their quest of defending their title, repeat as Super Bowl champions? Do the Patriots, with newly acquired wideout Chad Ochocinco, be able to regain superiority in the AFC? Are the Colts, who finished with just 10 wins, still the team to beat in the AFC South? Can second-year-man Mike Shanahan figure out his quarterback situation?

Will the Eagles, with newly signed quarterback Michael Vick, along with a revamped roster full of big-name free-agent acquisitions, be able to make it to the ultimate game, come Feb. 5, in Indianapolis?  Can the Jets finally make the leap and emerge as champions of the AFC? Can Jay Cutler, amidst his postseason criticism in the NFC Championship game last season, rebound in 2011?

Can rookies Cam Newton (Carolina), Andy Dalton (Cincinnati) and Blaine Gabbert (Jacksonville) have remarkable first seasons, or will they stumble? How will first-year head coaches Jason Garrett (Dallas), Leslie Frazier (Minnesota), Ron Rivera (Carolina), Jim Harbaugh (San Francisco), Pat Shurmer (Cleveland), Mike Munchak (Tennessee), John Fox (first season with Denver) and Hue Jackson (Oakland) pan out?

-All of these questions need answering. For now, let’s dive into the new season and take a look at what the NFL has in store for 2011.

*My projected finishes:

NFC East

1) Philadelphia Eagles: Andy Reid shook up his coaching staff by changing defensive coordinators. Nonetheless, the offense lead by 2010 Comeback Player of the Year Michael Vick, remains explosive.

2) Dallas Cowboys: There’s no doubt that Jason Garrett will get the most out of his team. Tony Romo is finally healthy and ready to lead the Cowboys.

3) N.Y. Giants: If Eli Manning can return to his Super Bowl XLII form and cut down his interceptions, then the Giants will challenge for the division crown.

4) Washington Redskins: Mike Shanahan will be entering his second full season at the helm of this bunch. His decisions, especially the benching of his former starting quarterback Donovan McNabb and his numerous run-ins with defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth have drawn heavy scrutiny. The quarterback situation remains a mystery, but Rex Grossman has been named the starter, for now.

NFC North

1) Green Bay Packers: They are the defending Super Bowl champions. Defending their title won’t come easy, as the Bears will be right behind them.

2) Chicago Bears: Jay Cutler needs to bounce back after a questionable exit in last season’s NFC Championship game. He should thrive in year two of offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s system.

3) Minnesota Vikings: With Brett Favre finally retired, the Vikings, with McNabb now taking the snaps, are a viable threat. McNabb will complement the run game cemented by Adrian Peterson.

4) Detroit Lions: This team is riding on the health of heavily invested quarterback Matthew Stafford. They are on the rise, but will Stafford be able to remain healthy for 16 weeks?

NFC South

1) Atlanta Falcons: Although they made an early postseason exit in 2010, look for the Falcons, led by veteran quarterback Matt Ryan, to be playing in January. Rookie receiver Julio Jones will give Ryan another downfield threat to play with.

2) New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees will have the Saints contending for the division, but he’s got to limit his interceptions. The departure of running back Reggie Bush could hurt, despite drafting Mark Ingram, from Alabama.

3) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: This is a much-improved bunch, and will only make this division more competitive. Look for defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and quarterback Josh Freeman to put up some numbers.

4) Carolina Panthers: Steve Smith will be rookie Cam Newton’s primary target in 2011, but Newton will have a number of hills to climb. Looks to be more like a rebuilding year for the Panthers.

NFC West

1) St. Louis Rams: Sam Bradford is by far the best quarterback in the division, and will be entering his sophomore year. A record around .500 could claim the division yet again, especially with their brutal schedule.

2) Arizona Cardinals: By trading for veteran Kevin Kolb, the Cardinals finally landed a quarterback to hook up with Larry Fitzgerald.

3) San Francisco 49ers: First-year head coach Jim Harbaugh sees something in quarterback Alex Smith that others don’t. Could Smith mature and become a consistent leader?

4) Seattle Seahawks: Pete Carroll landed Tavaris Jackson, but that may not be the answer Seattle is hoping for at quarterback. The acquisition of receiver Sidney Rice is a plus, but who can consistently throw the ball to him?

Wild Cards: New Orleans, Chicago

NFC Championship Game: Philadelphia vs. Green Bay

AFC East

1) New England Patriots: As long as the Pats still have Tom Brady under contract, they’re the division favorites. Preventing the Jets from getting home-field advantage will be their only obstacle.

2) N.Y. Jets: Rex Ryan insists that his 2011 squad will make it to Indianapolis, but they will need more than his words to take down the Patriots.

3) Miami Dolphins: If Tony Sporano has another dismal 1-7 home record, he’ll be given the pink slip.

4) Buffalo Bills: The biggest concern is their defense. They ranked third to last in team scoring and allowed the most net yards in the AFC in 2010.

AFC North

1) Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger will be active (baring injury and another run-in with the law) for the whole season. Their defense is as tough as they come.

2) Baltimore Ravens: If Joe Flacco can emerge as a game changer, then the Ravens will be in the hunt for the division title.

3) Cleveland Browns: Colt McCoy will be better in his second season as the Browns starting quarterback, but the team needs a great deal of help around him.

4) Cincinnati Bengals: Carson Palmer has officially retired; meaning second-round draft pick Andy Dalton will be the starter. Starting from scratch on offense wont bode well for the Bengals.

AFC South

1) Indianapolis Colts: The Colts will rebound from a 10-6 season in 2010, and are still the class of the division. If Peyton Manning can stay healthy, look for the Colts in the postseason.

2) Houston Texans: Former Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips is now the defensive coordinator. Yikes. The offense will score in bunches, but the defense will drown the Texans in 2011.

3) Tennessee Titans: With Matt Hasselback taking over at quarterback, the Titans will improve, but not enough. Chris Johnson will lead the way once again.

4) Jacksonville Jaguars: David Garrard was cut and rookie Blaine Gabbert will ride the bench for now. The load will be handed to running back Maurice Jones-Drew.

AFC West

1) San Diego Chargers: Philip Rivers needs a successful postseason to enter the elite category of quarterbacks.

2) Kansas City: The Chiefs are on the rise, and will only build off last season’s 10-6 division championship.

3) Denver Broncos: John Fox needs a drastic remodeling for his defense and possibly his offense, as Josh McDaniels bolted to St. Louis.

4) Oakland Raiders: There’s a slight chance the Raiders are moving in the right direction.

Wild Cards: Baltimore, N.Y. Jets

AFC Championship Game: New England Patriots vs. Baltimore Ravens

***Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis: Rematch of Super Bowl XXXVIII between the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots. Michael Vick leads the birds to glory.