With the injuries to the Seattle Seahawks secondary, quarterback Russell Wilson will have to shoulder more of the load.
When outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict pursued a career in the National Football League in 2012, there were not too many people who were ready to dispute his play making ability. In 2010, Burfict was named as the Pac-12 Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, and he became the first player at Arizona State to be named a first-team All-American since Terrell Suggs in 2002. But that resume could not prevent Burfict from going undrafted by the NFL in 2012.
When Burfict’s junior season at Arizona State began in 2011, some scouts had him pegged as a potential top-five pick, but several off-the-field issues which included a positive test for marijuana at the National Football League’s Scouting Combine as well as poor interviews with teams turned many people off. Burfict went undrafted, but he would soon find a home with the Cincinnati Bengals who were willing to take a chance on him.
The Bengals were the worst possible team that Burfict could have agreed to play for due to their recent checkered history. Since the mid-2000’s, the Bengals organization have seen some of their players in the news for the wrong reasons due to their numerous run-ins with law enforcement. The situation had gotten so bad that at one point National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell personally visited the entire team to speak to them. Bringing in Burfict has not changed the image for the Bengals as the player who was dubbed by some scouts as a loose cannon is consistently making the teams that passed on him look very smart.
In 2013, Burfict made the first and only Pro Bowl appearance of his career. But since Burfict came to the National Football League, he has become the league’s poster boy for on-the-field misconduct. Since 2012, Burfict has been penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, roughing the passer, or unnecessary roughness a combined 19 times. Burfict has been fined by the NFL on several occasions with his fines total now close to the $1 million mark. One of Burfict’s most notable incidents occurred during the AFC Wild Card Game in January 2016 when he was flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty for the cheap shot that he delivered on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. The foul occurred at the Cincinnati 47-yard line, and that along with an unsportsmanlike conduct foul by Bengals cornerback Adam “PacMan” Jones put the Steelers in position to kick the game-winning field goal as Cincy was denied an opportunity to win their first playoff game since January 1991.
Burfict began this season in street clothes as he was suspended by the National Football League for the first three games due to a hit that he delivered on Kansas City Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman during the preseason. The time off didn’t see Burfict change his ways as in his first game back he was flagged for a roughing the passer penalty versus the Cleveland Browns. In Week 10, Burfict was ejected from the Bengals game versus the Tennessee Titans after making contact with an official. Burfict was attempting to state his case with the official after he was flagged for unnecessary roughness, and even though that he had a reason to gripe, he can’t make contact with the official. Burfict didn’t help his case as upon his exit from the field in Nashville, he made gestures towards the crowd which included the Johnny Manziel “money” symbol.
But what is equally as disturbing as Burfict’s antics on the field is that the Bengals are still giving him a paycheck. On two separate occasions the Bengals have given Burfict contract extensions with the most recent instance coming this past September where he was given a three-year extension for $38.68 million. And by the Bengals giving Burfict an extension show that this organization is not committed to winning.
Former Washington Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs was adamant about being unable to win with guys who lacked character. And it is hard to argue with Gibbs as he’s the only head coach in National Football League history to win three Super Bowl Championships with three different starting quarterbacks. And this is something that the Bengals have not learned as their organization has become a refuge for undisciplined players such as Burfict.
The perfect time for the Bengals to have cut ties with Burfict was following the playoff loss to the Steelers. The Bengals had the game won, but Burfict went out of his way to see that this would not be the case as issues with a player’s character always seem to rise to the surface at the most inopportune time.
Instead the Bengals have given Burfict a platform to exude his disruptive behavior, while they’ve also let him know that his antics are accepted. Burfict’s continuous missteps also show that there is not any accountability within the Bengals organization as his actions as well as the consistent losing along with the lack of playoff victories illustrates that this franchise is not committed to winning.
With a record of 4-6, the Bengals still find themselves in the mix for one of the wild card spots in the AFC as they along with five other teams are just one game behind for the final postseason berth in the conference. But just like Burfict’s antics showed up in the playoffs versus the Steelers, and led to him being suspended for the first three games of this season, as well as being disqualified against the Titans, he will cost the Bengals again. And that date and time will be sooner rather than later as a leopard never changes its spots, or in this case, a Bengal never changes his stripes.
For years the Los Angeles Rams were among the elite teams in the National Football League. During the 1970’s, the Rams won seven consecutive NFC West Championships, while earning the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearances in 1979. The Rams would continue to be competitive throughout the 1980’s as they made a pair of appearances in the NFC Championship Game. But by the 1990’s, the Rams had fallen on hard times as from 1990-1994, they lost at least 10 games in each season. And if the losing wasn’t bad enough, former Rams owner Georgia Frontiere decided to move her team to St. Louis, Missouri in 1995 when she was unable to secure a new stadium for her the club in Orange County. And with the Rams in a new city with a brand new state-of-the-art facility in the Trans World Dome, they would win their first and only Super Bowl Title in 1999.
In St. Louis, the Rams were paced by “The Greatest Show on Turf” which consisted of quarterback Kurt Warner, running back Marshall Faulk, as well as wide receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. From 1999-2001, the Rams would win 37 games as they were one of the most popular teams in the National Football League.
But as quick as the Rams ascended to being one of the best teams in the National Football League, their decline was as rapid. The 2004 NFL season would mark the last time that the Rams made the playoffs as the rest of their stay in St. Louis was marred by an ownership change, poor attendance, wasted draft picks, and consistent futility on the football field.
In 2010, businessman Stan Kroenke purchased controlling interest in the Rams from the estate of Frontiere who had passed away in 2008. And from the moment that Kroenke began running the show for the Rams, it was all about him attempting to find a way to get his team out of Dodge.
Kroenke wanted a new stadium for the Rams, and although that the City of St. Louis had good deals on the table, he along with the majority of the other National Football League team owners wanted to put the team back in Los Angeles. And in early 2016, that became the new reality as the Rams announced that they were heading back to Los Angeles.
There was excitement for the Rams returning to Los Angeles after their 22-year hiatus from Southern California. But this excitement would soon be tapered as the Rams went 4-12 during their first season back in Los Angeles and it appeared to be another dose of the same old Rams.
In 2016, the Rams would mortgae their future to move up to the first overall slot in the National Football League Draft in order to select quarterback Jared Goff. Goff came into the NFL with some hype attached to him, but his first go round in the NFL had all of the symptoms of him being a bust. Goff would go winless in seven starts for the Rams which included him throwing 5 touchdowns to 7 interceptions and completing 54.6% of his passes.
However all of the Rams faults could not be placed on the shoulders of the young Goff. The Rams were an undisciplined team who took on the look of their head coach Jeff Fisher. But as the Rams appeared to symbolize a classic Hollywood box office flop, things would drastically change during the off-season.
After Fisher was fired, the Rams would hire Sean McVay to be their new head coach. McVay was only 31-years of age, but he commanded respect from his first day on the job which was important for an undisciplined team that has consistently been among the most penalized teams in recent years in the National Football League.
McVay spent the last three years as the offensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins and his top priority upon taking over the Rams was to work with Goff, which he has been able to do.
This season Goff is much more comfortable in the pocket as he is completing more than 61% of his passes, while throwing 16 touchdowns to only 4 interceptions. This improvement included Goff being named as the NFC’s Offensive Player of the Week for Week 9 when he was 14-of-22 passing for 311 yards and 4 touchdowns as the Rams cruised to the 51-17 victory over the New York Giants.
A big reason for the improved play of Goff is that Rams general manager Les Snead has done a solid job of putting a good team around the franchise’s starting quarterback. After a down 2016 campaign, running back Todd Gurley is once again showing the ability that made him the National Football League’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2015. Gurley is currently fourth in the NFL in rushing yards with 754, while he leads the league in rushing touchdowns with 7. During the off-season the Rams signed veteran offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth to give the unit some experience, while also bringing in a pair of former Buffalo Bills wide receivers who were looking new life in Los Angeles.
In 2013, Robert Woods was a second-round pick of the Bills, but he was never able to live up expectations. Woods is a native of Gardena, California, while he played collegiately for the Southern California Trojans. Woods is now back in Southern California and playing on the same field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum that saw him be one of the best pass catchers in the nation. Now Woods is enjoying a career year with the Rams as he is on pace to gain 1,000 yards receiving in a season for the first time as a professional.
In 2014, the Bills traded up in the first round of the National Football League Draft to select wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Watkins never became the impact player that the Bills envisioned him to be: which was not completely his fault due to the fact that the organization has had consistent issues at the quarterback position. In nine games with the Rams, Watkins’ numbers are not eye popping as he only has 21 receptions for 372 yards. However with the Rams, Watkins doesn’t have to be the guy as he can simply focus on being one of the guys due to the fact that he is playing on a team that has depth on offense.
And when you add up all of the adjustments on offense for the Rams, they have gone from having the worst offense in the National Football League last season to the third ranked unit in the league this season.
Even under Fisher, defensive football has long been what the Rams have hung their hats on. The Rams have taken a slight dip in total defense from last season as they were ninth in the National Football League last season in the category compared to 14th this season. But this slight dip won’t prevent the Rams from doing some big things coming down the stretch of the regular season and potentially in the playoffs.
For more than 40 years Wade Phillips has coached in the National Football League; primarily as a defensive coordinator. The past two years saw Phillips serve as the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos. Under Phillips, the Broncos had one of the top defenses in the NFL which led to them winning Super Bowl 50.
With the Rams, Phillips has inherited another strong defense which includes the likes of defensive tackle Aaron Donald, inside linebacker Alec Ogletree, and free safety LaMarcus Joyner. The Rams have given up a combined 51 points in their last five games and by the time that the season finishes, they should once again be ranked in top ten for fewest yards allowed.
Donald is one of the better interior defensive linemen in the National Football League as his ability to rush the passer and take on double teams opens things up for the linebackers playing behind him which is invaluable. A contract dispute saw Donald sit out training camp, but upon his return there is no disputing that he is the leader of the team’s defense.
This sudden uprising by the Rams has given Kroenke and the National Football League what they needed which was support for this team once again in Los Angeles. There were fans who were happy to see the Rams return to Los Angeles last year, but the City of Angels has long been a place that will support a winner, while being lukewarm at best to a team which is not contending. The Rams illustrated this last year when they went 4-12 as following their home opener which was a sellout at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, their home attendance tapered. But now attendance is back on the rise which is important for the Rams who will be moving into a new stadium in Inglewood in a few years as they need fan support from the Greater Los Angeles area.
The Rams have been able to take advantage of having a weak schedule as their first three opponents this season failed to make the playoffs in 2016. But beginning this Sunday things will be changing for the Rams as five of their next six opponents are either division leaders of in second place. However winning cures everything as it has made it easier for the young McVay to get his message across as the wins have been piling up. Barring something unforeseen the Rams are on pace to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004 and one thing that we have learned so far from this team is that these aren’t the same old Rams.
When quarterback Deshaun Watson entered National Football League, he had the look of someone who was ready to do some special things. Watson came to the NFL fresh off of leading the Clemson Tigers to a national championship. In Watson’s last two years at Clemson, his combined record was 28-2 which included him getting his team past the always tough Alabama Crimson Tide this past January to win it all. However Watson’s collegiate success would not prevent him from being passed over in the 2017 NFL Draft.
The Cleveland Browns entered the draft in the possession of the first overall pick and many people felt that they needed to select a quarterback. The Browns would bypass Watson in favor of defensive end Myles Garrett. However the Browns had multiple first-round picks in the draft, and when the 12th overall pick came around, Cleveland was set to select again. But instead of taking Watson, the Browns would make a trade with the Houston Texans who were more than eager to select Watson. And to the delight of the Texans, Watson appears ready to rewrite the history books for their franchise.
In preparing Watson to become a starting quarterback in the National Football League, Texans head coach Bill O’Brien had a good game plan. O’Brien was not ready to immediately commit to Watson as far as being the Texans starting quarterback as that honor fell to Tom Savage. And with Watson on the sidelines, it gave him the opportunity to observe the game. But when Savage was ineffective in the Texans Week 1 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, O’Brien could no longer delay giving Watson the keys to the franchise.
Watson would replace an ineffective Savage as he led Houston to their only touchdown drive versus the Jags. And since then Watson has not looked back.
There was plenty of excitement and anticipation for theTexans Week 2 contest versus the Cincinnati Bengals as Watson would make his first career start. Versus the Bengals, Watson was not a fantasy football stud as he was just 15-of-24 passing for 125 yards, but he helped the Texans in the most important category which was getting the victory.
Since then the game has slowed down for Watson as he is not a wide-eyed rookie on the National Football League stage. In Week 3, Watson faced the New England Patriots who are the defending Super Bowl Champions. And in that contest Watson was 22-of-33 passing for 301 yards as the Texans fell just short of getting the victory. In Week 6, Watson had the opportunity to face the team in the Browns that passed up on him twice. Watson would give the Browns a ringside seat of what they passed up on by going 17-for-29 passing for 225 yards and 3 touchdown passes as the Texans won the contest 33-17.
Last Sunday saw Watson make sure that no one in National Football League would forget his name anytime soon. Watson and the Texans would travel to the Pacific Northwest to face the Seattle Seahawks who possess the best secondary in the NFL. The Seahawks secondary features a trio of All-Pros in cornerback Richard Sherman, strong safety Kam Chancellor, and free safety Earl Thomas as they have been known to make life difficult on opposing quarterbacks.
But the names on the back of the jerseys of the Seahawks secondary didn’t faze Watson who led the Texans on a touchdown drive to begin the contest which concluded when he connected on a 59-yard touchdown pass with wide receiver Will Fuller to give Houston the early 7-0 advantage. However the Seahawks secondary would soon show why they are the best in the business in regards to what they do. On the Texans next drive, Watson was picked off by Thomas who returned it 78 yards for the tying score. However Watson would be immediately shrug it off as he led the Texans right back down the field in order to regain the lead at 14-7.
All afternoon Watson dueled with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. And with just under five minutes remaining in the contest, Watson put Houston in position to win as he connected with wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins on a 72-yard touchdown pass to give his team the lead at 38-34. After Houston stopped Seattle’s offense on their next possession, Watson and the offense could not run out the clock which resulted in them giving the football back to the Seahakws. And with just 21 seconds left in the contest, Wilson would find tight end Jimmy Graham for the game-winning score.
The Texans would fall just short of defeating the Seahawks, but when it was all said and done, Watson had gained the respect of his opponents as many of Seattle’s players congratulated him after the contest.
On the season Watson has 1,699 passing yards with 19 passing touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Watson has also managed to complete nearly 62% of his passes, which is the result of him being a cool customer in the pocket.
But just as the Texans were rallying around Watson as he also appeared to be a shoe-in to be named as the National Football League’s Rookie of the Year, the unthinkable happened this past Thursday at practice when he suffered a torn ACL which abruptly ended his stellar rookie campaign as well as the playoff hopes for Houston. And although that we won’t see Watson do anymore great things for the Texans on the field in 2017, he has still given this organization hope for the future.
Watson will now have the chance to reflect on the impact that he had on the field for the Texans this season, while also looking to get more familiarized with the Texans offense. Watson won’t be at the Texans practice facility, but he can still take it upon himself to study film as well as the team’s playbook. Watson has a personality that makes those around him gravitate towards him which is a reflection of his humility and poise and that impact will be felt for the Texans once he returns.
Now the job will be to get Watson healthy for 2018 as he along with defensive end J.J. Watt who was limited to just five games this season after he suffered a fractured leg are two of the cornerstones for this team. In a brief stretch Watson was able to give the Texans a glimpse towards the future which looks to be very bright if they’ll be able to keep their signal caller healthy and on the field.