If the Florida Gators want to get back onto the national scene in college football, they need to bring in Chip Kelly.
Coming into the 2016 National Football League season the bar of expectations wasn’t that high for the San Francisco 49ers who were coming off of a 5-11 season. Chip Kelly is in his first season as the head coach of the 49ers, and he joined them fresh off of posting a 26-21 record during his stint as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles which lasted nearly three years. After Kelly won the NFC East in his first year with the Eagles, he would have a mutiny on his hands as he lost the locker room there. Kelly might still have the locker room in San Francisco, but the season is slipping away from him as after the 49ers won their first game of the year, they’ve lost their last four as the campaign that most people expected them to have is in full throttle.
Prior to becoming the head coach of the Eagles, Kelly had a successful past life in college as he the head football coach of the Oregon Ducks. Kelly served as Oregon’s offensive coordinator for two years before he became the school’s head football coach in 2009 as he replaced the retiring Mike Bellotti. In four years as Oregon’s head football coach, Kelly posted a record of 46-7 which was a highlighted by a berth in the national championship game at the end of the 2010 college football season. But the allure of the National Football League was too much for Kelly to turn down which led him to joining the Eagles in 2013.
However during Kelly’s time in the National Football League, he has never been able to differentiate from the college game to the professional game in regards to how he treats his players. It is easy to control a college kid as a coach possesses his scholarship in his hands while the coach is the big man of campus. However in the NFL, the players are compensated much more than their coaches and they are the guys that are theoretically running the show. And as Kelly has never been able to adjust, the chances of him finding success in the NFL are remote at best. But there could be an escape route for him.
Last year when Steve Sarkisian was fired as the head football coach of the USC Trojans, rumors began to swirl that linked Kelly to the job. Kelly quickly squelched those rumors as he was steadfast about remaining in the National Football League which led to him joining the 49ers. But this time around Kelly could be a very wanted man as there could be a litany of big openings on college campuses that might be too much for him to pass up.
The LSU Tigers have already fired Les Miles as their head football coach, while Charlie Strong is on the hot seat with the Texas Longhorns. USC and Oregon each currently have losing records, while the Baylor Bears will be looking to make a splash with their next hire in the wake of sexual assault scandal that ultimately cost Art Briles his job there as the school’s head football coach. And you can expect all of these schools to at least put out a feeler and gauge the interest of Kelly. But would Kelly allow his ego to get in the way once again?
I’ve said it before, and I will continue to stand by it that Kelly’s style of coaching is not equipped for the National Football League, but more for the college game. Some portions of Kelly’s spread offense have had success in the NFL, but he has never warmed up to having a franchise quarterback, while he has never grasped the notion that you need stars to win in the pro game. Kelly’s undersized defenses have struggled in the NFL as they typically lose the time of possession battle due the offense scoring so quickly. Kelly can get away with this in college where there are nearly 100 players on scholarship, but it is more difficult in the NFL where there are just 53 players on the active roster which hurts his chances of winning.
When it comes to money and resources, LSU, Texas, and USC are at the top of the food chain collegiately. At USC, Kelly would have Hollywood at his back drop and he would be the star of stars as he could get the program back to what it was under current Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll. Mark Helfrich replaced Kelly at Oregon, but after immediate success in Eugene, the Ducks are once again becoming a mediocre program as Kelly could be welcomed back there with open arms. LSU would welcome Kelly with open arms as the power brokers in Baton Rogue want a head coach that will put points on the board as they grew tired of the stagnant offense that was run under Miles. And If things don’t work out for Strong at Texas which could make Kelly a wanted man in Austin, he will have a very hard time saying no because the powers that be there will park a Brinks truck loaded with cash on his front porch if need be. Baylor would still be in the mix for Kelly due to their propensity of operating the spread offense. During Kelly’s time at Oregon, he was known to recruit the State of Texas heavily which is something that could definitely be on the minds of the power brokers at both Baylor and Texas.
I’m not sure which team that Kelly will be coaching in 2017, but I doubt that it will be in the National Football League as the 49ers are currently a train wreck of a franchise. Kelly wouldn’t be the first head coach to walk away from an NFL gig in order to return to college as Nick Saban left the Miami Dolphins in 2006 to become the head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide and the rest is history as he has gone on to win four national championships in Tuscaloosa. Bobby Petrino infamously resigned as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons with three games remaining in the 2007 NFL season to become the head football coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks where he went 34-17 before resigning in 2012.
It’s time for Kelly for put his ego aside and return to college where he will have a ton of success, and nobody will think any less of him for his failed run in the National Football League.
X-Seattle Seahawks 12-4
The past four years have been the best stretch of football in the franchise history of the Seattle Seahawks. Over the stretch the Seahawks have a regular season record of 46-18 while they also have a Super Bowl Championship to their credit. And since Pete Carroll became the Seahawks head coach in 2010, this team has had depth at every position along with a competitive fire. In spite of not winning the NFC West last year, the Seahawks found a way to win a road playoff game before falling to the Carolina Panthers in the Divisional Playoffs. And as Seattle bid farewell to running back Marshawn Lynch who was arguably the most physical runner in the history of the Seahawks, this is a team that is ready to make another run at winning the Super Bowl.
As the Seahawks record over the last four years is 46-18, a solid portion of that can be attributed to quarterback Russell Wilson. In four years as the Seahawks quarterback, Wilson has provided the Seahawks with strong leadership at the most important position on the field. Aside from the quality winning percentage, Wilson knows how to take care of the football as in four years in the National Football League, he has only thrown 34 interceptions. And Wilson’s ability to protect the football, along with his strong pocket awareness put the Seahawks in a position to win each game.
The Seahawks will miss the powerful runs of Lynch, but as he missed the majority of the 2015 National Football League season due to injury, they were still third in the league in rushing. Wilson’s elusiveness as a runner will once again be on display, while the Seahawks have high expectations for running back Thomas Rawls. In 13 games with the Seahawks in 2015, Rawls averaged 5.6 yards per carry and he was on his way to gaining 1,000 yards before a broken ankle ended his campaign. But if Rawls is able to regain his form, he has plenty of speed and elusiveness in the backfield that will compliment Wilson.
The Seahawks don’t have Pro Bowlers at the wide receiver position, but it doesn’t hurt that Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, and Tyler Lockett are in sync with Wilson. Baldwin has become Wilson’s most dependable wide receiver; especially on third downs and scrambling situations, and that will once again be the case in 2016.
In the last two off-seasons there has been some roster overhaul on the Seahawks offensive line, but the new additions of offensive tackle J’Marcus Webb and guard Jahri Evans will need to keep the machine that has become the Seattle offense going.
Defensively the Seahawks can still get after opponents with the best of them as they were second in the National Football League last year in total defense. The Seahawks defense will miss the contributions of defensive end/outside linebacker Bruce Irvin, but they still have defensive end Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. Aside from cornerback Richard Sherman, Bennett might have the biggest mouth in the Pacific Northwest. And just like Sherman, Bennett knows how to back it up as his motor on the field is just as active as his mouth.
But make no mistake about the fact the strength of the Seahawks defense is still in their secondary where they have a trio of All-Pros in Sherman, free safety Earl Thomas, and strong safety Kam Chancellor who can change the game plan of opposing quarterbacks.
Under Carroll, there isn’t a facet of the game that the Seahawks don’t take for granted as you can see with their commitment to special teams. The Seahawks have one of the best place kickers in the National Football League in Steven Hauschka, a punter in Jon Ryan who typically sets the defense up with great field position, and a kick returner in Lockett who has shown in a very short time that he is always one step away from breaking a big return.
In recent years the Seahawks toughest opponent has been the Los Angeles Rams, and when these two clash in Week 2, it could set the tone for each team’s season. But when the smoke clears at the end of the season, the Seahawks should once again be the team to beat in the NFC West.
Y-Arizona Cardinals 12-4
This is the dawn of a new day for the Arizona Cardinals as for the first time since 1974-1976 when the franchise still called St. Louis, Missouri home, the Cardinals have put together three consecutive seasons in which they’ve won at least 10 games. The Cardinals also made the NFC Championship Game last year for just the second time in franchise history as there has been a definite culture change that has taken place on the watch of head coach Bruce Arians and the folks in cactus country are definitely thinking about their team winning the Super Bowl.
The success of the Cardinals begins with the health of quarterback Carson Palmer. At 36-years of age, Palmer has bounced around during his National Football League career which has included stints with the Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders. Palmer is still a very capable quarterback, but it comes down to his health as the injury bug has bitten him several times during his career.
Arians has gone to work as far as putting a solid team around Palmer that begins with the Cardinals offensive line. Guard Mike Iupati is entering his seventh National Football League season and each of the last four years have seen him reach the Pro Bowl as he is rapidly developing a reputation as one of the best guards in the game. Guard Evan Mathis joins the Cards after helping the Denver Broncos win the Super Bowl last year. And as the Cardinals are Mathis’ sixth NFL team, Arizona is hopeful that his experience will pay dividends for them this year. The Cardinals also employ two of the larger offensive tackles in football with D.J. Humphries and Jared Veldheer as this is the unit that is charged with keeping Palmer’s uniform clean.
Under Arians, the Cards have been committed to a solid running game which was evident by the fact that Arizona finished 2015 eighth in the National Football League in rushing. The Cardinals have a trio of running backs in Chris Johnson, Andre Ellington, and David Johnson that each possesses a different running style which keeps opposing defenses on their toes.
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is set to begin his 13th year with the Cardinals. And as Fitzgerald is getting older, he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down as he still has some of the best hands in football while being a dependable pass catcher for Palmer. Aside from Fitzgerald, the Cards have speed at wide receiver in the form of John Brown, along with Michael Floyd who has a big frame as he can ward off smaller defensive backs.
In 2015, the Cardinals were fifth in the National Football League in total defense as this is a veteran unit that has turned into a band of brothers. Arians has made it a point to hire former NFL players, and if you look at the Cards defensive coaching staff, defensive line coach Brenston Buckner, linebackers coach Larry Foote, and defensive backs coach Kevin Ross all played in the league which makes it easier as they can relate to their players.
The Cardinals typically run the 3-4 defense which requires a stout defensive line to open up things for the rest of the defense. On Arizona’s defensive line, the likes of Red Bryant and Calais Campbell never stop moving, while the expectations are high for rookie defensive end Robert Nkemdiche who was the Cardinals first-round pick this past spring. This off-season has seen the Cardinals acquire outside linebacker Chandler Jones from the New England Patriots as he is one of the best pass rushers in the National Football League which only makes this unit stronger.
But just like the Seattle Seahawks, the Cardinals possess one of the best secondaries in football. Cornerback Patrick Peterson has great tremendous cover skills, while safety Tyrann Mathieu is turning into one of the best defensive players in the league. And Arizona also has a hard hitting strong safety in Deone Bucannon who is known to creep up into the box as a run stopper as he is indeed an intimidator.
Of the Cardinals first six games in 2016, only the New England Patriots made the playoffs last year as they will look to keep up with the Seahawks for supremacy in the NFC West.
Los Angeles Rams 8-8
The 2016 National Football League season will be nostalgic for anyone old enough to remember the days when the Rams called Los Angeles home. From 1946-1994, the Rams played in Los Angeles, until former team owner Georgia Frontiere decided to move the team to St. Louis, Missouri. However the current Rams owner Stan Kroenke was seeking a new stadium on the St. Louis waterfront which he was unable to secure, and that led the Rams returning to Los Angeles. And once you factor in that the Raiders left Los Angeles in 1994 like the Rams did, this marks the first time in more than two decades that the second largest metropolis in the United States has an NFL franchise to call its own.
Jeff Fisher is set to embark on his fifth season as the Rams head coach and you have to wonder how much more rope that he’ll be given as he has yet to post a winning record with this team. Fisher feels that the lack of production from the quarterback position has been a hinderance to this team which led him to trading up in the National Football League Draft this past April to select quarterback Jared Goff with the first overall pick.
To me Goff needs some time to get adjusted to the professional game, but since the Rams gave up so much in the draft to get him, you can expect to see him under center sooner rather than later in Los Angeles. On top of that, Goff will be dealing with immense pressure he’ll be under the Hollywood microscope.
But while Goff is attempting to get his feet wet in the National Football League, he can rely on one of the best rushing attacks in the league. Last year as a rookie, running back Todd Gurley arrived in a very loud way with 1,106 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns to be named as the NFL’s Rookie of the Year. The Rams are hopeful that Gurley can avoid the sophomore slump while also adding to the franchise’s tradition at running back that includes Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk.
The Rams also employ one the biggest and ferocious offensive lines in football that includes offensive tackle Greg Robinson, and guard Roger Saffold as there is plenty of beef in Los Angeles.
The Rams have an intimidating defense, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are good. The Rams have a stout defensive line that includes defensive tackles Michael Brockers and Aaron Donald, along with defensive end Robert Quinn who are all talented pass rushers. But the Rams were 23rd in the National Football League last year in total defense and they allowed two leaders to leave this off-season in defensive end Chris Long who signed with the New England Patriots and middle linebacker James Laurinaitis is now with the New Orleans Saints. And that lack of leadership will definitely hurt the Rams defensively as they are seeking their first playoff berth since 2004.
The bright lights of Hollywood will be on the Rams, and it will be interesting to see how they’ll be able to handle it.
San Francisco 49ers 4-12
After being one of the best teams in the National Football League from 2011-2013, the San Francisco 49ers have once again fell on hard times. Last year saw the 49ers go 5-11 for their worst campaign since 2007. After just one year as the Niners head coach, Jim Tomsula was fired and replaced by former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. Like Tomsula, Kelly was dismissed last season. But for Kelly, he had a mutiny on his hands in the Eagles locker room. And for some strange reason, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke decided that Kelly would be the right man for the job in San Francisco.
According to the salary that Colin Kaepernick is receiving, he should be the 49ers starting quarterback, but that is something which isn’t etched in stone. Kaepernick has been the 49ers starting quarterback since 2012. But whereas Kaepernick’s athleticism allowed him to become a household name upon his arrival to the National Football League, he has been unable to make the adjustment to becoming a pocket passer. Kaepernick has been lukewarm at best to playing for Kelly who does use spread offense principles, however he’s never been a head coach that was willing to commit to using just one quarterback. The Niners were on the verge of trading Kaepernick to the Denver Broncos this off-season, until the quarterback wasn’t willing to take a pay cut. And what this makes for is something that is festering in the Bay Area that doesn’t smell good with Kelly who still has a college mindset.
Overall last year the 49ers were abysmal on offense as they were 31st in the National Football League in total offense. The Niners once proud rushing attack was reduced to a heap of rubble as they were 21st in the league in rushing with the team’s leading ground gainer being running back Carlos Hyde with just 470 yards.
Make no mistake about it that the 49ers will do a much better job of running the football this season under Kelly as he is committed to the ground game. The Niners commitment to the rushing attack begins with the offensive line that features left tackle Joe Staley who has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last five seasons, and guard Joshua Garnett who is a rookie from Stanford University that San Francisco is high on.
When the 49ers were one of the better teams in the National Football League a few years ago, their defense was stingy and full of play makers. But that is no longer the case as middle linebacker NaVorro Bowman will try to lead an unproven group that will be fighting an uphill battle in the NFC West.
Unless Kelly has changed his mindset on how he treats his players, and how he chooses to treat his starting quarterback, San Francisco needs to prepare for a very long football season.
It is safe to call Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly the made scientist of the National Football League. In three years as the Eagles head coach, Kelly has reshaped the Eagles roster in his own image and he has ruffled some feathers along the way. This past March, Kelly made a very bold and surprising move when he traded running back LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills. McCoy is in the prime of his career while also being the Eagles all-time leader in rushing yards. And McCoy’s departure in Philadelphia paved the way for the Eagles to sign running back DeMarco Murray.
Murray spent the first four years of his National Football League career with the Dallas Cowboys and last year saw him lead the league in rushing with 1,845 rushing yards. But after the Cowboys failed to offer Murray the lucrative contract that he was seeking, the Eagles and Kelly swooped in. Murray joined the Eagles after agreeing to a five-year contract that is worth $42 million, but neither side has benefited from it.
Through 12 games with the Eagles, Murray only has 603 rushing yards while he is merely averaging 3.5 yards per carry as it appears to be a classic case of keep away. When Murray was a member of the Cowboys, all he did was torch the Eagles as their defense was unable to stop him. And instead of Kelly devising a plan for his defense to put the clamps on Murray, he simply signed him in order to keep him away from the Cowboys. Murray and the Cowboys were tailor made for one another due to the fact that he is a downhill runner while the Cowboys possess one of the biggest and most physical offensive lines in the National Football League as they would creates canyons for Murray to run through. But in Philadelphia, Kelly has his spread offense which relies on a running back’s patience to pick the hole to run through along with possessing lateral movement which does not play to the strengths of Murray. This season Murray has only had one game where he was able to gain more than 100 yards rushing with the low light of his 2015 season coming in Week 2 when he was held to just 2 yards in facing his former team in the Cowboys.
Murray has been frustrated all season long, but it is a situation that you cannot feel sorry for him or Kelly as each party knew what they were getting into when they joined up. Kelly believes in his system that doesn’t fit Murray’s running style and the running back simply wanted to get paid which is why he is in Philadelphia. Murray’s ineffectiveness has seen him move down the running back depth chart in Philadelphia and there have been rumors that he could simply be released in the off-season.
The grass definitely hasn’t been greener as Murray wanted the money, but his production has dipped. And for Kelly, he acts as if he can run the Eagles in the same fashion that he operated when he was in college as the head football coach of the Oregon Ducks. But unlike college, the head coach isn’t the most important figure on the team as it is the players, and in the National Football League, you need stars to win and you must also adjust your system in order to fit the talent of those stars.
Kelly claims that trading McCoy to the Bills was a financial move, but you can see the writing on the wall that he was threatened by the running back and any other players on the Eagles roster that had more star appeal and sizzle than him.
In 2014, the Eagles simply cut wide receiver DeSean Jackson who was a three-time Pro Bowl selection in Philadelphia. And to make matters worse, reports began to surface last year that someone within the Eagles front office began to start a rumor about Jackson having alleged gang ties. This past off-season, Kelly allowed wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to leave in free agency as he signed with the Kansas City Chiefs after leading the team in receiving yards last year.
In three years with the Eagles, Kelly has indeed done things his way as team owner Jeffrey Lurie has also made him the de facto general manager which means that he has the final say in all personnel moves. The Eagles are currently 6-7 which surprisingly finds them in a first-place tie in the NFC East, but there is absolutely nothing about this team that displays them being a legit Super Bowl threat as Kelly’s coaching style isn’t cutting it in the National Football League with Murray standing out as the prime example.
In 2013, Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie made a splash when he went to the the college ranks to find his next head coach. After four years at the University of Oregon, Chip Kelly decided to take his fast paced, spread offense to the National Football League when he agreed to become the head coach of the Eagles. Kelly had his fair share of skeptics as far as him being able to succeed in the NFL due to the fact that his spread offense was a bit unconventional. Kelly would have immediate success in 2013 as he led the Eagles to the NFC East Title with a record of 10-6. The Eagles would once again go 10-6 last year, but this time around they would fail to make the postseason. However things are a little bit different for Kelly and the Eagles this time around as after four games in 2015, they are 1-3 and still searching for answers.
Lurie has not only made Kelly the Eagles head coach, but he has also made him the team’s de facto general manager as he now oversees all of the team’s personnel decisions. And now that Kelly has the keys to the car, he is attempting to build the Eagles in his own image, but is it working?
When Kelly became the Eagles head coach in 2013, he inherited a team that had talent at the offensive skill positions, but he has decided to part with it. In 2014, the Eagles released wide receiver DeSean Jackson who would ultimately sign with the Washington Redskins. Jackson’s departure from Philadelphia was rather controversial due to the fact that he claimed that someone within the Eagles organization began to spread rumors about him having gang affiliations. This past off-season, the Eagles decided to trade running LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills while allowing wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to leave as a free agent as he would go on to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs. McCoy left Philadelphia as the Eagles all-time leading rusher and he is in the prime of his football career at the age of 27 which made his departure so surprising. After trading McCoy, Kelly decided to sign running back DeMarco Murray who led the National Football League in rushing last year as a member of the Dallas Cowboys. But through four games this season, Murray only has 11 yards on the ground which has led to a frustrated and irate running back who sounded off during the Eagles 20-3 home loss in Week 2 to the Dallas Cowboys as Kelly must realize that he is not in college anymore and his spread offense isn’t guaranteed to succeed.
By Lurie making Kelly the de facto general manager, he has only fed the ego of his head coach. One of the biggest differences in the college game as opposed to the pros is that the coach has all of the power collegiately being that he possesses total control over the student-atheletes. But in the pro ranks it is totally different as players make more money that their head coaches and in the National Football League, you need stars to win. Kelly has decided to part with the star players such as Jackson, McCoy, and Maclin while relying on his system alone which won’t amount to too many victories in the NFL.
Kelly’s system philosophy is also visible at the most important position on the football field which is quarterback. Since 2013, the Eagles have had four different starting quarterbacks with none of them being able to last a whole season due to injury. Kelly’s quarterbacks tend to get injured because of the system that they are playing in which has them carrying the ball as if they are running backs. Quarterbacks in the Eagles system take unnecessary hits, and unlike the college game, linebackers and defensive lineman are equally as fast as the signal callers. And when they hit quarterbacks outside of the pocket, they are free meat.
Sam Bradford is the latest contestant on wheel of quarterbacks with the Eagles. Bradford was acquired by the Eagles this past off-season from the St. Louis Rams. Bradford was the first overall pick of the 2010 National Football League Draft by the Rams. Bradford’s career record as a starting quarterback is only 19-33-1 and he has only been able to make all 16 regular season starts twice in his NFL career while failing to play a full season since 2012. Through four games this season, Bradford has completed 62.4 percent of his passes, but he’s already thrown 4 interceptions to just a pair of touchdown passes which has already brought jeers and angst in Philadelphia.
When Murray led the National Football League in rushing last season as a member of the Cowboys, he played behind one of the best offensive lines in football. And like Bradford, Murray has had durability issues as well being that 2014 was the only year in which he made all 16 regular season starts. In Dallas, Murray also had the luxury of playing with Pro Bowl caliber talent at the skill positions in quarterback Tony Romo, tight end Jason Witten, and wide receiver Dez Bryant. Now with the Eagles, Murray is just another guy that Kelly will look to fit into his system instead of him adjusting his system to his personnel. Murray is not a running back that will benefit from the spread offense, but at the same time he knew what he was getting into when he sought out the payday that the Eagles were offering him. And to make matters worse for Murray and the Eagles, he is currently nursing a hamstring injury.
Since Kelly came to Philadelphia, he has gone with an undersized defense that is predicated on speed. The Eagles currently only have five defensive players that tip the scales at 300 lbs. or higher. The lighter defense hasn’t helped the Eagles as they are currently 23rd in total defense in the National Football League while being 29th in 2013, and 28th in 2014 which isn’t going to get it done in the professional ranks. And as the season progresses, the Eagles defense tends to wear down due to the fact that they are giving up size; especially in their front seven.
When the Eagles won the NFC East in 2013, Kelly was the talk of the National Football League as he and Lurie appeared to be geniuses. But a head coach in the NFL cannot solely rely on his system as it is also about the players there as well. When Kelly was hired, the Eagles were riding the trend of NFL teams hiring college head coaches after seeing the success of Pete Carroll with the Seattle Seahawks and Jim Harbaugh who was formerly of the San Francisco 49ers. But unlike Carroll who had previously coached in the NFL with the New York Jets and New England Patriots, and Harbaugh who had played in the league as a quarterback, Kelly didn’t have prior experience in the pro ranks which appears to be hurting Philadelphia. By the looks of things the NFC East will be weak this year and a record of 8-8 or 9-7 might win it. But even with that, the Eagles could be the odd team out in the race and if Kelly wants to have a long tenure in the NFL, it might be time to made some adjustments to his philosophy.
X-Dallas Cowboys 10-6
The bar of expectations will be a little bit higher for the Dallas Cowboys this season. The Cowboys are coming off of their first NFC East Title since 2009 and they feel like they have a team that is capable of winning the Super Bowl.
In 2014, the Cowboys had the second best rushing attack in the NFL and they still like their chances this season in spite of not having running back DeMarco Murray. Last season Murray led the NFL in rushing with 1,845 rushing yards, but the Cowboys elected to let him leave Dallas as a free agent which led him to signing with the rival Philadelphia Eagles. Murray has been replaced on the Cowboys roster by running back Darren McFadden. McFadden was the fourth overall pick of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders and he has never lived up to his potential: more importantly, McFadden has never been able to stay healthy as he has only appeared in all 16 regular season games once in his seven-year NFL career. And although McFadden is 28-years old, he appears to have already lost some of his explosiveness as a runner.
But Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jason Garrett are counting on McFadden having a productive season in 2015 due to the fact that Dallas arguably possesses the best offensive line in the National Football League. Cowboys offensive tackle Tyron Smith is emerging as one of the best left tackles in football as he is an anchor for this unit.
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is coming off of a year where he only threw 9 interceptions, but that can be credited to the fact that Dallas was able to run the football extremely effectively. The Cowboys still have quality guys to catch the football in tight end Jason Witten along with wide receivers Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley. But Romo has a history of throwing interceptions and he also cannot afford to take too many sacks due to his bad back.
The Cowboys are looking to get more out of their pass rush as they only tallied 28 sacks last year. The Cowboys drafted defensive end Randy Gregory in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft while they signed former Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy. But Hardy will miss the first four games of the upcoming NFL season as the result of a league suspension for domestic violence; however he feels that he has what it takes to become a leader for the Cowboys.
At linebacker, the Cowboys have some potential as long as key players are able to stay healthy. In the last three years linebacker Sean Lee has only played in 17 games as knee injuries have limited him, but he is back in 2015 looking to contribute for the Cowboys. After being the eighth overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Raiders, middle linebacker Rolando McClain became an afterthought. But after a disappointing stint with the Raiders and Baltimore Ravens, McClain began to live up his potential last year with the Cowboys. However the Cowboys will be without McClain’s services for the first four games of 2015 due to a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs.
The Cowboys appeared ready to give up cornerback Morris Claiborne as they used their first round pick this past spring on cornerback Byron Jones whom they expect to be an immediate impact player in the secondary. The Cowboys also have veteran cornerbacks in Brandon Carr who will team with Claiborne after cornerback Orlando Scandrick was put on injured reserve with a torn ACL. But this Cowboys secondary will rely on the front seven of the defense to create pressure which could lead to interceptions.
The Cowboys first two games of the NFL season will see them take on the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles. But with no team expected to run away with the NFC East, a slow start wouldn’t hurt the Cowboys while a fast start will have them sitting pretty.
Y-New York Giants 10-6
The New York Giants are coming off of consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 2004 and this is a team that is itching to once again become relevant in the National Football League. Quarterback Eli Manning is set to embark on his 12th season with the Giants and his second under offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. McAdoo came to the Giants last year after a stint as the Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach and he brought with him a new offense that relies on Manning getting the football out quicker. Manning did improve under McAdoo as he had a career-high in completion percentage last season of 63.1 and he threw 30 touchdown passes for just the second time in his career. But even with that, Giants head coach Tom Coughlin and McAdoo are hopeful that Manning’s numbers will improve in 2015. Manning is set up to have a big season due to the fact that he is entering the last year of his contract and with the Giants prepared to allow him to play it out, the two-time Super Bowl MVP should be locked in under center.
As 2014 progressed, the Giants offense came on as Manning built a rapport with wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Beckham had a rookie season for the ages as in just 12 games he tallied 91 receptions for 1,305 receiving yards and 12 receiving touchdowns. Beckham became the first Giants rookie since Jeremy Shockey in 2002 to be named as the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. But as good as Beckham’s rookie season was, there is room for improvement and the Giants are hopeful that he can avoid both the sophomore and Madden cover jinxes in 2015. Beckham is looking to team with wide receiver Victor Cruz who himself is attempting to return from a torn patellar tendon that forced him to miss the final ten games of the season. Cruz is 28-years old and the Giants are hopeful that he still has some explosiveness in his body that has propelled him into being one of the best slot receivers in the game. Giants wide receiver Rueben Randle has continued to improve in his first three seasons and he and “Big Blue” are hopeful that he can have a Pro Bowl caliber campaign in 2015. Throughout his NFL career, Manning has had a thing to “make” tight ends which should benefit tight Larry Donnell who is looking to be more than just an overnight sensation.
These aren’t your father’s Giants as the past few seasons have seen New York become one of worst the rushing squads in the National Football League. The Giants were 23rd in the NFL last season in rushing and it appears that it will be a running-back-by-committee in 2015. Running back Andre Williams showed flashes of being an every down back in his rookie season of 2014, but under Coughlin, blitz pickup and the ability to read defenses is just as important as what you do with the football. And if Coughlin doesn’t trust his running backs, they don’t play. The Giants signed former New England Patriots running back Shane Vereen to team with Williams and veteran running back Rashad Jennings in New York’s backfield. Vereen has been good at catching passes out of the backfield and this three-headed monster has the potential to be effective for the Giants in 2015.
For the Giants to be a playoff team in 2015, they’ll need consistency from their offensive line this season. Things didn’t get started on the right foot for the Giants when offensive tackle Will Beatty suffered a torn pectoral muscle which will sideline him for a portion of the upcoming season. Beatty has protected Manning’s blindside for the past few seasons at left tackle as he has had a ton of responsibility placed on him. Giants general manager Jerry Reese used the team’s first round pick in the NFL Draft this past spring on offensive tackle Ereck Flowers. Flowers was expected to be the Giants left tackle of the future and he would be eased into things this season by starting off at right tackle. But Beatty’s injury means that it will baptism by fire for Flowers who will have to prove his worth at left tackle to begin the season against some of the top defensive ends in the game. The Giants and McAdoo will more than likely slide their protection more to give Flowers some help as he gets adjusted at left tackle and more importantly, to protecting Manning. Justin Pugh has shifted to right guard while the Giants are hopeful that 2014 second round pick Weston Richburg is ready for the responsibilities that come with being an NFL center.
Defensively the Giants are happy to welcome back a familiar face. From 2007-2008, Steve Spagnuolo was the Giants defensive coordinator and he made a name for himself in helping New York upset the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 42. Spagnuolo is back with the Giants as he will look to use his famed “NASCAR” package where he puts three or four defensive ends on the field in passing situations. And luckily for the Giants and Spagnuolo, they have the horses to get it done.
Injuries have limited Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul over the past few seasons which led him to being hit with the dreaded franchise tag as opposed to receiving a long-term deal. The Giants were hopeful that they would get the “JPP” in 2015 that was a one man gang in 2011 when he helped New York with the Super Bowl Title. But things changed drastically over the summer when Pierre-Paul had one of his fingers amputated as the result of a fireworks accident. Pierre-Paul has yet to sign his franchise tender and it is tough for anyone to anticipate him being the player that he once was. Veteran defensive end Robert Ayers is looking to bounce back from an injury filled 2014 while the Giants are hopeful that defensive end Damontre Moore is ready to become an every down player. The Giants drafted defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa in the third round this past spring and his athleticism gives him the potential to be an impact player.
But more than anything, the Giants are relying on potential impact players remaining healthy. The Giants acquired middle linebacker Jon Beason from the Carolina Panthers in 2013, and their defense is totally different when he has been on the field as he missed 12 games last year for New York. Beason has tremendous intelligence at middle linebacker and his presence on the field gives the Giants an attitude and swagger.
The Giants are also looking for their secondary to remain healthy as well. The presence of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie last year made cornerback Prince Amukamara step his game up as the Giants have a pair of underrated cornerbacks. After losing safety Antrel Rolle in free agency to the Chicago Bears, the Giants will be inexperienced a safety this year. Reese would select free safety Landon Collins in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft as he is expected to be an impact player, but there will more than likely be a learning curve involved.
Lately the National Football League has made it a habit of having the Giants begin the season against the Dallas Cowboys which will once again be the case in 2015. But the Giants need to make a push towards the postseason as it will hard for Reese and Coughlin to maintain their jobs without a trip to the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year.
Philadelphia Eagles 8-8
In two seasons as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, Chip Kelly has produced an overall record of 20-12, but no victories in the postseason. In 2013, Kelly’s Eagles went 10-6 and won the NFC East. But last year the Eagles 10-6 record wasn’t even good enough for them to make the playoffs and by the looks of things, it will be very different for them in 2015.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie has basically given Kelly free reign to do whatever he pleases with the roster in Philadelphia and that is basically what has happened. The Eagles have undergone a massive roster overhaul since Kelly took over and it’ll will be interesting to see how that will pan out for them in 2015.
Last year Kelly simply released wide receiver DeSean Jackson who would end up signing with the Washington Redskins. This year Kelly traded running back LeSean McCoy who is the franchise’s all-time leading rusher and still in the prime of his career to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for inside linebacker Kiko Alonso. The Eagles did sign running back DeMarco Murray who led the National Football League is rushing last season as a member of the Dallas Cowboys, but he has a history of being unable to stay healthy. The Eagles also allowed wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to leave as a free agent and sign with the Kansas City Chiefs. Now Kelly is hopeful that wide receiver Jordan Matthews is ready to emerge as the team’s top receiver in 2015 as he relies more on his system than the actual players that are in it.
The Eagles have two quarterbacks on their roster and it would not surprise me one bit if both were to take some snaps as the starter this year. It will more than likely be Sam Bradford who gets the nod to begin the season as the Eagles starting quarterback, but behind him there is Mark Sanchez. Bradford has never been able to stay healthy while quarterbacks in Kelly’s system have been unable to last a full season either as his system relies on his signal callers running with the football as well which leads to vicious hits from opposing defenders.
Defensively the Eagles are undersized which leads them to wearing down as the season goes along as they have struggled against teams that can effectively run the football and it will once again hinder them in 2015.
Three of the Eagles first six games will be against their NFC East rivals and where Philadelphia might be able to get off to a quick start, as the season goes along, they will wear down.
Washington Redskins 6-10
The younger generation of football fans that follow the Washington Redskins might not remember the team’s glory days. From 1981-1992, the Redskins won three Super Bowl Titles and they made the playoffs eight times with just losing season over that stretch. But since then the Redskins have become a laughing stock as they have only won two playoff games and since 2003, and they’ve had eight years in which they lost at least 10 games.
In order to turn things around in 2012, the Redskins mortgaged the future as they traded a slew of draft picks which included three, first-round picks to the St. Louis Rams for the second overall pick of the 2012 National Football League which Washington used to select quarterback Robert Griffin III. In 2012, Griffin took the NFL by storm as he led the Redskins to their first NFC East Title since 1999. But a knee injury towards the end of that season limited Griffin physically which lingered over into 2013. And now Griffin appears to be a shaken quarterback as he is lacking confidence. Jay Gruden is in his second year as the head coach of the Redskins and he has never fully committed to Griffin which means that upcoming National Football League season could be a ticking time bomb in D.C. And that fuse appears to have already been lit since Gruden will go with Kirk Cousins this year as the Redskins starting quarterback.
Alfred Morris is set to embark on his fourth season as the Redskins starting running back, but his production has dipped in each year due to the fact that Washington has not had consistent quarterback play.
The Redskins have a home-run hitter at wide receiver in DeSean Jackson who is still one of the fastest players in the NFL, but with Washington’s problems at quarterback along with questions on the offensive line, his production could be limited in 2015.
Joe Barry is set to begin his first season as the defensive coordinator of the Redskins. The Redskins will have plenty of size on their defensive line in the form of Terrance Knighton, Ricky Jean-Francois, Stephen Paea, and Jerrell Powe as they will look to free things up for linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy. Kerrigan is coming off of best season as an outside linebacker in the NFL as he recorded 13.5 sacks and the Redskins will need Murphy to offset his production as an edge rusher opposite him.
The last thing that the Redskins can afford is a slow start in 2015 which could signal the end for RGIII and Gruden in D.C.
Y-Clinched Wild Card
Best Pick: Round One-Byron Jones-Cornerback-Connecticut
The Dallas Cowboys entered the 2015 National Football League Draft expected to select a running back after watching running back DeMarco Murray leave in free agency to join the Philadelphia Eagles. With running backs Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon off of the board by the time that the Cowboys selected in the first round, the Cowboys turned their attention to cornerback Bryon Jones. At 6’1″, Jones is an athletic cornerback from the University of Connecticut who will more than likely be a starter when the regular season rolls around. Jones joining the Cowboys lets you know how the team feels about cornerback Morris Claiborne. In 2012, the Cowboys traded up to draft Claiborne who has not been as good as advertised.
In the second round, the Cowboys decided to roll the dice on defensive end Randy Gregory. Gregory was a dynamic edge rusher at the University of Nebraska, but off-the-field issues including testing positive for marijuana hurt his draft stock. Gregory can be coached up in the NFL, it is just a matter of him showing the maturity that comes along with being a professional.
But the main question mark for the Cowboys in regards to the 2015 NFL Draft is the fact that they decided to pass on selecting a running which means that they are content with Darren McFadden being their feature back next season.
Best Pick: Round Two-Eric Rowe-Cornerback-Utah
The Philadelphia Eagles only had five picks at the 2015 NFL Draft as there wasn’t a great opportunity for them to add depth. The Eagles reached in the first round when they used the 20th overall pick on wide receiver Nelson Agohlor. To me Agohlor didn’t have first round talent and at this point he was not the best wide receiver available. But for Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, Agohlor will be a system player for him. The second round saw the Eagles select cornerback Eric Rowe. Rowe is a versatile cornerback that can be a safety as well as Kelly loves to have versatile players.
After parting with so much talent this off-season such as running back LeSean McCoy, the Eagles didn’t replace them as Kelly is attempting to build a team in his own image.
New York Giants
Best Pick: Round Two-Landon Collins-Strong Safety-Alabama
This was the first time since 2004 that the New York Giants would be picking in the top ten of the NFL Draft and they were out to find an impact player there. By most draft observers, the Giants were expected to select Brandon Scherff in the first round, but the Washington Redskins beat them to it. Instead the Giants opted for another offensive tackle in Ereck Flowers. As the Giants set out to protect their franchise quarterback in Eli Manning, Flowers is expected to be the big body that will protect his blind side.
The Giants got a huge steal in the second when they selected strong safety Landon Collins. Collins had first round talent, but he fell to the second round. Giants general manager Jerry Reese traded up with the Tennessee Titans to use the first pick of the second round on Collins. This off-season has seen the Giants lose strong safety Antrel Rolle and free safety Stevie Brown to free agency and they had a huge void in the secondary. Collins is a safety that isn’t afraid to come down into the box and play the run, but teams were scared off of his ability in pass coverage.
Like Collins, the Giants got another steal in the third round when they selected defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa. Odighizuwa had first round potential, but he slipped and Reese was able to find him in the third round. Reese loves to stock up on pass rushers and Odighizuwa should see significant snaps in the Giants defensive end rotation.
The fifth round saw the Giants take another safety in Mykkele Thompson from the University of Texas while they finished up their draft by adding more depth on the offensive line by selecting offensive tackle Bobby Hart in the seventh round.
The Giants have failed to make the playoffs since they won the Super Bowl in 2011 and they are hopeful that this draft class will be a part of their potential turnaround.
Best Pick: Round Three-Matt Jones-Running Back-Florida
Too often we’ve seen the Washington Redskins picking early at the NFL Draft and that was the same case last week. The Redskins had the fifth overall selection which they used on offensive tackle Brandon Scherff as they appear to be all in on building around quarterback Robert Griffin III. This was a draft that was based solely off of adding depth as Redskins head coach Jay Gruden is working to change the Redskins image.
There is no doubt that Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly dances to a different beat. Prior to becoming the head coach of the Eagles, Kelly was the head football coach of the Oregon Ducks. In four seasons at Oregon, Kelly’s record was 46-7 including three Pac-12 Conference Titles. Kelly built his Oregon program on speed and his uptempo spread offense. Kelly drew national recognition for his coaching style and after previously flirting with becoming the head of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he joined the Eagles in 2013.
Kelly had immediate success with the Eagles as he led them to the NFC East Title in just his first year on the job. In two seasons with the Eagles, Kelly has a record of 20-12, but heading into next season Philadelphia’s roster will look totally different.
This off-season Kelly has been wheeling and dealing as established players at the skill positions have been leaving Philadelphia faster than the Amtrak from Penn Station there. In six seasons with the Eagles, running back LeSean McCoy became the team’s all-time leading rusher. McCoy is only 26-years of age, but Kelly was attempting to make salary cap space and he traded him to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for linebacker Kiko Alonso. Kelly instead opted to sign former Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray to a five-year, $42 million deal to replace McCoy in Philadelphia. Murray is coming off a season in which he led the NFL in rushing yards with 1,845, but this past season is the only one of his four-year career in which he made all 16 starts.
Like McCoy, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin is only 26-years of age and he is coming off of his finest season in the NFL as he tallied 1,318 receiving yards and 10 receiving touchdowns. But Maclin was a free agent and he left Philadelphia to sign a five-year, $55 million deal to join former Eagles head coach Andy Reid with the Kansas City Chiefs. In 2013, quarterback Nick Foles burst onto the scene by throwing 27 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions for the Eagles. But Foles was traded to the St. Louis Rams this week in exchange for quarterback Sam Bradford. The past few weeks have also seen the Eagles release longtime veterans in guard Todd Herremans and defensive end/outside linebacker Trent Cole. And the only thing that these moves have done is to make the folks on Broad Street scratch their heads.
When Kelly came to the Eagles it appeared to be a match made in heaven. When Reid was fired by the Eagles, he left Kelly with a speedy team that he was capable of working with due to his coaching philosophies. But Kelly has parted with that speed and you cannot forget about him simply releasing wide receiver DeSean Jackson last year.
The main problem going on right now with Kelly is that he has simply allowed his ego to get the best of him. This off-season Howie Roseman was relieved of his duties as Eagles general manager and he is now the team’s executive vice president of football operations. Now along with being the Eagles head coach, Kelly is the team’s general manager and the only person that he has to answer to in the organization is team owner Jeffrey Lurie which gives him free reign to make whatever personnel decisions that his heart desires.
But the National Football League is not run like things are in college. At Oregon, Kelly’s word was law and he could recruit and control players to fit his system. However in the NFL, for the most part it is the players that make more money than the head coaches. And those same head coaches are charged with adjusting their system to their players.
Kelly’s spread offense has been a success in its first two years in the NFL as the Eagles have finished second and fifth respectively in total offense under him. But unless Kelly has an ace up his sleeve, the Eagles are going into next season with Riley Cooper slated to be their top wide receiver which doesn’t leave you with a ton of optimism as he has gained just 2,091 receiving yards in five seasons in the league. Kelly’s system also puts a ton of pressure on the quarterback to be a runner and thus no signal-caller in his two years with the Eagles has been able to make all 16 starts as they take their fair share of hits. Now Kelly is turning to a quarterback in Bradford that is 18-30-1 as a starter in the NFL and he hasn’t played a full season since 2012. You cannot coach speed in the NFL and you can also not afford to have consistent turnover at the quarterback position like the Eagles are currently having. Under Kelly, the Eagles have used four different starting quarterbacks. Kelly’s reasoning with deciding to part with so many talented players is beyond logic. The fans in Philly have been behind Kelly so far, but we all know that the folks in the City of Brotherly Love will turn on you in a heartbeat if they don’t agree with what you’re doing. At this point Kelly better hit a grand slam at the NFL Draft this spring to improve the talent on the Eagles roster or the folks in Philadelphia will turn on him while reminiscing of the days when Reid roamed the sidelines there.