Tag Archives: NFL

The Golden Fundamental

Vikings strong safety Harrison Smith started his career as a linebacker at Notre Dame. His sophomore and junior year he played a mix of both strong safety and linebacker. In his senior season, he was finally slotted for good as the Irish starting strong safety. Always a little undersized at linebacker, Vikings fans ought to be thankful for the decision to keep him at safety.

While Smith has a ways to go to catch up to the hard hitting, ball-hawking Dawkins, their styles of play are very similar.

Through his first 4 NFL games as a starting strong safety, the Notre Dame rookie and first round pick has been fundamentally sound. He has not made a ton of flashy plays. But, he has also not done anything to hurt the Vikings defense. As a rookie, playing a difficult NFL position, he has lived up to his billing. He takes good angles to make tackles. He fills gaps with a gusto. And, when need be, he can absolutely lay the wood on an opposing receiver, tight end, or running back.

At Notre Dame, Smith was a steady performer who had 90 tackles in his senior season. He was also team captain and leader of a pretty stingy Irish defense. It is those intangibles that have been contagious on the 2012 Vikings defense. Smith’s presence in the Vikings secondary has helped transform a pass defense that last season was one of the worst in the league, into one of the league’s better pass defenses.

The Vikings have not had a strong safety of this quality since Robert Griffith roamed the secondary. And while Smith has not yet displayed Griffith’s nose for the ball, Smith has shown a tenacity and toughness that you cannot teach. The guy is just nails.

Last week’s game against the Motor City Kitties is the perfect example. With the Kitties trying to comeback, Fat Stafford threw a deep post to All-Universe WR Calvin Johnson. And yes, Johnson is every bit of 6’5″ and 230 lbs. The guy is a beast. Johnson was supposed to be covered by 5’9″ Antoine Winfield and 5’10” Jamarca Sanford. Sanford blew his coverage and, last year, it would have been a pitch and catch TD for the Kitties. See here if you need proof. This year, the Golden Fundamental, Smith, came to the rescue. He cheated back into the play and delivered monster hit on Megatron. We are talking Mack truck.

No, that is not a Kitties’ receiver, that is Alligator mississippiensis.

That hit served two purposes. First, it jarred the ball loose and took seven points off the board. But second, and maybe more importantly, it set the tone for later in the game. When the Kitties were trying to come back in the 4th Quarter and, it seemed like on every down field pass, the Kitties’ receivers were pulling a Qadry Ismail and short-arming their attempt at catching the ball. The sudden appearance of alligator arms was likely because of Smith’s looming presence in the secondary.

This week the Vikings face a Tenessee Titans squad that has been beaten by 20+ points in three out of their four games. The Titans offense has looked Rip Torn-mug shot bad and their defense has looked worse — think James Brown’s police photoshoot. Even though Matt Hasselbeck is a seasoned NFL QB, okay fine, maybe he is a little over-seasoned, Smith and the Vikings defense should be able to hold the Titans offense in check.

Provided the Vikings offense can put up a few scores against the Titans, the Vikings should have no issues getting win number four. Especially with the Golden Fundamental laying the wood on anyone brave enough to go after a pass in his secondary.

Vikings 23 Titans 13

2012 is The New YOTTO

2012 is The New YOTTO

Somewhere in Chico, CA, Aaron Rodgers is smiling. Jermichael Finley signed a two-year, $14M contract tonight – good for the fourth-most average per year money by a TE. The deal is a compromise between the two sides on two fronts: (1) it essentially splits the difference between the franchise numbers for TE and WR (remember, Team JMike was prepared to argue his franchise number should be a WR based on where he lines up – for the record, JMike lined up as a WR a little less than half the snaps last season (which means he may have had a winning argument because he also lined up in the backfield on occasion too)); and (2) the Packers get to wait a few more seasons to determine if JMike is an essential player to keep around under a long-term deal, and the flip-side, of course, is JMike hits free agency again at age 26 and will look to cash in.

Packers fans out there should be very excited about this new deal. Undoubtedly, JMike is the enigma of the Packers. He’s brash, outspoken, and the only showy-type receiver on the squad. Hell, he has his own personal motto for his TD celebration – YOTTO (Year Of The Take-Over). But, he’s also the Packers most physically gifted receiver, a matchup nightmare, and has all the potential in the world. But therein lies the problem. He has all this talent and potential, but hasn’t exactly put it together in a season yet.

The closest we have come to seeing his utter dominance was in this Tecmo Bowl shootout in 2009

The closest we came to seeing his potential dominance was at the end of his second year, in particular the Arizona Cardinals videogame-like playoff game. Remember this (go to 2:49 mark to see exactly what I’m talking about. I mean, he posterized Bryant McFadden like Vinsanity did to ‘Zo Mourning back in the day!) JMike carried it over to the start of the 2010 season where he had 300+ yards in 4 starts, including a huge performance at Chicago on MNF – 9 catches for 115 yards. JMike was Rodgers’ favorite target and really leading the offense. Then, pop goes the ACL.

Since that time, JMike has not returned to his pre-injury self, as far as the stats go. Last season, JMike put up a 55/767/8 stat line, good for 15th, 12th, and 3rd in the league for TE’s. When you add in the number of drops he had, it was clearly just an OK season by a player that had a mountain of expectation on him. But, I truly believe that his value to the team goes far beyond these stats suggest. The 2011 Packers offense was the best in franchise history and single-handedly led the Packers to the best regular season record by putting up Tecmo Bowl numbers. JMike offered a tremendous amount of flexibility and creativity to the offense. At various times during the season, JMike lined up as an in-line TE, slot WR, split-end WR, and in the backfield as a FB or RB. Such creativity permits the Packers offense to dictate the match-ups they get from the defense. Along those lines, it’s naive to think JMike’s presence didn’t permit Jordy to break out like he did. Now, before you send me hate mail about this last comment, know that I am not saying JMike’s presence is the only reason Jordy established himself as a legitimate no. 2 WR. What I am saying, though, is Jordy benefits greatly from JMike drawing so much attention. Part of the reason everyone was so dumbfounded teams didn’t double-team Jordy, even though he was becoming a breakout, fringe Pro-Bowler, is because teams picked their poison in making sure JMike and Jennings didn’t kill them. Any quote you read from opposing scouts, defensive coordinators, or their water boys will uniformly say that JMike is a player they have to account for when lining up against the Packers.

Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that the new NFL trend on offense is featuring supremely athletic and impossible-to-cover TE’s (think Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis, and Rob “Jersey Shore” Gronkowski). The Packers have that in JMike and would be foolish to have let him walk, right before he enters the prime of his career. And, before you claim the Pack can do just fine without him, evidenced by the 2010 Super Bowl without him, remember Quarles may not play next year after his devastating late-season knee injury and D.J. Williams is not the answer, despite him winning the John Mackey Award at Arkansas (pretty sure Ron Dayne and Rashaan Salaam would be happy to remind you that college awards mean nothing at the next level.)

Tonight is a good night in Packers nation. Despite some negative opinions out there about JMike, he is a hard-worker and should bounce-back after a down 2011 season. I, for one, anticipate 2012 being The New YOTTO.

Cris “All I do is get snubbed” Carter

Cris “All I do is catch touchdowns” Carter cannot catch a break in his quest for Canton. His stats undeniably show he is a Hall of Famer: 1,101 receptions, 13,899 yards, 130 TD’s (at the time of his retirement, these numbers were good for no. 2 on the all-time receiving list), 8 straight seasons with 1,000 yards, 5 straight seasons with 10+ TD catches, 8 Pro Bowl selections, and was voted a member of the 1990s All-Decade team. Those that witnessed him play would agree – the guy was a gamer. He trademarked the tip-toe sideline catch. And despite his early-career transgressions, Cris Carter was instrumental in mentoring a young Randy Moss as the Vikings cruised to a 15-1 record, and a missed FG (nice snap Superstar) from a Super Bowl berth. So what, exactly, is holding him back to what should be an inevitable election to the Hall of Fame?

Carter's HOF candidacy has been anything but a vacation.

Some opine that Cris Carter and Andre Reed (another WR HOF finalist) are canceling each other out. But, this does not jive with their statistics.  Carter’s numbers are flat out better. He has more receptions, yards, touchdowns, and pro-bowl berths. Reed, of course, played in more Super Bowls, albeit, for the losing squad every time. Because of the Super Bowls, Reed may be deserving of enshrinement, however, if you’re choosing between two similar players, it should come down to the numbers. And the fact that Carter was voted to the all-decade team and Reed was not, should solidify Carter’s dominance amongst his peers. If a voter votes for Reed, and not Carter, he should have his HOF voting rights stripped.

For an unknown reason, WR have a tougher time getting enshrined compared to other offensive skilled positions. It could be that they are considered the “divas” of the football team.  WR’s are not well represented in the Hall, particularly when compared to their fellow “skill position” players at QB and RB. There are only 4 WR’s in the Hall that have played into the 1990’s, compared to 7 QB’s and 7 RB’s. And they often have to wait nearly twice as long after retirement for their induction too. This last point is most noticeable by the fact that Curtis Martin was elected this year over Carter. Martin’s stats are certainly deserving of enshrinement, but, how are his stats any different than Carter’s stats when compared to his WR peers?

No joke, Hartman may have cast a vote for FDR (in more than one election)!!

Unfortunately, it is likely the process itself that is keeping Carter from receiving his just reward.  HOF candidates are selected and voted upon by the senior representative writer from that player’s “hometown” (the place he played for most of his career).  This means that since Carter’s retirement, his HOF candidacy has been in the ancient hands of Sid Hartman.  That is right, a man who may have voted for FDR, yes, that FDR, is charged with determining whether Carter should get in.  There have been more than rumbles over the past ten years that maybe this important role should be tasked to someone who is a little more “in touch” with the candidates.

Not only has Sid failed to advance Carter’s case, there have been multiple reports that Sid is not well-liked among his fellow HOF voters.   This means that even when Sid finally gets around to touting Carter’s case, the other writers are not exactly going to rally to the cry.  It is a bad joke that Carter’s lone voice is a curmudgeon who is unwilling to relinquish his post and instead continues to carry the banner for injustices of days gone by (think, Jim Marshall and Mick Tinglehoff).  Interesting enough, Randle McDaniel (considered by many to own the Greatest of All-Time label) suffered the same fate as Carter, waiting for years until he was finally enshrined.

I am not sure if Sid is the ONLY reason for Carter’s exclusion, but, I suspect it is the main reason.  Regardless, it needs to be rectified, and soon. Unfortunately for Carter, next year’s class will not make it any easier on him, with new candidates in Michael Strahan, Larry Allen, Jonathan Ogden, Steve McNair, and Warren Sapp. With only five “modern-era” players elected each year, we may be having this same discussion for a few more years.

The 1,567,438th Super Bowl XLVI Preview!!

I bet some of you are wondering, wait a minute, Border Rivals has Super Bowl preview??  I mean, sure, one of us is still creeping back off the ledge because his beloved Packers got Coughlin’d (again) a couple of weeks in the cathedral that used to be home-field advantage, Lambeau Field.  And of course, Border Rivals’ resident Vikings rube is still glowing over the fact there is no chance of having to watch Mr. State Farm do The Belt on the podium this Sunday with Dan Patrick and Roger Goodell.  However, even though we here at Border Rivals do not have stake in this year’s big game, we do not want our readers to be left out in the cold.  The following is our (non)-Super Bowl XLVI preview (yup, our resident Packer fan is still bitter).

The lead-up to this year’s game has been somewhat unique.  The older brother of one of the quarterbacks who is starting in the game – no, seriously, Eli is playing – has dominated the headlines all week long.  Instead of hearing about how Eli and his cast of fleet-footed and sure-handed wide receivers is going to make mince meat out of a very overrated Patriots secondary, we are instead being subjected to 1:00 a.m. tweets from Jim Irsay about that older brother.  Tweets like “Peyton has not gotten CLEARANCE from me”………(then 15 minutes later)……….”By that, I meant, Peyton has not received clearance from the Colts’ family doctors”……(to finally)…….”Peyton, do you want to come over for pizza and beer.”

Even Jimmy's buddy George knows it is not sound stratergy to schwiel and Tweet!!

Seriously, this guy is a millionaire a hundred times over and he does not have a handler who’s only job is to stop him from tweeting like a drunk, scorned college hook-up???  Jimmy, no joke, for $65K a year and tickets to every Super Bowl from here on out, we here at Border Rivals will agree to take responsibility for your Twitter account.  I mean, hell, there is no way we screw it up any worse than he already has. But, we digress.

There are some well-paid individuals who are going to play a football game on Sunday.  Even though the easy comparison for Sunday’s game is the previous match-up from 2008,  where the Giants escaped with a most surprising upset victory, we think the more accurate comparison is to the Super Bowl that we watched a scant 363 days ago.

Super Bowl XLV featured a red-hot Packers team up against the “class” of the AFC, the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Prior to the game, people not drinking Spotted Cow and sporting cheese on their head had a difficult time deciding who to favor.  The Packers gelled at just the right time, overcoming a rash of injuries, and ripped off eight wins coming into the game.  The Packers were a juggernaut.  The Steelers held serve with home wins against a tough Baltimore squad and an experienced Jets team that had beaten them only five weeks earlier.  Ultimately, the public seemed to be favoring the “hot” team and the Packers entered the game a three point favorite.

The game itself was rather enjoyable, even for our resident Vikings rube.  There was a lot of back and forth scoring.  Ultimately, the Packers prevailed because their opportunistic defense forced three turnovers, which were promptly turned into three touchdowns. Mr. State Farm, still in Madden-mode, sealed the game by converting crucial third-downs in the 4th Quarter to sustain the last drive, none bigger than the bullet to Jennings over the middle. It should also be noted that the Steelers helped the Packers’ cause by inexplicably abandoning the running game that had absolutely dominated in the third quarter.

The similarities to this year’s game are startling.  The Giants are this year’s “hot” team, winning two must-win regular season games to get in the playoffs and then continuing their hot streak in the playoffs, crushing the Matty “Ice” led Falcons (without a doubt, this is the least appropriate nickname in all of sports. Email us with worse, if possible) , Coughlin’g the Packers (again), and then ensuring that BOTH the Harbough brothers would get to watch the game with pops.

The Patriots, on the other hand, are the “class” of the AFC.  They took care of business all season, beating every team that they should, though, they never beat a team with a winning record.  In the playoffs, they held serve at home and beat a Broncos team that out-kicked its coverage worse than a Dungeons & Dragons Grandmaster (or whatever) bagging a Playboy Bunny.  Next up, a Ravens team that decided to not to feed the rock to its all-world tailback, Ray Rice, and were ultimately undone by Lee Evans and Billy Cundiff doing their best Kyle Stanley (or Jean Van de Velde for those not up-to-date) impersonations. The Pats coasted into the Super Bowl.

We expect that Super Bowl XLVI will play out in a manner similar to last year’s game.  Back and forth scoring with the team that makes those crucial two or three crucial plays in the second half providing the difference.

Giant fans are hoping that Mr. Bundchen suffers the same fate as Mr. State Farm.

The two caveats to this semi-generic prognostication are the Giants ability to run the ball on offense and to rush the passer on defense.  If the Giants can establish their dual-wield running attack of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, thereby keeping Mr. Bundchen off the field, the advantage definitely swings their way.  That advantage increases even more if their extremely pesky defensive line can give Mr. Bundchen the same happy-feet disease that it did to Mr. State Farm. Of course, these two advantages are semi-related – if the Giants can control the clock and run the ball, it puts even more pressure on Mr. Bundchen to perform when he has the ball.  However, if no pressure is brought, that see-saw affair is almost sure to happen.

Lost in the love affair with the Pats is that Mr. Bundchen has been rather pedestrian in the playoffs since 2005. Of course, its blasphemy to say anything negative about Mr. Bundchen. But, the following is Mr. Bundchen’s track record in the last eleven playoff games: 25-16 TD-INT ratio (including the 6 TD outburst against the JV-squad Broncos), 7 lost fumbles, and 0-1 in the Super Bowl.

Ultimately, we think the running game gets going, and Tuck, Osi, and Prime Minister Kiwanuka dispel the prayers of Patriots nation and put Mr. Bundchen on his can, early and often. Either way, it should be fun – assuming one of us can enjoy the game between his tears and Spotted Cows.

Giants 31 Patriots 21