NFL Ramble – 2017 post-Week 9

NFL Ramble – 2017 post-Week 9

Flying from Miami

The 2017 NFL trade deadline certainly threw up a few shocks this year, one of the biggest of which was Jay Ajayi’s move from the Miami Dolphins to the Philadelphia Eagles. Ajayi was having an up-and-down season in Miami as Jay Cutler’s limited success throwing the ball was giving defences the chance to stack the box against the rush, so a move to the Eagles – who boast a contender for League MVP in Carson Wentz and a number of offensive weapons – will certainly open things up for him. In his first game for the Eagles against Denver he may have only had 8 carries as he shared snaps with Corey Clement and LeGarrette Blount, but he took those carries for 77 yards including a 46-yard touchdown.

This addition will also be great for the Eagles, as the competition for snaps should hopefully bring out the best in all the running backs, while it also allows them to always have a fresh runner available to come in… and also decent cover if someone goes down injured. The Eagles were already looking good value for a Super Bowl appearance, this trade could make them favourites! Blount is out of contract after this season so bringing in Ajayi, who is only in his 3rd year of his rookie contract, also gives Philly some more young talent next season to blend around Carson Wentz. If they continue how they are, this could be the start of a new dynasty!

The future?

The Jay Train wasn’t the only big-name trade this year, as the San Francisco 49ers also acquired Jimmy Garoppolo from the Patriots for a second-round draft pick. This could be the ultimate boom-or-bust acquisition for the Niners, as Garoppolo has a grand total of 95 passes to his name over 3 and a half seasons in the league. The Patriots under Bill Belichick have a knack of getting the best out of average quarterbacks – they went 11-5 with Matt Cassel under center – so there is a chance Garoppolo may struggle in the Bay, but with the difficulties of finding a franchise quarterback, he has certainly looked a better option than some current starters in the league.

What I really like about this move is that the 49ers now have almost half a season to evaluate Garoppolo and decide if he is the player they want to rely on moving forward. This is a franchise undergoing a massive rebuild, so to be able to pick the best players available in the Draft, rather than looking at a specific position, will be a huge benefit to them. I also really like how Kyle Shanahan is not committing to playing Garoppolo in 2017. The San Francisco pass protection has not been great to put it nicely, so to throw a player in at the deep end when they are learning new system could end horribly for both the team and Garoppolo, much as it did when Blaine Gabbert was elevated to starter for the Jaguars after just a few weeks of the 2011 season.

It will be interesting to see how things work out for the 49ers over the next few seasons. In my opinion the NFL needs franchises like them being competitive, hopefully Garoppolo is the next piece in the puzzle to get them back where they should be.

Only the Browns…

There was one other story that caught my attention on deadline day: the Cleveland Browns made an attempt to trade for the Bengal’s AJ McCarron. Both teams agreed the trade, only for the trade to be disallowed by the League as the Browns missed the deadline to notify the league. This was an absolute nightmare and could only happen to the Cleveland Browns, who unfortunately can be seen as the laughing stock of the league at times – especially when you’re watching the BBC highlights show!

The Browns clearly aren’t sold on DeShone Kizer as their QB moving forwards and McCarron has looked decent when given a chance for the Bengals. But he could consider himself lucky as there are very few offensive weapons for him to rely on in Cleveland and even with Josh Gordon being reinstated, there is no guarantee that he will be as good as he was before his suspension. It will be interesting to see if the Browns look to more for a veteran QB in the offseason or go into the Draft again. Who knows, they may even shock us all and actually stick with one of their current options and try to develop them…

Going through the motions

When I saw the shot Kiko Alonso landed on Joe Flacco recently, my initial thought was that this was a cheap shot. Flacco had clearly gone for the give-up slide and Alonso had plenty of time to pull out of the hit, but instead connected and knocked Flacco out of the game. However the comments were not as unanimously in favour of Flacco as I expected, and having watched him face the Titans in Week 9, I have lost some sympathy for him.

Against the Titans, Flacco went for a similar slide, but it was pointed out by the commentators that when he slides he keeps his body upright. Having had this pointed out, I went back to watch that hit. Sure enough, Flacco slides, but again leaves his torso relatively vertical rather than getting low to the ground. By sliding like this he is creating a bigger target for a hit – whether accidental or deliberate. Watch most QBs slide, they will minimise the target by getting their body as low to the ground as possible, Flacco needs to seriously work on this move to protect himself.

But is it that he does know to do this and instead feels that he doesn’t have to? As many people were saying in the comments section of the video, Quarterbacks are heavily protected, but once they become a runner many of these protections are no longer applicable. If a QB wants to ensure he is not his during a slide, then he needs to make sure he is sliding well before the opposition. The slide is a way of giving up to avoid contact, not to try gaining yards without being hit. Maybe players need to go back and remember that there is only so much protection they can receive and just choose to play it safe.

I still feel that it was a late enough hit by Alonso to be penalised, but if Flacco continues to slide like he does, it will be interesting to see the reaction if he gets hit again.

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 11

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 11

Week 11 threw up some tantalising clashes towards the top of the table. Chelsea look to have got through their bad patch and picked up the win hat home to Manchester United, Tottenham backed up their amazing midweek win over Real Madrid with a 1-0 victory against Crystal Palace – despite missing a number of regulars and being down to their third-choice keeper – and Manchester City continued with their dominance by beating Arsenal 3-1.

At the other end of the table, Everton and Bournemouth got much-needed victories at home to Watford and away at Newcastle respectively, while West Ham’s 1-4 loss at home to Liverpool marked the end of Slaven Bilic’s tenure.

 

Changing of the guard

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How much longer can City’s unbeaten run last? – From http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport

I wasn’t going to write about West Ham this week as I said everything last week, however with the news that has broken over the last 24 hours, I felt it right to give mention to this. Slaven Bilic has been sacked and, while it is a shame to see such a good manager shown the door, I don’t think recent results and performances left the owners any choice. During his interview after the Liverpool game my overriding thought was that we were listening to a man who knew his time was up. With the speed that David Moyes was named as his replacement, I can’t help but wonder if he had already been told that he would be gone once they had his replacement sorted. But is Moyes the right person for the job? While Moyes is clearly an experienced manager who was known for his sound defence at Everton, it could be argued that they improved after he left, while his stints at United, Real Sociedad and Sunderland have been less than successful (sacked twice and a resignation following Sunderland’s relegation). Moyes looks like he could be a boom or bust decision, for West Ham’s sake, I hope it is the former.

Meanwhile, the gossip columns have Sam Allardyce being linked with the vacant Everton role. Though, like West Ham, they need someone good at shoring up what has been a woeful defence, I do not feel that Allardyce suits the style of play that the Everton owners and fans will want. However, I also feel that interim manager would be right for the job on a permanent basis as he still does not seem to have settled on a team that will work for him – trying Gylfi Sigurdsson as a false 9 was a horrible idea – and lacks the experience that a team like Everton truly needs to make a run back up the table and draw in the required talent in January. I don’t know who would be right for them right now as I think Sean Dyche has too much of a good thing going on at Burnley, but they need to move fast in order to find the right man.

Big losses

Arsenal’s 3-1 loss at the Etihad was not just costly in terms of league position (they are now 12 points behind City) but also a big blot on Arsene Wenger. Over the summer, the Gunners paid a club record £46.5m to sign striker Alexandre Lacazette, yet Wenger decided to start him on the bench against one of the best clubs in England. If he had started Olivier Giroud up front it may have made sense, but Giroud was also on the bench and we were left with Alexis Sanchez leading the line. Not only is Sanchez more of a supporting striker/winger, he also spent the entire transfer window being linked with a move to City! I have said before that I am not sold on City’s defence (though Ederson is a clear upgrade on Claudio Bravo last season) so I think not starting an out-and-out striker was a missed opportunity for Arsenal. When he finally came on, Lacazette’s goal was his sixth in this league campaign. If he continues to be benched for the big games, there will be some awkward questions coming Wenger’s way.

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I doubt José Mourinho will have been happy with the success Alvaro Morata had against Chris Smalling – Picture from Flickr – l3o_

Meanwhile, I think Manchester United can probably consider themselves lucky to come away from Stamford Bridge with just a 1-0 loss. Take nothing away from Alvaro Morata’s goal – that was a beautiful header and gave David de Gea no chance – but he was given a free header, despite United playing with 3 centrebacks. Smalling seemed to struggle with Morata all day and on another day could have conceded 2 penalties for holding and pulling back the Spaniard. They may still have the best defensive record in the league – 5 goals conceded, 2 less than Spurs or City – but the danger Chelsea posed in the final third will be of interest to other teams. In the meantime, United now need to pick up 8 points from somewhere to catch up with their intercity rivals… With City’s form, that will be no easy feat!

 

Week 12 predictions:

Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs win

AFC Bournemouth v Huddersfield Town – Draw

Burnley v Swansea City – Burnley win

Crystal Palace v Everton – Everton win

Leicester City v Manchester City – Man City win

Liverpool v Southampton – Liverpool win

West Bromwich Albion v Chelsea – Chelsea win

Manchester United v Newcastle United – Man United win

Watford v West Ham – Draw

Brighton & Hove Albion v Stoke City – Draw

Movember 2017: Day 6

Movember 2017: Day 6

20171106_184310Hi guys, so Day 6 has some exciting news: the Mo is now shaped! I got it all sorted last night and now I am locked in for the rest of the month.

It may not be the easiest to see on camera yet, but give it a few more days and it will be pretty visible. For those who want an idea of what it will look like, the second image was the last time I did style this back in 2011. My plan is to shave every couple of days to ensure that it is as visible as possible.

I really don’t like the clean shaven look, especially now that I have nothing on top either, so at the end of the month I will be growing this out into a beard rather than shaving it off, so not only will I be looking ridiculous for November, but also a decent chunk of December too! And for those of you who don’t know, I don’t drive so rely on public transport.385942_2511540826531_1456281958_n

Keep coming back for updates on the Mo-gression!

 

 

 

 

Please donate to my Movember page and help me to change the face of men’s health.

Why I do Movember

My Movember 2017 journey:

Eyes On: Anglo-Welsh Cup – Leicester Tigers v Gloucester Rugby

Eyes On: Anglo-Welsh Cup – Leicester Tigers v Gloucester Rugby

The 2017/18 edition of the Anglo-Welsh Cup kicked off this weekend with a number of high scoring matches. On Saturday the defending champions Leicester welcomed Gloucester to Welford Road for a match that eventually finished 26-24 in favour of the Tigers after a late missed penalty from Gloucester fly half Lloyd Evans.

As is the way with the Anglo-Welsh Cup these days, both teams put out a number of youngsters and academy players, with a smattering of more experience players who have had limited time on the pitch so far this season, either due to competition at their position or due to injury. For Leicester, Joe Ford got his first meaningful game time since his move from Yorkshire Carnegie, whilst Gloucester welcomed back flanker Ross Moriarty for his first game since picking up an injury against the Provincial Barbarians in the first match of the Lions Tour.

 

Youthful inexperience

The vast majority of Gloucester’s experience in their starting XV was to be found in their pack, where Moriarty – who is himself only 23 – was joined by Gareth Evans, Paddy McAllister, Gareth Denman and James Hanson. In the backs only centre Andy Symons would be considered an experienced player, though Ben Vellacott is quickly gaining experience and looks like he will be a regular in the squad this season. Unfortunately for the cherry and whites, this lack of experience behind the forwards probably cost them the game.

Gloucester have frequently this season been willing to play the ball from anywhere on the pitch, including inside their own 22. This same mindset was very evident once again at Welford Road. Unfortunately, while the willingness to play rugby is great to see, the execution was nowhere near the level required and Tigers were frequently able to benefit from winning the ball back in great field position, allowing them to keep the scoreboard turning over.

I haven’t seen much of Lloyd Evans before this match, but I have heard a lot of good things about him. Sadly, I wasn’t impressed by him on this showing. We have already seen this season that Ben Vellacott is not a scrum half that will regularly be playing the territory game, instead choosing to look for quick ball away from the breakdown and quick tap-and-go penalties. This is fine, providing your 10 is then willing and able to control where the game is played, but Evans seemed too focused on trying to play rugby. A Freddie Burns-esque chip over the defence is great to see but it is a risky play and not something that should be attempted inside your own 22. The Leicester line-out was anything but reliable this weekend and if Gloucester had piled the pressure on them by kicking to touch and playing for territory, I’m fairly certain that they would have come away with he victory. To compound his bad day, Evans also missed a pair of penalties – not easy, but definitely kickable – which would have sent Glaws home with the win.

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The pragmatic approach won’t always win you fans, but it can win you games

I don’t want this to sound like I’m blaming Evans for the loss, everybody is going to have a bad game at some point, but it showed how important it can be for a young fly half to have an experienced back with him to help control the game. A lot of the Gloucester backs ave been playing regular rugby due to injury issues so far this season, but it may benefit Evans to bring in Billy Twelvetrees for the next match in place of Andy Symons in order to help control the game.

Depth in the back row

In my opinion, Gloucester’s best player on Saturday was flanker Jake Polledri. The former Italian U20s player signed from Hartpury RFC in the summer and has really taken his chances well when called upon so far this season. With Moriarty returning to fitness and Gareth Evans also looking OK in his first start of the season before going off following a collision with Fred Tuilagi, Gloucester are full of depth in the back row, despite Matt Kvesic and Sione Kalamafoni both leaving in the summer.

While there is nobody standing out as a proper ‘jackal’ style 7 so far, Lewis Ludlow has been huge in defence and currently tops Opta’s Premiership Rugby stats with 114 tackles – 16 more than his closest competitor – so if I was asked to pick my ideal Gloucester 23 assuming everyone was fit, he would be joining Moriarty and Ruan Ackermann in my starting back row. This then leaves Jacob Rowan, Ben Morgan, Polledri, Evans and Freddie Clarke (who showed on Saturday that he can also cover second row) all competing for the back row cover on the bench… which Tom Savage could also theoretically cover if Jeremy Thrush and Ed Slater start at lock. What makes this depth even better is that many of these players are still relatively early in their careers, so can hopefully continue to grow and improve at Kingsholm over the next few years… though Moriarty will likely be heading back to Wales due to the new eligibility criteria for the national team.

Taking the chance given

The Anglo-Welsh Cup is not about putting out your strongest lineup in order to win some silverware, this is a competition about letting the youth gain some first team experience and letting some players put their hand up for selection in league or European matches.

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Kingsholm has been named as the venue for the 2017/18 Anglo-Welsh Cup final

I’ve already mentioned Polledri, but I continue to be impressed by the quick ball and quicker thinking of Vellacott and think it’s surely just a matter of time before the Scottish national team come calling. Tom Hudson did not get many chances to impress in this game, but he seemed much more comfortable than when I watched him in Europe a few weeks back and he ran a superb line for his try – even if the pass from Vellacott was probably forward!

For Leicester, Joe Ford surely knows that he will find his opportunities limited behind younger brother George, but he has shown that he can control a game well and will surely get more game time in the league as the season progresses and they decide to rest some of their internationals. Jonah Holmes also signed from Carnegie over the summer but has struggled to break into the first team with the form of Jonny May and Nick Malouf on the wings, but looked good in this game and took his chance when it came to show why he was the top try scorer in the Championship last season. Adam Thompstone and full back Afa Pakalani will also hope their form in this game makes Matt O’Connor consider rotating his back 3. Looking to the younger lads, the latest Tuilagi to play at Welford Road, Fred – son of Freddie – was well dealt with by Gloucester but showed a few flashes of the talent that he will be as he continues to develop and will surely live up to the family name, while Charlie Thacker – younger brother of hooker Harry – impressed with some good handling and took his try very well in the first half as 3 Gloucester players failed to complete the tackle on him.

Meanwhile, on a similar note, Johan Ackermann and Matt O’Connor both stepped back for this tournament and allowed Head of Academy Richard Whiffin and Assistant Coach Geordan Murphy respectively to take charge. This is a great chance for both coaches to further their own development in the game and both look to be talented in this area. Whether they move on to other clubs in the next few years or eventually take over from the current bosses, I think the future is as bright for these 2 coaches as for some of the young players on the pitch.

Movember 2017: the Beginning

Movember 2017: the Beginning

Hey guys, something a bit different from the usual today in honour of Movember. Movember is a charity event that is close to my heart and I have been taking part in it for about 7 years now (the header picture on this page is from the Pistol Shrimps’ Movember social the first year that I took part). For more details on what Movember is and why it is so important to me take a look at my overview page, as this post is going to be more of a Mo-gression update.

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2016’s Movember efforts at work. The Monkeytail certainly turned some heads in the office

In terms of fundraising, 2016 was by far my most successful year due to the help I got from colleagues at work. Not only did they really hep to spread the word, a couple of my colleagues also took part alongside me. Granted one of the lads had very minimal growth (if I’m being kind) and the other 2 lads only had their Mos for a couple of days, but it was great to have the extra support in the office.

This year I have a colleague going the whole distance with me and even though it’s early days, it looks like we’re going to have 2 cracking Mos in the office this month! I’ve always been able to grow quite decent facial hair but this year is a new experience for me. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say the only place I can’t grow hair well is the top of my head, so in recent months I have decided to ditch the heavily receding hairline and take the razor to the scalp. I’ve also had a permanent beard for the last couple of years, so the only times I have been clean shaven in the last 2 years have been due to Movember. People at work were shocked by my appearance on Day 1 when I walked in bald on both the top and bottom of my head! In just 3 days I’ve been told like Phil Mitchell, the Moon, a large baby and a few other NSFW things.

So, the all important Mo-gression picture:20171101_200615Obviously as this is a Day 1 photo there’s not much to look at here (other than my extra chins) but my plan is to put up a couple of update posts each week in order to give regular Mo-gression updates.

 

If you want to donate, please go to my Movember fundraising page. Any donations will be greatly appreciated.

Together we can help to change the face of men’s health.

Eyes On: NFL UK 2017 – Vikings @ Browns

Eyes On: NFL UK 2017 – Vikings @ Browns

Twickenham played host to the fourth and final NFL match in London this season. With the 5-2 Minnesota Vikings going up against the 0-7 Cleveland Browns, I think many people were expecting another one-sided match. However at the halfway point, the Browns led 12-13 before going on to lose 33-16 – still the closest result of the season over here. Unfortunately I was unable to watch the match live due to being at work, so it has taken me a few evenings to catch up, so apologies for the delay in writing this.

 

Rating the rookie

It’s been a while since the Browns had someone under center who could legitimately be considered a franchise Quarterback. Is DeShone Kizer that man? Only time will tell. The former Notre Dame QB did enough to allow the Browns to release Brock Osweiler and won the starting berth in preseason ahead of Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler. However he was benched midway through Week 5 in favour of Kevin Hogan, got the starting gig back in Week 7 but was again benched during the game (this time in favour of Kessler).

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The Browns and 49ers are the only NFL teams without a win this season – Image from http://www.nfl.com

Kizer played the full game in London, but his stats weren’t great. Against a tough Vikings defense, Kizer completed 18 of 34 passes for 179 yards and while he didn’t throw any interceptions (his tight end probably saved him on one play in the redzone) he also didn’t throw any touchdowns either. Staying on the ground, he also rushed 5 times for a total of 18 yards, including one QB sneak for a touchdown from about a yard out.

Jared Goff has shown us this season that it is possible to come back from a bad rookie year and the Browns offense is definitely not chock full of weapons, but I get the feeling that Kizer is just another in the long list of stopgaps while they find their franchise QB. This looks even more likely now I read that the Browns attempted to get AJ McCarron from the Bengals on a trade – only for the trade deadline to pass before they could complete the process! At this moment, I can’t imagine Kizer being a starting QB next season, in fact I’m not even sure he’ll keep the starting spot for the rest of this season.

Next man up

The Vikings are having Quarterback issues of their own this season, but still to a much better degree than the Browns. The man touted to be their franchise QB, Teddy Bridgewater, has not played since the 2015 season due to an injury picked up in August 2016, but could be back soon. The man the Vikings brought in as injury cover, Sam Bradford, put up career-best figures last season and was great in Week 1 of 2017, but (as has often been the case in his career) has struggled with injury since. So the Vikings are currently playing with third string QB Case Keenum, who lost his job to an underwhelming Jared Goff last season.

Much like Bradford last season, the Vikings seem to be getting the best out of Keenum and they are still managing to put themselves in with a chance of winning the division now that Aaron Rodgers is out injured. At Twickenham, the Browns frequently kept at least 1 safety deep to dissuade the Vikings from going deep. Keenum duly went for predominantly short and intermediate length passes, finishing 27/43 for 288 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception.

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Tight End Kyle Rudolph finished with 6 receptions for 27 yards and a touchdown – Picture from Flickr – Jack Kurzenknabe

With a receiving corps containing Kyle Rudolph, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, there are plenty of options in the passing game to go alongside a rush game that still looks good with Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon (Dalvin Cook is out for the season with a torn ACL). With the NFC North as it is, this supporting cast should be enough to get the Vikings to the playoffs regardless of which of the 3 QBs is playing.

The Vikings declined Bridgewater’s fifth-year option on his contract in May. I very much doubt that all 3 of these QBs remain on the roster in 2018. If Keenum can continue his good play I think he gets one of the QB spots as a backup/potential starter, it then becomes a matter of who the Vikings feel will be better for the organisation out of Bridgewater and Bradford. Given Bridgewater hasn’t played for so long and Bradford’s injury history, I wouldn’t be overly surprised if Keenum is the only one retained into 2018.

Flagging defense

Last week I wrote about the importance of turnovers and points from turnovers. While The Vikings won the turnover battle 2-1, both teams totalled 6 points from turnovers. What really cost the Browns on Sunday was the Time of Possession. The Vikings finished with 37 minutes 52 seconds of possession, while Cleveland could only manage 22:08. This was a very equal game in the first half, but as the game went on the Cleveland defense tired and could not get off the field. When they finally did, the offense would go 3-and-out and they would be straight back in.

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After 8 games, the Vikings are looking favourites for the NFC North title – Image from http://www.nfl.com

To make things even worse, as the defense tired, they began to give away penalties. Over the game, the Browns gave away 5 penalties for 74 yards, many of which proved crucial. A pass interference call in the endzone led to a 1 yard rushing TD for Jerick McKinnon – who then also rushed for the 2 point conversion. On the very next drive, they gave away a whopping 3 penalties (roughing the passer, pass interference, defensive holding) on the way to Kyle Rudolph’s receiving TD that Kai Forbath converted. 2 drives, 4 penalties, 15 points.

It is a bad situation as penalties keep the defense on the field, so they get tired and make mistakes, including giving away more penalties. It is a hard cycle to get out of and really needs an offense that can chew up the clock on a sustained drive in order to give the defense a rest. Unfortunately, the Browns just don’t have that right now and will struggle to get a win as a result.