November 20, 2017

Colts 26, Bengals 10

The third game on wildcard weekend featured the Cincinnati Bengals traveling to Indianapolis, Indiana to take on the Colts.  These teams met earlier in the year and the Colts came away with a dominating 27-0 win.  Kicker Mike Nugent sent the opening kickoff nine yards deep and return man Josh Cribbs ran it out to the 29-yard line.  Quarterback Andrew Luck led his offense onto the field and quickly completed a short pass to running back Daniel Herron that went for 18 yards.  A neutral zone penalty on the Bengals and more completions to Herron moved the ball to the Cincinnati 40-yard line.  With all the success Herron was having, Luck threw another pass to him and this time it went for a gain of 27 to give the Colts a first down at the 13.  Three plays later, Herron took it up the middle for a two-yard touchdown.  Kicker Adam Vinatieri made the point after and the Colts led 7-0 with 11:05 to go in the first quarter.

The Bengals started their first drive of the game from their own 20.  Without wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham, they would have to rely heavily on their running game.  From the 20, running back Rex Burkhead ran up the left side for a gain of 23 yards.  Three carries by running back Jeremy Hill netted 11 yards and a first down at the Indianapolis 46-yard line.  But the drive would come to an end at the 39.  Punter Kevin Huber got off a high punt that was downed at the nine-yard line.

This time, the Bengal defense played much better and forced a three and out.  Punter Pat McAfee hit a nice 59-yard punt that was fielded at the Cincinnati 25 by return man Adam Jones.  He returned it one yard and the Bengals took over at their 26.  Quarterback Andy Dalton completed two passes to wide receiver Mohamed Sanu and they quickly moved to the 45-yard line.  Hill ran up the right side for a gain of 18 and a first down at the Indianapolis 37-yard line.  Dalton found Burkhead across the middle and he was dragged down at the five-yard line.  Two plays later, Hill ran up the middle for a one-yard touchdown.  Nugent made the point after and the game was knotted at seven with 1:28 to go in the first quarter.

Due to a poor kickoff return by return man Zurlon Tipton, the Colts started out at their nine-yard line.  On third and three from the 16, Luck couldn’t find an open receiver and ran up the middle for an 18-yard gain.  Two completions to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton moved the Colts down to the Cincinnati 20-yard line.  Some more bad news arose for the Bengals.  Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga injured his hamstring and did not return.  The drive came to an end at the 20 as Luck’s pass for wide receiver Reggie Wayne fell incomplete.  Vinatieri had no problem making his 38-yard field goal attempt and the Colts led 10-7 with 12:41 to go in the second quarter.

After a three and out by the Bengals, the Colts got the ball back at their 36-yard line.  On second down from the 38, Luck went deep up the right side and the pass was caught for a gain of 45 yards by wide receiver Hakeem Nicks.  But they couldn’t find the end zone again and the drive stalled at the Cincinnati 11-yard line.  Vinatieri came on and his 29-yard field goal was good. The Colts now led 13-7 with 8:34 to go in the second quarter.

The Bengals punted on their next possession and the Colts took over at their nine-yard line with five minutes to go in the half.  Completions to Hilton, Nicks and tight end Dwayne Allen moved them to their 31.  From the 31, Luck hooked up with Hilton again for a gain of 25 yards.  It certainly looked like the Colts were going to add to their lead before halftime.  But that wasn’t the case.  Luck completed another pass to Herron and as he was heading up-field, the ball was knocked loose and recovered by safety Reggie Nelson at the Cincinnati 41.  With time running short, the Bengals managed to get in field goal range and Nugent came on for a 57-yard attempt.  The kick bounced off the left upright and went through.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a kicker that happy.  At halftime, the Colts led 13-10.

The second half was an absolute disaster for the Bengals.  Although their defense played admirably, the offense was horrible.  They couldn’t get a first down and it wouldn’t surprise me if Huber has a sore leg from all that punting.  I’d like to write about some of the drives they had, but they only gained 20 yards on their first five possessions of the second half.  Meanwhile, the Colts continued to rack up more yards on the ground and through the air.  Rookie wide receiver Donte Moncrief caught a 36-yard touchdown pass and Vinatieri added two more field goals to give the Colts a 26-10 win.

For the Bengals, Andy Dalton completed 18 of 35 for 155 yards.  Giovani Bernard led the team in receptions with eight and receiving yards with 46.  As a team, the Bengals rushed for 110 yards on 21 carries.  I really thought Jeremy Hill was going to get a lot of carries in this game.  He only carried the ball 13 times for 47 yards and a touchdown.  Defensively, Emmanuel Lamur led the team in solo tackles with six.

For the Colts, Andrew Luck had all day to throw and completed 31 of 44 for 376 yards and one touchdown.  Daniel Herron led the team in receptions with ten and T.Y. Hilton had the most receiving yards with 103.  As a team, the Colts rushed for 114 yards on 25 carries.  Herron was the leading rusher with 56 yards on 12 carries.  Defensively, linebacker Jerrell Freeman and safety Mike Adams tied for the lead in solo tackles with seven apiece.  Freeman also had 1.5 sacks.

Up next for the Colts is a trip to Denver to take on the Denver Broncos.  That game will be on Sunday at 4:40 eastern time.

 

Leatherheads Midseason Awards

We are halfway through the 2014 NFL season and there have been surprises, disappointments, slumps, sacks, breakaways and meltdowns.

And so far we’re only talking about Jon Gruden.

We kid because we care. According to the Bible of Gruden every player in the NFL is the greatest player/person/life form ever, at least at some particular moment and we applaud such positivity because if football is about nothing else shouldn’t it be about love, appreciation and the Raiderettes?

Mr. Gruden was unable to join us for our midseason awards banquet but we Leatherheads still managed.

Midseason MVP: Peyton Manning

Manning is the runaway unanimous choice among all Leatherheads who took part in this report card. Joe Williams issues apologies to Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck noting that Manning is still the best player in the game and that’s difficult to protest. Manning is tied for first with Luck with an NFL-best 22 touchdown passes but has been intercepted just three times, whereas Luck has gotten picked nine times. Peyton’s QB rating of 119.0 leaves Luck, Rodgers, Philip Rivers and everyone else in the dust.

Manning is also leading what is probably the best team in the NFL. The Denver Broncos are 6-1 with their lone defeat coming in overtime to the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks. If Peyton Manning stays healthy he seems likely to win his (gulp) sixth NFL MVP. No one else has ever won more than three.

We have to take a brief timeout here, however, to point out that Manning is now playing in an era when quarterbacks are like pinball players. They are allowed to just sit there and bang those flippers, racking up the stats and the points. Yes, #18 still does it as well if not better than anyone but we can only wonder what great QBs of yesteryear would have accomplished in today’s increasingly hands-off-the-star NFL.

And another thing, Peyton will not be considered the greatest quarterback ever until he wins another Super Bowl. That’s not fair, maybe. But it’s true. But for now, he must be satisfied with the official Mike Lynch Statue for winning the Leatherheads half-season MVP. I hope someone ordered that statue.

Midseason Offensive Player of the Year: DeMarco Murray

Some Leatherheads chose Manning for this and that’s perfectly logical. If a guy plays offense and is the league MVP then shouldn’t he automatically be the Offensive Player of the Year as well? After some discussion and a few cocktails our official answer is “no.” Manning is the most valuable because he’s awesome and has the unfair advantage over Murray of playing the most important position. But DeMarco Murray deserves the Offensive accolade for several reasons.

Murray, the fourth year Dallas Cowboys running back, leads the NFL in carries with 206. That’s 60 more than his next closest competitor, Arian Foster. Murray also tops the NFL in rushing yards with 1,054, easily outdistancing Foster by nearly 300 yards.   And Murray is not just a bull who bashes his way to real estate. He’s averaging 5.1 yards a carry. That’s fantastic.

Murray is also tied with Foster for the NFL lead with seven rushing scores and has caught 26 passes for a nearly nine-yard average. All this and his Cowboys are making Jerry Jones look young again without surgical help as Dallas is 6-2 and in great position to make its first playoff appearance since 2009.

Our concern is that DeMarco may not be alive and well come playoff time. He’s on pace to carry the ball more than 400 times and, come January, could be moving slower than lava but with implications just as critical.

Midseason Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt

Another unanimous choice. Mr. Watt, the Houston Texans defensive end, is so good some might say he deserves consideration for league MVP. Perhaps. Just as with DeMarco Murray, Watt pays the price for not being a quarterback which is a shame (whoops! We almost wrote “sham”) because he’s probably the best overall player in the league.

Watt has seven sacks which puts him significantly behind league-leader Justin Houston of the Kansas City Chiefs who has ten. But sacks are like Mariah Carey songs. They’re fun and make the person who sings them a lot of money but they’re not really music, and not really the best barometer of a great defensive player. If a guy gets one sack a game he’s anointed a star. But what does he do the rest of the game? Watt does a lot.

J.J. has eight pass deflections, tied with Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata for most among defensive lineman.  Every other guy in the top ten is a defensive back.

Watt has 22 solo tackles, tied for fourth among NFL defensive linemen. He has one forced fumble and one interception; which he returned 80 yards for a touchdown against Buffalo. Watt also recovered a fumble and rambled 45 yards for a score against the Colts. Justin James Watt has also caught one pass this year, yes on offense, for a TD. This dude has three touchdowns. And he plays defense. And he does all this on a team that’s 4-4 and alive and ponderous in the playoff race. (And, as Joe Williams observes, J.J. is also a “decent dancer.”)

Midseason Rookie of the Year: Sammy Watkins

We’re impressed with several first years including Chicago Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller, Arizona Cardinals receiver John Brown and Oakland Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack. But in the end, it’s Sammy.

Watkins, the first year wideout for the Buffalos Bills, is described by our Joe Williams as “pure talent” and the numbers back that up. Watkins has 590 yards receiving, which is tops among rookies, and he is also tied for the lead in the NFL’s freshman class with five TD catches including a last-second game winner against the Vikings on October 19.

Watkins is electric and should be a stud for years to come. The problem is he plays in Buffalo and the Bills are so awful and so off the radar that no matter how good Watkins is he’ll never…oh dear. Wait a second. The Bills are 5-3, aren’t they? If Watkins and QB Kyle Orton (He’s alive! He’s good!) lead the Bills to their first playoff appearance since 1999 (who do they think they are, the Kansas City Royals?) then Sammy won’t just be Rookie of the Year, he’ll also never have to shovel his driveway again.

Biggest Midseason Surprise: Dallas Cowboys

It would have been a smooth and cool transition to go from raving about Sammy Watkins to christening his Bills as the league’s biggest surprise so far and that’s the vote from Leatherhead Joe Williams. But Leatherhead David Boyce says that honor is actually an ignominious one that belongs to the 4-3 Super Bowl champion Seahawks who are good but not looking at all like the juggernaut many thought they’d be.

Then there’s the offering of Leatherhead Daniel Durany who votes for the Cowboys and that selection is our winner. The Bills are a great story, so are the Cardinals but, as Joe Williams points, not really a surprising one as they were great in the second half of last year. We choose Dallas because the Cowboys are not only unexpectedly winning games but playing really well, if that makes sense. All the drama in Dallas is finally taking a backseat to really good, sound, fundamental football and the ‘Boys are playing it despite some big injuries.

Will Dallas continue to surprise in the second half? We have already voiced our concerns about DeMarco Murray’s durability and that drama that we don’t miss did return a bit in Monday’s loss to the Washington Redskins with questions about quarterback Tony Romo’s health both short and long term. And as long as Jerry Jones is there will Jason Garrett, or any coach, really get to do their own thing?

We knoweth not. But for the first eight games the 6-2 Dallas Cowboys are not just a pleasant surprise but the league’s biggest one.

Biggest Midseason Disappointment: Chicago Bears

This category is another contentious one. Joe Williams chooses the Seahawks. David Boyce votes for his beloved but 0-7 Oakland Raiders (will Jim Harbaugh cross the Bay and coach the Silver and Black next year? Or maybe travel with them to L.A.?) But Daniel Durany and the rest of us vote for, sigh, cigarette puff, sigh, head scratch, sigh, the Chicago Bears.

Oh it hurts. Maybe the Bears shouldn’t be considered a disappointment when remembering they were 8-8 last year. But most preseason prognosticators chose the Monsters of the Maddening to be a playoff team and some felt they could even have dreams of football in February. Instead, the Bears’ vaunted offense has been stuck in neutral, injuries are mounting for an already aged and bedraggled defense and the Bears are a very murky 3-5 with zero wins at home.

What in the Ditka has gone wrong in Chicago? Too much. The second half could see a turnaround but it’s going to be tougher than the Soldier Field turf to do so.

So, what are you thoughts about our midseason honors? Will they hold up? And what of the prediction of a certain Leatherhead back in August that we’d see a Cardinals-Chargers Super Bowl? It’s still crazy but maybe not as crazy as it sounded back then.

We’ll stand by that pick for now but won’t cry if we’re proven wrong. We hope the second half continues to see excellent football on the field and fewer distracting stories off the field. This has been a very challenging season for the league to put it mildly. Hopefully the NFL will continue pushing to make its service to the community as impactful as its product on Sundays.

Patriots 43, Colts 22

I apologize for not getting all these articles up on Monday.  But, family comes first.  After a long battle with cancer, my Aunt passed away on Monday morning.

The second game of the divisional playoffs matched up the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots.  The Colts were coming off a very dramatic 45-44 win over the Kansas City Chiefs and the Patriots were coming off a bye week.  Kicker Stephen Gostkowski booted the opening kickoff deep and the Colts started at their 20.  On third and two from the 28, quarterback Andrew Luck threw a pass to his left intended for wide receiver LaVon Brazill and the pass was picked off by cornerback Alfonzo Dennard.  He returned it to the two-yard line and on the next play, quarterback Tom Brady turned and handed the ball to running back LeGarrette Blount who made it into the end zone.  Gostkowski made the point after and the Patriots were up 7-0 with 13:41 to go in the first quarter.

Well, the Colts had to come from behind once again.  Judging from how far behind they were last week, coming from behind is nothing new to them.  But their comeback wouldn’t start on their next drive as they went three and out.  Punter Pat McAfee hit a nice 56-yard punt into the rain and it was fielded by return man/wide receiver Julian Edelman at the 21.  He returned it to the 42, but the Patriots were flagged for an illegal block.  That moved them back to the 26-yard line.  With rain and windy conditions, head coach Bill Belichick decided to run the ball.  Four carries by Blount, a 13-yard pass to running back Shane Vereen and a 25-yard pass to Edelman put the Patriots at the Indianapolis 30-yard line.  Another short completion to Vereen and a 16-yarder to wide receiver Danny Amendola set up a first and goal from the seven.  Two plays later, Blount was in the end zone again.  Gostkowski made the point after and the Patriots led 14-0 with 7:17 to go in the first quarter.

The Colts went to work from their 20 and got off to a good start with a seven-yard run by running back Donald Brown.  Luck completed a pass good for nine yards and a first down to tight end Coby Fleener.  Another carry by Brown and a 22-yarder to wide receiver Griff Whalen moved the Colts to the New England 38.  Luck decided to go deep on the next play and he threw a perfect pass to Brazill for a touchdown.  Kicker Adam Vinatieri made the point after and the Patriots led 14-7 with 4:35 to go in the first quarter.

Each team punted on their next possession and the Patriots got the ball back at their 25 with 2:22 remaining in the quarter.  Running backs Stevan Ridley and Vereen got the Patriots rolling in the right direction.  They quickly moved from the 25 to the 46 as they continued to pound the ball.  Two more completions to Edelman netted a first down at the 12 and three plays later, Blount carried the ball into the end zone for the third time.  Gostkowski made the point after and the Patriots went up 21-7 with 10:54 to go in the second quarter.

The Colts started at their 20 again.  A three-yard carry by Brown and a 29-yard completion to Fleener gave the Colts a first down at the New England 48.  A few more carries by Brown and a scramble by Luck made it seem like the Colts were headed for the end zone again.  On third and six from the 18, Luck threw for wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and the pass was incomplete.  Vinatieri came on and nailed his 36-yard field goal attempt.  That made the score 21-10 with 5:35 to go in the first half.

Blount returned the kickoff to the 25 and three more carries by Blount netted 20 yards.  But they would only get as far as the 49.  On fourth down and two, they brought in punter Ryan Allen.  The snap went way over his head and instead of kicking the ball through the end zone, Allen picked the ball up.  Really?  If you want to get a first down, you’ll have to get the ball past midfield.  Let’s see that arm, Ryan.  He was just about to throw the ball when a herd of angry Colts impeded his progress.  The ball was knocked out of Ryan’s hand and went through the end zone for a safety.  In the process, Ryan got roughed up pretty badly.  But none of that would’ve happened if he would have just kicked the ball through the end zone.  The score was now 21-12 with 2:18 to go in the first half.

After the free kick, the Colts took over at their 28.  On third and ten, Luck competed a 16-yarder to Hilton and two plays later, he found Whalen for a gain of 17.  From the New England 39, Luck dropped back to pass again and it was picked off by linebacker Dont’a Hightower.  That killed that drive and at halftime, the score remained 21-12.

The opening drive for the Patriots went nowhere and filling in for Ryan on punting duties was Gostkowski.  He got off a 35-yard punt that was downed at the Indianapolis 37-yard line.  I’m curious as to why almost every time the Colts ran the ball, it was up the middle.  Why not try a sweep or maybe even a reverse?  Whatever.  I’m not the one calling the plays.  A short carry by  Brown and a 20-yard pass to Fleener moved the Colts into New England territory.  Another pass to Fleener made it first and goal from the four.  Three tries from the four gained one yard and Vinatieri came on again.  His 21-yard field goal attempt was good and that made it 21-15 with ten minutes to go in the third quarter.

On the ensuing kickoff, Blount was dragged down at the 12-yard line.  From the 12, Brady went deep for Amendola and it was good for a gain of 53 and a first down at the Indianapolis 35-yard line.  Brady continued to throw on this drive and completed a short pass to Vereen and an eight-yard pass to Edelman.  On third and eight from the 22, Brady’s pass to Edelman was incomplete, but the Colts were flagged for pass interference.  That moved the ball to the five and three plays later, Ridley ran it in from three yards out.  They decided to go for two and succeeded as Ridley ran it in again.  That put the Patriots up 29-15 with 6:18 to go in the third quarter.

Down by 14 again, the Colts took to the air on second and 11 from the 19.  Luck put a deep pass up the left side that was caught by Hilton for a gain of 46 yards.  On the next play, Luck went deep again.  This time it was down the middle for Brazill who caught it for a 35-yard touchdown.  Vinatieri made the point after and the score was now 29-22 with five minutes to go in the third quarter.  That exciting play was followed by four punts.  Two from the Patriots and two from the Colts.  With a little over 13 minutes to go in the game, Blount got the call on first down from his own 27-yard line.  He took it up the right side and broke away for a 73-yard touchdown.  That was his fourth touchdown of the game and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look happier.  Vinatieri made the point after and the Patriots led 36-22 with 12:55 to go in the game.

The Colts took over at their 20 and a false start penalty moved them back five yards.  From the 15, Luck threw deep for Fleener and was picked off at the 38 by linebacker Jamie Collins.  He was finally dragged down at the 18 and it was about time for the Patriots to put the nail in the coffin.  On third and ten from the 18, Brady found former Colt wide receiver Austin Collie for a gain of 15 and a first and goal from the three.  On second and goal from the one, a chant of “We want Blount” rose up from the crowd.  Well, you’re not getting Blount.  You’re getting Ridley for a one-yard touchdown.  I guess you’ll just have to deal with that.  Gostkowski made the point after and the Patriots increased their lead to 43-22 with 11:12 to go in the game.  This is what is known as “garbage time.”  All the Patriots did was run the ball and all the Colts did was throw.  Neither team found the end zone again and the Patriots won 43-22.

For the Colts Andrew Luck completed 20 of 41 for 331 yards, two touchdowns and four costly interceptions.  He threw only nine interceptions in the regular season, but was picked off seven times in the playoffs.  Coby Fleener led the team in receptions with six and T.Y. Hilton had the most  receiving yards with 103.  Seeing as they were trailing the entire game, the Colts didn’t run the ball very much at all.  They finished with 69 yards on 21 carries.  Donald Brown led the way with 63 yards on 17 carries.  Trent Richardson was invisible in this game as he only carried the ball three times for one yard.  That’s the guy you gave up a first round pick for?  Wow!  The Browns definitely benefited from that trade.  Defensively, linebacker Jerrell Freeman had the most solo tackles with five.

For the Patriots, Tom Brady completed 13 of 25 for 198 yards.  Julian Edelman led the team in receptions with six and receiving yards with 84.  The ground game was working on all cylinders and the Patriots rushed for a total of 234 yards on 46 carries.  LeGarrette Blount paved the way with 166 yards on 24 carries and four touchdowns.  Defensively, Hightower and Collins tied for the lead in solo tackles with three apiece.  Both Hightower and Collins each had interceptions as well.

Up next for the Patriots is a trip to Denver for the AFC championship game.  That game will be on Sunday and will begin at 3 eastern time.  The last time the Patriots and Broncos met was in New England in late November.  The Broncos jumped out to a 24-0 lead, but the Patriots came storming back and came away with a 34-31 win in overtime.  I’m hoping the game on Sunday is just as exciting.

Ravens 24, Colts 9

The next playoff game on the schedule had the Indianapolis Colts visiting the Baltimore Ravens.  The big story in this game was that it would be the last one linebacker Ray Lewis would ever play in Baltimore.  After 17 seasons, he decided this season would be his last.  Judging by the entrance he made coming into this game, he was ready to go.  The other big story in this game was that Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was hospitalized with an undisclosed illness and was absent from the game.  Quarterback coach Clyde Christensen ended up calling the plays.  The Colts won the toss and elected to receive.

The kickoff went nine yards deep into the end zone for a touch-back and the Colts started at their 20.  Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck led his team onto the field and on the first play of the game, the Colts started out with some trickery as wide receiver Donnie Avery took an end around up the right side for a gain of 15.  That was the only play that gained any yards for the Colts and they promptly punted the ball away.  Return man Jacoby Jones fielded the punt at the 14 and returned it to the Raven 48.

With good starting field position, the Ravens went to work.  On second and seven from the Colt 49, quarterback Joe Flacco found tight end Ed Dickson across the middle for a gain of 24 yards and a first down at the 25.  A pass interference penalty on the Colts moved the ball to the 15.  On second and six, running back Ray Rice fumbled and despite the fact that guard Marshal Yanda came out of the pile with the ball, the zebras still ruled the Colts had recovered the fumble.  Replay showed that defensive end Lawrence Guy fell on the ball, but it squirted free and was recovered by Yanda.  Still, the Colts were given possession of the ball at their 11.

A four-yard run by running back Vick Ballard and an eight-yard scramble by Luck got the Colts a first down at the 22.  An illegal contact penalty on the Ravens, a nine-yard pass to wide receiver Reggie Wayne and some more shifty running by Ballard got the Colts down to the Raven 35.  On third and five from the 30, the Ravens brought the pressure and Luck was sacked by linebacker Paul Kruger.  The ball came loose and was recovered by defensive end Pernell McPhee at the 37.  The Colts took over seven minutes off the clock and came away with nothing.

Speaking of ending up with nothing, the remainder of the first quarter featured two more punts and zero points scored.  The second quarter began with the Ravens starting their next drive at their 29.  Ray Rice was given a breather and running back Bernard Pierce entered the game.  On second and four from the 35, Pierce ran up the left side for a gain of five and a first down.  Flacco then found wide receiver Torrey Smith across the middle for a gain of 22 yards.  Another five-yard run for Pierce and a seven-yard catch by tight end Dennis Pitta moved the ball to the Colt 26.  From the 26, Pierce got loose for an 18-yard gain and that made it first and goal from the nine.  The Ravens abandoned the running game and got as far as the five-yard line.  On fourth down from the five, kicker Justin Tucker kicked a 23-yard field goal and the Ravens took a 3-0 lead with 11 minutes to go in the second quarter.

On first down from his own 20, Luck looked for Avery, but the ball was tipped by defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and by all rights, Ray Lewis should have had an interception.  The ball hit his hands, bounced off his chest and fell incomplete to the ground.  Two more plays netted eight yards and the Colts were forced to punt again.  Jones fielded the ball at the 19 and returned it to the 36.  But a holding call moved them back to their 20.  They went nowhere and punted the ball back to the Colts.

With eight minutes to go in the first half, the Colts took over at their 20.  Runs by Ballard and an eight-yard pass to Wayne gave them a first down at the 33.  Luck then found tight end Dwayne Allen across the middle for a gain of 22.  Two plays later, Luck found Allen again for a gain of 13.  The Ravens brought the blitz and Luck was sacked by Kruger and cornerback Corey Graham for a loss of six yards.  On third and 14 from the Raven 36, Luck completed a short pass to tight end Coby Fleener for a gain of seven.  That brought out kicker Adam Vinatieri for a 47-yard field goal attempt.  The kick was good and the score was knotted at three with a little over two minutes to go in the first half.

A 37-yard kickoff return by Jones set the Ravens up with good field position.  On third and four from the 43, Flacco found Jones across the middle for a gain of eight.  On second and ten from the 49, Flacco hit Rice with a short pass and thanks to some good down-field blocking, Rice weaved his way down to the two-yard line.  Fullback Vonta Leach finished the drive with a two-yard touchdown run.  Tucker made the point after and the Ravens led 10-3 with 50 seconds to go in the first half.

With time running short, Luck took to the air and completed passes to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and Wayne to move the ball to the Raven 43.  An intentional grounding penalty moved them back to their 41, but Luck found Hilton again for a gain of 25 yards.  With no more time to run a play, Vinatieri was brought in to try a 52-yard field goal.  He snuck it inside the right upright and the kick was good.  At halftime, the score was 10-6 in favor of the Ravens.

With ten minutes to go in the third quarter, the Ravens took over at their 25.  Throughout the entire first half, wide receiver Anquan Boldin had been invisible.  It was time for him to make some noise.  From the 25, Flacco found Boldin for ten yards.  On second and six from the 39, Boldin caught a deep ball on the right sideline for a gain of 46 and a first down at the Colt 15.  A false start moved them back five yards, but Flacco was unfazed and found Pitta on the right side for a nice 20-yard catch and run for a touchdown.  Tucker made the point after and the Ravens increased their lead to 17-6 with eight and a half minutes to go in the third quarter.

The Colts started at their 20 and they knew they had better get the ball rolling.  A couple of runs by Ballard, a 17-yard completion to wide receiver LaVon Brazill and a nice six-yard scramble on third and two by Luck moved the Colts to the Raven 43.  Luck continued to spread short passes to his receivers and a 20-yard pass to Wayne set them up with a first down at the 14.  The Ravens really brought the pressure and the drive stalled at the eight-yard line.  Vinatieri made his 26-yard field goal attempt and the score was now 17-9 with 40 seconds to go in the third quarter.

From the 21, Flacco hooked up with Boldin again for 21 yards and a first down at the 42.  Rice got the call on the next play and took off up the left side for a big gain.  As he was running, the ball was knocked loose by safety Joe Lefeged and bounced forward.  It was recovered by linebacker Pat Angerer at the Colt 29.  The Colts put together a decent drive on the strength of a 19-yard catch by Wayne and a 24-yard run by Ballard.  Still, they couldn’t put the ball into the end zone and the drive came to an end at the Raven 22.  It’s a rare occasion that Vinatieri misses a field goal, but his 40-yard attempt sailed wide right and the Colts came away with nothing again.

The Ravens got the ball back at their 30 and knew one more touchdown would most likely put the Colts away.  A nine-yard pass to Smith and a 43-yard run by Pierce got the Ravens in business at the Colt 18.  On second and ten, Flacco put up a high pass into the end zone for Boldin.  Despite having a man in his face, he was able to bring the ball in for a touchdown.  Tucker made the point after and the Ravens now led 24-9 with nine minutes to go in the game.

The Colts wouldn’t go down without a fight and went from their 20 down to the Raven 18.  On fourth and one from the 18, Luck looked for Wayne but the pass was picked off by cornerback Cary Williams at the 15.  That sealed the deal and the Ravens ran out the clock.  Final score: Ravens 24 Colts 9.  It was a great and emotional day for the Ravens as their defense brought relentless pressure and Ray Lewis got a win in his last home game as a Raven.  What I was thinking as the game came to a close was that it may also be the final home game for safety Ed Reed.  Both he and Lewis are destined for the Hall of Fame.

For the Colts, Andrew Luck completed 28 of 54 for 288 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and one lost fumble.  Reggie Wayne led the team in receptions with nine and receiving yards with 114.  Vick Ballard led the ground game with 91 yards on 22 carries.  As a team, the Colts rushed for 152 yards on 30 carries.  Defensively, safety Antoine Bethea and defensive end Cory Redding tied for the lead in solo tackles with six.

For the Ravens, Joe Flacco completed 12 of 23 for 282 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.  Anquan Boldin was the star of the show and had 145 yards on five receptions and a touchdown.  Bernard Pierce led the ground game with 103 yards on 15 carries.  Ray Rice also had a good day with 70 yards on 15 carries.  He also had 47 yards receiving and lost two fumbles.  As a team, the Ravens rushed for 172 yards on 32 carries.  Defensively, the Ravens brought the pressure and sacked Luck three times.  He was also knocked down ten times.  Fittingly, Ray Lewis led the team in solo tackles with nine and he also had one tackle for a loss and one pass defensed.  Up next for the Ravens is a trip to Denver to take on the Denver Broncos.  In week 15, they met in Baltimore and the Broncos came away with a dominant 34-17 win.  I’ll be back tomorrow morning with a recap of the Seahawks-Redskins game.

 

Leatherheads Heisman Poll for 2012

Tonight, the 78th Heisman Trophy winner will be announced on ESPN with three finalists waiting in the audience.  The three finalists are Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, Texas A&M quaterback Johnny Manziel and Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te’o.

In anticipation of tonight’s announcement, Leatherheads of the Gridiron polled 18 of its contributors to see who we think will be the next name added to the elite list of college football greats who can say they are a Heisman Trophy recipient.  Our voters followed the same format as the Heisman voters: 3 points for our number one choice, 2 for our second choice and 3 for our third choice.  Last season, Leatherheads had a tie for the award with both Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and Alabama’s Trent Richardson finishing first, although RG3 had more first place votes.  RG3 ended up winning the trophy while Stanford’s Andrew Luck was second and Richardson finishing in third place.  Click here for results.

We had 18 voters allocate their votes to ten different players.  A few names missing that have been mentioned as possible winners at the beginning of the season and along the way include USC QB Matt Barkley, Oklahoma QB Landry Jones, South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore, Alabama QB A.J. McCarron, Georgia QB Aaron Murray, Michigan QB Denard Robinson, Stanford RB Stepfan Taylor, Oregon RB De’Anthony Thomas and Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson.  Also missing is LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu who finished fifth in the voting last year and was dismissed from the team before the season for his drug use.  A sad story.  Hopefully, he can turn his life around and make it in the NFL in some capacity.

Our candidates in alphabetical order are as follows:

Montee Ball
Ball is a running back for the 8-5, Rose Bowl-bound Wisconsin Badgers.  The senior is ranked third in rushing with 1,730 yards and is tied for eighth with 21 touchdowns.  Last year he finished fourth in the Heisman voting.  Over the last two seasons, he has rushed for 3,653 yards and scored an amazing 60 touchdowns.

Kenjon Barner
Barner is a running back for Oregon.  The Ducks are 11-1 and heading to play in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.  Barner ranks seventh in rushing with 1,624 yards and is tied for fourth with 22 touchdowns.  The senior rushed for 321 yards and five TDs on November 3 against the USC Trojans.

Jarvis Jones
Jones is a linebacker for the Georgia Bulldogs.  The Bulldogs are 11-2 and will be playing in the Capital One Bowl.   The junior is the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and a two-time All-American.  His 12.5 sacks are tied for fourth in the nation.

Collin Klein
Klein is the quarterback for the 11-1 Kansas State Wildcats and will be playing against Barner and his Ducks teammates in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.  Klein, a senior, led the Wildcats to 10-straight victories before losing to Baylor on November 17.  He has scored 22 touchdowns, tied for fourth in the nation.  Over the last two seasons, the former wide receiver has passed for 4,408 yards and 28 TDs with 13 INTs while rushing for 2,031 yards and 49 TDs.

Marqise Lee
Lee is a wide receiver for the USC Trojans.  The sophomore leads the nation with 112 receptions, is second with 1,680 yards, and ranks third in TD catches with 14.  He has also returned 28 kickoffs for 802 yards and a score.  In two seasons, Lee has 185 catches for 2,823 yards and 25 scores.

Jordan Lynch
Lynch is a junior quarterback for Northern Illionois.  He has led the 12-1 Huskies to the Orange Bowl.  He leads the nation in rushing with 1,771 yards, a record for FBS quarterbacks.  He has thrown for 2,942 yards with 24 TDs and just 5 INTs.  He also has 19 rushing touchdowns.

Johnny Manziel
Manziel is a freshman quarterback for the 10-2, Cotton Bowl-bound Texas A&M Aggies.  Johnny Football, as he is called, gained national promience when he led his team to a 29-24 victory over #1 ranked Alabama.  Manziel has passed for 3,419 yards, 24 TDs with 8 INTs while running for 1,181 yards and 19 TDs.

Braxton Miller
Miller is the quarterback for the 12-0 Ohio State Buckeyes and the Big Ten Player of the Year. The Buckeyes were not eligible for the Big Ten championship or a bowl game this season while on probation for past NCAA violations. The sophomore rushed for 1,271 yards with 13 TDs while passing for 2,039 yards and 15 TDs.

Geno Smith
Smith is the quarterback for West Virginia.  The senior is ranked first with 40 passes for touchdowns, fourth with 4,004 passing yards, and sixth with a 164.6 QB rating.  On September 29 against Baylor, he threw for 656 yards and 8 TDs.  Over the last two seasons, he has thrown for 8,389 yards with 71 TDs and just 13 INTs.  The 7-5 Mountaineers will play in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

Manti Te’o
Te’o is the middle linebacker for the undefeated Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  The senior is tied for second in the nation with 7 interceptions and has made 101 tackles this season.  He has already won several awards this season, including the Maxwell Award.  He will play in the BCS National Championship Game, hoping to lead his team to a 13-0 record and a national championship.

Rank Player First Second Third Total
   1 Johnny Manziel 27 (9)   6 (3)   5 (5)   38
   2 Manti Te’o 21 (7) 12 (6) 3.5 (3.5)   36.5
   3 Collin Klein   6 (2) 10 (5)   5 (5)   21
   4 Braxton Miller   0 (0)   4 (2)   0 (0)     4
   5 (Tie) Montee Ball   0 (0)   2 (1)   0 (0)     2
   5 (Tie) Jordan Lynch   0 (0)   0 (0)   2 (2)     2
   5 (Tie) Geno Smith   0 (0)   2 (1)   0 (0)     2
   8 (Tie) Kenjon Barner   0 (0)   0 (0)   1 (1)     1
   8 (Tie) Marqise Lee   0 (0)   0 (0)   1 (1)     1
 10 Jarvis Jones   0 (0)   0 (0)   .5 (.5)      .5

 

So the winner of our poll is Johnny Football, the freshman.  A few of our voters could not vote for him in the number one spot just because he is a freshman.  One Leatherhead stated, “Sorry I do not feel Manziel is worthy of the trophy being only a freshman, let us see what he can do next year.”  I disagree with that thinking since the play is based on this season.  I personally picked Manziel number one, largely for his play in the SEC which is clearly, in my mind and many others, the top conference in college football.

Another Leatherhead would disagree with me making Manziel my top choice, “If raw statistics alone is your game, he’s your winner.  But if you actually take a closer look….he piled up great numbers against some terrible defensive teams. How did he do in the big games?  He completely failed to drive the offense in the second half of A&M’s loss to Florida, and threw 3 interceptions and was held to 27 yards rushing in the loss to LSU.  So that leaves the Alabama game – you’re voting a freshman the Heisman on the basis of one game.  Which means, in his college career, he has as many arrests as big-game victories.”  Ouch!

The arrest refers to an incident last summer when he got in a fight and produced fake identification to a police officer.  Should this count against his chance of winning the Heisman?  I personally do not since it has nothing to do with play on the field.  But it might.  Sports Illustrated’s Thayer Evans did for that reason.  He stated, “I don’t consider players with pending criminal charges.”

Enough about Manziel.  Leatherhead Tex Noel stated about Klein, “He’s an exciting player to watch. He thinks well on his feet as he eludes the defender or diving into the end zone. His passes are straight and on the mark. Without a doubt, Kansas State would not be the same without him.”

Tex has some good words for Te’o fans as well, “One of the best players the Irish have had in some time. He’s fearless as he makes plays sideline-to-sideline. You can’t stop him; you can only hope to contain him–maybe with a brick wall.”

So the top three finalists are the Leatherheads’ top three.  Early in the season I thought it would be Geno Smith, hands down.  Then the Mountaineers couldn’t stop losing.

I most note that one voter could not pick between Te’o and Jones with their third-place vote.  He declared it a tie and I let it go since no harm was done.  He stated, “I know, it’s a cop-out to do a tie but I can’t separate the two. Te’o is on a higher profile team and rightfully deserves his accolades, but Jones is every bit as special and actually runs sideline to sideline better.”

This is the word from Leatherheads of the Gridiron.  Johnny Football will add his name to the elite list of Heisman Trophy winners.  Will that actually happen?  We will all find out shortly.  Either way, all three finalists had a special season.

 

Participating voters: David Boyce, Bo Carter, Ronnie Foreman, Terry Keshner, Bob LazzariJim Lefebvre, Chris Mascaro, Dan McCloskey, Andrew McKillop, Tex Noel, Michelle Nolan, Pete Sonski, Bob Stevenson, Bob Swick, Dan Totten, Brandon Williams, Joe Williams, Tony Williams.

 

(Sort Of A) Draft Preview: Luck First, Bears Whenever, And a Draft Quiz

The Indianapolis Colts officially announced on Tuesday that they will select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the first pick in the NFL draft.

In other breaking news, Mitt Romney is going to win the GOP nomination, Carson Daly has no talent and Amelia Earhart won’t be home for dinner.

Luck is the smart pick, the safe pick and something of a kismet gift or karmic certainty for a team whose logo is a horseshoe that’s turned up so, as tradition says, the “luck won’t run out.”  Luck will do well in Indianapolis just so long as he wasn’t planning on getting help from Dallas Clark, Jeff Saturday, Ryan Diem, Pierre Garcon, Joseph Addai, Raymond Berry or Weeb Ewbank.

But will Luck be better than Robert Griffin III, the Heisman Trophy winning QB from Baylor who will be taken second by the Washington Redskins?  At first, yes.  In the long run…yes.  Griffin is good but Luck is the type of guy who wins in the NFL for the long term because he’s such a good pocket passer.  Also, the Redskins do very little right and, despite last year’s Indy imbroglio, the Colts seem to know what they’re doing.

Luck and Griffin will face each other in the third week of the exhibition season in Washington but Luck’s first regular season action will come September 9 against the Bears at Chicago’s Soldier Field.  It’s the belief in some circles, and the hope in others, that one of the Bears Mr. Luck will have to contend with on that day is defensive end Chandler Jones who spent his collegiate days busting heads for Syracuse.

The Bears could select Jones with the 19th overall pick in the first round as they look to add some youth to their defense which has an average age of 62.7.  The Bears haven’t taken a defensive player in the first round since defensive tackle Tommie Harris in 2004 in part because they often haven’t had a first round pick because of trades (two of them sacrificed for QB Jay Cutler) and also because Chicago has spent the last decade or so relying on linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs and cornerback Charles Tillman.  But those gentlemen, despite all being selected to the Pro Bowl last year, are old.  So is defensive end Julius Peppers who is the Bears’ best player but is now 32 and looking more like Alan Page than Jason Pierre-Paul.

The Bears also are likely to get defensive with their first pick because they’ve already spent much of this offseason focusing on offense having traded for wide receiver Brandon Marshall and signing quarterback Jason Campbell, running back Michael Bush, receiver/returner Eric Weems and receiver/special teamer Devin Thomas.  The Monsters of the Milky Way have also brought in several defensive free agents including former Buccaneers linebacker Geno Hayes but the feeling is that when it comes to college kids, new GM Phil Emery wants to bolster the defense.

Then again, anyone who watches football and believes in the sanctity of human life knows the Bears offensive line protects about as well as a pierced condom having surrendered 105 sacks the last two seasons.  The fact that Jay Cutler is still alive, ambulatory and willing to come back for more is a testament to that young man’s toughness, tenacity and ability to read the numbers on his $7.7 million annual salary.

If Cutler is healthy this season and Marshall stays out of trouble, running back Matt Forte settles his contract dispute and Bush lives up to his billing Chicago could suddenly have a potent offense that can strike quickly but also grind it out and eat the clock.  But only if they five big fellas up front can open holes and get in defenders’ ways as they try to go all-Gregg Williams and rip off Cutler’s leg and chase Kristin Cavallari with it.

Cutler’s chances for survival, and Chicago’s potential for success, already seem to be improved by Mike Tice’s promotion from offensive line coach to offensive coordinator, replacing the mad genius Mike Martz who was sort of like Nero and Cutler was a lot like Rome.  Under Tice, the Bears will almost certainly concentrate on keeping the quarterback alive first and coming up with fancy crossing patterns second.  And if last year’s first round pick, offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, comes back from the knee injury that knocked him out for nearly all of 2011 and former first-rounder Chris Williams can return from the wrist injury that saw him miss last season’s final seven games, maybe the O-line already is taking a step toward solvency and salvation.

Still, when you’re the Chicago Bears you like big uglies, especially from Midwest teams.  So if Wisconsin center Peter Konz or his Badgers teammate, guard Kevin Zeitler, or Michigan center David Molk are around don’t be surprised to see them get the call from Halas Hall.

No matter whom the Bears draft it seems a tall order for them to significantly close the gap on their division rival Green Bay Packers.  The Super Bowl champion New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens and maybe even the New Orleans Miscreants also appear to be ahead of the Bears at this point, but there’s hope.  If Chicago’s defense can keep its foot on father time’s throat for one more season and the offense learns to block first and ask questions later , the Bears could go a long way toward earning the NFL-maximum five prime-time games they’re slated for this fall.

Quick Quiz: (no cheating! Answers below)

1.) Who was the top pick in last year’s draft?

2.) Who was last year’s “Mr. Irrelevant?”

3.) Who was the top pick in the 2002 draft?

4.) Who was the top pick in the 1992 draft?

5.) Who was the 199th overall pick in the 2000 draft?

6.) Peyton Manning was the top overall pick in 1998, Ryan Leaf was second.  Who was third?

7.) Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Steve Spurrier was taken with the third overall pick in the 1967 draft.  What future Hall of Fame QB was taken fourth?

8.) What running back who wore #20 was taken with the top overall pick in the draft by the Detroit Lions in the 1980s?

9.) How many receivers were taken before Randy Moss in the 1998 NFL draft?

10.) What two players with the same last name were taken 1-2 in the 2008 draft?

(Answers below)

Random Thoughts:

Is Gregg Williams friends with Metta World Peace?

The Colts not only have the first overall pick in the draft but also have the last pick, 253, with which “Mr. Irrelevant” will be taken.

Center Stu Clarkson was taken by the Bears with the very last pick of the 1942 NFL draft and not only went on to play for their 1946 NFL Championship team but he was also a decorated hero in World War Two.

ANSWERS TO QUIZ QUESTIONS:

  1. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
  2. Defensive End Cheta Ozougwu of Rice who was taken with the 254th pick by the Houston Texans.
  3. David Carr, Houston Texans
  4. Steve Emtman, Indianapolis Colts
  5. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
  6. Andre Wadsworth, Arizona Cardinals
  7. Bob Griese, Miami Dolphins
  8. Billy Sims, 1980 (Barry Sanders was taken third overall in 1989)
  9. One.  The Oilers took Kevin Dyson with the 16th overall pick.  Moss went 21st to the Vikings.
  10.  Jake Long, Dolphins, then Chris Long, Rams.

 

How the Colts Trade of John Elway in 1983 Comes Full Circle

The Colts franchise is in a familiar draft position. They hold the number one pick in the draft, and “a can’t miss” QB from Stanford, Andrew Luck, is at the top of the draft board. It’s 1983 all over again, kind of. This time the Colts are not between a rock and a hard place

With the number one pick in the 1983 draft, the then Baltimore Colts selected Stanford QB John Elway. This was despite Elway’s refusal to play for the Colts. After numerous trade rumors and Elway’s threat to play baseball, the Colts ended their Elway era before it even started, and traded the QB to the Denver Broncos.

Elway’s trade to the Broncos still has a major impact on the NFL today, and has finally come full circle.

The off-season’s biggest story occurred when the Indianapolis Colts cut Peyton Manning, the most iconic Colt since Johnny Unitas. And who signs Manning? The Broncos, whose front office is led by Elway, a position he arguably never would be in if he wasn’t traded to the Broncos in 1983.

You could also make a strong argument that if the Colts never had to trade Elway, Manning never would have been a Colt. The Colts drafted Manning with the number one pick in 1998, Elway’s last year in the NFL. The Colts also never would have had the number one pick in 1998, if it wasn’t for a downward spiral of bad decisions after the Elway trade; they could never live it down.

During Elway’s career, the only time the Colts came close to the Super Bowl was in 1995 when they made it to the AFC championship game behind QB Jim Harbaugh. Fast forward to 2008. Harbaugh is the head coach at Stanford, and his prize recruit is Andrew Luck. Who is now set to become the Colts number one pick in the draft.

How it has all come full circle.

Leatherheads Heisman Poll

Tonight the 77th Heisman Trophy winner will be announced on ESPN with five finalists waiting in the audience.  The five finalists are Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, and Alabama running back Trent Richardson.

In anticipation of College Football’s most prestigious award, we here at Leatherheads of the Gridiron took it upon ourselves to pick who we think should be the Heisman winner. Our voters followed the same format as the Heisman voters: 3 points for our number one choice, 2 for our second choice and 3 for our third choice.

We had ten voters allocate their votes to nine different players.  Absent from receiving any votes is Tyrann Mathieu, the winner of this year’s Bednarik Award.  The Heisman has been given to a primarily offensive player each year except 1997 when Michigan cornerback and future Pro Football Hall of Famer Charles Woodson won.  Sorry Tyrann, we do not believe you will win the award.

Our candidates in alphabetical order are as follows:

Montee Ball
Ball is a running back for the 11-2, Rose Bowl-bound University of Wisconsin Badgers.  A junior, Ball has so far this season led the nation in total rushing yards with 1,759 and rushing touchdowns with 32.  He has also caught 20 passes with 6 receiving touchdowns.  His 230 points scored also leads the nation, 74 points more than the number two scorer Collin Klein of Kansas State.

Matt Barkley
Barkley is the quarterback for the USC Trojans.  The junior has led them to a 10-2 record and currently ranks eighth in QB rating (161.2) with 3,528 yards, a 69.1 completion percentage and 39 touchdowns (third in the nation) versus just 7 interceptions. USC is bowl ineligible so his season is complete.

Robert Griffin III
Griffin, also known as RG3, is the quarterback for the 9-3 Baylor Bears.  Griffin, a junior, leads the nation in QB rating with an impressive 192.3 rating.  He is fifth in the nation with a 72.4 completion percentage, sixth in passing yards with 3,998, fourth in TD passes with 36 while just tossing 6 interceptions.  He leads the nation in yards per passing attempt at 10.8 and has also rushed for 644 yards and 9 TDs.

LaMichael James
James is a running back for the 11-2, Rose Bowl-bound Oregon Ducks. The junior is currently fourth in the nation with 1,646 rushing yards and tied for ninth with 17 rushing touchdowns.  He has also caught 17 balls for 210 yards with a TD and has returned 14 punts, including a 58-yard touchdown against Nevada.

Case Keenum
Keenum is the throwing machine for the 12-1, Ticket City Bowl-bound Houston Cougars.  The redshirt senior QB leads the nation in passing yards with 5,099 and passing TDs with 45.  He ranks sixth with a 71.7 completion percentage, third in yards per passing attempt with 9.5 and is third in QB rating at 177.9 while throwing just 5 interceptions.

Andrew Luck
Luck is the red-shirt junior quarterback for the 11-1, Tostitos Fiesta Bowl-bound Stanford Cardinal. Luck, the 2011 Camp, Maxwell and Unitas Awards winner, has thrown for 3,170 yards with the ninth best completion percentage (70.0), fifth most passing TDs (35) and the fifth best QB rating (167.5).  He was the Heisman runner-up last season, losing out to Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.

Kellen Moore
Moore is the quarterback of the 11-1, MAACO Bowl-bound Boise State Broncos. The redshirt senior has thrown for 3,507 yards and is second in the nation with 41 TD passes.  His 177.9 QB rating ranks third and has thrown just 7 interceptions.  Moore was a Heisman finalist last season, finishing fourth in the voting.

Trent Richardson
Richardson is a junior running back for the 11-1, BCS Championship Bowl-bound Alabama Crimson Tide. The Doak Walker Award winner ranks sixth in rushing yards with 1,583 yards and fifth in rushing TDs with 20.  He has caught 27 passes for 327 yards with 3 scores and is tied for fourth in overall scoring with 138 points.

Denard Robinson
Robinson, a junior quarterback for the 10-2, Allstate Sugar Bowl-bound Michigan Wolverines is one of the most exciting players in college football.  He has passed for 2,056 yards and 18 TDs with a QB rating of 142.2 (38th) while throwing 14 interceptions.  On the ground, he has rushed for 1,163 yards and 16 TDs.

So what did our Leatherhead brethren come up with?

Drum Roll Please…

                  First  Second   Third  Total
Griffin           9 (3)   2 (1)   2 (2)    13
Richardson        3 (1)   8 (4)   2 (2)    13
Ball              9 (3)   2 (1)   0 (0)    11
Luck              3 (1)   6 (3)   1 (1)    10
Keenum            6 (2)   0 (0)   2 (2)     8
Robinson          0 (0)   2 (1)   0 (0)     2
Barkley           0 (0)   0 (0)   1 (1)     1
James             0 (0)   0 (0)   1 (1)     1
Moore             0 (0)   0 (0)   1 (1)     1

 

So Griffin and Richardson tie with RG3 getting more first place votes (3 to 1) while Richardson having more people voting for him, including more second place votes (4 to 1). I feel that Griffin will win tonight with Richardson finishing second. Ball and Luck will be 3 and 4, although I can not predict which order. Mathieu should be fifth.

I personally voted for Ball to win the award with Richardson second. When I think of the Heisman, running backs rank higher to me than QBs and other positions. Why? Could it be that when growing up running backs won the award from 1973 to 1983? Flutie screwed everything up with his Hail Marry pass in 1984.

Anyway, Ball has had a monster statistical season with one game left to break past Heisman winner Barry Sander’s single-season Football Bowl Subdivision touchdown record of 39 that he set during the 1988 season. Richardson is just a monster and can not wait to see him run in the NFL.

My third choice was Keenum. Why? I love those guys on perceived lessor teams that light it up with 9 TDs in a game. Timmy Chang anyone? If Houston had defeated Southern Mississippi, I probably would have had him number one. But he lost.

I could have easily voted for Griffin as my number 3. Afterall, his nickname is RG3.

 

Participating voters: David Boyce, Bo Carter, Ronnie Foreman, Terry Keshner, Bob Lazzari, Dan McCloskey, Tex Noel, Pete Sonski, Bob Swick, Joe Williams.

 

Heisman 2011: A Week 4 Snapshot

In 1935, the Downtown Athletic Club in New York created an award for the most outstanding player in collegiate football. Eventually it was renamed in honor of the club’s athletic director, John Heisman. It has become one of the most prestigious annual awards in all of sports and pundits begin weighing in on potential winners in the preseason.

With each successive week the focus becomes sharper. By the time the award is presented in early December, there is typically an odds-on favorite. The interest is particularly keen this year, with a large field of candidates.  Here are some of the most commonly mentioned candidates.

Andrew Luck
The Stanford QB was runner-up in the Heisman balloting to Auburn’s Cam Newton last year. A redshirt junior, he surprised many by forgoing the NFL to play a third collegiate season. He was the preseason favorite and has performed well to date. Stanford had a week four bye, but Luck has led them to a 3-0 record with 786 passing yards on 57 completions. He has tossed eight TDs and only one INT.

Kellen Moore
A redshirt senior, Moore has led his Boise State Broncos to both prominence and BCS contention over his three seasons. Though a Heisman finalist last year, he is often dismissed by pundits due to his stature (6 ft. 0 in., 190 lbs.). His size hasn’t inhibited his success, however. Moore is 41-2 as a starting QB. He’s already thrown for 995 yards and 12 TDs this season (against two INTs). The Broncos are 4-0 and have their sights set on a national championship.

Marcus Lattimore
The South Carolina tailback burst on to the Heisman stage this year with 611 rushing yards and eight TDs. He also has a TD through the air and 139 receiving yards for the Gamecocks. Though only a sophomore, he has carried his team to a 4-0 record overall record and 2-0 in the SEC.

Robert Griffin III
The Baylor Bears don’t get a lot of attention, often being overshadowed by more prominent Big 12 schools. Their junior QB has brought them notoriety this season though. Once a player earns a universal nickname, his stock is bound to rise. “RG3” has earned a lot of Heisman mentions this season. His Bears are 3-0 and he has 962 passing yards and 13 TDs (with no INTs).

Landry Jones
The Oklahoma Sooners have enjoyed top billing in the weekly AP poll much of this season. Landry Jones is a primary reason for that prominence. The redshirt junior QB has 1,022 passing yards this season for the 3-0 Sooners. He has five TDs against four INTs.

Russell Wilson
Wilson is a redshirt senior QB for the Wisconsin Badgers, having transferred from North Carolina State, where he enjoyed much success in the ACC. He has led Wisconsin to a 4-0 start throwing for 1,136 yards and 11 TDs and one INT.

Geno Smith
Every writer is entitled to a dark horse candidate. I’ll take Geno Smith, junior QB for the West Virginia Mountaineers. Smith has thrown for 1,471 yards so far, with nine TDs and three INTs. West Virginia is 3-1, having lost to LSU last Saturday. Despite the loss Smith threw for 463 yards against the Tigers, one of the best defenses in the NCAA.

One other player who emerged last weekend with 288 yards rushing and two TDs is LaMichael James, a junior tailback for Oregon. During the preseason he was widely expected to be among the contenders, but has not had a Heisman performance until last Saturday against Arizona. Going forward he may find his way into the conversation.

These players all have impressive credentials, making for interesting competition. Unlike many recent years’ competition, this could be a toss up in December.

 

Check out this disscussion on Moore and Lattimore at: Heisman Hopefuls Kellen Moore and Lattimore

 

Pete Sonski blogs about college football. He welcomes feedback here and on Twitter @PSPRGuy.