November 18, 2017

All Out Blitz

Arizona Cardinals: QB Kevin Kolb returned last week and the Cardinals won, but Kolb still didn’t play all that well. He was constantly throwing passes into the ground…..RB Beanie Wells is battling knee, thumb and hamstring injuries which has limited his practice time this week, but he still should play versus the 49ers on Sunday.

Atlanta Falcons: QB Matt Ryan has just not been able to take that next step this season. For the Falcons to advance deep into the playoffs, they will need him to do so or they will have no chance of beating the Packers or Saints…..RB Michael Turner is dealing with a groin injury that certainly seemed to slow him down last week, but the Texans’ defense may also have had something to do with his performance. This week he gets the Panthers, a much better matchup.

Baltimore Ravens: Some consider the Ravens to be the best team in the AFC, but I’m just not feeling it. I’m not sure I trust QB Joe Flacco to raise his game to an elite level when it matters. Even though the Ravens beat the Steelers twice, I still think the Steelers may be the best overall team…..LB Ray Lewis still isn’t practicing due to turf toe and is unlikely to play once again on Sunday.

Buffalo Bills: The injuries just keep coming for Buffalo as TE Scott Chandler won’t play this week due to an ankle injury and K Rian Lindell was officially placed on IR, ending his season…..LB Nick Barnett has had a very good first season for the Bills, already racking up 97 tackles. He would seem to be a must play in IDP leagues.

Carolina Panthers: WR Steve Smith’s production has been down of late even though the Panthers running game has picked up. Smith could certainly use some help to take the defense’s attention off of him. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to give QB Cam Newton another target to throw to, not to mention Smith is getting up there in age and could see a drop off in his numbers at any time.

Chicago Bears: Things just keep getting worse and worse for the Bears. First they lose QB Jay Cutler with a thumb injury, now they may have lost RB Matt Forte with a knee injury…..What makes the Forte injury even more interesting is that this is the last year of his contract as he and the Bears have been at odds all season long on an extension. It would seem business wise that it would be a good decision for Forte not to rush himself back, making sure he’s 100% healthy next season.

Cincinnati Bengals: It seems the sand may be running out in the hourglass for the Bengals as they were wrecked last week by Pittsburgh. They’re going to be a good team, but they still need time…..RB Cedric Benson is dealing with a foot injury that caused him to miss practice Thursday. He could still play though as he missed practice last Thursday as well.

Cleveland Browns: The Browns are going to have to make a decision this off-season. Do they believe in QB Colt McCoy, or do they draft a QB in the first round of April’s draft? They should have a top ten pick and could select one of the more highly rated quarterbacks that will be available. Of course they still need WRs and may need a RB also if Peyton Hillis leaves. Yeah, they don’t have many playmakers on this team.

Dallas Cowboys: Head coach Jason Garrett has been lit up this week for “icing” his own kicker. That isn’t actually what happened. You can clearly see special teams coach Joe DeCamillis and kicker coach Chris Boniol ask Garrett to call timeout…..What Garrett should be taking criticism for was not calling a timeout after WR Dez Bryant caught the pass at the Cardinals 32-yard line with 26 seconds left. Dallas had two TOs left and should have used one there so they could run a couple more plays to get in better FG range. It wasn’t like K Dan Bailey was having a great day. He missed a FG earlier in the game from 50+ and banked another one off the goalpost, not to mention the league percentage on 50+ yard FGs is 50.2. This is the reason why it’s extremely bewildering that Garrett keeps insisting that he didn’t make an error. Garrett has cost the Cowboys two games this season with conservative play calling (New England). If they miss the playoffs, the blame should fall squarely on him…..The good news is that WR Miles Austin should return this week as should FB Tony Fiammetta.

Denver Broncos: It is hard not to be a believer in QB Tim Tebow after last week’s performance. I know it came against a terrible secondary in Minnesota, but still this was the first game that Tebow had to win with his arm and not his legs…..The Broncos have to be considered the favorite to win the AFC West. Scary I know, but I still think they are one-and-done as they will most likely play Pittsburgh or Baltimore in the 1st round.

Detroit Lions: Head coach Jim Schwartz has done a great job of turning around the Lions, but he needs to get control of his team. They make way too many personal foul penalties and are playing way out of control which may be costing them games as well as yardage…..RB Kevin Smith is still being hampered by an ankle injury and is having a difficult time finishing games. He also hasn’t practiced this week which could lead to RB Maurice Morris having a bigger role this week.

Green Bay Packers: That’s 18 straight wins now for the Packers if you count the playoffs. The only team that I believe can beat them would be the Saints in a shootout. It might just come down to which team had the ball last or who had to kick a FG instead of a TD in a cold weather playoff game in Green Bay that hindered the passing attack (think Brett Favre versus the Giants when the G-Men last won the Super Bowl – it was close to zero degrees that night).

Houston Texans: The Texans just keep finding ways to win even without their best players. WR Andre Johnson’s return to the lineup was short-lived as his hamstring acted up once again and he had to leave the game last week. He has already been labeled as out for this week’s game. The Texans may want to keep him out multiple weeks to get him as healthy as they possibly can for the playoffs…..Another player who is really banged up is LB Brian Cushing who is dealing with injuries to various parts of his body. He’s not going to miss any game time, but certainly won’t be anywhere near full strength either.

Indianapolis Colts: I know the final numbers for QB Dan Orlovsky looked good, but keep in mind a good percentage of those numbers came when the game was out of hand and basically over…..The Colts have finally admitted that it is unlikely QB Peyton Manning returns this season. It seems we have known that for months, yet they still haven’t placed him on IR. It should be very interesting in early March when Manning is due a $28 million bonus. It will be decision time!

Jacksonville Jaguars: It is hard to believe that RB Maurice Jones-Drew leads the league in rushing on a team with virtually no passing game. QB Blaine Gabbert had what may be his best game of the season Monday night versus the Chargers yet was only 19 of 33 for 195 yards and two scores. That is hardly lighting up the scoreboard, but every journey starts with a first step. Hopefully, that’s what this is for the Jaguars and Gabbert.

Kansas City Chiefs: So much for QB Kyle Orton. He comes in for one play, a flea flicker, gets hit and dislocates a finger on his throwing hand. Now he is questionable at best to play this week…..My first question would be if Orton was mentally prepared enough to come in the game in the first half, why didn’t he start? Were the Chiefs really thinking Tyler Palko was going to improve?

Miami Dolphins: RB Daniel Thomas has played better of late, but RB Reggie Bush has so far proven that he can be an every down back. He’s not posting out of this world numbers, but they are solid numbers week in and week out…..LB Kevin Burnett is starting to justify his contract of late as his play has really picked up the past couple of weeks…..The Dolphins are playing great and are certainly one of the hottest teams in the NFL, but this still may not be enough to save Tony Sparano’s head coaching job.

Minnesota Vikings: RB Adrian Peterson is questionable to play Sunday versus Detroit, but Peterson came out Friday and said he is still having a difficult time cutting on that ankle. Assuming that’s true, I wouldn’t let Peterson play. He is your franchise player and you don’t need to be risking his health in a meaningless game…..WR Percy Harvin has picked up the offense with the absence of Peterson, showing why many people believe he is a threat to score anywhere on the field when he has his hands on the ball. He did however tear a ligament in his finger. He’ll play Sunday but could have a problem catching the ball.

New England Patriots: With the Patriots’ schedule for the remainder of the season, I still believe they end up with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs…..We’ve heard a lot of news this week concerning the health of WR Wes Welker as he is dealing with knee and wrist issues. He may be banged up, but it won’t keep him from any game action.

New Orleans Saints: You have to be rooting right now for a Saints-Packers NFC Championship game. If the weather was decent in Green Bay (big if), that could be a game for the ages. It would remind me of the Cowboys versus 49ers in the 90s…..RB Mark Ingram will miss this week’s game with turf toe. This guy just can’t stay healthy. What is even more annoying is that he comes off of two productive weeks where he was finally starting to show why the Saints drafted him so early.

New York Giants: You have to admire the bravado of S Antrel Rolle. After the Giants have lost four straight games, given up close to 80 points and 1,000 yards in the past two games, he still comes out and states the Giants have a great defense.  Yeah, not so much Antrel…..RB Ahmad Bradshaw returned last week. Although his numbers were not great, he should force defenses to respect the run again and not go all out to stop QB Eli Manning and the passing game…..The Giants seemed to have every call go against them last week, including a couple that maybe shouldn’t have. Even if that’s so, it just makes up for the Arizona game where a terrible call gave them the game.

New York Jets: I’m not a big Mark Sanchez fan, but you actually hear some of the talk shows in New York mention that the Jets should sign Peyton Manning (if he becomes available) in the off-season and trade Sanchez. It seems they forget that Sanchez is coming off back-to-back championship game appearances. He must have done something right and no one will know if Manning can truly come back from his neck surgery until he gets into a game, plus it’s not like he’s going to come cheap.

Oakland Raiders: The Raiders look like they are in the middle of a late season collapse. They barely showed up last week, getting crushed by Miami, and now they get the Packers. Sure they have injuries, maybe even more than most, but you still have to play the game…..Speaking of injuries, RB Darren MacFadden is out once again this week. This is longest day-to-day injury I’ve ever seen.

Philadelphia Eagles: QB Michael Vick and WR Jeremy Maclin are both expected to return this week. This should give the Eagles’ offense a boost, and it will certainly be interesting to see if Vick does play with more caution as he stated he will earlier this week…..How much money has WR DeSean Jackson cost himself with his play and attitude so far this season?  Jackson is still signed for another season, but the Eagles can’t go through this again. They either need to sign him to a long-term deal and make him happy or ship him to a team that will.

Pittsburgh Steelers: I wrote earlier in this column that Pittsburgh may be the best overall team in the AFC. Well that was before QB Ben Roethlisberger suffered a high ankle sprain in Thursday’s win over Cleveland. Ben probably won’t miss any game time as the Steelers don’t play again until a week from Monday, but Ben’s mobility will certainly be hampered…..Another concern for the Steelers is the health of C Maurkice Pouncey who also suffered a high ankle sprain in the same game.

San Diego Chargers: QB Philip Rivers looked real good Monday night. Granted it came against a Jaguars team that lacks a pass rush or a solid secondary, but it also shows what Rivers can do when all of his receivers are healthy…..Speaking of healthy, RB Ryan Mathews also looked good and could be a future star in San Diego…..I have a feeling the Chargers offense lights it up again this week against Buffalo, everyone else has of late.

San Francisco 49ers: Because of their record, the 49ers are listed as #2 in most power rankings. I just don’t see that and have a very strong feeling they are one-and-done in the playoffs. I think their record is more because of a terrible division and nice schedule. I love their defense, but in the playoffs you need to score points and I just don’t see QB Alex Smith being able to beat Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, their most probable playoff opponent.

Seattle Seahawks: You have to love the way RB Marshawn Lynch is playing of late. He’s actually making the Hawks offense somewhat interesting…..OT Russell Okung was placed on IR this week after tearing his pectoral muscle, a tough blow for Lynch and that running game…..QB Tarvaris Jackson reported this week that his arm strength is back to 100% after his pectoral injury earlier this year.

St. Louis Rams: As if the Rams offense isn’t bad enough, there is a pretty good chance that Tom Brandstater is going to start against Seattle on Monday Night Football. I’m sure ESPN is just thrilled with this game, not to mention RB Steven Jackson can’t be very happy with seeing what is sure to be an overloaded front to stop him…..WR Brandon Lloyd should probably be benched in fantasy leagues.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Here’s a stat I didn’t see coming–the Bucs have trailed for longer this season in term of minutes than any other team in the NFL, including the winless Colts…..QB Josh Freeman missed last week’s game with a shoulder injury. His replacement, Josh Johnson, suffered a dislocated shoulder on his non-throwing arm. Ouch! Now Freeman looks like he will start this week but how long he goes is anyone’s guess, not that it matters much right now.

Tennessee Titans: Tough game for the Titans this week as they host the Saints. I doubt the Titans would have a chance if this game were being played indoors, but in Tennessee in the elements and with RB Chris Johnson looking like he has returned to his normal self, stranger things have happened. Not to mention the Titans need the game much more than the Saints. Yeah, I’m not buying that either.

Washington Redskins: As if this wasn’t a dismal enough season for the Redskins, now they lose TE Fred Davis and OL Trent Williams for violating the league’s drug policy. Apparently they were supposed to be suspended for a year but were able to get it down to four games because of a technicality (the players thought there was a grace period after the lockout–like it’s even legal to do these drugs)…..Because of their dismal finish, the Skins should be in good shape to draft a franchise QB next year.

Kevin Smith: From the Twilight Zone to the End Zone

I thought I was watching The Twilight Zone. However, it couldn’t have been that landmark science fiction TV show. It wasn’t 1963, and it wasn’t in black-and-white. The video took place in November 2011, and it was in Detroit Lions blue-and-silver.

He’s running with a screen from Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, and he’s got that sweet, smooth way of shifting around while still moving straight for the end zone. I’m thinking, “Who is that?” He’s wearing #30, and as he crosses the goal line, I see “Smith” on the back of his jersey. Now I’m thinking, “Whoa!!…is that really him????”

Yes, it was him. No, it wasn’t The Twilight Zone, but what a script.

I have yet to watch a game this year. On the day the lockout ended, I gave up fantasy football. I also made a commitment to not even watch football. My fantasy football team, based in Columbia, South Carolina, is called the Columbia Overdrive. “Overdrive” describes my approach to the things I love. I ran on football overdrive for years, and the gear’s busted. Nobody who knew me could believe it. “I’m shocked,” said John Richardson, owner of the Georgia Scorpions, the Overdrive’s opponent in the 2009 championship game. Richardson was decked out in his security guard uniform. “I don’t wanna go to work.”

I didn’t drop football. I’ve had a blast covering high school football in the Carolina Low Country and Savannah, Georgia. I’m thoroughly enjoying working on a number of projects on pro football history. I basically know what’s going on in the NFL. People update me here and there, and yes, I do occasionally watch highlights on the internet. I was checking my e-mail on the morning of Monday, November 21, 2011, when Providence intervened with that blue-and-silver video.

I am now writing my second post on Leatherheads of the Gridiron, and it is a most unexpected post. The subtitles of this article are the titles of the best episodes of The Twilight Zone, Season 4 (Winter-Spring 1963). That was the season of one-hour episodes, a format I think is great. I had never seen The Twilight Zone until Mom gave me Season 4 last Christmas. It has become one of my five favorite shows of all time.

And I have to say, the Detroit Lions have one fine running back.

No Time Like the Past

The Detroit Lions don’t want to go back to 2008. That was the year they went 0-16. Other teams in NFL history have gone an entire season without a win. The most recent examples are the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14) and the 1982 Baltimore Colts (0-8-1). The 2008 Lions, however, were the first to go 0-16. I’ll tell you what, though. In the third round of the 2008 NFL draft, the Lions found a gem of a running back.

I liked Kevin Smith a lot. I scouted him in ’08 for my fantasy team. There was an excellent class of rookie running backs that year. The Oakland Raiders’ Darren McFadden was the top-rated rookie RB in the fantasy football magazines. Rookies usually aren’t drafted high in fantasy drafts, but many magazines projected McFadden as a Top 30 pick. The Carolina Panthers’ Jonathan Stewart was generally considered the second-best rookie running back, followed by the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Rashard Mendenhall.

Kevin Smith was rated fourth or fifth by quite a few publications. Smith stood at 6′ 1″ and weighed 217. He had a stellar career at the University of Central Florida, running for 4,864 yards in three seasons. In 2007 alone, he ran for 2,567 yards and 29 touchdowns. He was a consensus First-Team All-American, and his 2007 rushing total fell 62 yards short of the college football single-season record set by Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders in 1988. On top of his accomplishments in college, the running back position in Detroit was wide open, and Smith was expected to get the Lions’ share of the carries.

I liked him. In preseason 2008, as I prepared for my second season of fantasy football, I watched the film. I liked K-Smith’s vision, and I liked his ability to change direction. He wasn’t a blazer, but he had a nice way of shifting into second gear. I liked Kevin Smith, and I took him with the #86 pick in the 2008 Bitter Rivals fantasy football draft.

I thought about making K-Smith a starter for the Overdrive, but two factors doomed that notion. One factor was Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis. Portis was my favorite player on my favorite team, and the #6 pick in the draft was reserved for him. The other factor arose as I watched another running back on preseason film. A Tennessee Titans rookie named Chris Johnson outran the St. Louis Rams.

My jaw dropped.

I said, “That man’s lightning!!” I knew I’d be taking him as my other starting RB. I knew I’d be taking him early. I raised eyebrows at the draft when I took Chris “Lightning” Johnson with the #26 pick in the draft. It was the best fantasy football decision I ever made.

As for Kevin Smith, he soon had a problem far worse than not starting for the Columbia Overdrive. Smith rightfully won the starting job for the Lions. Little did anybody know that this team would make the wrong kind of history.

In the season opener against the Atlanta Falcons, Smith ran for a touchdown–after the Lions trailed in the first quarter, 21-0. The final score was a respectable 34-21, but the tone was set. This was a Lions team with a fairly competent offense, especially with Smith and super-talented wide receiver Calvin Johnson. What I remember most about the 2008 Lions, however, is that never have I seen a team fall behind so quickly in so many games like those Lions did.

In the meantime, Smith sat on the bench for the Overdrive. My policy is that I play my starters regardless of what the matchup is. That meant week in and week out, my starting running backs were Clinton Portis and Chris “Lightning” Johnson.

On Thursday We Leave for Home

On Thursday morning K-Smith answered the phone. It was Overdrive owner Matt Haddad. “Portis is on bye,” Matt said. “You’re starting.” It was Week 10 of the 2008 season, and Thursday Night Football was beginning. The Columbia Overdrive hosted the Boston Rampage in the first game of a rivalry that would become one of the best rivalries in The Bitter Rivals Fantasy Football League. Owned by Lucas Brewer, the Rampage were starting to build a reputation as a team with a dangerous passing attack. The Cleveland Browns were at home against the Denver Broncos for Thursday Night Football. Browns tight end Kellen Winslow started for the Overdrive, and Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall took the field for the Rampage.

In front of a crowd of screaming South Carolinians, the game took on the intensity of a playoff match. Winslow caught 10 passes for 111 yards and 2 touchdowns to score 31 points for the Overdrive. Marshall struck back with 6 catches, 89 yards, 1 touchdown, and 20 points for the Rampage. On Sunday, Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne scored 23 for the Overdrive, but Chris “Lightning” Johnson played his worst game of the season. The Chicago Bears’ defense bottled the lightning for 8 yards rushing–and 3 points for the Overdrive.

Columbia needed Kevin Smith to do something good. The Lions played the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Jags quarterback David Garrard scored 20 for the Rampage. Smith responded by running for 96 yards and a touchdown, plus catching one pass for 27 yards. His efforts gave the Overdrive 18 points.

K-Smith did most of his damage in the fourth quarter. He ran for a 1-yard touchdown with 6:02 remaining, a play that got the Overdrive 6 points. An onside kick ensued, and Calvin Johnson recovered for the Lions. Detroit didn’t score on that final drive, but Smith scored 3 more points for the Overdrive. On third-and-1 at the 50, Smith ran 32 yards to the Jacksonville 18. Every one of K-Smith’s points was necessary. The Overdrive won, 104-101.

Sadly, the loss to Jacksonville left the Lions at 0-9. NFL.com remarked, “They might have what it takes to be the NFL’s first 0-16 team.” Finish 0-16 they did. Smith was one of the bright spots with 976 yards rushing, 4.1 yards per carry, and 8 touchdowns. He also caught 39 passes for 286 yards.

2009 brought a new season to conquer: I won the Championship. The Columbia Overdrive defeated the Boston Rampage in the playoffs and the Georgia Scorpions in the title game. Clinton Portis and Chris “Lightning” Johnson were again my signature players. “Playing for Matt is the highlight of my career,” Portis said in an exclusive interview with The Imaginary Newspaper.

Kellen Winslow and Reggie Wayne were also on my ’09 championship team, but Kevin Smith wasn’t. I really wanted K-Smith as my top backup. Rashon Johnson and the West Rasheed Crusaders had other ideas. They drafted him to be a starter.

Smith didn’t have as strong of a season in ’09. He did well in the receiving department, with 41 catches for 415 yards and 1 touchdown. However, his rushing numbers regressed: 747 yards, 3.4 yards per carry, and 4 touchdowns. Late in the season, which saw the Lions finish 2-14, Smith tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

In 2010, for a Lions team that finished 6-10, Smith played in six games before losing his season to a thumb injury. Playing second-string, he ran for 133 yards and 3.5 yards per carry while catching 11 passes for 123 yards. He didn’t score a touchdown. On March 3, 2011, eight days before the lockout, the Lions let Smith go.

He’s Alive

Yes, the commentators confirmed in the blue-and-silver video, that was the one and only Kevin Smith. Smith’s 28-yard touchdown catch-and-run came when the Lions were down, 10-0, at home to the Carolina Panthers. For the first time since December 2009, K-Smith reached the end zone. Against the Panthers, he would do it three times.

The Panthers led 24-7 at one point, but the Lions put some roar into their offense. The final score was Detroit 49, Carolina 35. Smith ran 16 times for 140 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also caught 4 passes for 61 yards and 1 touchdown. That was the greatest game of his career. The Lions’ record now stood at 7-4, their best mark at that point since 2000.

Mute

No, no, no. Kevin Smith didn’t keep silent. The blue-and-silver video showed him giving hugs to his offensive lineman. Then he knelt down at the bench and gave thanks to the Almighty. K-Smith later said, “The chance to be in the NFL, the chance that God blessed me with another opportunity, is what I’m thankful for.”

That game took place on November 20th, thirteen days after the Lions re-signed him. Afterward, he was asked what he did during his eight months out of football. “Wake up at 7 o’clock in the morning, train until 12, go home and play with my son,” Smith said. He worked out at a sports facility in Aventura, just outside his hometown of Miami. His greatest encourager was his mother.

On Thanksgiving Day, four days after the Panthers game, Smith and the Lions took the field against the undefeated, defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. Smith ran well in the early going, gaining 36 yards on 7 carries while catching 3 passes for 21 yards. Then he hurt his ankle in the second quarter. At that time, the Lions were down, 7-0. Smith didn’t return. The Packers dominated the second half and won the game, 27-15.

Smith will hopefully be back on the field soon. “It wasn’t that bad,” Smith said of the injury. The X-ray came back negative, and Smith was diagnosed with a mild sprain. He might see action on December 4th at New Orleans. The Lions have gone from 0-16 to a team competing for the playoffs. I believe the story of Kevin Smith is to be continued.