Thursday, September 25, 2014

U2- 'SONGS OF INNOCENCE' (ALBUM REVIEW)

   By: Connor Glowacki

courtesy of hollywood reporter






   




     Just over a week ago, Irish rock band U2 partnered with Apple to release their latest album, 'Songs Of Innocence', for FREE to all itunes and iPhone users. The deal cost Apple $100 million dollars to give towards the band and towards marketing for their latest album release. Opinions were divided as many people loved having a new U2 album arrive on their iPhones for free, while others wanted it gone and deleted. As much as we could go into the Apple deal in particular, this will be strictly about the music.
     The band's last album was 2009's 'No Line On the Horizon', and while it ended up being an underrated effort, the album failed to produce a huge hit and sold just 1.2 million copies in the United States. Their previous album before that, 2004's 'How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb' sold over 4 million domestically. That being said, I'm sure many artists would love to sell 1.2 million albums just once in their lifetime. Lead singer Bono has repeatedly stated in interviews that his biggest fear is if U2 is no longer relevant. Promo singles 'Ordinary Love' and 'Invisible' were released earlier this year and despite being solid songs, they didn't make a big impact commercially.
Figure 1: U2 with Apple CEO Tim Cook at a product unveiling. (Courtesy of blogs.wsj.com)
     'Songs Of Innocence' was produced by Broken Bells member Danger Mouse, who most recently produced The Black Keys stellar 2014 album, 'Turn Blue'. How does 'Songs Of Innocence' compare to previous U2 releases and will it keep the legendary band 'relevant'? Here is a track-by-track breakdown of the new album:

1.) 'The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)

     Bono previously stated in interviews that the band was looking to its past musical inspirations to forge a concept for 'Songs Of Innocence' and that is aptly shown here in this first track as U2 pays tribute to Joey Ramone, lead singer of influential punk-rock band, The Ramones. 'The Miracle' starts with familiar arena sounding wails that U2 are best known, which then kicks into a distorted guitar power chords, played by lead guitarist The Edge, to create a punk-like sound.
     Bono sings about hearing the music that Joey Ramone and his band were creating and how as a teenager, he was drawn to that sound. With lines like, "We were pilgrims on our way" and "The most beautiful sound I ever heard", you can hear the sincerity in Bono's words and voice.
     Even though this song doesn't have the same punch of previous lead singles. like 'Beautiful Day' or 'Vertigo', U2 sounds tight, confident and filled with energy. Plus, it's a much better lead single than 'Get On Your Boots'.

2.) Every Breaking Wave

     'Every Breaking Wave' starts off with one of The Edge's signature guitar riffs that is encompassed with delay and reverb. The haunting melody synth lines in the background give the song a 'With Or Without You' vibe, but also draws inspiration from recent Coldplay and OneRepublic songs. The OneRepublic inspiration part makes sense as OneRepublic's lead singer Ryan Tedder was a producer on this track, as well as others on the album.
     There are interesting staccato rhythms by bassist Adam Clayton and The Edge on guitar. It's a song with a booming chorus about love, creating a change of pace from the urgent 'Miracle' track.

3.) California (There Is No End To Love)

     Never knew Bono was a Cali type of guy, but I digress. The song begins with haunting clock chimes creating a background that is then engulfed with repeated chants. Bono displays a wailing vocal and strong falsettos throughout the song, but is he talking about how California is the destination that he wants to go to? Or perhaps his hometown in Ireland? "Everyone's a star in our town, it just gets dimmer if you have to stay", Bono proclaims possibly about the influence of Los Angeles. The backing keyboard synths provide a youthful energy throughout 'California' that is staying true to the band's promise of revisiting their youth with 'Songs Of Innocence'.

4.) Song For Someone

     Here's another song that features Tedder as a key producer. 'Song For Someone' opens up as a soft acoustic number with The Edge playing guitar. It is very ambient and atmospheric. Unfortunately, some lyrics come across as slightly cliche such as,"If there is dark, then we shouldn't doubt. And if there is a light, don't let it out". However, it'll work in the arena setting.
     'Song For Someone' also sounds distinctly like a Coldplay song to the point where I can picture Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin belting the chorus on stage during one of their shows. U2, known for their lyrics on spirituality, offer a nice change of pace near the end of the song, "Long way from your hell on Calvary. And I'm a long way from where I was, where I need to be".
     Not one of my favorite songs on the album, but that lyric was a nice change of pace to the lyrics directed towards love in the previous three songs.

5.) Iris (Hold Me Close)

     This is a very personal song as Bono wrote it about his mother, Iris Hweson, who died when he was just 14. With lyrics like, "I've got your life inside of me", you can't help but picture the lead singer writing this song with the perspectives as an adult present day and also as kid who went through terrible personal tragedy. It's another ambient and atmospheric song that features a delay riff by The Edge.  A quick drum pattern by drummer Larry Mullen Jr. helps the song pick up pace during the chorus.
     'Iris' is a beautiful song about Bono's memories of his mother and his longing to be with her again, BUT this is now the fourth straight down-tempo song, which is causing the album to drag a bit for me.

6.) Volcano

     Now this is what I am talking about! A much needed uptempo song that is filled with distorted guitar, a faster drum beat, and soaring vocals. Clayton has a great, and even slightly funky, bass line that opens 'Volcano' and gives the song that quick burst of energy. With the line, "Vol-ca-no, something in you has to blow", listeners can interpret it in many different ways, such as personal struggles, spirituality, or just the need to let go.
     Interestingly enough, this song reminds me musically of 'Satisfaction' by The Rolling Stones. So far, 'Volcano' is my favorite song off the album.

7.) Raised By Wolves

     Another aggressive song that, according to the band, is about a deadly car bombing in Dublin. "Face down on the a broken street, there's a man in the corner in a pool of misery. 5:30 on a Friday night, 33 good people cut down", Bono sings as the song's political message can harken back to some of U2's earlier politically charged songs, like 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' and 'Pride (In The Name Of Love)'.
     Very strong vocals by Bono throughout the song and 'Raised By Wolves' shows another dimension of what makes U2 special. The punk rock inspirations that they grew up with allows the band to take risks by singing about actual events that affect real people.

8.) Cedarwood Road

     'Cedarwood Road' is about the actual street that Bono grew up on during childhood. That symbolism again supports the concept around 'Songs Of Innocence' with many memories harkening back to his childhood and the emotions that he felt as a teenager living on that street. Distorted guitars open the song and give it an alternative and punk-rock sound.
     I also have to give praise to Mullen for providing an aggressive drum pattern to perfectly complement the distorted guitars and the lyrics about Bono wanting to break out of his hometown, while now still holding on to all of the memories.

9.) Sleep Like A Baby Tonight

     After three aggressive songs in a row, this down-tempo number is a nice change of pace. A staccato muted keyboard is played throughout the entire song and there are additional violins and synthesizers in the background. Bono's vocals are added with reverb to give more layers to his voice. This is a nice quieter song on the album, but it never really takes off and goes anywhere.
     'Sleep Like A Baby Tonight' contains the same vocal and instrumental tones throughout the entire song and does not contain any peaks or valleys or any different variations with the song. Not all songs have to be loud or have a booming chorus, but this was a song that I found to be rather on the boring side.

10.) This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now

     Seagulls are heard in the background at the beginning of this song, which then leads up to an instrumental combination of a piano, acoustic guitar and a shaker. With lines such as, "Old man says that we never listen, shout about what we don't know", it feels as if this was written in the perspective of a younger Bono, as a teenager.
     The song has slight reggae and middle eastern tinged instrumentals all throughout and contains a section of multi-layered vocals during the chorus. That gives the song a 'larger than life' feel, if you will.  It's a solid track and continues to prove the mindset that the band was in when writing 'Songs Of Innocence' and how this undoubtedly an arena rock band with punk influences.

11.) The Troubles

     The final song on the album begins with a string section and silent electric guitar. The chorus line, "I have a will for survival so you can hurt me and hurt me some more. But you're not my troubles anymore", showcases a more restraint confidence from U2. 'The Troubles' is a song about letting go of past burdens and stresses.
courtesy of wikipedia
     Could the inspiration of this song be from the fact that pop culture and music critics put the band on such a high pedestal that anything that doesn't match U2's blockbuster albums (1987's 'The Joshua Tree' or 1991's 'Achtung Baby') is a complete failure? Or the notion that it's considered 'cool' nowadays to hate the band for no reason at all?
     We'll never know for certain, but the highlight of this song was the trading off of vocals between Bono and Swedish indie-pop singer-songwriter Lykke Li. Their vocals blend very well with one another and create a giant wall of sound by the time the song reaches the chorus. Very good closer to the album.

RATING: 4/5

     In today's modern age, where most people don't buy music anymore and rock music, in particular, doesn't sell many albums, U2 stands as the reigning kings in a empty wasteland. Therefore, they are put on a higher musical pedestal than their rock peers. As a standalone album, 'Songs Of Innocence' is an extremely well crafted and confident piece of work. It has been written from such personal places that it feels like we can understand U2 a little bit more as musicians and as people.
     That being said, 'Songs Of Innocence' is not perfect. There were periods in the album where there were three or four downtempo songs in a row and then another where there were three or four aggressive songs back to back. It would have been better if U2 had alternated between slow and fast songs so that the album could've felt like it had more musical and emotional peaks and valleys. Also, it doesn't appear that there is a clear, bona-fide hit song on this album. BUT that shouldn't detract from 'Songs Of Innocence'. It's a cohesive body of work.
     Bono needs to stop thinking about how the band can continue to be relevant and instead just focus on making the best music that they can make. The music is what will be U2's legacy, not some silly Apple marketing stunt. With a reported new album, 'Songs Of Experience' expected to be released sometime in 2015, 'Songs Of Innocence' showcases the band members musical inspirations as teenagers and where their sound could be going next.

FAVORITE TRACKS:
1.) Volcano        2.) The Troubles       3.) The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)

What did you think of the new U2 album? Let me know in the comment section below or tweet at me @ConnorGlowacki.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

HEISMAN TRACKER (THROUGH WEEK 4)

By: Connor Glowacki

1.) Oregon Quarterback Marcus Mariota.

courtesy of cbssports.com
2014 Season Stats: 71/96, 1135 yards, 13TDs and 0INTs.
33 carries, 214 yards, 3 rushing TDs.

     Mariota and the number two ranked Oregon Ducks had a big scare, but were able to pull away and defeat an unranked Washington State team on the road last Saturday night to improve to a 4-0 overall record. Despite the team's close call, Mariota was dynamic as he completed 21 of 25 passes for 329 yards and five touchdowns with ZERO interceptions. He's completed almost 75 percent of his passes this season, a big jump from 2013 when he completed just 63.5 percent.
     It appears that Mariota made the right decision to come back to school for one more year because he has improved in throwing the ball from the pocket and with his accuracy. He is the best quarterback in the country right now and has to be the frontrunner for the Heisman. The schedule is going to get even tougher for Mariota and the Ducks with looming games against undefeated Arizona, UCLA and a one loss Stanford team on the horizon.


courtesy of usatoday
2.) Georgia Running Back Todd Gurley III.

2014 Season Stats: 41 carries, 402 yards, 4TDs

     While the Georgia Bulldogs completely destroyed Troy by a whopping 66-0, running back Todd Gurley did not see much playing time in the game as he ran just six times for no touchdowns. However those six carries led to 73 yards so if he was given more playing time, the numbers would've been insane. Even though it might be helping Gurley long-term by saving his body for the NFL and not having it take punishment against a terrible Troy squad, all of the Heisman momentum has gone to Mariota.
     I still think Gurley is the most explosive player in college football right now and he's been proving it by averaging 9.8 yards per carry. Upcoming conference games against Tennessee and Vanderbilt will give him chances to put up big numbers once again.

courtesy of fishduck.com
3.) Alabama Wide Receiver Amari Cooper.

2014 Season Stats: 43 receptions, 655 yards, 5TDs.

     Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper was solid in 2013 (45 receptions, 736 yards, 4TDs). But he has almost eclipsed those numbers already this season. In the Crimson Tide's 42-21 win over Florida, Cooper had a monster game with 10 catches for 201 yards and three touchdowns! In every game this season, he has had at least 130 yards receiving and in three of the four games has caught the ball at least 10 times.
     It's gotten to the point where opposing defenses and even everybody in the stadium know that the ball is going to Cooper on a big play and the wideout still gets the job done. He has rocketed up the Heisman board and even though wide receivers rarely win, Cooper has a great chance with a big showdown against #10 Ole Miss on October 4th. Is he the next A.J. Green or Julio Jones? It'll be fun to find out.

4.) Texas A&M Quarterback Kenny Hill.

courtesy of businessinsider
2014 Season Stats: 97/139, 1,350 yards, 13TDs and 1INT.

     Kenny Hill, or 'Kenny Trill' as he prefers to be called, has been lighting it up for Texas A&M so far in the 2014 season. To go with the stats mentioned above, Hill has completed 73.3 percent of his passes and has a QBR of 181.3. This past week in a blowout win over SMU, Hill completed 16 of 22 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns, along with his first interception this season.
     Hill has done a great job in allowing Aggie fans to temporarily forget about heralded Heisman winning quarterback Johnny Manziel leaving, but can both of their successes be attributed to the system that they play for under head coach Kevin Sumlin? The schedule will start to get a lot harder for Hill and the Aggies as four of their next six games will be against ranked opponents in the SEC.

5.) Mississippi State Quarterback Dak Prescott.

courtesy of bleacherreport
2014 Season Stats: 58/96, 964 yards, 11TDs and 2INTs.
62 carries, 378 yards, 3TDs.


     Don't look now, but the Mississippi State quarterback has launched himself into the Heisman race, thanks to his ability to both throw and run with the football. Last Saturday, Prescott and the Bulldogs pulled off a huge upset on the road by defeating the eighth ranked LSU Tigers. He was the difference maker, completing 15 of 24 passes for 268 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also ran for 105 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.
     To go into a hostile playing environment, like Death Valley, and play with the confidence and poise that Prescott displayed was very impressive. The Bulldogs are undefeated with a 4-0 overall record and the win against LSU has proven to be Prescott's breakout moment on the national stage. If he puts up similar performances in their next two games against Hill and #6 Texas A&M and #5 Auburn, Prescott will be vaulted to the forefront of this race.

OTHERS TO WATCH FOR

6.) Nebraska Running Back Ameer Abdullah.

2014 Season Stats: 92 carries, 625 yards, 5TDs. 5 catches, 108 yards, 2TDs.

7.) Notre Dame Quarterback Everett Golston.

2014 Season Stats: 62/96, 780 yards, 7TDs and 0INTs.
29 carries, 83 yards, 4TDs.

8.) Florida State Quarterback Jameis Winston.

2014 Season Stats: 47/67, 626 yards, 3TDs and 2INTs.
7 carries, 11 yards, 1TD.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

AFC WEST & NFC EAST PREVIEWS AND PREDICTIONS

By: Connor Glowacki

AFC WEST

courtesy of Slate Magazine
1.) Denver Broncos: The Broncos were one of the most entertaining offenses we had seen in recent memory last season, led by MVP quarterback Peyton Manning throwing for 5,477 yards and an all-time best 55 touchdowns, compared to just 10 interceptions! Manning also completed an astounding 68.3 percent of his passes last season.
     Manning had numerous weapons in the passing game, to his arsenal, which included wide receivers Wes Welker (73 catches, 778 yards, 10TDs), Demaryius Thomas (92 catches, 1,430 yards, 14TDs), and Eric Decker (87 catches, 1,288 yards, 11TDs), as well as tight end Julius Thomas (65 catches, 788 yards, 12TDs).
     The running game provided additional firepower to this offense in 2013, with contributions by running backs Knowshon Moreno (241 carries, 1,038 yards, 10TDs) and Montee Ball (120 carries, 559 yards, 4TDs). The defense was led by linebacker Shaun Phillips (10 sacks), and cornerback Dominique Rodgers Cromatie (3 interceptions) in 2013. With all of their statistical success that led to a 13-3 regular season record, a humiliating defeat to the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl washed away alot of the good vibes around this team immediately heading into the offseason.

Big Questions: Can Denver get back to the Super Bowl? Manning returns, but that can't be said for some of his most notable weapons from last season. Decker and Moreno left in free agnecy and Welker has been suspended the first four games of the season for performance enhancing drug use.  The Broncos also lost Phillips to free agency in the offseason.

courtesy of usatoday

Bottom Line: As long as a team has Peyton Manning as their quarterback, they are going to have a great chance at making a run for a championship. Denver acquired wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, linebacker Demarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward all in the offseason and Manning will still have both Demaryius and Julius Thomas at his disposal to start the 2014 season. The Broncos will also have left tackle Ryan Clady retuning from injuries that kept him out the entire 2013 campaign.

Prediction: (12-4). Denver has tough games early against Kansas City, Seattle and Indianapolis, but they are the best team in this division and should be one of the top teams in the entire NFL once again in 2014.

courtesy of rantsports.com
2.) San Diego Chargers: San Diego went on a late season run to sneak into the playoffs for the first time in several years, but after upsetting a Cincinatti Bengals team in the first round, expectations are high for this team. Quarterback Phillip Rivers had a big rebound year in 2013 after throwing for 4,478 yards and 32 touchdowns, compared to 11 interceptions.
     The rushing game was led by running backs Ryan Matthews (285 carries, 1,255 yards, 6TDs) and Danny Woodhead (106 carries, 429 yards, 2TDs). Wide receiver Keenan Allen had a breakout season with 71 catches for 1,046 yards and 8TDs, and other receiving threats, such as tight end Antonio Gates (77 catches, 872 yards, 4TDs) and wide receiver Eddie Royal (47 catches, 631 yards, 8TDs) were big playmakers in San Diego's passing game.

Big Questions: How good can San Diego be? All of their skill weapons return, including wide receiver Malcolm Floyd, who missed most of the 2013 season with injuries. The offensive line, however, has many question marks.

Bottom Line: San Deigo added cornerback Brandon Flowers in free agency and safety Eric Weddle, and linebackers Manti Te'o and Melvin Ingrham return on defense. The offense should put up points fairly easily, as the offensive line steps up and provides protection to Rivers.

Prediction: (10-6). The Chargers have more playmakers on offense than Kansas City does and the advantage of being able to put points up on the board gives them an edge over the Chiefs.

courtesy of standingosports.com
3.) Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs had an unbelievable start in 2013, in a year with new head coach Andy Reid and new starting quarterback Alex Smith. Kansas City started 9-0 and showcased new playmakers on defense, but limped to a 2-5 stretch and finished the season with an 11-5 record and a lost in the first round of the playoffs to Indianapolis.
     Smith was the epitome of a game manager in 2013, as he threw for 3,313 yards and 23 touchdowns, compared to just seven interceptions. Running back Jamaal Charles was huge on offense for the Chiefs as he rushed for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns on 259 carries. Charles also had 70 receptions for 693 yards and seven touchdowns in the passing game. Wide receivers Dwanye Bowe and Donnie Avery combined for 1,269 yards receiving and seven touchdowns in 2013.
     The defense had numerous playmakers such as linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, with 11 sacks each and safeties Quintin Demps, Eric Berry and Marcus Cooper combining for 10 interceptions. Linebacker Derrick Johnson led the Chiefs with 107 tackles last season.

Big Questions: Does Kansas City have enough firepower on offense to score points and keep up with offensive-powered teams like Denver and New England? And can Alex Smith be a quarterback that can take a team to a Super Bowl?

Bottom Line: The Chiefs offense didn't make any upgrades, besides adding tight end Anthony Fasano in free agency, and the defense lost Johnson and Demps in the offseason. Hali and Berry are also both fighting through injuries as the season is about to begin.

Prediction: (7-9). Alot of Kansas City's early wins last season came against struggling teams that were playing their backup quarterbacks. The early stretch of the 2014 schedule faces tough matchups against Denver, New England, San Francisco, and San Diego. I personally believe that the Chiefs' 2013 season  had some very lucky moments and that they will struggle to achieve that success again in 2014.

courtesy of nfl.com
4.) Oakland Raiders: Unbelievably, the Raiders have not made the playoffs since they lost in the Super Bowl back in 2003. It doesn't seem that streak of losing seasons will end in 2014. Oakland's quarterbacks (Matt Flynn, Matt McGloin, Terelle Pryor) all struggled mightily last season and the Raiders lost their top running back Rashad Jennings in free agency.
     That being said, Oakland did acquire numerous free agents for this upcoming season, including running back Maurice Jones Drew, defensive end Justin Tuck, and linebacker Lamarr Woodley. They also acquired quarterback Matt Schaub, but it appears that rookie Derek Carr will be the starting quarterback for Oakland on opening day. Running back Darren McFadden (114 carries, 379 yards, 5TDs) and wide receivers Rod Streater (60 catches, 888 yards, 4TDs) and Denarius Moore (46 catches, 695 yards, 5TDs) are the top returning offensive threats from 2013.

Big Questions: Can Carr be the quarterback that can win Oakland games and make them relevant once again? Can Jones-Drew and McFadden establish a consistent corps of running backs to help Carr run the offense?
courtesy of buffalonews.com

Bottom Line: Rookie linebacker Khalil Mack will make an immediate impact and will put up big numbers for Oakland in his first season. The Raiders also acquired wide receiver James Jones in free agency and he should be able to stretch the field and allow Carr to throw play-action pass plays more often this season. Also, watch out for newly acquired cornerback Carlos Rogers to make a big impact in the secondary.

Prediction: (4-12). Unfortunately for Raiders fans, 2014 will be another long, tough season. Carr doesn't have many weapons to work with on offense and the defense doesn't have enough YOUNG talent to match quarterbacks in their division, like Manning, Rivers or even Smith. This should be viewed as a year to look to the future and allow Carr to develop as a quarterback.



NFC EAST

courtesy of bleacherrepot
1.) Philadelphia Eagles: Many people, including myself, questioned if new Eagles head coach Chip Kelly could have his high-powered offense from his coaching days at Oregon translate to the NFL. Needless to say, Kelly proved us wrong with a dynamic offense that scared a lot of opponents last season. Quarterback Nick Foles emerged as a legitimate starter in the middle of the 2013 season, as Michael Vick battled injuries, and never looked back.
     Foles threw for 2,891 yards and an astounding 27 touchdowns, compared to just two interceptions in limited action in 2013. Running back Lesean McCoy was one of the top rushers in the NFL last season, rushing for over 1,600 yards and nine touchdowns on 314 carries. And the Eagles also had a lot of successful receiving threats last season led by wide receiver DeSean Jackson (82 catches, 1,332 yards, 9TDs), controversial wide receiver Riley Cooper (47 catches, 835 yards, 8TDs), and tight end Brent Celek (32 catches, 502 yards, 6TDs). McCoy also added 52 catches for 539 yards and two touchdowns, making him even more of a versatile threat on offense.
     On defense, cornerback Brandon Boykin had a huge 2013 season as he led the Eagles with six interceptions. Linebacker Demeco Ryans led Philadelphia with 102 tackles and linebackers Trent Cole and Connor Barwin combined for 13 sacks.

Big Questions: Can the Eagles duplicate their offensive successes in 2014, Kelly's second year as head coach. Jackson left in free agency and left for a division rival, in the Washington Redskins. With Vick gone, Foles is now the official starter. Can he become a top-tier quarterback in the NFL? And with almost all starters returning on defense, can the Eagles defensive unit become an elite force in its own right?

Bottom Line: Even though losing Jackson is big, the Eagles do get wide receiver Jeremy Maclin back this season after he was lost to injuries throughout 2013. They also added running back Darren Sproles in free agency and he should add an additional amount of firepower in the backfield with McCoy. Foles' continued development will be the key to how explosive this offense can be.

Prediction: (10-6). The Eagles have a schedule filled with tough opponents, like Seattle, San Francisco, Indianapolis, and Green Bay. But the NFC East is awful this year, which means winnable against all of the other teams in the division. Look for the Eagle to be a big force in the NFC this season.

courtesy of tsmplug.com
2.) Washington Redskins: Washington was FILLED with controversy in 2013 and it didn't even include the inactivity in Congress! After a posting a 10-6 record in 2012 with a playoff berth, the Redskins collapsed to a 3-13 overall mark with a league worse defense, combined with an inept offenese led by a injured quarterback. Robert Griffin III threw for 3,203 yards last season and 16 touchdowns, compared to 12 interceptions. From his rookie season to 2013, his QBR, passing touchdowns and total yardage dropped dramatically.
     Running back Alfred Morris had another successful season as he ran for 1,275 yards and seven touchdowns, on 276 carries. Although he did lose four fumbles last season. Wide receiver Pierre Garcon had a breakout season in 2013 after he caught 113 passes for 1,346 yards and five touchdowns. Tight end Jordan Reed (45 catches, 499 yards, 3TDs) and wide receiver Santana Moss (42 catches, 452 yards, 2TDs) also put up standout numbers last season.
     Not much went right on defense for the Redskins last season, but there were several standout players. Linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan combined for 18.5 sacks and cornerback Deangelo Hall led the team with four interceptions.

Big Questions: Can RG3 stay healthy for an entire season? Throughout his first two seasons, Griffin has missed seven games due to injuries towards the knee, ankle and head. And can the defense improve at all from 2013?

Bottom Line: New wide receivers Desean Jackson and Andre Roberts should provide an immense boost in the passing game and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher will provide the Redskins with another pass rusher that can get to the quarterback. On paper, Washington looks good at almost every position, but it will all come down to the health and on the field performance that Griffin demonstrates during this critical season.

Prediction: (7-9). I don't believe that Robert Griffin III will last the entire season. Unless he can stay healthy, I don't see Washington as a team that can compete for a playoff spot this year.

courtesy of nfl.com
3.) Dallas Cowboys: For the third straight season, with a chance to clinch a playoff berth in the final regular season game, the Dallas Cowboys lost to a division rival and were left watching the playoffs at home once again. In the last 20 years, the Cowboys have won just one playoff game. Statistically, quarterback Tony Romo had a great 2013 campaign as he threw for 3,828 yards and 31 touchdowns, compared to just 10 interceptions.
     Running back DeMarco Murray led the ground attack by rushing for 1,121 yards and nine touchdowns on 217 carries. Meanwhile, wide receiver Dez Bryant had a breakout season as he caught 93 passes for 1,233 yards and a whopping 13 touchdowns. Tight end Jason Witten (73 catches, 851 yards, 8TDs) and wide receiver Terrence Williams (44 catches, 736 yards, 5TDs) were other top targets in the passing game last season.
     As dynamic as the offense appeared to be at times, the Cowboys defense ranked dead last in almost every statistical category in 2013. and outside of linebacker Sean Lee's team leading four interceptions, there weren't many other standout players from the 2013 season.

Big Questions: Can Dallas' defense improve at all. They lost Lee for the entire season during training camp and lost Hatcher and linebacker Demarcus Ware to free agency.

Bottom Line: The Cowboys offense will be fine as Romo will have plenty of weapons to work with. Ultimately, their defense is that bad that if the Redskins defense improves at all from 2013, the Cowboys will be third in the NFC East. Dallas is also going to have to find some way to make the big plays in critical moments of games if they are going to make a serious playoff push.

Prediction: (6-10). Dallas lost the better players on last year's defensive unit and it looks like the defense will struggle again in 2014. Romo is also coming off offseason back surgery. Dallas is just not as good of team as they have been in past years to make a playoff run this year.

courtesy of cbssports.com
4.) New York Giants: 2013 was a year that Giants quarterback Eli Manning would probably want to forget. He threw a career high 27 interceptions last season and was sacked 39 times. A weak offensive line and lack of running game also led to the New York Giants' offense's demise.
     Running backs Andre Brown, Peyton Hillis and Brandon Jacobs combined for just 977 rushing yards in 2013 and the Giants were ranked dead last in the NFL in rushing.  Wide receivers Victor Cruz (73 catches, 998 yards, 4TDs) and Reuben Randle (41 catches, 611 yards, 6TDs) did provide some solid contributions at the receiver position for New York last season. On defense, cornerback Antrel Rolle led the team with six interceptions while defensive ends Justin Tuck and Mathais Kiwanuka combined for 17 sacks in 2013.

Big Questions: Can Manning rebound this season after a disastrous 2013 campaign? And with Rashad Jennings replacing Andre Brown as the Giants' feature running back, can any progress be made in the running game? Finally, how will the defense do in 2014 with Tuck leaving the team in free agency?

courtesy of usatoday
Bottom Line: Eli Manning has been the quarterback for the New York Giants for the last 10 seasons. It  isn't out of the realm of possibility that if he struggles this season, the Giants might have to think about who their next franchise quarterback could be in the draft.
     With Brown and Jacobs leaving in free agency and running back David Wilson retiring, the running game will most likely struggle again in 2014. Unless of course Jennings and Hillis become an incredible 'thunder-lightning' combination for the Giants. Cruz and Randle are an intriguing duo of wide receivers, but that might be the only bright spot on offense.
     The defense could be stronger in 2014 with the return of defensive end jason Pierre-Paul from an injury plagued 2013 season and the acquisition of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie this offseason. But if the offense can't stay on the field and leaves the defense to try and keep the team in games, the Giants' defense will slowly tire out.

Prediction: (4-12). New York has a weak offensive line and a non-existent running game. This will force Manning to throw the ball more often and will probably lead to more mistakes and turnovers. The defense isn't good enough to carry this team and that means the Giants will be the bottom feeders in the NFC East this season.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

NFC NORTH PREVIEW AND PREDICTIONS

     With football season right around the corner, it's time to go and make predictions on how well each team will fare during the regular season. Today we take a look at the NFC North, where the Green Bay Packers have reigned supreme for the last few seasons. Will the Packers win it again, led by star quarterback Aaron Rodgers? Or will the Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears or Minnesota Vikings pull off the upset and snag the division crown in 2014? Let's take a look and make some predictions for the upcoming 2014 season. 
courtesy of mmqb.si.com

1.) Green Bay Packers: It was a rocky season full of injuries, but the Packers were still able to come back and win the NFC North even with a 8-7-1 record. Rodgers missed several games last season due to injury, but when he was healthy he led a 6th ranked passing attack that averaged just under 267 yards per game. He threw for 2,536 yards and 17 touchdowns, compared to six interceptions, in just nine games last season. Rodgers also showcased why he is one of the most accurate passers in the game by completing 66.6 percent of his passes. 
     Green Bay finished 7th in rushing, with an average of 133.5 yards per game in 2013. Running back Eddie Lacy led the charge in his rookie season by rushing for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns on 274 carries. Running back James Starks proved to be a solid number two option for the Packers as he ran for 493 yards and six touchdowns on 89 carries. Wide receiver Jordy Nelson had an explosive 2013 season with 85 catches for 1,314 yards and eight touchdowns. Other contributors included wide receiver James Jones (59 catches, 817 yards, 3TDs), wide receiver Jarrett Boykin (49 catches, 681 yards, 3TDs), and wide receiver Randall Cobb (31 catches, 433 yards, 4TDs). 
     Despite the offenses' success in 2013, the Packers defense struggled to keep up. Green Bay ranked 24th against the pass (247.3 yards per game) and 25th against the run (125 yards per game). Linebacker A.J. Hawk led the Packers with 118 tackles and five sacks. Linebacker Clay Matthews and defensive end Mike Daniels combied for 14 sacks. In the secondary, cornerback Tramon WIlliams and safety Sam Shields combined for seven interceptions.

Big Questions: Are the Packers still a team that's good enough to compete for a Super Bowl? Green Bay lost several offensive weapons in the offseason with Jones and tight end Jermichael Finley. And now defensive tackle B.J. Raji is out for the season.The Packers also lost defensive lineman Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly to free agency. Does Green Bay have enough depth to last through the season? 
courtesy of sportingnews

Bottom Line: Rodgers is one of four or five elite quarterbacks in the game that can succeed with whoever you put around him. Remember when wide receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver were among the best at their position in the NFL when playing in Green Bay? Well, Driver quickly retired and Jennings wasn't able to duplicate the success in Minnesota. 
     Keep an eye out for tight end Andrew Quarless (32 catches, 312 yards, 2TDs) to have a big season in replacing Finley. The offensive line will also have starters coming back in tackle Bryan Bulaga and guard T.J. Lang. The defense will be more of a concern, but the secondary and linebacking corps should be strong with Hawk, Matthews, Williams, and Shields all returning. Nose tackle Letroy Guion will have to step up in order to replace the production Raji has given Green Bay over the last few seasons.

Prediction: (10-6). The Packers have a tough opening stretch with road games against Seattle, Chicago and Detroit. BUT if they can survive that stretch, the rest of the schedule looks favorable with lots of home games at Lambeau Field later in the season. When you have an elite quarterback like Rodgers, you will always have a chance to win games and win a division like the NFC North. 
courtesy of footbasket.com

2.) Detroit Lions: For the past two seasons, the Lions have been one of the biggest mysteries in the NFL. After a 10-6 season in 2011 that got them into the playoffs, the past two seasons have showcased the Lions as a team that commits too many penalties and makes too many mistakes at important moments of games. Detroit has missed out on the playoffs the past two seasons, including a 6-2 start that collapsed with a 7-9 overall record. Jim Schwartz was fired as head coach and replaced by former Baltimore offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell. 
     The Lions ranked 3rd in passing last season (280.1 yards per game) and 17th in rushing (112 yards per game). Quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for an impressive 4,650 yards and 29 touchdowns, but also threw 19 interceptions. Star wide receiver Calvin Johnson had another great season in 2013 with 84 catches for 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns, but the Lions failed to have a consistent second receiving option. Wide receiver Kris Dunham (38 catches, 490 yards, 2TDs) and tight end Brandon Pettigrew (41 catches, 416 yards, 2TDs) tended to be the next best options, at times, for the Lions. 
     Running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell stabilized and improved Detroit's running game in 2013. Bush ran for just over 1,000 yards and four touchdowns on 223 carries, while Bell added 650 yards and eight touchdowns on 166 carries. The duo of Bush and Bell were also playmakers in the receiving game as they combined for 1,053 yards on 107 catches. 
     Detroit's defense had mixed results in 2014 as they finished an impressive 6th against the run (99.8 yards per game), but 23rd against the pass (146.9 yards per game). Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh had another strong season with five and a half sacks and 49 tackles. Meanwhile, linebacker DeAndre Levy had a breakout 2013 season with 119 tackles and a team leading six interceptions!

Big Questions: How will Caldwell do in his first season as Lions head coach? And can Stafford limit the turnovers? He's a great passer, at times, and now has a solid running game. Will this be the year that the Lions turn the corner?
courtesy of mlive.com

Bottom Line: Stafford will have even more weapons to throw the ball to in 2014 after the team acquired wide receiver Golden Tate from Seattle and drafting tight end Eric Ebron back in May in the NFL draft. With these new options, the Lions offense should be very effective.    Defensively, look for Suh, defenive end Ezekiel Ansah, Levy, and cornerback Rashean Mathis to be the top playmakers this season. And if defensive tackle Nick Fairley can mature enough emotionally, he's another player that can make an impact. 

Prediction: (9-7). Detroit has the talent to not only make the playoffs, but to even compete with Green Bay and win the NFC North. If Caldwell can inject some discipline into this group, the potential is high with this team. But that'll be a big if. 


courtesy of chicagonow.com
3.) Chicago Bears: For the past few years, the Chicago Bears have started their regular seasons strong, but have ended up fading down the stretch and ultimately missing the playoffs. In fact, it has now been four years since the team has made the postseason. Quarterback Jay Cutler missed several games in 2013 due to injuries and backup quarterback Josh McCown filled in successfully, leading the Bears to five straight wins. However, when Culter returned as the starter, Chicago went 1-2 and finished the season at 8-8. 
     With McCown leaving in free agency, Cutler is the 'de facto' starter. The Bears offense finished an impressive fifth in passing last season (267.6 yards per game) and 16th in rushing (114.3 yards per game). Last season in 11 games, Cutler threw for 2,621 yards and 19 touchdowns, but also 12 interceptions. He was surrounded by numerous playmaking receivers last season, including wide receiver Brandon Marshall (100 catches, 1,295 yards, 12 TDs), wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey (89 catches, 1,421 yards, 7 TDs), tight end Martellus Bennett (65 catches, 759 yards, 5TDs, and running back Matt Forte (74 catches, 594 yards, 3TDs). 
     Forte also had a fantastic season running the ball, rushing for 1,339 yards and nine touchdowns on 289 carries. Running back Michael Bush ran for an additional 197 yards and three touchdowns on 63 carries. The Bears defense struggled in 2013 finishing 15th against the pass (233.1 yards per game), but dead last against the run (161.4 yards per game). Cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, along with safety Chris Conte combined for 10 interceptions. 

Big Questions: Can Jay Cutler take the next step towards being a top-tier quarterback in the NFL, especially with all of the firepower that he has to his disposal? And have the Chicago Bears become an offensive oriented team where they can win with a mediocre defense?


courtesy of cbssports
Bottom Line: Cutler is a gun-slinger who is prone to throwing interceptions and making mistakes at criticial moments of games. But he can also throw touchdowns and with all of the weapons at wide receiver and running back, this Bears offense should be explosive. 
     The Bears defense lost defensive end Julius Peppers in free agency, but picked up defensive end Jared Allen and defensive tackle Jay Ratliff to help improve the pass rush. But their defense is made up of older veterans and has continued to struggle this preseason. 

Prediction (7-9). Chicago's offense will be great, but it doesn't look like their defense will improve. To win games in the NFL, a team has to have a good defense and that is what I believe will be Chicago's downfall.


courtesy of ktla.com
4.) Minnesota Vikings: 2013 was a rough season for the Vikings. Christian Ponder is no longer the starting quarterback for Minnesota and Leslie Frazier is no longer the head coach of the team. Competing for the starting quarterback spot will be veteran Matt Cassel and rookie Teddy Bridgewater. Meanwhile, former Cincinatti defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is the new head coach. 
     The Vikings offense was 23rd in passing last season (214.2 yards per game) and 8th in rushing (130.1 yards per game). Cassel, the likely starter at this point, threw for 1,807 yards and 11 touchdowns, compared to nine interceptions in limited play last season. Running back Adrian Peterson was once again the offense's catalyst after rushing for 1,266 yards and 10 touchdowns on 279 carries. Wide receivers Greg Jennings (68 catches, 804 yards, 4TDs), Jerome SImpson (48 catches, 726 yards, TD) and Cordarelle Patterson (45 catches, 469 yards, 4TDs) were the top receiving threats last season. 
     The defense ranked 31st against the pass in 2013 (287.2 yards per game) and 16th against the run (110.4 yards per game). Linebacker Chad Greenway led the Vikings in tackles last season with 134 and also led the team in interceptions with three. 

Big Questions: Can the Vikings rely on Peterson to carry the offense again this season, at 29 years old? Will Minnesota have a consistent starter and playmaker emerge at the quarterback position? And who else, besides Greenway, will step up on defense to help the unit improve in 2014?

Bottom Line: The Vikings are a rebuilding project. Rookie left tackle Matt Kalil should be able to anchor the offensive line and Peterson will continue to provide production for the Vikings offense. Bridgewater is the future, but Cassel is the right guy to start at this moment and let Bridgewater watch and develop as a quarterback on the sidelines. The defense should improve too, but it'll be tough in a division where you have to face Rodgers, Cutler and Stafford for six games during your season.

Prediction: (3-13). This should be treated as a rebuilding year for the Vikings. As long as Peterson stays healthy and Kalil and Bridgewater develop, 2014 will be considered somewhat of a success.


Agree or disagree? Let me know in the comment section below!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

EARLY HEISMAN CONTENDERS

     College football is back and that means the chase for the coveted Heisman trophy, in addition to a spot in the new College Football Playoff, has begun. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston became just the second freshman ever to win the award and is a leading candidate to win it again this year. If Winston does win, he’ll be the first player since legendary Ohio State running back Archie Griffin to win two Heisman trophies. Let’s take a look at how each of the early Heisman frontrunners fared after the first week of games and some other players to watch out for as the season progresses.




courtesy of cbssports,com
*Florida State Quarterback Jameis Winston

2013 Stats: 257/384. 4,057 yards. 40 Passing TDs, 10 INTs
77 carries, 193 yards, 4 rushing TDs. 66.9% Completion.

2014: Week 1 vs. Oklahoma State
25/40 370 yards 1TD, 2INT. 1Rushing TD

     Winston looked decent, but only showed flashes of his Heisman playmaking abilities in a 37-31 close victory over Oklahoma State. Two poor interceptions got the Seminoles into trouble early and kept the game close. But give him credit; Winston had a 28-yard touchdown run in the 3rd quarter, which would lead to a 50 yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Rashad Greene to close the deal late in the 4th quarter. 
     However, the only way he’ll win a second Heisman trophy is by leading Florida State to another championship and putting up better statistical numbers than he did in his season debut.


*Georgia Running Back Todd Gurley

courtesy of onlineathens.com
2013 Stats: 165 carries, 989 yards, 10 rushing TDs
37 receptions, 441 yards, 6 receiving TDs

2014: Week 1 vs. Clemson
15 carries, 198 yards, 3TDs
100 yard Kickoff Return TD



     Todd Gurley has put himself right into the forefront of the Heisman race after a dominating performance against a ranked Clemson team to start out the season. Gurley had a spectacular freshman season, but was injured last year and rushed for just under 900 yards. 
     With his ability to be a threat in the running game and in kickoff returns, we’re going to see a lot of Gurley in packaged highlights this season. College football needs a new star at the running back position and they found it in Todd Gurley during the opening weekend.



courtesy of usatoday
*Oregon Quarterback Marcus Mariota

2013 Stats: 245/386. 63.5% Completion. 3,665 yards. 31 Passing TDs, 4 INTS
96 carries, 715 yards, 9 rushing TDs

2014: Week 1 vs. South Dakota

14/20 267 yards. 3TDs. 
6 carries, 43 yards, 1 Rushing TD

     Marcus Mariota didn’t play the entire game of a blowout win against South Dakota, but he picked up right where he left off last season. What makes him so dangerous is not just his ability to run out of the pocket with the football, but also his improving accuracy from the pocket to his receiving targets. 
     Strong first performance by Mariota, but we will really see his development once he has to go up against the defenses of UCLA, Stanford and USC.



*Baylor Quarterback Bryce Petty


courtesy of bleacherreport
2013 Stats: 250/4
03. 62% Completion. 4,200 yards. 32 Passing TDs, 3 INTS

2014: Week 1 vs. SMU
13/23 161 yards 2TDs
2 carries, 21 yards, 1 Rushing TD

     Petty had an unbelievable statistical year in 2013 and now the spotlight is squarely on him for this 2014 campaign. His numbers WEREN’T mind-blowing against SMU, but he did score three total touchdowns while he played. 
     Petty did suffer a back injury during the game, but should be able to play Saturday against Northwestern State. Like Mariota, we’ll see how much Petty has developed as a quarterback once he plays conference games against Oklahoma, Texas and TCU. 



courtesy of zimbio.com
*UCLA Quarterback Brett Hundley

2013 Stats: 232/342. 67.8% Completion. 2,845 yards. 22 Passing TDs, 9 INTS.
150 carries, 587 yards, 9 Rushing TDs



2014: Week 1 at Virginia
20/33. 242 yards. 15 carries, 39 yards, 1 Rushing TD

     Hundley and UCLA held on to beat an unranked Virginia team on the road this past Saturday. However, Hundley was running for his life for most of the game as he failed to gain significant protection from his offensive line. 
     If it wasn’t for an outstanding performance by the Bruins’ defense, UCLA’s championship hopes and Hundley’s Heisman hopes could’ve been wiped away with an opening loss to an unranked team. Let’s see if Hundley and the offense can turn it around Saturday against Memphis.




                                            PLAYERS TO WATCH FOR


*Texas A&M Quarterback Kenny Hill


courtesy of athlonsports.com
2014: Week 1 at South Carolina
44/60. 511 yards. 3 Passing TDs

     Kenny Football! Head coach Kevin Sumlin’s offensive system might be the big reason for Texas A&M’s win against a Top 10 South Carolina team on the road, but Hill’s debut was extremely impressive. Hill broke Johnny Manziel’s single game record for most passing yards, in his first game as a starter! 
     Granted, he threw the ball 60 times, which makes it possible to throw for over 500 yards. But by throwing the ball that well against an elite team in South Carolina, Hill and Texas A&M should be the ones to watch for the rest of the season.




courtesy of the bleacherreport
*Notre Dame Quarterback Everett Golston

2014: Week 1 vs. Rice
14/22, 295 yards, 2 Passing TDs
12 carr
ies, 41 yards, 3 Rushing TDs

     Golston was the quarterback of the 2012 Notre Dame team that made it to the National Championship game, but left the team last season due to academic problems. He has returned and delivered his best individual performance since becoming Notre Dame’s starting quarterback. 
     In 2012, Golston was a game manager. Now he is a primary playmaker who used both his arm and his legs to tear apart Rice’s defense. With experience under his belt and redemption on his mind, Everett Golston is primed to be one of the dark horses for the Heisman Trophy.