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NFL Players on the Radar: Foles, Gordon

NFC Player Spotlight: Eagles QB Nick Foles

Entering his third season, the game film is out there after guiding Philadelphia to a 9-3 stint, including their playoff loss. In a dozen starts, Foles had a triple-digit QB rating in ten of those, again including the playoff defeat to New Orleans. Standing 6’6, 243 pounds, the 3rd round pick out of Arizona flashed pocket presence and made great decisions with a 32 touchdown to 4 turnover ratio. Those stats account for 27 passing TDs, a trio of rushing scores, a pair of picks, and a couples lost fumbles.

What he didn’t have last season was WR Jeremy Maclin, he is returning from a knee injury after signing a one-year prove it deal. Foles developed a rapport with Riley Cooper on the second team, Cooper got his opportunity at the expense of Maclin, having the best year of his career and earning a five-year deal this offseason. Those are the projected starters out wide, what they won’t have is Pro Bowl playmaker DeSean Jackson. Coming off the best statistical season as a receiver, they will face Jackson twice a year as a member of the Redskins. Whether the deep down truth about the Jackson situation is really personality or money, they obviously feel that they can replace his production which puts more leadership honus on Foles. That gives the young quarterback another area to improve upon, and last year Chip Kelly’s system worked to win the NFC East and host a playoff game. He’s got the supporting cast to have a similarly successful season: the league’s leading rusher LeSean McCoy, a couple of tight ends with different skill sets, and the newly acquired Darren Sproles.

They enter the season as the favorites to repeat in the NFC East, and Foles is a player to watch with more film on him as teams have an offseason to prepare. Foles had a tendency to be conservative, when pressure collapsed the pocket he took a few more sacks than he should have. At least he had the pocket presence and game manager mentality to not turnover the football and live another down. Decision-making is hard to coach, it’s either in you or not and he does have that. As an Eagles fan you know the offensive line is elite, and despite popular belief Mark Sanchez could be pretty good with protection if the opportunity presented itself. As we’ve seen in Philly the past few years, they ride the hot hand and understandably so with unproven and injured players.

AFC Player Spotlight: Browns WR Josh Gordon

This kid torched NFL defenses to lead the league in receiving, with a few different quarterbacks throwing to him throughout Cleveland’s roller coaster season. Countless Sundays featured Gordon making a big play to get over 100 yards, even 200 yards with a season full of highlights. Most likely, he’s going to have an inexperienced guy at the helm, along with more double/bracket coverages. There is more film out on him as well, where his tendencies will be exploited and he’s already behind the 8-ball with his QB situation. It could be Brian Hoyer, returning from a knee injury, it could be one of these rookie prospects towards the front of the draft.

In reflection, it’s not only impressive but remarkable what he was able to do with the lack of weapons surrounding him. Cleveland traded running back Trent Richardson, then they didn’t have a ground game whatsoever last year. The top two QBs on the depth chart each went down at some point, meaning he was catching passes from Jason Campbell for the majority of the season. Anything they do to add talent to the offense will only ensure that Gordon stay on the map as an elite target.

On a young team somebody has to step up and be a leader. Maybe Gordon can shake the diva position stigma and expand his horizons by doing more than just his job. They might not be as far as most would think as far as competing in the AFC North goes, with some certain stars aligned they could be a few moves away from the wildcard picture. That doesn’t happen if Gordon changes face, becoming frustrated with the overload coverage and not getting the ball thrown his way. The athletic freak should continue to get his regardless of the team’s success or failure, it helps that tight end Jordan Cameron is a threat that defenses need to account for. Cameron helped an above-average O-line that has Joe Thomas and Alex Mack by the way, so whoever is throwing the ball will have time to look for the breakout wideout.

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Redskins QB Cousins, Possible Browns Target

The chatter continues about Redskins QB Kirk Cousins. Drafted in the same year as starter Robert Griffin III, Cousins started when Griffin got injured and showcased himself a little bit. In a smart move, especially after trading up and drafting a mobile quarterback with the second overall pick, Washington selected the other signal caller in the fourth round. That filled the needs for a franchise guy and a capable backup. However, since Cousins got some burn he flashed enough skills for other teams to express interests, and he is on the Browns’ radar.

After a positive 3-2 start, quarterback Brian Hoyer was starting to give them hope in Norv Turner’s system. Then came the domino effect, including only one more win to finish 4-12. After hiring a new front office and coaching staff, the franchise was at it again this offseason. The good news Cleveland fans, is that they are impatient and tired of losing, at any expense apparently. Insert Mike Pettine as the new head coach, a former defensive coordinator for the Bills and Jets. To go back even further, linebackers coach in Baltimore.

So the 9th ranked defense last season went out and got a defensive coach, leaving their offseason focus on the other side of the ball. Fresh out of the theater from watching the movie Draft Day, Hoyer seems like the seasoned QB with potential that got injured. They could very well believe in him, either way you need another capable player to step in if he were to get hurt again, or even win the offseason competition for the starting role since he is unproven. The starter will have NFL receiving leader Josh Gordon and breakout tight end Jordan Cameron to operate with. Joe Thomas is an All-Pro left tackle and Alex Mack is a Pro Bowl center they just re-signed.

Washington would be wise to find another backup, other than the recently signed Colt McCoy at least. Head Coach Jay Gruden is an offensive mind that has inherited his guy at the helm, so they can afford to part ways with Cousins if the price is to their liking, or when the day finally comes to pull the trigger.

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NBA Playoff Weekend

So, Indiana rolled into the playoffs with their Jekyll & Hyde persona. For being such an ambitious group with championship hopes, they weren’t able to turn it on in game one. If this happened to the Heat I would have a nonchalant take on the loss, because we have seen them bounce back to win four straight before. The Pacers haven’t done so and they aren’t the defending champs, simply perceived as the biggest threat in the East to dethrone Miami.

Atlanta put up as many threes as possible, and their best shooter rejected the opposing center twice. Kyle Korver got the best of Roy Hibbert with a pair of blocks, one of which he sent of of bounds. And that my basketball friends, has been the epitome of why I have yet to anoint Indy as title contenders. Credit the Hawks, they came out swinging and now the world expects the series to go six games in a losing effort. Call it an overreaction if you’re a Pacers’ fan, but the A-T-L poses mismatches with their pace and skill set in the post.

A couple years ago we saw the 8th seeded Grizzlies knock off the top-seeded Spurs. Granted, Memphis was obviously a better team than Atlanta appears to be, why not roll with them? The Pacers have always been more bark than bite to me: fragile mentality, lack of composure, wanna-be bullies. You have to be able to bounce back how a top seed should, flexing dominance and taking care of business in the early rounds. Adversity is something that motivates teams to overcome, however, sustaining success is the ultimate challenge. With a couple questionable additions in terms of personality, Evan Turner and Andrew Bynum, it sure doesn’t seem like a locker room that trusts each other. Perhaps Danny Granger can bring his leadership presence to Lob City for their playoff run.

The Warriors took it to their interstate rival in game one. Blake Griffin was in foul trouble throughout while Chris Paul faltered in key moments. Still, the smooth point guard elevated his scoring in the absence of Griffin and dropped 28 and 8. Mark Jackson had Golden State feeling like the puncher and that’s what they did, Doc Rivers will surely have his veterans prepared to protect home court in Game 2. The length of Klay Thompson was something to note, in how he disrupted CP3 while David Lee took advantage of a sidelined Griffin, the duo paved the way with 44 points. In the end, of this series that is, my expectation is L.A. will survive with all their depth and Griffin won’t foul out every game.

Hello Brooklyn, all the hype in Toronto won’t go away. It should be competitive throughout the series, Paul Pierce is right about the reason the Nets traded for him. He got in the groove late and was clutch as he has been throughout his career, this team was assembled for a playoff series. Their best basketball has arrive in the ladder parts of the season and in Game 1, without Brook Lopez they aren’t title contenders in my eyes but they’re capable of giving Miami a fight. The champs will outlast the rest of the East again, I mean this is the time of year that Dwyane Wade actually plays with regularity.

The Raptors will benefit from this experience, they are young and absolutely have a bright future. Although they still have a chance at beating the Nets, a first/second round exit is in store, make sure you enjoy watching them while they’re playing. Kyle Lowry has been an under-the-radar player, the guy gets near triple-double stats any given night. The backcourt means business between him and DeMarr DeRozen, who had a breakout campaign after the club moved on from Rudy Gay.

Thunder buddies for life, Kevin Durant drilled contested shots like the leading scorer does. He really is tired of finishing second, the hands-down MVP went for 33-8-7. When healthy, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook get my personal nod as the 1st and 2nd best point guards in the league. Not to slight CP3, he is a better ball-handler and passer, it’s just the total package and explosiveness they bring to the floor. Rose is the top dog, growing from ROY to All-Star and eventual MVP. Westbrook has this wrap about him that he’s a little more selfish and aloof, if you’ve been watching his erratic spurts have diminished. At least the barrage of turnovers and bricks have, he may look wild to the casual fan but rest assure he finishes with creativity authority. To me, he would be an MVP candidate on a different team, this special tandem is focused on getting out the West.

The Grizzlies roared back after a slow start against the energetic home team, and the controlled the tempo for 2.5 quarters in doing so. Unfortunately they lack the necessary scoring to get out of the first round, especially against OKC. They will scrap until they run out of gas, the bigs can’t keep up and the guards are one-dimensional. Who isn’t looking forward to the fastest tempo clash between the Thunder and Clippers in Round 2?

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NBA Tonight

Still in action, 4th quarter, the Clippers trailing in Phoenix in a tight one. Blake Griffin back in the lineup, right now he and Darren Collison lead LA with 42 points between them. They’re in the game, against the Suns that have 7 players in double figures and counting. Eric Bledsoe is a bucket away from making it 8. PJ Tucker already has a double-double.

NBA Referee Dick Bavetta officiated his 2,633 consecutive game. Let’s just say he beat the great MLB Legend, Cal Ripken Jr.’s consecutive games played. It’s a great accomplishment, I can’t say that I or anyone I know has worked those many days in a row (excluding days off, but basically everyone takes a sick or vacation day at some point).

San Antonio handles Golden State 111-90 en route to 19 straight wins, adding onto their franchise record. The Spurs took advantage of a beaten down Warriors team at home, without Andre Iguodala, David Lee, and Andrew Bogut. They do what they always do: 6 players score 11+ points, 6 guys grab 4+ rebounds, and 3 of them dropped 5+ assists. The only guy that wasn’t smothered defensively and found some success was reserve big man, Maurice Speights.

LeBron James throws down a pair poster dunks on the Bucks tonight. The defending champs got 17 and 8 dimes from the King in the absence of Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen. For Milwaukee, Ramon Sessions led the team with 19 points and Zaza Pachulia cleaned the glass 16 times. In case you were curious, the score was 96-77.

Battle of California, the Lakers fall in Sacramento 107-102. Jordan Hill (18 points, 16 rebounds) fouled out but played at a high level against DeMarcus Cousins (20 points, 9 rebounds). Rudy Gay and Ray McCallum team up for 58.

Whenever a final score is 137 (Nuggets) -107 (Pelicans), it’s usually a fun idea to watch the highlights.  Six Nuggets scored in double-figures. Kenneth Faried went off for 34 points, 13 boards, and 3 blocks. Denver’s floor general Ty Lawson notches a double-double. Teammate Aaron Brooks contributed 24 off the bench with a couple blocks and steals. Tyreke Evans continues to ball, this time in a losing effort, dropping 27 points and 8 rebounds.

Wizards Center Marcin Gortat sneaks into the Celtics huddle. As for the game, Washington rolled to clinch their first playoff berth since 2008, 118-92. John Wall paved the way with a double-double, as 6 Wizards score double digits. Rajon Rondo got his 13, 7, and 6. Jared Sullinger led the Celtics with 25 points off the pine.

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Chicago flexed in Atlanta tonight, sweeping the Hawks this season 105-92. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau earned his 200th win. Again, as has been the story of the evening with the other good teams, 6 players made their way to double-digit points. Joakim Noah with a double-double and the little man continues to come up big for Chicago every year, this year and tonight has is DJ Augustin. 24 points for the spark plug off the bench. Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap combined for 43 points in the home loss.

Minnesota held home court 102-88 over Memphis. Kevin Love’s triple-double did them in, along with Ricky Rubio’s 14 points, 7 assists, 3 steals. Quietly, Kevin Martin chimes in with 21 points, is there another sub-20 ppg scorer that gets overlooked? Marc Gasol did his thing with 18, 7 boards, and 4 assists.

Gasol and Noah are so versatile, they are a different breed called point-centers and have been doing so for years.

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Improve College Basketball

Don’t watch them anymore, don’t care enough to. Colleges are a scam, when it comes to the foundation, it starts at the top, it’s all about money, and that applies to students and student-athletes. This is a sports blog however, so all that other jazz, well I’ll leave it at that.

March Madness, I can’t stand the tournament. Sure, it’s exciting for the population that has little ties to a certain school, especially if they are a powerhouse program. Here’s where I’m getting at, the madness is great for fans rooting for unknown teams and everyone predicting the same Cinderella upsets.

What about value and substance? There is little meaning to playing around 30 or so games, only to get taken down in the first or second round by a random team that got hot in some lucky performance. There’s another tournament called the NIT, which gets less attention but is part of the March Madness festivities.

I’ve proposed this before, several years ago, of course nothing’s going to change the NCAA besides athletes earning some form of compensation. What would be best for business? Why not give the NIT tournament a boost, while magnifying the NCAA Tournament and the college championship. All while improving the product on the court by holding these schools, the recruiters, coaches, and players accountable for every single game. Meaning, make the season worth something and reward the truly top teams in the nation for all of their hard work and success.

Make the tournament for the National Championship competitive between the best 16, perhaps 32 teams in the country, depending on NCAA preference of course. Money runs everything which usually ruins most good things, unfortunately. If it were up to me, and it’s not and never will be but if you’re a sports die-hard like myself it’s a topic that I hope gets attention down the road, I ‘d make a radical change to the current bracket.

Sixteen teams in 3-game series, throughout each round of play. The best 16 teams, paired to win 2 out of 3 contests to advance, including the title series. It’s not as extensive as the NBA’s 7-game series, and definitely not as random and watered down as the current 64 team madness. One game, one and dones, anything can happen, so I’d keep that competitive excitement by adding the other “top” 48 teams to boost take the NIT to another level of importance. This is what I like to call, raising the stakes and putting the college money and recruitment where their mouths are. This gives NBA scouts a clearer picture on who’s consistent, who can adapt and make adjustments, who can dig deeper, who flourishes in the face of adversity? This gives a quality boost to prospects, to each draft class, and the quality of the game of basketball as a whole.

Whether the age limit stays put or changes, whether these student-athletes get some compensation, the game of basketball deserves to be treated with the respect because it takes unconditional and excessive work ethic to make it. Beyond words. I want to see polished players that can hit mid-range jumpers, that are students of the game enough to run a motion offense, that care about excelling on the defensive end even if they can effortlessly score the basketball.

Truth be told, some impactful change like this, I would bet it would attract more fans and reach out to those that didn’t finish nor attend college. Even those that aren’t classified as sports fans, it could be huge in my vision but I guess it’s alright with me if it’s just another sports topic to indulge in.

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DeSean Jackson, Redskins, Eagles

As a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, I cannot tell you that I am excited about playing against DeSean Jackson twice per season. That’s my boy right there, the electric playmaker that makes his presence felt with statistics and intangibles.

The NFL die-hard follower in me, understands the business aspect and the concerns off the field. If the Aaron Hernandez scenario last summer doesn’t convince you that the league is shifting it’s approach, nothing will.

There will always be that second chance for a good player like we’ve seen countless times, as long as they are legally cleared. Apparently, Jackson has been a distraction since Andy Reid was the head coach. Being an avid spectator of the Eagles, both during the seasons and in reflection this offseason, the locker room and demeanor took a considerable dip. Like I said, Jackson is one of my favorite players and I’m still going to root for him individually, but Philadelphia moved on from a veteran coach to a college coach in Chip Kelly. That means, only those behind closed doors are aware of the current and future plans, and perhaps still learning Kelly’s system and tendencies. So anything we thought we knew before about this team, is up for interpretation because of this new regime.

Washington should be excited, despite the offense being led by the youthful backfield of Robert Griffin and Alfred Morris, the Redskins are made up of veteran players. In their situation, they improve by adding a Pro Bowler at multiple positions, which came from a division rival. Pierre Garcon has been the standout receiver since joining the Nation’s Capital, the speedster tandem with Jackson will be lethal in new coach Jay Gruden’s offense. Washington also happened to sign Andre Roberts away from Arizona while re-signing Santana Moss, which absolutely boosts Griffin’s arsenal to another level.

On the flip-side, Kelly and the Eagles believe in their system and will lean on the former college coach’s recruiting come draft weekend. They obviously feel like they can get similar production by whomever they plug into the role vacated by Jackson. That doesn’t necessarily have to come from one receiver, say Jeremy Maclin or Riley Cooper. The thinking is the big picture, giving defenses more to focus on than they can account for, insert second year tight end Zach Ertz and the newly acquired Darren Sproles. As a rookie, Ertz played more as the season progressed, excelling as a receiver in the middle of the field. Sproles, if you don’t know the book on him already, this guy gets a hand-off behind jumbo lineman or a swing/screen pass in space and racks up the YAC. It looks like this group, by committee, along with tight end Brent Celek and whoever they add in the draft, to continue their fastest-pace in the league to light up the scoreboard.

By the way, that’s merely talking about the passing attack of a team that led the Nation Football League in rushing. That’s right, LeSean McCoy is the highlight reel home-run threat. Nick Foles certainly has to improve over the offseason, although he had an impressive first year starting, the film is out there for opponents to dissect. In case you didn’t know, my prediction of Foles coming out of Arizona to emerge as the Eagles starter finally came to fruition. I bought into him, and I recommend jumping on the bandwagon sooner than later.

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NBA Playoff Focus

Last night Indiana defended home court against the champs in a “heated” contest. This Eastern Conference Finals preview was destined to happen since Miami knocked them out a year ago to repeat. For the record, the top-seeded Pacers are undefeated at home against the top teams in the East: Miami, Chicago, and Toronto.

You can’t deny the depth on that Pacers’ bench, however the apparent weakness continues to be their point guard play when you look at the bigger picture. This is a hungry squad with a feisty coach. They physically drain you with the best defense in the league and mentally frustrate you by slowing down the tempo. Like every team, they got riled up to play Miami and were probably bored before that, being in a lull since the All-Star break.

The thing is, we’ve seen this before when Derrick Rose and the Bulls were healthy. Sure, Indy looks better on paper and holds their own in the regular season, just remember that these games mean more to the Pacers and Bulls. The goal for a championship team is to stay relatively healthy, so they can play their best ball come playoff time to defend the throne. LeBron James might not catch Kevin Durant in the MVP race, the thing is that he’s been given somewhat of a break with the emergence of Dwyane Wade. That’s probably the most dangerous weapon for opponents in a playoff series, Wade looking healthy and hitting outside shots. Of course, the back-breaker tends to be Chris Bosh, the forgotten man on the floor that sinks a timely jumper because you have to worry about the two playmakers or Ray Allen spotting up.

Chicago, they play the right way and it’s admirable, especially for high school and college players to watch their fundamentals and work ethic. They trust each other, unselfish offense that enables anyone to shoot when open. The defensive end is anchored by Joakim Noah who’s thrusting his name into MVP consideration. Although the MVP campaign continues to be between James and Durant, guys like Noah and Kevin Love have entered the top 5 . That’s huge for those teams, these All Stars continue to improve. Ignoring the future of Love’s contract status, perhaps we’re watching the tip of the iceberg in Minnesota with him and Ricky Rubio.

The Windy City should keep their hopes up as championship contenders, because Noah has elevated his play with former MVP, Derrick Rose anxious for next season. Chi-town will have the cap space to go after a free agent, maybe Carmelo Anthony, and within the next two years get the best player in Europe, Nikola Mirotic. His anticipated landing as a stretch forward looks like it will compliment the Bulls offense with what they’ve been lacking.

Not to spend too much time on the upcoming draft, it is very obvious that teams are tanking and you can’t blame them with the current NBA format. There’s only a handful of teams with realistic hopes of dethroning the Heat, so why wouldn’t the majority of teams sideline good players or make questionable substitutions all season long, like the Pistons. What better way to repay the Lakers for the Chris Paul controversy, denying that trade which enabled the rival Clippers to turn their franchise around, then by awarding them a top 3 pick to get back on the map. Putting Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, or Andrew Wiggins alongside Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Steve Nash would bring the “Lake Show” back to center stage. Even the purple and gold threw in the towel before the season began.

As for “Lob City,” they might have the best chance of beating Miami for the title. Doc Rivers found a way to beat “King” James before, also mustering up an overachieving effort with an aging Celtics team the past couple of years. His presence has taken Blake Griffin’s game to another level. CP3 has been the class of point guards for awhile, now he’s surrounded with role playing wings left and right: Danny Granger, J.J. Redick, Jamaal Crawford, Jared Dudley, and Matt Barnes even broke out with a couple 20-point games. The man in the middle, DeAndre Jordan, playing consistent as ever by owning the paint.

They will have to get by the Spurs and Thunder, none will go down without the fight of their lives. The savvy veterans in San Antonio are like the New England Patriots. Greg Popovich and Tim Duncan are like Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. They’re going deep into the playoffs. They get the necessary and strategic rest to stay fresh and make another run. OKC, basically, didn’t have Russell Westbrook for last year’s postseason campaign. And you can see they’ve been working on ways to put points on the board with role players, whether it comes from Serge Ibaka making some jumpers he didn’t in the past or the guards off the bench are contributing. The combination of those things are certainly their “x-factor.”