If I’d asked you in August who would lead the league in defensive DVOA through 11 weeks, how many guesses would it have taken before you landed on the Arizona Cardinals? I’m comfortable saying at least 10, and probably more. It would have been reasonable to believe that Arizona would have the worst defense in its own division, but certainly not one of the best in the league. Yet here we are, 10 games into the season, and the Cardinals have ridden that defense to a 6-4 record and face a season-defining game against the Colts on Sunday. The last team to beat the red-hot Panthers? That would be the Cardinals, who dominated the Carolina offense and held Cam Newton to just six points back on October 6.
The pertinent question here seems to be, “How the hell did this happen?” Well, for the most part, things aren’t all that different than they were a season ago. The Cardinals finished sixth in defensive DVOA last year, and they brought back most of the pieces from that team for this year. One major change was at defensive coordinator, where Ray Horton was replaced by former Eagles defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, but schematically, things have been very similar for Arizona. They still play a variety of fronts, which is possible because of the stable of defensive-line bodies they can throw out there at any time.
In case you were busy getting bad news from Dr. James Andrews, because that guy has never once given good news in his life, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Miami starter Jose Fernandez dominated with his arm and bat, throwing seven stellar innings and blasting his first career home run, as the Marlins beat the division-leading Braves, 5-2. Fernandez's outing was not without controversy, however, as both benches cleared after Fernandez indulged himself by watching his home run. "I'm disappointed. He's a great kid, but he let this whole city down," said Marlins manager Mike Redmond after the game. "I mean, this is Miami. You can't just stand around in Miami to check out something because it looks good. This is a city all about hard work and discipline, not about showing off and preening."
New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter has been shut down for the remainder of the season, leaving new acquisition and defensive whiz Brendan Ryan as the Yankees presumptive starting shortstop for their playoff push. "Darn," said Yankees starter Andy Pettitte as he high-fived fellow starter Hiroki Kuroda. "Man, that's tough for Derek. I'm gutted. Just totally gutted. For him." Pettitte then did a giddy shuffle and mimed a shortstop going confidently to his left for CC Sabathia's benefit, before adding, "Don't know how we'll get by without the captain."
As I write this, we stand about seven hours from the start of the 2013 NFL draft, and all anyone seems to know is that, really, no one knows jack. Last year, any drama that normally comes with the early parts of Round 1 was gone long before Roger Goodell stepped to the podium. Andrew Luck was the no. 1 pick since kindergarten, and I’m pretty sure no one thought the Redskins had climbed up to no. 2 for Michael Floyd. With the new rookie salary scale in place, last year was supposed to usher in a new era of trade craziness and general mayhem, but aside from Jerry Jones’s typical insanity, things pretty much went according to plan. This year, we’re on some Mad Max–type stuff.
Just about everyone concedes that a tackle is going first overall, but which one? Where does the first quarterback go — Oakland, Philly? Does Buffalo really take Ryan Nassib at eight? Who could’ve known that Socrates was actually talking about the NFL draft that whole time? In honor of true wisdom, here are five sort-of-but-not-totally crazy predictions about this year’s draft class.
1. Jonathan Cooper will have the best career of any player in this draft
There are a lot of factors pointing toward Cooper’s success, but it starts with what type of guard even warrants mention as a top-10 pick. The success rate on guards selected in the first round is higher than any other position, but usually even the best ones don’t end up going until the 20s. Last year, David DeCastro was the consensus best guard available, and widely viewed as one of the draft’s safest picks. He went 24th.
With free agency and the draft process revving up, there are plenty of questions for every NFL team. But for most, there's one issue that trumps the rest. This is the latest in a team-by-team look at the offseason tasks that just can't get botched.
On October 16 of last year, the Chicago Bears released offensive tackle Chris Williams. The move meant that from Jerry Angelo’s tenure as the team’s general manager, which stretched from 2001 to 2011, only one first-round pick remained on the roster (his final one, Gabe Carimi; we’ll get to him). Angelo’s struggles were eventually what cost him his job, but nowhere were those struggles more pervasive than at offensive tackle.
In the 2002 draft, Angelo’s first at the helm, the Bears selected Boston College left tackle Marc Colombo with the 29th pick. Blake Brockermeyer, the team’s left tackle from its 13-3 2001 season, had been cut a few weeks before the draft to save the team a $500,000 roster bonus, and although James “Big Cat” Williams had gone to his first Pro Bowl in January, at age 33, it was his first.
Legends were made last night, in the same way they always are. At game’s end, with a third title in four years secured, a coach already cast in bronze was doused in Gatorade. A quarterback with the perfectly smeared eye black and the perfectly telegenic girl kissed a hunk of crystal. Everything about Alabama’s 42-14 win seemed the pristine image of college football lore — except, of course, that its best player spent all night with his gut spilling out of his shirt.
Last year, Alabama’s defense earned much of the credit for Nick Saban’s second title run. Six Tide defenders went in April’s draft — four in the first two rounds. It was touted as one of the best college defenses ever, and in Bama’s 21-0 rolling of LSU in the national championship game, AJ McCarron and friends hitched along for the ride. Against the Irish, the point total may have doubled, but the players of the game still didn't earn a single one of Bama’s 529 total yards. They won this one up front, and they wasted no time in showing how.
From the first drive, it was clear that the Alabama line was set to take it to Notre Dame all night. Irish star Louis Nix had an admirable showing against All-American Barrett Jones in the middle of the field, but to either side, the night belonged to the champs.