Belfast American Football Writing

I write a column on American Football for a local paper - here you can read the reports a couple of days before they go in print; and my confused waffles...

Monday, March 31, 2008

Carrick win, two Belfast defeats


Sunday 30th March 2008

Carrickfergus Knights 18-7 DCU Saints ALSAA, Dublin Airport.

Dublin Rebels 16-0 Belfast Trojans Malone Road Rugby Club, Belfast

Belfast Bulls 0-60 Cork Admirals Douglas Community School, Cork

DV-8s Development League
Edenderry Soldiers 0-22 Cork Admirals 2nds
Douglas Community School, Cork

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

One last step to Super Bowl

THERE is just one last step to take for the four teams battling it out tomorrow (Sunday) night to reach Super Bowl XLI in Miami – one step between American Football history and crashing out.

The Conference championship games feature the four teams to emerge after staying the pace throughout the regular season.

In the NFC game the top two seeds will battle it out when the New Orleans Saints visit the Chicago Bears.

“This is the match-up we wanted,” said Chicago corner back Nathan Vasher. “It’s great for us, great for TV, everything. We wanted to see the highest-seeded team and beat the best.”

It’s January at Soldier Field, so the running game should play a big part in this one. Both teams come equipped with RB tandems. The Saints bring in “the big guy,” as Bears LB Brian Urlacher calls him – 6-1, 232-pound Deuce McCallister – and fleet rookie Reggie Bush.

The pile-moving McAllister rumbled for a Saints playoff-record 143 yards and two TDs in the Divisional. Bush produced some spectacular moves, including a four-yard TD scamper and a 25-yard run that set up a field goal.

The Bears have their own ground-eating tandem in Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson, the second-year runner who has been worked into the rotation more and more recently. The two combined for 1,857 yards this year and 111 yards last week
New Orleans – 6-2 on the road this season – arrives with the league’s No. 1 offence, but for all the attention Chicago QB Rex Grossman has received – “he’s taken us to 14 wins,” said head coach Lovie Smith - one stat is overlooked.

In the AFC two teams with identical records and a fierce rivalry, the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts come face-to-face.

And for them it will be all about which QB can afford turnovers, with both Tom Brady of New England and Peyton Manning of the Colts susceptible to being picked off when they try to force plays.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Wild card weekend

THE play-offs begin on Saturday in the NFL – there are no more second chances; lose and you’re out. And it all starts with Wild Card Weekend match-ups.

The wild card play offs are for the two divisional winners who have the worst records of the four in each conference, matched up with the teams, who were not divisional winners but had the next best records.

If that all sounds complicated even casual American Football fans will know that this weekend there are four games set to be classic match-ups.

The weekend's first game sees Kansas City travel to take on the Indianapolis Colts in what will be a massive contrast in styles. The Chiefs running game is led by the league’s number two rusher of the season Larry Johnson. Problem for the Colts is they can’t stop the run.

And the problem for Kansas City is that they are poor defending the pass – and the Colts are led by QB Peyton Manning who seems to collects passing records each and every week.

Next up Dallas travel to Seattle, last year’s beaten Super Bowl finalists. The Cowboys freshly blooded QB, Tony Romo will have to rely on running backs Marion Barber and Julius Jones to set up plays; while Seattle know that Dallas have a problem in defending the running game – and the Seahawks have the talented Shaun Alexander leading the ground assault.

Sunday’s first game sees the New York Jets visit divisional rivals, the New England Patriots. Only a vintage performance by Pats QB Tom Brady, matched by a strategic master class from coach Bill Belichick will see New England through.

Wrapping up Wild Card Weekend is the all NFC East match-up when the New York Giants visit the Philadelphia Eagles. Cast your mind back a year and you may remember the Steelers rode the emotional ‘bus’ to help secure a Super Bowl for Jerome “The Bus” Bettis, their retiring running back in his final season.

The Giants want to achieve a similar result for Tiki Barber, who finishes his career this year. Only the Eagles linebackers, led by Jeremiah Trotter can contain the Tiki attack.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

11 into 3

AS the American Football season enters its final weekend, more than a third of the league is still in contention for the final three playoff spots available – that’s 11 teams vying to keep playing into 2007.

Looked at in another way, 20 teams are still in contention for Super Bowl XLI, the most ever with one week left to the season since the advent of the 16-game schedule in 1978.

“Teams that are playing the best at the end of the season are the teams that win,” said defensive tackle Darwin Walker of the 9-6 Philadelphia Eagles, who have won four in a row and five of seven in the second half of the season.

And if is the sides with that hot streak that believe they can secure the final three play-offer berths, like the Titans who have won six in a row, the Jets four of their last five, the Packers three in a row and the Rams two in a row.

The Jets and the Denver Broncos know a win will secure post-season football, but for Atlanta, Carolina, Cincinnati, Green Bay, Jacksonville, Kansas City, NY
Giants, St. Louis, Tennessee only other results will mean they are in the play-offs.

For the New York Jets, the goal is clear: “We like controlling our own destiny and not having to rely on someone else to help us,” said Jets Shaun Ellis.

The Denver Broncos have won their last two with new starter Jay Cutler at the helm. The rookie has become the first quarterback in history to throw for multiple touchdowns in each of his first four games. A win or tie will earn the Broncos their fifth playoff berth in a row.

The Chicago Bears (13-2) have clinched the first homefield advantage in their history and tie San Diego for the league’s best record; plus they take a four-game win streak into Week 17 and definitely want to keep it going entering the play-offs.

Chicago will play the league’s final game of the regular season. Their match-up against the visiting Green Bay Packers is a crucial one for the Packers, but not one the Bears are like to concede as a ‘gimme’.

“We want to finish out the season with another victory,” said Bears WR Rashied Davis. “That’s it.”

The Packers must defeat Chicago and have other scenarios go their way to enter the playoffs.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Striving for seven

IT could be a week that sees two teams reach 7-0 records in the NFL when the pack leading Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts look to maintain unbeaten records going into November.

Chicago, if they succeed, will manage the feat for the first time since their Super Bowl winning season in 1985.

And they face a San Francisco side with a 2-4 record and struggling to find an identity on both sides of the ball.

‘Frisco will need to be on guard for the sensational Bears’ rookie defensive end Mark Anderson who has recorded a team best 6.5 sacks so far this season

Indianapolis have a more difficult task when they take on the 5-1 Denver Broncos,

It will be the usual high-powered Colts offence (No. 3 in the NFL) against the Broncos’ No. 4 defence that has surrendered a league-low 7.3 points per game, allowed two TDs, and held five consecutive opponents to single digits.

“To beat a team like the Colts, you have to be consistent,” says Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan. “That’s offence, defence and special teams. On defence, we have to play at another level because we’re playing a quarterback (Peyton Manning) who is very consistent.”

Manning has thrown for 34,809 yards in his nine-year career and needs 191 yards to reach 35,000 for his career.

If he accomplishes the feat, Manning will reach 35,000 yards in the second fewest games in history, trailing only the 134 games of Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino.

The key to the game could be Denver RB Tatum Bell, fresh off his third 100-yard effort of the year, going against Indy’s 31st-ranked NFL rush defence.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Bears go to extend unbeaten run

IN a week that sees the Chicago Bears seek to make it five games unbeaten, many eyes will be focussed on the return of troubled wide receiver Terrell Owens to the Philadelphia Eagles

Owens left Philly after bust-ups with Coach Andy Reid and QB Donovan McNabb. Now he returns as a key component of the Dallas Cowboys attack.

“Yeah, it’s going to be a big game, that’s for sure,” said Cowboys TE Jason Witten. “We’ve heard about this one since the schedule came out.”

But memories aside, this is a division battle, which comes packed with even more tension. The Eagles had swept four of the past five season series (split in 2003) before the Cowboys took both meetings last year

All eyes will be on Owens, but safeties Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis will also have to be wary of WR Terry Glenn

“When Owens is out there, Glenn gets single coverage, and you can’t cover him one-on-one,” said Dallas QB Drew Bledsoe.

In Chicago their game against the Buffalo Bills sees another return. New Bills head coach Dick Jauron will face the team he led for five seasons (1999-03), taking it to a 13-3 record in 2001 and a division championship – but it is a game he will not be looking forward to.

Chicago’s Rex Grossman has taken the club to its first 4-0 start since 1991 and is the second-ranked passer in the NFC. He distributed passes to six different receivers in the Bears’ 37-6 win over Seattle last week.

“I’m really pleased with the decisions Rex is making,” said Chicago offensive coordinator Ron Turner. “He’s naturally aggressive, which is a huge strength for him. He’s doing a good job of knowing when to be aggressive.”

The Bills’ J.P. Losman was even more liberal with his throws in Week 4, sending them to eight receivers. For the third time in four games, Losman was turnover-free.

Losman will confront a Chicago defense that has allowed the fewest points of any team that has played four games (29) and ranks third in the NFL with 15 sacks. The Bears, meanwhile, will try to stop the NFL’s rushing leader, Willis McGahee (389 yards).

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Saints alive!

IT’S an unlikely story – but the New Orleans Saints are one of the few teams going into week four unbeaten.

Last year they were without a stadium as the Louisiana Superdome was out of commission in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and while they got sympathy, they got little else out of the season. Things look different a year on.

With New Orleans’ victory over Atlanta Monday night, the Saints’ Sean Payton became the third man in the past 75 years to become head coach of a team that won three or fewer games the previous season and guide it to three consecutive wins to begin the next season.

This Sunday the Saints will play in Carolina, where Payton will face one of the three coaches to accomplish the feat – the Panthers’ John Fox. Fox (’97-01) and Payton (’99-02) were assistants together at the New York Giants, serving as the defensive and offensive coordinators, respectively, on its Super Bowl XXXV team.

While the Saints record is on the line, there will be other teams destined to lose that unbeaten record when the Seattle Seahawks travel to Chicago and the San Diego Chargers take on the Baltimore Ravens.

All you need to know about these two – Chargers No. 1 in NFL defense, Ravens No. 2 -- can be found in the league’s “touchdowns allowed” column. In five games (San Diego had a bye last week), they have surrendered a total of three TDs.

“We play with the attitude that we will be a dominating defense,” says Chargers corner Quentin Jammer. “It’s all about attitude.”

Of course, the Ravens, with the likes of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed don’t lack in that department. They lead the league in takeaways/giveaways with a plus-10 margin.

The big loss for Seattle going to Chicago will be 2005 NFL MVP RB Shaun Alexander will miss several weeks with a broken left foot.

And it is a week when injuries were subject of much comment when Miami QB Chris Simms suffered so many big hits last week that he was operated on after his match to have his spleen removed.