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ProCanes NFL Week Fourteen Preview: Jimmy vs. Calais, Primetime Burns, State of NYG

It’s a battle for 60 minutes between painted lines, but it’s always about ‘The U’ once the battle is done.

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Indianapolis Colts v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The acronym of the NFL meaning once again holds weight. We’ll get into the impact of what the recent firings for the Giants have on a couple of ProCanes this week. It’s a broad spectrum for Hurricane alums of the NFL. RB Frank Gore is cementing his legacy with each carry. DL Calais Campbell is having an All-Pro season in his first season in Jacksonville, with the real chance of winning the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. So while you still have a couple names to cross off your gift-giving list this month, some ProCanes are looking to play their way onto the nice list—be it the 2017-18 playoffs or to be in a better situation for the 2018 regular season.

Indianapolis Colts vs. Buffalo Bills 1PM EDT

Indianapolis Colts v Jacksonville Jaguars
Continuing to defy logic, Colts RB Frank Gore high-stepped into the history books last weekend.
Photo by Logan Bowles/Getty Images

While the season is lost for the Colts, no one has told Frank Gore to coast into the offseason. We have brought this to your attention earlier in this week that Gore surpassed not only Jerome Bettis for seventh on the NFL’s all-time rushing list, but he also passed Hall of Fame running back Ladainian Tomlinson for sixth on the list, now standing alone as the fifth most productive rusher in league history. With 404 yards separating Gore’s 13,697 rushing yards from fourth place Curtis Martin’s 14,101 yards, it’ll be intriguing to see if Gore can overcome this next mark before season’s end. Buffalo ranks among the worst in the league in run defense and are coming off a game in week 13 where the Patriots rushed 35 times for 191 net rushing yards. This could be Gore’s best shot of eclipsing 100 yards rushing against a Buffalo defense that might still be licking their wounds after a tough divisional match against the Patriots a week ago.

San Francisco 49ers vs. Houston Texans 1PM EDT

New York Giants v San Francisco 49ers
The Human Hit Stick. CB Adrian Colbert has made a reputation as a fierce hitter in the defensive secondary.
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

We thought Niners safety Adrian Colbert was going to be a no go last weekend with a thumb injury. After seeing a red blur scream across our screen to stop a Bears’ WR in his tracks, we realized not only was Colbert active, but that the rookie safety could also be a building block for Niners in the secondary moving forward. Coming from the U as a cornerback, Colbert has moved to his best position as a strong safety, and has been laying the wood to ball carriers, on top of holding up well in coverage. Pro Football Focus grades Colbert as an 81.1 defender against the run. That’s as solid as GM John Lynch could hope for out of their seventh round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Colbert’s stellar play is likely not good news for RB Lamar Miller and a Texans run game that found little success against the Tennessee Titans last week. The Titans dared Houston QB Tom Savage to beat them with his arm, leaving Miller to rush 15 times for 56 rushing yards. The Niners could employ a similar strategy. Given the play of Niners’ rookie linebacker Reuben Foster and DL DeForest Buckner who will be keystones to the franchise moving forward, the woes on the ground could continue for another week for Houston. As for Miller, these final weeks are an audition for him to remain the lead back going forward. The return of a healthy QB DeShaun Watson and RB D’Onta Foreman in 2018 will mean a clash for a decent volume of carries moving forward.

Green Bay Packers vs. Cleveland Browns 1PM EDT

They’re still winless, but fighting damn hard to get that elusive first tick in the win column. It hurts to write about the struggles of the Browns each week, especially with some of our favorite ProCanes being featured on offense. There are still some weeks left, however, and a job to be done. That job this week is to throw a wrench into the masterplan of the Green Bay Packers. With QB Aaron Rodgers just weeks away from making a comeback, the Packers could conceivable make a push to the playoffs if they continue stringing wins together with QB Brett Hundley keeping the engine running.

Cleveland Browns v Los Angeles Chargers
Trips to the end zone are becoming more common for Browns TE David Njoku as the season has progressed.
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Last week was not the typical Duke Johnson Jr. performance that we’re used to seeing. Johnson only managed to get a couple carries in the run game and was a non-factor against the pass. This week against a Packers defense that is ranked top seven in the league against the pass, it could be a tough haul for Johnson Jr. Similar to another ProCanes tight end (Jimmy Graham), it appears that David Njoku has become a favorite target in the redzone for Browns QB DeShone Kizer. The rookie TE has flashed this season with his down-the-field catching ability, a flashback for ’Canes fans from his 2016 season. Njoku set the tight end rookie-record for touchdown receptions when he crossed the goal line last week against the Chargers for his fourth TD of the season. There is plenty of optimism that Njoku can keep that play going to close out the season and be the playmaker that Cleveland so desperately needs in the passing game.

Washington Redskins vs. Los Angeles Chargers 4:05PM EDT

Like a bolt of lightning, the Chargers went from 0–4 to start the season to stringing together a couple of wins to now perhaps winning the AFC West division, as they are currently in a three-way tie with the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders at 6–6.

While edge rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram get the bulk of credit with the resurgence of the Chargers’ defense, the return of LB Denzel Perryman to the defensive unit has helped stabilize the group. Perryman wasn’t seeing his normal monster share of snaps since returning in week 10 from an ankle injury, but over the past couple of weeks, he has been in on 90% of the defensive snaps with 23 total tackles to show for in that time span. Perryman should see plenty of action against Washington this week as they try to establish a ground game behind RB Samje Perine, who appears to be the new lead back for the ’Skins. With Washington’s uncertainty at receiver this season, QB Kirk Cousin should challenge Perryman and the intermediate level of LA’s defense to see just how well the Chargers can defend in space.

WR Travis Benjamin has quietly put together a decent season in Los Angeles. While his targets are lower than where they were in the last two seasons, Benjamin still has a dynamic impact on the offense, getting chunk plays—such as his eight receptions of 20+ yards and three plays of 30+ yards. If the Chargers are able to make the playoffs and continue this hot streak, I’m sure Benjamin would not mind the dip in targets moving forward.

Seattle Seahawks vs. Jacksonville Jaguars 4:25 PM EDT

It’s the game between two ProCane titans. What more could a Hurricane fan ask for when it comes to two players who represent the football program so well on a national stage?

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Seattle Seahawks
Seahawks TE Jimmy Graham has been celebrating in the end zone pretty frequently this season. Seattle’s offense looks to keep the celebration going against the NFL’s stingiest defense on Sunday.
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Seahawks’ TE Jimmy Graham has been fist-pumping in the endzone for weeks now. Scoring at least one touchdown in eight of his last nine games. Graham has been virtually unstoppable when the Seahawks have gotten into the red zone.

Could the streak be in jeopardy against the best pass defense in NFL this week? Well, if you ask Jacksonville Jaguar DL Calais Campbell it most certainly should be. While we will never see Campbell attempt to shadow Graham, we should see the big Jaguar get after the elusive Russell Wilson, whose escapability from the pocket has made the task of sacking the Seahawks’ QB more difficult. While Campbell did break the Jaguars’ record for sacks in a single season, he still has plenty of time to extend his franchise lead beyond 12.5.

This could possibly be the game of the week. Both Seattle and Jacksonville currently sit as the fifth seed in their respective conferences. With a herd of teams within a game of them for their wildcard spot, losses this late in the season could severely hinder a shot at the postseason.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers 8:30 PM EDT

Hostilities will be renewed once again as one of the NFL’s most bitter feuds takes place Sunday in primetime. However, you would’ve thought that the Steelers and Bengals Monday Night Football matchup was the more heated, with punches thrown, late hits, taunts and plenty of mutual disrespect from both teams. The Steelers pulled out the late win, and that’s all that matters on the road to the postseason.

In their week four contest, it was the Steelers getting the best of the Purple Birds, winning convincingly with 26–9. In the rematch, the Steelers will be taking on a surging Baltimore squad that has won their last three games coming off of a bye in week 10.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens
CB Artie Burns has enjoyed some success in his limited experience in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry. Will the Steelers have enough weapons on defense to spoil the Ravens’ postseason dreams?
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

CB Artie Burns and the rest of the Steelers’ defense are riding the wave of seven straight wins, with the hope of securing a top two seed in the AFC playoff race. Burns, for his part, has continued to be excellent in coverage. Check out what the folks at Pro Football Focus had to say about his performance on MNF:

Burns impressed in coverage Monday Night, leading to a grade of 84.6 in that category. He was thrown at six times, allowing only two catches for 25 yards while recording a pass break up and limiting Bengals receivers to one yard after the catch. Burns held his own while in coverage against A.J. Green, not allowing a catch on three targets. - Pro Football Focus

Against a Raven passing game that ranked second worst in the league, one would assume that the Steelers should be able to stymie the Ravens passing game one more time. If you saw the harrowing image of Steelers LB Ryan Shazier laying on the ground with a back injury, and his fill-in LB Tyler Matcketvich struggle in the run game, Baltimore may consider running straight up the gut of the Pittsburgh defense instead of taking a chance against Burns in coverage. Burns should be lining up a bit against Mike Wallace Sunday night, but expect for the big plays in the Baltimore passing game to come against CB Coty Sensabaugh on the other side of the field with CB Joe Haden still out with an injury.

We have not forgotten about Anthony “Chick” Chickillo, who has been coming off the sideline for the Steelers as well as playing a role on special teams. Chick is part of the defensive line rotation, usually coming in to give players such as TJ Watt or Bud Dupree a breather. Keep in mind that DE James Harrison may be woken from his slumber for the postseason run, meaning less snaps for our ProCane pal.

Calamity in the Rotten Apple

Detroit Lions vs New York Giants
Often to blame for the struggles along the offensive line, LT Ereck Flowers has put together one of the better seasons in his career despite the turmoil spread through the Giants organization.
Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

On Monday, the bottom finally fell out of the basket for the New York Giants. Both head coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese were fired a day after the G-Men lost their 10th game of what has been a disastrous season for the team, falling to 2–10 on the season. It appears that owner John Mara took the misfortunes of the team for more than just bad luck. In a season where WR Odell Beckham and WR Brandon Marshall were ruled out for the remainder of the season in the same game, it appeared that the team just could not get anything going. Then came the debacle that was the handling of the benching of QB Eli Manning, who has started every game since being named starter in the 2004 season. Some of the misses in past drafts and the overall makeup of the roster played into Reese getting axed, while McAdoo—who was criticized for his reluctance to adjust the offensive play-calling with the changes to the personnel throughout the season—also had his keycard confiscated on Monday.

The removal of both men means that change is assured for next season for both LT Ereck Flowers and DE Olivier Vernon. Before McAdoo became the biggest villain in Gotham since the Kingpin, Giants fans were quick to critique Flowers, who was graded among the worst starting offensive linemen in the league. Flowers has recently improved from those woes, yet he still projects more favorably as right tackle than staying at left tackle. A first-round draft selection of the Giants in the 2015 NFL Draft, Flowers still has one more year left on his contract before a team-option his fifth year. Whoever NYG bring in as GM will immediately look for a solution to solidify the offensive line, leaving a murky future for Flowers.

New York Giants v San Francisco 49ers
Paid to put the smackdown on opposing quarterbacks, it’s been a quiet season for Giants DE Olivier Vernon
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Vernon was a big free-agent signing two off-seasons ago, along with CB Janoris Jenkins. Highlighting the frivolity of the league, the signings were praised last season when the Giants were contenders for the playoff—yet a season later, he has been declared a miss with the team ranking toward the bottom of the league in defending both the run and pass. Vernon was hurt early in the season with an ankle injury, but has returned to help provide some semblance of a pass-rush on defense. His three-and-a-half sacks are well behind his eight-and-a-half a season ago, but the six-year vet is more known for his run defense, which has been not up to the standard that he’s set for most of his career. Vernon will get $12 million guaranteed should he still be on the roster on the third day of the new league year... which he should expect to collect. For Vernon, 2017 should be an aberration, with him returning to form after an offseason to get healthy. With an upgraded front office, the Giants could have a quick turnaround entering the 2018 season, depending on what they do at quarterback.

Quick Outs

The ProCanes TD streak currently stands at three straight weeks!

  • With DE Trey Hendrickson and DT David Onyemata suffering injuries on TNF, there’s a chance DE Al-Quadin Muhammad gets activated for the first time in week 15
  • Panthers TE Greg Olsen is questionable dealing with a sore foot
  • Chicago Bears safety Deon Bush has been dealing with an ankle injury
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers have signed LB Sean Spence in the wake of a spinal injury to LB Ryan Shazier
  • Indianapolis Colts TE Erik Swoope has suffered a setback in his rehab from a knee injury. He was placed on Injured Reserve last Sunday