It’s the “Fourth of July,” and America is celebrating it’s independence. To that end, Thursday not only means patriotism, but plenty of “F’s,” as in, family, food and of course, fireworks. So, with that in mind, we decided to take a look at three players for the state NFL teams that are poised for “explosive” seasons.
First, the criteria is that they are offensive players (yes, we’ve heard “defense wins championships”) and specifically, guys that can turn ordinary plays/small gains into long memorable touchdowns to be replayed repeatedly on social media and the internet.
With that in mind, here are the three names we came up with and why:
Ronald Jones- RB, Buccaneers
To say that that Jones’ rookie year was wasted by head coach Dirk Koetter and offensive coordinator Todd Monken would be pretty accurate. As we have previously written, Jones, a second round pick a year ago out of USC, was a healthy inactive for the opening three games of the season. He was then gradually given small opportunities to carry the ball in October before hurting his hamstring in a game in Cincinnati.
However, the biggest puzzlement was, when Jones returned healthy in the final month of the season, and with Tampa Bay eliminated from playoff contention in their final three games, Jones was active but not playing.
Again, as we wrote above, a waste.
So, with Koetter and Monken fired and new coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich hired, it’s already been been obvious that they want to include Jones more in their game plans. They have been very complimentary to this point about how hard Jones is working and how they look forward to using his speed in space.
And, anyone that watched his repeated big plays at USC, knows that if you get him that space, he will give Tampa Bay’s offense a dimension that it hasn’t had in years- a back that can race 70, 80 yards for touchdowns at any moment.
Kenny Stills- WR, Dolphins
He’s Miami’s top target and big play threat over the course of his last four seasons in South Florida. Stills was still very productive a year ago, despite the shoulder injury to QB Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins’ season fizzling out. That eventually led to the firing of head coach Adam Gase.
Stills’ 37 catches were his fewest since his first year in Miami in 2015 However he still averaged almost 15 yards per reception and his six touchdowns matched his output from 2017. Now, with new head coach Brian Flores and his new offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea, Stills will be looked upon to help stretch the defense.
It will help him and the scheme, if injured big play threats Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant return healthy to the lineup this fall. And, another bonus for Stills is that veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick demonstrated at the beginning of last year that he could hit Buccaneer big play threats DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans with big plays early on in the season.
Of course, that supposes that Fitzpatrick beats out second-year quarterback Josh Rosen, who Miami acquired from the Cardinals on draft weekend.
But no matter the QB, the 27 year old Stills has the best chance to be the Dolphins best big-play weapon for their offense this upcoming year.
Leonard Fournette- RB, Jaguars
A player that is in desperate need of an explosive season is the former 4th overall pick for Jacksonville in the 2017 draft. Fournette showed his home-run hitting capability in his rookie season with a 90 yard touchdown run to seal the upset regular season win over the Steelers. And then, displayed his great speed and explosiveness again with a 75-yard touchdown run on the opening play from scrimmage against the Rams at home. This led to Fournette having a thousand-yard season and being a key part of Jacksonville making the playoffs in 2017.
But, what a difference a year makes as 2018 rolled around, and Fournette was injured in the opening game with the Giants. His hamstring injury kept him out of six of the next eight games and the Jacksonville offense sputtered without him eventually seeing coordinator Nathaniel Hackett being fired in November.
The Jaguars have replaced Hackett with former Eagles quarterback coach and Vikings offensive coordinator last season John DeFilippo. And more importantly for Fournette and the offense, they brought in Eagles free-agent quarterback Nick Foles. So, it’s really the first time in Fournette’s career that the deep past game will become a complimentary weapon to help open up some run opportunities for him.
Fournette had issues with discipline a year ago, including being ejected for fighting in the loss to Buffalo in November and suspended the following week by the NFL. He also was publicly rebuked by V.P. of Football Tom Coughlin for his behavior and seeming disinterest in the season finale’ loss to the Houston Texans.
Fournette was also arrested for speeding and outstanding unpaid traffic violations earlier this year in Jacksonville. However, that has been cleared up without Fournette seeing additional any jail time.
Now, it’s time to see if his third year will be a big bounce back one for Jacksonville’s ultimate weapon out of the backfield.
And if he’s healthy, look for Fournette to make plenty of those game-changing plays.
Bucs repeated blunders lead to London defeat
Despite traveling over 4000 miles to London, it was a day to forget for the Bucs in their rematch with the Panthers on Sunday. Tampa Bay and QB Jameis Winston had enough misuses for a month of football, including 7 turnovers, as they dropped a 37 – 26 defeat at the hands of Carolina.
Winston was the biggest culprit, as he threw five interceptions (a career high) and also lost a number fumble in what was one of his worst performances of his five year career. And, even though his final stat line showed a 400 yards passing, Winston, with shaky from the very beginning. He threw an interception on the first play of the game to Panthers DB James Bradberry. This while trying to hit WR Mike Evans (catchless last week) over the middle.
Carolina only got a field goal though to make the game 3-0. And, after two Bucs punts on the next two possessions, Carolina marched 99 yards and ended up with in a short Christian Mccaffery one yard TD and a 10 – 0 lead.
One of the few breaks the Bucs got at Tottenham Hotspurs Stadium Sunday came when Carolina punt returner Ray Ray McCloud fumbled early in the second and Tampa Bay recovered. A short time later, Ronald Jones got the Buccaneers on the board with a five yard score to close the Carolina lead to 10-7.
Little did the Bucs, Winston and coach Bruce Arians know that it would be the closest they would get the rest of the day.
Later in the second, Winston had his arm hit by the Panthers Bruce Irvin and his pass was picked, again. And, it set up McCaffery’s second TD, a 25 yard catch and run to make it 17-7 Carolina in the half.
Christian McCaffery is the most athletic white man in the world pic.twitter.com/DfYk6bHDUN
— NFL Humor (@NFLHumor) October 13, 2019
Then, after halftime, the Bucs punted on their first possession and then, after a Panthers field goal made it 20-7, Winston once again threw a bad pass over the middle for his third interception of the game. This one to Pro Bowl LB Luke Kuechley, who ran it down to the Bucs 8 yard line. Next, WR Curtis Samuel scored on a handoff and at 27-7, the issue was basically decided.
Yes, the Bucs continued to scrap and Winston actually got them in the endzone twice in the fourth quarter and finished with 400 yards passing, on the number. However, most of that was against softer coverage while Carolina led big in the second half.
Besides the five INTS, Winston also fumbled away another red zone scoring opportunity after he was hit and sacked. Then, a fourth quarter Bobo Wilson muffed punt led to Panthers field goal and the game back to an easy double digit lead. Again, -6 in the turnover margin was as horrific as it gets for Tampa Bay.
The Panthers are now rolling, including second year QB Kyle Allen getting his fourth straight win in relief of the injured Cam Newton. Plus, Carolina got their revenge from a loss a month ago in Charlotte by winning in their first ever trip to the U.K.
However, this day was more about a Bucs offense, and Winston specifically, that both looked so good in a 55-40 win two weeks ago in L.A. doing the exact opposite for most of this Sunday in a bad defeat.
Tampa Bay now stands 2-4 headed to their bye and knows that the turnovers must stop, or the year will get more sour and very quickly.
Bucs in London leads our Sunday NFL primer
For one of the rare times this season, all three state NFL teams are in action on Sunday early and one of them very early.
First stop, the Buccaneers rematch the Panthers. This time in London at the newly rebuilt Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
— Carmen Vitali (@CarmieV) October 13, 2019
The Bucs come off of a tough loss 31-24 in New Orleans last week, but do have a win in week two at Carolina 20-14.
In that game, Tampa Bay’s defense took advantage of an injured quarterback Cam Newton and also stuffed running back Christian McCaffrey on their way to a division road win. Newton has been replaced the last three weeks by backup Kyle Allen and he has lead them to three consecutive victories, including road wins at Arizona and Houston.
Meanwhile, Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston (photo above) will try to ignite his connection with receiver Mike Evans, the Pro Bowler was held without a catch in last week’s loss at the Superdome.
Next up, the Jaguars will host those Saints at TIAA Bank Field. Jacksonville has performed well with rookie 6th round pick quarterback Gardner Minshew leading them That includes a week ago in Charlotte, as Minshew threw for two more touchdowns in a narrow 34-27 loss to the Panthers. Minshew is 2-2 in his starts.
Also, third year running back Leonard Fournette has rounded into form with back-to-back good games including over 100 yards and his first touchdown of the season in a loss to the Panthers.
The Saints come in with three consecutive victories under backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who riddled the Buccaneers for four touchdowns last week. The Saints top target is wide receiver Michael Thomas and it’s unknown, whether Jaguars football defensive back Jalen Ramsey will be healthy enough/active to cover him in this game.
Finally, in Miami it’s a pair of winless teams, as the 0-5 Redskins visit the 0-4 Dolphins. Washington fired their coach Jay Gruden earlier in the week and replaced him with veteran assistant and former Raiders head coach, Bill Callahan.
Meanwhile, first-year coach Brian Flores and the Fins come out of a bye week with a chance at extra preparation in looking for their first win of the season. Flores maintained this week that second-year quarterback Josh Rosen has the starting job, not just for now, but for the foreseeable future.
In their last game two weeks ago, Rosen led a touchdown drive that actually gave Miami their first and only leader of the season at 10-6 against the Chargers However, L.A outplayed them in the second half to keep Miami without a victory.
Both of these teams have looked poor through much of the first part of the year, but one of them will get to celebrate, at least in the short term, with a Sunday win.
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