Dozen This Look Familiar For JL8 ?
QB Lamar Jackson scored three times for the JL8.
Whispers of a possible first ever successful ALFF title defence were amped up to chatter level as the JL8 swept to the 2nd stage of the play-offs with a comfortable 36-16 win over the Wellington Rising. Both teams got this far in 2019 on the back of respective last season winning runs .. but it was coach Cruickshank’s platoon who extended their winning sequence to five on the bounce to keep their repeat title dream alive as they called exclusively on their main three prong attack to draw a line under rookie coach Butter’s testing inaugural campaign. The two sides had met as long ago as Week 4 when the champions became the NZ outfit’s first ALFF scalp in a 41-27 showdown but bar the opening act of the knock-out clash there was never much doubt coach Cruickshank’s outfit would set the record straight when it mattered most. Hostilities had opened on Thursday night with the Rising’s Allen Robinson having the honor of scoring the first points of the 2019 knock-out competition courtesy of a 5 yard TD grab at Soldier Field. The classy wide-out added an eight yarder for good measure but that 06-00 lead going into Sunday was very much the highpoint for a Rising side that could not get in gear in the subsequent phases. Both combatants were coming off nerve testing must win games in Week 13 with each camp making just the one change. The Doomster in Chief pulled the plug on a slowing Carlos Hyde handing Darrius Guice only his 2nd ever ALFF start, while faux coach Kiwi recalled fit again Alshon Jeffey at WR ahead of Wk 13 scorer Dede Westbrook. There was little in the way of head to head activity to send the focus in any one direction…. but it really came down to the JL8’s big boys stepping up when required, while it all went a bit pear shaped for their key opponents. One fact that did loom large in this contest, was the fact Darren’s initial act as Rising HC was to opt for RB Saquon Barkley over QB Lamar Jackson in a binary retained player choice back in May …. a decision that ultimately proved pivotal. The JL8 passer fresh from clinching his 1st ALFF QB title quickly found his groove and confounded the experts and the windy conditions at Orchard Park to score TD tosses of 3, 61 and 4 yards to get to a nice round dozen. Kicker Wil Lutz went nap with the 12pt number by booting over 4 PAT’s and a FG double , the 2nd from 55 yard and suddenly the Merchants of Doom had 24pts on the board. The only real negative for coach C was Darrius Guice’s promotion had lasted exactly five carries before his injury hoodoo struck again. Welly had expected big things of QB Kirk Cousins and new rushing champions Christian McCaffrey but clearly no-one had told coach Butter about the long standing ALFF RB Champion curse !! Marshall Faulk is the only top runner in League history to get an ALFF Bowl winners medal and an untimely goose egg from Run CMC suggested he was not going to break with tradition. Cousins did manage a lone 9 yard scoring toss but it took a 5 yard TD reach over the pylon from George Kittle to edge the Boots total up to a meagre 12pts. From looking good at 06-00, the play-off debutants were staring down the barrel of a 12-24 deficit. Into the late Sunday period and Welly could ill afford to slip any further behind their opponents without putting a huge burden on K Josh Lambo or their top ranked Patriots defence to put up chunky numbers ….. but that’s just what happened. RB Derrick Henry was a big part of the JL8’s 2018 Title triumph with vital scores in both their 2nd and 3rd round wins and has followed that up with a likely All ALFF RS campaign this time round. A swift 12 yard blast at the Oakland Coliseum all but put the Framlington side over the top but all doubt was ended when he found paydirt for a 2nd time, on this occasion from 10 yards out. In truth the Bon Accord combo never really looked like recovering from the runners first score, as an in the mood LA Chargers swiftly took the Rising (and Jags) kicker Josh Lambo out of the game as a FG threat after the kicker had converted an opening 26 yard effort. A single late XP was all the specialist could add to the total with Darren’s Patriots Defence coming up empty. Last JL8 man standing WR D K Metcalf kept his powder dry with a LA Coliseum goose egg and although in theory Saquon Barkley and Alshon Jeffery’s appearance on Monday officially kept the contest alive, the ALFF money had pretty much closed the book, with the 36-16 scoreline remaining unaltered. The Doom Meister’s move on to the 2nd Rd to face the “other” 2019 rookie outfit the Broch Bobcats in an all Granite Div affair, with 2 sides from this year’s winningest grouping sure to be in the final four. There is still a lot of work to be done and some concern about a quad injury for Lamar Jackson but coach C’s outfit have a three cornered stool here that might just be on for some big time ALFF history. Coach Butter had a very interesting rookie ALFF campaign. A brutal opening schedule undoubtedly skewed his overall record, his side performing arguably more around the 8-5 level than their actual 6-7 but paradoxically their best winning spell came when their own scoring actually shaded off a little. Welly were competitive in every single department, ranking No 1 at RB and D , with arguably only their 8th ranked kicking unit slightly off the pace of this terms higher ranked ball-clubs. Christian McCaffrey’s ALFF Rushing Title and a post season appearance is more than many rookie coaches have managed in the past but I know Darren will be hungry for improvement next term. With Run CMC back for sure all eyes will be on the Rising waiver wire come the New Year to see if Saquon Barkley is deemed to be value as the 5th pick overall… or if the 2019 disappointment will be cut loose. You can be sure the Tawa Towers front office will be re-examining their decision to go with the runner instead of Lamar Jackson in that black and white retained choice. Darren’s draft obviously had some Rosemount legacy elements but we saw enough to suggest the NZ rookie did not find it too hard to make the transition to the ALFF points only rule system. Kirk Cousins as effectively his first “real” choice in the 3rd Rd was a great pick (with Barkley & CMac already in the bag) and so too would have been 4th Rounder Alshon Jeffery had injury not intervened. Rookie T J Hockenson was an intriguing pick up in Rd 5…. and could prove to be a decent keeper in this campaigns retained list although with a bevy of other rookies taken in the later stages, including the likes Dwayne Haskins and Ryan Finley, there could be some tough choices ahead around April. Welly were clearly well prepared for their first ever ALFF campaign and with a year’s experience are already projecting to be a quality additionto an already competitive Bon Accord Division.
Sleeper of the Week
There was no single Sleeper that would have changed a result outright but had coach Hamilton selected back-up K Austin Siebert, the kicker's 11pts (net plus 5pts) would have forced what would have been a been a mind blowing 3rd straight OT game for the Lions. I haven't actually projected who would have got the OT decision... but there's the Sleeper.
Play of the Week
Given the nature of the results... it has to be Todd Gurley's 7 yard TD run with attitude. Without it the Drillers would have remained a point behind.. and Carson Wentz's two TD tosses to Zach Etrz would have effectively been no scores... leaving the Lions as winners.
Play-Off's 2nd Rd Round
Westburn Blades v 2 Minute Drillers
Broch Bobcats v JL8
Drillers Don't Fall Before The Pride
Todd Gurley scores a crucial 7 yard TD for the Drillers.
The 2 Minute Drillers did enough to hold on in Monday night and progress to the 2nd Rd as they saw off the Laurel Lions 26-21 in a tense Monday finale. With the Bon Accord Div outfit leading 20-15 going into the epilogue of this tight battle between the No 6 & 7 seeds, coach Hamilton really needed a score from his Eagles defence (or a reverse from WR Zach Ertz) to get past the “block” that Drillers QB Carson Wentz represented and although the TE did his bit by catching both of the passer’s TD tosses to keep the Commissioner Crew in his sights , the Defence could not come up with a season saving score …. even with Eli Manning and a very greasy ball as their primary target. The two sides had opened the season with a Week 1 match-up, which the Drillers came out best in, by a slender 30-29 margin but this was their first ever face off at the knock-out stage. By the time both camps had got down to the serious business of looking at the wider picture of their final team selections the Drillers were already on the board with a (garbage time) 19 yard reception from Amari Cooper and those 3pts on the board were definitely a factor in the 5 times champions questionable decision to drop Michael Thomas at WR and replace him with Calvin Ridley. The Commish initially planned on recalling Philly pairing Carson Wentz & Jake Elliott on the basis of their Monday night opponent the NY Giants but a forecast of rain for the City of Brotherly Love pushed the selection committee in the direction of sparingly used Brandon McManus in the kicking the department, while standing by the first named at qureterback. Peyton Barber replaced Jonathon Williams at RB2. Williams “demise” was a factor in the Lions game plan also, as Jamesie went for a total shake-up at RB. With Leonard Fournette and Sony Michel only scoring once each in their last 6 games, the Pride took advantage of Marlon Mack’s return from injury (hence Williams demotion) to hand the retained runner an immediate recall. Coach H also rolled the dice a little by throwing in rookie Benny Snell Jr for his ALFF debut after his good performance (NFL wise) last week as the new designated Pittsburgh rock carrier. Kyle Rudolph was the lone change at WR , Mo Sanu (questionable) dropping out. The hot spots in this tie were in the later NBC phase in LA and on Monday night at rainy Philadelphia with the two 2 Minute “big guns” in that mix , so the early action was mostly about how big a lead the Lions could build for themselves to hold off Gurley & Wentz. Vegas has named the Den based outfit as 3pt favourite largely on their projections of a solid base from QB Aaron Rodgers and K Justin Tucker (and a match winning pick six from the Eagles on Monday night) but the Pride’s engine room players managed just 9pts between them in the opening Sunday phase to set the alarm bells ringing in Danestone. The Packers new propensity to run the ball directly led to Rodgers being benched in favour of Josh Allen for a part of the RS, but while that trend seemed to have been reversed to the benefit of the passer in recent weeks, it was back on show with a vengeance this time round. A single 12 yard toss was all the 3 times League MVP could offer and with Tucker’s opportunities being restricted by the windy upstate NY conditions (Vegas did offer that as a potential caveat ) to just a shortish 36 yard FG and 3 PAT’s , coach Hamilton was now looking from some major input from another source. RB Marlon Mack did step in with a 2 yard TD run to boost the Lions tally to 15pts but a goose egg for Kyle Rudolph left it there. As we have seen the Drillers goal at this stage was to hang close and just stay in the game and in that endeavour they were more than ably supported by FG artist Brandon McManus, who romped to a 7pt total by half time at NRG Stadium . The Ricker was licking his lips at the prospect of only his 2nd double digit kicking offering this season…. but to his chagrin the specialist only added one more XP to his earlier 36 Yd FG and 4 XP haul to finish on 8pts. A 15 yard TD grab from wide-out Calvin Ridley enlarged his ALFF sides total to 14pts before the receiver was carted off with a season ending injury but there was nothing to add at the same Atlanta venue from stablemate Curtis Samuel, leaving the Laurel combo ahead by 15-14. Rookie and ALFF debutant Benny Snell Jnr was the lone combatant in the late Sunday proceedings and although the youngster saw his share of the ball (16-41 yds) his two red zone opportunities in the Glendale desert were swiftly snuffed out and never looked like producing points, moving the game on to Hot Spot 1 at the LA Coliseum with the Commish still only trailing by that single point and well within the sub 9pt margin the pundits had suggested the Drillers needed to be “within” for Gurley and Wentz to deliver . The outgoing double rushing champion went mano a mano against opponent Tyler Lockett and although the 2 Minute squad were frustrated when Malcolm Brown vultured a short yardage TD the mood changed when Gurley flashed his old title credentials with a 7 yard TD scamper off left tackle that came with a little stiff arm action free of charge. With Lockett held in check the Drillers were now in command 20-15 in front, setting up the Monday night end game at Lincoln Financial Field we saw described in the opening paragraph. The Drillers move on to face a Westburn Blades side that they strong armed back in Week 4 but should expect a much tougher battle this this time out. Injuries are biting at WR… and with pass catching targets again heading for the treatment room in their droves in Philly , Carson Wentz’s return at QB may be a short lived one.. watch this space. It’s 2013 since the Drillerdome side last won 2 post season games on the bounce… (????yea me too !!)….. a season they went on to win the whole enchilada. The Lions fall at the first for a 3rd straight year and have in fact not supped from the post season win spoon since winning it all in 2016. Indeed no PDiv non Division winner has won the ALFF title since the Blades in 2005. It was a strange old up and down campaign for coach Hamilton’s charges with their hallmark their sheer inconsistency… with a mid season stretch from Week’s 4 to Week 10 including two 40pt plus performances.. but a further 5 of 21pts or less. That said… it could have been a different story around the Pittodrie Div title outcome and a single bye if they had converted a record setting two straight in-Div OT losses to close the regular season into 2 straight victories. Small margins were very much the subplot to the patchy scoring. Outside of a Justin Tucker inspired kicking game that ranked 3rd, middle of the road was the best to describe the other Lions skill positions… with perhaps their 325 points for and matching 325 points against arguably the best illustration of all !! With two starting RB’s already on their roster the Prides’ draft approach was to bag Aaron Rodgers in the 1st Rd(sixth selection overall) and although that choice is not questioned by the pundits, the payback (or lack of) was certainly an issue. Indeed the immediate post draft in Vegas identified coach H’s top 8 picks ( with the exception of Shady McCoy effectively as a 4th RB in the 5th Rd) as among the best in the League in terms of talent available… but in reality Leonard Fournette (2), Zach Ertz (3) , Sony Michel (retained 4) and LeSean McCoy (5) all fell in to that same underperforming category Rodgers did. James will have to do it all again from the 6th slot for a second straight year in 2020.