Wednesday, September 30, 2009


A guy, Detroit fan, on a football discussion board mentioned that the Lions Postgame show opened with the Hallelujah Chorus. That's awesome. Congratulations to the Lions fans, their players & coaches, and the organization. I'm very happy to see them get off that streak. I personally am impressed with the Lions coaching staff and their new GM. I think that team is on the road toward becoming good, and in a year or so we won't see any shame in a team losing to them.

But for that elusive 1st victory: what could make it more perfect?

To have it come against the Redskins!

O, isn't the world simply wonderful at times? What's even better is that no one was shocked by this outcome, except Dan Snyder & Vinny Cerrato. (And maybe the population of Detroit.) The Lions were a sexy upset pick this week – my wife picked them in her office pool. Not against the spread, but to win straight up. I can't count how many times Redskins-Lions showed up as an "expert's" upset pick in the week leading up to the game.

The Washington sports world has declared Armageddon. The Washington Post's page on the game was headlined, "Fail to the Redskins". One piece was titled "At a Loss, and at Crossroads". Another went "Time to Make a Change". Columnist Mike Wise's piece on the game was titled "An All-Around Debacle". He writes:

But if Zorn lost this game, Greg Blache lost this game, too. His full-of-holes defense was scored upon on inexplicably long drives... Vinny Cerrato also lost this game. His second-year, second-round receiving draftees – Malcolm Kelly, Devin Thomas and Fred Thomas – caught one measly pass each in a game in which the Redskins sorely needed to go to someone else other than Moss seemingly every pass play, after his offensive line looked more in need of help than another running back activated this past week.
Most of all, Zorn's players lost this game
Longtime Post columnist Tom Boswell had a piece titled "Focus Vanished Long Ago". He writes:
This was not the culmination of any short-term trend or mistakes in strategy. This loss was years in the making.
Will the Redskins adopt [the right attitude, in response to the loss]? To do so, they may have to fight through an incredible amount of self-delusion about the talent level on their team. This week, Clinton Portis said he thought the Redskins had the most talent in the NFL. Comments like that have been common in the Redskins' locker room for the past 10 years – regardless of all available evidence. Not only is the view tolerated at Redskins Park, it is encouraged and marketed. Where does this fallacy arise? In the owner's suite, where the price of players is equated with their performance? They refuse to define themselves by the final scoreboard but, instead, cling to their own private view of themselves and their far higher value – sometimes based on their performances in other years or even on other teams.
After a wonderful 10-catch, 178-yard game, wide receiver Santana Moss fell into the deepest and worst snare – and one that constantly catches the Redskins. Moss said many reasonable things after this defeat. But he also said the magic words that always make my skin crawl in a locker room. "We are the better team," he said.
Anyone who has ever seen "The Hustler," perhaps the best of all sports movies, remembers Paul Newman's character saying to Minnesota Fats, "Even if you beat me, I'm still the best." George C. Scott's character says to Fats: "Stay with this kid. He's a loser."
...they will never be elite winners, especially in a team sport, until they defeat the idea that their potential, their fame or their wealth matters at all. Only their performance – which is kept on the scoreboard for a reason – counts. That's why teams beat individuals.
Well put.

Even itself hammers the team. Larry Weisman has a piece called "Break Down in Motor City" which begins:
No brains, no heart, no courage. The game tape to be reviewed on Monday comes straight from The Wizard of Oz.

Personally I don't really mind when a player says that the guys in his locker room have the most talent of any team in the NFL. That's nice: it's how a player should think of his team. "Benign brainwashing", is how Boswell once described a similar manifestation.

But Boz is right to draw attention to the "we're the better team" nonsense. The self-deception of this organization doesn't stop at the locker room. It goes all the way up to that clown Vinny Cerrato, and the Little Napoleon himself, Danny Snyder. It gives me an evil joy to see them get what they have earned. Not, "what they deserve" in the sense of bad people getting what's coming to them; I mean, get precisely what their efforts and decisions have merited: a flawed brittle unmotivated squad that has enough flashy talent to win a few games and get up near playoff contention, fooling you, before falling short as their multiple overwhelming weaknesses are revealed.

Snyder bought this team in May 1999, and we've seen 10 full seasons of his stewardship. Over those 10 seasons the Redskins record is 76-84 (.475) in the regular season. That is just about exactly what I'd expect of them.

(Their record is better in lawsuits against their own fans.)


Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Joe Posnanski SI nee Kansas City Star columnist just produced an article discussing the disaster that Mangini is inflicting on the Browns. We just discussed a few of his points here, a few others are already legendary but Posnanski puts it together in his typical way, including a coach-by-coach comparison of why Mangini is the worst coaching hire of all time (hyperbole intended).

"Another one of those fan maybe-overstatement-maybe-not thoughts: Eric Mangini was the worst NFL head coach hire in 25 years."

Now, I'll admit -- that's pure fanbole. I cannot stand what Eric Mangini has done to the Browns, the team of my childhood. I cannot stand the lack of respect he has shown for the team's history, the Mickey Mouse game he plays with quarterbacks, the amazing knack he has for getting his players to not play hard for him or the stupid fines he hands out like he's Principal Vernon from "The Breakfast Club." Don't mess with the bull, young man, you'll get the horns.


1. Mangini had just been fired in New York, where he had done a terrible job. He had a losing record. His team had collapsed down the stretch, he had alienated his players, he was a pain in the neck to deal with. Point is: He'd already PROVEN how much damage he could do as a coach.

2. He came right out of the school of Bill Belichick ... and that didn't work THE FIRST TIME in Cleveland. It seems to me that Cleveland is a working-class town and Browns fans want a working-class coach -- not some pompous know-it-all who doesn't feel like he should have to explain to the commoners what he's doing.

3. What had he ever done to convince anyone he could be a head coach in the first place? Why, because he was a defensive coordinator for the Patriots under Belichick for one season? The Browns had JUST HIRED Romeo Crennel, who was ALSO defensive coordinator under Belichick. Attention Cleveland Browns owners, here's a good hint: BILL BELICHICK IS HIS OWN DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR.

More, of course. Posnanski is a great writer. I think out of his column though the (new) thing that struck me most is that it is very possible, even likely, that the Jets went from having the worst coach in the league to making the best new hire. That and that the Browns are due for an intervention.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Quick Walk Through The League

My gut says that it takes about three weeks in the NFL to start to get an honest read on the quality of the various teams, divisions and races. Too many teams are too close for a couple of random results to overly color our impressions during the first couple weeks of the year. Last year the Bills stomped the Seahawks in week one and then went on the road to beat the Jaguars in week two. Both of their opponents were supposed to contend for their respective division and Jacksonville was the sweetheart pick to win the AFC. Obviously Seattle and Jacksonville were pretenders, and Buffalo eventually came crashing to earth after a moment in the sun.

So now it's time to take a poke at the teams that are surprising and disappointing. Which are the aberrations? Which are the trends? We will start today with the AFC.

Miami 0-3
Trend. I wrote an enormous article in my head around the beginning of August on how the Dolphins entire 2008 was a mirage and that they were bound to be worse in '09. Even Vegas had them as a 7 win team this year, surprising considering the Dolphins are coming off an 11 win season. I'm not going to go into all the reasons here, but the short shot was that Miami was extremely lucky (and by 'exteme' I mean 'statistically outlying') but even so their pythagorean win total would have put them at a little under 9 wins. Take away the luck with injuries and turnovers and yeah, this was probably a 6-7 win team. They won't lose them all but considering their start and considering that the Henne era and associated growing pains may be permanent with Pennington's injury, it is easy to project them as a 4-5 win team this year.

Cincinnati 2-1
Trend. Consider that they are an immaculate deflection away from being 3-0 (as opposed to those pretender Broncos) and it is easy to see this team competing for the playoffs again. Their problems the last two years is that they had no one who could spell Palmer through his series of awful injuries.
They still don't but Palmer is back and apparently healthy the offense may be effective enough to continue to put up Ws. Their defense last year was very good, a fact disguised by the duration and field positions the offense gave them. Palmer has been terribly erratic, but has shown a few flashes of returning to brilliance; in the first half against Green Bay, his game winning (sic: losing) drive against Denver, and then down the stretch today. I expect Palmer to continue to approach his previous level as the season progresses. The offensive line isn't what it once was, but it is also much better than last year's. With Benson providing adequate running this team should ultimately win more than it loses.

Cleveland 0-3
Trend. Pretty obvious one. I have to think that George Kokinis is re-thinking his decision to marry Eric Mangini. Mangini is simply a maniac. He spent his first off-season trying to get rid of every skill position player on the team while pissing off all of the rookies and lesser free agents. The team has scored exactly one offensive touchdowns in their last nine games. Yes they will win games, but I have no clue when or how. Right now it seems impossible.

Denver 3-0
Mirage. This is sort of a softball too. Before the year everyone was predicting a horrible season for this team, the villagers were gathering torches and pitchforks even before the first game, but lo and behold they won. And then won again, and then again. While it is probably fair to re-assess this team a bit the winning was much more a product of one miracle and two opponents than actually putting a quality product on the field. We already mentioned the Cincinnati game that they had no business winning. Their other wins were against Cleveland (noted) and then the Raiders who have problems of their own. Denver's schedule will give them a chunk of wins but this team will level out. The offense will be okay, but this defense which is currently number one can't possibly be in the top half of the league. It has has holes everywhere and talent nowhere. Good opponents will carve this team up and it will be very difficult for the offense to provide enough of a response.

New York 3-0
Trend. As hard as it is for me to believe, there is no reason to think that this team won't continure to play well and win. Their first three games weren't cupcakes and included a psuedo-showdown game with the Patriots. While Mark Sanchez has been the story, the defense has been the reason for the team's success and may be the best in the AFC so far. Their opponents have averaged ~ 10 ppg against them while scoring 25 ppg against their other opponents. The offensive line is one of the top five in football, if not the best and the running game is solid. Oh yeah, that Sanchez guy? He's pretty good too, with the best rookie start since Roethlisberger. He should continue to improve. Set the sun on the Patriots domination of that division, New York is a 12-plus win team. This week's game at New Orleans should be an entertaining meeting of an immovable object and an irresistable force.

There are others. Tennessee has lost three tough games, and there is something wrong with that team. Doesn't matter much, no team has ever overcome an 0-3 start to go to the playoffs. Tennessee won't be the first. Baltimore looks like the real deal but their start is no surprise. Pittsburgh also looks broken and is probably a bit overdue for some rebuilding, but I just can't see counting them out yet.

Time and motivation willing, I will continue with the NFC later this week.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Deferring to the Second Half

After going to a few Ravens games I noticed a fairly frequent trend that the stadium seats were fairly empty as people were still buying food/drink or going to the bathroom or in general were meandering back to their seats.

This actually seems to me to be fairly important strategically in a game where the home team relies on the crowd to disrupt the opposition.

The Ravens definitely do, and I think most other NFL teams and certainly several college stadiums do as well. Baltimore used to refer to Memorial Stadium - back when they had the Colts - as "The World's Largest Outdoor Insane Asylum." Even today, the Ravens games frequently draw fervent crowds that are extremely loud. We pride ourselves on forcing offenses to take time-outs because of communication issues and causing false starts at times.

But the first drive in the second half is typically very quiet due to the stands being cleared out at half time. So how much does this typically factor into a team's decision on deferring the kick? I would think every team would want to defer the kick in these situations. Home teams want their offense on the field to allow time for the fans to come back into the seats before their defense gets back on the field. Away teams would want the prospect of a drive that's somewhat quiet to start the half.

I couldn't find statistics on how often teams (college or pro) choose to receive or defer. I only looked for about ten minutes, but Google seems to be unreliable at digging those up. If anyone can find any, I'd appreciate seeing them.


Ravens Showcase an Efficient Offense

An article I wrote for


Opening the NFL season, the Ravens ran up 501 yards of total offense with Joe Flacco throwing for over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns. This past Sunday, they tallied another 300+ yards, and are currently (prior to the Colts/Dolphins MNF tilt) second in the league in both yards and points. It couldn’t be a more positive sign that a much maligned offense has finally found its general, and is ready to pull its weight with a defense that has been dominant for a decade.

But this isn’t your typical big-time offense. Read more here.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Flacco For MVP

Why not?

Since ZipCode (rightly) calls me a curmudgeon when I dampen his enthusiasm for the kid, I may as well be a little premature here as well. With apologies to Drew Brees, no player on an undefeated team has done more to deliver wins to his team. Not Adrian Peterson, Mark Sanchez, or Peyton Manning. Not Elvis Dumervil, Matt Ryan, Frank Gore or Peyton's brother either. None of them.

Joe Flacco is rightly the two week MVP, and at his current trajectory he is growing into the best player in the league.


Okay, I'll rain on this parade right away. No, I don't think Flacco will continue at this pace and no, I don't think he will continue to improve this rapidly. While possible, it is pretty doggone unlikely. A plateau reserved for players named things like Brady and Brees.

Even so, Flacco's performance to this point has been nothing short of remarkable. Right now, Flacco is 7th in the NFL in passer rate, tied for 2nd in TDs and 12th in passing yardage. This with an uninspiring receiving corps headlined by Derrick Mason. Flacco has completed seven passes to three players, including Kelley Washington who was last seen washing out of Cincinnati and New England, while completing another 23 passes to four others. His best receiver so far is probably Mark Clayton who is on pace for about 50 catches and 800 yards. Flacco has been so good at spreading the ball though, that there are three other receivers on the team who are also on pace for very similar numbers. This on a team who has a group of receivers who no one would confuse with other groups like Fitzgerald/Boldin, Harrison/Wayne or Johnson/Houshmanzedeh.

What's more remarkable is that Flacco is producing like this for a Raven team that has displayed uncharacteristically average defense to this point. Last year the team mostly won in spite of Flacco and because of the defense. This year (so far) it is very nearly the opposite. Put the 2008 Flacco on this team and it is looking at an 0-2 start.

With other contenders in the AFC each looking very vulnerable, and with the reasonable expectation that the Raven defense will more than hold its own, it is very reasonable to think that as of right now, September 24, Baltimore has the inside track on the 2010 Super Bowl.

and god will ZipCode and Chris be insufferable then


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Abundance of Good Quarterbacks

I was thinking about Flacco the other day and trying to figure out where I'd rate him in terms of best QBs in the league. And it led me to the general thought that while I don't know where I'd rank him, there are simply a lot of really good QBs in the NFL right now. Probably more than have ever been in the league before.

Rather than trying to rank them specifically, I'll just throw them out in tiers...

Best in the league
Drew Brees, and I don't think it's close.

Great old vets, possibly on the down-side or close to it
Tom Brady
Peyton Manning
Carson Palmer
Donovan McNabb
Kurt Warner
Chad Pennington

Established young players
Ben Roethlisberger
Philip Rivers
Eli Manning
Jay Cutler (??? controversial)
Matt Schaub
Tony Romo

Next-gen great ones
Matt Ryan
Joe Flacco
Aaron Rodgers
Matt Cassel
Mark Sanchez (??? looks like he can play, but it's two games)

More than half the league has good to great quarterbacks. This doesn't include guys like Favre, Garrard, Trent Edwards and Orton who may deserve to be on this list somewhere as well.

Not sure what the reason is for this. My guess is part of it has to do with colleges running a more pro-style of game and therefore preparing these QBs better than they've been in the past. Part may be that WRs these days are getting out of hand how good some of them are. Part may be all the variations of the west coast offenses out there which may be making it easier for the quarterbacks.

Not sure there's anywhere to go with this, just thought it's pretty interesting.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Non Sequitur

Going to take a quick second to indulge myself here.

Brian Cook, as always, is somewhere around tied with Orson Swindle (Spencer Hall in RL)as the greatest college football blogger of ever. Anyhow, I am a huge fan of wordsmithing and this is the best analogy I've read in weeks:

Right now, Michigan is an Easter egg dropped out of a window during an engineering competition. It's small. It's moving extremely fast. It's brightly colored and looks like it contains a good time. It is heading inexorably for something large and uncompromising, and all it has to protect it is a rickety structure slapped together last night out of Busch Light cans, foam, and an unidentifiable oozing substance someone found next to the refrigerator. It's probably not going to make it, but for the moment it's time to enjoy the wind.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Week 1 - Random Thoughts

A quick spin around the league, mostly just my thoughts from various things I noticed in various games this weekend...

Chiefs @ Ravens
I drove up first thing Sunday for the game in what's becoming an annual ritual of going to the home opener with my dad. Lots of fun as it always is. We have tickets between the 25 and 30, 14 rows up on the Ravens sidelines. The 500 yards of offense was great to see. If this team has a real offense, and special teams aren't as vomitously horrendous as they were Sunday, this team could be very dangerous.

Of particular note in this game was the decision to go for the TD on fourth and inches with 40 seconds left; a decision which has sparked vicious debate on two separate message boards on which I participate. I won't rehash the entire debate, but it comes down essentially to swapping a reduced chance of losing the game with the chance to make a statement. I won't start another debate here, but I fall on the side of it being a very bad decision not to kick the FG.

Titans @ Steelers
Both teams put on a really entertaining game here and both look like solid teams. But both also should be very concerned about some things as well. Tennessee was dominating the Steelers offense when they were constantly blitzing, and suddenly and inexplicably abandoned the blitz in the fourth quarter. Allowing Roethlisberger enough time to hang out, read his copy of Motorcycle World magazine and flirt with the cheerleaders before bothering to look if someone's open to throw to isn't a particularly sound strategy, as Ben showed. Man, what a terrific, clutch quarterback.

Meanwhile, the Steelers have got to be worried about their running game, and frankly Roethlisberger's health if he keeps taking hits like he was in the first three quarters. Ben could be dead by week 6. The offensive line isn't terrible, but it's certainly not good. And the reckless abandon with which Roethlisberger plays has got to make Steeler fans worry.

Dolphins @ Falcons
I think what's interesting about this game is the failure of the Wildcat, and what the future of the Wildcat really is. Short-lived trickery, or a strategy here to stay?

I don't pretend to know, but I want to throw one thought into this. Regardless of whether or not the Wildcat works, what it forces an opponent to do is to prepare for it. So a defense has to take time out of its defensive game-planning to prepare for it. If they don't, it'll kill them. And if they do, maybe they aren't as prepared for the rest of the offense. Just a thought.

49ers @ Cardinals
I can't help but think the Niners are for real. I like Singletary. I think he's learning on the job and he's getting better at the Xs and Os coaching each week while being one of the best motivators in the game. This from a fan of the team with Billick who I thought was the quintessential motivational coach with almost no Xs and Os sense.

The defense played terrific on Sunday, and the offense is good enough to get the job done. This team to me looks like a poor man's 2000 Ravens... Very good defense, very good running game, don't-screw-it-up passing game. Shaun Hill is the perfect QB to play on that team. In what's probably the weakest division in the NFL, they are very much a contender to take it.

Bears @ Packers
So the big story is Jay Cutler's 4 INTs, and I'm trying to stay away from the shallow stories here, but I think there's a more interesting one buried in here. I think Cutler's probably going to hate life without receivers that can actually help him be a better QB. In Denver, Marshall and Royal got open consistently, and fought for balls in close coverage. In Chicago, his receivers just aren't good enough to do that. So while you have Crazy-I'm-Just-Having-Brett-Favreian-Fun-Out-There-Cutler slinging risky passes and getting balls picked off like in Denver, we're going to lose out on a lot of big receptions that are a direct result of those great receivers he had to get him out of jams out west.

So what Chicago's in danger of having is a poor-man's Brett Favre who takes risks, but takes too many of them and winds up looking as bad as, oh, say Rex Grossman (who always seemed to me to be like Cutler except without the receivers) until/unless they find him at least one receiver that can dominate. I wasn't sure if Cutler was "the answer" or not a week ago. Based on what I saw Sunday, I can't help but say "No, he's not."

Bills @ Patriots
With all the interesting story-lines here, there's one very tiny little nugget that I'm going to attack with some vigor here.

Early in the 4th quarter on 1st and 10, Edwards drops back to pass. Adalius Thomas beats his man badly and wraps Edwards up. Adalius is still running Edwards backward, turning around him but Edwards isn't going down and the refs aren't blowing the whistle. And so Adalius spins, falls, and in the process throws Edwards to the ground. *flag* 15 yard penalty, roughing the passer.

Now think back to November 26th, 2006. With just under 3 to play, Vince Young drops back to pass on 4th and 10. Young scrambles, and Mathias Kiwanuka wraps Young up and runs him backward. He then lets Young go prior to the whistle blowing. Young scrambles, gets the 1st down, and leads the Titans to a 24-21 win.

In Sports Illustrated's NFL Preview issue a couple weeks ago, Peter King did a QB round-table with several guys, including Carson Palmer. Carson was quoted as saying the following: "The truth of the matter is ... somebody is going to die here in the NFL. It's going to happen."

I get that. I really do, and I do believe that quarterbacks should be afforded certain protections that go beyond what many players think these days. Those guys are out there more than most other players (other than ST'ers and WRs coming across the middle, and I believe those guys should get protected as well).

But if I'm Adalius, I've got to simply ask "How the hell can I legally tackle the quarterback in that exact situation?" If Adalius lets up and lets him go, he risks becoming a huge goat, the way Kiwanuka did. It's a disaster. But if he takes him down, he's risking getting a flag thrown on him.

The tackle looked like a very good one to me. It was a little hard. But this isn't Pop Warner with seven year olds. You simply have to let guys play at times. And as a fan - and I'm sure most players would agree - this call is absolutely infuriating to me. It is one thing to protect guys from dangerous tackles. Things like the low hit Wilfork had on Edwards (another call I disagree with, but I don't have all that much of a problem with it).

It's a complete other thing to basically strip a defender of the ability to do his job. If, as a ref, you are going to penalize a guy for following through on a tackle like that, it absolutely MUST obligate you to blow the play dead IMMEDIATELY upon the defender wrapping the quarterback up.

At which point we're basically playing two-hand-touch on quarterbacks, which is stupid. Let the guy freaking make the tackle...

Chargers @ Raiders
I've typed and deleted several ways of trying to say "The Raiders are idiots for cutting, rather than starting, Jeff Garcia." So I'll just say that. It's pretty much the very definition for why this organization is destined for eternal failure.

Let's face some simple facts here. The Raiders absolutely, positively destroyed the Chargers. What was most striking to me is how the Chargers have a very good offensive line and defensive line, and the Raiders counter-lines completely dominated San Diego's.

Around the end of the second quarter, the score was 10-10, and I thought "The Raiders are just killing this team, and it's a tie game. If Garcia were playing, they'd be up by no less than two touchdowns." And thus leading me to say it...

If the Raiders had kept and started Jeff Garcia, the Raiders would be a playoff team.

Tom Cable's impressed me. He's starting at the right spots. He's teaching a classically undisciplined team the fundamentals of football. He's building from the lines out. And with the addition of Richard Seymour, he's actually got a defense to be proud of. Offensively this team can move the ball.

But opposing defenses simply have to be salivating to stack 10 guys in the box, leave one free safety deep, and say "Go ahead Jamarcus, complete a pass if you can." And till the Raiders are ready to say "We made a $60 million mistake" and find someone that can play solid football - like Garcia - they will continue to underperform.

The end of the game was incredible. Very exciting. But if Garcia were under center, the game never would have been in doubt, and the Raiders likely would have won by 17-20 points.


As always, an incredibly interesting week. The NFL is such fun!


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hard Knocks

Have you been watching it this season? How truly excellent it has been!

Amazing how compelling an examination of the sorry-ass Bengals can be. On the one hand, you get a greater sense of why that organization is a perennial loser, from Mike Brown's mumble-mouthed address to the team to open camp, to the entrance gate that is STILL broken, so Marvin Lewis can't get into the parking garage thru the front entrance at 5am or whatever ridiculous hour he comes in, so he has to go around back and drive over a curb or something in his SUV.

And yet at the same time, what a wealth of guys who capture your rooting interest. That safety of theirs Tom Nelson; and the FB who went to the practice squad, Chris Bennett; and their backup RBs DeDe Dorsey and Brian Leonard; and on and on around the roster. Who knew Carson Palmer was funny? That TE coach who would ride, ride, ride Chase Coffman. That little guy JB who leads the Bengals onto the field; who's been doing that for decades, since Paul Brown plucked him from wherever; and who is the happiest guy on the planet when he gets to lead the team out of the tunnel.

And of course "child please" and "kiss the baby". My wife now loves Chad eight-five Johnson.

And Marvin himself. I've always liked & respected Marvin (unlike some Ravens fans...); if possible, even more so now. He displays grace and humor and vigor. Boy didn't he look tired at the end of camp? He's going to get tireder still.

The final episode did a great job of conveying the enormous, hellish tension of the end of camp and cutdown day. Ugh. You feel for those guys.

The Bengals were a sexy pick this offseason, in some quarters, to nab a wildcard spot this season. I don't really think there's the slightest chance they can compete with the Steelers and Ravens this season. Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson give them a punchers chance every game, which is great; and the rest of the starting roster might be much improved. But I don't think their personnel people make enough good decisions to give them the kind of depth they'll need: I think their roster will prove brittle.

But I have an entirely different view of them now, than I did before. Have you ever considered how many hard-working, dedicated, committed, passionate people there are in this league? It's crazy.

Great series.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The personal side of hell

Patrick made some very interesting points about the Seymour to Oakland deal which certainly make a compelling case for the deal being lose-lose. But neither the Patriots nor the Raiders are the biggest losers in this deal. No, the biggest loser by a mile is Richard Seymour, who has yet to report to the Raiders.

Indications are that Seymour is probably simply renegotiating. Cable says Seymour has told him he wants to play in Oakland. That's good news for the Raiders that Seymour isn't simply moping around, looking for a way to fail his physical to nullify the deal.

But regardless of how much (or little) Seymour says he wants to play in Oakland, let's acknowledge that this is a glimpse into the ugly side of this business that the casual fan rarely thinks about, with the asking of a simple question. Could this deal possibly be worse for Seymour?

Seymour's life has suddenly been up-ended. He was a star player and a leader on one of - if not the - best franchises in the league and possibly all of pro sports, forced to move to one of the worst. The Pats have the best winning percentage over the last five years (tied with the Colts), the Raiders the worst in that stretch. And in addition to that, he's also got to move the entire way across the country.

I'm not sure how I'd feel about this deal if I were Seymour. Probably hurt. I'm also not sure how I'd react to it. Is he really just renegotiating? Is he in somewhat of a rebelion? Is he contemplating smashing his foot with a hammer? Is he playing ultra-hard-ball on contract negotiations?

I think the last question is the most interesting. The Raiders almost certainly would franchise Seymour next off-season if he doesn't sign a longer term deal. So he's stuck in Oakland for at least two years in theory. My guess is that he doesn't want to pull a Brandon Marshall here...he's always come off as far more classy than that.

No matter what, it's got to be a tough time for him. Rarely do we acknowledge the human impacts that come from the business side of the game. It's the price of playing ball for a living and being a millionaire, and I can't say Seymour has to feel worse than anyone else on the planet since a vast majority of the people in this country would give a lot to have an opportunity to play for the Raiders.

But I also can't say I don't feel bad for the guy.


Monday, September 7, 2009

Chris Landry on scouting receivers

Chris Landry - who was once a scout for the Hou-nessee Oil-tans and Cleveland Browns, and I believe runs a scouting service (though I can't find the site and it appears it's now gone) - calls in to the radio to talk NFL and college football for an hour each week in the Richmond area. He calls into SportsRadio 910 (AM 910), on Thursdays during the off-season and Fridays during the season. Fans call in asking various questions and he gives his thoughts. It's a very interesting and informative program, the best thing on our local sports station.

So when he came on this past week, I decided to call in and pick his brain about wide receiver scouting. Mostly I've been interested in why first round WRs seem to bust so frequently, and in general it's so random which ones work. So I called and asked him if he could talk about when scouts watch the college players, and what do scouts look for in wide receivers, especially with the bust frequency. What follows isn't exact quotes, but they are his ideas, and as such I'm putting them in the block-quote below, even though they aren't exact.

College scouts watch college ball during the season, and teams tend to have scouts for different areas/regions of the country. A lot of them are so involved in what they're doing in the college season, they don't even have time to watch the games of the teams they're working for and get disconnected from their teams until after the season.

There are three things [Landry] look for in WRs trying to find ones that will be good in the NFL.

First is soft hands. [Landry] listens for the soft 'thud' on catches, as opposed to a loud thump. The soft sound indicates a receiver is catching the ball smoothly in their hands, while the loud sound indicates a hard catch, particularly into the body. This is important in the NFL on slants and things like that, and can be the difference between turning an 8 yard gain if he's catching it in his body and not able to run, into a 26 yard gain catching with his hands without breaking stride.

Second is quickness, the ability to get off the line and in and out of cuts quickly. Also the ability to separate quickly. This is more important than straight-line speed, because everyone in the NFL is fast and coverages can be designed to stop pure speed.

Third is size, which is preferable but not critical. It's like the difference between stopping a small car and a Mack truck on the highway. The bigger guys have the ability to get more yardage on the move. It also helps them get off the line easier, playing against press coverage. While size isn't a requirement, it does mean that if the receiver isn't really big, it makes having that quickness (from #2 above) absolutely critical. Cause if they lack both size and quickness, it's going to be virtually impossible to get off the line cleanly on their intended route.

Interesting learnings. I'm going to try to call in a little more regularly and ask more scouting questions, mostly cause I'm curious about a lot of things like this. Assuming I do, and that it's stuff like this that I think would be good to continue posting, I'll probably ask the local radio station if it's okay to do.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Lose - Lose

So the Raiders acquire Richard Seymour for a pick that will likely fall in the top 20 picks, Seymour represents a one year rental as he will be a free agent after the season anyway. Belichick goes back to the fool me n times well and picks Oakland's pocket yet again. They will assuredly trade down, acquiring multiple picks in the 22 - 53 range which they will use to reload the roster. It's getting to the point that the Raiders might require an intervention. So big win for the Patriots right?

Not so fast.

It isn't that New England didn't get the better part of the deal on paper, they did. The problem is that this deal turns a position of strength into a position of somewhere-around-averagedness. Even this isn't necessarily bad in a vacuum There are about 20 teams for whom this would make a lot of sense.

New England isn't one of them.

To be fair, this is just a rehash of earlier arguments I made when the Patriots had problems with Deion Branch and Asante Samuel. Teams that are legitimate contenders for the Super Bowl have narrow windows. They simply cannot purposely make themselves weaker during a contending season. I'll leave off the Branch/Samuel discussion which has been argued ad nauseum elsewhere and simply focus on the Seymour one.

I guess I should explain that I assume that the Patriots consider themselves Super Bowl contenders and my argument stems from there. If Belichick and his evil cronies deep within Mount Foxborough have determined that a championship is out of their reach in 2009 then this move makes a great deal of sense. I have a hard time believing that they've thrown in the towel on this season though so there it is.

Over the winter the Patriots traded away Mike Vrabel (and Ellis Hobbs) while Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison retired. While none of those players were still Pro Bowl caliber, they did represent a great deal of steadiness and leadership. In a sense they are irreplacable, but in another they are only replaceable with superior talent. New England brought in a pair of reasonably good corners to shore up the team's weakest point. DROY Jerod Mayo is entering his second year, the team acquired Derrick Burgess for a handful of magic beans. Added to a core that included Vince Wilfork and Seymour there are plenty of playmakers. All is well.

Remove Seymour from that mix though, and now the team appears to be a playmaker short. It isn't that New England doesn't have bodies to replace Seymour. 2nd rounder Ron Brace and 6th rounder Myron Pryor both played well at tackle and appear to be ready for the NFL.

It's just that neither are Richard Seymour.

Various web and print sources think that New England will rely on their defensive line depth to run more 4-3 fronts, and I suppose that makes good sense, but they could have done the same with Seymour. Now they are in a position where they will almost be forced into a 4-3 base which will impact their already suspect pass defense.

They'll win games. They'll probably win the division. They'll be in the playoffs and from there, who knows? While the team was in a bit of a transition, it was in a bit of a transition with a guy named Tom Brady on the roster. In 3-4 years when the payoff from this deal starts benefiting the roster, Brady will almost be in the decline phase of his career, if not the twilight. Handicapping the team now for some kind of nebulous future reward is a terrible decision. Championships are rare creatures that are terribly difficult to capture even with a full arsenal. This might be the one chink in Belichick's armour, a blind spot or arrogance to denude the roster of important talent when the team is otherwise elite. Perhaps it will work out differently this time.


Friday, September 4, 2009

Memo to Offensive Coordinators: Hide

First came the news Chan Gailey was fired from the Chiefs, which was strange enough. Then came news the Bucs fired Jeff Jagodzinski, where two coordinator firings the week before the regular season is almost unheard of.

Now comes news the Bills have fired offensive coordinator Turk Schonert. I guess "they" always say these things come in threes...

This certainly seems to be a strange span for the NFL. But in the "what have you done for me lately" NFL, I suppose it's not all that shocking to see something like this happen.

Coaching hot-seats don't really have much of a time limit these days. Long gone are the days of multi-decade coaches, and right now Jeff Fisher is the most tenured NFL head coach, since 1994. Andy Reid is the second-most tenured with only a decade at the helm. These days, you can flip so fast that it's not overly surprising to see a young whipper-snapper hired off Bill Belichick's staff and less than 8 months later, the seat of his pants are getting warm.

Because owners and GMs are so willing to quickly flip through their rolodex to find new head coaches, it seems maybe head coaches are willing to do the same with their coordinators. Each of the three in this case may have very different motives...
- Haley is an offensive guru that may just be looking for his own thing rather than Gailey's.
- Some are high on Morris as a tough, young, smart HC candidate. But I know more than a few Tampa faithful that call him the "Head Clown" and as of now, he seems a tad bit in over his head.
- Jauron's on an extremely hot seat, and any sort of slow start could easily result in a mid-season firing. The K-Gun hasn't looked too sharp this pre-season, Jauron probably doesn't want to wait a couple weeks to find out if he still has a job.

So while this seems unprecidented, it also seems understandable that some coaches are reacting like this. And it wouldn't really shock me if we see more of this in the future.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Jon Gruden?

About 6/7 yrs ago I wrote on a discussion board that Jon Gruden was one of the most exciting young coaches the game had seen in a long time, and that he might have a shot at breaking Shula's record.

– I should just end this post right there, shouldn't I? You're laughing already: nothing I can write next (like, "WTF was I smoking?") will be as funny as the sentence above.

Gruden is on ESPN doing Monday Night Football now with Jaws & Tirico, and football commentary for various occasions. And I swear he seems
like a friggin CLOWN! Does this guy have any idea how football games are won and lost? I suppose he must. But man, sitting next to Jaworski does not put this guy in a flattering light. He seems like an idiot. I mean, compare him to a guy like Jim Schwartz, just in terms of the impression you get.

I suppose we should reserve judgment. Gruden was 3 games under .500 over the last 6 years. On the one hand that is not winning. But on the other hand it's really not bad. He won 11 games in 2005, and 9 each in 2007 & 8, in a league where winning is just ludicrously tough. He's 45 now, with 95 games won in his career – that's more than Bill Walsh! (reg season) Plus the 2002 SuperBowl. He's got to know a little bit of football, right?

But man. Every time he talks, I just wince.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Rich Rodriguez lights some fires

As if Michigan didn’t have enough problems with its football program. UM football has always been sort of a target of hatred. That’s what happens when you’re a big, good, long established, well respected football program. People hate you. This is highlighted by one of the greatest (and most bitter) rivalries in all of sports. And they heaped a bunch more ill will on themselves before the ’07 Bowl season when Rich Rodriguez suddenly and shockingly left West Virginia to replace Lloyd Carr.

Now I think most of those Michigan haters are laughing. Coming off a 3-9 disaster of a season, their first in over three decades that they missed a Bowl game, and losing several key players, probably highlighted by the transfer of Ryan Mallett and decommitment of Kevin Newsome (and his subsequent commitment to the Big Ten Nittany Lions), this program really didn’t need more bad news.

But on (or around) Aug 29th, the Detroit Free Press broke a story where several former and current UM players claimed UM was violating NCAA rules governing the amount of time players spend on football activities (read more about this here). While players jumped to his back to defend him and there seem to be a few grass roots movements against the Free Press, RichRod has undeniably become a fairly controversial coach.

The interesting question is, how long can and will fans – and more importantly, the school and its boosters – continue to support him? Has he brought positives to the program? They’re certainly there, such as compiling a Rivals rated top 10 recruiting class in the ’09 off-season. But at this point they’re getting tougher to see in comparison with the negatives that keep piling up.

I think it’s fair to ask the question, “At what point does the school and/or its boosters turn on RichRod?” It’s not that this violation itself will turn the tide – the irony in all this is that UM is probably one of 25+ schools that do the same thing. And it’s not like his defection from WVA will ever cause Michigan fans to loathe him the way WVA fans do…he’s more of a hero for that.

No, the bigger concern has to be the fact that these allegations are made by not just one or two ex-team members, but by several people that include a plurality of current team members. If RichRod has several players not buying into his concept of “team,” and running to tattle on him, there comes a point where the decision makers need to at least look closely at what’s going on. Think Baltimore Ravens at the end of Brian Billick’s tenure. And not that you particularly want the inmates running the prison so to speak, but it becomes tough to win football games if players simply aren’t buying what the coach is selling.

Alright, that’s enough metaphors for now I suppose.

As a more relevant analogy, look at Charlie Weiss and the goodwill he’s burned through in his relatively short tenure at Notre Dame. Coming into the program he was supposed to be a savior. A multi-decade guy. And four years in he can’t build a big winner and is at risk of being shuttled out soon.

Not saying this is imminent for RichRod. I can’t even say for certain he’s losing out on any of the goodwill he’s built with the program. If he’s cleared of these allegations, puts together a winning season, and is back into Bowls on a regular basis, this all washes away quickly.

But what if that doesn’t happen? What if UM gets slapped with probation after finding there were rule violations, and RichRod suffers another losing season or two? Can/will he recover? How long will it take to burn through that goodwill?

Actually these are probably questions best suited for Patrick since he has his pulse on the team FAR more than I ever will. But I do think they’re interesting questions to ponder…


Adventures in liveblogging: Keeper League draft

I have the first of my two Very Important Fantasy Football Drafts tonight: my keeper league.

I'm going to make an attempt to liveblog it. Look for this post to update starting at 6pm central time.

UPDATE: The draft is now live!

10 teams, near-dynasty format. Can keep 9 players, and a 10th under certain rules.

My starting roster going into the draft:
QB Drew Brees
QB Brady Quinn
RB Steven Jackson
RB Frank Gore
RB Marion Barber
RB Ronnie Brown
RB Leon Washington
WR Terrell Owens
WR Wes Welker
WR Santana Moss

Currently resolving trades... bunch of activity, none of it involving me.

Odd first round... ended up taking Mark Sanchez. He'll go straight to my "practice squad" (won't use him at all this year but counts as my 10th keeper).

2nd round... picked 8th here due to previous trade. Took Chris Chambers--solid veteran WR that should help add depth.

3rd round... Davone Bess. I need some youth at WR.

4th round... Big run on TEs in this round. Wanted to get one of the last ones left with a pulse. Kellen Winslow is my pick at the end of round 4.

5th round... wanted the Vikings D, just missed. Went for Sidney Rice instead--I needed a Viking in there somewhere.

6th round... 3 defenses to start the round.... 8 teams now have a D. So, believe it or not, Eli Manning is still around. Don't need a 4th QB but too good to pass up here.

7th round... pool is getting thin. Decided to go with some insurance at TE, and take the other cocky U of Miami tight end, Jeremy Shockey.

8th round... grabbed Ricky Williams as the backup for Ronnie Brown.

9th round... Derrick Williams, WR Detroit. Going for a young WR.

10th round... Need a kicker, Robbie Gould is a kicker, ta-dah!

11th round... Need a defense, New England has a defense, ta-dah!

12th round... Final pick... RB Javon Ringer. Suggested to me by a guy I trust that is into the college game much more than I am.


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