Friday, November 23, 2007

A Different Beast

Since 2001 the Patriots are a league best 40-8 in post-Thanksgiving games.

Those teams of past years were built to grind games out and run out the clock with tight leads in the fourth quarter with the likes of Antowain Smith and Corey Dillon. They had a punishing defense which got harder to penetrate the closer an opponent came to the goal-line. While the defense punished, an underrated offensive line mauled.

Brady hit the pass plays that were needed to win, and Adam Vinatieri could always be relied on to get the big kick as the weather worsened.

The team was built for the elements - to excell in the harsh winters. There was little finesse in the sledgehammer that Belichick and Pioli built. The team wasn't built for prolific records, it was built to win championships.

Then, last year the season died in a dome on a dropped pass that would have iced the game. Reche Caldwell.

And Pioli and Belichick gave the team a face-lift on offense and created a different sort of beast to play on the new turf in Gillette.

Belichick said that the Pats hadn't done anything different this off-season, but that wasn't really true. He and his right hand (personnel) man assembled on offense that is decidedly un-Belichick-ian.

Suddenly an outdoor stadium is fielding a very dome-like offense. It is a team built for an aerial assault unlike any previously seen in the NFL - Brady is outing the lie to the statement that Manning is the best quarterback in the league, the Greatest Show on Turf now sounds like it violated truth in advertising laws, and Randy Moss is reminding everyone why he was once considered the best young receiver in the league.

Through ten games that Pats have scored 411 points. In 1998, the Vikings led by Moss, Chris Carter and Daunte Culpepper scored a record 556 points. If the Patriots keep up their average of 41.1 per game, they will shatter the existing record, finishing with 658 points scored. Moss already has 16 touchdown receptions on the season. The record held by Jerry Rice is 22 - Moss, if this pace keeps up, will likely break that in the 14th game of the season, and should finish with between 25 and 26 touchdowns on the season.

Brady is on pace for 4895 yards (second only to Dan Marino's 5084 in 1984 - and don't think that if Brady is within 150 yards of that record in the third quarter of the Giants game that Belichick wouldn't keep him in) and 61 touchdowns. Manning finished his best season with 49. In addition to that, Brady is currently on pace to tie Drew Bledsoe for the franchise record for completions in a season with 400 (1994), and annihilate the league record for completion percentage in a season (held by Cincinnati's Ken Anderson - 70.55, 1982) at 73.9.

But all of this is contingent on one thing - can the team keep the pace up?

As previously noted, this offense is built like it was made to play in a dome, rather than in Foxboro, and the weather begins to turn nasty after Thanksgiving in the greater Northeast and four of the Pats remaining six games are at the Razor. The other two are in the Meadowlands against the Giants and in Baltimore. They host the Eagles, Jets, Steelers, and Dolphins.

Of their remaining schedule, only the Giants and Steelers have winning records. Both have solid running games, as do the Dolphins - important in the sleet and snow that comes down in these areas in December.

Watching the team one thing is obvious. None of the teams remaining on the schedule match up well with the Patriots rapid-fire attack. The Steelers have been awful on the road, dropping games to mediocre or substandard teams like the Jets, Broncos, and Cardinals. Baltimore has no offense, the Giants pass defense couldn't keep up with Dallas - it's unlikely to keep up with the Pats. The Eagles, Jets, and the Dolphins are just shadows of their former selves.

The Patriots could stumble - it has been a common occurrence for teams that have seemed invincible this late in the season, but I think it's unlikely.

No. If anything is going to be a problem for the Patriots, it's not going to be the opponent on the other side-line. It's going to be the elements. How does the deep passing attack adjust to the snow and wind of Gillette and Giants Stadiums? Can Wes Welker get in and out of his low, sharp cuts on a wet and icy field?

If the elements are too much to overcome for the passing attack, does Belichick forgo a number of the aerial records, and begin pounding the ball with Laurence Maroney, Heath Evans, and Kyle Eckel? Does this become the fight at the end of Rocky II with Mickey yelling at Rocky to switch back to southpaw?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What's in an MVP...or draft position for that matter?

Yesterday Alex Rodriguez won the American League MVP award, keeping a 20+ year streak intact of AL MVP's that failed to reach the World Series. It is the third MVP that he has won. There are a couple of questions that this presents -

What does the MVP really mean?

Is it just an award to acknowledge the player who statistically has the best year, or is it meant to recognize the player who has the greatest impact on his team?

What does that key word, "valuable," really mean?

I will admit that the Yankees don't make the post-season this year without A-Rod, but do the Red Sox without Lowell? Without Ortiz? Just one of those guys out of the lineup for significant time and the Sox don't make the post-season.

Which, in turn, begs the following question - 20 years of AL MVP's failing to make the World Series, then isn't World Series MVP the far more telling award? After all, it is given to the player who plays the best and has the most impact on the championship team during crunch time. I mean, think about it, this year's winner hit 30 of his 54 home runs before the All-Star Break - 56 percent of his dingers. Through the first 63 games he was on pace to hit 64 homers.

To put the cherry on the whipped cream, A-Rod won the award playing on a last-place club in Texas. What was his value there?

I think major league baseball has to have less vague specs for the voters in regards to this award. I do not begrudge A-Rod the award because, as I said, I don't think the Yankees make the post-season this year without him, however, I don't think he deserved to have such a landslide sort of vote leaning his way. There were several other players that were just as valuable to their teams.

However, I would still take the World Series MVP on my team over the AL MVP for one reason and one reason only - at this point it seems that the AL MVP pretty much means that my team didn't even make the Series.

Feeling drafty...

An interesting idea has creeped into the scribblings of many sports writers. Many like Peter King have started to note that drafting a franchise running back in the top ten is a waste of money. There is a history that they point at that includes Curtis Martin (3rd round), Terrell Davis (6th round), Willie Parker (undrafted), performing at as high a level, and often higher levels than a number of highly picked running backs such as Ron Dayne, Curtis Enis, Ki-Jana Carter, and Lawrence Phillips.

The idea is that a team looking for a running back, but doesn't want to spend big bucks on an unproven rookie, would be better served finding a gem in the late rounds rather than spending on an established back closing in on his 30th birthday (Texans and Ahman Green, we're looking at you).

It's not a bad idea, however, why wouldn't this be just as prudent to apply this same reasoning to quarterbacks? Some of the best in the business, per generation, have been missed by a number of teams - Johnny Unitas was cut by Pittsburgh, Joe Montana was a second rounder out of Notre Dame as was Brett Favre, Tom Brady came out of the sixth round, and Steve Young was a pick in the supplemental draft. A number of other solid starters have come from the late rounds - Bernie Kosar was a pick in the supplemental draft, currently Derek Anderson is looking solid, as is John Kitna. Jake Delhomme was undrafted as was Kurt Warner. Steve Grogan was drafted in the fifth round.

Isn't the evidence of first round quarterback busts just as damning as it is for running backs? Rick Mirer, Michael Vick, Ryan Leaf, Jeff George, Akili Smith...the list goes on.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen...

I give you the Red Sox third baseman for 2008 - 2010. Coincidentally, the same year that Red Sox first base prospect Lars Anderson is expected to be ready for big-league action.

Welcome back, Mike.

Two last thoughts on the Pats this afternoon -

Of the fourteen offensive weapons that have either received a hand-off, run with the ball, or hauled in a pass (not including back-up quarterbacks Matt Cassel and Matt Gutierrez), thirteen have found the end zone. The lone exception - tight end Dave Thomas.

The breakdown -

Randy Moss 16
Wes Welker 7
Ben Watson 6
Sammy Morris 3
Dante Stallworth 3
Kyle Brady 2
Tom Brady 2
Kyle Eckel 2
Heath Evans 1
Kevin Faulk 1
Jabar Gaffney 1
Laurence Maroney 1

And for the final thought - last night Kevin Faulk left the game with a head injury after what looked like a vicious shot from a Bills defender. He did not return. Not much of Maroney was seen after a strong start.

If the two are injured and could miss time, then what are the Pats' options? Sign a veteran who's been sitting on his butt? Someone like Corey Dillon? I doubt it, otherwise they would have done it already - and their issue isn't with the bruisers right now. It's with the small, shifty change of pace guy who catches passes on third down.

This is a shot in the dark here, but don't be surprised if (assuming Kevin Faulk can't go for a few weeks) the Pats release rookie defensive end Kareem Brown (resign him to the practice squad) and activate Troy Brown with the intention of using him as the third-down back a la Faulk. He's a good blocker, already knows the system, and is a player in which Brady has a high level of confidence.

I could be completely off the mark with this, but it's what occurred to me while watching Faulk sit on the bench after that hit.


From Wikipedia -

There is no single reason why the Edsel failed, and failed so spectacularly. Popular culture often faults the car’s styling. Consumer Reports cited poor workmanship. Marketing experts hold the Edsel up as a supreme example of corporate America’s failure to understand the nature of the American consumer.

I start off this way for a reason.

While growing up, the jokes I always heard about Ford was that the product name was an acronym - the jokes were that the acronym stood for either Fix Or Repair Daily, or Found On Road Dead. There was a general belief that Ford had trouble putting out a....competitive product.

I bring this up because I want to talk about another Ford product made in MoTown: The Lions.

Three weeks ago Detroit was everyone's surprise, a 6-2 media darling. The wow, John-Kitna-wasn't-just-blowing-smoke-when-he-guaranteed-the-team-would-win-at-least-ten-games team. This morning the Motor City is waking to a 6-4 record and a remaining schedule including games against Green Bay (twice), Dallas, San Diego, Minnesota, and KC.

Given the team's struggles against the NFC East, I'm going to assume Dallas as a loss, I don't think they can beat Green Bay, and I doubt they can do it against a struggling Chargers squad. While Minnesota and Kansas City are Detroit's best chance at wins in their remaining games, they barely beat the Vikings in the first go around, and I don't think the Chiefs are a gimme for them either. I think there's a very real possibility that Detroit finishes 6-10, and although 8-8 wouldn't surprise me, the Lions would have to get some very lucky breaks to even reach nine wins.

If Detroit is in that downward spiral, and they do end up 6-10, then general manager Matt Millen will have extended his dubious record of consecutive seasons presiding over clubs with double digit losses - as much an indictment of Millen as it would be of the Ford family.

If you're not part of the solution...

Just one more quick thing regarding Detroit - Offensive coordinator Mike Martz was being hailed for his work with the Lions three weeks ago. The Lions high powered offense was going to propel this team into the playoffs and Martz was going to be a hot commodity for teams looking for a new head coach. Two straight losses and Martz is part of the problem.

This isn't perceptual, it's the truth.

Martz is calling the plays on offense, and this is how he is calling them - over the last two games, the Lions have had 107 offensive snaps (not including punts). Of those, only 19 have been running plays (17.8 % of the plays) for a whopping total of 17 yards (-8 yards on 8 called running plays against Arizona).

Detroit is the only team in the league to have called fewer than 200 rushing plays (197) through ten games for a league last average of 76.9 yards per game. What has Martz's predictable play calling done for the team the last two weeks? It has pitted them against two decent pass defenses that knew they could pin their ears back and just rush the quarterback all day. Some relevant numbers - 3, as in the total number of touchdowns thrown by Kitna over the last two weeks. 5, as in the number of interceptions thrown by Kitna. 7, the number of times Kitna has been sacked over the last two weeks.

Martz is not going to be a HC candidate anywhere this off-season.

The Patriot Way...

Fifteen years ago I remember watching the likes of Tim Goad, Bruce Armstrong, Kevin Turner, Tom Hodson, Scott Zolack, Vincent Brown and a whole lot of other no-names stumble through a 2-14 season fresh off their 1-15 season. Were I sitting at a bar and another Patriots fan told me that New England would one day look like the best team to ever play the game, I would have punched him for mocking my pain.

Yet, here we are.

And here are a couple of thoughts on the dismantling of the competition - past and present - that the current Patriots squad is engaging in...

During last night's game John Madden said that he has never seen a quarterback play the way Tom Brady is playing right now. Nobody - not Brett Favre, not Dan Marino, not Peyton Manning. Just Brady. The numbers back it up.

The Patriots are on pace to break the record for points scored in a a c-note. Brady is on pace to shatter Peyton Manning's record of 49 touchdown passes in a season. And don't be surprised if the following number becomes relevant in the Pats-Jets rematch - 72. It's the most points scored in a game by one team (Redskins over NY Giants, Nov 27, 1966. Final, 72-41). Or this number - 64. That was the most scored by a team (Philadelphia over Cincinnati, Nov. 6, 1934) in a shut-out victory.

Belichick is noted as a football historian, he probably already has these numbers himself.

To give everyone a sense of the Patriots dominance, I really do have to borrow the following tidbit from Peter King over at -

I did some quick math on the Patriots' first-team offense over the past nine possessions, going back to the fourth quarter of the Colts' game, and not including their final possession in Indy, when they were trying to run out the clock and not trying to score. (New England had its bye last week.) The incredible numbers:

Possessions: 9
Touchdowns: 9
Quarters played: 4
Tom Brady touchdown passes: 7
Tom Brady passing yards: 504
Yards per drive: 65.9
Time per drive: 3:21

Even if the Patriots stumble on their quest for perfection, we're still watching history unfold.

One final note on...well, final scores. There are times that I like John Madden, other times that I get really tired of his schtick - but the man knows football, and is old school about it. And he said about the scoring what needed to be said. To paraphrase - it's not the offense's job to stop moving the ball. That job belongs to the defense, and if the offense is putting up 56 points, then the defense isn't doing its job. If they can't stop the offense, then the opponent is supposed to give the team the ball? That's not how it works.

Thanks Madden, it was nice to hear one of the national commentators remind people that the guys on defense are supposed to be earning their money too.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Two major indictments were handed down in Major League Baseball this past week. The one everyone knows about, Barry Bonds for perjury and obstruction of justice, and super-agent Scott Boras.

The Boras sycophants have been busy putting a positive spin on the Alex Rodriguez mess, saying that Boras still got his client the biggest contract in the history of the sport...again. The problem with that is that he didn't.

And what makes it worse for Boras is how this went down.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Boras was kept out of the loop by his dissatisfied client on the advice of corporate raider and financial wizard Warren Buffett. For those of you who don't know who Buffett is, think of yourself as a defensive coordinator for a high school football team and Bill Belichick comes along and tells you to ignore your head coach when setting up your football strategy. Not a great analogy, granted, but I think you get the idea.

As of June 2006, Fortune Magazine called Buffett the world's second richest man, valued at over $44 billion. According to various sources, in spite of increasing his net worth to an estimated $52 billion, he is believed to be the third richest person behind Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, and Microsoft mogul Bill Gates.

This man's companies either control, or hold significant stock shares in GEICO, Coca Cola, Anheuser Busch, Wal-Mart, American Express, Nike, Outback Steak House, Dairy Queen, M&T Bank, Wells Fargo, Fruit of the Loom, and Jordan's Furniture. That only scratches the surface of Buffett's holdings.

This investor's advice to A-Rod essentially amounted to, "Boras can't be trusted with your money to get you the best return on investment. Get him out of the loop."

The only positive thing to come out of this for Boras is that, due to his contract to act as A-Rod's agent, he still gets a cut of the deal.

The negative, and this is big - this could hurt the ability of Boras to attract new clients. Other agents competing with Boras to recruit top flight young talent will be able to ask them, "do you want this guy representing you? One of the most respected financial geniuses in the world advised A-Rod to get him out of the negotiating loop for the last contract - essentially told the best player in baseball that this guy was poison to his chances of the highest paying contract in baseball history?"

Let the fall-out begin.