Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The coaches they are a changin'

Well, we've already seen Eric Mangini (Jets), Rod Marinelli (Lions), Romeo Crennel (Browns), and Mike Shanahan (Broncos) get their walking papers. There are other coaches that shouldn't be resting easy today, including; Jim Haslett (Rams), Herm Edwards (Chiefs), Marvin Lewis (Bengals) and, while I don't expect it, I wouldn't be surprised if there were a change in New Orleans at the expense of Sean Payton or one in Dallas at the expense of Wade Phillips. We already know that there will be changes in Seattle, and while it would surprise me, I think Jacksonville might consider a change. That's at least ten potential coaching changes in the offing.

Little more than 30 percent of the league's coaches could be collecting unemployment before this year's free-agent class has a chance to hit the market. I want to take a moment to go through each of the above and address some of the issues...

I'm not going to address Seattle as Mike Holmgren is leaving of his own accord, so let's start with Mike Shanahan. I've always felt that Shanahan was one of the league's more overrated coaches. I will give him credit for creating and running an offensive scheme that could probably make me a 1000 yard rusher in the NFL - and I'm a broken down 38-year old with bad ankles. However, for all his offensive genius, he's regularly missed in his search for the heir apparent to John Elway (consider, Bill Belichick, traditionally considered a keen defensive mind, has already had two quarterbacks perform up to snuff after Drew Bledsoe, then the best quarterback in franchise history, went down. Shanahan is on his third since Elway, the last two are journeyman back-ups, and the jury is still out on the current one).

A lot of people are surprised by the Shanahan firing. I'm not. Since Elway's retirement, Shanahan has had ten seasons of which he only had four seasons of more than nine wins. In his four seasons with Elway he had only one that had fewer than 12 wins. Even with the one 8-8 season in 1995, Shanhan averaged 12 wins per season with Elway as his quarterback. Since Elway's retirement Shanahan has averaged 9 wins per season and eight per season for the last three.

The team was in command of its destiny until it lost four of its last six, including losses to the moribund division rival Raiders, and the struggling Bills. Two winnable games that would have made the final game against the Chargers moot.

In Kansas City, Herm Edwards' fate is held in the hands of whoever replaces long-time president Carl Peterson. If I were a betting man, I would say his days in KC are done. I like Edwards but feel he has some shortcomings as a head coach. He seems to make bad decisions in critical pressure situations, which is what lost him the job in New York. My guess is that he returns to a coordinator position.

In the Meadowlands Brett Favre was the coach-killer. Honestly, as little as I like Eric Mangini, that late season collapse should have signaled the end of Mike Tannenbaum who saddled Mangini with Favre.

The reasoning for dropping Mangini who had two winning seasons in his three years there was that Tannenbaum gave Mangini a revamped offensive line, a former MVP at signal caller, and a beast in the middle on defense - never mind that the collapse can almost wholly be laid at the feet of Favre, Tannenbaum's hand-picked savior of the franchise, or that the quarterback they cut in favor of Favre arguably had an MVP-type season, or that the beast of a nose-tackle wasn't fit enough to stay on the field and be effective in the fourth quarter.

So Mangini is looking for work. If he can't land a head coaching job, it should be interesting to see if anyone will take him on in some capacity. My guess is that Spygate burned a lot of bridges for him.

Rod Marinelli was the beneficiary of Matt Millen's handiwork finally coming to full fruition. Marinelli may or may not be a good coach, but getting stuck with Matt Millen's picks, it's hard to tell.

Crennel's undoing was having a locker room full of really talented guys that couldn't figure out what it took to win, and Jim Haslett - well, Haslett had a couple of issues working against him, not the least of which was that the Rams are just plain bad.

Also a problem for Haslett - the double standard in the application of the Rooney Rule.

Mid season the Rams wanted to give Haslett an incentive laden contract. If he met the incentives, he came back as head coach, if he didn't, then it was at the discretion of the Rams. The NFL decided, as Haslett was an interim head coach, that the provisions were in violation of the Rooney rule.

Here are my problems with that -

The spirit of the rule was that it open up interview opportunities for minority coaching candidates. The 49ers were allowed to sign their interim head coach, Mike Singletary, to an extension without having to interview anybody - so, in essence, Norm Chow, Romeo Crennel, and possibly soon to be unemployed Herm Edwards, and Marvin Lewis had no chance to interview for the HC position in San Francisco. Not to mention the obvious inequity in regards to the way the league handled two coaches in the exact same position based solely on the color of their skin.

Also, I fail to see how what the Rams did is significantly different to what the Cowboys did in signing their offensive coordinator to a contract stipulating that he becomes head coach when Wade Phillips leaves, or the fact that a similar contract exists in Seattle between the Seahawks and Jim Mora, Jr.

In essence, Haslett got screwed because the NFL decided to apply the Rooney Rule capriciously.

In Cincy I expect that Lewis will be gone after six turmoil-filled seasons during which he averaged fewer than seven wins per season, and broke the eight-win barrier only once. Hailed as a defensive guru, only once - this past season - were his defenses in Cincy ranked higher than 20th, and at 16th, they were barely in the top half of the league. The average rank for his defenses since getting the job - 23rd.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Wrapping things up

It's been a Helluva season in the NFL this year.

Gonna start with my beloved Patriots.

They lost a lot this season. They lost their quarterback, their safety, their signal-calling-linebacking leader, their running back, and a slew of supporting characters. And, ultimately, they lost in their bid for a playoff spot.

I'm not going to complain about the Chargers making it. Teams play the hand they're dealt, and the AFC East was tough this season. The West wasn't. Complaining about the Chargers making it would be hypocritical and disingenuous of me, given the blasting I gave "Hammering" Hank Steinbrenner over his whining about the Dodgers making it, in spite of the Yankees having a better record.

The Pats had plenty of chances to take care of business during the season and fell short - they were blown out of the water by a high school formation being run by the Dolphins in September; they had a three point loss to the Colts with a chance to tie it up late, only to get a personal foul that killed a potential game tying or winning drive; the defense failed to stop Brett Favre on a third and fifteen in overtime.

Win anyone of those and the Pats aren't looking for help Sunday, they win the division outright.

I'm not going to spend anymore time on that. What I will dwell on are the positives.

The Patriots found a guy that has potential to be a franchise quarterback. They saw strong performances from defensive rookies Jonathan Wilhite and Jerrod Mayo. Mayo started strong and Wilhite finished strong. The team began generating a pass rush late in the season with increased playing time for Mike Wright, Jarvis Green, and LeKevin Smith. The team found their running game, rushing for 628 yards over their last three contests. Before the injury, Pierre Woods looked more solid than he had ever been, and Gary Guyton looked like a keeper.

A lot of this gets the team a lot younger on the defensive side of the ball, and gives them a lot of flexibility in regards to what they want to do on that side of the ball going into next season.

When I've really had an opportunity to digest the Patriots' season, I will go over how I see the team going for the rest of the league...

Crush and burn...

This season has been a long, strange trip in which we learned a lot about a lot of teams - we learned who had heart, who was heartless, who was horrible, and who just plain didn't have balls.

Let's start with those who crashed and burned...

The Cowboys, Jets, Broncos, Redskins, Bills, and Buccaneers all were thought to be locks for the playoffs, or to at the very least challenge for them, at one time or another during the season. At the beginning of the season all the pundits thought that the Cowboys were the most talented team in the NFC East. Six games into the season the Bills were thought to be a lock, running away from the the AFC East before crashing hard to earth; later the Jets were the best team in the division before Brett Favre became color blind, throwing more completions to the guys in the other jerseys than he did touchdowns. In one game the Buccaneers defense aged before our eyes and never recovered, the Broncos showed us they were ready to be sold to the glue factory and the to say the Redskins became one-dimensional once Clinton Portis was injured would be generous.

We learned that Tony Romo might be the most over-hyped quarterback in the NFL, that Brett Favre wasn't the answer, and that all of those teams were soft and lacked heart when it was needed most.

Props to the Detroit Lions who completed only the second perfect 16 game regular season - their record will live in infamy and as a standard against which football futility will be measured. The team has now lost 17 straight going back to last season, putting them nine games behind the Buccaneers 26 game losing streak spanning the 1976 and 77 seasons. Of course, the Bucs were an expansion team. The Lions just suck. Even if they win a game within the first nine next season to avoid tying or beating the Bucs mark of futility, all they have to do is lose the first game to have the distinction of being the only team to have a losing streak span three consecutive seasons.

Then there was the just plain bad - and that covered a lot of teams. The Browns were a mess, as were the Bengals, Jaguars, Raiders, Chiefs, Seahawks, and Rams. These teams struggled as much with injuries (Seahawks, Chiefs, Jags, Bengals, Browns) and bad coaching (Rams, Raiders), as they did with boneheaded front offices (Raiders, Browns).

Just above them were the teams that fought their way to mediocrity, or underachieved into the same - the 49ers, Bears, Packers, Saints and Texans all ended up there usually due to some shortcoming on the team such as the Packers and Saints poor defense, or the Bears erratic offense.

Later I will hit on the playoff teams and the recent baseball developments.

Monday, December 22, 2008

'Tis the Season

There are a lot of things I want but, oddly, I look forward to the small things at Christmas. Sure, it's nice, and always a pleasant surprise to get the big ticket item, but it's never really been about that to me (I won't get into the whole thing about the season of giving, because, let's face it, we're trained from a young age to get at this time of year). Some of my favorite things, though, are what my six-year old daughter manages to give me because she really is giving for the sake of giving, and when she spends five or six bucks for a gift, she's spending more than a whole week's salary on me.

Don't worry, this will tie back to sports soon, bear with me.

Part of my problem with getting gifts for family and friends is that I hate buying off people's lists - I feel like I'm not putting any thought into the item by going to someone's Amazon list and picking something off it.

As for people buying for me, there are a number of small things those buying for me know I would enjoy - Dennis Lehane and Raymond Chandler novels, a fine six pack or case of micro-brew or Guinness, Bogart films on DVD are just a sampling.

There is, however, a much more selfish list that no one can really buy me - and at times, I have to admit, it's at odds with the Christmas spirit. That said, here's my selfish list...

  1. A Patriots playoff appearance. Failing that, Chad Pennington carving up the Jets secondary and garnering the MVP vote. There's a lot of talk about where the Colts would be without Peyton Manning this season, but we've already seen where the Dolphins would be without Pennington - and let's face it, it's a special sort of ugly.
  2. A resolution to the Mark Teixiera sweepstakes...ideally at the expense of Scott Boras who seems to be losing his golden touch. In recent seasons he has looked bad in several of his highest profile negotiations - blinking in the game of chicken with the Red Sox over the Daisuke Matsuzaka contract, and getting a public spanking by Alex Rodriguez in the most recent dealings with the Yankees.
  3. A Celtic Christmas. I know that during this time of year you're not supposed to wish misfortune on others (yeah, yeah, I know I already did in items one and, but I want to see the Hibernians of the Hardwood lay the smack down on the Lakers to extend their winning streak.
  4. That enough members of the Baseball Writers of America are visited by three really pissed off ghosts on Christmas Eve that show them the error of their ways and a guy named James Edward Rice gets the love he deserves in the next Hall of Fame vote.
Those are the big things the relatives won't be able to purchase. A little more seriously, I hope that the families that are apart due to the current military action have a safe and happy Christmas.

To my readers, you can all find a little bit of Christmas cheer here.

One final note - my sympathies go out to the family of Dock Ellis who passed this week. Ellis, who had a mostly solid, but unspectacular 12-year career split between the Pirates, Yankees, Athletics, Rangers, and Mets. Were it not for his no-hitter and a dominating 1971 when he went 19-9, Ellis would likely have faded into the nameless masses. As it were, Ellis, a contemporary of the Sox' own Bill "The Spaceman" Lee, was one of the true characters of the game, and will likely be most remembered for being high on LSD when throwing his no no, rather than his work as a spokesman in the fight against drug and alcohol addiction.

Rest in peace, Dock, the game was more interesting for having you.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Thanks to the Seattle Seahawks, the Patriots still have life in regards to the playoffs. The Jets, less so.

New England handled business in The Razor with a thorough dismantling of the NFC West champion Cardinals in every phase of the game. Any euphemism you can think of to describe this game, it's what the Pats did to the warm weather team that hasn't played a game in the snow in two and a half decades.

Matt Cassel outplayed Kurt Warner, Jabar Gaffney pretty much outplayed Larry Fitzgerald, hell, Cassel, Sammy Morris, and Lamont Jordan all put up better rushing stats than any running back on Arizona's roster.

Mike Wright and Jarvis Green did something rare this season - put pressure, regularly, on the Cardinals signal callers. Even wide receiver Matthew Slater got into the act while playing safety, springing Brandon Merriweather free on a blitz.

It was a good win for the Patriots who needed it, and a bad loss for a team looking to make some noise in the post season.

Looking at the rest of the AFC East still alive for the playoffs - the second life of Brett Favre is paling in comparison to that of Chad Pennington. If Eric Mangini doesn't do something drastic, the Dolphins will almost definitely be the AFC East champs next weekend.

One quick thought on that -

There's a very strong possibility that the Pats will go 11-5 and miss the playoffs. If that happens, so be it - it has already been a better season than I could possibly have imagined given the litany of season ending injuries to the likes of Tom Brady, Rodney Harrison, Laurence Maroney, Tedy Bruschi, and others on the Pats roster. It is also reassuring for next year.

There will be a lot made about how the rest of the AFC East has closed the gap, pointing to the records - and they have indeed closed the gap, but I don't think that either the Jets or 'Phins split with the Pats if New England has a healthy Tom Brady.

This is what I believe in regards to the AFC East -

Chad Pennington has helped the Dolphins close the gap significantly more than Brett Favre has.

I think the end of the season Brett Favre is more likely what we will see for the majority of next season than the beginning of this past season Brett Favre. The tank is running on empty. At best, he has eight good games left in him. It would be nice if one of them came next weekend.

The injuries to the Pats this year could be a blessing in disguise, as it will make competition at linebacker and defensive back much more fierce next season. I expect more from the defense next season, and also believe that the Pats brain trust will address that side of the ball in the draft.

I'm not convinced Scott Pioli is going anywhere, but there will be a lot of rumors about where he's going to end up.

I do think Josh McDaniels is going somewhere, but I don't know if he's ready to run his own show yet.

One last note - Detroit is one game away from a perfect season. I'm rooting for the Packers next weekend.

Friday, December 19, 2008

System-atic detraction

A funny thing has happened on the Patriots' way to a double-digit winning season.

Their back-up quarterback has put together, in 14 games roughly 400 more passing yards than did Tom Brady over the same number of games in 2001, with the same number of touchdowns and one fewer interception. The real creepy thing - Brady completed 63.9 percent of his passes. Matt Cassel? 63.8.

This has brought all the "Brady is just a product of the system" idiots back out.

I won't sugar coat it either - they are idiots and they have no concept of the game, nor it's history.

Ultimately ALL quarterbacks, particularly the greats, are products of systems. The ones that struggle tend to do so for many reasons. For some it's about not really having the talent to compete at the NFL level as a starter, but for many it's a lack of consistency in the system - learning new systems, dealing with multiple coordinators, and so on. Few have the talent to overcome that. Drew Bledsoe and Dan Marino put up big numbers despite having to learn a variety of systems, but they're the exception, not the rule.

Yes, Peyton Manning put up great numbers throughout his career, but before Tony Dungy and his staff came in, his highest completion percentage for the season was 62.7 percent. After Dungy, the lowest that percentage has been 65.0. Manning has only been in two systems - the one under Jim Mora, and then the one under Dungy.

Terry Bradshaw, Troy Aikman, Dan Fouts pretty much stayed in one system throughout their careers. David Carr, JP Losman - both have been through multiple offensive systems and neither has panned out. Sure, that's a small sample, but it wouldn't be that hard to broaden that.

Yes, Brady and Cassel are products of the Patriots' system, but no more than the fact that the system is a product of the quarterbacks' talents.

Were it just that a quarterback could step in and do well in the system, then we wouldn't be able to look at the following names and see a list of has-beens that couldn't operate the "system" -

Rohan Davey
Michael Bishop
Kliff Kingsbury

Right now, the Pats are 2 for 5 in the last ten years (not including Matt Gutierrez or Kevin O'Connell as the jusry is still out on them) in regards to guys who are "products of their system." So, either Cassel and Brady deserve credit for learning a difficult system (after all, more draftees have failed in it than succeeded), or they deserve credit for making a system work that 60 percent of the quarterbacks drafted by the Pats have failed to do.

Most of the Hall-of Fame quarterbacks were in the same

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The week that wuz...

A tip of the cap to "Slingin'" Sammy Baugh, member of the first NFL Hall of Fame class, former Redskins quarterback, punter, and defensive back. Baugh passed this week at the age of 94. Having seen a number of interviews with the ornery cuss - and he's the only person I've ever seen that really fits that description - I was convinced that Death was just afraid to take him.

For more on Baugh and his passing, check out The Coffin Corner's take.


The Yankees are heading into next season with an ace that can't win in the postseason (Sabathia), a guy who has a history of only pitching well and staying healthy in contract seasons (Burnett), a solid number two guy (Wang), a guy who pretty much qualifies for AARP by baseball standards (Pettitte), and a guy who should stay in the bullpen given he had a history of breaking down as a starter even before he was drafted (Chamberlain).

Behind Sabathia, there are a lot of ifs in that rotation - If Burnett and Chamberlain stay healthy, If Pettitte can have another career year (after going .500 with a 4.54 ERA). Personally, I think the Yankees are looking at a lot of injury issues in that rotation.

I think that if the Sox sign Mark Texiera, then Mike Lowell is the odd man out. I don't know if it's smarter to move Lowell than to move David Ortiz as both have begun to suffer injuries that are of the "they were never the same after that" variety. People can talk about Ortiz getting healthy this coming season all they want, but this is a guy who has just gotten bigger each season (a-la Mo Vaughn), and his power issues this past year came as much from knee issues as they did from his wrist issues.

When big guys in MLB start suffering the knee issues, there usually aren't two many great years left in the tank - one, or two - but the gas is leaving the tank. Lowell isn't much better off with the hip issue. The problem is who can give them the most in return versus who still has the biggest impact on the line-up. I have to admit, I don't know the answer to that one myself. Hopefully Theo Epstein does.

I generally don't rant about the Pro-Bowl - the most useless all-star game of them all, so I will keep this short...

Here's what I think - the game should be abolished. Half those voted as starters beg off, a third don't deserve to be there (Brett Favre?!), and let's face it, there might be no game more boring.

Get rid of it.

Have an end of year honor in which the best players are honored, like the all pro-teams, but voted on by the players, coaches, and scouts. Limit the vote so that voters can only vote for those whom they faced during the season, keeping the limitation of not being able to vote for teammates.

The winners of the vote would still be treated the same under the contractual provisions as they currently are for the Pro-Bowl voting.

Ultimately it eliminates the biggest problems with the game - the first and foremost being that the game is boring. The second being that the wrong people are often selected because the fan tendency of selecting favorites, rather than those who deserve to be there.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Braincramp and other things...

Just some quick thoughts on this past weekend's NFL games...

Watched the Bills-Jets game and could only come to the conclusion that the Bills of September were an illusion. Yes, I know that their starting quarterback is out, as is Aaron Schobel, their best defensive player. That doesn't excuse the Bills coaches who called for a pass with two minutes left. The coaches that called for a pass with two minutes left when their running backs were ripping off five to six yards a carry. Perish the thought that they protect the ball and possibly have to put the game in the hands of their defense because they had to punt the ball with about a minute to go. No, call a passing play and turn the ball over.


The Raiders have set a mark for futility that not even the pitiful Lions have been able to achieve. With their loss to the Patriots, Oakland has become the first team in the history of the NFL to lose at least 11 games in six consecutive seasons. Barring a major overhaul of the organization, starting with Uncle Al, this is not a team that looks like they have an opportunity to win more than five games next season.

Speaking of the Lions, with their loss to the Colts, they're only two steps away from immortality. A bowl of gumbo, and a block of cheese, so to speak, with games left against two talented squads where players will be playing desperately for their jobs over the next two weeks. The Lions will be playing solely to avoid becoming the first 16 loss team in the history of the NFL.

With yesterday's win, the Pats can finish no worse than .500. The last time a New England team lost more than eight in a season was in 2000 when the team won only five games.

The offense was firing on all cylinders at the beginning of the game with Matt Cassel throwing for four touchdowns and three other players reaching the endzone as the Patriots rang up 487 yards on offense and a total of 663 (including special teams). Unfortunately, were the Pats playing a better offensive team, this still could have been a close game despite the 47 points scored by the Pats.

The messiness that is the Raiders netted 545 combined yards against the Pats. Part of the reason why I think that if the playoffs are in the cards for New England, they'll be folding early.

As for the Pats playoff chances...

They got some help from the Steelers who dropped the Ravens in Baltimore. Currently the Ravens, Jets, Pats, and Dolphins are all tied at 9-5 with the Ravens holding the tie-breakers for the last wild card slot. Currently the standings look like this -

Jets - AFC East champ

Ravens - Wild Card

To get in the Pats need to win out and get help from any number of places - to win the East, they need Miami to lose to Kansas City, and then win against the Jets, or for the Jets to lose to the Seahawks and then win against Miami. To get the wild card, the team still needs to win out with both the Ravens and one of the in-division foes to drop a game as before. Even though the Ravens have the toughest remaining schedule with the Cowboys and Jaguars still on the docket, I just don't see them losing either game.

If this is the end of the road for the Patriots this season, so be it.

With additional injuries to Gary Guyton and Matt Light this week, their job has become a lot tougher.

As for Cassel - he gave an impressive performance, given his situation, and the weather. I'm sure his dad would have been proud.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Those option years don't look so bad now, do they?

Evidently Manny Ramirez isn't getting a whole lot of love in the free-agency market.

His reaction is to threaten retirement if he doesn't get the deal he wants.

So far the only contract offer the 36-year old Ramirez has received is the two-year $45 million contract that the Dodgers have since pulled off the table.

I said before that Ramirez and his agent Scott Boras were working under some delusional assumptions, one of which being that someone was going to throw a ton of cash at a 36 year old slugger in a long term deal, but that's only one part of his problem. Ramirez dug his own hole, and here's how...

Ramirez, a supremely gifted hitter, helped the Red Sox and Dodgers to, and in the case of the Sox, through the post season, and could, possibly, have four good seasons left in him. However, he has a history of playing only when he wants it - and his time with the Dodgers is a perfect example of that.

After obviously giving up on the Red Sox (including an obvious attempt at interfering with a fellow fielder by rolling over and sitting on the baseball in one game), Ramirez, knowing that his option years were voided in the trade with the Dodgers, very obviously turned the switch back on and was playing for a contract. Yes, Ramirez has the talent to help a team...almost any team, but GM's everywhere are going to wonder everyday which Ramirez they're going to get - the guy that plays hard? Or the prima donna that's going to lay down like railroad tracks just because he doesn't feel like playing that day?

This is not a guy who toughs it out, he's not a guy who plays through injury, and, by all accounts, is not a team guy. No, he's not the Barry Bonds who destroys club house chemistry, but he's also not the guy the goes out and has a beer with his teammates - unless he's playing for a contract.

Another issue for Ramirez was his complaint about the lack of privacy playing in Boston. Well, the only other team that can lay out the money over four to five years the way the Sox can is in the Bronx - and there's no more privacy there. Not so curiously, Brian Cashman has stayed away from Ramirez thus far. Now, I'm not saying it can't or won't happen - as a matter of fact, I think that the Yankees will go after him if the Sox sign Texiera, but I still don't think Boras is going to land his client the contract he kept telling Ramirez he could get if only he didn't have those option years.

The bottom line - either Ramirez makes good on his promise to retire because he's not getting the contract he wanted (and he won't), or he sucks it up to take a shorter contract (which assures a GM he will play hard for the next contract) with less money than he wanted. I think the latter happens, because no GM is going to invest $100 million over four years in someone he's worried is going to quit on him. In today's economic climate, those people that can still pay to go to games will run that GM out of town for paying a guy like that if he's not earning his money.

Can't say I feel for ya, Manny.

Fashion Statement

The Red Sox unveiled new uniforms yesterday.

It's not the first time the team has tweaked their uniforms, although it has been a while.

I'm not usually one to comment on sports fashion - uniforms tend to either be garish (Houston Astros, San Diego Padres of the 1980's, the Denver Nuggets as recently as five years ago, the list goes on and crosses all sports), to sleek and pretty for the sport (the Patriots when they went with the flying Elvii Blues in the 1990's, Jacksonville Jaguars, etc), or just the sort of thing you don't mind getting dirty (Pat Patriot, Steelers, Packers, etc). I'm a bit of a traditionalist.

That said, the primary home uniform for the Sox...well, I like it. It has a throwback feel to it - like turn of last century throwback.

However, the away blues and the alternate home uni look like Spring Training jerseys.

Don't like 'em.

If they win in them, I won't really give a rat's ass, but my initial reaction is that the team shouldn't be playing their regular season games in what look to be Spring Training uniforms.

Winning absolves a lot of sins - the least of which, in my head, are fashion faux pas.


The Patriots are facing the woeful Raiders this weekend. It could very well be a trap game - the game against a depleted Seattle team almost was.

Consider, for the Seattle game, Richard Seymour was pretty quiet against a back-up left tackle, and Seneca Wallace looked like he didn't come into the game with a career 1-3 record as a starter.

But now the team goes to face another team at the bottom of its division in the 3-10 Raiders. They bring with them Raiders castaways Lamont Jordan and Randy Moss.

Funny thing about the majority of the free agents and other acquisitions (trades) the Patriots have had the last couple of years. There are a lot of players that have been castaways, cast-offs of other teams. Outside of Adalius Thomas, however, most have been taken off the scrap heaps of some sub-standard teams - Jordan and Moss from the bottom feeding Raiders; Wes Welker, Heath Evans, Billy Yates, and Sammy Morris from sub-.500 Dolphins (and in the case of Morris, Bills) teams; Rosey Colvin, cut from the Houston Texans who also once had Jabar Gaffney; Sam Aiken from the Bills; Kelley Washington, and Deltha O'Neal from the Bengals; Lewis Sanders from last season's attrocious Falcons team.

That list is comprised of 12 individuals that played on losing teams before coming to the Pats. It doesn't include any players on injured reserve, nor does it include players like Juniour Seau, or (the injured) Rodney Harrison, or Mike Vrabel, among others, who were all cast-offs from winning teams - teams that thought these players would not fit into their long term plans because they were either too old to contribute, or (it was believed they) just weren't good enough to crack the starting line-up.

That's a lot of other teams' trash - particularly that of losing teams - that seem to be performing better than what those teams expected of them.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Players, Guns, and Money

A thought on the Plaxico Burress situation before I move on to other things.

A lot of players have come out of the woodwork with reasons to have guns or not have guns. Miami's Joey Porter, in an ESPN interview uses two justifications on behalf of Burress that are just stupid.

One, and he's not the only player that has said this, he noted that people know their schedules and know when they're out of the house, so they need the firearm for home protection. If I know I'm not going to be home, how is carrying a gun going to help me protect the home that's getting broken into? It's not.

Two, he challenges people to not carry a gun if they've had to deal with someone carrying a gun - a mugger, an assault. He gives the "see what you would do in that situation" defense. Years ago I worked as a teacher in a school for the emotionally disturbed. I helped my principal take a hand gun off one of the students. To this day I don't carry a gun.

And let's face it, while Porter says that Burress didn't hurt anyone but himself, he misses the points, and there are two. Burress COULD have hurt someone else and is just lucky he didn't. The second point - it was unregistered, and as such, an illegal weapon.


Quick thoughts on the MVP...

More often than not, the MVP goes to a quarterback. I get it. Outside of the QB, only the center touches the ball on virtually every play. So, here are some of my thoughts on the players, including some dark horse candidates, who could be considered in a year that has no clear cut candidate...

Drew Brees - Brees leads the league with 4100 yards through 13 games and is on pace for 5046 yards passing for the season and 32 touchdowns. Number like that automatically demand consideration. Brees has kept the team's head above water.

Cons - While Brees has kept the team from slipping below .500, his gaudy numbers haven't helped the team in the standings. In fourth place in their own division, the Saints are on the outside looking in at the playoffs. To even make the post-season, the 7-6 Saints are currently behind the Buccanneers, Falcons, Cowboys, Eagles, Redskins, and Bears for the two wild card slots in the NFC.

Kurt Warner - Warner's numbers are second only to Brees and he has led the historically woeful Cardinals to their first division title since the 1970's. Because of Warner's arm, the Cardinals are one of only four three teams that have already clinched a playoff spot. Warner is also having his best season since his years with The Greatest Show on Turf - a big part of the reason that Warner is demanding consideration for the award.

Cons - Warner has put up those numbers in one of the worst divisions in football, and the team has struggled against opponents with winning records (2-5 against teams with winning records, with the last one against the Romo-less Cowboys in early October).

Michael Turner - Admittedly, a dark horse candidate, but I like him for the award more than Adrian Peterson. The old black and blue division still isn't what it once was, but Turner has logged his 1200+ yards on the ground against defensive stalwarts like Carolina and Tampa. Without Turner in the backfield, Matt Ryan likely doesn't have the Rookie of the Year sort of season that he's been logging.

Cons - As good as the Falcons have been, Turner hasn't put the team over the top in regards to positioning Atlanta for the playoffs. Also, he just hasn't been garnering the attention for this award that he deserves, making it unlikely that he will turn up with a significant portion of the vote.

There are others out there that deserve consideration in a year like this, with no clear cut candidate. Arguments could be made for the likes of Peyton Manning and Bob Sanders, both of whom have kept the Colts in contention, in spite of injuries and a bad start to the season. Todd Collins for the Titans, who surely would not be where they are with Vince Young under center. Brandon Jacobs, whose running has made a legitimate championship quarterback of Eli Manning.

The list goes on, and while I don't believe that all of those mentioned here will garner consideration, I do believe that one of the ones mentioned here is the player who is most likely to win.
Chad Pennington - For all that the "Wildcat" offense has done for the team, the Dolphins aren't in position to wrest the AFC title from the Patriots without Pennington under center. Possible proof that Eric Mangini didn't know how to utilize him, the former Jet has out-performed his replacement in the Meadowlands, throwing for more yardage, and a higher rating. Sure, Brett Favre has thrown for eight more touchdowns, but he has also thrown nine more interceptions and been sacked four more times.

Cons - Pennington has to fight the perception that a fair percentage of those wins were built on a gimmick offense early in the season. Also, like Turner, he just hasn't entered the conversation.

Matt Cassel - Cassel got some love for the award from the pundits after his back-to-back 400 yard games. Cassel, like Pennington, has kept his team in the playoff hunt. While Pennington is doing it with a team that only won one game last season, Cassel is doing it with a team decimated by injury on both sides of the ball. In spite of filling in for an NFL MVP, not starting a game since high school, missing his starting tight end for two games, losing his starting half back for the season, and the second and third backs for a quarter of the season (and more), and missing the right side of the offensive line until the sixth game of the season, Cassel has kept the Patriots in contention for the AFC East crown.

Cons - Like Warner, the team has struggled at times, with four of the team's five losses coming against quality opponents. Cassel also leads the league in sacks and is in the top ten in total yards lost due to being sacked.

Wes Welker - Cassel's safety blanket, without Welker, Cassel is probably nowhere. Welker, in spite of having only one touchdown on the season, is the battery that makes the Patriots offense go this season. Welker is the human third-down conversion, with 47 of his 96 receptions converting for first downs. The king of the bubble screen, Welker is also tied for tenth in the league in yards after the catch with 6.8.

Cons - The fact that he has only one touchdown will be held against him, as will the fact that he plays opposite of Randy Moss. Also, when's the last time a slot receiver was even considered for the award.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

It's not the size, it's how you use it and other thoughts

Get yer minds out of the gutter. I'm talking about Wes Welker, the Slot Machine.

Yes, I know that's what the announcers were calling him, but it fits.

Welker, with all due respect to Randy Moss, has been the Patriots best receiver over the past two seasons. Sure, Welker's the slot receiver, and yes, Moss has been the go to guy in the red zone, but Welker is the team's number one guy.

Over two seasons Welker has already far exceeded any other receiver's two season total of receptions with the 208 he's had since joining the team. Last season he set a new team record with 112. Through 13 games Welker, who has become Cassel's safety blanket, has 96, and is averaging 7.4 receptions per game, which puts him on a pace of 118 for the season. Welker is also on pace to finish with 1233 yards for the season after logging 1175 last year.

He is the guy that makes the offense work right now and possibly the toughest guy on the field.


The news that Tedy Bruschi is heading to the IR is not reassuring given the number of injuries on that side of the ball. Yes, Seau looked rusty, but I expected that given only one day of practice. Hopefully he's up to speed for the Raiders game. The flip side on Seau - what if the Pats hadn't signed him?

Given the news regarding Bruschi, I'm guessing we're going to hear about some other roster move to bolster the defense.

If Vince Wilfork is lost for any significant amount of time, that's a problem.

The secondary has already been exposed due to a lackluster pass rush. The last thing the DB's need is a weakened D line.

Before anybody whines about Asante Samuel - he would be just as exposed in this defense. Samuel, for all his reputation, was not significantly better than Ellis Hobbs last season (he did have a career year in regards to interceptions, but that's the only place) according to STATS, Inc. Samuel, this year, in a defense that was not getting to the QB the way the Pats were last year, has only three interceptions. A good line makes a pro-bowl defensive back. It doesn't work the other way around.

Yes, the Pats secondary has struggled this season, but that's in large part because the team has had trouble applying pressure to the quarterback. And before anyone argues that with me, think back to all of Ty Law's INT's of Peyton Manning - every time Manning has been flushed out of the pocket and was facing hits from the likes of Jarvis Green and Richard Seymour or Mike Vrabel.

It is the area in most need of being addressed by the Patriots whose defense has often looked more like the 2002 edition than any of the other editions since the Super Bowl in 2001.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

War of Attrition

It was an ugly win, but I'll take it.

The New England Patriots are tied atop the AFC East with the Jets and Dolphins after a much tougher game against the Seattle Seahawks than almost anyone could have predicted. The team's struggles from last week continued as the offensive line often seemed over-matched by a mediocre defense, Matt Cassel returned to some of the poor decisions that plagued him in the first couple of weeks, and the defense, while it did some good things, it continued its deterioration.

The line and the quarterback both struggled with the blitz. Cassel sometimes tried to run when he should have just loaded up and overthrown a receiver on the sideline. Moss continues to be plagued by the dropsies - a season long problem (and don't tell me that one was good defense; the ball hit Moss on the hands and ricocheted off his chest without the defender ever touching it on the one play). The defense made Seattle's offense look like the second coming of the Greatest Show on Turf on the Seahawks' first two drives.

Injuries haven't helped this season, but they still have to go out and perform.

I want to see the Patriots in the post season, make no mistake about it. That doesn't mean I believe they can actually do anything in the post season should they get there.

Admittedly, the fact that they are still in position to possibly win the division given what this team has gone through is nothing short of amazing.

The team played their first game without Kevin Faulk, Stephen Neal, Nick Kazcur, and largely without Tom Brady. Ty Warren has missed games and when he's played it's been obvious that he's injured.

The list of regulars that have missed multiple games, or have been lost for the season -

Rodney Harrison
Adalius Thomas
Laurence Maroney
Lamont Jordan
Sammy Morris
Ben Watson
Lewis Sanders
Kelley Washington

And other players who have missed at least one game, or a significant chunk of a game...

Tedy Bruschi
Vince Wilfork
Wes Welker
Pierre Woods

I'm sure I've missed somebody in all that mess, but this is what it comes down to - the team has played significant portions of the season without:

  • The starting right side of the offensive line
  • The starting quarterback
  • The leader of their defensive backfield
  • Half the starting linebacking corps
  • The top three half backs on the depth chart
All of that and 8-5 with three weeks to go. No way I would have believed it if someone had told me at the beginning of the season that the team would have experienced this sort of attrition.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Take me, take me to the movies

Okay, here's the pitch...

A championship caliber team, riddled with injuries, is in danger of missing the playoffs for only the second time in eight seasons. What does the team do? No, they don't throw the waterboy out there. They don't do some hair-brained thing like rumble off the field with the league bullies to make them come together as a team.


They bring back the grizzled veteran - the guy who everybody thought was done. Tough as nails, old school, the guy shows the young guys the right way to play, and is the impetus for the team's playoff run.

I'm sure that's what the Patriots are hoping for with the likelihood that 39-year old Junior Seau likely to be back in the fold today.

I do see this in movie terms, but I see this as one of the two following...

Bill Belichick and Dean Pees as John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd respectively, standing in Rosevelt Colvin's living room earlier this week wearing sunglasses and pork pie hats while telling Colvin, "we're puttin' the band back together."


Belchick with his head shaved, a-la Yul Brynner, and Pees looking like Steve McQueen...maybe Scott Pioli is McQueen and Pees is the ineffective, impotent Robert Vaughn in the magnificent seven as Brynner assembles the team. Offhand, I guess that makes Jerrod Mayo the young hot-head played by Horst Buchholz, Tedy Bruschi is somehow the Mexican/Irish gunslinger played by Charles Bronson, Rosy Colvin as the money happy Harry Luck, and Mike Vrabel in the roll of Britt, as played by James Coburn. Right now, the rest of the team is pretty much the villagers.

Yeah, it would be nice if it all played out like the Magnificent Seven. Sure, not many of them were left in the end (which also sounds like the Pats linebacking corps), but they won.

At this point, I make no assumptions regarding the team's final record, but I'm guessing if the team is signing Seau that the injury to Bruschi's knee is worse than initially reported. Signing Seau gives the team five healthy 'backers - along with Vrabel, Mayo, Gary Guyton, and Colvin. I think that Bruschi will see snaps against the Seahawks this weekend, but no more than Seau will.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Race relations?

I don't know if race figures into this or not, but the more I see what's happening with Charlie Weiss at Notre Dame, the more I'm seeing s definitive double standard with the school's handling of Weiss when taken against the background of how they handled Ty Willingham.

Speaking of potential race issues, with Michael Vick back in the news for the state dog fighting charges and the upstart UFL announcing they have a place for Vick, all the idiots are crawling out of the woodwork. The ones that are yelling for the NFL to take him back, and the others that the way Vick was treated smacks of racism.

Whether the NFL takes Vick back or not is their business - however, as much as people will want to scream racism if they don't, the decision will be based on business, pure and simple. It is not in the NFL's best interest to have fans walking past protesters at games where Vick will be, bringing their children past photos of abused animals. Vick has, in essence, made himself an unmarketable commodity, and unless he becomes a very vocal spokesman for animal rights, he will continue to be a very unmarketable commodity.

Beyond that, with the NFL, there's a league with roughly 3,000 players, 70 percent of which are black. I have a hunch that the vast majority of them don't believe they've been the victims of racism from the league.

As for the government, I would be surprised if they gave a rats ass whether Vick was black, white, or plaid. The bottom line is he broke the law, federal law, and the government actually gave him a sentence that was light considering the statute.

I can't say for sure whether or not Vick will get a chance to play in the NFL again. The UFL might be a step in that direction, but there are a number of things Vick will have to overcome to be a quarterback in the NFL again and rehabilitating his image is only the first step.

In light of Matt Ryan's success with a team that has been Vick's, Vick is going to need to show that he can be an effective leader. Given the fact that he had teammates that questioned his commitment to the game, putting into question his abilities as a leader, he has his work cut out for him.

In a year in which we could be seeing as many as 13 coaching changes, who are the potential coaches of the year?

If the Patriots make it to the playoffs and do better than one and done, Bill Belichick will get some consideration, but he's likely not the most deserving. Nor is Tom Coughlin, who will get consideration as well for guiding the Giants to an impressive record following their Super Bowl season. Jeff Fisher will get some serious consideration as well, but for my money, these need to be the top candidates -

Mike Smith - The Atlanta Falcons first year coach has been doing more with less this season than any of the above. He's got a team that was decimated last season by the Vick issue, and the whole coaching fiasco. He's doing it with the arm of a rookie quarterback, the hands of a rookie receiver, and the legs of a free-agent career back-up running back. Those were the big additions in the off-season. He's already doubled the team's win total from last season (4), and, barring a meltdown in the final four games, will make double digits and have a legitimate shot at 12 wins.

John Harbaugh - The rookie coach of the Baltimore Ravens has done something that supposed offensive guru Brian Billick was never able to do during his entire tenure in Baltimore: install a working offense (11th), with a rookie QB who's putting up solid numbers. Harbaugh, however, inherited a talented defense, more talented than the one Mike Smith inherited. The Ravens have the hardest road over the last four games with the Skins, Steelers, Jags, and Cowboys over the final four weeks of the season.

Tony Sparano - The Dolphins actually still have a shot at the division one season after going 1-15. Like Smith, Sparano took over a train wreck of a team, well, THE train wreck of a team and has them at 7-5. The idea that this is a team that could feasibly win 11 games one year removed from a season in which they flirted with going winless is amazing. Honestly, as much as I dislike the Dolphins, if the Patriots drop two of their next four, I'm hoping the 'Phins and Jets go into week 17 tied if for no other reason than to see Chad Pennington outplay Brett Favre.

That said, I still want to see the Pats beat out the Jets and 'Phins. However, whether the 'Phins make the post-season or not, Sparano deserves serious consideration.

For my money, right now, the horse race for COY looks like this -

1A. Sparano

1B. Smith

2. Harbaugh

3. Fisher

4. Coughlin

5. Belichick

6. Zorn (dependent on whether or not the team continues its recent struggles, or gets it together for a playoff run, he could move up or off the list).

On a final note - Victor Hobson signed with the Bengals, ending any speculation that he will rejoin the Patriots this season.

News, notes and the weekend's meltdown

I'm going to start with Sunday's fiasco.

It was a complete clusterf#@k.

From top to bottom, this was an almost epic failure by the team. Yes, there were two blatant pass interferences missed by Ed Hochuli's crew, but that would have been irrelevant were it not for the the dropped passes, the missed blocks, the muffed kick returns, and the blown coverages.

Yes, Cassel had a bad game, throwing several interceptions, but he was hardly the goat of the game. Two drives ended with blind side strip sacks courtesy Matt Light being tossed around like he weighed one-hundred pounds, giving the Steelers short fields to work with. One drive never started because Matthew Slater coughed up the ball on the Patriots 20 on a kick-off. Then there was Randy Moss dropping three catchable passes - one in the endzone before a missed field goal attempt.

And that was just the offense and special teams.

That doesn't even take into account the fact the defense couldn't get off the field unless they were aided and abetted by the Pittsburgh offense.

Overall, the only player that I can't fault from this past weekend's travesty of a game is Kevin Faulk who accounted for 121 yards of the team's total offensive output of 267 yards. Almost half.

After this travesty, the Patriots are likely going to need to run the table in order to make the playoffs, and even that won't guarantee them a spot as they now have to rely on others to lose.

At this point, however, I'm convinced that even if they do make the big dance, they're going to be done after only one partner.

Hopefully the latest news will help a defense that ha been brutal the last couple of weeks -

On Wednesday the Patriots welcomed linebacker Rosevelt Colvin back to the fold. Colvin, who inked a one year deal with the Patriots, will help to shore up a depleted linebacking corps that now has injuries to Adalius Thomas, Bo Rudd, Shawn Crable, Eric Alexander, and Pierre Woods, and is playing with an injured Tedy Bruschi. Theoretically, if Colvin can get up to game speed, he should also help with the team's lackluster pass rush, which in turn will aid the inexperienced secondary which has been getting carved up as late.

Word is the Patriots have contacted Victor Hobson as well, who was with the Patriots in training camp. With Colvin in the fold, I think Hobson is unlikely to join the team, but it would not surprise me if he did, considering Bruschi is listed as questionable on the injury list.

Trading on the Gridiron for a walk in the Park

As the Red Sox are taking a deliberate approach to shaping the roster for 2009 - exploring trades, feeling out free agents, and offering arbitration - the Yankees are aggressively pursuing free agents like CC Sabathia, offering the pitcher a 6-year $140 million contract roughly two weeks ago.

Curiously, there has been no movement from the Sabathia camp, which begs several questions - Is he waiting to see if Mark Texiera signs with the Sox, freeing up money for a big contract from the Angels? Is he looking for more money? Or is it possible he just doesn't want to play in New York?

If the issue is the last, it begs the question of how effect the Sox chief rivals are going to be - if the big free agents are spurning the money because they don't believe they can win in the Bronx, what does that mean for the Yankees in 2009? Are we looking at a team that will truly have to give in to the philosophy of rebuilding, or is there any chance tat they will be able to buy their way into...well, being competitive as in past years? If that's the case, then what are we looking at? A team that has shifted from overpaying for highly talented players just past their prime, to a team overpaying for mediocre middle of the road players in the prime of their careers (see Nick Swisher).

While I'm not convinced it's happening yet, it is interesting to think we might be witnessing the death rattle of what had been one of the most dominant professional franchises in North America over the last decade and a half (when championships and post-season appearances are considered). If this is happening (and until Sabathia spurns the offer, I'm not sure it really is happening) after the first season in which they missed the playoffs in more than a decade, it makes me wonder if the Yankees, even with all that cash at their disposal, are going to be able to buy their way back into contention any time soon, or if they really are going to have to build from within.

From the Park to the Garden...

Two quick final items...

The Celtics are looking like they're still hungry. So far the team seems to have picked up where they left off after their championship season. I can't say for sure that they are going back to the finals again, it's early for that, but they certainly look like they're favorites to make it back. Even so, I think the Pacers and the Hawks look tougher this season than they did last.

Over on the ice the Bruins are looking pretty good, but they looked good early last season as well. With any luck, they keep the good play up and go deep in the playoffs.

For years they have either been a just miss, or a one and done team. With recent championships from the Sox, Pats, and C's, I think the pressure is on the Bruins to perform.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Plaxico in the only news that counts...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

And the idiot shoots his mouth off again

Sure, the Patriots aren't the team they were last year, but the Steeler offense isn't exactly firing on all cylinders. Even so, you would think that Pittsburgh safety Anthony Smith would be wary of shooting his mouth off after being a human turnstile last year.

Last year the Steelers owned the number two defense in the league, this year they're number one.

However, they are only 1-2 against top ten offenses, and 1-2 against the top ten pass-happy offenses.

Who has the Steelers defense beat? The San Diego offense at number seven was impressive, but who were the others?

Houston at 18.

Cleveland. They're 25th.

Baltimore which sits at 13th.

Cincinnati twice. They're barely an NFL offense at 31.

The Jags who sit are a rousing 23rd.

Then there are the Redskins with the 27th offense in the league.

The average rank of the offenses they have beaten - 22nd.

The average rank of the offenses that have beaten them - 10th.

The Patriots are the 11th ranked offense in the league.

I'm not saying that the Pats will win, or that Pittsburgh will win. While Pittsburgh forged their top defense against some pretty crappy offenses, the Pats forged their offense against some poor defenses, with their victories coming against defenses with an average ranking of 24th, and have played no top ten defenses. The highest ranked defense they have played is the 12 ranked Jets D against whom they are 1-1, and they averaged 25 points, including the recent 31 point effort in an overtime loss.

What's my point? Mostly that the offensive and defensive rankings generally mean diddly. Typically top ranked offenses and defenses are forged against crappy opponents. Not always, but more often than not, that's the way of it.

deficiencies in coverage, and that's going to be important in this game, as picking on the safeties has been a staple in the Patriots' victories over the The bottom line is that those things aren't going to matter come Sunday. What will is which coaching staff best prepares their team to take advantage of the other team's shortcomings, while neutralizing their opponent's strengths. While Mike Tomlin has shown himself to be a pretty good coach, I'm guessing he hasn't figured out yet how to cover for Troy Polamalu'sSteelers.

Pats fans, remember to vote.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Angry Fan presents the TAF All-Patriot Team, wide outs

I want to throw this out to my handful of readers. In light of Matt Cassel's sudden morph for the past two games into the best characteristics of Steve Grogan, Drew Bledsoe, and Tom Brady, I wanted to address my all time team. Below I've picked out my nominees for each position, and the total number that will, in the end, be named to the team.

Also, feel free to do write in candidates - however, keep in mind, you have to make your argument for why that player deserves consideration, and you need to get votes from your fellow readers.

One last note before I get into the nominees - typically one season wonders will not make the list, unless that season was particularly special. Active players are considered on the list, but it will skew away from them as the body of their work could still take a turn for the worse. Also, I am going with individuals, not tandems. You want to look at some of the top tandems, you need to look here.

And onto the nominees, who were all solely at my discretion...

Wide Receivers (5 will be named) -

Troy Brown 80 - Not the most prolific nor talented receiver to ever play for the Pats, Brown might have been the hardest worker. A draft pick in a round that doesn't even exist, Brown went on to become the all-time leader in receptions for New England not because he repeatedly racked up 90 catch season, rather because he weathered the grind and fought harder than anyone else to get there. His record is a testament to perseverance, particularly when it's taken into account that he left receptions on the field by playing defensive back when the team needed him on the defensive side of the ball (most summaries will be shorter than this). Until Wes Welker became the new Troy Brown, Brown also held team record for receptions in a single season.

Gino Cappelletti 20 - The monster from Minnesota, Cappelletti fails to receive the Canton consideration he deserves. The wide receiver/place kicker was a five time AFL All Star, and dominated the AFL. Consider the following from Wiki regarding his career -

"Cappelletti led the American Football League in scoring five times and led or tied the NFL in scoring 5 times as well. He had two of the top five scoring seasons in pro football history – 155 points in 1964 and 147 points in 1961 (14-game seasons). Nicknamed the "Duke", he is the all-time leading scorer in the American Football League. Cappelletti is among the AFL's all-time top ten receivers, in yards and in receptions. He is the Patriots' third all-time leading receiver with 292 catches for 4,589 yards."
That's just the short of it. I could go on, but we would be here all day.

Stanley Morgan 86 - A burner, Morgan averaged over 20 yards per catch for his career, including 24.1 per catch in 1978. Morgan was a four time pro-bowler who is only now beginning to garner some much deserved attention by HOF voters. The four time pro-bowler still leads the team with 10,352 receiving yards for his career.

Randy Vataha 18 - Like Brown, Vataha is not what anyone would call a high draft pick. According to the team's 1976 media guide -
...rookie year earned him a spot on UPI's AFC all-rookie team, a Gipper Award for receiving and the Johnny Unitas Award ... tied the club record with 51 catches in 1971, set new marks with 88-yard TD catch and 872 yards as he played in all 14 games ... thigh bruise forced him to miss two games during 1974 season, first misses since junior high school days ... led club in receiving in 1975...
Jim Colclough 81 - Cappelletti's battery mate, Colclough, like Cappelletti, doesn't get the love he deserves due to playing his entire career in the AFL. One of the original Patriots, this is his summary from the team's 1968 media guide -
...ranks behind only (Lance) Allworth and Dubenion in best all-time AFL average gain with passes caught (17.6) ... ranks ninth in top ten of all-time AFL pass receivers ... has caught 275 passes for 4865 yards in his eight years of AFL play ... was traded to Jets in 1965 for John Huarte but Pats traded later to get him back ... knows his way around ... had 16 catches for 284 yards in '66...
Deion Branch 83 - Realistically, Branch's regular season stats pale in comparison to the rest of the crew here. He never put up solid number one receiver numbers. He was seldom healthy. but he was a beast in the post season. Occasionally he was the fly in the ointment against teams here and there during the regular season. And those things are worth something.

Randy Moss 81 - It's hard to keep a guy off the list that set the single season record for touchdown receptions with 23 to go with a 1,493 yard season. Without Brady under center, he's still on pace for 1,100 yards.

Wes Welker 83 - The other 83. In two seasons (including the current) the durable Welker is the king of the catch and run. The king of the bubble screen, Welker has likely caught more balls behind the line of scrimmage than any other receiver in the league. In spite of that, he has higher average per catch than a 10 yards. Currently he has 192 receptions and over 2,000 yards receiving in 27 games for New England.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Random thoughts around the league

So, I was really wrong about the Eagles.

Boy, how Andy Reid's star has fallen. The one time offensive genius is getting slammed for a lot of stupidity, and deservedly so. Reid has assembled a team with no power back, which means third and one might as well be third and ten, and he has learned absolutely nothing from his success from the times he managed to win sans Donovan McNabb.

Reid, in the last couple of years, has had his greatest success by increasing the team's number of rushing attempts to have a, or close to a 50-50 split with passing plays. But every time he has McNabb under center, that ratio jumps to a minimum of 60 percent passing plays, if not more.

For a coach that's supposed to be as bright as Reid, it amazes me that he hasn't figured this out. It's like he's channeling Mike Martz.

I've gotta tip my hat to the Jets. They've gone on a damn fine run. Were it not for the flip of a coin, we might be looking at a flip in the standings between the Jets and the Pats.

The Jets are playing some of the best ball of the year, but I still say that right now the Titans are the team to beat in the AFC.

As good as the Cardinals have been, I think they're one and done in the playoffs. I'm not saying they can't make some noise, but they've struggled a bit against the better teams.

If the season stopped now, the Dallas Cowboys could potentially be the biggest disappointments in the league. They would be completely out of the playoffs. Currently they're behind the Panthers, Redskins and Falcons, in that order, for the NFC wild card.

With games against the Giants, Steelers and Ravens coming up, it's entirely possible that the Cowboys could top out at nine wins and miss the playoffs.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Groganator

For all the complaining a segment of the Patriots fan base was doing a month ago about Matt Cassel (I did repeatedly recommend patience), the man has done something that no quarterback in the history of the team has done. Not Steve Grogan, not Drew Bledsoe, not even Tom Brady. Easily the three best quarterbacks in the history of the franchise.

He passed for back to back 400 yard games.

Given the fact that Bledsoe and Brady are the two most prolific passers in the history of the franchise, it's nothing short of amazing that this is the first time in franchise history that a quarterback has accomplished this feat. Of course, last week, in a losing effort, Cassel became the first and only QB in league history to rush for at least 60 yards and pass for at least 400.

While there are those who have wondered out loud whether Cassel should be kept in place of Brady during this two week record setting stretch that the Pats signal caller has had, I am not one of them. Yes, Cassel has shown tremendous development, and is actually better at this point than Brady was at the same point in his development as a starter.

Consider -

After 11 games in 2001, the Patriots were 6-5, but 7-4 in 11 games in which Brady played. Through those 11 games, this is how Brady stacked up -

198 completions on 302 attempts (65.6 percent completions) with 16 touchdowns against 7 interceptions. Brady also rushed the ball 25 times for 36 yards and no touchdowns.

If you want to throw out the Jets game because he was only in for a couple of series, and include, instead, the Browns game so we're only looking at Brady starts, then we're looking at 8-3 through 11 Brady starts with the following numbers -

212 completions on 320 attempts for (66.25 percent) with 16 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. He rushed 29 times for 33 yards.

Cassel through his 11 games (10.75), is 238 of 359 (66.3 percent), with 13 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Cassel has also rushed 53 times for 199 yards and 2 touchdowns. The team has improved to 7-4.

While it is important to note that Cassel is indeed working with a better receiving corps than Brady did in those years, it's just as important to note that Brady was not playing behind a makeshift (right side of the offensive) line for the first half of those ten or eleven games, nor was he playing through games with the team's top running backs on the shelf for a significant period of time.

That 2001 team's defense gave up an average of 16.625 points per game, meanwhile this year's edition went into this game giving up 19.4. That number went up to 20.2 by the end of the contest against the 'Phins.

Not a reassuring statistic as the team makes a playoff push.

They might make things interesting in the post-season (I still firmly believe they will make the big dance for the chance at the Super Bowl), but if that young defense (and they are young) doesn't figure out how to close out a team on third and long, they're likely to get eliminated before reaching Tampa in February.

But if they don't make it, it won't be Cassel's fault.

Reminiscent of Steve Grogan, Cassel seems to have improved at finding his check-downs and feeling when the pressure is imminent. He's begun to make plays with his feet to either buy time, or to take advantage of great gaping holes up the middle.

Most of all, Cassel has used this opportunity to hit the jackpot.

An unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, Cassel is likely to be closely scrutinized by a number of teams which are likely to do two things - line his pockets, and put him behind an O-line that could get him killed. I'm figuring the only potential suitor that could be a good fit (ie: not get Cassel killed) is going to go through the same hostage situation that Green Bay did this past off-season, and likely stay out of the Cassel sweepstakes because of the Brett Favre potential cap hit. Otherwise, I think Cassel is looking at such bottom-feeding stalwarts as Detroit, Kansas City, San Francisco and depending on the contract situation of their incumbents, I could also see St. Louis, or possibly Seattle come calling (the last two are unlikely due to the money left on the contracts of Marc Bulger and Matt Hasselbeck respectively, but interest wouldn't surprise me).

Friday, November 21, 2008

Not in my lifetime

There are a lot of things that I don't think that I will ever see in my lifetime. And I'm not just talking about that Jennifer Aniston-Angelina Jolie buddy flick.

I know that you're never supposed to say never, but, I have a hard time buying that any of the following will happen during my lifetime...

Al Davis put together another Super Bowl contender.

The Ford family will make the Lions a contender, or that the Lions will bring a Lombardi trophy to Ford Field, even as a loaner from another team.

A Chiefs-Lions Super Bowl.

A Super Bowl in a cold weather non-domed stadium (anyone else notice that football is the only sport in which home field/court advantage goes out the window in the championship game).

Mike Vick as a success in the NFL.

Norv Turner coach a team to the Super Bowl as The Man.

AJ Smith GM a Super Bowl winner.

Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, or Mark McGwire get into the Hall of Fame.

Mike Shanahan win a Super Bowl without John Elway (why is it that the so-called offensive geniuses have struggled to put quality QB's in place...see Brian Billick, Ravens).

Just a few things that popped into my head today.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

City of Dust

Dust - it's tiny, seems practically insignificant, yet it's all over and can have a severe impact on even the largest of bodies.

Pretty apt description for the Red Sox latest winner of the MVP award. One of the smallest players in the majors, Dustin Pedroia is, in his second season, the most decorated member of the Boston baseball team over the first two years of his career since Fred Lynn won the Rookie of the Year, Gold Glove, and MVP awards in 1975.

Pedroia now has a ROY, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, and MVP award to show for his work as one of the men in the middle for the Sox. It's as much a testament to the little man's gritty determination as it is Theo Epstein's and Terry Francona's dedication to standing by the little man's side when he struggled at the beginning of the 2007 season.

Their faith in Pedroia has paid off in spades.

Pedroia's win is one of the few times that the Baseball Writer's Association has gotten this right.

The award is for the Most Valuable Player, not the guy who is statistically the best - which is what I think happened over in the National League.

I always felt that the key word in the award was "Valuable."

Sure, it could mean a number of different things to different people, however, the bottom line, I've always believed, is how valuable was the player to a team's success. It's a difficult question, and seldom is a player on a team that misses out on the playoffs deserving. There are exceptions - When Steve Carlton rocked 27 wins with a sub-2.00 ERA for a Phillies team that won only 62 games back in 1972, he certainly should have beat out Johnny Bench for the award. Any lesser pitcher would have struggled to get to double digits in wins, considering the Phillies lack of run support, making Carlton, far and away, the most valuable player to any success his team had that season. Consider the following - if you had a pitcher that couldn't even half his total of wins - at say, 13 wins, and those other 14 games are losses, the Phils finish 1972 with 48 wins.

I digress.

As to the question - what would have happened to the Sox had they lost Pedroia for an extended period of time? He picked up the slack when others went down - when the team lost David Ortiz, and JD Drew. When Mike Lowell was playing through injury, and the team suffered injuries to the starting rotation. If they lose Pedroia, do they still get to the post-season? I have my doubts.

It was nice to see the voters get it right, the voters that are enamored of stat machines.

Don't believe that about the voters? Consider the following about Alex Rodriguez (this was from one of my previous posts, but I have since updated it for current numbers)...

“Once each of his previous teams, the Mariners and the Rangers, rid themselves of A-Rod, those teams averaged somewhere around eight more wins per season for the first three seasons after Rodriguez’s departure. The Yankees averaged 95.5 wins per season with A-Rod in their line-up (with decreasing numbers the last three - 97, 95, 89). The three seasons prior to his arrival? 99.67. Sure, a drop-off of four games per year isn’t huge, but it’s still a drop off and when combined with the following fact, it’s a serious indictment of what his impact on a team really is - for the three seasons he played for the Rangers, Texas won 73, 72, and 71 games respectively (the Yankees won 101 his first season with the team, a total down to 89 this season), but for the first three seasons after A-Rod left the confines of Arlington, the Rangers 89, 79, and 80 games respectively - an average improvement of eight games per year.”

So, A-Rod won the award three times on teams that had lower win totals with him than without. How valuable is that? The Sox, on the other hand, jumped from 85 wins in 2006 to 96 wins in 2007, and 95 this past season.

I know that it's not fair to lay the improvement or decay at the feet of one player, but in the case of A-Rod, the improvement/degradation has followed him through his career. It happens to one team, it's coincidence, it happens with three teams - well, that's a career trend.

In other Sox news -

I just want to bid a quick farewell to Coco Crisp who is now officially a member of the Kansas City Royals. While the trade affects depth in the outfield, it bolsters the bullpen, an issue in the post season, with the acquisition of Ramon Ramirez. Ramirez appeared in 71 games, going 3-2 with a 2.64 ERA for the 75 win Royals last season.

Happy trails Coco.

Monday, November 17, 2008

This rocks...

Eri Yoshida.

Remember that name.

She might not do anything, but the 16 year old knuckleballer was drafted to pitch for the Kobe 9 Cruise of a new Japanese independent baseball league.

It's historic in that she will be playing professional ball, lining up with the men.

The five-foot, 114 pound pitcher will be the first to take the mound on a (predominantly) men's team since Mamie "Peanut" Johnson pitched for the Indianapolis Clowns in 1955. Johnson played for the Clowns from 1953-55 amassing a 33-8 record, primarily in relief, while batting .273. She missed being a teammate of Hank Aaron's by a whole season. Aaron played for the Clowns in 1951, leaving the Negro League for a minor league contract in the Northern League in 1952.

I mention Yoshida here because of this - according to the AP report, she "says she wants to follow in the footsteps of the great Boston Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Pat Patriot and Mr. Hyde

It was a hell of a game, and a good win for the Jets, but this is not the sort of game where Eric Mangini is going to go back and look at the game tape and get the warm fuzzies.

This is what Mangini will see that was good - Brett Favre was 9 of 12 on third down. Leon Washington was a the difference in the game as a monster on special teams. And he has a physical, punishing rookie tight end that refuses to go down on the first hit.

This is what he's going to see that he won't be happy about...

Favre was 9 of 12 because he was able to look off rookies Gary Guyton, Jonathan Wilhite, and other youngsters. Even with the success he had, a veteran like Favre should have been able to torch this young defense (yeah, you heard me - young. The only starters over 30 right now are Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, and Delta O'Neal). Yes, he had a solid game, but this was a defense ripe for the picking and the Jets just barely eked out a win. Over and above that, the Jets were aided and abetted by a horrible defensive holding call on their last drive to go up 31-24 (if the refs wanted to call illegal contact, I would have understood, but that wasn't anywhere close to holding).

The Jets defense only came up with two stops - both in the first half. Otherwise, they got off lightly due to Patriot mistakes throughout the game - a Gaffney drop on what would have been a first down reception, Ben Watson's fumble that I can only conclude was forced by Claude Rains, an inexplicable offensive miscue when Dan Koppen snapped the ball before Matt Cassel was ready. Even with these miscues abetting the New York defense, they still gave up 511 yards (468 to what is essentially a rookie quarterback), 31 points, and the Patriots effectively removed the Jets best defender, Kris Jenkins, from the game by going spread.

I'm not writing any of this to make myself feel better about the Pats loss. It sucked, and I'm not happy about it. There was plenty I was not thrilled about there - their inability to get off the field on third down, blown coverages on defense, their attempts at ritual football suicide. It was, essentially, a Jekyll and Hyde performance.

These are all going to bring the Belichick beat-down on the players in the film room.

There were, of course bright spots - Cassel's play, the fact they roared back in the second half with 24 points, the play of Jerrod Mayo, the fact that the team is beginning to show they can overcome errors. All of that is good. But it wasn't good enough last night.

In spite of all the mistakes on offense, 31 points should be enough to win a game. This loss lies on the shoulders of the special teams and defense. Too often the Pats D was in position to get off the field, and too often they failed to do so. I won't even get started on special teams.

All in all, this means a division title is more difficult, but not impossible, but to do so, they will have to have a better record than the Jets at the end of the season.