Friday, October 31, 2008

Depth charges

There have been a lot of articles this week about how the Pats-Colts rivalry has lost some of its luster this year. I can't say I disagree with them. These two teams have combined to pretty much dominate their respective divisions since 2001. Last season the game between the two teams was a match-up between two unbeatens later in the season than it had ever happened before - and undefeated season was on the line at the halfway point for both teams.

Division rivals previous to the last realignment, the now conference rivalry never came close to approaching the fever-pitch that has grown over the last five seasons. Since 2001, the two teams have combined for 11 division titles, 12 playoff appearances, five Super Bowl appearances (four from the Patriots), and four Lombardi Trophies. The only other playoff contender in the AFC with more than two division titles is Pittsburgh with three. Coincidentally, they're the only other AFC team to have a Super Bowl appearance and to win the big game.

That was then.

Now, the luster is off as the Colts after seven games already trail the first place Titans by four games. They currently stand at 3-4, but could easily have been 1-6. They have alternately been horrible and great - often in the same game. The same can be said for the Pats - alternately horrible and great, often in the same game. But New England is 5-2 and tied for first in the division. The Colts are tied for last (granted, not a whole lot separates first from last in the AFC East this season, but it's worth noting that there are only four teams in the NFL with a better record).

I've heard a lot of talk about the age of the Patriots defense, but age has been a factor for the Colts as well - Marvin Harrison has been unable to get separation, the knee has made Peyton Manning play old and timid, age and injuries have begun to catch up to the Colts offensive line. To add insult to injury for the Colts, they are without the two corners that were projected as their starters when the season began.

For all their problems, however, an argument can be made that the Pats have had it just as bad, if not worse. The Pats started the season with the entire right side of their O-line on IR and only recently got Stephen Neal back. They are without their starting (pro-bowl) quarterback, running back, and (pro-bowl) safety. They subsequently lose their second and third string running backs, and end up with three rookies playing defensive back in dime situations in their last game.

In spite of all that, the Patriots have strung together a couple of wins to be tied with the Steelers and Bills for the second best record in the AFC. It's a testament to the coaching and the depth of a team that has been decimated by injuries that would have destroyed other teams.

Yes, there's a lot of football to be played, but if the Pats win the East again this season, then Belichick deserves serious consideration for his second coach of the year award, and Pioli exec of the year, for giving him the depth to weather major injuries (reportedly Norv Turner still blames the loss of Brad Johnson for the loss of his job as the head coach of the Redskins). I'm not saying I think he should get it, but he will deserve consideration. Probably right behind Jim Zorn and up there with Jeff Fischer.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Named for Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Rooney Rule came into being in 2003. The Rooney Rule came about in an effort to level the playing field for minority candidates for head coaching positions. In essence, the rule mandates that any team that has an opening for a head coaching position must interview at least one minority candidate.

While I'm not really thrilled by the rule in general, it doesn't really bother me either. It has definitely generated results. According to Wiki, "At the start of the 2006 season, the overall percentage of African American coaches had jumped to 22%, up from 6% prior to the Rooney Rule."

However, there's a fine line between effective and stupid. And this is stupid.

To sum up, the Rams submitted a contract extension for Jim Haslett to the league. The extension was contingent on Haslett reaching a certain number of wins and he would remain the team's head coach for "X" number of years.

The league rejected the contract, saying that the team was trying to circumvent the Rooney Rule.


He's already the team's head coach. There is no opening, unless he fails to perform - which is true for any coach.

If they want to argue that he wouldn't be coach at the end of the season, then what I want to know is how this is any different than what the Cowboys or the Seahawks did in writing into the contracts of assistant coaches that they would succeed their current head coaches. I mean, it's not like they're requiring either of those teams to comply to the Rooney Rule in order to fill the spot once Wade Phillips and Mike Holmgren are done.

So, why is what the Rams are doing any different?

This is just one of those things from the NFL executive offices that just doesn't smell right.

Consider - if Haslett has a decent season with the Rams, and everyone knows that he's their man, what coach, in his right mind, is going to debase himself by interviewing for an opening he knows doesn't even exist?

This is just idiotic.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Midweek Ephemera

Congratulations to the Phillies.

The World Series was kind of a can't lose prospect for me this year. I was born in Philadelphia - the family moved to Boston when I was three - but most of my extended family remains in and around the City of Brotherly Love. I also taught there for five years before moving to Maryland. So, for the friends and family still there - enjoy the win.

As for the Rays - well, it was a good run. It would have been nice, in as much as it would have just been a wonderful metaphorical screw you to the Steinbrenner clan and their free-spending ways if the team with the second lowest payroll in all of baseball had walked away with the championship. And it just would have been made sweeter that the team that plays on Georgie's front porch did it.

Over on the hard-court it was nice to see the Celtics come up with a win on the same day they raised their seventeenth banner to the rafters in the Gahden. I think it was important for them to come out and get the win against fellow Eastern power Cleveland, but mostly, it was nice to see the green-and-white come out rise to the occasion on what was a very emotional night for some of the team. I would right about it more, but I think that Dave over at The Coffin Corner already has it covered.

Don Banks over at SI almost always has a tidbit or two that I hadn't yet put together. In his mid-season report, he noted something very interesting about the Brett Favre acquisition. For all the hoopla surrounding his acquisition, and the optimism about their improvement (at this point last season they were 1-6 as opposed to 4-3), they are, in essence, no better than they were this time last year - third place, trailing the Bills and the Patriots, and one game ahead of the bottom dwelling Dolphins. Sure, they're a lot closer to first than last season, but the Favre gambit has yet to translate into any sort of change in the standings.

With a Brady-less Patriots team, this really has got to be eating at Jets fans.

What's happened to the NFC South? Last season they sent three teams to the post-season, this season only the Titans are on pace to even have a winning season.

Speaking of paces, who do you like most for a winless season - the 0-8 Bengals, or the 0-7 Lions? Personally, I think that it's completely possible that both teams will succeed where so many bad teams have failed in delivering the first perfect season in the annals of sucking. But, hey, I'm just an optimist hoping to view perfection in back-to-back seasons.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Picking up the slack

Cassel is still a work in progress, however, signs are encouraging..

I'm not going to post the Brady-Cassel comparison this week - mostly because the Boston Globe has already done it. But it is interesting to note that other media outlets are finally getting that comparing Cassel to Brady '07 isn't the appropriate comp to make. They're finally figuring out that the appropriate comp is for the late-round pick, career back-up getting the start is to compare him to when Brady was the late-round pick, career back-up.

Its about freakin' time.

While I'm not going to repost the numbers here, having provided the link above, I am going to say that it's interesting to note that the numbers through seven games are remarkably similar, and with the exception of in the area of sacks, touchdowns, and interceptions, Cassel leads Brady version .01 in almost every other category - and neither leads the other by any sort of significant number in any category.

It's creepy.

Other thoughts and observations...

The Giants front office is gutless.

Plaxico Burress won't start the game against the Steelers as punishment for actions detrimental to the team - harassing officials last week, not showing up for treatments, and other petulant actions are at issue. Sure, he plays and collects all his salary. Wow. What a punishment.

Would the Giants have just benched Burress for the first couple of plays of the game had the team been playing the Lions? Or would they have suspended him again? I'm guessing the latter.

But against the mighty Steelers? No. It's all hands on deck for that, discipline be damned.

I notice they had no problem suspending him for a game against the lowly Seahawks.

Other boneheads...

Former Jets receiver Don Maynard said some dumb things this past weekend.

"You have 106 coaches in the NFC that's never played pro ball, you got 126 in the AFC that's never played pro ball," Maynard said. "You got 64 coaches that never played college football, so now you know why the knowledge of pro football has gone downhill. They don't even do what we did in offenses and defenses."
Never mind the fact that three of the last five Super Bowl winning coaches never signed a contract to play in the NFL (Bill Belichick, Jon Gruden, Tom Coughlin); never mind the fact that the man for whom the championship trophy is named, Vince Lombardi, never played a down of professional football; or that Maynard's own NFL coach with whom he won a ring - Weeb Ewbank, never played professional football (that's eight rings from five coaches who obviously have no idea what they're doing by Maynard's reckoning - more if you include Green Bay's pre-Super Bowl Championships). Never mind all of that.

Let's just talk about one of the biggest differences in the game - the playbook. When I was in high school in the mid 1980's, we ran a pro-style offense...from the late 1960's and 1970's, with a dash of the 80's thrown in. The closer we got to current day, even then, the more complicated the plays became. This guy probably couldn't decipher today's playbook- so, yeah, he's right, they're not playing the offenses and defensed they did then - they're playing much more complicated schemes.

On second thought, I think I am going to address the boneheaded thought that someone who never played pro football is less qualified. There have been 42 Super Bowls, of those 42 championships 26 rings/trophies went home with 15 (head) coaches that never played pro football. There are only 26 coaches that even have earned the right to wear Super Bowl rings, and 15, essentially 58 percent, haven't played a down in the NFL. They account for 62 percent of the wins in the big game.

More impressively, eight of those coaches that Maynard thinks lack the requisite background account for 19 rings. Thirty-five percent of the coaches on the list account for 45 percent of those wins. Some of the names of the unqualified (Maynard's complaint, not mine):

Vince Lombardi
Weeb Ewbank
Bill Walsh
Joe Gibbs
Bill Parcells
George Seifert
Jimmy Johnson
Mike Shanahan
Bill Belichick

Lombard, Ewbank, Walsh, and Gibbs are all in the Hall of Fame for their coaching acumen. All the others are, at worst, in the discussion.

So what have we learned?

That Don Maynard is a total ass-clown with the football IQ of a brain-dead platypus.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

The defense is still a bit offensive

The Patriots have clawed their way back into a share of first place with their win over the Rams combined with the Bills loss to the 'Phins.

Once again, Matt Cassel was solid in his role as signal caller, and could have been even better if not for drops from Randy Moss (two touchdowns missed, and a deflection of his hand ended as an interception), and normally sure-handed Wes Welker (dropped a sure first-down, and fell in his route leading to interception two). Cassel led the offense to 23 points on 63 percent passing in spite of an erratic and often ineffective running game (although Kevin Faulk did average 4.1 yards a carry and was the Cassel's best weapon, accounting for a combined 107 yards and a highlight reel touchdown reception).

While I believe the offense could have been better - the team needs to do a better job of helping Cassel out - I don't have too many complaints about the offensive performance other than those noted above.

The defense, however, continues to bother me.

Overall, they did what they needed to do, coming up with the big third down stops pretty regularly. What wasn't good was the regularity with which the Rams hit big plays. Three St. Lois receivers had catches of at least 19 yards, two of them averaged more than 20 yards per catch and one, with six receptions averaged more than 27 yards.

These are not reassuring numbers.

They are a step backwards from last week when the Pats gave up virtually nothing deep.

Will they adjust sans Rodney Harrison? I hope so - but this really wasn't the sort of adjustment I was hoping to see, and I don't care what the record says, next week's Sunday night tilt against the Colts looms large. Even a wounded Peyton Manning is dangerous, and I would like to see that the secondary has made the necessary adjustments to win in Indy next week.

And on a separate note, for those of you who missed it, check out my last post on commercial viability. It's a gas.