Sunday, April 26, 2009

NFL Coaches Draft, Part 3

Yes, the first (and only) round of the NFL coaches draft is completed (if you missed parts 1 & 2, see here), but there were more coaches than spots. Why did these coaches miss the cut?

Tom Cable (Oak): As explained during Oakland's pick, Cable is probably the only coach on this list willing to work woth Al Davis, and that's the problem: he likely only has the job because no one else wants to touch the Raiders with Al in charge. Maybe he's actually a decent head coach (see Gruden, Jon) and quite possibly he's an incompetent stooge (see Shell, Art).

Brad Childress (Min): Much like Brian Billick, he's a reputed quarterback guru who gets consistently awful play from the QB position. He's hitched his wagon to Tarvaris Jackson (terrible), confident that he can turn chicken **** into chicken...well, I honestly have no idea what the best case scenario is supposed to be here.

Romeo Crennel (FA): Got 4 years in Cleveland. Couldn't settle on a quarterback, couldn't resurrect the defense, couldn't get anything working that well. His one year of success was on the back of Braylon Edwards (who needs surgery to remove the butter from his hands), and Kellen Winslow II (who's certifiable). It quickly proved to be unsustainable as Cleveland went all in last year...and finished 4-12.

Herm Edwards (FA): Perhaps the worst coach in recent memory at managing the clock in the last 2 minutes of either half. Unlike other butchers like Andy Reid and Mike Holmgren though, Edwards doesn't bring a great strength to the table to offset his questionable in-game decisions. Well, unless you count his entertaining post-game press conferences. YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME!

Jim Haslett (FA): Jim Haslett is kind of like Wade Phillips if Wade Phillips were thinner, angrier, and an average defensive coordinator. Players love Haslett because Haslett doesn't require things like discipline. That's all well and good, until the team hits a rough patch, and under Haslett, the rough patches are going to come quickly, as his teams aren't known for on-field discipline either.

Lane Kiffin (Universty of Tennessee): Was a tempting pick because his father is revered defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and the fact that Al Davis hates his guts (so he's probably doing something right). After Al's abomination of a press conference to discuss why he fired Kiffin, Lane's stock was pretty high. Then Lane took the job at Tennessee and started running his mouth about every other coach in the SEC...I'm not willing to say Davis was right, but maybe both parties were at fault in the doomed Raiders marriage. If I'm an NFL team, I want to see Kiffin succeed at the major college program first before I think about tabbing him to run my franchise.

Marvin Lewis (Cin): Was brought into Cincy for 2 reasons: 1) To restore order after years of inmates running the asylum, and 2) to improve an atrocious defense. Well, Chad Ocho Cinco is still there and raising havoc, and the one successful season was on the back of an outstanding offense. Now the pieces from that offense are either washed up or have moved on, and the defense, while better, isn't good enough to lead the team. Lewis has put up with an inordinate amount of BS and not succumbed, but then again, the head coach has to shoulder a good deal of the blame when his team looks out of control...even if that team is the Bengals.

Scott Linehan (FA): Jim Haslett was an improvement. And look at the Rams. They weren't 0-16...and that's everything positive I could think of to say about them.

Eric Mangini (Cle): Learned everything he knows from Bill Belichick, except how to give his team a schematic advantage in every game they play. Seems like an intelligent coach, and it's not his fault the Jets thrust him into the spotlight likely before he was ready, and he did get a bit of a raw deal in watching Brett Favre submarine the last month of his last season (though, as HC, he could have steped in and replaced Brett's carcass with a live body). Probably the best coach not drafted, but you get the sense that a) he's not going to steer the team to wins above its talent level and b) he seems to turn off a lot of players. As a coach, you don't need to be liked, but you do need to be able to convince the players to run through walls for you, and there's a bit of question as to whether Mangini can coax that.

Rod Marinelli (defensive line coach): Presided over 0-16 trainwreck in Detroit. One of his assistant coaches gained infamy for driving through a Wendy's with no pants. Forgot to instruct young QB that there's a back out of bounds line in the end zone. Classic respected position coach out of his league as a head coach.

Mike Nolan (defensive coordinator): Thoroughly botched his handling of his #1 overall pick quarterback. Changed defensive schemes when he got to San Francisco, but never got the players to fit his scheme. As such, his defenses (his specialty) never reached above an average level. Also seemed unable to coax great efforts out of his team.

Jim Zorn (Wash): His team looked like a high school team in the season opener against the Giants. Then they caught fire, and then the fire went out...halfway through the season. Zorn was hired to work with Redskins QB Jason Campbell, and it's hard to say whether Campbell improved by the end of the season or not. Add to that some public fires started by his star running back, and it paints a worrisome picture. Add to that the fact that Zorn was hired as offensive coordinator first, then hired as head coach 2 weeks later, and there's just a fishy smell hanging over Zorn's head. Doesn't mean he can't turn things around in DC, but at this point, he's not one of the 32 best options to run a team.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

NFL Coaches Draft, Part 2

This is part 2 in a series begun on Friday. For a review of the rules for this draft, see here.

17) New York Jets: Steve Spagnolo (STL)
The Jets hitched their wagon to the Brett Favre express last year, investing lots of cash in offensive and defensive free agents. This improved both sides of the ball, but now that Brett’s gone, they don’t have a QB. Enter Spagnolo, who knows how to get consistent pressure from his front 7. With Spags’ pressure schemes, whoever is quarterbacking the Jets won’t have to do it all. They can be brought along a little slower, just limiting mistakes at the beginning.

18) Chicago Bears: Mike Singletary (SF)
Chicago’s defense was an absolute force in 2006, getting the team to the Super Bowl despite their quarterback. A combination of injuries and complacency has leveled off that unit a bit. Enter one of the heads of the mid-80’s Bear defense. Singletary will get his players to play for him, and will challenge the defense to hit the bar they set so high back in 2006. He also was able to coax a respectable finish out of the dog’s breakfast of an offense he had in San Francisco. In Chicago…well, at least he gets a 1000% improvement at the quarterback position.

19) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: John Fox (Car)
Tampa is at a crossroads. Their defense, which has carried them for over a decade, is old and broken down. Their offense hasn’t been anything of note since…well…ever pretty much. When you’re pining for the days of Brad Johnson, that’s not good. Fox would bring a brand new approach, as he’s a proponent of size on defense and a strong running game. Tampa has been a cover-two defense relying on speed since Dungy, but they need all new players anyway, so if you’re going to tear down and rebuild, this is the perfect time to do it. Tampa also won’t have to worry about Fox’s biggest weakness: his man-crush on Jake Delhomme.

20) Dallas Cowboys: Jon Gruden (FA)
Dallas really needs one thing from their coach: someone secure enough to tell Jerry Jones to butt out, and secure enough for Jones to listen. As a function of picking 20th in this draft, the only coach who fits that bill is Gruden. Add to that a good quarterback for him to play with, and Gruden should be able to coax better seasons out of the Cowboys.

21) Philadelphia Eagles: Norv Turner (SD)
Philly has gotten a lot of contending seasons out of an offensive coach who lets the defense do its thing. Norv Turner is a step down from Andy Reid, but he will finally commit to a running game, and thus probably extend McNabb’s career (and life) by a few years. With McNabb policing the locker room, Turner’s softness won’t be as much of a hindrance.

22) Minnesota Vikings: Mike McCarthy (GB)
All of the pieces for a run are here in Minnesota, except a quarterback who can get the job done. Enter McCarthy, who successfully brought Aaron Rodgers out of the shadow of Brett Favre, and who managed to get Favre to play quarterback instead of gunslinger (until the NFC Championship game at least). McCarthy won’t attach his chances to Tarvaris Jackson, and whoever he brings in instead, he’ll be able to work with.

23) New England Patriots: Josh McDaniels (Den)
With Belichick (long) gone, New England nabs its offensive coordinator from Tom Brady’s 2 most impressive years (the 2007 storming of the league and the 2006 performance with Reche Caldwell as his #1). Presumably McDaniels would be comfortable enough with Tom Brady that he wouldn’t feel compelled to run him out of town for a chance at Matt Cassell.

24) Atlanta Falcons: Mike Smith (Atl)
Mike Smith took a team stuck under the dark cloud of Mike Vick’s dogs and took them to the playoffs with a rookie quarterback. With him still around, Atlanta is very willing to see what year 2 brings.

25) Miami Dolphins: Tony Sparano (Mia)
Is okay with Bill Parcells commanding most of the attention: check. Has the respect of the players: check. Is creative enough to introduce a formation new to the NFL: check. Won a division including the Patriots: check. Sparano may still be very much an unknown, but Miami was very happy with what they got last year, so they bring him back.

26) Baltimore Ravens: John Harbaugh (Bal)
Harbaugh won over the defensive leaders of the team, and steered this team with a rookie quarterback to the AFC Championship game. Baltimore doesn’t need more than 5 seconds to make this pick.

27) Indianapolis Colts: Jim Caldwell (Ind)
As much as the previous three coaches are still quite unknown commodities, Caldwell is entirely unknown. All we know is Indy felt good enough about him to anoint him Tony Dungy’s successor last season. Add to that the fact that Caldwell has been learning under Dungy for years, and you feel pretty good about him. Peyton Manning certainly signed off on this, so Indy will roll the dice with Caldwell (it’s not like there are a ton of attractive options out there at pick 27).

28) Carolina Panthers: Jim Mora (Sea)
Carolina has been a run-first, defense-oriented team for years under John Fox. Jim Mora is a defense-first, run-first coach. If anything, Mora reminds one of a younger, more energetic Fox. He should be able to relate to Steve Smith and maybe keep him from punching out another teammate, which is a big plus. He also has spent the last 2 years learning under Mike Holmgren, so you have to feel good about him being a better coach his second time around.

29) New York Giants: Jack Del Rio (Jax)
Del Rio tends to coax great efforts out of his team. He also occasionally goes about motivating his team in odd ways (one year he brought an ax into the locker room and his punter subsequently cut himself on said ax and was lost for the season…oops). He has made Jacksonville into a 2nd-tier contender with a strong running game and not much at quarterback, relying on the defense to keep the scores low. Eli Manning is better than anything Del Rio’s had to work with under center, but he’s at his best when the defense is leading the way and he doesn’t have to do too much. That plays into Del Rio’s scheme preference.

30) Tennessee Titans: Dick Jauron (Buf)
Tennessee needs someone who will remain steady throughout the ups and downs of the 16 game season. Dick Jauron is very steady (sometimes you wonder if he’s alive on the sideline). Jauron hasn’t had great success outside of one season with Chicago, but Tennessee is more talented than most of his teams in the past have been. Jauron’s been at his best with a steady veteran quarterback (or at least not JP Losman) and an opportunistic defense, which sounds just like the current Titans team. Yes, picking Jauron is taking a chance, but Jauron won’t come in and try to remodel the #1 seed in the AFC last season.

31) Arizona Cardinals: Wade Phillips (Dal)
Believe me, I'm as shocked as you are. When I sat down for this exercise, there were a bunch of coaches I was sure would be on the outside looking in once the first round was complete. Wade Phillips was prominently on that list. But then I got to Arizona, and I couldn’t fit a coach to their current team. They have hitched their offense to 37-year-old Kurt Warner, so their window is not very wide, and it only came together for them when their defense stepped up to the plate. Phillips, for all his faults, is a good defensive coach, and will get plenty of pressure on the opposing quarterback. His problem is he’s a big softy, and has no control over his locker room. Well, that and the fact that in-game decisions and adjustments tend to overwhelm him. However, with Kurt Warner leading the offense, Phillips’ inability to control his locker room can be mitigated, as Warner can command respect and lead the offense. That leaves Phillips to concentrate on what he does best, attack the opposing offense. Could this end in spectacular failure? Definitely. But players coaches tend to start off well and then fall off in year 2 or year 3. By then, Warner will likely be done and Arizona will need to rebuild anyway.

32) Pittsburgh Steelers: Raheem Morris (TB)
Pittsburgh prefers to find a young coach they believe in who can last for 10-15+ years. They hit big on Chuck Noll, they hit on Bill Cowher, and it looks like they hit on Mike Tomlin. Raheem Morris is similarly unknown right now, but Tampa’s braintrust, who liked Gruden a lot, felt good enough about him to oust the Super Bowl winning coach in favor of Morris. League insiders believe Morris will be an outstanding head coach, and he sounds exactly like what the Steelers look for when they look for a new coach once every 15-20 years.

So there you have it. 32 teams draft, 28 end up with new coaches. I hope this was an interesting diversion in the hours leading up to the actual NFL draft. Enjoy the real thing at 4 PM today.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Sarcastic Guy, Vol. 2

Congratulations, Carolina Panthers, you just locked up Jake Delhomme to a 5-year, $42.5 million contract with $20 million guaranteed. That's great news...for Atlanta, New Orleans, and Tampa Bay.

Jake Delhomme has been a great quarterback for all of one game in his life. Heck, Delhomme has been a quarterback you can win with, for one game in his life. Delhomme has been more than a caretaker propped up by a wide receiver everyone (including teammates) is scared to death of, for one whole game in his life. And the kicker is, that game was 5 years ago (Super Bowl XXXVIII), and Carolina LOST!

Other than that, Delhomme has been a tremendously average quarterback. Trent Dilfer took one look at this deal, and slapped his parents upside the head for not having him 10 years later. Kyle Orton took a look at this deal and had a celebratory toast with his neckbeard. When Carolina has been good, it has been because of a strong, two-headed rushing attack and a stout defense. Delhomme has been along for the ride, chucking balls in the vicinity of Steve Smith, a 5'9" ball of angry insanity. Delhomme doesn't win games for Carolina, he does his best to avoid losing them. And Carolina has guaranteed him $20 million.

But I'm sure he comes up big when the stakes are raised, right? Well...
17 comp 34 att 205 yds 1 TD 5 INT 1 fumble lost, 39.1 QB rtg
15 comp 35 att 196 yds 1 TD 3 INT, 34.9 QB rtg

Those are Jake Delhomme's stats from his last 2 playoff games. I said he tried not to lose games. I didn't say he was good at it.

Oh, it gets better. Delhomme's age? 34. No, I didn't mean 24, he's 34 years old, which means he's not getting any better. I know Carolina employed a 43 year old Vinny Testaverde a couple years back, but a) he was "Steve Smith is going to kill someone because Vinny can't throw the ball more than 3 yards" terrible, and b) that doesn't mean a 34 year old quarterback is coming into his prime. Delhomme has had his prime: it came, it fizzled, it left, and it's not coming back.

Congratulations Carolina, you just dropped between $20 and $42.5 million on the quarterbacking equivalent of Coors Light that sat out overnight.

NFL Coaches Draft, Part 1

It's an exciting weekend for NFL fans, especially the fans of the 20 teams who did not make the playoffs lasts eason. The NFL draft brings hope for these fans, gives even the worst team in NFL history its time in the sun, and gets people jonesing for football again, even though we've just started baseball season.

Like many of the draft "experts" I have no idea what I'm talking about once we get passed the first 10 picks or so. Unlike those "experts", I'm not going to make up a mock 1st round of the draft to try and cash in on this upcoming weekend. Instead, I present an alternate scenario: Imagine all coaches became free agents at midnight tonight, and that instead of letting free agency determine which team gets which coach, they hold a draft using the original 1st round draft order in the 2009 NFL Draft.

Now this draft order won't look exactly the same as the order from Saturday's first round. I backed out all trades as it didn't make much sense for Philadelphia to draft 2 head coaches. I also eliminated trades from consideration, as I'm not going more than 1 round here (for head coaches only), so there isn't much incentive for any team to trade back.

I also had to limit my scope on what coaches would be available for this draft, so i settled on anyone who has been an active head coach of a team for at least 1 game from the beginning of the 2008-2009 season through last weekend, or who has been suggested as a viable candidate during the coaching seraches this offseason. This means coaches who don't currently have work like Tony Dungy, Bill Cowher, and Mike Shanahan were all viable options for this exercise.

Below is the first half of the first round in the NFL Coaches Draft, Part 2 will come tomorrow.

1) Detroit Lions: Bill Belichick (NE)
When you’ve made history as the worst team in NFL history, you need to tear down and rebuild. No coach has proven to be better at that than Bill Belichick. Sure, maybe he’s not quite the all knowing guru he was from 2001-2004, but he took a bad team, turned it into a Super Bowl winner in 2 years, and a consistent winner in 4. The Lions would kill for that (if, you know, they had any sort of killer instinct) right now.

2) St. Louis Rams: Andy Reid (Phi)
Is Andy Reid the 2nd best coach on this list? The last 2 minutes of an NFL game would say no. But Andy Reid represents stability and a system that puts a team in the running more often than not. The Rams may not be record-breaking bad, but I’ve seen train wrecks with less chaos. After the Mike Martz roller coaster and the Scott Linehan free-fall, the Rams need to establish a solid foundation. Like him or hate him, Philadelphia is a stable program. That he did that in the face of Philly fans is an even greater accomplishment.

3) Kansas City Chiefs: Bill Cowher (FA)
Kansas City is rebuilding and changing to a 3-4 defense. Why not grab the top coach out there from this system? Cowher has experience working alongside a strong GM from his Pittsburgh days, and you know he’s going to assemble a strong team based around a strong defense.

4) Seattle Seahawks: Mike Tomlin (Pitt)
Unlike many of the other teams picking high in the draft, Seattle isn’t looking to tear things down and start over, they’re looking to reload with their established players and make another run. Tomlin has shown he can enter into an established situation, replacing a coach who has been there forever, and instill his ideas and system without totally tearing down the existing foundation. Granted Seattle isn’t nearly as well off as Pittsburgh was 2 years ago, but if you’re looking for quick success without gutting your team, Tomlin has proven himself under these exact circumstances.

5) Cleveland Browns: Mike Holmgren (FA)
Cleveland needs a lot of things, but first it needs an identity. Since they came back into the league in ’99, the team hasn’t had anyone to rally around. Tim Couch? Kelly Holcomb? Andra Davis (exactly, who is Andra Davis)? The identity for this team is staph bacteria, as the team has had about 8 cases in the past couple of years. A franchise quarterback would give this team something to get behind, and Holmgren is the top coach available in finding and grooming a QB. Maybe it’s Derek….well, maybe it’s Brady Quinn, or maybe it’s a 2010 draftee, but Holmgren will figure it out.

6) Cincinnati Bengals: Tony Dungy (FA)
The Bengals have been irrelevant for a long time, and they’ve been irrelevant in spite of some fantastic offensive seasons from Chad 85, TJ Whosyourmomma, Carson Palmer, even Jon Kitna. The defense has been another story. They brought in defensive guru Marvin Lewis to try and change the culture, but that hasn’t worked. Given another shot, Cincy goes with THE defensive guru of the last 15 years. As an added bonus, they also get perhaps the most respected coach of the past 15 years. If Tony Dungy can’t make the Bengals into a respectable franchise, then there’s clearly no hope.

7) Oakland Raiders: Jeff Fisher (Tenn)
Really, the correct answer here is Tom Cable, because who else would be willing to work for the sea monster that is 185-year-old Al Davis? So for the purposes of this exercise we’re going to assume Davis has returned to his home planet. Dungy would have been the perfect candidate to fix Oakland, but CIncy already snapped him up. Fisher is an interesting case: he is the longest tenured coach in the league, but he doesn’t have that one facet of the game he’s known for. Cowher and Dungy are known for their defenses. Holmgren is a QB and west coast offense guru. Belichick is lethal with a video camera. Fisher just is. His teams don’t underachieve. They’re not always within spitting distance of a title, but when they have the talent, they won’t squander it. Fisher coaxed a playoff berth out of the walking disaster known as Vince Young at quarterback. If Jim Mora gets credit for winning with Mike Vick at QB, Fisher should be up for a Nobel Prize. Give Fisher some time, and he’ll pull Oakland out of the doldrums.

8) Jacksonville Jaguars: Mike Shanahan (FA)
This was a playoff team 2 years ago. The crux of that team was solid defense and a rushing game that could hold its own in Pamplona. Last year the running game fell apart due to OL injuries, and the defense crumbled under the weight. Enter Shanahan. No coach has coaxed this high a level ofrushing attack out of refuse like Olandis Gary and Mike Anderson. Give Shanahan these parts, and Jacksonville is right back in the thick of it. The downside is Shanahan isn’t going to be that helpful to the D, but with the strong core Jacksonville has on that side of the ball, that weakness shouldn’t hurt the Jags.

9) Green Bay Packers: Ken Whisenhunt (Arz)
The solid guys are off the board, so now you’re looking for the hot hand, or the fresh young minds. Whisenhunt qualifies as both. He’s in his 2nd year in the desert and has already taken the hapless Cardinals within 3 minutes of a Super Bowl win. Whisenhunt has shown the ability to survey his team and find the right combinations to maximize the team’s potential. Whether it’s a 37 year old quarterback, a washed up running back who had earlier been benched, or a renewed commitment to special teams, Whisenhunt has pushed all the right buttons in his 2 years at the helm. Green Bay is still getting out from under the shadow of the Brett, and Whisenhunt has experience throwing off the yoke of the past.

10) San Francisco 49ers: Gary Kubiak (Hou)
Many, many different ways the 49ers can go here, but this team is going nowhere until they can get their quarterback situation straightened out. Maybe…well, probably, the solution to their quarterback quagmire is not currently on their roster. But maybe Shaun Hill can work out, or maybe Alex Smith isn’t Ryan Leaf 2.0. Kubiak had Houston competing with Sage Rosenfels in a division featuring Tennessee and Indianapolis. Kubiak is a risk because Houston hasn’t had a winning season yet, but if he can stabilize the quarterback position in San Francisco, contention will follow.

11) Buffalo Bills: Tom Coughlin (NYG)
Buffalo needs a coach who can a) limit the excuses for poor play since the Music City Miracle in 1999, b) handle a WR who thinks he’s bigger than the team, and c) not be intimidated by the Patriot juggernaut. Coughlin won’t tolerate excuses (even though his teams are always good for a moronic penalty a game), won a Super Bowl with big contributions from Plaxico Burress (and while TO is a handful, he’s never shot himself in the leg), and took down the Patriots at their peak.

12) Denver Broncos: Lovie Smith (Chi)
This job was significantly different before McDaniels-Cutler I. What was a team with a lethal offense and terrible defense is now a team with a giant ? on offense and a terrible defense. One month ago, Lovie Smith is not the right coach for this team, but now he is. He can handle Kyle Orton as his quarterback (he was able to handle Rex Grossman as his quarterback, the guy must be a saint), and he will re-tool the defense in short order. This will entail a step backward for the Broncos, but this is the shortest way to get back to contention. Rebuilding the offense around another quarterback will take longer, so Lovie is the choice for Denver.

13) Washington Redskins: Rex Ryan (NYJ)
Rex Ryan has been the genius behind the Ravens’ defense for years, and the NFC East is all about hardnosed defense and limiting mistakes on offense. Danny Snyder’s checkbook is a force to be reckoned with in free agency, so a coach can stock his cupboard pretty quickly. Combine these 3 factors, and Rex Ryan is the right choice for the Redskins. Having succeeded with a rookie QB out of Delaware, Ryan should be able to construct a D that supports Jason Campbell to enough victories to be a factor in the NFC.

14) New Orleans Saints: Todd Haley (KC)
New Orleans has designed their team around a strong offense and a (they hope) good enough defense. Sean Payton has shown creativity in drawing up ways for his offense to attack its opponents, but Todd Haley took creative to another level with Arizona’s loaded passing game last year. Why not take Payton here? You get the sense that Payton already peaked with this team in his first year when the Saints got to the NFC title game. Haley is the hot hand right now, offensively, and combining him with Drew Brees (who almost topped Marino’s single season passing record last year) could lead to fireworks even greater than New Orleans has seen these last 3 years.

15) Houston Texans: Jim Schwartz (Det)
Houston has a tougher road to travel than most other teams sitting around .500, They have Tennessee, consistently dangerous Indianapolis, and lurking Jacksonville standing between them and a playoff berth. It’s not enough to be a good team, they have to get through arguably the toughest division in the NFL to get to the postseason. Schwartz knows this division cold from his time as Titans DC. He knows the ways to attack Peyton Manning, knows the Titans personnel better than any other available candidate, and has seen the Jaguars as much as anyone. If anyone is going to give the Texans a chance in this division right off the bat, it’s Schwartz.

16) San Diego Chargers: Sean Payton (NO)
While Payton may have peaked in New Orleans already, he has a brilliant offensive mind. The one thing he’s missing in New Orleans is a running back who can stay healthy for longer than 15 minutes. In San Diego, Payton would get a rich man’s Deuce McAllister (LDT) and a Bill Gates level rich man’s Reggie Bush in Darren Sproles. Add in Philip Rivers, Gates, Chambers, and Vincent Jackson, and his tools are at least as good as he has in the Big Easy. He also inherits a better defense that returns Shawn Merriman this season, so the offense doesn’t have to carry the entire load.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Beckett suspended 6 games

For those of you who missed it, there was a slight disagreement over proper decorum between Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett and, well, pretty much the entire LA Angles team. The genesis of it all? Bobby Abreu calling timeout. Normally not a big deal, but he did it during Beckett's windup. The umpire (foolishly) granted the timeout request, and Beckett, since he was already in the middle of his pitching motion, let the pitch fly anyway...over Abreu's head.

Abreu wasn't thrilled with the location, and stared at Beckett with a "what was that?" look on his face. That gave Josh the chance to do what he loves best, be ornery towards a batter. Beckett had words with Abreu, the benches cleared, and then Beckett had words with Angels coach Mike Scioscia, and some shoving ensued.

Interestingly, 4 Angels players/coaches were ejected, and no Red Sox were. But, MLB disagreed with that decision, and suspended Beckett for 6 games. Beckett claims the ball wasn't intentionally tossed near Abreu's head, and if you believe that, I have a Red Sox 2003 ALCS Champions ring to sell you. There is no way Beckett wasn't trying to send a message with that throw. If you don't believe me, check out his actions immediately afterwards. He gets in the face of Abreu, Scioscia, and the Rally Monkey.

Was the suspension justified? Yes. Being a starting pitcher, Beckett only plays once every 5 games, so a 6 game suspension for Beckett is the same as a 1 game suspension for a regular player. And given Beckett's intentional toss in the vicinity of Abreu's (large) head, it's warranted.

That being said, I believe Beckett was right to make the statement he did. The ball was far enough away from Abreu's head to not be a threat to harm the ex-Yankee. Since it wasn't dangerous, it was a perfectly valid statement to make: watch yourself, batter. Batters have no fear anymore: from the body armor they wear at the plate that would make a tank blush, to the quick warnings given by the umpires when a pitcher throws too far inside, pitchers don't have much on their side anymore. Hitters can even dictate the pace of the game by calling timeout and stepping out of the box after every pitch. And the balance wasn't this out of whack 30 years ago. It has swung, gradually, towards the hitters over time. If pitchers don't make a statement on something like this, soon they'll have to underhand the ball over the plate, and batters will be outfitted head-to-toe in Kevlar.

The pendulum has already swung well to the side of the hitters, the pitchers have to protect what little ground they have left to stand on. Beckett did that. Missing a game is warranted, but he did the right thing.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Sarcastic Guy, Vol. 1

In the first of what I'm sure will be a series of about 10 million posts (due to my unfortunate team allegiances) I give you, the last third of the ninth inning of the Mariners-Twins game last night:

Fact #1: It's game 2 of a 162-game season, in the grand scheme of things, it means nothing.
Fact #2: The Mariners are going to lose at least 85-90 games this season
Fact #3: MLB is giving away a week of their Extra Innings package for free this week, meaning I can see M's games I normally would never see.

That all being said...

Congratulations Brandon Morrow. Now I see why you pulled a Papelbon a couple weeks back and decided you wanted to be a reliever instead of a starter. Some said it was on account of your diabetes, and how managing your blood sugar was much harder as a starter. Some blame the previous regime for putting you in the bullpen in the first place and leaving you there for the better part of 2 years. But now we know the real reason: so that when you pulled an Ankiel and decided to stop throwing strikes it could be at the most visible and most damaging moment.

For those of you who missed it, here is how Morrow's 9th inning went, staked to a 5-3 lead:
Fly out to center
8-pitch walk (the 1st 3 pitches were balls)
4-pitch walk
Killed hot dog vendor with errant pitch
7-pitch walk
39-year old walking carcass of a useful pitcher replaces Morrow
Infield single
Walkoff single

Okay, so one of those things didn't actually happen, but the rest did. And yes, this wasn't entirely unexpected, as Morrow's walked 6 batters for every 9 innings he's pitched, but with a 2-run lead, underhand the stupid ball over the plate. Usually doing the other team's work for them is reserved for people who are actually paid by that other team.

And Erik Bedard, aka, Mr. 5 Innings, thank you for your 5 innings of work last night. It's nice to get consistency from at least one source on this squad, even if that consistency is a supposed ace pitcher obtained by gutting the farm system last year pitching 55% of the game every 5 days. In case you haven't noticed, top pitchers usually push for 7+ innings of work. In fact, your teammate threw 8 innings just the night before. The Mariners can get 5 innings of 3-run ball from Carlos Silva probably about 50% of the time, and Carlos Silva eats 1/3 of the baseballs used in his games. Also in case you haven't noticed, you're in your contract year, you might want to convince people you're not a candybone so you can make some money.

Fact #4: This is why I don't spring for any of the MLB game packages.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Well, that was a bit of a letdown

You knew that if UNC brought their A-game and Michigan State brought their A game that UNC was going to win comfortably. Well, for the first half, UNC brought their A+ game, and MSU brought their D- game, which resulted in 55 points and a 21 point advantage for North Carolina at halftime (both title game records).

Now, no matter what Michigan State did in that first half, they were going to be lucky to stay within 10 points of Carolina. But, that was some of the worst basketball I have ever seen out of a Michigan State team. Not only did they turn the ball over 13 times, many of those turnovers were (cue Bill Walton) TERRR-IBLE decisionmaking. With that many turnovers, MSU had to be doing something else very well, and neither their 3-point shooting nor their offensive rebounding showed up in that first half. It really looked like Carolina's size really bothered the Spartans, especially their guards.

Some of it too was Michigan State looked overwhelmed by the moment. Surprisingly, I'd include Tom Izzo in that statement. He said to his team before the game that he didn't want to use many timeouts early to stop runs. I understand this, when I coach, I loathe using timeouts early. Better to have them later in case the game is close. Well, that occasionally results in my team going down big and us having lots of timeouts in hand with the game out of hand. I do fault Izzo for not using a timeout 5-6 minutes into the game. Not because he needed to stop UNC's run, but because it was obvious that Michigan State was playing way too fast. The analysts saud MSU wanted to run selectively. It looked like they were trying to outrun North Carolina, and that is a recipe for failure. 5-6 minutes in the game was early enough to change up and slow the game down to cut down on the turnovers, but by halftime, MSU had no choice but to keep running due to being down by 21.

As I expected, UNC could not string 40 minutes of focus together, as they went 6 minutes early in the second half with 1 field goal. The thing is, it didn't matter thanks to the huge cushion they built up in the first half, and Michigan State's inability to hit a 3-pointer (7 for 23).

I admit, I thought MSU had a good chance to knock off UNC. I was impressed with their defense and thoroughly underwhelmed with UNC's win over Villanova. It turns out I didn't give enough credit to UNC's defense (their length at every position but center really altered a lot of shots) or the offensive skills of Lawson, Ellington, and Hansbrough. North Carolina was the odds on favorite all year to win the tournament (even though they weren't the #1 overall seed in the bracket, Vegas gave them the best odds), and Monday night was a perfect example of why.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


First things first: Michigan State was the best team on the floor tonight.

Michigan State has the best hands (defensively) that I've seen in this tournament. If the officials on Monday call the game the same way both sets of officials did tonight, that's going to favor the Spartans big time. Many times a UConn player would make a strong move to the basket only to have the ball poked out. That and their commitment to rebounding carried MSU to game 64 of this tournament.

North Carolina didn't make last year's mistake of sleepwalking through the first half, they came out firing and hit enough 3 pointers to keep Villanova at bay. UNC increased their lead in the 2nd half with their defense, which is something last year's team was not able to do. Whether it's maturity, hunger, or a slight shift in talent, defense carried the day for Carolina blue.

As for the 2 fallen Big East squads, 3 pointers killed them. UConn shot 2-6 from downtown, and while Villanova showed a bigger commitment to the 3-pointer (27 attempts), they were similarly bricktastic at it (5 makes).

While both the winners today made strong statements, neither looked anything close to unbeatable. Michigan State did their level best to hand UConn the chance to get back in this game by being careless with the ball against UConn's desperate full court pressure in the last 4 minutes, while UNC also showed a surprising reluctance to put their foot on their opponent's throat, with turnovers and blown 2-3 foot shots galore in the 2nd half.

The analysts said Michigan State needs help to win the title. There is no question that UNC is the better team, and that if both teams bring their A-games, UNC wins by 8-12. However, if we see the same 2 teams on Monday that we saw tonight, Tyler Hansbrough will graduate with no national title. Michigan State's defense will pose many of the same problems Villanova's defense presented tonight. And Michigan State will shoot better than 18.5% from beyond the arc, putting more pressure on UNC's defense.

Will this translate into another MSU upset win over a #1 seed? UNC's shooters will spread the Michiga State defense, and UNC rebounds even better than UConn, helping negate a large MSU advantage tonight. It will come down to UNC's focus. As long as Roy has been on Tobacco Road, UNC has never played all 40 minutes in any game that I've seen. Villanova's inability to hit a 3 kept it from biting the Heels tonight, but Michigan State will be primed to take advantage of these lapses in focus. If Hansbrough's wide eyes and Lawson's quick feet can hold their teammates together, UNC walks away with this one, but if they slip up for a couple of 3-4 minute stretches, Tom Izzo will have the gameplan to keep MSU right in it.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Cutler is a Bear

The Chicago Bears took a large step towards improving their offense today, acquiring Jay Cutler from the Broncos. The Bears gave up a lot: current starter Kyle Orton plus their first round pick in 2009 and 2010. The Broncos sent back a 2009 3rd rounder in addition to Cutler.

Update: Now reports indicate the Bears gave the Broncos the 2009 3rd rounder, and the Broncos gave back a 2009 5th rounder. So the trade is
Broncos get: Orton, 2009 1st, 3rd, 2010 1st
Bears get: Cutler, 2009 5th
Jerry Angelo went all in here, I like this trade less than the original because the Bears do have holes, and it will be very difficult to fill those holes with 1 pick in the first 3 rounds of this year's draft. Especially with a kick returner as the best receiver on their roster.

The Bears haven't had a quarterback of Cutler's talents...well...ever. Their offense immediately takes a few steps forward, and you have to think they're now looking at wide receiver with a 2nd or 3rd round pick, as why buy a Mercedes and give it a 4-cylinder engine? The Bears have also upgraded the number of 12-year-old girls on their roster, as evidenced by Cutler's antics over the last month.

Denver certainly has downgraded at quarterback, but they have also swapped the next Brett Favre in terms of drama for one of the lowest maintenance signal callers in the league (this guy sat behind the Rex Grossman experience for 3 years). Plus, with 2 1st round picks, if they want to move up in the 1st round to draft Stafford or Sanchez, they should have sufficient ammunition to do so. I would be very surprised if we get through Day 1 of the draft without the Broncos adding another quarterback to their roster.

Kyle Orton will get to answer the question of whether he's really a limited robot behind center, or whether he was held back by cheap, lead-based toys in Chicago. Fairly or unfairly, I don't see Denver hitching their train to Kyle Orton.

And Jay Cutler? He gets the chance to show whether he's an incorrigible gunslinger (a rich man's Rex Grossman if you will), or whether he was pressed into that role on account of a defense that couldn't stop anyone. With the Bears Cutler has a good support structure: a good running game, a good defense, and a decent offensive line. Update: the Bears have upgraded their line too, signing former #1 overall pick Orlando Pace to a 3-year deal. Pace isn't a top LT anymore, thanks to numerous injuries, but he's a definite upgrade over what Chicago has at the position. His receiving options have taken a hit though. Going from Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal to Devin Hester and Greg Olsen is like going from top sirloin to sloppy joes.

Whether the Bears win this trade or not comes down to whether or not Cutler can adapt to his surroundings. He has never won, but he hasn't had a ton of help either (we've covered Denver's shortcomings, and Vanderbilt only stopped getting dumped on in the SEC last year). If Cutler can embrace a slightly lesser role, he instantly makes Chicago a dangerous team, certianly a favorite in the NFC North. If he cannot, then it will be interesting to see how he reacts when Brian Urlacher tells him to stop blowing games. Based on this past month, I don't forsee that exhcange going well.