Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Let me get this off my chest...

Since I haven't checked in for a touch over a week, lots of things have happened that deserve a comment or two.

Brown-Harvard: I know no one watches Ivy League football, but indulge me for a second. You're Brown. You're playing Harvard in Cambridge under the lights on a Friday night. You are physically outclassed by your ivy league brethren, but you manage to keep it close, recover an onside kick, and have the ball at the Harvard 25 with 16 seconds left and 1 timeout. Oh, and Hermoine Granger is watching, so there's a little extra pressure. Do you
a) Set yourself up for a field goal
b) Try to get another 5-10 yards to set up the field goal attempt because you don't trust your kicker to hit anything over 30 yards
c) Throw the ball towards the end zone 3 times, even though that's where all the defenders are, you still have 1 timeout left, and your quarterback needs a full windup to get the ball those 25 yards.

To Brown's credit, they got 3 plays off in the 16 seconds. To their, ahh, noncredit, they chose option (c), and as you can guess, all 3 passes fell incomplete and they lost by those same 3 points. Emma Watson was crushed, I'm sure.

Seahawks lose to da Bears: There are a lot of directions I can go with this game, and had I written this post right after the game, it would have been 6000 words of mostly anger. Since then I've mellowed...on every point but one: Seneca Wallace and his running, or lack thereof.

Seneca Wallace is Seattle's backup quarterback, and for the sake of brevity, I'll describe him as a poor man's Michael Vick. He's on the short side, not the most accurate quarterback around, and can run like...well, see for yourself:

Now, against a defense like the Bears, I'd expect a QB like Wallace to run significantly more than 0 times. I'd expect a QB like Wallace to put the good of the team in that game over his desire to be seen as a quarterback and not a slash-type player. But I'd be wrong, and quite disappointed. Come back soon, Matt.

Brett Favre: Favre chucks ball as hard as he can, Greg Lewis makes outstanding catch. 98% of nation throws up...the other 2% are Vikings fans and ESPN employees.

Cleveland...well, doesn't all: Eric Mangini has changed quarterbacks, again. Brady Quinn is out, and Derek Anderson is back in. I'm pretty sure we've seen this picture before, and Derek Anderson is not the answer. Brady Quinn may very well not be the answer either, but I think Cleveland should give him enough time to actually find out one way or the other. 3 games with a shoddy supporting cast is not enough time. I have to say, Mangenius is quickly giving way to Manidiot.

Oh, and Eric Wedge got canned. He had to see this coming, as Cleveland couldn't be farther away from where they were in October, 2007. Not all of this is Wedge's fault, as Cleveland couldn't re-sign some key cogs (Sabathia, CC) and a few that stayed have simply seen their abilities take a nosedive off of a cliff (Haffner, Travis). But, while this accounts for the reason the Indians haven't seen the playoffs since then, it doesn't fully account for their inability to even be halfway competitive. For that, Wedge's time ran out.

And, finally: as a Mariners fan and someone who is a huge fan of "King" Felix Hernandez, Zack Greinke deserves the AL Cy Young award. He's been better than Felix on a significantly worse team (the Royals have at least 4 Mariners castoffs, and the Mariners are a medicore team at best). I hope Felix wins many Cy Youngs as a Mariner, but not this year, give it to the guy who deserves it most.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sarcastic Guy, Vol. 4

As I discussed in a post a couple of weeks back, I found myself in the unenviable position of looking to Matt Schaub to give my QB position a shot in the arm for this season. I'm pretty sure Schaub owns the mantle of, "Best QB who will give you 11 games max in a season". The issue isn't talent, it's just that you'd better have a good backup because Schaub tends to gets hurt. I held my breath when Schaub sprained his ankle in the 3rd preseason game, but he seemed to come through that episode okay.

So the first game of the season comes, and Houston is playing the Jets, a team with a lot of question marks. Schaub's line?

18/33 166 yds, 0 TD 1 INT, 55.9 rating = 6 points

Okay, clearly the Texans aren't ready for prime time yet. Next up are the Tennessee Titans, a team that had the best record in the AFC last season, and went toe-to-toe with the Pittsburgh Steelers in week one before losing 13-10 in OT. Naturally, the thought of this Schaub facing Tennessee made me somewhat queasy. So I benched him. His line?

25/39 357 yards, 4 TD 0 INT, 127.8 rating = 35 points

Now, it's quite possible I overreacted after week 1, but 35 points against the Titans defense??? That's just mean-spirited. Why not play defense and record a couple of interceptions too? And, quite frankly, even with the Jets' surprising win over the Pats in week 2, I'm not willing to give you a pass for the week 1 stinkbomb you dropped on my computer.

The worst part? I know how this is going to play out. Schaub's going to have an inconsistent year, and I'm going to leave about 150 points on the table guessing wrong week-to-week with my quarterback position.

Of course, it could be worse, I could be the poor sap who drafted Tom Brady very early ready for another 2007, and now he's being outperformed by the likes of David Garrard. Hey Tom, slants are your friend. I know throwing deep to Randy Moss is sexy, and I know you now have an image to maintain, but you can make teams pay for blitzing you. Wait, what am I saying? i don't have Brady on any of my teams. Keep up the average-to-good work buddy.

Monday, September 14, 2009

MNF: Part I

If before the game, you had set the Pats-Bills line at Pats -17, I would have taken the Pats. Buffalo just doesn't play the Pats well, they realize they're dealing with their betters, and they fade meekly into the night.

But not tonight. Their defense bothered Brady, who is clearly not fully back yet. You could see him getting antsy anytime someone got near his legs (and rightfully so, it takes the mind a lot longer to recover than the body after a catastrophic injury like that). Interestingly, New England looked a lot like Pittsburgh: they started the game making a concerted effort to have a balanced attack. I'm not sure how much of that strategy was an effort to ease Brady into the season, but that, as much as the Bills defense, stopped the Pats offense. The only back doing much of anything was Fred Taylor, and I don't remember seeing him touching the ball in the 2nd half.

Once New England realized they had a fight on their hands, they started throwing every down, and their offense started moving the ball up and down the field. Add in the fact that Buffalo was running a no huddle offense all game, and not running it that well, so their defense was on the field almost twice as long as the offense, and it was inevitable that New England would click offensively.

But even with all this, Buffalo was still up 24-19 with 2:06 to play with New England kicking off. Buffalo had the hands team in, with 10 people 10 yards away from the kicker and 1 guy deep. New England kicked deep, and the kick reached the end zone. Here Buffalo return man Leodis McKelvin had a choice: take it out, or take a knee and get the ball on the 20 yard line.

McKelvin brought the ball out. And you know what? It was the RIGHT DECISION, despite what the game analysts said. Here's why? there was 2:06 remaining, and the Patriots had all 3 timeouts. If Buffalo goes 3 and out after a kneeldown in the endzone, the Pats likely get the ball back with ~1:40 left and 1 timeout at about their own 40. 60 yards with that much time and with those receivers? Almost a certain TD drive. Take away the timeout, and all it takes is one sack to put a lot of pressure on the New England offense. Taking the ball out was correct...

...but fighting for every yard on the kickoff return was horribly wrong. The only thing Buffalo cannot afford is a fumble, so as soon as McKelvin gets breathed on, he needs to hit the turf. He did not do this, and Buffalo being Buffalo, he fumbled, and handed the Pats the ball at the Buffalo 30 or so. Once the Pats recovered the fumble, the outcome was inevitable.

So for the 2nd time in 3 years, Buffalo loses on Monday Night in heartbreaking fashion by the score of 25-24, for their 12th straight loss to New England. The story was markedly different, but the ending was the same as always.

Week 1: Finally!

I'm so excited for football, not even the steaming turd of a lineup given us in the Northeast could dampen my spirits on Sunday.

I guess things really started on Thursday, and I don't know what horrified me more: Pittsburgh stealing a game Tennessee should have won, or Cris Collinsworth's attempt to have Troy Polamalu's baby during the first half, only to be thwarted by Polamalu's knee injury.

Back to Sunday, we kicked things off with the 3rd straight year where the Texans' big jump to a playoff team turns into the Texans taking a giant dump on the field. As disappointed as Houston should be in its defense for letting Mark Sanchez look like a 7-year veteran, their offense is what really stood out to me. Ever since Houston traded for Matt Schaub, the book on Schaub has been, excellent skills, bad bone structure. Having selected him on 2 different fantasy squads, I was understandably nervous when he sprained his ankle in the 3rd preseason game. But when I heard he'd play in game 1, I figured the proverbial bullet had been dodged. He should have taken the day off, he was horrid. Now his coach admits he wasn't close to 100%. Yuck.

The other early game? Philly at Carolina. Now, the last time we all saw Jake Delhomme, he was being Arizona's MVP in Carolina's home playoff loss with 5INTs and a fumble lost. Jake's first drive: 7+ minutes and a touchdown. The rest of the first half? 4 INTs and a fumble lost. If there was such a thing as anti-fantasy football, Jake Delhomme would be the #1 overall draft pick. If he doesn't get benched, Steve Smith is going to knock out 12 of his teeth by week 5 at the latest. Luckily Carolina didn't give him an extension this offseason. Oops. As for Philly, the game was great...except for McNabb fracturing a rib. (One of those teams I have Schaub on? McNabb's my other QB...should have gotten that fantasy insurance.) The crazy thing? Jeff Garcia was available...and he chose Philly over Carolina. Chose to be a backup who maybe gets 3-4 games over the chance to be a starter by week 4? Interesting choice by Jeff.

Of course, this mess of 2 games was almost made up for by the 1 minute we got of the Denver-Cincinatti game, featuring the incredible defelction touchdown pass "to" Stokeley, followed by Gus Johnson's on-air climax. Gotta love Gus.

The Giants-Redskins game was a lot like last year's Giants-Redskins opener, with the slight change where Washington looked like an NFL team instead of a high school team, but still not really a threat to beat the Giants. The fake field goal with the punter running it in for the TD was exciting though.

Of course I didn't get to see it, but my Seahawks took advantage of playing one of the worst teams in the league (Rams), overcoming one of the sloppiest first quarters I've ever watched on NFL Gamecast to blank the Rams 28-0. Seattle was helped by St. Louis' inability to do anything on offense, a missed chip shot field goal by hero-turned-traitor Josh Brown, and a blocked field goal returned for a TD that was called back (wait for it) because the Rams had 12 men on the field.

Finally we got the best game of our day, Chicago vs Green Bay. In this game, we got the answer to the Jay Cutler question. No, he cannot manage the game and fit in to the defense and strong running game that exists on the Bears. Instead, the Bears will win or lose based on where and when Cutler feels like chucking the ball. Last night, that was frequently across his body into 3-4 Packer defenders. As you can imagine, bad things happened (4 INTs, a career high for Jay). Despite all this, Chicago was ahead with 2 minutes to go, thanks to the worst performance by a right tackle since the pudgy uncoordinated kind in Little Giants. But the 3rd and 1 playcall that led to a 60+ yard TD pass for the win? Outstanding call, and outstanding throw by Rodgers. If he goes on to have a good NFL career, he'll look back on that night as when he finally threw off the yoke of Brett Favre.

Now excuse me while I try and figure out why Buffalo isn't down by 21 points already.

You cannot be serious

Apparently "I'm going to ram this ****ing ball down your throat!" is the new "You cannot be serious!"

I'll be honest, I first read about the end to Serena's match online and my first thought was, "How on earth could the officials have essentially defaulted Serena in a major semifinal?!? That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard!" I couldn't even put into words what she would have had to do for the response to not have been a travesty.

Then I saw the highlight...and that was exactly the scenario I had been trying to put into words. She embarassed the poop out of herself with her tirade against the line judge. Was it a foot fault? I don't know, it was pretty darn close. Maybe the official was sure, and if so, she was absolutely right to make the call. There's a difference between allowing more physical play at a game's climax and simply tossing out the rulebook.

She lost the match, was fined, and I think that's the end of it. Which is fine.

One other thing bothered me. Could the head official have attempted to head this off? In this instance, with Serena being replaced by Beezelbub, quite possibly not. But I couldn't help but think, part of an official's job is to maintain control of the match. Never should an official's first move/response be to toss a player. Even if it's just a "Serena" to try and snap the player out of it, there has to be some attempt to resolve the conflict without tossing the player/ending the match. Again, I'm not saying Serena could have been reasoned with (even when she hasn't gone insane she doesn't seem like a reasonable person), but some sort of attempt should have been made.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

US 1 Trinidad and Tobago 0

The US got the result they needed last night, 3 points on the road. However, rather than calling this match the jump start they need to get to and make noise at the World Cup, instead, it's like breaking a losing streak by taking 2 of 3 from the Washington Nationals.

For a half, the US looked exactly like the team that's given up early goals in the majority of their last 5 qualifiers. Slow, sluggish, terrible decision making, heck, Dempsey looked like he either had swine flu or put money on T&T. And they came about 3 inches from getting burned, as T&T hit the crossbar after beating Tim Howard with a looping floater of a shot. It looked almost like the US was playing for a draw in the first half, looking to shorten the game before they stepped on the gas. I saw Altidore come back within 35 yards of his own goal multiple times from his forward spot, something I haven't seen in the last 5-6 games.

Whatever Bob Bradley said to them in the 2nd half, it worked. The US team post-halftime was a different beast. There was sustained possession, there were attacks developed over a period longer than 15-20 seconds, and there was pressure on the ball starting more than 25 yards from the goal. It all culminated in Ricardo Clark's first offensive contribution of the first 62 minutes. Luckily, that contribution was a beatufiul bending shot that beat T&T's portly (but agile) keeper.

The US certainly looked better holding this lead, but a) consider the opposition and b) they still were unable to add to it despite creating a few good chances over that last 30 minutes.

I was disappointed that Bradley didn't yank Dempsey earlier. Dempsey was listless in this game, almost looking as if he'd rather lose possession than help launch a sustained attack so he could rest quicker. Even at his best Dempsey is going to ignore the defensive part of the game, which means someone has to cover for his responsibilities since he's an outside mid (in this game it was frequenctly Bradley). What that means is he has to give a lot on the offensive end to be valuable. To put it in baseball terms, he needs a Manny Ramirez like contribution on offense, otherwise he's a net minus on the pitch with his Manny-like defense. Once the goal happened, I thought Dempsey needed to be pulled to send a message of, "You're not guaranteed a full 90 every match."

Even though it wasn't pretty (heck, even Onyewu looked rusty after missing the last match due to yellow card accumulation), the US got the result they needed and achieved their 6 points in 4 days. What does it mean for the standings?

1) US - 16 pts - +5 diff, @ Honduras, vs Costa Rica
2) Mexico - 15 pts - +3 diff, vs El Salvador, @ T&T
3) Honduras - 13 pts - +6 diff, vs US, @ El Salvador
4) Costa Rica - 12 pts - -4 diff, vs T&T, @ US
5) El Slavador - 8 pts - -2 diff, @ Mexico, vs Honduras
6) Trinidad and Tobago - 5 pts - -8 diff, @ Costa Rica, vs Mexico

Bottom line: A draw with Costa Rica at home in their final game puts the US into the World Cup.

As much as the US has been picked apart by the media and blogosphere recently in qualifying, the situation could be far worse. They could be Costa Rica.

Costa Rica led CONCACAF with 12 points halfway through qualifying. Then they went into Honduras and were smoked 4-0. Honduras is playing very well in this round of qualifying, so the loss wasn't necessarily a cause for concern, but the lopsided score was a little unnerving.

Then Mexico came to Costa Rica 5 days ago. They were a hot team, but Costa Rica hadn't lost in their first 3 home qualifiers. Mexico throttled them 3-0. All of a sudden Costa Rica had dropped from 1st to 4th place in 2 games (though only 1 point separated 1st from 4th).

Then they went to El Salvador, licking their wounds and needing a positive result. They give up a goal in stoppage time for El Salvador's 2nd win in 8 games. Now Costa Rica are alone in 4th place, and looking like they're headed for a home-and-home playoff against also-tanking-at-the-worst-possible-time Argentina for a World Cup berth. Not an enviable position.

Monday, September 7, 2009

US takes care of business in Utah

The US got the result they needed, but there's still plenty to be concerned about on the road to South Africa.

The US carried the play for the better part of the first half. This was important, but it's hard to extrapolate much from doing so against El Salvidor. However, they were not able to get any goals out of this advantage, so when Jonathan Bornstein botched a clearance in the 32nd minute and El Salvador took advantage, the US fell behind in yet another home qualifier.

Now to their (mostly Landon Donovan's) credit, they came back, attacked aggressively, and ended up with a 2-goal lead before halftime. However, the fact that their first goal wasn't disallowed was a minor miracle. On their free kick, El Salvador pulled an offsides trap, catching 2-3 Americans offsides. However, Clint Dempsey snuck through from an onsides position and headed the ball into the net. The no call was absolutely correct, but Michael Bradley was close enough to Dempsey that it was a needless chance. Bradley should have turned away from the play and gotten out of there when he saw the ball coming near him. Luckily, it didn't result in the unnecessary disallowing of a goal (this would come later).

The real problem came after about the 60th minute, as the US decided at that point to sit back, give El Salvador unencumbered possession until they were about 25-30 yards out, then attack the ball. I said this after the Mexico game, and I'll say it now, you beat Spain, the #1 team in the world, by attacking them in the middle of the midfield, forcing them out wide, and not letting them get comfortable. Against Mexico, the US did NOT do this, and they lost despite staking themselves to a 1-0 lead. Against El Salvador, who is not even close to the calliber of Spain or even Mexico, the US did the same thing, and it allowed El Salvador a handful of strong chances. If you don't trust you players to aggressively hold a lead agianst El Salvador, how can you expect to do it against real teams? Or, asked another way, if you DO trust your players to aggressively defend against Spain, how can you NOT trust them to do so against a team like El Salvador.

In truth, the US beat El Salvador 3-1, at least according to everyone except the Honduran* referee. At about the 58th mintue, Clint Dempsey poked the ball ahead to Jozy Altidore who shook off a defender and put the ball in the back of the net. It was a clean goal, yet it was called back for a reason that was never explained, either to the American broadcasters or the coaching staff. The call could not have been offsides (and everyone remarked the linesman's flag did not indicate that was the call), and any call against either Dempsey or Altidore would have had to be made up. The whistle was indefensible, and immediately shoots up the list of terrible calls.

So where does this leave the US? Well Costa Rica's home loss to Mexico leaves the US and Honduras tied at 13 points and Mexico and Costa Rica tied with 12 points. Since only the top 3 get guaranteed berths, the US needs a win on Wednesday against Trinidad and Tobago. A tie will make things difficult, and a loss (aside from being unthinkable, it's Trinidad and Tobago) would be catastrophic. Even a win won't clinch anything, but ideally it would put 4 points between 1st place and 4th place.

The US gets Onyewu back for the T&T matchup, which will hopefully allow Bradley to aggressively defend the midfield. If the US doesn't do so, I will begin losing my faith in Bob Bradley. I'm assuming the excuse against Mexico was the altitude (which is terrible, but whatever), and the excuse against El Salvidor was the absence of Onyewu and DeMerrit. There will be no excuse against T&T. Do it Bob.

*Yes, the same Honduras who (like the US) is locked in a 4-team struggle for 3 guaranteed berths to the World Cup. I'm not saying the ref was actively on the take, I'm just saying the whole setup smells a little funny.

It's all fun and games until someone gets sucker punched

Well the opening weekend of college football certainly wasn't boring...

It started with a whimper. South Carolina 7 North Carolina State 3. Looking at that final score, you probably have an idea of how ugly the game was to watch. Multiply that by 10, and you have a clear picture of what happened.

The Boise State-Oregon game did not live up to expectations, mostly because Oregon never showed up. The Ducks didn't get a first down until halfway through the 3rd quarter. Starting tailback LeGarrette Blount certainly showed up, though not until after the game, when he sucker punched a Boise State player who was taunting him. Blount turned around and coldcocked the BSU player (who wasn't wearing a helmet), then went crazy, pushing his own coach and trying to pull a Ron Artest and jump into the stands to confront some fans. It took multiple coaches and cops to finally get him off of the field. The decision Oregon made to suspend him for the rest of the season was the right one, as the punch was bad enough, but the rest of his behavior left them no choice.

The biggest winner of the weekend? Unquestionably BYU. They knocked off a BCS bowl participant from last year and the #3 team in the nation in Oklahoma. For those of you who dismiss this because Sam Bradford got hurt, BYU faced him for a whole half and gave up 7 points. Oklahoma scored 60 points or more 5 weeks in a row last season, and BYU held them to 7 points in a half with Bradford under center. That they pulled off the win is an even bigger statement. If BYU can run the table, they will have a legit argument for being put not just in a BCS bowl, but in the BCS title game (their schedule is strong, their conference is at least as good as the Big East, and they have a marquee win).

The biggest losers? Sam Bradford and Boise State. Bradford, because he came back when he could have been a top 5 pick, and he gets hurt right away. Oklahoma still has a shot at the BCS title game, but their road got a lot harder. But Boise State? Didn't they win their game over Oregon? Yes, and they only became losers when BYU knocked off Oklahoma. It's unlikely the BCS would invite more than 1 non-BCS conference team into the BCS bowls, and if both BYU and Boise State finish the season undefeated, BYU will be 10x more deserving. Their schedule is much tougher, their conference is much less of a joke, and their marquee win dwarfs BSU's. The saving grace for Boise is that BYU has the much harder road to go undefeated.

Ohio State almost ended up in that losers column, as Navy had a chance to tie the game at 29 with less than 3 minutes to go. The 2-point conversion play Navy dialed up...well, it could have gone better. Navy's QB dropped back to pass, then threw the ball to a receiver who was falling down, and had not 1, not 2, but 3 OSU players bewteen him and the QB. Naturally, the first OSU player picked off the pass, and ran it back all the way to give OSU a 4 point lead that they held on to for the W. They'd better get their stuff together in a hurry though, as USC comes to Columbus in 5 days.

The weekend also featured the most bizzare ending to a game I have ever seen. Northern Iowa trailed Iowa by 1 with 7 seconds left. They attempted a 41 yard field goal...and it was blocked. However, Northen Iowa recovered the ball with 1 second left. Normally, this would be moot, but it wasn't 4th down and the ball never crossed the line of scrimmage, which meant Northen Iowa maintained possession. With 1 second left, they lined up for another kick which was...blocked.

In 2 games involving 4 ranked teams, we also learned that Georgia's offense and Virginia Tech's defense both need work. Georgia did zilch on offense against Oklahoma State's suspect defense after the first drive of the game, which is very concerning for when they start playing SEC defenses. And Virginia Tech may be able to deal with the mediocre ACC offenses, but if Alabama can go up and down the field on you, you'd better reconsider your national title aspirations.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Random thoughts...

- The joys of being a fantasy owner: Your quarterback is David Garrard. While David Garrard is a good NFL quarterback, he's a game manager on a team that would prefer to run the ball all day, bad recipe for fantasy success. Since you're in a keeper league, your pickings are a little slim. The best chance for big production out of the QB spot? Matt Schaub, Mr. Pencil me in for 5 missed games due to injury. You decide to roll the dice because he has so many weapons and so much ability. 24 hours later, you sit down to watch some preseason football...and Schaub sprains his ankle.

- Ricky Rubio decides to stay in Spain for at least 2 years. This despite TWolves president David Kahn travelling out to Spain and putting an agreement to buyout Rubio from his club in writing before Rubio himself nixed the deal. Nice to see that diva behavior isn't limited to American teenagers.

- The Seahawks sign Edgerrin James because they realized what everyone else following the league knew: their RB situation stank. Of course, given that James is over 30 and couldn't hack it for the last 3 years in Arizona, their RB situation still stinks. Add in that 2/5 of their starting OLine is out, and that opening game at home versus the St. Louis Rams is looking like a tough win...excuse me while I go throw up.

- The Tampa Rays trade Scott Kazmir to the Angles for a 2 players, a bag of balls, and 4 tickets to Disneyland. This is what happens when your team has finite resources (in other words, you don't root for the Yankees, Mets, or Red Sox), but it's still a crying shame that it makes sense for Tampa to trade one of their top 4 starting pitchers to a team they would face in the first round of the playoffs if they made it. If you're a Red Sox fan, you're especially upset as you are much more likely to be the team that faces the Angles in the first round of the playoffs, and Kazmir owns your guys.

- And finally, Curt Schilling is interested in Ted Kennedy's now-vacant Senate seat. This is clearly a joke, but someone might want to tell Curt that, as I'm not sure he understands it.