Monthly Archives: December 2010

Thoughts From Last Night

1. The defense, long considered our achillies heel, played outstanding. The offense, we should trust, will come around, they’ve been too good and have too many players. But our defense was flying around the ball, and tackling well (everyone but Drew Brees of course), and making life rather miserable for Brees. Yes, Brees put up really good numbers against the blitz, but he made some pretty ridiculous plays himself to do that. Those were plays most quarterbacks don’t make, and on most days, I’m not sure Brees doesn’t make. We just about got to him so many times last night, you have to like that formula. If our defense can turn out performances like that, I like our chances going forward.

2. Did we really want to have to beat the Saints three times this year? That’s a tall task. Has anyone ever beaten a defending Super Bowl champion three times in one year? It’s highly unlikely. Do we want to have that task staring us down in our first home playoff game in six years?

3. How many teams are really going to be able to come in here and win a game? How many quarterbacks can handle this crowd noise in this building? Do you really think Michael Vick can orchestrate the offense as well with this noise and this atmosphere like he can in Philadelphia at home? Jay Cutler? The easily rattled Jay Cutler? Drew Brees played well, and yet even in playing well, it wasn’t that well. There were huge mistakes too. And I’m not sure Brees can even come in here and win twice.

4. We learned our secondary can hold up okay in one on coverage, or while we are blitzing. Yes, Brees completed a ton of passes, but as mentioned before, he made some ridiculous plays that 9 times out of 10 nobody in the league can make. There were a lot of completions, for very little gain. If the guys in the secondary tackle, this approach works. Make a team go 10 or 12 plays for a touchdown. Odds are good, they won’t be able to. They’ll commit a penalty, or turn the ball over, which the Saints did a lot of both. The strategy worked perfectly, well, until the end that is. I’ll gladly let a guy complete 9 of 11 passes for 65 yards if those two incompletions are turnovers. That’s a trade-off I’ll make any day of the week. I’m curious to see how many blitzes were called on that final drive by the Atlanta defense though that allowed the go ahead score. Our strategy was to make the Saints patiently move the ball down the field without the benefit of the big play. It worked the entire game, until the end, so I’m curious if we stopped blitzing as much at that point.

5. Teams with chips on their shoulder and something to prove become even more dangerous. Apparently ESPN has forgotten that the Falcons are 12-3, in first place, can still be the one seed if they simply beat the worst team in the league at home, and BEAT the Saints earlier this year in New Orleans. Now, suddenly, after a three point loss to a great football team, in a great game, the Falcons are frauds, and overrated, and exposed. Okay. Tell them that. Tell this team they are nobodys. Good. They like it that way.

See you in January.

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Quit Being Lazy Trent Dilfer

Some people just blow my minds with their ignorance, stupidity, or laziness. Trent Dilfer, you’ve managed to once again personify what makes the “Worldwide leader” a joke so often.

Seriously, you’re doubting the Falcons because you compare them to the 2003 Kansas City Chiefs? If you want to doubt them, fine. But at least try to find something factual, relevant, and accurate to base your belief on.
Sure, the Chiefs had a great regular season and got beat in the first round. But you know what? A lot of teams have done that in NFL history. So let’s compare the Falcons to all of them. Or, better yet, let’s compare the Falcons to all the teams who had good regular season and who went on to have deep January playoff runs. The Falcons could compare to all such teams, as your criteria for comparison is pretty much that they were football teams who won a lot of regular season games.

The Chiefs had an abysmal defense that year. And I don’t mean just a merely mediocre defense, but absolutely horrible. They were the 25th best defense of the year, however, they had the next to last ranked run defense in 2003. It was atrocious.

In general, teams that make deep playoff runs play good run defense. You can escape shoddy pass defense, but if you can’t stop the run, you generally don’t stand a chance of playing late into January. If you can, you can mask other defensive deficiencies, especially if you have a good offense that doesn’t turn the ball over.

So heading into the 2003 season playoffs, the Chiefs biggest weakness was a HUGE weakness. Red flags were up everywhere.

Beyond just the huge red flag of an absolutely worthless run defense, Kansas City had not exactly come into the post-season on a high note. They started the year 9-0, but finished it 4-3. The Chiefs spent the 2003 season losing 3 of their last 4 road games, including the last two by 18 points and 25 points.

A sign of a team ready to compete in January is a team that can win on the road. Winning on the road consistently, against anyone, is the sign of a contending team. The Chiefs were not only not winning on the road, in their final two outings they weren’t even competitive.

They allowed 159 or more rushing yards in 5 of their last 7 games, including three games of allowing 200 yards on the ground.

So the thought of the Chiefs losing their first playoff game should not have been unheard of, or thought to be crazy. It especially should have been deemed less insane if this defensively challenged team were to face someone with an offense equally as explosive as theirs, like, say, the Colts.

The result, a game with no punts that the Chiefs lost. If their lousy defense can get one stop somewhere along the way, they win the game. However, when your defense was as lousy as theirs, playing an offense like the Colts, it’s not shocking.

Now compare that team to the Falcons.

That Atlanta defense, overall, has been rather medicore, ranking 16th. However, in terms of points allowed, they’ve allowed the 7th fewest. But more importantly, their run defense has been a top ten unit. Atlanta can, and often does, stop the run. The Chiefs couldn’t have contained this year’s Packers running game.

Atlanta has also closed out the year winning 8 straight games, and it would take a collapse of epic proportions to not wind up winning 9 of their last 10.

They’ve also gone 6-2 on the road this year, losing in overtime to a pretty dadgum good Steelers team, and a loss in Philadelphia. They’ve endured a stretch of four road games in five weeks, and simply won all five games, by an average of 12 points.

So yeah, these two teams are just mirror images of each other. Nice call Trent. Just laziness from an “analyst” who wanted to find something controversial to say, and find some way to back it up. Perhaps he and Skip Bayless should do lunch.

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Braves Staff Not Ready to Bow Down to Phillies

Terms like “best ever” have been thrown around to describe this Philadelphia Phillies pitching rotation, and with worthy reason. However, some in baseball, and many fans, including yours truly in a moment of overreaction, have anointed this Phillies team National League East champions already on the merits of this pitching staff. People are making statements that no team in the National League has a pitching staff that can even remotely compare.

Simply put, that’s not true. Not only do teams in San Francisco and St. Louis disagree with this, there’s another one located within the Phillies own division that probably is already tired of reading and hearing about how great these Phillies are.

The Atlanta Braves, remember, pitched pretty well last year. Fielding, well, that became a different story. Their pitching though, was outstanding. Never mind that the Braves bullpen enters the 2011 season head and shoulders above the Phillies, their starting rotation actually has the ability to compare pretty favorably.

Keep in mind that of the Phillies big four, three of them are in their 30s. Yes, the Braves also have two of their big four in their 30s as well, ¬†however, they also have two who are among the brightest young pitchers in the game. Halladay, Oswalt, and Lee could all see declines this upcoming season, though I wouldn’t at all bet on it. It’s just something to think about though. How much longer will those guys keep throwing 200 innings? The Phillies need them to, because they don’t want that bullpen throwing many innings this year at all.

It’s not age though that’s important, it’s on field production. On the field, the Atlanta Braves pitching staff has the potential and ability to rival the Phillies, and come close to equaling them, if they don’t indeed perform on an even bar with the Phillies.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Tim Hudson was a very viable Cy Young candidate last year. Fully recovered from Tommy John, Hudson was outstanding. Hudson’s ERA+ was better than that of the mighty Cliff Lee last season. It’s likely he probably won’t repeat the performance this year, due in large part probably to a weaker defensive infield for the Braves. However, the good news is, he doesn’t have to.

Jair Jurrjens was hurt all year last year pretty much, never able to get going. Perhaps you forget that in 2009 he posted an ERA+ that was on par with Roy Halladay’s performance last year. It’s funny how many people forget how good he pitched in 2009. His performance in 2009 would be the ace of just about any staff in baseball, including this years Phillies rotation.

Derek Lowe did indeed struggle to begin the year, mightily in fact. However, some adjustments got made during the year, and the results cannot be argued with. In 10 of his last 14 starts, including both in the playoffs, Lowe allowed two runs or less. This cannot be ignored.

In the seasons final three months, Tommy Hanson allowed 3 earned runs or less in 15 of his 18 starts. In fact, in EIGHT of those starts he allowed one run or fewer. In 25 of his 34 starts Hanson allowed two earned runs or fewer. That’s 5 more times of 2 or fewer earned runs than one Roy Halladay.

Just some food for thought for those who think this Braves rotation can’t keep pace with the one in Philadelphia.

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Where Did That Come From?

So what do the Atlanta Braves do now? It seemed as though the team was in prime position next year to make a real run at the National League East title.

Then this.

If you want to talk about a bombshell, or a stab straight through the heart, this is it.

Cliff Lee is a Phillie. The Philadelphia Phillies now have a rotation that arguably is as good, or better, than any the Atlanta Braves have ever trotted out. And that’s saying something.

Teams with pitching like that win division titles, and usually win them with two or three weeks left in the season. Teams like that win 90 games. Actually, a team like this could win 110 games.

Halladay, Lee, Oswalt and Hamels could very well be worth 70 wins from those four alone next year. You don’t think the Phillies can scrounge up 30 or so from their 5th starter and bullpen?

This division race may be over before it even starts.

So now what can the Braves do to counter?

For starters, we can hope they draw the Giants in the opening round next year.

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Titans/Colts, Ride the Baby Horse

The Indianapolis Colts are in a world of hurt. Their defense can’t stop much of anyone, especially their run defense, and their offense is a collection of guys who should be doing nothing but covering kickoffs and punts.

Their do everything, all-time great quarterback Peyton Manning is forcing things and in turn playing perhaps the worst football since his rookie year in 1998.

The Colts are teetering on the brink of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2001, and are likely looking at their first single digit win season since that year as well.

They are taking the 6th worst rush defense in the NFL on the road to play against one of the games best running backs. A loss tonight and the division title and playoff dreams of the Colts are pretty much crushed.

It’s a dire situation.

And it’s the type of situation a Peyton Manning has to steup and deliver, It’s the type of situation Peyton Manning will step up and deliver.

Granted, I’m not sure I believe this so much because I believe in Manning and the Colts right now, but rather I’m not at all believing in these Titans.

These Titans don’t look anything like a Jeff Fisher team. Yes, there are problems at the quarterback position, but they’ve overcome that before.

Jeff Fisher led Titans teams are known for being tough, physical, and playing hard. These guys appeared to have already checked out for the year.

I’m not talking about just the players either. How else do you explain a team sitting at 5-5, in contention for a division title suddenly, and inexplicably handing the ball of to their best player, and arguably one of the best running backs in all of the NFL just 20 times over two games? The coaches have mailed it in too.

This isn’t that surprising though, considering how frustrated Jeff Fisher has arguably become with the Vince Young situation, and how it seems less and less that owner Bud Adams is staunchly in his corner when it comes to dealing with the troubled but talented quarterback.

Playing one of the worst defensive teams of the past 20 years two weeks ago against the Houston Texans, Chris Johnson had 7 carries. Yes, seven, that’s it. It was a game the Titans lost 20-0.

Another dispirited effort followed last week against Jacksonville. Tennessee has lost five straight, and has turned the ball over ten times in their last four games.

Yeah, not what you expect from Jeff Fisher teams.

So the Colts playoffs may get a stay of execution thanks to their opponent this week, but it’s not because I believe in the Colts, I just don’t believe in the Titans.

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How the AFC Playoff Race is Shaping Up

So we’ve reached the 3/4 mark of the NFL season, and the picture of the 2010 NFL season is starting to come into focus and become a lot clearer.

The New England Patriots are very good, scary good even, especially on offense. In fact, their offense is performing at a level that equals that of the historically great 2007 Patriots offense, and it’s doing it with a rag-tag collection of football players. I don’t think there can be an argument against Tom Brady as the MVP at this point.

The Patriots defense is less than stellar, and the secondary has struggled mightily this year. However, getting home field advantage int the playoffs might matter as much to New England as it will any team in football. Forcing teams to play outside in Foxboro in January will do more to upgrade this pass defense than anything short of adding Darrelle Revis or Champ Bailey.

Newsflash, Mark Sanchez is not a very good quarterback. He’s not anywhere remotely close to the level of a Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco when it comes to great young quarterbacks in this league. As a matter of fact, if you really look at it, Sanchez isn’t performing better than any of the top young quarterback prospects of the 2008 and 2009 drafts. Even Chad Henne is playing better football this year. If you want one reason the Jets are over-hyped, it starts with their over-hyped quarterback.

Speaking of over-hyped, I think it’s a term that also applies to the Jets secondary. Their pass defense is only 17th in the NFL right now, and against number one receivers they are a pedestrian 13th. For a team who supposedly has the best shut down corner in the NFL, you’d expect better.

The theme of this Jets team is clearly a team that is more about brash, arrogant boasting, and hyped superstars than it is about being a truly great football team. They are now destined to begin the playoffs on the road. The good thing for the Jets is that the AFC’s 4th seed won’t pose a too imposing challenge. However, if they get to round two, on the road, I don’t think the Jets have a chance against any of the three big dogs in the conference. And no, after Monday night, the Jets no longer belong in the conversation regarding the AFC’s elite.

With games left at Chicago and Pittsburgh, the Jets could easily wind up with five losses and as just the sixth seed in the AFC and forced to likely start the playoffs potentially in Kansas City. As of right now, they aren’t in any real danger of missing the playoffs. However, if there is a hangover from the embarrassing showing against the Patriots this upcoming Sunday against the Dolphins and the Jets lose this game, things could get testy in New York, and this hype machine is going to have to fight for its playoff life with two brutal road games looming.

The Miami Dolphins loss last weekend to Cleveland did serious damages to their playoff hopes, in fact, it may have ruined them. The Phins have a favorable schedule in the closing month with Buffalo and Detroit both coming to South Florida before they head north to play a Patriots team that will likely be resting their starters.

If, and that’s a huge if, Miami can beat the Jets, the combination of the win, and the two remaining schedules, will at least put some pressure on the Jets, and give Miami a fighting chance. The Dolphins 6-6 record is a perfect microcosm of their season. They excel at nothing, and yet, aren’t particularly bad at any one phase of the game.

In other words, they’ve lacked a significant play maker to transform this team from mediocre to good. They thought that they obtained such a player in Brandon Marshall, but the reality of the situation is that Marshall hasn’t even performed like a legit NFL starting receiver this year. Both Bo Hartline and Devon Bess have outplayed him this year. If Miami fans want somewhere to point blame for their failure to take the next step this year, they need look no farther than Marshall. Despite being thrown at 100 times this year, Marshall has only pulled in 58 passes, and just one touchdown.

There are no questions though as to whether or not the Pittsburgh Steelers or Baltimore Ravens still belong in the conversation. It’s just unfortunate that one of them will have to start the playoffs on the road, and that likely will be Baltimore. Of course, this wasn’t a problem for the Ravens last year as they marched right into New England and put a whipping on the Patriots.

Baltimore’s schedule sets up favorably, so they should be able to get back past the Jets and into the 5th spot in the conference, which could be huge. It’s likely the 4 seed from the AFC will be the AFC South winner, which would mean Jacksonville or an injury depleted Colts team.

The Steelers would absolutely rather New England have to come to their building in January, but it doesn’t appear that will be the case. The Steelers defense is good enough though to go to Foxboro and beat the Patriots. They also have the weapons on offense to take advantage of New England’s secondary. If anyone seems likely ¬†potentially take down New England, it’s these Steelers. Winning the game against Baltimore to get themselves a top two seed was paramount, they will need all hands on deck to get by New England. Don’t be shocked though if they see Baltimore in the 2nd round, and don’t be shocked if they don’t survive it this time around.

The Chargers loss last week did wonders for the Kansas City Chiefs and their bid for the playoffs. If I need to remind you, remember I pegged this Chiefs team as my sleeper team in the NFL over the summer. Unless the Chiefs completely fall asleep at the wheel now, they are going to be hosting a playoff game in about a month.

The problem for the Chiefs is that they don’t play good enough defense and special teams to really be considered a threat to make a post-season run. Stopping people and winning the field position battle is how you win in January in the NFL, and the Chiefs just aren’t good enough in those phases of the game.

However, if Kansas City can draw the Jets in the first round, they stand an excellent chance of getting out of round one. You know Thomas Jones would be extra motivated to take on the Jets, and you’ve got to like the chances of Brandon Flowers severely limiting Santonio Holmes impact for the Jets.

The Chiefs travel to San Diego on Sunday to play the Chargers, a victory will pretty much eliminate the Chargers from the division and playoff race. The team who beat San Diego last week, Oakland will be traveling to Jacksonville in a weekend that sets itself up as a potential elimination weekend in the AFC West.

That Oakland game with Jacksonville could be extremely big. A Raiders victory and the door in the AFC South gets swung wide open for everyone in that division to have a chance to waltz right in. It also puts the Raiders in position to continue to apply pressure on the Chiefs, who by the time their game gets to the 2nd half will know if the Raiders have won or not.

It’s very possible the three teams in the west enter the last three games of the season with just one game between them all. If that’s the case, advantage San Diego. The Chargers get San Francisco, Denver and Cincinnati to close the year. A win over Kansas City, and it seems another December charge from the Chargers will be inevitable. With Oakland or Kansas City guaranteed to lose (barring a tie) one more time, suddenly San Diego might become the favorite to win this division after all. Yes, this week is an enormous week in the AFC West.

The Jaguars seem to be sitting rather pretty in the AFC South at the moment. Even though they play at Indianapolis in two weeks, the schedule absolutely favors the Jaguars and their playoff push. They get the aforementioned Raiders at home this week, and then close the season with a game at home against the hapless Redskins and on the road against a Texans team that will likely be playing for a coach on the way out.

The way to beat Jacksonville is to make them turn the ball over, something the Oakland Raiders absolutely do not do. In fact, only the Broncos force fewer turnovers per drive than the Raiders do. If you’re a Jaguar fan, you’ve got to like what you’ve got coming up. But enjoy the finish of the regular season and the likely division title Jaguar fans, because in the playoffs, the potential first round match-ups do not at all favor Jacksonville. It doesn’t matter whether it is Baltimore or New York, the Jaguars don’t match up favorably with either. Their hope at this point to win a game in the playoffs has to be a New York Jets collapse and perhaps the San Diego Chargers sneaking in.

With the Colts at 6-6, and severely hampered by injuries, it may be too much to ask for the Colts to win the last four games and finish 10-6, meaning Jacksonville needs to just find two wins to get to 9 and likely ensure at least a tie with the Colts. Of course, if the Jaguars win their next two games, the division will be over.

You would think the Colts have to feel good about the fact that they do get to play the absolutely inept Titans twice in the seasons final four games, but it might not be all roses. Even if they sweep the Titans, for one, that only puts them at eight wins. More importantly though, the Titans may not be a match-up that the Colts have the upper hand in.

The Titans are outstanding on special teams and play some pretty good defense. The Colts are the second worst team in the league on special teams, and the offense has become a turnover machine in recent weeks. That combination is exactly the kind of mixture that will get you beat by Jeff Fisher coached team, even if Rusty Smith is playing quarterback.

The Titans, with three division games left, still have a mathematical chance to work their way back into the playoffs. What this team wouldn’t do for healthy, and quality play at quarterback right now. With it, it wouldn’t be that far fetched to see the Titans winning their next two games at home, and being 7-7 in position to put major pressure on Jacksonville and Indianapolis in the division. Unfortunately, the smoke and mirrors of Rusty Smith at quarterback might win a game or two here down the stretch, it probably just won’t be enough. However, with two left with the Colts, they can absolutely ruin the Colts rein in the AFC South.

At this point in the season, it just looks to be too much for the Colts to get their way into the playoffs, and you can see it even in Peyton Manning’s play lately. He’s still one of the games best quarterbacks, but his value is perhaps inflated a bit this year because of the complete lack of running game. It should be noted, that on a per play basis, Manning hasn’t been among the league’s top ten quarterbacks this year. Obviously, the supporting cast around him factors heavily into this, but it’s something that can’t be ignored, and this is with a Colts offensive line that is the best in the league still at protecting the quarterback.

You can’t rule out the Houston Texans, yet. However, by next Tuesday morning you likely can. Their game with Baltimore next Monday night is absolutely huge. It’s quite possibly the most important game in Gary Kubiak’s coaching career. A loss, the playoffs are gone, and so likely is Kubiak at the end of the year.

In fact, next week’s game with Baltimore can severely alter the playoff landscape. A Baltimore loss would be their fifth, suddenly opening up the door for any number of teams still at the six loss mark with three games to play in the season. Not only that, it keeps Houston very much alive in the AFC south race, and with a home game with Jacksonville in week 17 looming, the pressure will get seriously turned up on Jacksonville to not slip up prior to that tilt.

However, a loss that eliminates Houston puts this as a team who is probably going to be very aware they are playing for a lame duck coach, with little to play for. That approach will probably lend itself to the Texans effort dwindling on a week by week basis, and that could be very important for the Jaguars as they will be trying to wrap up a playoff berth at the seasons ends against the Texans.

The Texans offense has been lethal this year, performing at a pace that’s not far removed from being one of the ten best offensive teams of the past 18 years. Unfortunately for Houston, their defense is historically even worse, as it still has a chance to be the worst defense the NFL has seen in that same time span. If the Texans defense had even just been bad, and not historically bad, the AFC South would likely be getting wrapped up in the next two weeks by the Texans. Instead, a regime change could be in place.

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Missing Davey Allison

So it’s late at night, I’m pulling out old NASCAR race tapes. First was the 1992 Pepsi 400. For those that don’t know, it was Richard Petty’s last race at Daytona, and he led the first five laps.

But I also pulled out my tape of the 1993 Diehard 500, at Talladega. For those that don’t know, it’s the race two weeks after Davey Allison died.

Davey was the youngest member of the famed Alabama Gang, he was the last patriarch, he was the one to carry the Allison name on.

And dammit, he was going to carry it on. The man could drive. And he could drive well. Unfortunately, we never saw Davey reach his full potential, nobody did.

While flying home to watch a family friend run some test laps at Talladega, a family friend of the beloved Alabama Gang (a group of NASCAR drivers from Alabama who experienced great success in NASCAR), Davey Allison failed to properly land his helicopter in the Talladega infield.

The result was tragic.

Davey didn’t survive the injuries suffered in that crash. The sport of NASCAR was robbed of one of its greatest talents. A young star in the making never got to make his full mark.

The Allison story is one of many in NASCAR lore, of a young talent taken way too soon. It’s also a story sports fans need not forget. For if Davey hadn’t been taken so young, where would Jeff Gordon be? Which means where would Jimmie Johnson be?

Davey Allison was a great talent. A talent we never got to see reach its full potential. Let’s not forget that.

I don’t care who ever drives the 28 car again, or drives a Texaco Havoline car, the 28 car will be, and will always be, Davey’s.

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