Friday, February 29, 2008
Had another team signed the QB, Cleveland would have picked up first- and third-round picks in the process. That would have allowed the team to improve a defense that ranked 30th in 2008, while turning over the reins of a high-powered offense to Brady Quinn. The combination of a strong defense, great offensive weapons, and a young QB, incidentially, is the model the Steelers have used to rule the NFC North over the past few years. While two draft picks would obviously not put their defense at the level of Pittsburgh's, it would be a step in the right direction.
Of course, the Browns' move to sign Anderson - and forego the chance at the draft picks - is a smart one if Anderson is the great QB the Cleveland brain trust apparently thinks he is. But how much of the former 6th-rounder's breakout 2007 performance due to the fact that he had Braylon Edwards, a healthy Kellen Winslow, a resurgent Jamal Lewis, and the great rookie O-Lineman Joe Thomas on the field with him? Let's also not forget that Anderson managed only a 9 TD - 10 INT ratio over his last seven games, a severe drop-off from the 20/9 ratio of his first nine. The move to forego the picks is all the more questionable considering the Browns' solid recent draft history.
The other twist here is that the Browns might think they can do better than a first- and third-rounder if they turn around and deal Anderson; there have been rumors of such a sign-and-trade move.
In any event, the move leaves Cleveland with two now-big-name QBs with a half-season of good NFL work between them and serious sunk costs in terms of money and foregone draft picks, all with the bitter taste from last year's late-season failure still in their mouths, great offensive weapons, and a defensive-minded fourth-year coach who still has yet to guide his team to the postseason. How this shakes out should be one of the NFL's more interesting storylines of the next year.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
A brief compendium:
Since getting the games in 2001, China has been remodeling the look of their homes and streets, razing entire neighborhoods including large parts of the historic sector of Beijing. In their eagerness to appeal to the western world, the new new high rises that are being built in place of the old homes have names like "Greenwich" and "Upper East Side."
However, the intense modernization and urbanization has come at the expense of people's livelihoods and sometimes their lives. Thus, unfortunately, the hyper-modernization has been on the face only, as the country's long-condemned human rights record has yet to improve, despite the promises made when campaigning for the bid eight years back.
They've been educating their citizens in etiquette, teaching them how to queue and instituting a "give your seat up on the bus" day. At the same time, they're jailing citizens that have dared protest, and asking athletes (their own as well as everoyne else's) to keep their mouths shut. Throughout all this, the IOC has kept their own mouth shut without being asked.
*That second to-last link was found on thebiglead.
Update: China will resume human rights dialogue with US
Thursday, February 21, 2008
One of the way the Heat (or any other team in their situation) could expedite this process isn’t being fully utilized. As presently constituted, the NBDL is functioning at less than half its capacity. Franchises undergoing rebuilding periods is an inevitability, but that process dragging on for years isn’t.
This is why the NBA should continue to grow the NBDL. In March of 2005 Stern said, “I would like to see a 15-team development league where two NBA teams could share one development team. The younger players could get the needed coaching, training and life skills that would make them better NBA players.” Stern is on the right track, but stopping at 15 teams, is too modest a goal.
The virtues of a true farm system
The parent club would be able to dictate the style of play to their affiliate, thus giving an advantage to possible call-ups. It would benefit both the individual player as well as the NBA team: a seamless transition (system-wise) would improve the player's chances of sticking and simultaneously not disrupt his team's chemistry.
No longer in a gladiator-type battle NBDL players could worry less about eye-catching play, which often comes at the expense of teammates, and instead focus on all facets of their game, not just the glamorous ones. Because while yes, other teams’ scouts would be watching them too, they would primarily be seeking to impress the parent club.
Having a direct relationship with the parent club would foster a greater sense of team cohesiveness. The coaches and the training staff of the NBDL team would be those picked by the parent franchise, the players would be coming up together.
There would be no gaps in the direction of development. In SI’s 1/20/08 issue, Ian Thomsen, covering the NBDL “showcase” describes how Seattle’s player personnel chief Bil Branch has to “urge” Sene’s coach to give him more playing time, because the Sonics want to see some development from their $3 million/year investment. Thus without any official obligation, the Sonics must then count on favors from NBDL coaches, should they have a directional preference for a particular player.
This is where we’re at now
The Spurs were the first NBA team (11/06) to go out buy their own NBDL affiliate. Is it any surprise that the team with the best front office and top-down organization in the NBA was the first to make such a move? Now, this past summer the Lakers followed suit and bought one for themselves as well. This should be the clearest signal yet for Stern to act, because while the actions of these two teams send a strong message about the value of a minor league, there are still 28 other teams who have yet to act would benefit from the league's help and guidance.
Why this has become a necessity
1. The dilution of draft talent: With college no longer serving as a free farm system because of so many early departures, (the new age limit only mitigates the effect so much) a new one has to be created. There needs to be a substitute for the lack of in-game experience for the players that elect to forgo their junior and senior years.
2. The continuing expansion of the game globally: The pool of players is constantly growing larger. Right now we’re at 82 foreigners out of approximately 400 NBA players, somewhere around 25%. Nike, for one, had been counting on 50% by the end of the decade, and with Stern’s recent announcement about a 5-team Europe division, theirs seems a prescient prediction.
To top it all off, if NBA can support the WNBA as it hemorrhages untold millions, solely for the ostensible PR and general goodwill purposes, then it can surely fund a minor league system and thus ensure a greater quality of play.
Back to the Heat
So lets return to the present example, the Heat. This is a perfect season for Miami to try to develop new talent. Chris Quinn, Daequan Cook and Dorrell Wright have already been getting many more minutes than their numbers justify. Whats unfortunate is that their isn’t a mechanism in place for the Heat to embrace this rebuilding opportunity with more enthusiasm. If only the Heat could make a couple of call-ups and be that just that much better next yearand that much more certain of their off-season needs. And as an incidental benefit, there would be a lot less complaining about the late season tanking because the system would be perceived much like baseball’s September call-ups.
Perhaps the Heat’s hypothetical minor league team wouldn’t have anyone worthy of a call-up, just like the Heat haven’t called up any D-leaguer in real life. However, without that team existing, practicing the Heat’s system, and it’s coaches reporting directly back to Riley, the Heat (and every other NBA team except for the Lakers and Spurs) are missing out on an opportunity. And what’s more, in five years, and then ten years, and on and on into the future, as the global talent pool continues to grow, that opportunity missed will be a much bigger one than it is today.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
- Sharpe is a 5-time All-Pro, compared to 3 times for Monk and and 4 for Carter.
- Sharpe led the league in receptions 3 times; Monk and Carter once each.
- Sharpe twice led the league in touchdowns, as did Carter; Monk never had double-digit touchdowns in a season.
- Sharpe led the league in receiving yards in 1992; neither Monk nor Carter ever did this.
If there's a knock on Sharpe, it's that his career ended prematurely, cut short by a neck injury . Because of this, his career numbers don't match up to Carter's or Monk's. But it also makes his high number of All-Pro selections and stat leaders even more staggering. And, there are other Hall of Famers with relatively brief but stellar careers: Gale Sayers, like Sharpe, played only seven seasons, and made such an impact in that time he earned a spot in Canton. Hall of Famer Earl Campbell played eight season; Lynn Swann and the great Jim Brown played only nine but were considered worthy of Hall inclusion.Another Hall of Famer receiver for comparison: Hall of Famer Michael Irvin. Both he and Sharpe came into the league in 1988. In the seven years they were both in the league, Sharpe's numbers blow Irvin's away. Sharpe had 65 touchdowns to Irvin's 40; 595 catches to Irvin's 316; and over 8,000 yards to Irvin's less than 7,000. Yes, Irvin played in an offense focused more on the running game and also had some strong seasons late in his career, but it's hard to get around the fact that they both finished their careers with 65 TDs even though Irvin had give more years to do it. If Irvin made it in, Sharpe should be a no-brainer.
Monk, Carter and Irvin had great careers, but were not as dominant at their position as Sterling Sharpe. Few receivers ever were. The guy even made an All-Pro out of Don Majkowski! If not for his injury and playing his entire career for the then-irrelevant Packers, Sharpe would have been in Canton long ago. At this point, the only thing more inexplicable than his exclusion from the Hall is the fact that neither the media nor the voters seem to have noticed.
Friday, February 15, 2008
Am I the only one who thinks the undersized linebacker is a little overrated? Thomas was very productive in his Miami career and certainly meant a lot to the franchise, but, unlike the current and future Hall of Famers he's often compared to, he's not somebody who was capable of taking over a game. Consider, for example, his teammate Jason Taylor. Among his many achievements, he single-handedly decimated the Bears in a 2006 game; Thomas never played at that level. Zach Thomas might have been a great player for his size, but last I checked there was no rule that each team had to have one undersized guy on the field at all times. Zach was not big enough to fight off blocks himself and, while he could be very effective if a big D-line (guys like Daryl Gardner and Tim Bowens in the 1990s) could free him up, he could be also neutralized by a strong O-lineman, as Kevin Mawae of the Jets did to him in a crucial 1998 contest. In other words, he was a very effective "system linebacker," but (unlike Taylor) he was not a force of nature on the field.
Thomas was a very good player for a long time, and his career - from undersized fifth-round pick to seven-time Pro Bowler - is a great story. But it's possible to be a great story and merely a very good player.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Friday, February 8, 2008
The general consensus is that it's a dumb risk for Phoenix and Miami was pleasantly surprised to have the deal fall into their laps, with the few dissenters suggesting mutual benefit and pointing to a 38 year old Kareem still "running" with the showtime Lakers. Either way, everyone is on board that that it worked out great for the Heat.
Marion will have the option to opt out of his contract at the end of this year. As good a player as Marion is, even if he does opt out, the trade will still be worth the salary dump for Miami. They have J Will, Ricky Davis, and Zo coming off the books at the end of the year. Next year's payroll with Marion will be $53 million and a mere $36 million without him.
No matter how much Marion improves the team this year, they're a lock for the lottery. It's unreasonable to think they can make up 10.5 games on seven teams in less than half the season, and somehow compete for a playoff spot.
What the Heat ultimately get out of this is flexibility. Their only priority now will be to build for the the 09/10 season, the last year of Wade's contract. They have two years to put together a team that's a contender, one that's good enough to ensure that Wade isn't tempted by greener pastures, and is happy to re-sign and stay in Miami. Saddled with Shaq's contract and his inefficacy the Heat were on a path in the complete opposite direction. Now with or without Marion, because of the financial flexibility, they have the opportunity to rebuild now, and compete again soon. (Before the trade was even official, Dan LeBatard* was already thinking about Elton Brand.)
The Heat should play out the rest of the season as if they just got their September call-ups. Give the minutes to the youngsters and see if Marcus Banks can at least be an upgrade from Chris Quinn and if Dorell Wright will continue to get better or if he's plateaued. The natural complement to this route is sitting the, if not gimpy, then certainly less explosive Wade. Sure, give him 15-20 games to play with Marion, to be able to assess their chemistry, but after that, considering he'll be playing on the Olympic team all through the summer, give him a rest.
Then they can go into the off-season with a healthy Wade, a lottery pick, a better sense of their youth and of Marion, and sufficient cap space to pursue free agents.
*LeBatard's upcoming article on the trade is due Sunday and is rumored to reveal that neither Riley nor Kerr initiated the talks.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
HBO didn't give an explanation as to why they pulled the plug, but my guess is that the NFL cut off HBO from making the show so they could re-create it on the NFL Network and therefore create more demand for its channel. Inside the NFL depended on NFL Films for its distinctive highlight segments. NFL Films is owned by the NFL. We all know that the NFL has been pushing hard the past few years to promote its NFL Network. To get critical mass, fans have to feel they need the Network - that it's doing more than showing documentaries on the 1979 Rams. Moving actual games to the Network has perhaps been too aggressive, as this year's Pats-Giants season finale controversy showed. But moving an established highlights show to the Network might be the perfect move: it gives NFL Network a show that has a loyal viewership, made entirely of people who are used to paying for premium channels anyway, while not angering the general fan base the way moving a large number of actual games would.
The AP article mentioned that NFL Films would be "looking to continue the show in conjunction with another network in the fall," but it's hard to imagine this being anyone other than the NFL Network. First, because the NFL owns NFL Network; second, because the show's extended discussion format is built around a no-advertisement setup, which wouldn't be possible on any of the major networks or cable channels.
If this is what's going on, then it's a victory for League avarice and a loss for football fans. As for me, I'll consider getting the NFL Network - if they can throw in The Sopranos and Rome as well.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
There's the oft-uttered line about how a coach is limited in that they don't step on the field and thus the best they can do is put their player in a position to win. Well, this one's on the coaches, the genius Belichick included.
*The audio might be NSFW
2. Where was the Patriots' running game?
Ten of the Pats sixteen carries came in the 1st half and four of them came on their twelve-play opening drive (which, by the way, produced a TD). In the second half they carried only six times. Maroney ran those six carries for 24 yards, a solid average, so it wasn't that the running game was ineffective. Clearly, it wasn't just a matter of game planning not to run, but rather a deliberate choice to abandon the run.
OK, despite what the numbers suggest, let's assume they're misleading, give the Pats the benefit of the doubt, and presume that they indeed had never intended to run the ball. Perhaps they decided that because when they played the Giants in week 17 their running game was shut down so effectively (26 carries for 44 yards), that it wasnt worth pursuing this time around. But we all know that the passing game is about quality and the running game is about quantity. Even if they wouldn't pick up significant yardage, wouldn't a bigger running game at least keep the defense honest? Wouldn't it have been a little easier on Brady to hit his targets if he wasn't on his back all day?
It's as if they didn't consider any solutions to fixing they're sieve of a line other than some WR screens. Sure, yes, those worked well, but why didn't they run more draws for example? According to Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders,* the Pats ran more draws than any team in the league, and the Giants had been abysmal at stopping the draw all year (fitting for a pass-rush team, Schatz points out). Yet in the SB the Pats only ran one draw! (It went for 15 yards, but the net gain was only three because of a hold).
And finally, they only called only one run on their final scoring drive. It's tough to argue with play-calling that resulted in a go-ahead 4th quarter TD, but maybe a run play or two on that last drive would've ticked off those precious seconds that were still left for Eli. Or better yet, if they hadn't abondoned the run to begin with, maybe they wouldn't have needed that drive to pull ahead. Maybe they could've been killing the clock, lead in hand.
*Schatz doesn't say so on the website, but rather during Bill Simmons' 1/31 podcast, around the 16 minute mark.
3. The Fumble
Let me refresh your memory: middle of the second quarter, Manning and Bradshaw botch the handoff exchange at the NYG 32 yard line, New England player falls on it, Bradshaw jumps on top and wrestles the ball away, Giants retain possession. The interesting thing about the recovery is that it wasn't your standard pile-on where who knows what kind of tickling and pinching happens, and the ball exchanges hands an unknowable amount of times. No, in this case Bradshaw pounced on the defender and snatched the ball away from him while on top and in plain view. It was so blatant that I was surprised by the call, and even more surprised that Buck and Aikman didn't debate whether or not Belichick would challenge. (It's more understandable why Belichick in fact didn't challenge, as it's very possible that the evidence wouldn't have been indisputable. Again, I say "possible" because I haven't seen the play since).
I'm not saying it should have been Patriots ball, it might have been the right call. I'm just pointing out that the absence of the play from the highlight reel (every highlight reel!) is just as conspicuous as Bradshaw's grab. It's seems a curious production decision, as if every producer was concerned about possibly stirring up controversy, as if they didn't want to taint the Giants' day. Not surprisingly, I can't find the clip anywhere on youtube and the only thing a google search turned up is a mention by a fan on a giants message board, "we got extremely lucky."
4. Plax's Heart
Plax has played the entire season with a dislocated ankle. He's played large parts of the season with a hurt back and more recently a sprained MCL. He would heal during the week, sitting out practice, and then play on Sunday. After the loss to Minnesota, Sean Salsbury called for the Giants to sit him because he was hurting the offesnive chemistry. And at the time, this was a reasonable argument, as Salsbury made the case that it usually took Eli and Plax the first half of a game to get in sync, and by then it was sometimes too late.
Of course the Giants didn't sit him, and while he practiced but twice since week two, Plax played in every single game this year. His statline: 70 receptions for 1,025 and 12 TDs.
So why doesn't he get any love? Is it because he's considered flashy? Nah, not flashy; no one would put Plax in the same boat as Chad Johnson and TO, but the image of him coming off the field and instantly making sure that his visor is cocked to the side does stir doubts about focus. Irreverent maybe? There's the history of an ostensible lack of effort. Maybe it's a little of all of the above. After all, Pittsburgh's Post-Gazette felt the need to put a positive spin on his tenure with the Steelers after he left.
Whatever it is exactly, the media hasn't deemed him deserving of the kind of praise they love to heap on the likes of Zach Thomas, Wes Welker, or his former teammate Hines Ward. Rarely do we hear about Plax' toughness or heart, or how he's a "complete football player."
But Plax does deserves that kind of adulation. Not only did he ignore the pain and show up on game day as his stats testify, but he did so as the focus of the Giants offense. He was their number one option, not just statistically, but more importantly, psychologically. He's the one the defenses keyed on. He embraced that responsibility, and we never heard him complain.
The first time he said anything about his injuries was after the Super Bowl when he was asked about his game-winning touchdown. "I gave him a slant fake, he bit it, Eli put it up there and I came down with it. I just told myself, 'God, if you could just get me out here tonight, based on what I've been through all year with the knee and the ankle and the back and everything.' I'm just so grateful for the opportunity and I just told myself I can come out here tonight and compete I would give God all the glory."
Monday, February 4, 2008
Up 7-3 with just under 7 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, the Patriots found themselves facing a 4th-and-13 situation on the Giants 31 yard line. In vintage Pats fashion, Belichick elected to go for it, but the pass fell incomplete and New York got the ball on downs. In the wake of the stinging upset, Belichick has taken some serious flak for this decision, including Gene Wojciechowski's musing that there was no "logical reason" for this call.
Let's look at this more closely. The field goal would have been about a 49-yarder and for Stephen Gotskowski - like pretty much any kicker - that is hardly an automatic 3. The Pats kicker is 6-for-10 lifetime from over 40 yards with a season-long of 45, and has misses of 32, 41, and 48 this season. Even indoors in Arizona, those aren't great odds.
Meanwhile, as anyone who's watched the Pats offense this year knows, a pass of 13 yards is not beyond New England's capability. The team was 15 for 21 on 4th down this year and, while 13 yards is of course longer than usual, it's not hard to picture them converting it.
Basically, a field goal attempt would give them maybe a 50/50 chance of scoring 3 and giving the ball back to New York immediately. A pass attempt would give them a somewhat lesser chance of setting themselves up for a touchdown or a much easier field goal, and taking more time off the clock with at least a 7-point lead. Not a slam-dunk either way, but it's hard to fault Belichick too much for taking the more aggressive option - after all, that's the kind of play-calling that helped get them to 18-0 in the first place. If anything, given the Patriot's tendencies, it's surprising they didn't make more calls like this.
Here's a risk not taken that could have come back to haunt the Giants if not for the offense's late heroics: up 10-7 with about 8 left in the game, New York faced a 4th-and-1 on their own 38. They punt. A safe call, but was it the right one?
It's hard to believe that the Giants thought they could beat the Patriots with 10 points on the board. Given their strong running game and the fact that they were probably only going to get one more offensive possession, was this the time to give the ball back to New England? True, if you fail to convert here, you put New England about 10 yards from field goal range and less than 40 from the end zone. But if you punt, you can see the script unfolding - the Patriots get the ball deep in their own territory, drive the length of the field for a touchdown while killing the clock, and New York gets it back with a mere minute or so on the clock, down four points. If you give the Pats a short field, of course they're more likely to score, but at least they'll be plenty of time left for an offensive possession. Even though they had been held in check all night, it's hard not to assume that the Patriots offense will score in this situation one way or another, and manage the offense and clock accordingly.
As it was, the Patriots did score a touchdown - no worse than if they had been given the ball at the NYG 38. Luckily for the Giants, their long drive only took about 5 minutes off the clock (maybe it would have been more if they had done more than one running play), leaving enough time for Eli & Co.'s late-game heroics.
Friday, February 1, 2008
All the way to the Super Bowl with the one and only Kevin Boss at starting TE. Boss has posted pedestrian numbers, during the run: 4 catches, 45 yards, and no TDs, numbers that Shockey bested in seven separate games this year. Boss’ numbers are insignificant in the light of the fact that Boss himself is insignificant, and doesn’t have the stature (or perhaps the personality) to storm into the huddle nostrils flaring, eyes wide open, curses flying, angry about not getting the ball in the right spot (or perhaps at all).
That’s one less thing the often fragile-seeming Eli has to worry about. In fact, post-Shockey he doesn’t seem so fragile or shaken at all. Now when he comes to the line and points out blitz pick-ups or call audibles he no-longer exudes anxiety, but poise. Now that the baby-faced Eli doesn’t have to second-guess himself on account of the flamboyant Shockey he can concern himself solely with executing. With Shockey out, Eli’s TD/Int rate is 8/3 and 4/0 in the playoffs. And as if to emphasize this likely explanation even further, Shockey has been conspicuously absent from the bench and cheering section during the Giants run.
Strangely, the NY press (specifically the Post) held off commenting about this, as if it was a non-story. Underdogs climb to Super Bowl without one of their best known (if actually best) players, perennially nervous QB becomes perennially composed, and it’s a non-story? For a paper that regularly lambasted Eli, Coughlin, and the rest throughout this season (as well as seasons past) they now seemed uncharacteristically coy. Finally, forced to generate fresh copy for the two weeks before the Super Bowl they got around to it.
It’s almost as if they knew they had missed out on a significant subplot: Paul Schwartz of the Post pointed out that “per team policy, players on IR do not travel with the team and thus Shockey did not go with the Giants to their playoff stops in Tampa, Dallas or Green Bay. Actually, Shockey was in no condition from a physical standpoint to travel or stand on a sideline cheering for his teammates. He needs crutches to get around, meaning it would be dangerous for him to position himself anywhere near the Giants bench during games.” Team policy is all well and good, but Schwartz’ own offering is a dubious excuse and presumes we’ve never seen players on crutches standing with their teammates on the sideline. See: Arthur Blank pushing Vick’s wheelchair, or better yet, this week’s Sports Illustrated sidebar about Greg Gadson, an army veteran and paraplegic whose been traveling with the Giants, providing inspiration, and guess what, watching from the sidelines. Schwartz comes off more as Shockey apologist than a reporter honestly seeking and explanation. Not to be outdone, Steve Serby one-ups him and attempts to talk Shockey into coming to Arizona, urging him to be this year’s Phil Simms.
The stigma that comes with being injured is well documented. No doubt it’s been painful for the “fiery” Shockey (the Post’s preferred adjective for him): the only player-specific Giants merchandise that’s still readily available in the local Scottsdale memorabilia shops is that which bears his name.
It’s also worth noting that the Post’s coverage neglected to consider the other incarnation of the injured player, that of the rallying point. As such they implicitly make both points, that Shockey’s absence has proven a boon to the NYG offense, and that the they (the NY Post) didn’t bother to address that.