Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Baseball is done. Hockey is here (who noticed that? Anyone? Bueller?). Basketball is starting up. NASCAR is almost over (still can't get into NASCAR. Sorry fans, I just can't). Football is king, and it is steamrolling through the season.

The Ravens are 4-3 and coming off the bye week. They next play Monday night in Pittsburgh. I am not feeling overly confident on this one, and in fact am not feeling too good about the season in general. They have 9 games left, and this is what the schedule looks like...

@ Pittsburgh. They beat them down 2x last season. Steelers looking for payback? Probably. Steelers looking to gut punch a division foe and put the AFC North in a stranglehold? Most definitely. Hoping for a win, but not hopeful. This would make the record 4-4.

vs. Cincinnati. We should have beat them in Week 1. They have only 1 other win this season. Yes, Chris Henry is available to come off suspension for this game, but even so, I think this should be a win. 5-4.

vs. Cleveland. We should not have won this game, but only because of Billick's play calling and stupid decisions on defense by the players. The Browns are playing a lot better this year. Tossup game, but I am going with home field advantage and the Ravens' desire for payback from the last game. 6-4.

@ San Diego. A couple of weeks ago I would have said this should be a win. Now I am not so sure. The Chargers are playing better, it is in San Diego (where you cannot discount the residuals of the community banding together in the wake of the California fires as motivation for the team), and they are probably looking for revenge for the loss last year in a game that they probably shouldn't have lost. Unless they fall apart again (always a possibility with Norv Turner and Ted Cottrell in there) it looks like a loss. 6-5.

vs. New England. As of this post, New England is not only undefeated, it is undefeated against the spread. That is beyond comprehension. Barring an injury to Brady knocking him out of the game, I don't see how the hell we win this. and with the Patriots' defense, even WITH Brady out I am not feeling this one. 6-6.

vs. Indianapolis. This team has not been getting nearly enough respect or attention for the season that they are having (according to my recollection, they are only the 2nd team in NFL history to start 3 straight seasons 7-0 or better. No matter what you think of the franchise, that is pretty darn impressive). Our defense has not been near the level of last year. Another barring a miracle, it ain't happening game. 6-7.

@ Miami. Good chance that the Dolphins will still be winless here. Will it still be the Cleo Lemon experience, or will they have gone for the "look to the future" move and brought in John Beck. They lost Ronnie Brown for the year. Will Ricky Williams be back, or will be looking at Samkon (I couldn't make the cut with the Texans) Gado? If this is a loss, Billick should be fired by 8 P that night. 7-7.

@ Seattle. The Seahawks are not playing all that well (and much to the dismay of my fantasy team Shawn Alexander has apparently forgotten how to run towards the opponent with any level of intensity), but Seattle is one of the hardest places to play in the NFL (32-12 since Qwest opened in 2002 through this season). Toss up goes to the home team. 7-8.

vs. Pittsburgh. Final game of the season. If the Steelers have the division and / or a bye of the inability to get a bye settled by this game, it could go the Ravens' way. But I am not confident, and if the team really is 7-8 going in, there is a good chance that some of if not most of the players will have stopped trying so hard (which is an indictment of the pro athlete in general, who I think should hold him / herself to a higher standard). My bet? 7-9.

I don't want to opine on what the aftermath of this would be just yet. Let's see it play out.

A quick note on the Kevin Millar incident (read THIS). To those that had a problem with a guy who won a world championship with a team that still has many of those teammates and who got permission from his own club to do it, I say shut up. I don't think ANYONE can question Millar's loyalty to the Orioles as a player. Maybe if the Orioles actually MADE the postseason, it would be different. Let him get his props in a city that still loves him for what he did for them. And it isn't like he is throwing out the first pitch for the Yankees and their 26 World Championships. He was part of a team that ended an 86 year drought. That makes him part of something extra special and not a person of questionable character.

One last thing...this Sunday afternoon is the big New England-Indianapolis game. The Colts are 4.5 point home dogs last time I checked. The defending champs, undefeated, who beat this very team (albeit a much less loaded talent-wise team) in the postseason last year is a 4.5 point home underdog? As a rule, a team gets 3 points for being the home team if all the other things are equal. So this really makes the Patriots a 7.5 favorite. Now I know the line is set by who is betting on what team more than the actual teams, but that still seems off to me. And I am willing to bet that Tony Dungy is using that to his advantage. A lot will depend on if Marvin Harrison can go, and if the Patriots can find a solution to Dallas Clark (Adailus Thomas anyone?). The Pats got Richard Seymore (Seymoure? whatever) back. But can they stop Manning, Harrison, Wayne, Clark, and Addai? I am not as confident as everyone else seems to be. But the bigger question is can the Indy defense stop Brady, Moss, Welker, Stallworth, and the possibly returning Maroney? As I told a guy at work the other night (and as I mentioned a little earlier), the team has beaten both all the opponents put against them (of course, they have played the Jets, Dolphins, and Bills, who have a combined 3 wins. But you have to play your division, and they happen to be in a sucky one this year. Even if Buffalo is better than their record) and the spread that Vegas put on them, which is absolutely unprecedented. I cannot go against that. So I say the Patriots win this one. After this one, they have their bye, then play the following teams:

@ Buffalo
vs. Philadelphia
@ Baltimore
vs. Pittsburgh
vs. New York Jets
vs. Miami
@ New York Giants

I see a total of 2 games that MIGHT give them some difficulty, Pittsburgh and the Giants. But honestly, if they beat Indy, the only thing standing in the way of a perfect season is themselves and the possibility of resting their starters once home field advantage for the length of the postseason is secured.

Friday, October 19, 2007

I was looking back at some previous entries here, and I came across one talking about how Barry Bonds was going to break the career home run record (he did), and how I thought Alex Rodriguez would break the single season home run record (he didn't). However, he did have a career year, leading the American League in home runs, runs batted in, and runs scored. And I am still willing to bet that that he is going to opt out of his contract with the Yankees (especially now that Torre is gone, which I will get to in a moment) and sign a huge free agent deal (I am guessing in the neighborhood of $30 million per year for 5-6 years with some kind of club or player option). And although no one wants to believe me, I am still saying that he ends up with the Cubs. We shall see what happens.

Now on to Torre. I am officially naming him as the 2007-08 biggest name in free agency. I am also going to say that he is going to be the most overvalued free agent, and will NOT be successful in his new job (unless he gets into broadcasting, which I think he would be successful at doing). The thing I have noticed with managers/head coaches is that more so than almost any other job or position they are the culmination of a perfect storm rather than the driving force. By that I mean that they are the final complimentary part to a team that wins a championship. A quick glance at coaches that have won championships with one team and later coached another team shows this. Look at this list of World Series Winning managers...

World Series Championships - Ties Are Alphabetized

Joe McCarthy - 7

Casey Stengel - 7

Connie Mack - 5

Walter Alston - 4

Joe Torre - 4

Sparky Anderson - 3

Miller Huggins - 3

John McGraw - 3

Bill Carrigan - 2

Frank Chance - 2

Cito Gaston - 2

Bucky Harris - 2

Ralph Houk - 2

Tom Kelly - 2

Tommy Lasorda - 2

Billy Martin - 2

Bill McKechnie - 2

Danny Murtaugh - 2

Billy Southworth - 2

Dick Williams - 2
How many of these managers won these championships with different teams? Anderson (also the only manager to win a World Series championship in both the AL and the NL), Harris, McKechnie. That is it.
I think that we can all agree that a championship season in ANY sport (excepting for those "dynasties" like the 70's Steelers or the Yankees of too many dang eras) requires a mot of skill on the team and a lot of luck on and off the field. For instance, injuries to your team (or to your opponents/division foes/rivals) can have a HUGE impact. All in all, it is almost a perfect storm/confluence of events and players that leads to a championship. There is a reason that there has been no repeat winners, or even two time winners of the World Series since the 1999-2000 Yankees. Say all you want about big money/big market versus small market and buying teams. If that was the case the Yankees and the Red Sox would have won every World Series for the last 10+ years, and they probably would have played the Cubs at least 5 or 6 times. I am a firm believer in team chemistry (the 1972-1974 Oakland Athletics notwithstanding), and team chemistry is a very fragile thing.
Joe Torre was always lauded for his ability to handle the huge egos that came to New York with the giant contracts and make them work together. This is true, to an extent. But the other thing to think about is that when he was leading the Yankees to the World Series, he had a mixture of young players with talent and a hardcore work ethic (Jeter/Rivera ET AL) and a bunch of veterans who played the game the "right way", and weren't all about egos (O'Neill, Cone, Key, Wetteland, Boggs, Martinez...the list goes on and on). The team kept on winning, but those veteran players moved on and/or retired, and the Yankee's front office kept bringing in players with comparable (or better) stats, but not with the same work ethic and desire (Knoblauch, Giambi, etc). And Torre was able to keep them in line enough to get to the postseason (although with a roster as talented as they had, not getting to the postseason would have been BEYOND unacceptable), but he couldn't get them any further. Why is that? I am glad you asked...
Joe Torre was never a great tactician. He was a good motivator (not a great one, but a good one), but the X's and O's of the sport were never his strength. When he had that mix of young and old players fighting tooth and nail to get to (and win) it all, he looked like a genius. Once he had to start really playing chess, he started losing to managers that had to do it all season in order to win. Torre could just bludgeon most teams with superior talent, but without talent you won't make it to the postseason, and with talent and a postseason berth, anything is possible. Since Torre didn't have to make tactical moves NEARLY as often as most other managers, when the margin for error was so greatly reduced he didn't have the needed skill set to fall back on. Joe Torre was out managed by Jack McKeon in the 2003 World Series (did I just hear someone say "who"? My point exactly). A manager brought in halfway through the season as an interim manager led the Florida Marlins past the mighty Yankees. It REALLY shouldn't have happened.
Now as far as being in the broadcast booth, I think he would be excellent as a color man. He has a dry sense of humor, and a great knowledge of the game and the history of the game (hey, he's been part of the history for 40+ years, he HAD to have retained SOME of it). He is a warm, friendly guy by all accounts, and has a natural, pleasant way of explaining things that I think would not come across as condescending. So Joe, if you are reading this (and I am sure that you are. At least, SOMEONE named Joe is going to read this), call up Fox and get that cushy desk job doing the pre-game. Or take Dusty Baker's spot on Baseball Tonight. But don't grab that Kansas City Royals job. You REALLY don't want to do that.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Monday October 8th, 2007

It has been months since I posted here. To tell you the truth, I had pretty much abandoned this place. It kept getting pushed back because of other stuff, then I would look and it had been so long since I had posted that it seemed like there was no point in posting anymore (damn self fulfilling prophecies, or whatever the hell it is). Either way, I have been getting the itch to expound on my sports knowledge (and sometimes on my lack thereof) for a while. And since I had a request to post, I figured it was time to dust off my Madden-cap and get to it.

Lets begin with a subject near and dear to my heart, the Ravens. 3-2, with 2 wins that were great until the 4th quarter when the defense suddenly petered out, and one UGLY ass win yesterday. Mixed with two nasty losses (6 turnovers in one game? That is bush league crap, plain and simple) and you get where we are now.

Now yesterday's win was not pretty, but I am actually okay with it. The Ravens have had their fair share of injuries, and any time you have an offensive line with 3 rookies and a combined 8 years of experience (their most experienced player had a total of 25 games under his belt by the time the carnage was over, and the team had NO backups left for the line) and are down to your last tight end on your roster..well, you take your wins where you can.

All of this is not to say that the Ravens are off the hook for their lackluster play. Every team has injuries to deal with, and that is never an excuse. I have always liked Billick's mantra of "Next Man Up". That is the way that you have to look at it. A player goes down? Next Man Up. No excuses, no whining. Next Man Up. That is the way that it has to be. But ignoring injuries, the problem with the team this year has to come down to play calling. Let's look at the Cleveland loss for an example.

The Browns jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Granted, if Chris McCalister hadn't decided to guess on Braylon Edwards' 75 yard go route and instead played man coverage like HE WAS SUPPOSED TO, it might have been a lot different. But be that as it may, the Ravens are down by 2 scores before the first quarter ends. Add to that their starting QB has a groin injury severe enough for him to be pulled from the previous 2 games and replaced by the backup (and to anyone watching, the fact that he was not stepping into his throws, which was causing him to be very inaccurate and even less able to get the ball down the field (and to be honest, Steve McNair lost his long ball a few years ago), plus there is still over 45 minutes left in the game, and they have a RB that they traded 3 picks for then gave a $40 million contract to, that the defense needs some time to regroup and game plan for a team that is beating them off the ball and to the marks, and that the other team's defense is ranked 30th in the league in rushing, and what do you do?


You deflate the momentum, keep their offense off of the field, give your defense a breather, and give the other team a steady dose of Willis McGahee and Musa Smith. Make the Browns stop them.

Fact - McGahee had 68 yards on 8 carries in the first half (8.5 YPC)
Fact - McGahee ended with 104 yards on 14 carries (7.4 YPC)
Fact - McNair ended the first half 9-17 for 95 yards with an INT (10.6 YPC, 5.6 YPA)
Fact - McNair ended the game 34-53 for 307 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT (9.03 YPC, 5.8 YPA)

So what does all of that mean? Simple. Billick panicked, or at least he didn't think the game through and got pass happy, even though the few times he did call for a run, the running game delivered. And to make matters worse, he got pass happy with a QB who couldn't make the throws because he was injured, but for some unknown reason he didn't pull the QB for the healthy backup, even though he had the week before. Why is that? I think to avoid a budding QB controversy by the small brains who sit there and say that if you pull the starting QB and the backup has ANY success than BOOM there's a QB controversy. It's like the old saying goes "Who is the most popular guy in any NFL city? The backup QB" (even here in Baltimore). Even at the half, when the Ravens were down 24-6, they still had PLENTY of time to run, run, run the ball, eat the clock, and beat down the Browns. Instead McNair threw 2x as many passes in the 2nd half as he did in the 1st.

I am not known as a Billick basher any more than I am known as a Billick fan. But I am a fan of common sense football, and when you have someone who could be considered an elite RB (you would be hard pressed to name more than 5-6 backs better than him without having an argument on your hands, and you better have some solid stats to back up your claim. Personally, at this time I would rank him behind Tomlinson, Addai, Alexander, Johnson, and pretty much tied with Parker - and don't be surprised if Johnson falls off of this list in the next year or two as his body pulls an Earl Campbell on him) and an opponent that is so bad at stopping the run that only 2 other teams in the league are worse than them at it, you have to run the ball a lot. A total of 20 carries is not going to get the job done.

This leads me to my overriding problem with Billick. He keeps trying to make the team fit his idea of what they should be instead of being what they re. He is the guy who designed the offense that has (or had, it is possible that the Colts beat it) the record for most points in a single season back when he was the OC for the Vikings in 1998. He cannot let that go. I am convinced that the only reason the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2000 is because Billick didn't have enough built up hubris as a head coach to override what he saw happening (big ball control offense and devestating defense with timely special teams). Now he cannot help himself. He has to be right, he has to show that his system will work, even if it isn't working. Look at Don Shula. He won Super Bowls with a big bruising running game and an underrated defense. When Marino falls into his lap, what does he do? He retools the offense for its biggest asset and keeps on winning. Billick cannot do that. He is convinced that it is the system that makes the players, but really it is the other way around. The players make the system.

I have one other thing that I need to make a point of. Last night at work, someone was calling Jonathan Ogden soft for not playing because of a toe injury. And I have heard others mocked for missing multiple games with injuries like "turf toe" (an injury as misunderstood and discredited as baseballs "injury of the year", the strained oblique. Both VERY painful, yet the general public has no idea how bad they are and how much they affect a player's performance) and the like. Let me explain something to you...

Look at Ogden's personal stats (height/weight/etc). 6'9". 345 lbs. He is a BIG MAMMA-JAMMA. His job is to run into other 6'+, 300+ lb. players as hard as he can and drive them away from the guy who has the ball. What part of the body does he use to push off with? What is the only part of his body coming in contact with the ground, absorbing ALL of that weight and force and redirecting it (simple physics, y'all)? His feet, specifically, the balls of his toes. It is like someone running at full speed, their heels never touch the ground. Now imagine running at full speed while pushing a 335 lb person who is pushing against you with all of their might. Can you picture how much force is coming down on that foot? And with Ogden's big toe being the part that is hurt, can you imagine how impossible it would be for him to do his job?

Basically, I am saying to all those who question him (or anyone else with a foot injury), don't be a dork. Try it yourself and see what happens.

Wow. I wasted a lot of company time doing that. But it was fun. I shall have to get back to doing this more often.