Sunday, August 29, 2010
1. San Diego Chargers: 10-6
Is management going to cost them a chance to succeed?
2. Kansas City Chiefs: 7-9
It appears that KC is looking like the New England Patriots of the West.
3. Oakland Raiders: 7-9
Is Jason Campbell all the Raiders need to get into contention?
4. Denver Broncos: 6-10
They took one step forward, but two steps back after a tumultuous offseason.
Norv Turner - Chargers
Since Norv was hired in 2007, the Chargers have been prone to slow starts during the season. Known for being an innovator on offense, San Diego has slowly turned the page on being a running team to being one of the elite passing teams in the NFL. There was talk that Turner's job was in jeopardy after the Chargers early exit in the playoffs at the hands of the Jets after a 13-3 finish to the season. Instead, GM A.J. Smith gave Turner an extension. A sign that Smith is willing to give Turner more time to get it right. Something he didn't do with Marty Schottenheimer. Turner has been able to turn Philip Rivers into an elite quarterback. The question is whether San Diego's window of opportunity has closed.
Josh McDaniels - Broncos
Denver shocked the league with their 6-0 start to the season. Unfortunately the original expectation for the Broncos came true with their 2-8 finish to the season and missing out on the playoffs. As soon as McDaniels took over, he immediately butted heads with the teams quarterback Jay Cutler, thus resulting in his departure for Chicago. It also happened with the teams star wide receiver Brandon Marshall and McDaniels. Denver's front office has given him their full support. Now it is up to Josh McDaniels to make something of the Broncos in his image. It could back fire this year, but Denver does have some pieces in place to make a run in the AFC West. The problem is Kansas City and Oakland have improved upon last season.
Tom Cable - Raiders
He was brought in under some difficult circumstances in 2008. He's been given a chance to get Oakland over the 5 win threshold for the first time since 2002 (11-5). He was close, but the team finished 5-11 once again. Things looked to remain the same until a draft day trade for Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell. That meant JaMarcus Russell was on his way out. With the admitted failure of Oakland drafting Russell, it appears that owner Al Davis is letting someone else make decisions or he has come to his senses. Either way, Oakland has promise. With Cable running the ship, Oakland can focus on the personnel they have in place. With stability at quarterback, the Raiders might be able to compete against most of the elite teams.
Todd Haley - Chiefs
Haley had a rough start to his rookie season. He fired offensive coordinator Chan Gailey a week before the season started. The offense struggled right out of the gate. The defense was ineffective running the 3-4 system. Both should be improved with new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel on board. Haley is running a similar scheme like the one used in New England when Weis was there. Crennel will immediately bring a calm, but firm leadership to a defense that ranked 30th in the NFL. Haley has two former head coaches on the staff. Should Kansas City stumble out of the gate like last year, GM Scott Pioli won't hesitate to replace him with someone he knows from his New England days.
Best Acquisition: RB Thomas Jones - Kansas City Chiefs
He was ranked 3rd in rushing last year. He has rushed for at least 1,100 yards the last five seasons now. He was let go in Chicago and was released after a career year in New York. He has past the prime age for running backs (age 32). However, he is a motivated individual. What's to say he won't have another 1,000 yard season? Jamaal Charles is the all-purpose back for Kansas City, which they ranked 11th in rushing last year. What's to stop the Chiefs from improving on that number? They add a Pro-Bowl player to help keep the pressure off their quarterback Matt Cassel.
Quarterback - Grade
Chargers - A
Broncos - C
Raiders - C
Chiefs - C
Philip Rivers has put himself into the conversation as one of the best quarterbacks in the league. His arm isn't the strongest, but his accuracy is what makes him one of the best. Having big targets to throw to doesn't hurt either. Rivers is in a class all by himself in the AFC West. Since his biggest rival Jay Cutler is out of the picture, it's his division to rule.
Denver got the best out of Kyle Orton (3,802 yards, 21 TD). Problem with those numbers is that was with Brandon Marshall on the team. Without the consistent receiver at Orton's disposal, it will be harder to duplicate those numbers. Should Orton struggle mightily, Brady Quinn and Tim Tebow are waiting in the wings. Quinn will get the first shot at the job, but he is a bit of an unknown. Cleveland was pretty much a replica of what Denver is now. Tebow probably won't see much playing time unless one or both quarterbacks go down. He is a project, but an intriguing one at that.
Oakland hopes they've found their man at quarterback in Jason Campbell. Al Davis compares him to Super Bowl champion Jim Plunkett. Not a wise comparison, but there is reason to be optimistic in Oakland. They have a good running game and plenty of weapons for Campbell to throw to. The question is if Campbell can make the most of it? He isn't a terrible quarterback. He has shown flashes of brilliance in his time in Washington. Oakland's season depends on this position.
Kansas City has invested a lot of money in Matt Cassel. They haven't gotten a just reward for their investment yet, but there is still time. Cassel has only a handful of targets to throw to, but he did look more comfortable in the second half of last year. If he wants to be considered an elite quarterback, he will have to prove his 2008 season was no fluke. It will tough considering he had more weapons to throw to than in Kansas City.
Running Back - Grade
Chiefs - B
Chargers - B
Raiders - C
Broncos - C
Their rushing attack has gotten better now that they've added Thomas Jones to complement Jamaal Charles. Charles had a career year for the Chiefs and Jones did for the Jets. With both of them, Kansas City is hoping for a good mix of power and speed to help take pressure of the passing game. The system is built for the pass, but Kansas City can't ignore what they have in the running game.
San Diego has a new feature back for the first time since 2000. LaDainian Tomlinson is no longer with the Chargers and they drafted the best running back available in Ryan Mathews from Fresno State. He's a big physical back who will be the perfect complement to Darren Sproles who will still be a force on third down and passing situations. Mathews will look to improve on San Diego's 31st ranked rushing attack.
Oakland's one lone bright spot has been their running game. They no longer have the three headed monster since Justin Fargas was let go, but Michael Bush and Darren McFadden are still a good 1-2 combination. Combined they ran for just under 1,000 yards. If McFadden can remain healthy, he will be an excellent force in the passing game as well. Oakland is hoping they won't have to release another top 5 pick who couldn't live up to expectations.
Denver had a nice balance to their offense. It all fell apart though in the second half. Their defense couldn't keep games close and they had to abandon the run. Knowshon Moreno was a pleasant surprise in the running game. Not a bruising back, but he did impress in a couple of games. Correll Buckhalter is a good change of pace back who was a big plus on third down and in the passing game. Denver won't wow anyone on the ground, but they can make a splash if they play the right opponent.
Wide Receiver - Grade
Chargers - B
Chiefs - C
Broncos - C
Raiders - D
The Chargers would get an A if Vincent Jackson were not holding out. Nonetheless San Diego still has Antonio Gates, one of the best tight ends in the game. Darren Sproles is a matchup nightmare for any defense out of the backfield. Malcolm Floyd who is another big target for Philip Rivers will be looked to as the number one receiver. Floyd had a career year last year (45 rec. 776 yards) as the number two receiver. Look for those numbers to double if Jackson holds out the entire year. Former 1st round pick Buster Davis and Legedu Naanee will have to step up with bigger roles.
One reason for Cassel's improvement in the second half was the acquisition of Chris Chambers off waivers. Chambers was a stable force as the possession receiver in crucial situations. Dwyane Bowe's stats dropped off a bit from Kansas City's liking, but Bowe was constantly double covered. That should change with Chambers around a full season. Jerheme Urban was a good slot receiver in Arizona and Haley knows exactly where to put him in critical passing downs. Rookie Dexter McCluster is a new weapon for the Chiefs not just as a receiver, but also out of the backfield. He will see a majority of action on returns, but he will be used in multiple packages as a wideout and back.
Without Brandon Marshall, Denver now has Eddie Royal as the default number one receiver. He didn't have a good sophomore season, but now that he's healthy he should get back to form. The Broncos will also need a good year from Jabar Gaffney. He thrived in the system last year as the slot receiver. He will be bumped to number two with Marshall gone. First round pick Demaryius Thomas will be given all the time to get comfortable, but he will see plenty of action to get to a level of comfort. Brandon Stokley and Brandon Lloyd will be the possession receivers on crucial third downs.
Defense - Grade
Chargers - C
Raiders - C
Broncos - C
Chiefs - D
The Chargers have always had an inconsistent defense. One year they will be great against the run, the next great against the pass. Never great against both in the same season. They no longer have Jamal Williams to plug up the running lanes. Instead they will rely on stopping the pass and go with what they have for the run. Luis Castillo will be counted on to lead that attack on the defensive line. The linebacking corps will consist of pass rushers and excellent coverage men. Shawne Merriman will be given another chance at returning to his Pro-Bowl form. Shaun Phillips has emerged as the pass rush specialist during Merriman's absence. Stephen Cooper and Kevin Burnett are excellent in coverage and are quick to the ball carrier. Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason are an underrated duo at cornerback. Nathan Vasher is an excellent pickup as the nickel back from Chicago. Safety is a weak spot, but Eric Weddle has shown steady improvement over his first four seasons.
Oakland been known throughout their history as having a smash mouth defense that doesn't care about the consequences of their actions. Those days might be coming back sooner than you think. Rolando McClain was drafted in the first round to be the new man at middle linebacker. That sent shock waves through the league as a sign that the Raiders were starting to make the right decisions. Kamerion Wimbley was acquired from Cleveland to help bring some added pressure on the quarterback and to help in coverage. Nnamdi Asomugha is one of the best cover corners in the game. He doesn't get a chance at many interceptions anymore, but he is the biggest asset the Raiders defense has. Michael Huff is only average in coverage, but a devastating tackler. Tyvon Branch is an improved cover safety and is right there with Huff in the run defense. Richard Seymour seems to be motivated to play for Oakland this year. He showed up to all of the offseason workouts and was on time for training camp. That's good news for the Raiders as they look to see him improve on his sack total (4). The Raiders have a lot of depth on the line, but they will need more from Tommy Kelly at tackle.
Denver was one of the best defensive units through the first 8 games last year. They became one of the worst in the last 8 games. Part of that was attributed to the emergence of linebacker Elvis Dumervil (17 sacks). He was a constant force for Denver, but has suffered a pectoral injury that will probably cost him the entire season. That means former first round picks Jarvis Moss and Robert Ayers will have shoulder the load left by Dumervil in the pass rush. Champ Bailey is getting up there in age, but quarterbacks still don't throw his way too often. With Brian Dawkins brought into the mix last year, the defense saw a bit of improvement in their pass defense. Denver went after experienced pieces on the defensive line in free agency adding, Justin Bannan (Baltimore), Jamal Williams (San Diego) and Jarvis Green (New England). All three will look to improve Denver's 26th ranked run defense.
Kansas City struggled mightily to get used to the 3-4 defense. Most of their players had no experience in the system. Their defensive lineman Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey, both 1st round picks, were the biggest weaknesses. Both should be much improved with new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel putting them in the best position. Mike Vrabel is back for his 14th season and will have some help from Crennel to pass on to the rest of the linebackers. Derrick Johnson in particular. He was lost and eventually benched. He will be given one more chance to redeem himself. Tamba Hali has shown he can thrive in the system as a pass rusher. Crennel probably sees Hali as a Willie McGinest type who can rush, but also can be above average in coverage. Drafting safety Eric Berry was the smart choice. They needed someone who could help their cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr on deep passes. Rookie Javier Arenas is an excellent cover corner that will be utilized as a nickel back. He will also be the primary punt returner.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
1. Baltimore Ravens: 11-5
Is the offense going to carry the defense to the playoffs?
2. Cincinnati Bengals: 9-7
It's Carson Palmer's time to shine with a new array of weapons.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers: 8-8
Will the first month determine the Steelers season?
4. Cleveland Browns: 6-10
Is Eric Mangini ultimately the long term solution as head coach?
Mike Tomlin - Steelers
He's entering his fourth season as the head coach. So much success has gone his way early one that it was only a matter of time before he was going to hit some bumps in the road. Being a defensive coordinator in Minnesota before being hired in Pittsburgh, the "Steel Curtain" defense had gone soft on him overnight. Too many blown leads and late game winning drives last year resulted in the Steelers missing the playoffs for the first time in his tenure. To make matters worse is his star quarterback could miss the first six games of the season due to suspension by the NFL under the personal conduct policy. It will be rough, but Tomlin has shown signs of perseverance throughout his time in Pittsburgh.
John Harbaugh - Ravens
No one knew what to think when the Ravens hired Harbaugh in 2008. He was a special teams coordinator for Philadelphia the previous 9 seasons. Who would've thought he was going to get Baltimore well into the postseason in his first two seasons. Thankfully for him, Baltimore hasn't had a lot of turnover on the roster. The defense has remained mostly intact. The offense is now ready to breakout. Harbaugh wasn't a major coordinator before being a head coach, but he knows what is expected of his players. It shows every Sunday when the Ravens take the field.
Marvin Lewis - Bengals
It took a long time for Marvin to get a chance at being an NFL head coach. Now we wonder when he will be let go. He's entering his 8th year with Cincinnati and the Bengals have what appears to be a balanced attack on both sides of the field. Lewis is a defensive guru and with the help of coordinator Mike Zimmer, the Bengals defense ranked 4th in the NFL. With that to build on, the Bengals will look to improve on their passing attack in which Carson Palmer now has a multitude of weapons to choose from. Marvin hasn't won a playoff game in Cincinnati. This year might be the year he gets that first win in January.
Eric Mangini - Browns
His first year in Cleveland couldn't have gone any worse than it did. The quarterback situation imploded. Their number one wide receiver was traded (Braylon Edwards). Anything and everything failed on defense. There was a lot of talk of Mike Holmgren being hired to take control of football operations and possibly hire a new coach. Thankfully for Mangini the Browns played well down the stretch winning their last four games. He was kept on as the head coach, but the leash has gotten a little tighter. Another start like last year and Holmgren won't hesitate to take him out. The defense did play better in their last four games which bodes well for Mangini's chances of success going into this year.
Best Acquisition: WR Anquan Boldin - Baltimore Ravens
The consensus was that Baltimore had a good passing attack, but nobody on the roster that could get positive yardage after the catch. Boldin brings that and a receiver who isn't afraid to catch the ball in traffic over the middle. That brings a smile to Joe Flacco who will no longer have to be looking for Ray Rice out of the backfield when pressure comes his way. Just ask Arizona how valuable he was for them.
Quarterback - Grade
Steelers - B
Ravens - B
Bengals - B
Browns - C
Pittsburgh does have a two time Super Bowl champion in Ben Roethlisberger. However, he will miss the first month of the regular season due to his off-field trouble. The Steelers have enough talent in other areas to over come the loss of Big Ben, but they are a different team with him. Byron Leftwich will get the first shot at starting, but Dennis Dixon who did start one game for Pittsburgh last year might get some looks to. It's too much to say that Roethlisberger being out will cost the Steelers, but they are playing three potential playoff teams in the first month.
Joe Flacco amazed everyone with his arm strength and poise in his first two seasons. He avoided a sophomore slump last year and now has a legitimate number one receiver in Anquan Boldin. Flacco will certainly improve on his TD numbers (21) with Boldin around. Also it doesn't hurt to have Derrick Mason, Ray Rice and Todd Heap as complements. Baltimore for the first time since they were founded might have a better offense than their defense.
The Bengals haven't had a bad quarterback, but merely an inconsistent one. Carson Palmer has not disappointed since being drafted 1st overall in 2003. He has been hurt a lot though. That's not his fault, but when he has been healthy, he's been among the elite passers in the NFL. Last year playing with a thumb injury on his non-throwing hand, his numbers did slide (3,094 yards, 21 TD), but that was due to the emphasis to the running game and the absence of T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Now he has Terrell Owens and Antonio Bryant to throw to. No excuses this year.
Cleveland did a complete overhaul of the quarterback position. They turned heads when they signed Jake Delhomme (Carolina). He has plenty of experience winning, but his last two seasons have been hard to watch. Turnovers killed the Browns in the passing game and they can't afford to let it happen again with Delhomme. Seneca Wallace (Seattle) was acquired in a trade. He is small in stature, but can complete almost any pass in any situation. It's safe to say that rookie Colt McCoy will not see any action this season, but he does have a promising future with his poise in the pocket.
Running Back - Grade
Ravens - B
Bengals - B
Steelers - B
Browns - B
The Ravens have a three headed monster in the backfield. Ray Rice is the multi-purpose back. He excels in passing situations as a receiver or blocker, but he broke out with his 1,339 rushing yards last year. Willis McGahee is in a perfect situation for his skill set as the short yardage back. His 14 touchdowns (12 on the ground) led the team. LeRon McClain didn't get as many looks as he did in '08, but he is a great blocker. Rice and McGahee can't perform without McClain.
Cincinnati had the 9th best rushing attack in the league last year. That credit of course goes to the offensive line, possibly one of the best in the league. Ultimately Cedric Benson, who was the 4th overall pick in '05 for the Bears, proved his worth in a new environment. The Bengals had a ground game to go with their franchise quarterback. The defense carried the Bengals to the playoffs last year, but they couldn't score any points without Benson's 1,251 rushing yards.
Pittsburgh was in a bit of a pickle last year. They were becoming too reliant on the pass and teams were baiting them to run the ball. Usually it's the other way around. Willie Parker (Washington) flamed out early and was replaced by their 2008 1st round pick Rashard Mendenhall. That experiment almost failed, but Mendenhall recovered and proceeded to average over 4.5 yard per carry last year. He salvaged the running game, but Pittsburgh still became too dependent on the pass. That will have to change with Roethlisberger out the first month.
I mentioned that Cleveland's defense showed some positive signs in their last four games of the '09 season. They also had Jerome Harrison solidify his place as the teams star running back. With Jamal Lewis (FA) out with an injury, it was time to see what Harrison could do. In his last three games, Harrison rushed 165 times for 749 yards. In one of those games he broke Jim Brown's single game franchise record with 286 yards rushing. To help lighten the load this year the Browns drafted Montarrio Hardesty to be the "thunder" to Harrison's "lightning." With their quarterback issues, Cleveland will need control of the clock in most of their games.
Wide Receiver - Grade
Ravens - B
Bengals - B
Steelers - C
Browns - C
You know what Boldin can and will do for Baltimore. The question is whether Derrick Mason (entering his 14th year) still has enough left in the tank to be Flacco's possession receiver? Mason was the go-to-guy for Flacco. He was talked out of retirement before last year and did not disappoint (73 rec, 1,028 yards, 7 TD). Todd Heap has been injured often, but managed to have a bounce back year. He will the main target in the redzone (6 TD). Mark Clayton has been a disappointment since being selected in the 1st round in '05. Clayton might be better suited to be the slot receiver in this offense.
Cincinnati was missing that possession guy last year. Houshmandzadeh was that guy and Palmer had no one to fill the void. Chad Ochocinco was constantly double covered and Chris Henry's death came at a time when he was beginning to evolve in the offense. Enter Terrell Owens who will be counted on to be the possession receiver. He kept his mouth closed last year in Buffalo and had a decent year (55 rec, 829 yards, 5 TD) with no stability at quarterback. With Chad being double covered, he still managed to have another 1,000 yard receiving season. Antonio Bryant has had a lot of stops in the NFL, but his talent is what keeps him in the league. This will probably be his last chance at a big gig. Cincinnati's 1st round pick TE Jermaine Gresham is the first legitimate receiving tight end Palmer's had in his career. Too many weapons to not get it together if you're Palmer.
Pittsburgh had the league's 9th best passing attack last year. That will probably go down and it's not due to Roethlisberger's suspension. They traded away their best receiver Santonio Holmes (Jets). Now Holmes is going to miss the first four games due to conduct off the field, but he was Ben's favorite target and the MVP of Super Bowl 43. Remember that catch. Hines Ward is back to being the number one target, but he is getting a year older (34) and a bit slower. He still excels in run blocking though. Heath Miller's stats have steadily risen every year. He set career highs in catches (76) and yards (789) last year. Look for that to continue. Pittsburgh does have a breakout candidate in Mike Wallace who averaged 19.4 yards per catch and grabbing 6 TD last year. Antwaan Randle El was brought back as the slot receiver.
Cleveland traded their two best receivers in the last two years. Kellen Winslow Jr. in 2008 to Tampa Bay and Braylon Edwards during the '09 season to the Jets. Their best receiver now is their special teams ace Josh Cribbs. He is a game changer on returns, but is seen more as a situational player in wildcat formations. Cleveland doesn't see it that way and will try to get him more involved in the offense this year. Mohamed Massaquoi showed flashes of greatness after Edwards was traded, but he still has a long way to go. Brian Robiskie will be given more touches in the offense to see what he can do. He has the size and speed to be a difference maker for their quarterbacks. Ben Watson is an above average blocker, but will be counted on more in the passing attack. The Browns have potential here, but it must show quickly.
Defense - Grade
Ravens - B
Bengals - B
Steelers - C
Browns - D
Baltimore has had one of the best defenses in the NFL ever since winning their only Super Bowl title in '00. That trend is attributed to having Ray Lewis in the middle since he first arrived in '96. His leadership and tenacious style has been contagious throughout the roster. Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata have been the newest pieces to the puzzle. Suggs since being drafted in '03 has been a sack machine. He has improved his coverage and run stopping skills along the way, but he has become a force along the line. Ngata is an immovable wall that will take three guys to move. Ed Reed is the true definition of a ball-hawk. He will be hard to replace if he decides to hang up the cleats after this season. Injuries have slowly caught up with him, but Baltimore needs him in that center field position against the top passing teams.
The Bengals have dramatically improved on the defensive side. They ranked 7th and 6th against the rush and pass respectively. The reason for the improvement starts with the defensive line. They have a seven man rotation that works both against the run and the pass. Domata Peko is the main clog for the opponents running game. Antwan Odom was on pace to be the league leader in sacks until a leg injury sidelined him for the year. He will be looked to restart what he couldn't finish last year. The linebackers aren't the best, but they can sure tackle. A pair of USC draftees in Keith Rivers ('08) and Rey Maualuga ('09) are turning a weakness into a strength. The secondary has been the biggest improvement as a pair of 1st round picks Jonathan Joseph ('06) and Leon Hall ('07) each had six interceptions last year. Both are widely seen as one of the best cornerback tandems in the game. Safeties Roy Williams and Chris Crocker help in stopping the run, but their strength has spread to the corners Joseph and Hall.
Looking at the Steelers defense in hindsight, they didn't have a bad year. They ranked 5th in total defense and 3rd against the run. However, their glaring weakness was the pass. Being 16th against the pass cost the Steelers a playoff spot and it resulted in a five game losing streak last year. Most of that was attributed to safety Troy Polamalu being injured for most of last year. A healthy Polamalu will do wonders for their pass defense. The lost a bit of their pass rush on the defensive line when defensive end Aaron Smith went down with an injury. His return will help and keep Pittsburgh in the top tier of run defenses. LaMarr Woodley, James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons are sack machines. As long as they can continue their production, the pass defense will get back to normal.
There was some serious turnover during the '09 season for the Browns defense. Most players were trying out for their jobs down the stretch. Shaun Rogers will continue to man the nose tackle position. He was named to his first Pro Bowl last year. The defense's one strength was the pass rush and the pass rush will have to come from a variety of players. Matt Roth was picked up from waivers last year and impressed the coaching staff. He and veteran David Bowens will be the primary pass rushers. Scott Fujita was signed as a free agent from New Orleans. He brings a winning attitude and excellent coverage skills the Browns lack at linebacker. Their secondary received an adrenaline shot with the trade of CB Sheldon Brown and drafting Joe Haden with their 1st round pick. Eric Wright was a pleasant surprise and is turning into a great coverage corner. Coverage isn't a strength for the safeties, but Abram Elam and Mike Adams are great in supporting the run.
1. Indianapolis Colts: 12-4
Will it be 9 straight playoff appearances & 8 consecutive seasons of at least 12 wins?
2. Houston Texans: 9-7
When will it be "the year" for Houston?
3. Tennessee Titans: 8-8
Can Vince Young continue what he started last year?
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: 5-11
Is this the end of the Jack Del Rio era in Jacksonville?
Jeff Fisher - Titans
He's the longest tenured head coach in the NFL (16 years) and has had an amazing level of consistency throughout his tenure. His teams have only had four losing seasons in his 16 seasons. Only occasionally have the Titans been considered favorites to win it all. This is a similar time in which there is only one advantage they have and that's with RB Chris Johnson. Fisher's teams though are always competitive and that will be the recurring theme this year. Finally with stability at quarterback and the defense getting a year of experience under their belt, the Titans should be competing for a playoff spot. The division might be for another year.
Jim Caldwell - Colts
Yes, anyone who has Peyton Manning as their quarterback doesn't have to do a lot of coaching, but Caldwell was the quarterback coach for Indianapolis since 2002 before being anointed the head coach in '09. That has to count for something. His calm demeanor goes right along with what the Colts were used to with Tony Dungy. It did work as their Super Bowl title in '06 proves it. Not a lot of turnover on the roster has affected this team as they look to finish with a title this time around. But as history has shown lately, it's very difficult for the Super Bowl loser to get back to the Super Bowl let alone the playoffs.
Gary Kubiak - Texans
The Texans have been a good team, but they haven't been able to get into the playoffs to show their potential. Last year they won their last four games to finish with a 9-7 record, but there were too many scenarios to fall in their favor to clinch a playoff spot. Kubiak has turned the Houston offense into a passing powerhouse, but hasn't been able to create that magic from Denver in the running game. The defense has steadily improved, but is not at an elite level to keep up with other great offenses. Namely their own division rival the Colts. This will be a make or break year for Gary Kubiak. He did receive an extension in the offseason only to not have him be a "lame duck" coach. If Houston doesn't reach the playoffs this year, the Texans will be looking for their third head coach in the franchise's history.
Jack Del Rio - Jaguars
Entering his 7th season, Del Rio is on the bad end of his tenure. He's only had three losing seasons, but two have come in the last two years. Jacksonville did improve last year with a 7-9 record, but with a young team, primarily on defense they will be expected to improve on that record. Del Rio is a defensive minded coach which should end with positive results on that side of the field. However, there is a lot of inconsistency on offense. Del Rio's choice at quarterback, David Garrard, has regressed and Del Rio will be looking to pull the trigger at the first sign of trouble. Without a true number one receiver, Jacksonville will have to count a lot on the running game. Jacksonville has only had two coaches in its 16 year history. They might be looking for their third very soon.
Best Acquisition: DE Aaron Kampman - Jacksonville Jaguars
He averaged 12 sacks a season from '06-'08 for the Green Bay Packers. The injury bugged took him out for most of last season, but he wasn't very comfortable in Green Bay's 3-4 defense. Now that he's in a 4-3 base defense, he should be able to get at least 10 sacks if not more in Jacksonville. He isn't the key to their success on defense, but getting a decent pass rush from their line is something they haven't had since they traded Marcus Stroud to Buffalo. Del Rio hardly blitzes and it will be a big plus for the pass defense if there is more pressure from the defensive line.
Quarterback - Grade
Colts - A
Texans - B
Titans - B
Jaguars - C
Peyton Manning is in a class by himself. A three time MVP. Super Bowl Champion. What else can he accomplish in his career? He will eventually hold most of the NFL passing records, assuming Brett Favre ever retires. One thing is absolutely certain about the Colts quarterback. If Manning goes down, the Colts are barely a 4 win team.
Matt Schaub was a highly touted backup in Atlanta. When given a chance he has proven that he is one of the best passing quarterbacks in the league. It helps to have one of the best wide receivers in the league in Andre Johnson, but you have to have someone throw him the ball. When healthy, Schaub can put up Pro Bowl type stats; 4,770 yards & 29 TD. As with most teams, Houston doesn't have a reliable backup should Schaub miss a few games.
Tennessee knew what they had when they drafted Vince Young in 2006. The Titans didn't know that it was going to take a little longer for Vince to develop. Starting the '09 season 0-6 Tennessee had no where else to turn. Vince showed a side of his ability that no one had seen in his pro career. Had the Titans turned to him sooner they maybe would've clinched a playoff spot. With the all the confidence in Vince the Titans should have a much better start to the season.
Jacksonville has had success with David Garrard. Lately it has been an up and down ride. He is only second to Mark Brunell in almost every major passing category in franchise history. Garrard's success for the 2010 season depends entirely on his composure in the pocket. He has been forcing too many passes and it has resulted in his gradual downfall.
Running Back - Grade
Titans - A
Jaguars - B
Colts - C
Texans - D
Chris Johnson became only the sixth running back in NFL history to rush for over 2,000 yards last season. Usually when a back does that, he is appointed the best back in the game. I would absolutely agree with that. He does it all. Catch, block, take a hit. What more could ask for from your running back? One thing Tennessee will do is ask that he keep it up and not worry about his contract. He will get paid, just not for one season.
Jacksonville's one saving grace is their undisputed star Maurice Jones-Drew. He has gone out of his way to prove that he should have been a first round pick in 2006. His level on consistency is unmatched and for his size, his toughness is above all others. Jones-Drew will be counted on to once again carry the load for Jacksonville's average offense.
Indianapolis doesn't run the ball very much. They do have arguably the best quarterback in the game, but they are lacking a short-yardage solution. Joseph Addai is getting old quick. Donald Brown was injured often most of his rookie year and didn't get off to a fast start in the offense. Either one if not both will need to get up to speed to help the Colts get back to a more balanced attack.
Houston has only had three seasons in which they had a 1,000 yard rusher. The last was by Steve Slaton in his rookie of '08. Slaton had some serious problems with ball control last year and lost the starting gig. It was a disaster since. Houston's three replacements didn't fare any better. This year they will give Slaton another chance, but he has 2nd round pick Ben Tate competing for playing time. Tate will be given ever opportunity to win the job, but Slaton is a better pass catching option. Houston's playoff hopes depend on their running game.
Wide Receiver - Grade
Colts - A
Texans - B
Titans - C
Jaguars - C
Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Anthony Gonzalez were the regulars going into the '09 season. With Gonzalez going down with a leg injury, entered Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie. Both were instrumental in keeping the Colts passing attack one of the best in the league. With Gonzalez healthy, this unit has only gotten stronger with Peyton at the helm.
Matt Schaub had to have bought a lot of dinners for Andre Johnson last season. Johnson is by far the best receiver in the game. Coming off back-to-back 100 catch 1,500 yard seasons, there is no stopping what he and Schaub have going in Houston. The scary thing is Schaub also has a Pro-Bowl tight end in Owen Daniels to throw to. Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones aren't bad options either. Remember, Schaub threw for over 4,700 yards. It wasn't all to Johnson or Daniels.
Tennessee hasn't had the best receivers in the Vince Young era. However, that could all change thanks to the chemistry developed with last years 1st round pick Kenny Britt and Young. Kenny led the team in yards (701) and yards per catch (16.7) last season. Young also has his former college teammate Bo Scaife as his tight end. Bo has had at least 45 catches the last three seasons for the Titans. Don't forget Chris Johnson. He probably won't lead the team in catches (50) again, but he's still a great check down option.
The Jaguars might be onto something with Mike Sims-Walker. His breakout season (63 rec, 869 yards, 7 TD) was an eye opener for the coaching staff and quarterback David Garrard. That should continue as Garrard doesn't have much else to look for. Tight End Marcedes Lewis has been a disappointment. Never living up to his 1st round selection. Mike Thomas came on strong during his rookie season. Jacksonville only has Jones-Drew as the next reliable option for Garrard. Unless they get more production out what they have or someone new steps up, they will be in a world of trouble this year.
Defense - Grade
Colts - B
Titans - C
Texans - C
Jaguars - C
The Colts don't have a dominating defense, but it starts with their pass rush. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are the two best combo pass rushers in the NFL. Equally underrated in the run stuffing department too. First round pick Jerry Hughes is a clone of both Mathis and Freeney and will immediately make an impact. Gary Brackett roams the middle for the defense. An undersized linebacker, but he is a ferocious tackler. Bob Sanders is always injured, but it's because he puts his body into every hit. The Colts constantly swarm to the ball and that is a plus.
In the Jeff Fisher era the Titans have always had a good defense. A lot of good players have been let go, but they've always managed to replace them. Tennessee doesn't blitz much. That's where the defensive line comes in. First round pick Derrick Morgan enters into a mix that includes Tony Brown, Jacob Ford, Jovan Haye and Jason Jones just to name a few. There is a constant mix of speed ends and run stuffing tackles. There is a different look at linebacker, but Stephen Tulloch still patrols the middle. He is the field general for what Fisher hopes will be an attacking linebacker unit. The Titans safeties are not the best at coverage, but great at the point of attack. Cortland Finnegan is becoming one of the best corner backs in the NFL. His ball-hawking attitude is helping the Titans in the turnover department.
Houston has begun to turn this unit around quickly. Mario Williams has turned out to be the perfect fit for a team that was in desperate need of a pass rusher. Look for Connor Barwin to breakout and post near double digit sack totals in his second season. DeMeco Ryans is the constant force in the middle for Houston. Brian Cushing will be out the first four games, but he will bring much needed energy in crucial situations. The Texans don't have their shut down corner Dunta Robinson (Falcons) anymore. Their 1st round pick Kareem Jackson will try to help soften the void, but they will struggle to keep up with the elite quarterbacks of the NFL.
Jacksonville hasn't always had the best defense, but under Jack Del Rio they are always playing hard. Rashean Mathis and Reggie Nelson take charge of the secondary. Mathis has lost a step in coverage, but is still one of the best tackling corner backs. Nelson is above average in coverage. He does struggle in play-action though. The Jaguars have an elite linebacker in Daryl Smith. Always after the ball, Smith is a leading example of what Del Rio expects from his backers. Jacksonville's 1st round pick Tyson Alualu will hopefully bring their defense back to the glory days of Marcus Stroud and John Henderson. An above average pass rusher, Alualu was a bit of a reach, but will instantly make an impact with the free agent addition of Aaron Kampman from Green Bay.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
1. NY Jets: 12-4
Have they talked themselves out of a title?
2. New England Patriots: 10-6
Can Belichick bring back a championship defense?
3. Miami Dolphins: 8-8
Is Brandon Marshall enough to get Miami over the .500 hurdle?
4. Buffalo Bills: 4-12
A new coach, a new system. Any hope in Buffalo?
Bill Belichick - Patriots
He never shows a sign of panic. Always seems to be cool, calm and collected in the big game. However, last year was probably the first time in which he was lost. Lost in a sense that he was too confident in his and his teams abilities. Going for it on 4th and 2 at Indianapolis in New England's own territory was a big mistake not just last year, but for the next couple years. He questioned his defense's abilities and a lot of his former players criticized him, rightfully so. He has to reconcile that by building the defense back up and continue to let Tom Brady regulate the still high powered offense if they want to get past the Jets.
Rex Ryan - Jets
Never afraid to speak his mind he has immediately turned the Jets into a powerhouse after their near Super Bowl appearance last year. Thirty more minutes of perfect football would've granted the Jets only their 2nd Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. Rex has the right people on his staff to oversee the offense, which is fine because his specialty is the defense. He has a few new toys in the secondary (Antonio Cromartie and rookie Kyle Wilson). Plus a healthy NT Kris Jenkins will help tremendously. However, with the holdout of CB Darrelle Revis, it could be a struggle to stop premier passing attacks without the best corner in the game.
Tony Sparano - Dolphins
This is his third season in Miami. After the 10 game turnaround in '08 that resulted in a division title, the Dolphins dropped off to only 7 wins in '09. The "Wildcat" lost its luster a bit, but it's still a big part of their offense. It will be used a little less no with the emergence of QB Chad Henne. Sparano has a legitimate passing threat with Brandon Marshall and will focus most of his attention to a defense that ranked 22nd in the league last year. There is a lot of depth at key positions for Miami, but not a lot of experience to go against the Jets and Patriots.
Chan Gailey - Bills
Buffalo missed on all the big names. They haven't had a postseason berth in 10 years. Gailey is now their fifth head coach this decade. Gailey's previous head coaching experience in the NFL was with the Dallas Cowboys (1998-99). Combined 18-14 with Dallas and in both seasons had made the playoffs. Owner Ralph Wilson, Jr. is hoping for that success to reappear in Buffalo. Unfortunately for both parties, there are three better teams ahead of them in their division. The first problem starts with an unsettled QB position and changing to a 3-4 defense usually takes a long time to develop. Gailey will be given a long leash, but until their is an answer at QB, it will get shorter in a hurry.
Best Acquisition: WR Brandon Marshall - Miami Dolphins
Three straight years of 100 catches and at least 1,100 yards receiving are no fluke. Jay Cutler was his QB for two of the three, but what solidified him as one of the elite receivers was doing it again with an average QB Kyle Orton last year in Denver. He wore out his welcome there, but Miami hasn't had a legitimate number one receiver since Chris Chambers. Chad Henne will continue to develop into an elite passer thanks to the front office opening their wallets.
Quarterback - Grade
Patriots - A
Jets - B
Dolphins - B
Bills - D
Tom Brady is still the class of the division. His successful return from knee surgery last year has solidified his place in the game today. Yes with the weapons he has, anyone can throw for 4,000 yards and 30+ TD, but he still put up those numbers without Moss, Welker and Edelman.
Sanchez was not impressive, but was consistent. His performance in the playoffs overshadowed his season statistics. Adding WR Santonio Holmes to the passing game and LaDainian Tomlinson to the running game will help prevent a sophomore slump in New York.
Miami has Chad Pennington as the backup to Chad Henne, but make no mistake this is Henne's team. Towards the end of the season, Henne looked more calm and comfortable in the pocket and that should continue with Marshall in the mix.
It's a three headed monster at QB with Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm all competing for the job. Buffalo passed on Tim Tebow, Jimmy Clausen and Colt McCoy. Anyone of them probably would be a better option than the three they have.
Running Back - Grade
Jets - B
Dolphins - B
Bills - B
Patriots - C
Shonn Greene came on late in the regular season and postseason for the Jets. That was more than enough for them to cut ties with the third leading rusher in the NFL Thomas Jones (Chiefs). LaDainian Tomlinson was brought in as the change of pace back for Greene and a perfect check down option for Sanchez. The grade would be lower had the Jets not brought in a proper back up.
Miami has the best 1-2 punch in the AFC East. Ronnie Brown is healthy and in a contract year. Expect him to continue where he left off last year. Ricky Williams took off when Brown went down and will look to continue to be the workhorse in short-yardage and wildcat formations.
Buffalo does have strength in the backfield. Passing on a quarterback, they drafted C.J. Spiller out of Clemson with their first round pick. Spiller can not only fly down the field, but also catch out of the backfield. Jackson was the workhorse due to Marshawn Lynch's suspension. Jackson will continue to do so, but Lynch will get his carries as the short-yardage and goal line runner.
New England has abandoned the running game the last few years, but they have enough depth to get it back in motion. Laurence Maroney, Fred Taylor and Kevin Faulk will be the primary runners. Faulk is the third-down specialist. Maroney needs to show why New England used their first round pick on him in 2006.
Wide Receiver - Grade
Patriots - B
Jets - B
Dolphins - C
Bills - D
The Patriots have the best combo in the division in Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Welker is coming off knee surgery so it will probably be a while before he's at full strength. Julian Edelman is Welker Jr. for the Pats. Very sneaky he always finds an opening. Oh and Torry Holt is part of the mix too.
The Jets have Santonio Holmes and Laveranues Coles to go with Jerricho Cotchery and Braylon Edwards. Sanchez shouldn't have a bad day with this kind of depth. Holmes will be suspended the first four games, but it won't effect them at all. Tight End Dustin Keller is turning into one of the best tight ends in the game. He is Sanchez's favorite target.
Even with Marshall, Miami's passing attack is still average. Davone Bess was their primary target. He will now be relegated to the slot position which is better suited to his game. Brian Hartline developed good chemistry with Henne down the stretch and will given the first shot to play opposite Marshall. Anthony Fasano is a great blocker for the running game and an underrated receiving tight end. His production is consistent, but he would be the blocking tight end for most teams.
Buffalo, like their quarterback situation, is bleak at receiver too. Lee Evans is the lone bright spot and will be hard pressed again to salvage the passing game. Without a legitimate threat opposite Evans, the Bills will again rank near the bottom in passing (30th last year).
Defense - Grade
Jets - B
Patriots - C
Dolphins - C
Bills - C
The attacking style that Rex Ryan was famous for in Baltimore has appeared in New York as well. Thanks to Bart Scott who was signed from Baltimore last year, the Jets have the perfect defense to compete with most high scoring offenses. The number one ranked defense remains the same. NT Kris Jenkins is healthy. CB Antonio Cromartie brings his ball-hawking skills in a trade from San Diego. The only thing keeping the Jets from getting an A is the holdout of Darrelle Revis.
New England has a lot of room for improvement this year. One area they desperately need to improve on is sacks. They ranked 23rd in that category and will need a decent pass rush to take pressure off their young, but talented secondary. LB Tully Banta-Cain led them in sacks (10), but look for LB Pierre Woods to help in that department. Their secondary is their strength where if an injury or two should arise, they have plenty of pieces to fill in. First round pick CB Devin McCourty will help immediately with starters Leigh Bodden and Darius Butler. Their safeties Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders are the back bone of the defense.
Miami like every defense in the division, runs a 3-4. Their strength was getting to the quarterback. Miami's 44 sacks was tied for third in the league. That will probably drop due to linebackers Joey Porter (Arizona) and Jason Taylor (Jets) leaving as free agents. Their main weakness was against the pass. Their corner backs are young, but Vontae Davis and Sean Smith are very quick learners. LB Karlos Dansby was the big acquisition on defense. He will take charge of the run defense that was in the middle of the pack last year. Nothing wows you about Miami, but they do have plenty of upside.
The Bills have avoided switching to a 3-4 for so long, but they have to find some way to stop the run. They ranked 30th against the run. They also need to find a way to get more pressure on the quarterback. A lot of their players will need to adjust to new roles, but most should flourish. LB Aaron Maybin (2009 1st Rd pick) will be put in the pass rushing position of the 3-4. This will be his make or break year with the Bills. LB Paul Posluszny should do well in this system. A tackling machine, he will get plenty of support from the lineman who are adept at plugging the gaps for the linebackers. Hard to believe that Buffalo is the 2nd best pass defense in the league, but when you have Terrence McGee, Leodis McKelvin as your starting corners. Donte Whitner and Jairus Byrd as your safeties, it comes as no surprise. As long as Buffalo can stop the passing attack, they will stay competitive on the defensive side.
Friday, August 13, 2010
Some of the greatest players in any sport are not always the best judges of talent or the best coaches for their respective sport. Wayne Gretzky couldn't get the Phoenix Coyotes to the playoffs in his four seasons as head coach. They were a .500 team at best. Michael Jordan failed as the President of Basketball Operations with the Washington Wizards. Drafting Kwame Brown with the number one pick in 2001, when Pau Gasol was taken just two picks later, will be with MJ no matter where he goes. He is now the majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, but time will tell if he can redeem himself in the executive seat of the NBA.
Those are just two examples. I give you one more. Isiah Thomas was named one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all-time. Without a doubt he is one of the best competitors the game has ever seen. Is he the best talent evaluator? Some would say yes. Here are some of the players he has drafted as an executive with the Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks.
G Damon Stoudamire - Raptors 1995
C Marcus Camby - Raptors 1996
G Tracy McGrady - Raptors 1997
C David Lee - Knicks 2005
G Nate Robinson - Knicks 2005 acquired from Suns during Draft
C Channing Frye - Knicks 2005
Now that's not terrible. Stoudamire was a better player elsewhere, but he wasn't terrible with the Raptors. Camby did get to the NBA Finals when he was traded to the Knicks. McGrady was a big part of the success the Raptors had going into the millennium before leaving as a free agent. Lee is a double-double machine. Robinson is a scoring threat when he steps on the court. Frye is an above average shooter for a player his size.
Now Isiah was not around long enough to see his acquisitions succeed, but he does have an eye for talent. That is why the Knicks, specifically owner James Dolan, offered Isiah Thomas a consultant position within the Knicks organization. I will put forth the reasons why Isiah should not have been offered the consultant position with a team he helped run into the ground.
Isiah was the owner of the CBA (Continental Basketball Association) from 1998-2000. Key word "was." When Isiah accepted the head coaching job from the Indiana Pacers in 2000, he put the CBA in a blind trust in which the league didn't find a new owner to take over Isiah's duties. Plenty of blame goes around as to who helped ruin the CBA, but a good portion starts with Isiah who didn't seem all that interested in the job.
Isiah accepted the head coaching job of the Indiana Pacers in the year 2000. He would still be the coach until 2003. The Pacers made it to the NBA Finals the year before Isiah was head coach. The Pacers were in a transition from being a veteran team to bringing in younger talent to get back to the Finals. Isiah made it to the playoffs every year he was coach, but was eliminated in the first round every time. When Larry Bird returned as Vice President of Basketball Operations in 2003, Isiah was let go.
Isiah wasn't unemployed for long as the New York Knicks hired him as Vice President of Basketball Operations in December 2003. So began the unraveling of a once proud NBA franchise. Here are some of Isiah's worst moves as VP of Basketball Operations for the Knicks
Trading for Eddy Curry - cost multiple draft picks & money
Hiring Larry Brown as head coach - Larry wasn't gonna help
Trading for Stephon Marbury - "Starbury" only helps "Starbury"
Trading for Zach Randolph - he has talent, but his head isn't in it
Signing Jerome James & Jared Jeffries to max contracts - enough said
Isiah after all this, hired himself as head coach in 2006 after the Larry Brown experiment failed. The Knicks were on track to make the playoffs by the All-Star break when Knicks owner, James Dolan, rewarded Isiah with a multi-year extension. Soon after that the Knicks fell off and out of playoff contention. The following year the Knicks finished with a 23-59 record. 10 games worse than the year before under Isiah the coach.
To top it all off, Isiah and Madison Square Garden were sued by a former employee for sexual harassment. A grand jury found them both guilty and had to pay $11.6 million to the victim. If you cost your boss $11.6 million, why would that boss hire you back?
James Dolan is not your typical owner though. He offers Isiah Thomas a consultant position with the Knicks while he is the head coach of Florida International, a NCAA Division 1 school. Besides the conflict of interest here, isn't this a slap in the face to your current VP of Basketball Operations Donnie Walsh? Donnie fired Isiah and now he has to know that Isiah is in a management role in New York while he's still there.
I know, it's just a consultant. What kind of power does a consultant have. Especially when he's coaching Florida International. Well, if the NBA and NCAA were a little more concerned about this, they would realize that this opens up Pandora's box. What's to stop San Antonio, Dallas and Houston from asking Texas coach Rick Barnes to be a "consultant." Or for the Lakers to hire Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski as a "consultant."
Thankfully NBA commissioner David Stern told Isiah Thomas that this would not work because it would violate NBA bylaws of a current college coach working with an NBA team. However, a story in the New York Post reported that Knicks owner James Dolan had told the commissioner's office of the planned hire of Isiah Thomas before it was announced. Why wasn't it stopped then? The NCAA would rather focus on bigger schools and athletic departments, but sees no problem with this scenario.
Look no further than to James Dolan when he released this statement after Isiah turned down the Knicks offer.
"Although I'm disappointed that Isiah will not be working with the Knicks as a consultant, I continue to believe in his basketball knowledge, including his ability to judge talent," MSG chairman Dolan said. "He's a good friend of mine and of the organization and I will continue to solicit his views. He will always have strong ties to me and the team. We wish him continued success at FIU."
"He will always have strong ties to me and the team." "I continue to believe in his basketball knowledge, including his ability to judge talent." That says to me that either James Dolan is smoking some serious stuff or Isiah Thomas has something on Dolan that he doesn't want to come out.
The NBA and NCAA let this linger for too long and it should have been shot down as soon as they caught wind of it. What's to stop Isiah from talking to James Dolan about basketball matters in the future? The answer: nothing.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
There will always be rivalries between sports fans. Boston vs. New York. Los Angeles vs. San Francisco. Chicago vs. St. Louis. Those are just a few of the best in baseball. Over the years though, it has become apparent that with free agency being the norm that the players no longer see it that way. Guys have played with one another at one stop or another and they don't have any animosity towards them.
Thankfully, Cincinnati Reds All-Star second baseman Brandon Phillips doesn't see it that way. His comments Monday before their three game series against the St. Louis Cardinals has opened up a brand new can of worms during the pennant race in the National League Central Division.
"I'd play against these guys on one leg," Phillips told a Dayton Daily News columnist "We have to beat these guys. All they do is bitch and moan about everything, all of them. They're little bitches, all of them. I really hate the Cardinals. Compared to the Cardinals, I love the Chicago Cubs. Let me make this clear: I hate the Cardinals."
If I didn't know it, I'd thought Phillips hates the Cardinals. I mean when you say, "compared to the Cardinals, I love the Chicago Cubs" you must really hate the Cardinals.
Anyway you just knew something was going to happen in this series. And of course something did. I figured it was going to be a beaning to Phillips that would get this going or some chin music. Something to that nature. It went completely the other way without a pitch even being thrown.
Phillips gets to the batters box and proceeds to tap the shin guard of Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. Molina kicks at his bat to which Phillips pauses for a moment, then lightly taps his shin guard again. Phillips steps out of the box, takes a practice swing and gets into his stance. I should point out that this is in the bottom of the first inning.
Molina doesn't let Phillips get in his stance and begins that trash talk. As with every baseball brew-ha-ha no one really wants to fight. Reds third baseman Scott Rolen was playing peacemaker calming down Molina while the managers Dusty Baker of Cincinnati and Tony LaRussa of St. Louis were talking with the umpires.
It was still pretty uneasy when Baker proceeded to walk back towards the dugout and Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter said something that apparently wasn't taken too kindly by the Reds players. A lot of pushing and shoving occurred at the back stop. The Reds starting pitcher for that game Johnny Cueto was seen kicking, spikes up, at a Cardinals player or two.
After all was said and done, the umpires tossed both Baker and LaRussa. With that there would be no chance of someone being pegged in the back with a fastball. Yadier Molina, who helped start it all, answered with a solo HR in his first at bat to put the Cardinals up early. Molina proceeded to imitate Phillips' home run trout when he rounded second base. Way to rub it in.
The Cardinals went on to win the game 8-4 and are looking for the sweep today. After it's all said and done, this is what I want to see more of. Not bench clearing brawls, but players actually hating one another. It adds to the intensity of the pennant race in baseball. It would also add to the intensity of the NBA playoffs, Stanley Cup playoffs and for the NFL. I want to those glory days to come back.
Phillips was given a chance to retract his statements earlier in the week, but he stuck to his words and added a little more to it.
"The comments I made yesterday, those are my comments," Phillips said. "I said those things and I really mean what I said. The Cardinals, they're a great team. They're the team to beat, like I've said a million times. But we have to beat them."
These are two of the best teams in the National League this year. They don't like each other and that's good. Phillips spoke the truth that you have to beat the best to be the best. Fans will always hate their teams rivals, but the players should show a little more hatred too.
Monday, August 9, 2010
westhesportsguy.com site. I delve into the recent past discussing my MLB predictions, why the Lakers rule and the Chicago Blackhawks starting something new. Plus for the last time, my take on the "Summer of LeBron." Enjoy.
Saturday, August 7, 2010
It has been one year since I wrote "A Birthday Wish for the Sports Fan" and I have to say that none of those wishes have come true, yet. One wish that I can make come true is the beginning of something new and extraordinary to this site. Starting this week you will begin to not just read what's on the mind of Wes The Sports Guy, but actually listen to what he has to say on the wide world of sports. That's right, it is now possible for myself to be heard once again on the world wide web.
This is my gift to you, the loyal reader and listener from my previous spot at KLBC.ORG as co-host of "Talkin' Sports with Wes & JR." My voice has returned. If there is anything that you wish to see on the site, please leave some feedback. If you want something taken off the site, leave some feedback. I know you're there. Let your voice be heard. No one is hear to judge. This is a site not just for myself, but for the entire sports world.
You're probably asking yourself, "why is there a picture of a football field?" Well, I put it there to test yourself. If you can name this field without zooming in at the scoreboard, you are like myself. Someone who only needs a little information to come to the right answer. I consider it a gift. I can share knowledge with you and whether you use it or not, it makes me feel great that you're checking in.
One last bonus gift to you the reader is the picture below. It's more for the slogan in the picture than the person. But hey, it's your gift. Take it as you will. Stay tuned for the first podcast.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
I don't believe I've ever said how much I love Ozzie Guillen. The outspoken manager for the Chicago White Sox is one of my favorite personalities in baseball. He isn't afraid to be honest. Whether it's about himself, his team, players, umpires or columnists in Chicago. He has now turned his attention to Major League Baseball. This time it's not about himself, but rather what baseball isn't doing in his opinion to help the Latin population in baseball today.
Now I'm not a person on the inside. I'm someone on the outside looking in. I would like to help with a little common sense. Ozzie has brought a few important issues to the forefront that should be discussed more often. He brings up steroid use in the Latin countries being scouted by major league teams and the fact that what he says can and most of the time is dismissed. However, he seems to be a little misguided when referring to the lack of interpreters for Latinos when Asian players have their own.
"I say, why do we have Japanese interpreters and we don't have a Spanish one. I always say that. Why do they have that privilege and we don't?" Guillen said Sunday before Chicago played the Oakland Athletics. "Don't take this wrong, but they take advantage of us. We bring a Japanese player and they are very good and they bring all these privileges to them. We bring a Dominican kid ... go to the minor leagues, good luck. Good luck. And it's always going to be like that. It's never going to change. But that's the way it is."
Now I can see the disdain seeing that the only Japanese player in your organization is getting an interpreter while your dozen or so Latin players that were just brought to the states have no help with the language barrier. I don't have the exact numbers, but I believe it's around 30% of baseball players are Latino. Now with a third of the players with a Spanish speaking background, that doesn't really say there is a language problem, but I could be wrong.
If there is only one Asian player in your organization, you have to make sure that person is able to perform to his capabilities. An interpreter is needed to help bridge the gap. I'm not opposed to having an interpreter for Latin players, but what I am saying is that there are plenty of players that speak both English and Spanish that don't require the need for an interpreter. But I am a reasonable person.
Every team should have an interpreter for the Latin players too. But understand Ozzie that it isn't a slight to the Latin players that the only Asian player has an interpreter. And stop saying, "don't take this wrong." You know they will as soon as you say that. I'm just looking out for you Oz.
I will give you credit for bringing up the steroid issue in baseball. Yes, it appears that baseball has started to clean up its sport, but without HGH testing, how can we be sure. We've seen most of the suspensions have been against Latin players, but is that because they don't know what they're taking?
"It's somebody behind the scene making money out of those kids and telling them to take something they're not supposed to," Guillen said. "If you tell me, you take this ... you're going to be Vladimir Guerrero, you're going to be Miguel Cabrera, you're going to be this guy ... I'll do it. Because I have seven brothers that sleep in the same room. I have to take care of my mother, my dad. ... Out of this I'm going to make money to make them better."
That is the absolute truth. What's to stop someone from taking advantage of them when that player is in a desperate situation to help his family? I believe baseball is doing all it can to help the education of steroid use with the Latin countries, but it will be an uphill battle.
The ones profiting from steroids will always be one step ahead of those trying to stop it. I applaud Ozzie for doing his part in helping to clean up the sport he loves and is wanting to protect. Not many managers have said they want the sport cleaned up. Tony LaRussa of the St. Louis Cardinals has a steroid user as his hitting coach (Mark McGwire). Does that mean the Cardinals players are using steroids? Not at all, but are they educating them. Probably not. At least they're not saying it publicly.
Ozzie Guillen does go off the deep end sometimes, but not on these issues. Hire interpreters for the Latin players and continue to educate them and the entire baseball community about the dangers of steroid use. Ozzie is a strong voice for the Latin community and now for the entire sport.