|Last week's ballot|
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
It's 1990 All Over Again
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Don't Jinx It!
If the Braves can win tonight, then they are going to be in great shape because they have a favorable pitching match-up in the final game against the Marlins (Javier Vasquez against Ricky Nolasco) followed by four games against the Nats, two of which will be pitched by the sterling Vasquez and Jurrjens.
The Dodgers could find themselves in an interesting position this weekend in that their success or failure against the Rockies will determine whether they face Colorado or Atlanta in the NLDS. Do they have a preference? The Dodgers are 12-3 against the Rockies this year and 3-4 against the Braves. [Edit: a commenter pointed out correctly that the Dodgers can't play the Rockies in the NLDS, as well as the fact that John Johnson and Nicky Nolasco don't pitch for the Marlins. They might have a slight preference in tanking the final series because it creates a reasonable chance that they would play a team that they have dominated in the NLCS. On the other hand, tanking would dump them into an NLDS with the Phils, who beat the Dodgers easily in last year's NLCS, or the Cardinals, who are a very threatening playoff opponent with Carpenter and Wainwright atop the rotation. Would they rather play one of those teams or a hot Braves team? I'm not sure. The only certainty is that I am an idiot.] There would also be a certain irony in the Dodgers playing such an important role as a spoiler, since the last time the Braves were in a down-to-the-last-weekend pennant race, it was with the Giants in 1993 and a Dodgers win on the final day of the season against the Giants gave the Braves the NL West after the Braves had swept the Rockies, one of the worst teams in the NL that year.
As of this morning, the Braves are 86-70 and have a run differential of +103. They need to go 4-2 the rest of the way to get to 90 wins. The last NL team to win 90+ games and miss the playoffs were the 2004 Giants. The last NL team to have a run differential of +100 or better and not make the playoffs were the 2004 Cubs. In other words, if the Braves finish hot and still miss the playoffs, they'll achieve something that hasn't been done in five years. So we have that going for us, which is nice.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Lay Back, Enjoy the Show
2. Ibra can score with his head, which: (a) is an important countermeasure against teams that mimic the Chelsea approach of packing men behind the ball and clogging lanes through the middle (Eto'o was almost invisible over 180 minutes against Chelsea; he only shows up on Iniesta's winner because he flubbed the ball to Essien who flubbed it to Messi who found Iniesta); and (b) makes Alves and Xavi more valuable because their perfect crosses now have a better target. Barca won't be quite as good at Plan A, but they'll have more of a Plan B.
4. After Barca hit the skids in 2006-7 and 2007-8, Johan Cruyff opined that the Blaugrana should have made significant changes after winning the 2006 Champions League because teams can only play together for so long, after which time they need freshening to avoid complacency. Cruyff is never wrong. Pep Guardiola is a Cruyff disciple. He's following the playbook of a master.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Five Thoughts on the 2-0 Falcons
2. Matt Ryan is phenomenal. I'm going to be a stuck record on this point, but I really wish that Mike Mularkey would put more of the game on him and less on Michael Turner. What's the rationale for giving Turner (3.8 yards per carry) one more attempt than Ryan (8.1 yards per pass attempt)? The strength of this team is Ryan throwing the ball to Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, and Tony Gonzalez. Why do we have to act like the 2005 Steelers when we should be acting like the 2009 Saints (and lord knows the Falcons will have to act like the 2009 Saints when they play the 2009 Saints because we should not have many illusions about this defense stopping Drew Brees). The only defense I can offer for the distribution of play calls is the same defense that military historians offer for Hitler/Paulus's decision not to break out of Stalingrad: by occupying so much of the defenders' attention, the Sixth Army/Turner give themselves up to make life easier for other units. Ideally, Turner's season will not end in the Gulag.
3. I heart Mike Peterson. With every play he makes, I'm happier and happier that Keith Brooking no longer plies his trade in Atlanta. I would also guess that with each Jags highlight he sees, Peterson is happier and happier that he followed Mike Smith to Atlanta as opposed to staying with Jack Del Rio. After two games, the linebacking corps appear to be the strength of this Falcons team.
4. Every time I watch the Panthers play the Falcons, I find myself hating Steve Smith all over again. He's a great foil.
5. In a B&B first, I am going to say something nice about Comcast and the NFL: I love the Red Zone Channel. I wouldn't have guessed that the cable company with a customer service reputation right up there with the Stasi and the pro sports league with a tendency to deprive its fans of viewing options at every turn would combine to make my Sunday TV experience more enjoyable, but they have accomplished that feat. Now, instead of having no football flipping options during a Falcons game, I can get snippets from every game going on in the league. And the best part is that the NFL Network apparently keeps the host, Scott Hanson, in the studio's basement all week drinking espresso and taking Elvis-approved uppers, because Hanson dishes out highlights like Matt Foley. He managed to sound excited about the Browns-Broncos game on Sunday. Even Der Wife was transfixed by the channel on Sunday. I love it!
Sunday, September 20, 2009
For One Night, We Remembered Why Georgia Hired Mark Richt
|Last week's ballot|
- Do I give credit to Mark Richt for calling a great game or do I point out that Arkansas' safeties are atrocious? I really liked the way that Georgia called passing plays. They hit the Hogs with a dose of A.J. Green early and then used him to pull the Arkansas defense out of shape. Michael Moore lined up in the slot next to Green and got open over the middle repeatedly. Georgia also used the tight end to great effect because of Green. And, after many (myself included) thought he should be benched, Joe Cox looked great. He definitely prefers to throw over the middle, so I'll be interested to see how he looks against Monte Kiffin's defense.
- By the end of the game, I decided that Ryan Mallett is going to be the top pick in this April's Draft. His arm is unreal, which allowed Arkansas to repeatedly find receivers open on the far side of the field on flag routes. Willie Martinez's defense, which often relies on two-deep zones, had a whole lot of "does not compute" moments as Mallett threw ropes across the field. He's also a little more mobile than one would think a 6'7 quarterback would be. With Mallett running Petrino's offense, I'm not as upset at Martinez for allowing 41 points as you might expect. Do we blame Martinez for the fact that Georgia's defensive line cannot get pressure? That said, it's pretty clear that he's coaching for his future employment over the last ten games of the season. Mark Richt did not look very happy last night after some of Arkansas' scores.
- Holy crap, Tavarres King is fast! With Georgia's personnel, I wouldn't mind seeing the Dawgs use more of the Fast Break formations that Richt preferred when he was at Florida State. Those tight ends would be very useful in the slot of a four-wide formation.
- I wonder what Tony Barnhart and the "Big XII teams don't play defense like SEC teams" brigade were thinking as Georgia-Arkansas and Auburn-West Virginia were shootouts while Texas-Texas Tech was a defensive game...for at least a half.
- Did Tennessee's, um, casual approach to trying to win the game remind anyone else of Nebraska's half-hearted attempt to win at Southern Cal in 2006? I understand that the Vols needed to play close to the vest because their quarterback makes 2005 Eric Ainge look like 1992 Heath Shuler, but at a certain point, isn't it incumbent on a coach to, you know, act like he's trying to win a game?
- Florida looked a little vulnerable to a conventional, straight ahead running game. Maybe I need to take back that statement earlier about Georgia going to the Fast Break. They might have success going right at the Gators. We can also guess what LSU's approach will be at Death Valley.
- Was I the only one who thought that Gary Danielson was genuinely dumbfounded when Tim Tebow fumbled in the fourth quarter? Like he didn't know how to process or describe what he had just seen?
Other Random Thoughts
- After Obi Ezeh received a record-low score in MGoBlog's "Under Further Review" segment, I watched Ezeh and the rest of Michigan's linebackers very closely on Saturday. This was a new way to watch a game for me. Normally, I either follow the ball (when I'm being lazy) or I watch the guards and center (when I'm trying to be Mr. Discerning Fan). After watching Ezeh on each snap, I reached two conclusions. First, Michigan is going to be in a lot of shootouts when the Big Ten season starts because Ezeh has some of the worst instincts you'll ever see for a guy who is in his third season as a starter for a major program. Greg Robinson desperately needs J.B. Fitzgerald to pass Ezeh at the position. Second, to undermine the foregoing point, I don't understand linebacking play very well. I'm able to watch certain plays and realize that Ezeh made a big mistake by moving away from the hole through which the running back popped. That said, on most plays, I have a very hard time understanding the assignment that the linebacker was carrying out. I feel like I have a rudimentary understanding of the decisions that a quarterback has to make from playing video games for years. (If I have readers who actually played quarterback, they are probably laughing their asses off right now.) I don't have the same understanding on how to play linebacker. All I know is that good linebackers are always around the ball and Ezeh is not.
- I will freely admit that my support for Pete Carroll and my disdain for Jim Tressel are complicated by the fact that Tressel's teams consistently beat inferior opponents, whereas Carroll loses a game a year to a team that has no business staying on the same field as Southern Cal. I don't see USC's struggles against teams like Washington and Stanford as a sign of strength for the Pac Ten. It's not as if USC loses to their top rivals in the conference. Instead, they suffer inexplicable losses to teams several rungs down in the league. There's little rhyme or reason to the Trojans' defeats, other than the gnawing sense that they have failed to replace Norm Chow and they are pissing away a ton of talent on offense.
- Virginia Tech has reached Ohio State 2002-03 levels in terms of consistently winning games in which they are badly outplayed. The bad news for Hokies fans is that Frank Beamer is less likely to fix his car wreck of an offense if Tech lucks their way into another 9-10 win season. Or maybe Beamer will feel safe just by sneaking a peak at the disaster going on in Charlottesville right now?
- Imagine a hypothetical football fan in eastern Tennessee or western North Carolina who roots for Tennessee and the Carolina Panthers. Jonathan Crompton on Saturday, followed by Jake Delhomme on Sunday. Fun fun fun!
- This week's debate topic: Resolved: that John Tenuta is the most overrated defensive coordinator in football and his reputation was formed on the basis of success in the punchless ACC against opponents that knew they did not need to score more than 17 points to beat the Chan Gailey-Reggie Ball leviathan.
- If the Heisman Trophy had any merit, then maybe the media would notice that the predicted duel between Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy, and Sam Bradford has failed to materialize. Bradford is injured and Tebow and McCoy have both looked mortal in the first quarter of the season.
- Michigan good, Miami good, Florida State good, Washington good, Alabama good...it's 1991! Cool, I'm going to get my driver's license and then back into other cars in the high school parking lot all over again! Crank that Black Crowes album all over again!
Friday, September 18, 2009
Random Thoughts Before the Weekend
I never liked Miami growing up (except during the Catholics vs. Convicts games), but I find this Miami team quite rootable for two reasons. First, I have liked Randy Shannon ever since the SI's excellent piece on his background. Second, after a half a decade of atrocious quarterback play in the ACC, I'm going to support a team with a good signal caller and a good offensive coordinator. As long as I can ignore ESPN's shots panning the crowd at Miami home games, I can support the Canes.
I don't have much of a feel for the Georgia-Arkansas game. On the one hand, I was very high on Arkansas going into the season. South Carolina threw the ball successfully on Georgia, so you would think that Bobby Petrino would be able to get Arkansas to do the same, especially with two weeks to prepare for what ought to be a statement game for the Razorbacks. On the other hand, Georgia's offensive line should win its match-up with the Arkansas defensive front, which will mean that Richard Samuel will have holes and Joe Cox will have time to throw. In the end, it's hard to see Mark Richt losing two road games in a row. If Georgia loses this game, then there will be some significant questions about where this team is.
The Michigan board that I visit has been obsessed this week with the dilemma of picking a rooting interest between Michigan State and Notre Dame, a classic meteor game for Michigan fans. Personally, I'm agnostic on the question. I don't really care whether the Nazis or the Communists prevail, so long as they slaughter millions of one another's troops and thus make it easy for my team to occupy Western Europe. I'm not above rooting for an arch-rival in the right circumstances - I rooted for Ohio State against Notre Dame with gusto in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl because of my annoyance with the Charlie Weis love-in - but I can't come up with a reason to root for either of these teams. Maybe I pull for the Irish because I don't want them to fire Charlie Weis and hire Brian Kelly? Maybe I pull for the Spartans because the thought of Weis pissing and moaning for another week about Big Ten officials is appetizing? This makes my head hurt.
Speaking of Charlie, he catches a lot of flak for good reasons, but his playcalling at the end of the game last weekend was not that bad. Take it from someone who watched Michigan blow leads on countless occasions because of totally predictable run-run-throw on third and long sequences, Weis was getting risk-reward calculations right by trying to get the first down that would kill off the game. The fly pattern on second down was not a great choice, but the general thrust of throwing the ball in a non-obvious passing situation is a great approach. The meme that Weis botched the end of the game, which has become gospel in the media, is a great example of conventional wisdom being wrong.
The sneakily interesting game of the weekend: Cincinnati at Oregon State.
To be armchair psychologist for a moment, I'm wondering if Urban Meyer's good relationship with Monte Kiffin will cause him to call off the dogs on Tennessee tomorrow. Seriously, a betting person has to get inside of Meyer's head in order to decide whether he is going to put a big number on Tennessee as a comeuppance for Lane or if he is going to bleed the clock in the second half because of his affection for Lane's dad. And speaking of the game formerly known as Florida vs. Tennessee, Chris Brown's analysis of the Tampa Two against the Meyer spread (or, more precisely, Kiffin's modified defense against the Meyer spread) is very interesting:
There is a lot of talk about Kiffin’s “Tampa Two” defense, but I don’t really expect them to play a lot of true “Tampa Two.” In that coverage, the two safeties play deep and show a “cover two shell,” but the middle linebacker retreats down the middle, making it like a three-deep defense, which lets the safeties squeeze the outside corner routes. The advantage of Tampa Two over regular three-deep is that the cornerbacks can press and jam the outside receivers and funnel them inside. (They also can either sit shallow for short throws or retreat if the outside receiver runs deep; this is infuriating too and defenses can switch up this technique.) But the thing the Tampa Two defense does as well as anything is take the other team’s outside receivers — often their best — out of the game. For more, see this fairly informative video from nfl.com.Big Ten fans, do you see what you're missing because your (our?) cheap-ass schools don't turn their massive sums of ticket and TV revenue into coaches with good resumes? On top of seeing Nick Saban match wits with Urban Meyer with the SEC title on the line last December, SEC fans wills get to see the best defensive coordinator in recent NFL history take a crack at the best college offense currently operating. Think about that in a few weeks as Michigan State and Iowa plough the ball into one another's lines repeatedly.
That’s a great strategy in the NFL because offenses are designed to get the ball to the outside guys. But with Florida? Their strength is inside to out: Tebow, Demps, Rainey, and the tight-end Hernandez. If Kiffin overemphasizes taking away the outside receivers, this plays into Meyer’s hands. Instead, expect Kiffin to do what his protege Tony Dungy did with the Colts more often than people gave him credit for: to go to a single-safety look with one of his safeties in “robber” coverage both spying Tebow and taking away inside routes. Likely Eric Berry will play the “Bob Sanders” position. Kiffin appears to be a big fan of Tebow, but he knows the easiest way to lose to Florida is to get spread out and have them run right up the middle on you; he will test to see if Scott Loeffler, Tebow’s new quarterbacks coach, has taught him anything and, more importantly, if Tebow’s new outside receivers can make enough plays. If they can, it could get ugly.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
An Epitaph on the Braves' Season
Dunn was a free agent for a long time last winter, eventually signing a two-year contract on February 11 that is paying him $20 million total, and $8 million in 2009. Eleven days later the Braves, who may have had Dion James leading their depth chart at that point, signed Anderson to a one-year deal for $2.5 million. They saved $17.5 million over two seasons, and just $5.5 million in 2009, by filling their left-field hole this way. Dunn has produced 61 batting runs above replacement, or 48 more than Anderson. Forty-eight runs is just shy of five wins in a vacuum, and for a team so desperate for offense, for OBP, and for a middle-of-the-order hitter, Dunn would have been worth even more than that to the Braves, as his plate appearances would have been more valuable than the average player's. Even if it's five wins, those five wins would put the Braves two games behind the Rockies—and four behind the Phillies—with a little more than three weeks to play. Make the minor assumption that one of those five might have come at the Phillies' expense, and it's easy to see the Braves, led by Dunn, making our September a lot more interesting.
Sheehan could make the same point about Bobby Abreu, who was also on the market for a long time this winter and has hit .299/.398/.436 for the Angels with 28 stolen bases thrown in for good measure. (On the other hand, Pat Burrell was also on the market and he's hit .230/.328/.390 for the Rays, so there are no guarantees.) The Braves would almost certainly have recouped the extra money spent on Dunn if he were the difference between a playoff spot and another October watching on TV.
This is going to be an important lesson for Frank Wren going into 2010. Wren's otherwise solid work as the GM has the Braves in a position where they will have very few holes to fill this winter. The Braves will be in the enviable position of having six good starting pitchers report to camp. With Destroyer of Worlds Jason Heyward ticketed for one of the corner outfield spots, Nate McLouth, Ryan Church, and Gregor Blanco manning the other two spots, and Chipper, McCann, Yunel, and the Johnson/Prado combo set in the infield, the only hole will be at first base. The Braves don't need to make a long-term commitment to the spot because they have Freddie Freeman over the horizon. That said, if there is a big bat available for a 1-2 year commitment, Wren would be a fool not to jump at the opportunity. Let's hope that he (or, more precisely, the management that sets the budget) has learned from 2009.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Admit It, Anonymous Commenter, I'm Right
When I previewed this game, I said that mobile quarterbacks presented Pete Carroll with a math problem: How do you cover all of a team's receivers, guard the box for the run game, and account for the mobile quarterback? Fortunately for Carroll, he didn't have to solve this tricky arithmetic problem because Jim Tressel can't count.and this:
Jim Tressel is the closest thing we have to that Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler style. This is not to say power running is gone, but the absolutely ridiculous idea that you can beat Southern Cal by running the same power play -- what Tressel calls "dave," with a pulling guard and a fullback who kicks out the defensive end -- over and over again, is to "live in the deep dark past." Jim Tressel is a dinosaur, and like all dinosaurs, not like for this world. And if I was the multi-talented Terrelle Pryor, stuck in the straitjacket of the OSU offense, I'd be thinking long and hard about where I might transfer to.
- Ohio State never used the zone read play that was its only effective weapon against Ohio State in 2008, not to mention the play that Texas and Oregon relied upon in beating the Trojans in 2005 and 2007.
- Ohio State was predictable that USC was able to ignore the Bucks' slot receivers altogether, except when Tressel called for his idiotic formation that places a bubble screen threat in a position where a bubble screen is his only option. In other words, Ohio State gave away its plays by its use of formations, demonstrating that Tressel has no idea how the various plays that form the basis of the spread 'n' shred fit together.
- Ohio State never deployed Pryor as a running threat to negate backside pursuit. Tressel has a quarterback who allegedly runs a 4.33 40 and yet he doesn't use the threat of Pryor running on the bevy of conventional iso plays that he calls. As a result, he makes life more difficult on an already taxed offensive line.
Five Thoughts on the Falcons
Monday, September 14, 2009
Prepare for Four Years of Bad "Use the Force" Puns
|Last week's ballot|
- This is a provisional ballot, so any thoughts on moving teams around would be welcome. I didn't realize that I gave LSU such a bump until I entered the rankings. I also wanted to include Michigan and Auburn, but I couldn't find room.
- You know you're in the South when you go to a six p.m. wedding on a Saturday in the Fall and half the men at the reception are staring and their phones and are furtively giving each other updates on games. In case you're wondering, I was in line for my first drink when Tate Forcier his Greg Mathews in the end zone. I was singing the chorus to "Angel Eyes" at the top of my lungs when Rennie Curran knocked Stephen Garcia's fourth down pass to the ground.
- When the wife and I got into the car to go to the wedding, the Michigan game was coming out of halftime. I remarked to her that it was a good thing that I wasn't going to see the second half because the Irish were moving the ball at will. Despite the fact that Michigan won the game, I came out of it quite impressed with Notre Dame. I still don't think that Charlie Weis is an above-average gameday coach, but he is a terrific recruiter and he has assembled quite a collection of players. The Notre Dame offensive line has gone from a laughing stock to a solid unit, one that gave Jimmy Clausen an embarrassing amount of time to throw the ball against a reasonably good pass rushing defensive line. Clausen is living up to billing, although the jury is still out on his ability to make decisions under duress. Notre Dame's receivers are legitimate. In short, this Notre Dame team might actually give Southern Cal a run for their money for only the second time since the Trojans got good.
- Sometimes, the manner of a rival's demise leads to extra special feelings of schadenfreude. You know, like Michigan State losing in classic "SPARTY NO!!!" fashion after a year of hearing about how this program is totally different under Mark Dantonio.
- Does Auburn have an offense this year? I have a hard time picking between Georgia 41 South Carolina 37 and Auburn 49 Mississippi State 24 as the more shocking score. The SEC West already looked loaded with Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU, and a potentially frisky Arkansas. If Auburn is also a top 25-caliber team, then the division looks insane. Step aside, Big XII South.
- Does anyone want to venture a guess as to the number of North Carolina fans who switched from their team's ugly display in Storrs to the Penn State-Syracuse game just to see Greg Paulus take a beating?
- How am I going to handle the Negative Grohmentum implications of Rich Rodriguez winning Big Ten Coach of the Year? At this point, I have to root for Northwestern or Minnesota to have a big year to prevent an uncomfortable summer of disowning another theory.
- Sometimes, a fan base suffers through a year of an inept walk-on quarterback and is rewarded with a true freshman who has a preternatural ability to elude a rush and make accurate throws in critical circumstances. Other times, a fan base suffers through a year of Jonathan Crompton and is rewarded with another year of Jonathan Crompton. I have no love for Tennessee and I certainly don't like their head coach, but I feel bad for Big Orange fans, not to mention the guys on defense who look like they have another year of short fields ahead of them.
- Name teams that struggled for 2-3 quarters against minnows on Saturday: Texas, Alabama, and Florida State. The 'Noles were actually trailing Jacksonville State 9-7 going into the fourth quarter. Something tells me that BYU isn't quaking in their boots at the prospect of playing Florida State in Provo.
- What do you think an Ohio State fan thinks when he/she watches the Cincinnati offense in operation?