Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Perception Has Become Reality

Over the last week or so, some things in the sports world have become apparent to me.  In the past I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell if these things were a figment of my imagination or if my thoughts actually made sense outside of my own head.  Now, after viewing these recent incidents, I am convinced that they are in fact 100 percent true.
            No. 1 – NFL Officials are terrible. I could probably include NBA officials as well, but fortunately for them they haven’t been able to prove me right in the last six months.
            Two weeks ago I saw Lance Moore of the Saints grab a defenders’ arm, fall down while flailing his arms, and get a pass interference call. It was utterly ridiculous and turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for me.
            Earlier in the day, Dallas’ Orlando Scandrick was called for a block in the back on a punt return. It was clear in real-time and on the replay that he had his hands extended over his head so that he wouldn’t get called for a penalty. Didn’t matter. He barley touched the would-be tackler as the guy fell and got called. The call negated a big return that may have saved head coach Jason Garrett from calling his now infamous timeout.
            Perhaps the worst call I have ever seen was the personal foul in the Bengals/Browns game three weeks ago. Bengals receiver Jerome Simpson was nudged by a Browns’ defenseman and went flying in an attempt to get a call. He seriously looked like he was straight out of the WWE. I can’t blame the guy for trying, but I can blame the referee for throwing the flag when he wasn’t even watching. The ref was breaking up a tackle, looked up to see Simpson on the ground, and threw the flag.  Search it on YouTube and watch for yourself.
            This all goes to show that the refs don’t really process what they are seeing. If anything resembles a penalty to them, they call it when it should be the other way around.
Here is a rule the NFL should adopt since it is all about putting in new guidelines. How about the referee must actually see the penalty being committed before he can throw a flag. And they wonder why fans call them blind.
            No. 2 – Jason Garrett did the second dumbest thing I have ever seen when it comes to icing your own kicker. As if icing your own kicker wasn’t dumb enough in the first place, it has been taken to a whole new level this year.
            By now everyone has seen Garrett’s indescribable move. If the play clock was in fact running out, then okay. I can understand calling a timeout. What I don’t understand is not calling a timeout – when he had two left – with 20-plus seconds left and perhaps gaining a few more yards for an easier field goal attempt. I actually applauded when LaRod Stevens-Howling (PITT alum) scored the game-winner. That meant Garrett would be eaten alive by the media and rightfully so. If ever there was a time where I could pick anyone I wanted, and they had to sit down and listen to everything I had to say for five minutes without being interrupted – that was it.
            Still, believe it or not, someone has done worse. Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel actually managed to ice his kicker earlier this year by calling two consecutive timeouts.
            With the score tied at 30 against Arizona State, Pinkel called not one, but two timeouts with his kicker lining up for a 48-yard game-wining attempt. Why? I haven’t the slightest clue. As it turned out, the kicker missed the kick and Mizzou eventually lost in overtime. I was lying in bed watching the game and was completely stunned by what I had just witnessed. I figured there was no way anyone could every do that again. Silly me.
            Personally, I blame Bill Parcells for all of this. Jerry Jones brought him in in 2003 with hopes of resurrecting the franchise. To me, he didn’t do anything but make things worse. The only good thing he did was draft DeMarcus Ware.
            Parcells gets praise for finding Tony Romo, however it was Sean Payton that told Parcells about Romo and had him bring him in. All Parcells did was finally put Romo in when Drew Bledsoe couldn’t do any worse. Parcells’ other QBs before finally deciding on Romo: Quincy Carter and Vinny Testaverde. Good choices huh?
Then, if Parcells would have left when he should have (after his third of four seasons in 2005), Payton would have been our head coach. Not Wade Phillips or Garrett. Today Dallas would have an offensive mastermind in Payton as head coach. I’d say he has done pretty well with Drew Brees in New Orleans. Furthermore, Parcells decided to pass on Steven Jackson in the ’04 draft to move back, get more picks and select Julius Jones. Instead of taking a big, strong, fast running back and not having to search for one for the next six years, we take a small back who went over 1,000 yards once in his seven-year career. Jones is now out of the league.
Parcells has won only three playoffs game since 1990. Not to mention the Dolphins look much better too since he became a ‘consultant.’ Thanks for everything ol’ wise one.
            No. 3 – Ten-year MLB contracts never work out. Whether it is because it financially straps the ballclub, the player gets traded, or the player never produces at that level for that long, ten-year contracts rarely make sense in the end.
            I understand that the club may be trying to space out the money over a longer period of time and offer more guaranteed money, but zero of the previous six ten-year contracts have worked out.
            Alex Rodriguez signed two ten-year deals, one for $252M and another for $275M. Looking back, he wasn’t worth either deal. Derek Jeter got $189M. For a leadoff man? Not worth it. It was more about keeping him in the pinstripes. Troy Tulowitzki is in the midst of a $158M deal that he signed last year. For as injury prone as he has become, I have doubts that will work out. Todd Helton (11-years, $151M) hit for average, while Dave Winfield’s ten-year, $23M deal in 1981 seems almost laughable.
            Albert Pujols is the most recent person to join this list. He just signed with the Angels for $254M. He will be 41 by the time his contract ends. That’s a lot of money for a guy who has already played for 11 years and has had some nagging injuries pop up.
            The $150M deals aren’t that bad. They don’t handcuff the team as much, as they would only be about $15 a year. The $250-plus deals are the sticklers. Pujols may be the best hitter in the game, but is he worth strapping your club financially for the next decade? I guess only time will tell, but I wouldn’t put my money on it.
            No. 4 – The Miami Marlins will be serious contenders in the National League. The Phillies will have their hands full defending their NL East crown. The recent acquisitions of Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell have greatly improved the Marlins’ roster.
            Reyes will almost assuredly leadoff next year. He is arguably one of the best leadoff men in the game, not to mention one of the best defensive shortstops. Reyes hit .337, stole 39 bases and scored 101 runs in the Mets’ below average lineup last year.  He is the definition of a game changer.
Hanley Ramirez, the team’s previous shortstop and perhaps new third baseman, can’t possibly be any worst than he was last year. Ramirez posted career-lows in every offensive category last year. Having Ramirez, and up-and-comer Mike Stanton (34 HRs), behind Reyes in the lineup will only make the speedster more dangerous. Emilio Bonifazio (.296 avg, 40 SBs), Omar Infante (.276 avg.), Gabby Sanchez (78 RBIs) and Logan Morrison (23 HRs) aren’t exactly slouches either.
As baseball coaches everywhere will tell you, good pitching beats good hitting. The Marlins already have one of the best young arms in Josh Johnson. Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez have also shown signs of being good for stretches. Throw in Buehrle, who had a 3.59 ERA in the AL last year, and the Fish have a rotation that can keep them in ballgames.
While Heath Bell’s strikeout numbers have declined, he has proven to be a solid, consistent closer. He has blown just 14 saves over the last three years. Juan Oviedo, aka Leo Nunez, has blown 21 over the same period.
The Marlins finished 30 games back of the Phillies last year. Are these new guys enough to make up 30 games? Probably not, but it will definitely make things harder on the whole division.
            No. 5 – The New Orleans Saints are practically unbeatable at home. You want to talk about a home field advantage, look no further than the Superdome.
            The Saints are 6-0 at home this year and are a collective 19-5 in Nawlins since 2009. It is a place like no other. Trust me, I have been there.
            I don’t know if I have ever been in a place more louder than the Superdome. Plus, the seats in the upper deck are at such a steep incline that it feels like you are going to fall right down onto to the field. I am sure that doesn’t hurt when it comes to projecting the noise more directly onto the opposing offense.
            Unfortunately for the Saints, it looks like they will be playing the NFC Championship game in Wisconsin – which just so happens to be another place where a team has yet to be beaten this year.
            No. 6 – The BCS is still a joke. I am not going to spend much time on this because it isn’t even worth talking about any more. Look up the word ‘travesty’ in the dictionary and it will tell you to ‘see Bowl Championship Series.’
            I want a BCS official to tell me why Oklahoma State doesn’t deserve a shot at the national title? Or Stanford. Or Boise State. I know OK-State’s loss to Iowa was bad on paper, but it was by six points on the road. Sure, Stanford got routed by Oregon at home, but the Ducks are the sixth ranked team in the country. It’s not like they lost to Northwest Central Montana State.
            Boise State is the team that I feel the most sorry for. The Broncos always seem to get screwed over by the BCS one way or another. This year they lost to TCU, a program that has become very formidable over the years, by one point. The Broncos’ freshman kicker missed a 39-yarder as time expired to win the game. So, had Dan Goodale made the kick, would Boise State be in the championship game? Somehow I still doubt it. I really wish he would have made it because then the BCS would be under even more fire than it is right now.
            BCS supporters like to use the BS excuse that in this system every week is a playoff. Every week is a must-win if you want to have a shot at the end. Then please tell me how Alabama, a one-loss team that lost to LSU, gets another shot in the title game. Because its one loss was to LSU? Too bad. According to the theory, it already lost its ‘playoff’ game earlier in the year. On top of that, why should LSU be asked to beat the same team twice? It won its ‘playoff’ game. Now what if LSU loses to Bama? How can you justifiably call Alabama the ‘best team in college football?’ You can’t.
            The truth is you can’t call any team the best without a playoff system. It is the only fair way to do it. No computers. No polls. It would eliminate the arguments. Every other sport in the world uses a playoff system. Even NASCAR. You know it’s gotten bad when NASCAR has a better system than college football.
            It’s so bad that I still wrote more than I wanted to about it. I hate you college football.
            No. 7 – We are getting to watch some of the best Quarterbacks of all time. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, New England’s Tom Brady and New Orleans’ Drew Brees are all on pace to break Dan Marino’s single-season passing record of 5,084 yards set in 1984. It hasn’t been broken in nearly 30 years and now three men may do it in the same season.
            I understand the NFL has adjusted its rules, both offensively and defensively, and has made it more of an offensive game. Because of that, teams are passing more now than ever before. Still, it takes special people to do it this consistently at this level for this long of time. Throw in Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning and we may be staring at four of the greatest QBs of all-time when it is all said and done.
            All of these quarterbacks possess the arm strength and accuracy to be some of the best ever. All have taken on offensive tasks (i.e. play-calling and game tempo) never before seen for the position. They have the stats that prove that they are enjoying one of the best seasons ever as a signal caller. To top it all off, I don’t think it is a coincidence that they all have one other thing in common: a Super Bowl ring.
             No. 8 – Cam Newton and AJ Green will be drafted within the first two rounds next year in fantasy football. These two rookies have burst onto the scene in a major way.
            In my current fantasy league, one in which scoring is a little harder than standard leagues (50 yards passing = 1 point, 25 yards rushing = 1 point), Newton is third amongst all scorers behind Rodgers and Brees. His 13 rushing touchdowns obviously help him out a lot, but that’s what makes him who he is.
            After Rodgers, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Newton as the second QB off the board next year. He is definitely first round material. He is essentially Michael Vick from this year, but better, younger and healthier.
            I see Green more as a second or third round pick. He ranks 13th amongst receivers in my league, but he also missed a game and a half. If he would have averaged his weekly total in the week he missed, he would be pumped up to tenth. Regardless, I would take him over Victor Cruz, Jordy Nelson and Percy Harvin. Perhaps Greg Jennings and Hakeem Nicks as well considering all of the other targets their QBs have.
            While it is not a lock that Green will go in the first two rounds, he should be off the board by the end of the third. Be thankful if you get either of these guys next year because the arrow is pointing up for both of them.
            No. 9 – There is no loyalty in professional sports. This comes off the heels of rumors that Peyton Manning and the Colts may part ways after this season is over.
            Free agency has undoubtedly had the biggest hand in loyalty being thrown out the window. The National Football League adopted a form of free agency in 1989, but it was tweaked to how it is today in 1993. That, and the fact that clubs don’t want to pay declining stars a lot of money, have players changing teams all the time.
            This fact actually slapped me across the face in 2003, when Dallas released Emmitt Smith and he signed with the Arizona Cardinals. He was and still is my favorite athlete of all time and my heart was torn out of my chest when I got back from class and heard the news. By the way, it was Parcells that thought Troy-freaking-Hambrick was going to offer more offense than Smith and talked Jerry Jones into releasing him. In the words of Happy Gilmore, “I hate that Bob Barker.”
            For as long as I can remember, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League have always had free agency, so seeing a super star get cut or traded has never been that uncommon.
            Other football greats who have been cut by the teams that they will always be remembered for include Tony Dorsett, OJ Simpson, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Brett Favre, Ladanian Tomlinson, Eric Dickerson and Marcus Allen.
            Of the top 100 rushers of all-time, 26 have played for only one team. Of the top 100 passers, that number is 27. For wide receivers it is 29. Yes, only 27 percent of the top 300 skill-position players have been with one team for their whole careers.
            No. 10 – Super teams are becoming the new wave in the NBA. People want to immediately blame Lebron James for this, but it technically started with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2003-04.
            Along with having Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, the Lakers signed greats Gary Payton and Karl Malone – albeit they were slightly over the hill at the time. They went on to lose in the Finals to Detroit.
            Then there are the Boston Celtics with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. They actually won a title, but mortgaged the future to do it. Chris Paul wanted to join Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire in New York before ending up with the Clippers. Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh are all in Miami. Even today’s Lakers have Pau Gasol with Kobe.
            If you really wanted to, you could even go back to the 80’s with the ‘Showtime’ Lakers and the Celtics with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish. However, I don’t think any of them finagled their way onto the same team.
            Who knows where Dwight Howard will end up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he end up along side of another superstar or two. It seems to be the way of the world right now.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bulldogs, Knights meet again in AA final

            Northern Lehigh and Pen Argyl’s match-up this Saturday could be called a couple of things.
            It could be termed ‘The Rematch.’  ‘The Sequel.’  ‘Bulldogs-Knights Part Two.’
            It can also be described as something else: the 2011 District 11 AA Championship Game.
            The Colonial League’s top two teams, Pen Argyl (11-0) and Northern Lehigh (10-1), will face off for a second time this year when the two meet in the district final this Saturday at 1 p.m.  The Bulldogs’ only loss on the year came at the hands of the Knights back on Oct. 8 when they fell 14-8 in a tight one.  As fate would have it, the ‘Dawgs have been granted a shot at redemption.
            “Playing for a district championship is always our goal from the beginning,” said Northern Lehigh head coach Joe Tout.  “We are very fortunate to be playing in our third straight.  And it’s tough in AA, especially with the run North Schuylkill has made over the last few years.
            “As far as playing Pen Argyl again, and just being a competitor as a player and a coach, it’s what you want.  When you have one close loss all year and you get a second chance – that’s all you can ask for.”
            As was the case in the first meeting, Saturday’s game figures to be a defensive battle.  The two defenses are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in all of District 11 in terms of points-per-game allowed.  Pen Argyl leads the way at a measly 5.6.  Only three teams have scored more than eight points on the Knights all year.  None have scored more than 15.  Last week Pen Argyl’s defense held Pine Grove’s Cameron Conrad, a 1,500-yard rusher, to just 81 yards in a 49-13 win.
            Meanwhile, Northern Lehigh comes in having allowed an average of 7.1 points-per-game and is the only team to hold the Knights to less than 27 points.  They also managed to ‘limit’ Pen Argyl running back Dylan Evans to 108 yards and a touchdown.  Last week the Bulldogs became the first team in three years to shut out North Schuylkill (28-0) and are hoping for a similar effort this week.
            The last time these two teams met, all 22 points were scored within the first four drives of the game.  Northern Lehigh was picked off on its first possession before the teams alternated scores for the next three series.  The Bulldogs jumped ahead 8-7 in the second quarter and are the only team this season to lead Pen Argyl.
            “It is going to be very tough for both offenses,” said Pen Argyl head coach Paul Reduzzi, whose defense is an outstanding plus-27 in turnovers on the year.  “We are similar in the sense that both teams play responsible defense.  We both know our assignments and execute them well.  We are both fast and fly to the ball.  I expect a game very similar to our first meeting where both defenses play extremely well.”
            While Evans (school-record 1,649 yards and 24 TDs) has been Pen Argyl’s workhorse for the majority of the season, lately the Knights have lined up him, quarterback Conor Gum and fellow back Mike Racciato in the shotgun formation at the same time.  Racciato’s carries have gone up over the last three weeks as Pen Argyl has looked to spread the ball around a little bit more.
            “I think (Pen Argyl) is a little different now,” said Tout.  “They have been splitting their backs in the shotgun and have their three best athletes in the backfield.  It’s a smart thing to do.  Now a defense can’t focus on one guy.  We have to account for all three of them at once.  It makes it that much more difficult.”
            Northern Lehigh has a 1,000-yard rusher of its own in Trevor Yashur.  Yashur was able to find some running lanes last meeting, as he totaled 78 yards and a touchdown on the ground.  Quarterback Dylan Hofmann, who has thrown for nearly 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns himself, only had 69 yards passing.  Then again, those are the numbers one would expect when playing against the district’s top defense.
            The Bulldogs were able to move the ball against the Knights back in early October.  However, in order for the outcome to be different this time around, Tout says his team must finish off drives.
            “We have to be able to score when the opportunity is there,” Tout said.  “We had a drive in the second half where we didn’t convert a third-and-short and ended up giving the ball up on downs.  We moved the ball.  We just didn’t succeed inside the 30-yard-line.  Now I’m not expecting to us to score on every drive, but we are going to need two or three touchdowns in order to win.”
            Saturday will be the first time Northern Lehigh and Pen Argyl have met in the district playoffs since 2006.  The Knights won that first-round matchup 14-13.  Five years later, points will be at a premium once again.
            “I didn’t really understand the Pen Argyl-Northern Lehigh rivalry,” admitted Reduzzi.  “I played for Pen Argyl and never competed against Northern Lehigh.  When I was hired, the whole school was talking about the rivalry.  But I didn’t get it.
            “Over the last five years, I have come to understand what this match-up is all about.  It’s a good rivalry with a lot of tradition and now we get to play each other for a district championship.  I’m sure both teams wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Conference Chaos

     Is anyone else confused about what the heck is going on with all this college realignment like I am?
     Over the last year or so, and especially within the last few months, the college sports world has seen a handful of universities switch conferences. Some experts thought it was only a matter of time before the college landscape was ruled by a few major conferences, i.e. the Denver Post’s Woody Paige - who said he wrote a column in the mid-70s predicting that one day the NCAA would be reduced to a few super conferences. Whether Paige really did write the story or it was just something he wrote on his Around The Horn chalkboard is anyone’s guess. And I wasn’t around in the mid-70s so I wouldn’t know either way. The point is that the idea was already presented a long time ago.
     Obviously this isn’t the first time schools have bolted from one conference to another. Major universities began leaving their conferences in 2004 when Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College all left the Big East for the ACC. Conference USA then lost schools like Cinci, Marquette and Louisville to the Big East. At the time it was somewhat of a big deal, as no major colleges had changed conferences in some time. Regardless of what anyone thought about schools realigning seven years ago, there was no way they could envision what would happen in 2010 and 2011.
     The question I keep asking is why? Why are all of these colleges leaving their current conferences for a new one. I know, it’s all about the money. I get that. It has gotten to the point, and is a whole other topic people can proclaim their dismay for, where money drives everything with the NCAA. But are these colleges really going to make that much more money by changing conferences that they feel like they need to do it now? I just find it a little weird that all of these universities are making these moves at the same time.
     Scott Van Pelt recently had Pete Thamel of the New York Times on his ESPN radio show. Thamel was on talking about Pittsburgh and Syracuse following in the footsteps of the aforementioned universities and leaving the Big East for the ACC. They got on the topic of what this would mean for basketball, but Thamel was quick to point out that all of these moves were being done because of football. He said that football and the money brought in by the sport are the driving forces behind every decision.
     That’s where this Pitt/Cuse move confuses me. If the landscape of college athletics is driven by football, then it makes absolutely no sense as to why the ACC wants to add Pitt and Cuse. Both football programs are mediocre at best. In Cuse’s case, mediocre would be a compliment. Neither school has even been considered a football powerhouse and probably never will be. So why change? For the money? The ACC will be that more lucrative? I mean William Dietrich, a famous Pitt alumni who was the former chairman and president of Dietrich Industries Inc. (a Pittsburgh based steelmaker), is set to donate $125M to the university. I guess no amount of money is ever enough. Regardless, I find it hard to believe that these schools will make that much more money that they are forced to up-root from their current conference and jump to another. Especially in Cuse’s case. They were a founding member of the Big East. And now, as quickly as that, they have bolted with practically no explanation.
     I feel like if a college is going to leave its conference, it must state exactly why it is doing so. If it is leaving for more money, present the data the shows they are better off with the other conference. Show how much more money you will be making. If they don’t think they can compete with the other schools, then show us your records against those other schools. If they think its better for their student-athletes (which would probably be complete BS), then show us how. Don’t just leave without giving a reason why.
     Pitt and Cuse are far from the only two schools leaving their current league. Colorado and Utah officially joined the Pac-10 this year. Big 12 powerhouses Oklahoma and Texas are in serious talks about joining the Pac 10 as well. Talks also suggest that if they leave, so too will Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Nebraska will join the Big Ten in a few years, while Texas A&M is set to join the SEC. TCU also signed with the Big East just a few months ago, but due to the new circumstances may be looking to finagle its way out. UCONN and Rutgers are also trying to be on their way out of the Big East.
     It’s amazing to see what has become of some of these conferences. A few years ago the Big 12 was revered as one of, if not the, best football conferences in all the land. The Big East, with some additions from Conference USA, had become undoubtedly the best basketball conference in the nation. Now both are fighting just to exist. There was talk of the two combining and becoming the ‘new’ Big 12, but those talks have since stalled. Who knows what will end up happening to them.
     “These are independent academic institutions that have enormous amounts of autonomy in everything that they do, including athletics, and we in the NCAA oversee and facilitate and provide a lot of direct decision-making when it’s appropriate,” NCAA president Mark Emmert told the USA Today. “But when it comes to conference affiliations, that’s always been — and I suspect will always remain — decisions that are going to be made by university presidents.”
     In other words, the NCAA doesn’t care what the colleges do as long as they keep bringing in the money for everyone. Weak.
     I wouldn’t be shocked if a few years down the road Paige was 100 percent right. There probably will be four major conferences that rule college sports. Is it good or bad for the athletics? I don’t know. I guess that is yet to be seen.
     The only thing I can hope for is that with all of these schools competing against each other in such few leagues, college football will eventually go to a playoff system. It will be hard to fathom any team going undefeated, or have a fair chance considering all of these teams won’t be able to play each other and schedules will be unbalanced. Then again, that move would make sense. So it probably won’t happen.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Getz does it all for Bears

When Pleasant Valley needs to make something happen on the football field, it looks to get the ball in the hands of one person inparticular.
That person is Robert Getz.
Getz had his hands on the ball for four of the Bears' six touchdowns last Friday night and helped his team to a 40-37 victory over Honesdale. The senior tailback did a lot of everything, as he carried the ball 23 times for 211 yards, caught three passes for 140 yards, and made a key interception in the fourth quarter that sparked Pleasant Valley's comeback. Getz had scoring runs of 8, 1 and 3 yards, with the latter coming with just under a minute to go in regulation to essentially win the game for his Bears. He also took a swing pass, made a couple of defenders miss, and out-raced the rest of the Hornets' defense 50 yards down the right sideline for yet another score.
Thanks to Getz's heroic performance, he has been awarded the TIMES NEWS Football Player of the Week award.
"I have to give a lot of credit to the offensive line," said Getz, who also won the award as a sophomore. "When we watched the film, you could see that they really opened up some holes. The 'Power' was hitting hard and was working really well.
"It's a team effort. You can't just look at me and say I did everything. When it comes down to it, great teams find a way to win at the end. We went down with 1:42 left and won the game."
The game was back-and-forth throughout and came down to the waning seconds. After Honesdale scored to take a 37-33 lead, the Bears found themselves at their own 20-yard-line with 1:42 to play. As if Getz hadn't done enough already, he was about to put his team on his back and shine once again.
Getz took the handoff on the first play from scrimmage and raced 32 yards to get things rolling. After a short two-yard completion from Troy Verway to Andrew Romeo, head coach Jim Terwilliger called another play for Getz. The Bears ran a delayed screen and hit Getz in the middle of the field. The quick, elusive back juked and jived his way through the defense and eventually broke out down the far sideline. He would be pushed out at the three, but punched it in on the very next play to give Pleasant Valley the lead with 42 seconds to go. Getz accounted for 78 of the 80 yards on the drive.
"I knew in my mind, and the same with Troy and all the other leaders, that we were going to score," Getz said. "Our offense was scoring all night. We felt good and we weren't nervous.
"There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to score. I wanted the ball. I knew I had to take it down and score for the team. I had to do anything I could to win that game. I couldn't let us lose our home opener."
Getz is also the Bears' primary kick returner. He returned a kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown in week one against Nazareth and would have had a 61-yard punt return for a score last week had it not been called back on a penalty. After that the Hornets learned their lesson and made sure to kick it away from him. Not only does Getz affect the game on both offense and defense, but he does so on special teams as well.
"I take an ownership in it," said Getz. "I have 'KR' on my varsity jacket too and people laugh at me, but I am proud of my special teams. There aren't many guys out there that run, receive and return kicks. I have fun doing it. It is just another opportunity for me to have the ball in my hands.
"It's one of my favorite plays in the game. It's the first offensive play in a sense. It's a big play in the game and you can't overlook it."
Terwilliger has been around a lot of football players in his time. While he has seen some outstanding players, he has yet to see one that does as much as his current tailback.
"I don't think I have seen anybody as versatile as Robert has been to our football team," said Terwilliger. "I have seen some pretty great players. I have seen some guys do some different things, but in terms of workload - he has an impact in every phase of the game. Whether its offensively, defensively or special teams.
"It is special when you get a player to be able to do that because usually you have a guy who is huge offensive threat, will maybe play some defense, but will not do much on special teams. Robert does it all and that's a special deal because not many guys can do that."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

12-Team, PPR Fantasy Football Team

QBs: Josh Freeman (TB), Donovan McNabb (MIN)
RBs: Chris Johnson (TEN), Matt Forte (CHI), Mike Tolbert (SD), Tim Hightower (WASH), Rashad Jennings (JAX), Javon Ringer (TEN)
WRs: Calvin Johnson (DET), Mike Williams (TB), Mario Manningham (NYG), Lee Evans (BAL), Steve Breaston (KC)
TEs: Jason Witten (DAL), Brent Celek (PHI)
K: Neil Rackers (HOU)
D: Baltimore

Scoring: Pass TD – 4, 50 yds passing – 1, INT – -2, Rush/Rec TD – 6, 25 yds rush/rec – 1, rec – .5, fum – -2.

QBs: My string of first overall picks finally came to an end this year. This time I had the third pick in the draft and selected Chris Johnson. By the time it was my pick again at 22, Tony Romo and Matt Schaub were the only ‘top-tier’ quarterbacks left and I wasn’t going to overdraft like I may have in the past. Thankfully I was able to put my Dallas fandom aside and decided it was too early to take either one of those guys. With that in mind, I chose to wait on a QB since about nine of the 11 teams had already selected theirs. I’m not sure exactly which round I took Freeman, but I know I had already selected my top three RBs and WRs as well as Witten. Considering I got Freeman in the 8th round (or later), and some people are projecting him to have a breakout season, I can live with my starting QB. He only had one monster game last year, but had a nice split of 25 TDs to only six INTs. He finished eighth in scoring amongst QBs in our league in 2010 and I’ll gladly take it if he can do that again this year.
I took McNabb a few rounds later for some insurance. Although I like Freeman, he isn’t the prototypical stud that you are going to start every single week without hesitation. I feel McNabb is a viable backup (hopefully) and is capable of spot-starting for me if the matchup calls for it. Fantasy Football has become very QB-driven over the last few years. Looks like I will be going against that trend this year.

RBs: As you can probably guess, I am very in-tune to the on-going contract situation with Johnson. At the time of the draft, I felt there was no way the Titans would enter Week 1 without their best player. Their fan base would have to revolt, right? While I still feel that way, the talks aren’t progressing at a friendly rate and you never know what is going to happen. I may have taken a risk, but I feel it is justified. Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster were gone and I wasn’t sold on putting Jamaal Charles or Ray Rice ahead of him. Perhaps I could have chosen Charles since it is a PPR league, but Johnson is just as dangerous on screens and short passes – if not more. I probably would have even taken Johnson second overall if I had the chance. I don’t trust RBs with knee issues (Foster), especially in the first three picks. And I couldn’t tell you the last time a RB was the No. 1 scorer two years in a row. Either way, it looks like I get to play the waiting-game with Johnson. I’ll be sure to leave him some comments on his Twitter feed about how I would be willing to raise his $12M contract to a $12,000,020 contract.
            I was then between Forte and Vincent Jackson in the third round. With the Johnson twins already on my team, I had to decide which position I wanted to solidify. As you can see I went with the RB. I really debated taking Jackson. He is a flat-out stud and will probably receive 45 percent of the targets from Philip Rivers. Although Jackson is a beast, WRs are a dime-a-dozen. You can always find a WR along the way to plug in. He may not be of Jackson’s caliber, but WRs can be quite hit-or-miss on a week-to-week basis. With this being a PPR league, and Forte being a tier 1-2 RB, I felt that he was the right choice. Plus he will touch the ball 15-20 times a game whereas Jackson may see the ball eight times at the most. Forte may loose some touches to Barber at the goal-line, but I don’t see that becoming a long-term problem regardless of what everyone else is saying. As a Cowboys fan I have seen Barber lose a step over the last two years and know he isn’t the same back he was in 2007. Forte also has big-play ability and can take a screen the distance at any given moment. Not many people can say that about both of their RBs. Other than a Charles-Ryan Grant combo, and perhaps Foster and Ahmad Bradshaw, I feel that I have the best RB tandem in our league.
            I took Tolbert in the sixth round or so because I feel like he will eventually be the starter in San Diego. I had Ryan Mathews last year and saw how that turned out. Tolbert is the goal-line back and tackling him is like tackling a bowling ball with legs. He, along with Tim Hightower – who is the starter and is having a great preseason for the Redskins, is great backups in my eyes. Either one of these guys is capable of starting if an injury or bye week crop up. Ringer is solely a handcuff for Johnson. Too bad it looks like rookie Jamie Harper may be pushing him for the backup duties. It doesn’t really matter because neither of them is going to see the field on my fantasy team.

WRs: Calvin Johnson was staring me in the face at pick 22 and I couldn’t see myself passing him up. He is a top-tier WR – third behind Andre Johnson and Roddy White on most boards – and made the most sense at the time. The QB and RB pool wasn’t worthy of the second round pick and he probably fell further than he should have. I am pretty sure Andre, White and Fitz were gone at the time so in my eyes he was the best player available.
            I was elated to get Mike Williams at the end of the fourth round. I had him on one of my fantasy teams last year and all he seemed to do was catch touchdowns. He is Freeman’s go-to-guy and has shown the ability to make some acrobatic catches. He is a top-of-the-line WR2 and gives me a QB-WR combo. Sure its Tampa’s combo, but it could work. Now, instead of getting 7.5 points for a 25-yard touchdown, I will be getting 12.
            If Williams doesn’t pan out to be as great as I think he will be, then Manningham will be a nice second option. Eli Manning has shown trust Manningham and is not hesitant to throw his way. Heck, he nearly had 1,000 yards and nine TDs last year as the team’s No. 3 WR. This year he will be the No. 2 and should benefit from teams rolling covering Hakeem Nick’s way. A lot of analysts are predicting a big year from him. I am just hoping it doesn’t become a problem trying to decide who to play every week. Nothing frustrates a fantasy owner more than beating his brains out trying to figure out which player to play – and then watching the guy he benched blow up for 130 yards and two TDs.
            Evans and Breaston are fill-ins. I think Evans will have some value throughout the year as Baltimore’s No. 2. He should be the deep threat and could have some big weeks – although they will probably be on my bench. Breaston is a stretch. He is Kansas City’s No. 2, but the Chiefs are a run-first offense. And when they do throw, it is usually in Dwayne Bowe’s direction.

TEs: I was fortunate enough to snag Witten early in the fifth round. I already had my starting RBs and WRs and Witten was the last of the top-tier TEs available. The pick was basically made for me. I actually had my eye on him when I took Williams, but I passed and prayed that he would last four more picks. Thankfully he did. It’s funny because he may be the best fantasy TE at the end of the day. Antonio Gates and Dallas Clark are studs, but have become somewhat injury prone. Vernon Davis has no QB. Jermichael Finely may be the next safest TE, but even he is coming off on knee surgery. Witten, on the other hand, has only missed one game in his career and that was in 2003.  As long as he stays healthy this year, he will start every week for me.

K: Some boards have Rackers at the top of the list. I don’t really care since you are usually splitting hairs when it comes to picking a kicker. All an owner wants is a kicker who is a part of a powerful offense and has a leg to hit some 50-yarders. Rackers possesses both. Considering he wasn’t even one of the first five kickers off the board – I’ll take him.

D: I am content with Baltimore as my defense. Pittsburgh, Green Bay, New York and Philly were all off the board by the time I decided it was time to pick a defense. Much like Witten, the pick was made for me. I look at the Ravens’ schedule and see six teams that can possibly score more than 20 points on them. The Steelers (twice), the Jets, the Texans, the Colts and the Chargers. Even then the Pittsburgh games can be low-scoring. The Jets too. Plus the Jets and the Colts are at home. We get 20 points for a shutout in our league. Those 20 points can go a long way in deciding whether you win or lose. Add in the fact that Ed Reed likes to return picks, fumbles and missed field goals for touchdowns and you have a potentially high-scoring defense.

Looking over my team as a whole, I am very pleased. I feel as if I have a solid 1-2 punch at both RB and WR and possess a top-tier TE, K and D. QB will be the only question, but again I am hoping Freeman can live up to the hype. If all else fails, perhaps I can package one of my backup RB and WR for a QB. Hopefully I won’t have to worry about that.
            We started our league back in 2005. I haven’t made the playoffs since 2007 and have yet to win a playoff game. It is time I ended my playoff drought and this is the team to do it. CRACKBABY FOOTBALL ALL THE WAY!!!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Fantasy Baseball: 2011’s Good and Bad Surprises

Whoever is into fantasy baseball can probably name this year’s positional MVPs without having to think very hard.
It’s relatively obvious that Brian McCann, Adrian Gonzalez, Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista and Matt Kemp are the best players fantasy-wise at their respective positions. They were the no-brainers on draft day.
But what fantasy owners like just as much as a ‘sure thing’ is pleasant surprises. After all, who doesn’t like surprises? Owners become overjoyed when they find value where they thought they might have little or none.
            Conversely, disappointing players can cost owners dearly. Owners may take a player earlier than expected due to a lack of position depth, only to have them get injured or post career-low numbers. I’m talking to you Geovany Soto and Shin-Soo Choo. If an owner is unlucky enough to have two or three of these players on their team, they probably aren’t going to see any winnings.
            Below are my good and bad surprises of the 2011 Fantasy Baseball season. These players have either made their owners feel smart for getting them when they did… or really, really dumb for the same exact reason.
            *** All rankings/stats are taken from Yahoo Fantasy Sports. ***
            *** The ‘slash’ line refers to a player’s average and on base percentage as of August 2. Some fantasy experts like to use slugging percentage as well, but I have yet to run into a league that plays with it. So I don't pay much attention to it. ***

Good: Miguel Montero (AZ) – Ranked pre-season at No. 9, this guy is first in runs and second in RBIs amongst catchers. He is also fifth in hits and carries a .273/.347 slash. His 61 Ks won’t kill you either.  After McCann and Victor Martinez, he has been the next best at such a thin position.
Bad: Joe Mauer (MN)/Geovany Soto (ChiC) – Mauer’s injuries have once again killed his fantasy value and he may be becoming ‘injury pro-.’ Notice I stopped short of saying it just yet. Soto has also been on the DL and has yet to show any signs of prolonged power. I don’t like his 77 Ks either. And I guess if we are talking about injuries then Buster Posey has to be here too. Sometimes luck isn’t on your side.

First Base
Good: Michael Morse (WASH) – Morse has basically come out of no where to record 17 HRs and 59 RBIs through 97 games. He boasts a solid .314/.365 slash to boot. He is the epitome of a pleasant surprise and has paid dividends for anyone that missed out on a big-time 1B in deeper leagues.
Bad: Adam Dunn – (ChiW) – I never felt he had much fantasy value to begin with, and never wanted him on my team, but I never thought Dunn would have ZERO value through July. He is currently ranked 61st of all 1B-eligible players thanks to his measly .165 average and 138 Ks. Dunn has three hits in 77 at-bats versus lefties.

Second Base
Good: Michael Cuddyer (MN) – Although Cuddyer is 1B/2B/3B/OF eligible, he is ranked fifth amongst both 2Bs and 3Bs. His 115 hits, 16 HRs, 55 RBIs and .295/.341 numbers are all very solid.  Considering he was ranked close to 20 before the season, he has definitely helped at a thin position. The Pirates’ Neil Walker gets some love too.
Bad: Chone Figgins (SEA) – The pre-season No. 14 2B is hitting just .188 through 81 games. He showed a drop in production last year, but I don’t know if anyone thought he would be this bad. Figgins is now on the DL and should not be owned.

Short Stop
Good: Asdrubal Cabrera (CLE) – Everyone has been waiting for this guy to fall off the map, but he seems to be here to stay in 2011. Cabrera is second in HRs and RBIs, third in hits and is hitting right around .300. Not bad for a guy ranked outside the top-10 coming into the season.
Bad: Hanley Ramirez (FLA) - Because of his top-2 pick status, HanRam has been a bust. Hitting just .242/.333, he is on pace to set career-lows in hits and runs and may come close in HRs and RBIs. He now has a sprained shoulder and may not awaken from his season-long slump until next year.

Third Base
Good: Alex Gordon (KC) – I always thought Gordon was below average and overrated, especially when you look at his career numbers. However, this year Gordon has been raking for the most part. He is currently hitting .302 and has yet to see his average drop below .275. He has provided owners with consistency and that is all they can pretty much ask for.
Bad: Evan Longoria (TB) – The universal pre-season No. 1 3B is having one of those career-low years. He is hitting a measly .232 with 53 RBIs and has only one stolen base. He was hurt to start the year, and unless he is still hurt, has no reason to still be doing this poorly. Unfortunately, with the high pick owners used to get him, he is practically unbenchable.

Good: Melky Cabrera (KC), Lance Berkman (STL), Curtis Granderson (NYY), Brennan Boesch (DET), Jeff Francoeur (KC) – None of these guys cracked the top-30 coming into the season, with Granderson being ranked the highest at 33. Now they are all inside the top-20. Cabrera has been solid all year long and currently sits as the seventh best OF. Berkman and Francoeur are having great bounce-back seasons.  Both have slowed down as of late, but Berkman has a great OBP (.396) while Francoeur has over 100 hits and 18 stolen bases. Boesch is showing youthful talent and hitting around .300. And there isn’t much more to can be said about Granderson. It is safe to say nobody saw this kind of power coming. He has since tailed off a little, which was expected, but he is still ranked as the second best OF.
Bad: Carl Crawford (BOS), Shin-Soo Choo (CLE), Jason Heyward (ATL), Alex Rios (ChiW), Jayson Werth (WASH) – All of these guys were ranked inside the top-20 at the end of March. Today you might have to scroll all the way down to the 59th OF to find Werth. He may be the biggest bust of them all considering his expectations (and contract). The same thing can be said for Crawford, except I will give him a slight break due to injuries. Still, he was one of the first OFs taken and has not lived up to his pick. Choo was a huge disappointment before he got hurt. His injury only helped owners decide to finally cut him. Perhaps he should have tried hitting drunk. It couldn’t have hurt. Heyward has been injured as well, but we will chalk it up to the ‘sophomore slump.’ I was high on Rios, but right now he couldn’t leg out a single even if he was hitting off a tee (.206 average). All of these guys are hitting under .245 at the moment.

Starting Pitchers
Good: Ian Kennedy (AZ), Justin Masterson (CLE), Alexi Ogando (TEX), Michael Pineda (SEA), Brandon Beachy (ATL), Ryan Vogelsong (SF), Jeff Karstens (PIT), Vance Worley (PHI) – Everyone likes to look at a pitcher’s ERA and WHIP. While the two paint a good picture of how much a pitcher gets knocked around, I like to look at the batting-average-against (BAA). If the opposition can’t hit him then he probably won’t give up that many hits/runs. All eight of these guys have a BAA of .242 or below. Shockingly, Pineda and Worley lead the way at .205 and .207 respectively. Of the eight guys mentioned, only two were ranked in the top-80 before the season. Obviously some of these guys got called up during the season and weren’t on the radar at the beginning. But then again, these are supposed to be surprises.
Bad: Ubaldo Jimenez (CLE), Francisco Liriano (MN), Mat Latos (SD), Chris Carpenter (STL), Roy Oswalt (PHI), Ryan Dempster (ChiC) – Five out of six of these guys have a BAA over .251, while three of them at .276 or above. That’s a decent average against. All six have a WHIP over 1.30 as well. While that is the league average, these guys are supposed to be better than that. Jimenez and Liriano walk too many guys to stay out of trouble. Latos too. Oswalt has been hurt and Carpenter and Dempster have become very hittable. Of course I own/have owned three of these guys.

Good: Craig Kimbrel (ATL), Mariano Rivera (NYY), Joel Hanrahan (PIT) – Kimbrel is the odds on favorite to win the NL Rookie of the Year this year. He was shaky for a little bit, but now leads all closers with 84 Ks. Rivera is on here because of his productivity at such an old age (41). His WHIP is below one and he has a walk-to-strikeout ratio of 1:7.4. The closer’s job is to not let anyone on base and that’s exactly what he does. Two years ago Hanrahan wouldn’t be able to save himself if he was drowning in a kiddy-pool, let alone save a game for the Nationals. This year he is a staggering 30-for-31 with the Pirates.
Bad: Ryan Franklin (STL), Jon Broxton (LAD), Matt Thornton (ChiW) – These guys weren’t hard to choose. Franklin gave up a hit in all but two of his 21 appearances and had an ERA (8.46) and WHIP (1.84). That is unheard of for a ‘top-20’ closer. He is no longer in the major leagues. Broxton has been hurt all season and can’t be justified as a top-10 closer. He has a .283 BBA in 12.2 innings. Who knows if he will be back this season. Thornton, a top-10 closer in March, blew his first four saves and lost his job before the end of April.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Phillies' Roy Oswalt looks good in first rehab start with Lehigh Valley

            ALLENTOWN – After having not pitched for a little over a month, Roy Oswalt got back to business Wednesday night at Coca-Cola Park.
            Oswalt, one of the Philadelphia Phillies’ quartet of aces, began his rehab assignment with the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs last night and showed flashes of his old self.  The right-hander allowed just one run on one hit in four innings of work.  It was his first action since being pulled from his June 23 start with lower back inflammation.
            “The back felt pretty good,” said Oswalt, who struck out four on the night.  “We will have to see how it feels when I get back home and rest overnight, but overall it felt much better.
            “I was trying to work on some pitches and build some stamina.  That was the biggest thing tonight and I think it went alright.  I will probably throw another one before I get back to Philadelphia.”
            Apparently Oswalt felt so good that he went over his expected 60-pitch limit.  He threw a total of 72 pitches (41 strikes) and hit anywhere between 87 to 91 miles-per-hour with his fastball.  The only mistake he made on the night came in the fourth inning when he hung a changeup to Lars Anderson on a 2-0 count.  Anderson promptly deposited the pitch into the right field bleachers for a solo homer.
            Still, it was the only hit Oswalt surrendered on the night.  He worked a 1-2-3 inning in the first and threw 19 pitches in the process.  He needed 23 pitches to get through the second due to two walks, but again got out of the inning unharmed.
            Oswalt faced his biggest test heading into the third inning.  The Iron Pigs sent nine batters to the dish in the bottom of the second and scored three runs thanks to a solo homerun, a hit-by-pitch and a walk with the bases loaded.  The inning took roughly 21 minutes and left Oswalt with nothing to do as he sat and watched.
            The prolonged wait didn’t affect Oswalt, as he came out and proceeded to have his best inning of the night.  He needed just 12 pitches (nine strikes) to get through the 1-2-3 inning and didn’t allow a ball to leave the infield.  The quick frame put his pitch count at 54 and allowed him to come out for another inning.
            “The guys did a great job that inning,” said Oswalt.  “They made (Red Sox starter Kyle Weiland) throw over the plate and we were able to get some runs.
            “I felt pretty good.  I didn’t really have any issues pain-wise.  Right now it is just about building stamina more than anything.  I want to try and get up around 100 pitches.”
            Oswalt will attempt to make one more rehab start on Monday, however it is unclear what Phillies’ affiliate he will do it with as all of the Phillies’ minor league clubs are away.  The closest team would once again be the Iron Pigs, who play in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
            Vance Worley has pitched well in Oswalt’s absence and may hold on to a starting spot for the rest of the year.  Kyle Kendrick has also done a decent job filling in for Joe Blanton.  While either could possibly give Oswalt some extra rest if he were to need it, the competitor in him doesn’t think that will be the case.
“Once you get back into the rotation you want to stay there,” Oswalt said.  “Those guys have been doing great and hopefully they keep it up.  But once I get back I want to stay in my spot.
            “We have five guys throwing the ball well right now.  It’s a good thing because then you don’t feel like you are the only one out there.  Hopefully I can get in there and help out.”
            Meanwhile, the Iron Pigs won the game 4-1 to increase their North Division lead to four games over the second-place Red Sox.  Lefty Ryan Edell picked up the win in relief.  He went three-and-two-thirds and gave up just two hits while striking out five.
The win sets a new franchise-record for most games above .500 with 19.  The five-game winning streak is the third longest in franchise history.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Five Things the Dallas Cowboys Must Address Before the 2011 Season

There is no question that for the last five years or so the Dallas Cowboys have had the talent to compete for the Super Bowl.  However, for whatever reason, the Boys have continuously fallen short of their ultimate goal.
Once again the Cowboys will enter yet another football season with high aspirations.  Sure, Dallas has the talent to eventually hoist the Vince Lombardi trophy, but is it in the right place and will it be coached correctly.  Now with Jason Garrett at the helm, most die hard Cowboys fans believe so.
Still, there are some things the Boys need to iron out before they step on the field for real on September 11 in New York.
Here is a list of five things I feel the Cowboys need to sort out before they begin their 2011 journey toward Indianapolis, Indiana and Super Bowl XLVI.

Offensive Line Depth

With the drafting of USC's Tyron Smith in the first-round, the Cowboys have attempted to address one of their needs.  However, the Boys' overall depth behind the starters is still a huge liability.
What is certain is that Smith and Andre Gurode will be starting in the trenches come Opening Weekend.  After that, things are a little uncertain.
If the Cowboys can re-sign Doug Free, arguably the team's best lineman last year, he will also start along side the previous two guys.  The focus is then moved to Kyle Kosier.  The Boys will have to decide whether they want to try to re-sign Kyle Kosier and cut Leonard Davis, or let Kosier walk and roll with Davis.  If the cap gets lowered under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the chances of the team re-signing Kosier and letting Davis go will increase.  That still leaves a hole on the line which may be filled with Montrea Holland, who played in 14 games last season, but that is up in the air as well.
Regardless of which way Dallas chooses to go, its back-ups will be very inexperienced. It is yet to be seen what the Cowboys will do with demoted lineman Marc Colombo, but after him there isn't much left.
David Arkin and Bill Nagy are both rookies.  Jermey Parnell was relegated to the practice squad last year and did not see the field.  Sam Young and Phil Costa were rookies last season and played in a combined six games (Costa started one).  Robert Brewster saw the field once.  Then there is the infamous Alex Barron, who played in 11 games, but is mostly remembered for his holding call against the Redskins that cost the Boys a week one victory.  Personally, after his play in that game, I don't think he should have been allowed on the plane.  Unfortunately, he brings the most experience amongst the back-ups heading into 2011.
Dallas will not have much money to throw around on any free agent lineman and will probably have to go ahead with what they have.  If injuries crop up on the line like they did last season, the Boys will have to rely on some inexperienced players to protect their franchise quarterback.  That could spell doom if it were to happen.

Determining the Inside Linebackers

            New Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan likes the 3-4 defense and will probably stick with the same scheme the Cowboys have been running for the last few years under Wade Phillips.
The outside linebackers are not in question, as DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer are locks at the position for the foreseeable future.  The inside linebackers are the ones that come under scrutiny.
Bradie James and Keith Brooking have been the Cowboys' inside linebackers for the last two years.  Brooking signed with Dallas in February of 2009, while James has played all eight years of his career in the Silver and Blue.  While James is aging, he still has a few good years left in him as a run defender.  Brooking, on the other hand, may have reached the point where it is best for him to spell the starters for a few plays here and there.
Sean Lee is the linebacker-in-waiting and should be given the chance to show what he can do as the Cowboys' second starter along side of James.  Of the three, Lee had the highest amount of tackles-per-play (.12) and the lowest missed-tackle percentage (5.0) in 2010.  Brooking was last of the three in both tackles-per-play (.08) and missed-tackle percentage (6.7).  Furthermore, Brooking tallied 23 less tackles than he did in 2009 despite playing more snaps.
The only thing Brooking has going for him is his pass defense, as he deflected the most throws of the three (5) and has the lowest reception-percentage against (65.2).  James actually was the worst at 83.9.  He also had the worst yards-per-attempt (7.6) and yards-per-snap (4.6).  Still, all Ryan would have to do is remove James in Nickle situations and leave Lee in as the lone middle linebacker.
Meanwhile, Lee had the best numbers of the three in yards-per-attempt (4.9) and yards-per-play (.33).  He also had two interceptions.
The best starting combination appears to be James and Lee.  Lee also seems to be the best one capable of handling the inside on passing downs.  Whether Brooking will accept the new role, and if the Cowboys' coaching staff even comes up with the same philosophy, is yet to be seen.

The Running Back Depth Chart

The Dallas Cowboys have a deadly trio of running backs.  However, the order in which they use them may have to be altered in 2011.
The Cowboys ranked 16th in the NFL last season in rushing yards per game at 111.6.  That number could be attributed to a few different things, such as injuries, no holes from the offensive line, trailing in ball-games or just an overall lack of running ability.  While I do not believe it is the latter, teams that win in the post-season have powerful running attacks that they can go to late in games.
Felix Jones led the team in rushing last year with 800 yards.  Barber was second with 374 (missed three games) and Choice was third at 243.
Barber has clearly lost a step and is no longer the bruiser that he was three years ago.  Nowadays he seems to get to the line, do a little two-step dance while trying to find a hole, and dive forward for two or three yards.  The coaching staff has also seen a decline and has even given it the thought of cutting Barber.  While I do not think Dallas should cut him (unless his contract is too much), I do believe that he should be delegated to short-yardage and goal line situations only.
That said, I believe that Choice is more than capable of handling those situations as well.  Choice has shown a hard-nosed style when needed along with his ability to break long runs.  He averaged nearly a half-yard more than Barber last year (3.7 to 3.3) and had one less run of 20+ yards in nearly half the snaps.
Jones may be the favorite for the starting job and he should be.  His 4.3 yard-per-carry average tied him with the likes of Chris Johnson and Knowshon Moreno.  Still, I feel as if Choice has shown the ability to split the carries if needed.  In fact, the Boys may want to start Choice for the early between-the-tackles running and use Jones as the change-up as they did two years ago.  I would be happy either way though.
The main point of all of this is to demote Barber.  It is somewhat tough to say considering he was clearly the Cowboys' best back three years ago when he was behind Julius Jones, but it seems as if wear-and-tear has already caught up with him.
Dallas must have had this in mind, as it selected Oklahoma RB DeMarco Murray in the third round.  The Boys must not have been too happy with their running game if they decided to take a back that early.
It will be up to Garrett to delegate the running duties.  Hopefully he has the testicular fortitude to realize what must be done and split the carries up the right way.

Finding a Consistent Kicker

Chris Boniol.
True Dallas Cowboy fans remember the name well.  He was the last good kicker the Cowboys have had.  His last year with the team was in 1996, so that is saying something.
Dallas has lost numerous games over the years due to their lack of a consistent kicker and it was evident once again in 2010.  After letting Nick Folk (who had a 90 percent year in 2008 before dropping to 64 percent in '09) walk, the Boys turned to kickoff specialist David Buehler.  While he certainly had the leg to hit the long ones (hit two 53-yarders), he was hit-or-miss from short-to-mid range (4-for-7 between 30-39 yards, 8-for-11 from 40-49) and finished with just a 75 field goal percentage.  He also missed two extra-points.
Buehler missed his first field goal in week one.  While that may not seem too bad, had he made the kick the Cowboys would not have been forced to go for the touchdown on their last-second play.  At the very least they could have tied the game and gone into overtime.  He missed another in a 30-27 loss to New Orleans, although most people will put the blame of Roy Williams and his fumble late in the game.  Still, the extra three points would have pushed the game into OT.  Four weeks later the Cowboys rallied to take a lead over Arizona (26-24), only to have Buehler miss the extra-point and watch the Cardinals' Jay Feely nail a 48-yarder with five seconds to go to win the game.
Jerry Jones is notorious for not wanting to spend more than $1M on a kicker.  It was the reason Boniol walked in 1997 and it is the reason the Cowboys will never have a reliable kicker.  Until Jones comes to embrace the fact that kickers have a huge impact on the game, Dallas will be stuck putting its title hopes on a guy with a strong but inaccurate leg.

Suring Up the Defensive Secondary

What once was a strength for the Dallas Cowboys in 2008 has quickly turned into its biggest weakness heading into 2011.
Whereas the Cowboys' pass defense was fifth best in the NFL in 2008 (187.7 ypg) thanks in part to a league-leading 59 sacks, it has steadily declined to seventh-worst in 2010 (243.2 ypg).  The Boys were also seventh-worst in completion-percentage allowed (64.4).  On top of all that, Dallas gave up the second most points (27.3 ppg) and surrendered a league-worst 33 touchdowns through the air.  Only the porous Houston Texans were as bad.
Terence Newman, a two-time Pro Bowler, is quickly aging and has never really lived up to his potential as a top-five pick.  Sure he had some good years (All-Rookie team in 2003, Pro Bowl in 2007), but only last year did he record more than four interceptions (five).  Newman may still have a few decent years left in him, but injuries seem to be catching up to him.  Although he has not missed a game in the last two seasons, he always seems to be popping up on the injury list with some nagging injury.
Newman's fellow corner-mate, Mike Jenkins, was more than solid in 2009.  Jenkins started 15 of the team's 16 games (including its two playoff games) and picked off five passes while deflecting 19 more.  He, along with Newman, were named to the Pro Bowl as injury replacements.  However, Jenkins took a huge step backwards in 2010.  He managed just one INT and nine pass deflections and even had his character called into question after he failed to attempt to tackle an opposing player near the goal line.
Both of these guys were getting burned left and right last season.  Still, it seemed as if the entire Dallas passing defense was getting torched, so they can't take all of the flack.  Gerald Sensabaugh, Alan Ball, Orlando Scandrick and Bryan McCann need to receive some of the blame as well.
Something happened to the Dallas D midway through the season.  Through their first five games, the Cowboys only gave up an average of 180 yards through the air and only once did they give up more than 216.  However, starting with their Oct. 25 game with the Giants, Dallas went on to allow an average of 299 passing yards over the next nine games.  Here is the breakdown:

NYG - 297
JAX - 238
GB - 277
NYG - 373
DET - 263
NO - 333
IND - 365
PHI - 258
WASH - 286

Some were 'passing' teams.  Some weren't.  For the past decade the Dallas run defense has always been in the top half of the league.  Coming into games, especially last year, teams knew that the way to get by the Cowboys' defense was to throw over them.  The NFL has quickly become a passing league and for at least the last two years it seems as if the Cowboys have been behind the curve in learning how to cope with it.  Some of it is attributed to quarterback pressure, and hopefully Rob Ryan can bring some of that back to Big D, but regardless the secondary was getting burned too often to even think about making a serious run at a title.
Of course I would like Dallas to make a run at free agent Nnamdi Asomugha.  Who wouldn't want one of the league's best cornerbacks on their team?  But I just don't see Jerry Jones going after him with 1. Asomugha's asking price and 2. the new CBA.
Hopefully Rob will borrow some of Rex's blitzing schemes and take some of the pressure off of the secondary.  Either that or just give the opposition some different looks.  The fact is is that something needs to be done because it is almost certain that teams will be looking to test the Dallas secondary once again in 2011.

Check it out on Bleacher Report here. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

McFarland’s Mid-Season MLB Awards

            With Major League Baseball’s All-Star game approaching, that lets fans know that the season is already halfway over.
            It is hard to believe that the season is 87 games old for some teams.  What once probably seemed as an eternity for the players is steadily drawing closer and closer to the magic number of 162.
            Since the mid-way point of the season has come (and gone in a sense), I would like to take the time to hand out ‘McFarland’s Mid-Season MLB Awards.’
            These are my selections for the four major awards that are handed out at the end of the season.  Some of my selections will seem like no-brainers, while some others may surprise you.  Although things can surely change between now and the end of the year, I feel as if these ‘mid-way’ awards have definitely been earned by their respective recipients.

Most Valuable Player

            Everyone has their own criteria when selecting the MVP.  Major League Baseball seems to award it to the player with the best numbers.  Some choose the player most valuable to his team, while others pick the player most valuable to the league.
            I can absolutely say that I do not agree with the MLB’s approach of handing it to the player with the best stats.  Despite his .298 average, 47 HRs and 118 RBIs in 2003, I do not believe Alex Rodriguez should have won the AL MVP.  The Rangers finished 20 games under .500 for crying out loud.  If a player can’t help his team to at least a .500 record, how valuable are they?
            I like to look at three things.  First, the numbers do have to be there.  Stats don’t lie.  In the end they will prove if the player is one of the best in the game.  Secondly, he has to be on an average to good team.  If the team isn’t at least above .500, then again – how valuable are they really?  Lastly, if the player was removed from the team and substituted with just an average player, what would happen to the team?  Could the team sustain its .500 ways or would it fall off the map?
            Keeping those three things in mind, here are my selections for MVP…

AL MVP: Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Boston Red Sox
            There is nothing like starting off with a no-brainer.
            Since moving to Boston before this season, Gonzalez has emerged as the best hitter in the American League.  The lefty is in the top three in seven different offensive categories and leads the league in hits (121), doubles (28), RBIs (75) and batting average (.348).  His on-base percentage (.405), slugging percentage (.583) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.989) are also good for third in the AL.  So far, he easily passes the numbers test.
            Gonzalez is certainly on a good team, as the Rod Sox stand at 50-35 as of July 5.  Some would argue that if Gonzalez was removed from the Sox that they would still be better than a .500 team.  Maybe so, but when a team loses the league’s best hitter it is sure to drop in the standings over the long haul.  Plus, he has been the best player in the AL.  Plain and simple.
            Toronto's Jose Bautista has to garner some attention, but his team is four games under .500.

NL MVP: Jose Reyes, SS, New York Mets
            At first I wanted to hand Matt Kemp of the LA Dodgers this award.  However, after looking over my criteria, I decided to give it to Reyes.
            Both of these players have great stats.  Reyes leads the NL in runs (65), hits (124), triples (15), average (.354) and is second in stolen bases (30).  Kemp doesn’t lead the league in any one category, but is in the top three in five different stats – mainly the power numbers.  This is to be assumed since Reyes is about speed while Kemp is more of a power guy.
            I feel as if both teams would suffer tremendously if each player was removed from their respective lineup.  Reyes is the lead-off man and spark plug of the Mets’ offense.  Kemp hits in the heart of the Dodgers order and leads the team in nearly every offensive category.
            The thing that swayed my vote in Reyes’ favor was his team’s record.  The Mets, surprisingly enough, are 42-40.  The Dodgers on the other hand are a measly 37-50.  If I did give Kemp the MVP then I would be going against my A-Rod argument.  While I would much rather do that than hand a Met the MVP, I am supposed to be unbiased in my line of work.  Is it snowing outside?

AL CY YOUNG: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
            This is another toss-up between Verlander and Jered Weaver of the LA Angels.
            Both pitchers have literally been lights-out so far this season.  Both have won over ten games, thrown at least three complete games with two shutouts, have an ERA under 2.26, a WHIP below 0.92 and a batting average against (BAA) of .194 or lower.
            Verlander (11-4) leads the AL in innings pitched (143.1), strikeouts (138), WHIP (0.88) and is second to Boston’s Josh Beckett in BAA (.187).  Weaver (10-4) only leads the AL in ERA (1.92), but has given up the second fewest homeruns (5) out of the 31 AL pitchers with an ERA below 4.00.
            Team records aren’t usually held against a pitcher since he pitches once every five days.  In this case it wouldn’t matter either way, as the Angels are just one game better than the Tigers.
            Here are each pitcher’s lines.  Although I personally chose Verlander because of his ‘stuff’ and his ability to go deep into games, you can decide for yourself.

            Verlander: 11-4, 143.1 IP, 4 CG, 2 SH, 95 H, 36 ER, 12 HR, 31 BB, 138 K, 2.26 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, .187 BBA
Weaver: 10-4, 131.1 IP, 3 CG, 2 SH, 91 H, 28 ER, 5 HR, 30 BB, 114 K, 1.92 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, .194 BBA

Like I said, a complete toss up.

NL CY YOUNG: Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies
            At 34, Halladay is still as productive as ever.  He sports an 11-3 record with six complete games (leads MLB), a 2.44 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP.  His strikeout to walk ratio is a staggering 131:17, which when reduced down is 7.7:1.  Yes, he punches out nearly eight batters for every one he walks.
            Halladay will start for the NL in this year’s All-Star game and that can only help his case for the Cy Young.  He, as some pitchers do, may win the award purely on his reputation as one of the game’s best pitchers.  After all, he is 180-89 in his career.  That winning percentage (67 percent) would rank him sixth all-time, behind Sam Leever, Whitey Ford, Pedro Martinez, Lefty Grove and Christy Mathewson.
            While most people probably look at the NL Cy Young as a formality in Halladay’s favor, I am not as quick to write off his teammate in Cole Hamels.  Hamels is 10-4 and has given up nearly 30 fewer hits than Halladay (albeit in 12 less innings) and sports a better ERA (2.40), WHIP (0.95) and BAA (.213 to .241).  If the writers go purely on numbers, than Hamels has to be in the discussion.

AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Michael Pineda, SP, Seattle Mariners
            Here is that name again.  The guy I told you to look out for over three months ago.  I have always said to never trust rookie pitchers, especially in fantasy.  Well, here is the exception.
            Pineda isn’t just one of the better rookie pitchers this year, but one of the better pitchers period.  He ranks sixth in the AL in ERA (2.58), eighth in WHIP (1.01) and is just one of four AL starters with a BAA under .200 (1.93).  Only three times in his 17 starts has he given up more than four earned runs and has yet to surrender more than five.
            Of the 13 AL starters with at least 100 strikeouts, Pineda is second behind only Tampa’s David Price in strikeouts-per-inning (1.019, 106 Ks in 109 IP).  For a rookie to storm onto the MLB scene like this is truly amazing.
            The only thing going against Pineda is his supposed innings limit imposed by the Mariners.  At the rate he is going he may be shut down for the last month of the season in hopes of not completely destroying his arm.  He is only 22-years-old.
            Despite the innings limit, and even if he does get shut down, I feel as if Pineda has already done enough to earn himself the Rookie of the Year honors.

NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Craig Kimbrel, CL, Atlanta Braves
            Kimbrel is another rookie pitcher that has quickly become one of the league’s best at his position. 
            The Braves’ closer is currently tied for the major league lead in saves with 26 (Heath Bell) and has given up only 12 earned runs in 44 innings.  He also sports a considerably low WHIP (1.09).
            Out of the 28 closers with at least ten saves, Kimbrel ranks first in strikeouts (69), seconds in home runs allowed (1, Heath Bell has 0), and third in BAA (.190).  That is good enough for me.

AL MANAGER OF THE YEAR: Manny Acta, Cleveland Indians
            The sports world was abuzz after the Indians started out the season 20-8.  Though most people thought they couldn’t keep it up (and they haven’t), Acta has still done a great job so far this year.
            Even though Cleveland has gone 25-31 since its fabulous start, the Tribe still find themselves in first place on July 5.  Of course things may not stay that way, but there are mid-season awards.
Last year the Indians finished a dismal 69-93.  They would need to win just 30 percent of their remaining games (24) to finish with the same record.  It looks like an improvement is more than possible.
            If the award was given to the manager of the best team, then Joe Giradri and Terry Francona would be winning it most of the time.  I like to award the manager that has done the most with the least.  In this case it is Acta.

NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR: Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates
            While Kirk Gibson is doing a very good job with Arizona and has the D’Backs one game out of first in the West, I have to give my second home of Pittsburgh some love.
            The Pirates are notorious for playing .500 ball for the first month or so and then falling flat on their faces.  That doesn’t seem to be the case this year.  At the mid-way point, the Buccos are 45-41 and just one-and-a-half games behind the Cardinals in the Central.
            Hurdle did a great job of improving the Rockies in his time in Colorado (including a World Series appearance in 2007) and is now doing the same thing in the Steel City.  The Pirates haven’t had a winning season since 1992 and haven’t won more than 79 games since.  In the last decade they haven’t won more than 75 games.
Pittsburgh already has 45 wins is hoping to stay relevant for the remainder of the season.  With Hurdle at the helm, along with their current roster, the Pirates could be staring their first winning season in almost 20 years directly in the face.

Check out the slideshow on Bleacher Report here