Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Definitive Super Bowl Primer --- updated, re-revised and re-reposted

As we all know, the game can be won or lost long before the kickoff. You can’t afford to get distracted by all the hoopla surrounding the game in the two weeks leading up to it. There will be plenty of time to party after the game is over. The team that is better prepared, better disciplined, better coached and that has the better game plan will win.

But once the ball is kicked off, you can throw out all the notes, the film, and the Xs and Os because it basically comes down to execution. Football is a simple game of blocking and tackling, that is all. Which means neither team can afford to make mental mistakes or have blown assignments. It is all about execution---that is what playoff football is all about, and the team that executes better on that day will win.. If you gotta take it up a notch in the playoffs, you gotta take it up two or three notches in the Super Bowl. As Scrib50 reminded me the last time I posted this, it is important to emphasize that the players don't get caught up in the grandeur of the game and try to do too much... they have to remember to play within themselves. The defenders can't afford to go for the spectacular hit all the time---they have to make the sure tackle. The receivers have gotta make sure they catch the ball before they start turning upfield---you can't score a TD if you dont have the ball. The QB has to be calm even if his team is down---you cannot get it all back in one throw.

And what it all comes down to, every year, is that defense wins championships. The front four on the defensive line has to get pressure on the QB and hurry him, knock him down, disrupt the offensive rhythm, get into his head, send him a message that they will be in his face all day. You gotta stuff the run and you gotta get to the QB. You gotta create turnovers. One thing your defense absolutely has to do is get off the field on third downs.

And on the offensive side of the ball, you gotta make sure you establish the running game. If you can run, that takes the pressure off the QB and opens up the play-action pass, which means the defense can’t just pin their ears back and rush the QB. Plus you can bleed the clock and have the defense sucking wind by the fourth quarter. And of course, you have to convert third downs….which means that you have to have positive yardage on first and second downs….ending up repeatedly in third and long will usually mean trouble for you.

Therefore, particularly in big games where both teams are good and evenly matched, the battle is always won in the trenches. The unsung heroes are always in the offensive line. If the O line can give the QB time to look to his second and third reads, it could be a long day for the secondary. But all the offense in the world is no good if you cannot protect the football. As always, turnovers will kill ya. You can’t turn the ball over and expect to win championships. The team with the better turnover ratio will win. Also, you gotta avoid penalties, especially the stupid penalties that are caused by mental errors.

But protecting the ball is not enough to win; you gotta have great special teams play too. The special teams always play a huge role (or an uuuuuge role, if you’re Al Miracles) in determining the outcome of the game. A blocked punt or blocked field goal, or a muffed punt, or pinning the opponent inside their 5-yard line can completely turn the momentum around. Plus, special teams determine the outcome of that most basic of all football ‘game-within-the-game’ chess-matches---the field position battle. In all big games, field position will eventually determine the outcome of the game. Good field position can lead to an easy score and bad field position can lead to an ill-timed turnover.

You gotta remember that both teams have made it to the Super Bowl not by fluke but because they are good, battle tested, mentally tough teams that know how to win. That is why they are playing for the WORLD championship. So in the end it will come down to who wants it more. Who has the desire, the hunger, the stick-to-it-iveness, the refuse-to-lose mentality? Will the X-factors emerge on the biggest stage? Of course, one can never forget the intangibles.

In the end, it comes down to how the superstars and the play-makers play; great players make big plays in huge games on the grandest stage----that’s what playoff football is all about. The team that makes more plays will win. But all that having been said and done, nobody can contest this fact----when time runs out, the team with more points will be the champion.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

NFL Playoff musings…

I almost feel bad for the Ravens…almost…

They had this game halfway in their pocket. I’m sure the Ravens offense will get most of the blame and they deserve some of it for the key turnovers that changed the game in the third quarter. Flacco will get further heat for “coming up short in big games”...unfairly, I think, because he made two throws that could have changed the outcome. He found Boldin in the end zone and hit him in the chest with the football but Boldin dropped it. And he made a pretty amazing pass to TJ Houshmandzadeh on their last 4th down….4th and forever and he put the ball right on the money for 1st down yardage and TJ dropped it. If Boldin makes the straightforward TD catch, they’d have been up by 4 (instead of tying the game with a FG) and the game may have been lost for the Steelers. With time running down in the 4th quarter, (and especially against great defenses) mounting a successful drive with the score tied is easier than mounting a successful drive while down by 4 pts…in the former case a FG is meaningful and valuable, so the defense has to respect all options on the field and the offense can dictate terms better. If the Steelers had been down by four points, I seriously doubt Ben could have completed that pass to Brown…the safeties would have been sitting on the long routes and cared less about the underneath stuff.

BTW, while Brown made a great ‘helmet’ catch he also made it more exciting than it had to be. I looked at the replay several times online…Ben flings the ball about 60 yds downfield and drops it in just over the shoulder of Brown, in stride….that pass was damn close to perfect…as was Flacco’s pass to Boldin the end zone… but Boldin dropped it while Brown caught it, and I guess it is by such margins that games are won and lost and careers and reputations of QBs are made and broken.

Few things, sports-wise, give me as much pleasure as watching Aaron Rodgers play QB. And not just because of what I think of Brett Favre….Rodgers has been under unfairly intense pressure since day one and he has been great. I thought it was ridiculous that people picked on him for not winning a playoff game when on the only occasion he played in one he led the team to 45 points. But hey, the media is generally too busy making apologies for the Mannings of the world to care or notice…..

What Green Bay, and Rodgers, has accomplished this year is freaking amazing. Every time I feel bad about the Steelers having to deal with injuries on their O-line I remind myself that Green Bay is much worse off….and that they still find a way to kick some ass when it counts. That beatdown in Atlanta last night was sobering….I mean, I thought Green Bay could win but didn’t imagine in my wildest dreams that Atlanta could be dismantled like that at home.

The only thing that sucks about the NFL playoffs is that they go by so fast. But that’s also the beauty of the NFL…even with everyone’s (including their own) efforts to overexpose it, the games largely occur only once a week and the playoffs are single-elimination. This is why it remains so much fun….as opposed to baseball and basketball where the seasons are way too long and even the playoffs are painfully drawn out. The NFL is a great example of “less is more”….of course, the league members (and the networks) are doing everything they can to ruin that state of affairs but that’s another story for another day.

Monday, December 20, 2010

More toadying by the sports media…

Before I go on to yesterday’s Giants debacle, a word on the Redskins’ and Shanahan’s latest game…..Sally Jenkins appears to be laboring under the misconception that yesterday’s performance by Rex Grossman validated Shanahan’s decision to bench McNabb. A good sports reporter/columnist/analyst should have known that one game does not mean jack squat. A couple of weeks ago, when Favre got injured on the Vikings’ very first offensive play, Tavaris Jackson came in and led the team to 38 points and an emphatic win over the Bills. 38 points was more than the Vikings had scores in their previous three games. This didn’t mean Jackson is better than Favre (even at this age) --- rather, if you follow the NFL, you’d know that QBs often have good outings against defenses who haven’t game-planned for them (or defenses who don’t have enough data…..film on the QB’s tendencies, esp within an offensive scheme). Let’s see how Grossman does in the NFC East after a D has had a week to prepare for him and esp after the Ds have had a few game films on him in Shanahan’s scheme. This is Grossman’s eighth year in the NFL and he has thrown for 37 TDs and 38 interceptions; even in his best year (the Bears superbowl season of ’06) he threw for 23 TDs and 20 INTs….he’s never even bettered a QB rating of 80 for any season… Grossman may turn out to be a decent QB yet, I suppose, but this one game against a mediocre Cowboys defense that was unprepared for him does not constitute evidence or validation of anything.

To me, the only things that were validated to me were that
(i) There is a powerful new bully in Washington and Sally Jenkins wasn’t gonna pass up an opportunity to kiss his ass and
(ii) This year’s Redskins amply demonstrate that Andy Reid is, as I always believed, a far superior football coach and thinker than Shanahan.

And now to another coaching bully, Tom Coughlin. I thought that there were so many layers to the Giants debacle yesterday but apparently it is entirely the punter’s fault. Who knew?

Stupidly, I thought
(i) That not anticipating an onside kick with the other team down 14 with like 7 mins to go was a colossal coaching blunder. The only downside to putting your hands team on the field at that time is that you start with modest field position. Besides, Andy Reid is looking at a team that has already put up 31 points on him and he figures he may need not two but three scores to be in the game, so he is almost definitely going to kick it onside....but what do I know? Peter King goes to great lengths in his MMQB column today, to make the case that it wasn’t Coughlin and his staff’s fault but rather the fault of the guys on the return team…. Poorly prepared players…hmmm… I’d think that’s poor coaching……. but what do I know?
(ii) I thought that not being able to generate a much needed first down in two consecutive series on offense within the last five minutes may have equally contributed to the Giants’ loss but then again the offense is led by the great hall-of-famer Eli Manning, so they can certainly not be at any fault, can they?
(iii) I thought that not having your team prepared to defend the punt (regardless of what the punter was asked to do) --- indeed, having a team ill-prepared to respond to crisis --- may be poor coaching….but what do I know?

After all, Coughlin courageously claimed to take full responsibility for the last play before he proceeded to throw his punter under the bus on national TV, so he must be a stand-up guy and a great coach. He did yell at the punter on national TV and ignored all the other players who were supposed to defend the play, so he must be a stand-up guy and a great coach. The players (offense and defense) didn't know how to do their jobs when it really counted, but he must be a stand-up guy and a great coach.

It is the credo of mediocre coaching bullies, and it is given credibility by toadying sports ‘journalists’ all the time….”Why take responsibility when you can make a convenient scapegoat?”

Sunday, December 19, 2010

On Shanahan's genius

Hopefully it is becoming more apparent to people that Mike Shanahan’s ‘genius’ is largely the creation of the incompetent and cheerleading sports media. Shanahan is, and always has been, a mediocre coach and a supreme asshole. He had a 3 to 4 year dream run in Denver that was almost completely attributable to the fact that he had John Elway and Terrell Davis. They won more than 75% of their games and won 2 Superbowl titles in that span. But if you look at the record you’ll see that Dan Reeves had a 4-5 year run (’84-’84, ’89) in Denver in which they also won over 70% of their games. Without a hall-of-fame caliber running back, I should add. I don’t see anyone calling Reeves a genius. Oh yeah, they lost 3 superbowls during Reeves’ tenure --- to legitimately great teams --- Parcells’ Giants, Gibbs’ Redskins and a 49er team that could arguably have been the best ever in the NFL. Shanahan’s Superbowl successes came against a Packer squad that just wasn’t mentally prepared to be repeat champs, and a clearly overachieving Falcon team that had no business being in the Superbowl in the first place. Ironically, that Falcon squad owed much of its overachieving success to its coach, Dan Reeves, who got them to the freaking Superbowl with those legends Jamaal Anderson at RB and Crystal Chandelier…errr… Chris Chandler at QB.

Anyway, more importantly, in the decade after Elway retired (and Davis was soon done in by injury) Shanahan managed to win about 57% of his games and recorded one playoff win. Ten years. 57%. One playoff win. Oh, did I mention that he had pretty much carte blanche over personnel decisions as well? Must be genius.

Funny too, how Washington’s struggles this year are now supposedly due McNabb’s inadequacies, huh? Quick…..name a Redskin WR or their starting RB. I’m not trying to say that McNabb is great ---he is clearly in decline--- but funny how the offensive geniuses of the Shanahans [Mike and (his nepotistic hire) offensive coordinator son Kyle] can’t fix things. I guess geniuses cannot win without hall-of-fame talent at all important skill positions.

You know what great coaches do? They repeatedly find ways to win important games with underdog rosters. Does that describe Shanahan? I don’t think so.

Finally, I also hold Shanahan primarily responsible for the whole Haynesworth fiasco. See, I have some sympathy for Haynesworth --- he is a problematic dumbass, but to his credit he has never presented himself as anything but a problematic dumbass. When Shanahan took over, he decided he would impose his despotic style and whip every one into submission from day one. Haynesworth, who had already been paid over $40 mill in guaranteed money, didn’t quite appreciate being pissed on. So he basically told him to fuck off. To be perfectly honest, in Haynesworth’s place, I would most likely have done the same thing. Great players often come with great egos. If I were signed to a $100 mil contract with over $40 mil in guaranteed money, I’d expect the incoming coach to treat me as an important part of the franchise too. Even a disciplinarian like Parcells used to have separate rules for players like LT --- Great coaches find a way to deal with, and bring the best out of, troublesome talent while despotic egomaniacs want everyone to kiss their ass in their prescribed manner.

Apropos of nothing, no self-respecting defensive lineman should show any respect or loyalty to Shanahan anyway. Shanahan made a career of perfecting the art of chop blocking without getting flagged. Shanahan’s O-lines always played dirty. It is one thing to push the envelope in game strategy but entirely another when the innovations are aimed at ending, or threatening to end, the careers of D-linemen. Dirty blocking is one of the primary reasons Shanahan could get a thousand yards out of any old RB. His early success as a coach and his premature elevation to genius status protected him from much of the calls and criticism that was due to him for the way his O-lines played.

All this is not to say that Shanahan won’t manage to have some winning seasons in Washington (the NFL is composed of two kinds of franchises: bad ones that never really win anything and good ones that go through cycles of prosperity and poverty; Washington belongs to the latter and they are wayyyyy overdue). But it won’t mean much if he does. As Norv Turner demonstrates week in and week out, year after year, teams in the NFL can find ways to win despite their head coaches. And at the first signs of Washington’s success, Mike will get his genius label back, Kyle will land a multi-million dollar head coaching job……and po-too-weet, and so it goes….

Friday, October 8, 2010

Just wondering...

At the first whiff of the Tiger Woods scandal, every news outlet including all the major ones jumped on it. It was a feeding frenzy to behold. Of course, all the 'respectable' outlets delved into all the steamy details under the pretext of "Well, it is relevant because it is a major distraction and could affect his golf...."

Interestingly, for a while now Deadspin has had a developing story on Brett Favre in which they claim that the old gunslinger was trying his best to sling his gun at a pretty little thang who worked for the Jets. Deadspin even has some pretty interesting audio and visual data to back up their claim. Favre will be visiting the Jets for a big Monday night game. Yet, there is nothing......nothing from the mainstream/major news outlets about this story.

Of course, if no one brings it up it cannot be a distraction, so the point of relevance becomes moot, right? Of course the great American legend could be just as much of a sleazeball as your average next-door perv, but it is really none of anyone's business. Funny how that works.....

There is another thing....if they could get ratings out of this, all these outlets would still follow it pretty hard. I guess what they are all declaring is that a salacious story about a young superstar American icon will play really well with the American audience while a sordid story about an aging superstar American icon will just not play very well in most American households. The fact that the former is a colored man while the letter is a gray-haired white man has nothing to do at all with all of this, I'm sure. Nothing to see here, folks....move right along....

Monday, August 9, 2010

Free fallin'

A little tribute to Tiger’s Woods’ game of late…

Anyway, the bottom line is that the man cannot make a 4 foot putt anymore. I noticed this at the Masters, and by the time the USOpen concluded I knew that his major problem was putting. All the other golf stuff will fall in line if he can make putts at will again. If you can make key putts, you never mentally check out or exhaust yourself; on the other hand, if you cannot make putts to save a hole from bad shots or to capitalize on good ones, you don’t much see the point in playing golf….or in keeping score, at any rate That’s where Tiger is right now. It is really as simple as that, and it always has been.

BTW, for those who constantly bitch and whine about the amount of coverage Tiger always gets on TV, this year should be proof of why. Let me add that I am frequently frustrated by the telecasts---I would like to see much of the rounds of at least the last 6 groups, instead of a few shots from one group followed by fluff pieces and commercials --- but it is fashionable for (prejudiced) people to whine about TV showing every Tiger shot all the time and this is what I’d like to address. This Tiger-centricity came about for 2 main reasons: (1) It’s what delivers viewers and so networks will stick with it. Viewership (and ultimately the mighty advertizing dollar) justifies all kinds of popular garbage on TV so why should it not justify attention on the most compelling player in golf? (2) Nobody delivered like Tiger. Nobody. And now that Tiger can’t break 70 if his life depended on it, nobody has stepped up to deliver. For the past 6 months, Tiger has basically offered up the World #1 ranking to anyone who may want to take it. There have been multiple instances where Mickelson could have won or finished really high and taken the mantle. This past weekend Westwood or Mickelson could have wrested the #1 ranking from Tiger just by finishing decently---combined with the fact that Tiger almost finished DFL (dead effing last). But they even screwed that up. Westwood had two bad rounds and then withdrew due to injury—the official news is that it was his calf but I’m guessing there was a bit of injury to the confidence there too. And Phil --- the man Tiger haters love to love --- the Great White Hope in the Tiger era --- the man who has all the tools to make a sustained run at the #1 spot --- Phil the thrill --- folded like a lawn chair yet again. Coming into Sunday, he was placed well at 10th place or so, four shots behind the leaders, needing to climb up only to fourth place to finally get the #1 ranking in the sport. Tiger, having a disastrous week, had already finished his round with an abysmal 7-over par 77 well before Phil teed off. And Phil, with everything to gain --- the tournament itself, the #1 ranking, some great momentum going into next week’s PGA Championship --- lit up Sunday with a sterling 8-over par 78. Mind you, this was a day when the final leaderboard showed 11 of the top 14 finishers shooting rounds under 70, including two 64s, two 65s, a 66, and three 67s.

Sooooo, yeah. All the Tiger haters need to see, understand and accept what Tiger’s collapse has revealed. There is currently no #1 player in golf. Indeed, there hadn’t been for a while before Tiger showed up. And now that he is in stunning and incredible free fall, there is again no #1 player. There is no one who, with his skill and will on the course, can make this sport quite as watchable as Tiger did.

Sure, as Tiger continues to spiral down and as others continue in their spotty mediocrity there will soon be someone other than Tiger who is ranked #1. But undertand this: golf will, as it does now, have a #1 ranked player, but it will still be without a #1 player. Until Tiger returns…if he ever does. Or until some kid like McIlroy steps up and takes charge.

Monday, April 12, 2010



Rick Reilly opines that Mickelson's Masters win is a victory for women......

You know, at the place (Augusta National) where they consider women unworthy of membership.

I'm sure Rick thinks he totally, right on, nailed it too. Nice toadying, dumbass.