Wednesday, December 30, 2009

When 14-1 Isn't Good Enough

There's been a good deal of debate this week regarding Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell's election to bench his starters midway through Sunday's eventual loss to the New York Jets. This is a rare situation where I have a strong opinion about something like this, so I'm going to spout it: Caldwell was an idiot for pulling his guys.

I completely understand his logic about not wanting to risk an injury to one of his best players. Without Peyton Manning, Dwight Freeney, Dallas Clark, or Reggie Wayne, the Colts are probably still fighting for a playoff spot, and they'd be in bad shape in the playoffs if they lost any of those four to injury.

But they did play half of the game, right? Was that half of football intended to just be a scrimmage, trying to stay fresh without worrying about winning? I doubt it. Manning and the Colts were out there trying to win the game right up until the point they were pulled from the game. Everyone on the team has been saying the right things, which suggests that they buy into the coach's ideas on the matter, and that's great. They all think that the move will put them in the best possible position to win the Super Bowl, which Caldwell and GM Bill Polian have reiterated over and over as being the ultimate goal.

Do you know what Manning, Freeney, Clark, and Wayne all have in common, though? They've all already won a Super Bowl. Winning another one would be great, and solidify all of them as among the best at their positions in this generation of players. But the possibility of going 19-0 for a completely undefeated season, a season that would trump the '72 Miami Dolphins as the greatest NFL accomplishment of all time, should have overtaken the desire to "stay healthy."

It's so rare that anyone has an opportunity to be considered among the best all time at anything. The 2007-2008 Celtics went 66-16 and rolled through the playoffs, but people don't even consider them to have been among the top 3 Boston teams of all time. The Yankees only won 103 games in their 2009 World Series winning season, so they're just the best team this season, not a candidate for the best team ever.

Think back to the 2007 NFL season. It was capped off with a great Super Bowl, but a Super Bowl most memorable because it was the Patriots' chance to unseat history. When you remember that game, and that season, you'll remember that the Giants won the Super Bowl, but you'll remember it most because they beat the Patriots to preserve the '72 Dolphins' place in lore. The opportunity to be legendary is so rare that we'll remember vividly even those who came up short.

How dare Caldwell and Polian deprive this team of the opportunity for perfection. How dare they sacrifice history for a perceived improvement of their chances at winning a Super Bowl. For me, no matter how well this team does (and there's a reasonable chance that they win it all), I'll always wonder what might have been.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2009 Redskins Report Card: Week 16 vs. Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys 17, Redskins 0

It's too bad that the Redskins have to play a game in week 17, because this game seemed like a perfect bow to put on Jim Zorn's tenure in Washington. A horrific, grotesque bow.

Offense: D
Defense: C-
Special Teams: C+
Overall: D+

Getting shut out by the Cowboys is a tough pill to swallow, but particularly bitter when it's a home game. The Redskins' farthest drive in the game was their last, a 51-yard march that ended when Washington once again got into a bad down-and-distance situation, and couldn't convert. When you can't make big plays down the field, you have to get yourself into good situations through runs and short passes. When you can't extend drives, you have to go for home runs. When you can't do either, you're the Redskins.

I've often wondered how a team would fare if they had a great punter but little else. Turns out, they would get shut out by the Cowboys. Hunter Smith is a real asset on this team, with five of his eight punts putting Dallas inside their own 20 yard line. But field position only gets you so far, and Washington couldn't do anything with theirs.

About the only positive you can take away from this game is that it looks like the Cowboys have as little faith in Shawn Suisham as the Redskins did. Three times they elected to go for it rather than give Suisham a 47-52 yard field goal attempt. So at least one other team doesn't think much of the same kicker.

Next week pits the Redskins against the San Diego Chargers, who have absolutely nothing to play for, and who probably will be sitting half of their starters. I think Stan Humphries is slated to start at QB.

Around the League
  • San Diego is playing as well as anybody in the NFL right now. If you've got money burning a hole in your pocket and you want to bet on someone to win the AFC, I think the smart money is on the Chargers.
  • Hmm, the Patriots might be back. Uh oh.
  • Has any team ever swung as hard as the Giants from last week's domination of the Redskins to this week's embarrassment against the Panthers?
  • What the hell happened to the Saints?
  • In a game with intense Mattingly fantasy football implications, the Ravens fell to the Steelers. A pair of running back fumbles were NOT appreciated.
  • The Packers sure are peaking at the right time.
  • I told you Cutler would be fine. Or if I didn't, I told other people, and they can attest to the fact that I said it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

2009 Redskins Report Card: Week 15 vs. New York Giants

Giants 45, Redskins 12

Oh no.

Offense: C-
Defense: D
Special Teams: D
Overall: D+

It would be fair to wonder how much the coaching/front office situation might have distracted the players this week. The hiring of Bruce Allen has led everyone in town to believe that Jim Zorn is 100% finished as the Redskins' head coach, and they're all probably correct. So it's not unreasonable to think that the resignation of Vinny Cerrato and the addition of Allen might've caused some players to lose focus.

But the cause for this awful performance was beyond just a lack of focus. The offensive line prevented the 'Skins from getting any sort of momentum, though I'm willing to attribute some of that to the Giants' elite front four. But outside of a 20-yard scamper by Marcus Mason, the running game was stifled. Jason Campbell wasn't ineffective at quarterback, but he was sacked five times and threw two interceptions, so it's not like the passing game offered much more.

When you give up 45 points, though, blame has to be directed at the defense. Eli Manning is generally overrated, in my book, but the Washington defense was all too happy to let him have open looks all night. You know I'm not crazy about passer rating as a statistic, but when you get up to 144.4, that's sort of beyond the "reasonable doubt" zone.

Ways to improve? I don't know. I feel like you just want to get through the end of the season without costing yourself anything for next season, injury-wise. So I'd limit the snaps of guys like Fred Davis, Devin Thomas, and honestly, Quinton Ganther. The young fella can play, and perhaps most importantly, he seems to have a nose for the end zone that nobody's had in this town since Terry Allen.

Around the League
  • Despite the Colts' victory, Jack Del Rio finally forced Maurice Jones-Drew down the throat of his opponents, and the result was a competitive game against the best team in football. Maybe continue to employ your best player, Jackie boy?
  • Can we finally put to rest the idea that Tony Romo turns to a pumpkin after December 1st?
  • Jerome Harrison and Joshua Cribbs shredded the Chiefs like tissue paper. Like red and yellow tissue paper. Am I the only one who's not surprised that Mike Holmgren agreed to come to town after that showing?
  • While the Bengals couldn't pull off a victory, they played a fantastic game against the Chargers. Chris Henry would've been proud.
  • Was JaMarcus Russell the problem the whole time? Suddenly the Raiders are a tough spot on the schedule. The Raiders.
  • It might just be me, but the way that the Ravens are playing, I'd hate to get matched up against them in the first round.
  • I think the Golden Gophers and Vikings must've gotten on the wrong planes, because Minnesota looked like a college team against the Panthers.
Dallas next week. Here we go.

Monday, December 21, 2009

BCS Rantings and Ravings

I'm going to try to not go all the way off about the BCS and what a joke it is, because I've done that here, here, and here. Additionally, Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports did a great job of spelling out all of the different ways that colleges, fans, and teams could benefit from a playoff system in this article, posted a couple weeks ago. I'm just going to talk about this year, and the different games that led us to our current BCS bowl lineup. And, what the heck, make some picks too.

Rose Bowl
(8) Ohio State vs. (7) Oregon

This feels like the least nationally relevant Rose Bowl in a long time, but maybe that's just because USC was bad this year. "Bla bla, they still went 8-4 and beat Ohio State." Yeah, and they lost to Washington and Arizona. Don't argue with me; using USC's standards, they had a terrible year.

Anyways, this game seems to be Oregon's to lose. They're one of the hottest teams in college football, and their offense has posted 37+ points in six straight games. The coolest thing, though, is that at the end of the season, we might be able to look back at the Oregon/Boise State game in week one as a matchup of eventual top five teams. Makes me almost wish I had watched it...almost. It was 19-8, that doesn't look like the kind of score that I want to see.

Prediction: Oregon 34, Ohio State 17

Sugar Bowl
(5) Florida vs. (4) Cincinnati

This game probably spells the biggest trouble for defenders of the BCS. While TCU certainly has a valid gripe, Cincinnati is an undefeated team from a "power conference" (as long as the Big East gets an automatic BCS bid, you can't argue me on that). Like the 2005 Auburn team, Cincinnati has a chance to be an undefeated team from a BCS conference that never got a chance to play for the championship.

By the way, one of the clearest ways that you can tell that there's a problem with the BCS is that the team that loses the BCS title game doesn't finish the season ranked #2. If the title game is supposed to be between the #1 and #2 teams, doesn't that mean that the loser is the #2 team? Does anyone think that the Cardinals weren't the runner-up team in the NFL last season? Sigh, ridiculous.

It probably won't matter, though. Florida should beat Cincinnati and wrap up one of the great college careers of all time for Tim Tebow. I don't know how good he'll be in the NFL, but I definitely look forward to it.

Prediction: Florida 35, Cincinnati 25

Fiesta Bowl
(6) Boise State vs. (3) Texas Christian

Undefeated TCU takes on undefeated Boise State in what I am now calling the Joe Mattingly NCAA Championship game. Alabama and Texas can fight for the intercontinental title; this game is for the heavyweight belt. Because this game should be awesome.

TCU has one of the strongest running attacks in college football, with three different players averaging at least 50 yards rushing per game, plus 43 more yards per game from their quarterback. Oh, and said quarterback, Andy Dalton, has a ho-hum passer rating of 159.6.

Meanwhile, Broncos quarterback Kellen Moore has 39 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions this season, and they've scored 42+ in ten of their thirteen games. Did you catch that? Par for this team is six touchdowns. Their competition is a little suspect, but they beat currently 7th-ranked Oregon in their season-opener, so they're at least pretty good.

I have more faith in Boise State being able to close the deal, because they've been playing big teams in big games for a few years now. They know how to react to big game situations, whereas I could see TCU getting a little star-studded.

Prediction: Boise State 44, TCU 39

Orange Bowl
(10) Iowa vs. (9) Georgia Tech

In the "who gives a damn" BCS game, Iowa plays Georgia Tech.

Prediction: Iowa 24, Georgia Tech 22

BCS Championship Game
(2) Texas vs. (1) Alabama

It's hard not to look at this game and only think about the last game each of these two teams played. Alabama handled Florida with relative ease, and it took Texas three different bonehead plays by Nebraska to pull out the Big 12 title. Honestly, the Cornhuskers looked like the better team in that game. So how can I look at this game and see anything but a rout by the Crimson Tide?

Trick question; I can't. There's just so much talent on both sides of the ball for Alabama, and Texas' best player (Colt McCoy) seemed lost during the Big 12 championship game. Some of that can be attributed to playing against perhaps the most skilled player in the country, Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. But it's not like McCoy will be facing my Magruder High School Colonels in the BCS title game. They allowed the fewest points per game and second fewest yards per game in the country this year.

It's gonna be a bloodbath.

Prediction: Alabama 33, Texas 6

Enjoy the games, everybody. I mean, as much as you can enjoy an essentially meaningless collection of postseason games.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Disney World '09

I went to Disney World again, December 2nd through the 6th. It was a fun trip, though I'm starting to realize that I need some freshness in future trips, if they're going to happen. My mom and my youngest brother are fun, but I think I'd like to have the opportunity to mix things up from time to time, and that's not easy with a three-person group.

I had a sore foot for the entire trip (and still do today), so all the walking around wasn't great. I'm sure that also contributed to the trip being not as much fun as last year. No pictures this time, sorry, you'll just have to trust me when I say I was there. :)

We stayed at the Contemporary Resort, which is a monorail ride away from the Magic Kingdom and Epcot Center. The value of this convenience is substantial. Since the Magic Kingdom is my favorite park, it gave us the opportunity to mix in a Magic Kingdom trip whenever we wanted (just twice, but still). The resort also has lots of the standard Disney amenities: swimming pool with a slide, convenience mart, several restaurants, and an arcade.

The coolest thing about our room, though, was the view. Our room faced the Magic Kingdom, which had two big positives. First, we could see Cinderella's castle lit up at night, glowing in the distance. Second, we were able to appreciate the Magic Kingdom's nightly fireworks show from our pair of balconies. I'm a man who likes his fireworks.

Longtime readers may remember that our group really enjoyed the Yak and Yeti restaurant in Animal Kingdom on last year's trip. We went back again this year, and it was good, but not as good as last year. I think part of the reason is that this year, we elected to go with Disney's dining plan, which lets you choose a drink, an entree, and a dessert. It's nice, and it's a good deal, but appetizers can be just as good as main courses. It was a shame to feel like we ought not order appetizers, so that we didn't waste our dining plan. So, that part I regret.

  • Read a full-length book in less than 24 hours.
I read all of one book and part of another during the trip. I bought Slam by Nick Hornby in Dulles Airport on Wednesday morning, and finished it Wednesday night in Orlando. It was very good, though the first half was better than the second half. I bought Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk in the Orlando airport, and finished it a few days ago. It was also good, though if you know anything about Palahniuk, you know it had its share of depravity. Not necessarily in a bad way, and it definitely adds to the story, but it does prevent me from recommending the book to people who I don't perceive as having at least some level of depravity (so yes, Greg, you can borrow it). I decided somewhere in the middle of Slam that I wanted to read more books, and Chip let me borrow High Fidelity, so I started reading that (though at a normal, non-vacation pace).

Now, as I promised to Plundo, the review of Disney attractions that I saw for the first time this trip.

  • Went on a new ride (or rides) at a theme park.
Snow White's Scary Adventures (2/5)
There are a lot of rides at Disney World that are pretty similar. Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, Little Nemo, etc. They're all slowish rides along a track that follow a particular Disney story, and Snow White is no different. Part of the problem for me is that I never found Snow White particularly entertaining. The ride was fine, but I'd put it behind most similar rides.

Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor (4/5)
Okay, truth be told, it's more of a three star attraction, but it was a four star experience. It's essentially a brief comedy show where they use real-time cartoons on a movie screen stage. What makes it pretty funny is that the monster comedians actually interact with people in the audience, reacting to what they say, and calling people by their names. They have a separate screen at the front that shows who they're talking to, and how they react. What made our experience particularly good is that my mom was one of the audience members featured in the show. Embarrassment is always funny. :)

Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress (1/5)
I considered giving this ride zero stars out of five, but that goes against the grading standard. Plus, it's got some marginal value. You get to sit, which is nice, and I hear that it's especially good when the weather is hot, because it's indoor and air conditioned. The attraction sits you in a rotating theater that goes through a few different years, and the scenes play out with an animatronic guy telling you about all of the new technology of that particular era. If possible, it's more boring than it sounds. Also, the guy has a dog who lives to be like 80, which would be cool, but come on.

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular (4/5)
There are two parts to this attraction. There are a few action scenes with lots of stunts, including an airplane, machine guns, explosions, spears, and of course, a giant rolling boulder. The rest of the show is in between, where they involve the audience, make some jokes, and talk about what it's like to make a movie, and do stunts. The in between time is okay, and the stunts are pretty bad ass. Boom. Four stars.

Soarin' (5/5)
My sister had reported that Epcot's Soarin' was kind of a disappointment when she had gone on it, and that the line was astronomically long. The line was very long, but I thought the ride was fantastic. You sit in a row of chairs that gets lifted, putting you in front of a giant screen. The screen then goes through several hang-gliding scenes, with ups and downs, mixing in smells to go along (orange orchards and pine trees were what I remember). I think you have to let yourself just watch the screen, rather than look around at the other riders, but as long as you do that, it's an awesome ride.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

2009 Redskins Report Card: Week 14 vs. Oakland Raiders

Redskins 34, Raiders 13

Well, crap. Now none of us knows what to think. While Jim Zorn might not be pleased with having relinquished his play-calling responsibilities, I think he's probably the only one. Back-to-back 30+ point outbursts and suddenly the Redskins are a team people don't want to play. I'm interested to see how the rest of this season goes.

However, it was the Raiders, so let's temper our excitement just a little.

Offense: B
Defense: B+
Special Teams: B-
Overall: B

First things first, Graham Gano was a solid replacement for the ousted Shaun Suisham. I'm still not 100% sold on the idea that Suisham had to go, but Gano at least looks like he won't be a liability.

The point total makes the offense look better than it actually was, but they did have a nice day. Perhaps the most encouraging part of the offense's day is that, despite gaining only 295 total yards, they were able to post a season-best 34 points. In the second half, when their defense (or rather, Jamarcus Russell) was consistently giving them good field position, the Redskins were able to capitalize, posting 17 points in the fourth quarter to put the game away.

After watching Quinton Ganther, Rock Cartwright, and Ladell Betts in the past few weeks, I'm convinced that the Redskins will do their best to find a way to divest themselves from Clinton Portis. I know Portis has been a solid performer for years for the Redskins, but when you're running a team in a salary capped league, the per-dollar performance of players becomes the most important factor, and Portis just isn't good enough to warrant his massive contract.

Brian Orakpo looks legit, his performance plus the noticeable turnaround by the hodge-podge offensive line has me thinking less and less that Washington should've drafted Michael Oher instead of Orakpo, despite the cinematic quality of Oher's life.

Around the League
  • While it's still awesome, I'm now a little scared. What will Pittsburgh fans do if the Steelers miss the playoffs? Loot? Murder? Get jobs???
  • I think the failures of the Cowboys late in the season are overblown, but it's amazing how the Chargers just refuse to lose after Thanksgiving.
  • The Eagles' win over the Giants was just an awesome game to watch. And it was the occasional game that had no fantasy significance for me, which meant I could just watch it...
  • ...and not lament the fact that Aaron Rodgers let Ryan Grant do the heavy lifting on Sunday in the Packers' win against the Bears.
  • The Titans and Ravens dropped Macho Man elbows from the top rope against the Rams and Lions, respectively, showing that the difference between an average team and a bad team in this year's NFL is considerable.
  • The Falcons nearly beat the Saints without Matt Ryan and Michael Turner. And people still think New Orleans is better than the Vikings?
  • Speaking of, the Vikings simply manhandled the still impressive Bengals on Sunday, holding Carson Palmer to 94 yards passing. Maybe you're skeptical of Favre being able to continue his torrid pace, but the pudding is...just look at the pudding.
  • Inexplicably, Kurt Warner's three turnovers were one too few for me to win my fantasy game this weekend. You couldn't have dropped the ball on the turf one more time, guy?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

2009 Redskins Report Card: Week 13 vs. New Orleans Saints

Saints 33, Redskins 30 (OT)

Maybe it's just my TV, but Sean Payton's face looks jaundiced. Seriously, that thing is a gross yellow color.

Offense: A-
Defense: B-
Special Teams: C-
Overall: B-

I just got back from Disney World, but Sunday's game was as wild a ride as Big Thunder Mountain, with ups and downs, twists and turns, and low-hanging metal pipes that you're pretty sure are going to hit you in the head, but that's just an optical illusion, and also they're probably made from Styrofoam.

What was I talking about? Oh right. So yeah, the Redskins made a game of it against the Saints. Washington had its highest point output of the season with 30 points, but they were playing a New Orleans team that has scored under 30 points only three times this season. Going into the Saints' last drive with 1:52 left, down 7 points, was there any question that Brees would be able to pick apart this defense and make it downfield for the tying touchdown? I can say with some confidence that most Redskins fans were already aware of our fate.

The offense looked totally in sync for perhaps the first time all season. Rock Cartwright and Quinton Ganther seem as good a duo as Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts, meaning one or both of the latter two might not be back next season. Jason Campbell did well, but I think not as well as people in Washington (I'm looking at you, LaVar Arrington) are saying. While he did a good job of spreading the ball around and keeping the offense moving, he threw a bone-headed interception as they were marching down for what could have been the game-winning drive. Washington fans needed this win to believe that our team might be headed in the right direction, and Campbell once again gave it away.

The defense doesn't get glowing marks despite their ability to keep pressure on Drew Brees and stifle the Saints' rushing attack (by the way, Mike Bell had a nine-yard run late in the game that he celebrated outlandishly, and I just wanted to slap him and say, "You've done nothing all day, shut your mouth"). LaRon Landry gave up two touchdown passes when he got himself out of position, and Kareem Moore was stripped of an intercepted ball by Robert Meachem, who took it in for a touchdown.

But Shaun Suisham was the goat (and now the sacrificial lamb) for this loss, and deservedly so. A 23-yard field goal is a gimme, and you've got to hit it. High snap? Please. It's a 23-yard field goal. You count on your kicker to be able to deal with a bit of adversity, especially on short field goals, and come through. I don't think Suisham should have been cut, but he deserved to have to deal with people saying that he should be cut. I doubt the Redskins will do any better without him, though.

Around the League
  • Of course, as soon as I start talking up the Vikings, they get slugged by Anquan Boldin and the Cardinals. News flash: Boldin is damn good.
  • We all wanted the Titans to beat the Colts. It didn't happen, though, and now the Titans have a two-game deficit to climb back into the playoff picture. I'm still rooting for them; the more of Chris Johnson we see on TV, the better our lives are.
  • The Dolphins may have edged the Patriots, but all the panic and people saying that New England isn't very good is just rubbish. They're still a likely playoff team, and nobody wants to have to play them.
  • Welcome back to Atlanta, Michael Vick. What a dominant team you've brought with you.
  • The Raiders beat the Steelers. No analysis, it's just awesome.
  • The Seahawks handed the 49ers their first division loss this season, leaving only the Bengals (already swept the AFC North), Colts (5-0), Vikings (5-0), and Saints (3-0) as undefeated in their respective divisions.
  • Welcome to the top of the NFC wild card standings, Green Bay. There are cookies and coffee on the table.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Is It OK To Scrutinize Tiger?

If you've been within 50 yards of a TV, computer or ham radio in the last week, you know the greatest golfer of the last 20 years, Tiger Woods, has gotten himself into a bit of trouble. And by a "bit of trouble" I mean that he is accused of having two affairs as well as being in a possible domestic dispute with his wife (connecting the dots, the dispute would most likely be regarding the affairs). Following the lead of other philandering high profile celebrities, athletes and politicians before him, Tiger offered a nebulous apology to his family and fans, despite not ever actually naming the transgression for which he was apologizing.

So Tiger is apologizing, and if he isn't going to tell us why, we can only assume it is regarding his rumored adultery. From this two schools have of thought have sprung. The first is "Leave Tiger and his family alone, we all make mistakes and nobody should have their personal life on display for the entire nation". The second is "OMG, this is America, tell us every dirty detail!". While the former argument is certainly more noble, the second is without a doubt what is going to happen.

So the question is "Is it OK to scrutinize Tiger?". Should we let him handle this domestic issue privately or is it ok for the public to learn any news that may become available? The answer is actually surprisingly simple: It's ok! So what makes it ok? First off, Tiger is a celebrity by choice (as are almost all athletes, actors and artists). He has chosen a high profile life in exchange for the fame and fortune of being one of the world's elite athletes. If the intense media scrutiny ever became too much or too invasive, Tiger could have simply walked away from golf. After all, nobody really gives a fuck if David Duvall (the #2 golfer in the world a mere 10 years ago) or an accountant in Pennsylvania is cheating on his wife. So just the act of being a professional athlete opens you up to more public interest (as Jayson Williams or Rae Carruth would attest), but there is another reason why it is ok for the public to have interest in Tiger.

Aside from being a professional athlete, Tiger Woods has openly accepted the role of celebrity and has used his celebrity to influence the America consumer for his own well being. Since he has come onto the PGA tour, Tiger has used his persona to invite himself into your living room to pitch Nike golf shoes, Buick automobiles, American Express, Gillette razors and many other products. Without going into an advanced class in advertising, the basic premise is "hey Tiger is a good guy and a winner, I should buy this product that he supports". Now the important part of this argument is that Tiger is a winner AND a good guy. He has used his squeaky clean personal life, his cool demeanor and his hot-ass Swedish wife to convince the American consumer that you should buy the products that he supports because if you do, you can be just a little bit like Tiger...a winner. In exchange for using all aspects of his persona to endorse a product, Tiger profited obscenely.

Being a celebrity has a cost. That cost is public interest. Tiger seems like a smart guy and surely he had to have known that as he accepted endorsements the public would become more interested in him. Woods freely chose to accept this public interest in exchange for huge endorsements. Unfortunately for Tiger, when you trade your persona for millions of dollars, you trade your entire persona: good, bad and adulterous (the argument of whether or not that is fair or right is open to debate, but there is no debating that it is the way it is). Tiger willingly made this trade and now has to live with the scrutiny.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

2009 Redskins Report Card: Week 12 vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles 27, Redskins 24

Well, the Redskins put up a good fight. They scored over 20 points for the second time this season, and held a lead until halfway through the fourth quarter, both rarities for this team. Was it a great performance? No sir. Two really dumb interceptions by Jason Campbell pretty much iced the 'Skins chances. But at least now we don't have to accept that the game is over whenever the other team scores 17 points.

Offense: C
Defense: C
Special Teams: C+
Overall: C

Campbell and Donovan McNabb actually had fairly similar days, statistically. The real difference in this game was in each team's ability to run the football. With Albert Haynesworth out of action again, the Eagles were able to get solid gains consistently with LeSean McCoy and Leonard Weaver, racking up 120 yards between them. Washington, meanwhile, ran for just 82 yards on 25 carries.

The game was just another piece of evidence in proving how huge (literally and figuratively) Haynesworth is when it comes to the defense. Without him, the Redskins are simply an average defense that can be exploited. But with him, and with a healthy DeAngelo Hall, they're one of the five best defenses in the league.

And that's not homer-ism (well, not just homer-ism); that's the truth. Washington ranks tenth in points allowed, and sixth in yards allowed per play. They've allowed exactly one more point than the Pittsburgh Steelers. They've allowed the fewest first downs of any team in football. They still have the best pass defense in football (though their rush defense is in the bottom ten). Make no mistake. They've seen some improvement, but the offense is still to blame for the 3-8 record. With an offense that could control the clock and extend drives, this is undoubtedly a playoff team.

Sigh. Once again, we're relegated to next year.

Around the League
  • What a crummy bunch of Thanksgiving games. The Packers, Cowboys, and Broncos won by an average of nearly twenty points.
  • Remember when I said that Jack Del Rio was a crummy coach? He had David Garrard drop back to pass 42 times on Sunday. In case you were wondering, the Jags averaged 5.1 yards per rush on 19 carries.
  • The Browns defense looked better, but I'm concerned about their new motto: "Just allow enough points to lose." Anyone else expecting someone to pick up both Charlie Weis and Brady Quinn this offseason? (I'm looking at you, Oakland).
  • San Diego is playing like a Super Bowl team. Not that I'd know what one looked like; I'm the guy who predicted that the Saints and Vikings wouldn't even make the playoffs...and that the Dolphins, Panthers, and 'Skins would.
  • Every week Manning and the Colts look a little more vulnerable. They do also win, though.
  • The Titans? The freakin' Titans? They're one game out of the wild card, and the 59-0 drubbing at the hands of the Patriots is ancient history.
  • Maybe the Steelers would've won with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger, but Dennis Dixon wasn't the guy whose arm tackles Ray Rice was blasting through.
  • Okay, we get it. The Saints are really good, and everyone was really stupid not to sign Drew Brees when he left the Chargers. I think Colston just caught another TD.
Speaking of the Saints, they come to town this weekend to play the Redskins. I thought about getting tickets, but I'm actually leaving for Orlando tomorrow morning to visit Mickey and the gang for a few days. I fly back in on Sunday, so there's a decent chance I lied about not missing any more Redskins games. Sorry about that.

What Is The Rule 5 (or Rule V) Draft?

It's a question that's dogged Major League Baseball for years, because it's something that seemingly only 10% of baseball fans are even aware of, and only 1% actually understand. I should know, I was part of the 90% for a long time, and part of the 99% until just recently. But the Rule 5 Draft (sometimes called the Rule V Draft) is part of the game play in MLB Front Office Manager, so as I started to get more and more into my Nationals team, I did more and more research into the various quirks and rules of baseball.

The Rule 5 draft has existed 1959, though it's operated under the current rules (with minor tweaks) since 1965. It was designed in order to prevent teams from stockpiling talent in the minor leagues.

How Does It Work?

The Rule 5 draft takes place annually at baseball's winter meetings. The draft order is the same as in the amateur (or Rule 4) draft; that is, in reverse order of record from the previous season. Older players who aren't on a team's 40-man roster are available for other teams to draft at a price of $50,000, paid to the player's current team. These players have to be kept on the major league roster for the duration of the following season, or be offered back to their original team for half of the original price (so $25,000).

Eligibility Rules

Not all minor league players are eligible for the Rule 5 draft. First, players on a team's 40-man roster are not selectable in the draft. The 40-man roster includes a team's 25 active players, as well as 15 players designated by the organization.

Additionally, younger players are not eligible for the Rule 5 draft. Players who were 19 years or older when they signed with the team are protected from the Rule 5 draft for four years, whereas players who signed before age 19 are protected for five years.

Who Benefits?

There are two main beneficiaries of the Rule 5 draft. First, the small market team. These teams can't afford to sign premium free agents to fill out their starting lineups or have $5 million utility bench players, but they can acquire solid minor leaguers at league-minimum salaries to help with depth. The other beneficiaries are the minor league players themselves. The sooner a minor league player gets to the major leagues, the sooner he becomes eligible for arbitration, and eventually for free agency. The redistribution of talent helps to expedite that process.

But Does Anyone Ever Actually Work Out?

It's a fair question. If a player is left unprotected after 4+ years in the minor leagues, is there much of a chance that he's actually going to pan out? Usually not. There are between ten and thirty players drafted regularly in the Rule 5 draft, and most of them end up being no better than role players. Of the 21 players taken in the 2008 Rule 5 draft, 13 of them have been offered back to their original teams.

But, as I'm sure you know, there are always a few exceptions, or it wouldn't be worth me writing about. Fantasy owners of today may be surprised to find out that several relevant players were Rule 5 acquisitions, such as Joakim Soria, Shane Victorino, Josh Hamilton, and Dan Uggla. For those of you who were baseball fans in the 1980s and 1990s, you may be surprised to discover that John Wetteland, Kelly Gruber, George Bell, and Bobby Bonilla were all Rule 5-ers. Additionally, superstar pitcher Johan Santana was a Rule 5 acquisition by the Twins, who yanked him from the Astros (oops).

But unquestionably, the most famous Rule 5 draftee was outfielder Roberto Clemente. He was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers, then left unprotected in the 1954 Rule 5 draft. A mere 3,000 hits, 12 All-Star Game appearances, 12 Gold Gloves, and 1966 MVP trophy later, he was elected to the Hall of Fame. Not too bad for a Rule 5-er.

Baseball has its parity issues. Payroll discrepancies are considerable, and the differences in payroll generally correlate with performance. But between the Rule 5 draft, compensation draft picks, and the amateur draft, there are plenty of opportunities for a small-market team to be successful. I'm sure you've already heard me say this a hundred times, but read Moneyball. It'll remind you that, while money talks, it can't sing and dance, and it can't walk.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Abe Pollin

Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin passed away yesterday afternoon at the age of 85, less than one week after I said that Ted Leonsis was more my kind of owner than Pollin. After reading about Pollin in several articles and hearing him lauded on local sports radio, I now see that I was unfair in my judgment of him, the longest-tenured NBA owner.

There's no question that Pollin loved the Wizards, and cared deeply about his players and his team. To preserve his team, he did something that no one else in the world has ever done: he fired Michael Jordan. Pollin related that Jordan had created an unfavorable atmosphere at the team, and had been as much a detriment to the team off the court as he had helped them on the court. Pollin knew he would take heat for the decision to sever ties with Jordan, but he was willing to take the PR hit for what he believed to be the right decision for his team. Jordan's Hall of Fame induction speech may have given us a glimpse into how right Pollin was.

Abe Pollin's true legacy, though, will be the Verizon Center. Pouring in millions upon millions of dollars of his own money, he chose to build a stadium downtown rather than take financing offers from suburban areas, because he knew it was the right decision for the city, and that the money would follow. The area now boasts brand new office buildings, restaurants, and one of the most advanced sports facilities in the world (just like the Capital Centre before it, which was the first major sports venue in the country to boast luxury boxes and electronic ticketing). Pollin's vision, and his execution thereof, single-handedly revitalized downtown Washington.

I still think Ted Leonsis is a fantastic owner, and perhaps one of the more underrated owners in all of sports. His passion for his team and his accessibility make him a fan favorite, and rightly so. But Abe Pollin's business acumen and loyalty were peerless. We were fortunate to have two wonderful owners in Washington, DC, and the responsibility now falls to Leonsis to carry the torch.

Good luck.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

2009 Redskins Report Card: Week 11 vs. Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys 7, Redskins 6

It's painful to lose any game, but the cut is just a little bit deeper when it's Dallas doing the slicing. I didn't get to see much of the game on Sunday, which means I have to draw most of my conclusions from looking at the box score, and from the 10% or so of the game I did catch. See if you can tell the difference.

I promise it won't happen again.

Offense: D
Defense: C+
Special Teams: D+
Overall: D+

It's only fitting that the Redskins, the model of inconsistency, follow their highest point total (last week's 27-point outburst against the Broncos) by matching their lowest, a six-point game against the Chiefs that prompted a swirl of controversy about Jim Zorn's future and the starting quarterback position.

Perhaps most disappointing is that kicker Shaun Suisham recorded both his first and second misses of the season this week, including a 39-yarder at the end of the first half that could have been the difference in the game. But my anti-game-ball goes to Jason Campbell, who once again showed that you can have deceptively solid numbers to back up a terrible performance. He had the 10th most yards passing in week 11, but couldn't guide his offense into the end zone, couldn't stretch the field, and overall was just unable to make the offense go.

The defense isn't off the hook, though. You can't give up 153 yards on the ground and expect to win football games, even if you're able to shut down the opposition's passing attack. They were able to generate a couple turnovers, though, which has been long looked at as a weakness of the defense. Furthermore, they were forced to go without superstar defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, but still generated decent pressure on Tony Romo.

Sunday was another injury-heavy day for the Redskins, losing running back Ladell Betts and replacement lineman Chad Rinehart. I know, injuries affect every team, but between Haynesworth, Clinton Portis, Chris Samuels, Chris Cooley, and Randy Thomas, I'd say the Redskins were missing five of their top ten players, and four of their top five. It's hard to win with your best players unavailable.

I'm embarrassed to say I looked at potential playoff scenarios after last week's victory (if we win the last seven to go 10-6...), but that brief, positive sentiment has now passed. I'm ready to move forward with plan B, which involves playing out the string, then hiring a new coach, acquiring a new QB, and maybe a little voodoo magic.

Around the League
  • Ricky Williams seemed to thoroughly enjoy reminding us that he was a premier running back from 2000-2003.
  • Remember when I made fun of Kansas City and Oakland last week? Umm, oops?
  • When I think about the Broncos, I find myself thinking about Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, when John Candy and Steve Martin are driving the wrong way on a highway. Martin: "He says we're going the wrong way." Candy: "Oh, he's drunk, how would he know where we're going?"
  • Sure the Jaguars won, but it'll only be so long before Jack Del Rio finds a way to ruin his team again. He's awful.
  • Didn't the Lions win over the Browns remind you of the luchador matches in WCW in the late 1990's? The fighters may not be headliners, but the match was super-entertaining.
  • The Seahawks went into Minnesota and got their face knocked in, and Brett Favre is continually building a case for his third (or fourth, depending who you ask) MVP award.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bayou Billy

As some of you may remember (or just assume), I'm crazy about video game music. There's a whole site dedicated to video game music (OC Remix), and today's selection comes from that site. The song is called El Lagarto, by Evil Horde. The original song is from the game The Adventures of Bayou Billy.

I might normally give you a description of the song's style, tenor, etc., but not today. Today I'm just asking you to listen. Feel free to leave your opinion in the comments.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Flipping the Bird

Yesterday it was reported that Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams would be fined $250,000 for flipping the bird twice during Sunday's lashing of the Buffalo Bills, a 41-17 walloping. While I'm sure several Bills players cried themselves to sleep Sunday night, I'd wager that none of them were actually distraught at an 86-year-old man giving them the finger. But let's roll back and look at the most important part of that sentence.

$250,000.

I understand that Adams is an owner, and has a lot of money. But fining him a quarter of a million dollars is a terrible idea. First off, you're putting it out there for every fan to see just how rich your owners are, where $250,000 is a reasonable fine in a world of $10,000 fines (like the one Brady Quinn got served). If I got fined ten grand, I'd have to go to jail just to save on everyday expenses, and it'd still take me several months to pay it off. If I got fined $250,000, I'd have to flee the country, or pull off a heist.

Most humorous (and disturbing?) about this is that the news came one day after this article was posted on Yahoo about the Redskins and their offensive mascot, name, and imagery. The league is happy to levy a massive fine upon one of its owners when they flick off the opponents, but is conspicuously mum on the subject of a team's name being considered offensive. If the league came down on Washington and demanded a change, it would happen within a matter of weeks. It's been 17 years since the issue was first brought in front of courts, and it remains unresolved.

If the name bothers people, I'm willing to accept a new name, with new colors and a new mascot. I have memories of the Redskins, but they'll transplant to a new team. And they can sell new merchandise, always a draw for ownership. I suggest they take a page from the Capitals and go with red as their main color, and encourage fans to "rock the red."

Anyways, the Bud Adams fine is ridiculous. You could hire a dozen minimum wage workers with that money. I don't even know where fine money goes. Anybody?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

2009 Redskins Report Card: Week 10 vs. Denver Broncos

Redskins 27, Broncos 17

It looks like the best way to stop your downward spiral is to meet up with a team going in the same direction, but faster. After starting out 6-0, Denver seems lost, and their offense looked abysmal in the second half on Sunday, to my delight.

I'm going to go with a different tactic for the rest of the season, and we'll see how it plays out. It'll be a quick report card, followed by some analysis (shorter than it's historically been). Then, I'll do a little "Around The League" section that goes over anything I think is discussion-worthy (along with built-in links to each game's box score on my favorite football website, Pro-Football-Reference.com). Overall, the Report Card posts may be a little longer, but will feature a more diverse set of topics.

Report Card

Early on, it looked like it was going to be the same old song and dance for the Redskins. Two quick strikes on completely blown coverages to a wide open Brandon Marshall, and Washington was down 14-7 in a hurry. But once again, Hunter Smith proved himself to be among the most valuable special teamers in football, throwing a 35-yard TD pass to Mike Sellers from a double-fake (field goal formation into punt formation).

From that point on, even though Denver took a 17-14 lead into halftime, I felt a great confidence in Washington, and for the first time since the loss to the Lions, I expected the Redskins to win. Ladell Betts looked very good, and while I'm not ready to toss the injured Clinton Portis to the side yet (at least for this season), it's certainly going to put some pressure on Portis when next he plays. Which is good. Portis could use some extra motivation.

Overall, it's nice to come off of a win again, particularly one in which the Redskins set a season-high in scoring. And it's great to have some confidence going into Dallas next week.

Offense: B+
Defense: B
Special Teams: A
Overall: A-

Around The League
  • Jay Cutler may have thrown five interceptions, but I still wish the Redskins had found a way to acquire him. He's got franchise quarterback ability, something that's just very difficult to find.
  • Did the Steelers get out-Steelered by the Bengals?
  • Say what you will about the leniency of bowl eligibility in college football, at least they don't make anyone watch Chiefs/Raiders. Congrats to Kansas City on winning the Stride Rite Bowl.
  • The reality about the much-ballyhooed 4th down decision by Bill Belichick is that had they made it, he'd have been lauded for his confidence in his offense. But we're a results-oriented culture, and the results dictate that we bash his lack of confidence in his defense. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy, though. :)
  • Full disclosure: I have Maurice Jones-Drew on a fantasy team. But even if I didn't, how does Jack Del Rio tell MJD to take a knee at the one when they're down? I get that you want to guarantee a victory by killing some clock, which they did, but you never know what's going to happen on a field goal attempt, no matter how short. Anytime you can take a lead in the 4th quarter, you take it.
  • Let's hope some of the Cowboys' dismal performance against the Packers on Sunday carries over into next week.
  • It took me until his disastrous Monday night to realize it, but Brady Quinn is just terrible. Thank goodness I was wrong when I predicted the Vikings to draft him in 2007.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Twenty for Thirty

Yes, 20 for 30 would be a pretty solid completion percentage for a quarterback, or an unbelievable tear for a hitter, but I'm talking about neither of those.

Here's the idea. Next year is 2010, and I was born in 1980. So next year is the 30th year of my existence, and the year of my 30th birthday. With all of my recent talk about achievements, I got to thinking that maybe I should put together a list of things I'd like to do before I turn 30. I scaled it back a few months, and decided I'll put together a list of things I want to accomplish by the end of my 30th year, the year 2010.

I've got a preliminary list of not quite twenty goals, but I'd be happy to hear any ideas, discuss any topics, or dismiss any suggestions you might have. Drop me a line or post a comment if you've got something worth saying...or even if not, really. I'm the only one who reads this blog anyways.

:)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

2009 Redskins Report Card: Week 9 vs. Atlanta Falcons

Falcons 31, Redskins 17

The best way to sum up Sunday's game is with this anecdote:

I was watching the game with my mom, and towards the end Fox showed their "Game Summary," giving a run down of how the game played out. My mom's comment: "The game summary should be, 'The Redskins suck.'" Well-put, Mom.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Games, and Real Life Achievements

A few weeks ago, as a result of several discussions with Chip, I decided since I spend a decent amount of time worried about accumulating Xbox Achievements, maybe I should incorporate that concept into my everyday life. It'll give me something to blog about, and, perhaps more importantly, it'll give me a reason to do things that are achievement-worthy. My trip to Atlantic City this past weekend gave me a couple opportunities...

  • "Lost" more than thirty minutes due to heavy partying.
Yes, the trip was interesting and eventful. What's unfortunate, though, is that from hearing about all of my comments and antics, it sounds like I was near the top of my game with regards to humor. It would've been nice to have firsthand memories of that debauchery. Also I seem to have burnt my tongue at some point during the night, and I've been dealing with that for a few days, so I must have burnt it pretty damn good.

In pretty much unrelated news, I love games. Mostly video, but board games can be fun as well. I've got one of each variety that I'd like to talk about today, and both of which I recommend fully.

Agricola

Allegedly, it's pronounced ah-GRI-ko-lah, but I will continue to pronounce it as if it were a farm soda. No matter how you say it, the game is seriously fun.

The basic premise of Agricola is that you're a farmer trying to make a living through the acquisition and development of farmland and livestock. The goal is to, at the end of the game, have the most complete, successful, and diverse farm in the game. The availability of resources and your opponents' actions play a heavy role in determining what your strategy ought to be. It's got a fairly low amount of luck involved, which is right up my alley (those of you familiar with my opinion on using kickers in fantasy football know that I don't like luck).

Most importantly, perhaps, is that I'm not terrible at the game. In fact, just last weekend...

  • Won a game of Agricola
League of Legends

League of Legends is based on the very popular Warcraft III custom map called Defense of the Ancients, or DotA for short. The basic premise is similar to Warcraft III, where two armies clash, each with the intent of destroying the opposing army's base. In this game, though, the two armies are controlled by artificial intelligence. Each player controls a "champion" unit on one of the two sides, with special abilities that he or she can use to turn the tide of the battle.

This new game is good, but it seems that the balance could be improved, and that the heroes could have a little more variety. Virtually every hero has a stunning attack and a nuke, and none of the heroes have any sort of unit summons. The game shouldn't be focused so dramatically on hero-killing, and I'm hopeful that through various future updates, the designers will provide a more unique experience with each champion.

I have no achievement associated with this game, as I haven't really done very well thus far. Whatever, suck on it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

2009 World Series Champions

Minimal congratulations to the New York Yankees on winning the 2009 World Series, besting the Philadelphia Phillies four games to two. I say minimal because I hate them, but as a sports fan, I can't help but show them a little respect. It's not easy to win the World Series, and there's no doubt they were the best team in baseball this postseason.

The fact that I predicted this World Series matchup and its result is of little consolation to someone who dislikes the Yankees so passionately.

Thankfully, the Redskins are back at it this weekend, so we have to...I was going to say "look forward to," but that implies optimism, and I'd hate to mislead any readers. Nobody here in Washington is actually looking forward to the Redskins/Falcons game this weekend. Here's hoping it'll be close.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Other Joe's 2009 MLB Award Winners

AL MVP - Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins
You can't be at all surprised here, really. He missed the first month of the season then came back to be perhaps the most dangerous hitter in the American League, all while playing catcher. Down the stretch, when Justin Morneau was injured, Mauer continued to anchor the Twins' lineup, leading them to the playoffs. That says MVP to me.

NL MVP - Albert Pujols, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals
See God, Baseball.

AL Cy Young - Mariano Rivera, RP, New York Yankees
Much as it pains me to designate this award for both a closer and a Yankee, it's time. Rivera was once again the most reliable and effective closer in baseball. I see this award as both for this season and for his entire career of absurdly good pitching. Zack Greinke, Felix Hernandez, and Justin Verlander all deserve recognition, but I feel like this is Rivera's year.

NL Cy Young - Adam Wainwright, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
This one is also kind of in the air, but with stronger starting pitcher candidates, and weaker closer candidates. As far as an actual prediction, I'd go with Tim Lincecum followed by Chris Carpenter. Lincecum first because I could see Wainwright and Carpenter drawing votes from each other, and Carpenter ahead of Wainwright because Carpenter is a better story, but Wainwright was the most balanced elite pitcher in the senior circuit this season. He led the NL in wins, had 212 K in 233 IP, and was close to the top in both ERA and WHIP. He's my pick.

AL ROY - Andrew Bailey, RP, Oakland Athletics
The A's seem to keep churning out talented players, winning three of the past eleven rookie of the year awards (Ben Grieve, Bobby Crosby, Huston Street). Bailey, a member of the 2009 AL All-Star team, might end up being the best of any of them though, as he was virtually unhittable all season. Opponents hit just .167 against him, and he didn't blow a save after June 16th. Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus is allegedly the front-runner, but Andrus wasn't anywhere near as dominant as Bailey.

NL ROY - Tommy Hanson, SP, Atlanta Braves
My brother wouldn't shut up about Hanson all season, and it turns out he knew what he was talking about. In case you're unfamiliar, Hanson went 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 116 K in 127.2 IP. A close second in my book is J.A. Happ, who posted similar overall numbers, but took a few more games to do it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

2009 Redskins Report Card: Week 7 vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles 27, Redskins 17

Sherman Lewis' first game calling plays for the Washington Redskins was more of the same for us 'Skins fans. The Redskins have topped out at 17 points, which they've reached three times this season. Interestingly enough, Washington lost all three of those games; they're 2-2 in games where they scored 16 or fewer times.

Offense: D+

This was a ten-point offense on Monday. They scored 17, but once again the final score is skewed by a garbage time touchdown, the touchdowns that have been making Jason Campbell's passer rating look reasonable, when his performance has been anything but.

I'm not going to pretend that Campbell's failures are solely of his own making, though. Randy Thomas is done for the year, and the talk is that 6-time Pro Bowler Chris Samuels' career might be over. The Redskins haven't done a good job of acquiring depth along the offensive line, so these players' replacements aren't exactly stars. In fact, not a single one of their backup linemen had played a single down in 2008.

Furthermore, and perhaps as a result of the same offensive line problems, the ground game has come to a screeching halt. Clinton Portis has 490 yards in seven games, or 70 yards/game. Perhaps of greater concern, though, is the fact that he's had less than 20 carries in six of the Redskins' seven games this year. Compare that to just four all season last year, and you can see where part of this problem rests (by the way, look at the stretch from week 4 to week 8 last year; that's what happens when you've got an offense that complements its personnel).

But does this mean that Portis should get more carries in order to win more games, or that if the Redskins win more games, we'll see Portis carry the ball more frequently? It's impossible to say for sure, but Washington's identity last year was the embodiment of a run-first team. More of a Joe Gibbs team than a Jim Zorn team, when you think about it. This is why I'm fine with giving Zorn one more year, the last guaranteed year of his contract, to try to get this team headed in the right direction. He's still trying to put his mark on this team, trying to get it to reflect what he wants. Three full offseasons should be enough to craft a roster that complements Zorn's style. If after the 2010 season he's not successful, then we can at least say for sure that he was given a chance to build his kind of team.

And I'm fine with Jason Campbell not being part of that team. He may not be the only problem, but the team was successful last year on the shoulders of Portis and on the backs of those beefcakes along the offensive line. The team did well in spite of Campbell, not because of him. Todd Collins isn't the answer either, but there's going to be someone out there that fits Zorn's offense...maybe like Jeff Garcia, who's completely available right now?

Defense: C+

The defense overall played really well, but two huge first-half plays by DeSean Jackson muted any successes that you could've bragged about. That looks to be the one weakness of this Redskins defense: they have the propensity to give up some big plays. Because there's no one scary patrolling the middle of the secondary, teams will be willing to take chances, feeling confident that interceptions are unlikely.

Was the defense put into a few bad situations as a result of poor performances on offense and special teams? Yes. Is that an excuse for the whole game? Nope. The Jackson plays were just breakdowns where somehow the defense lost sight of the Eagles' most explosive player. That's just inexcusable.

When your offense isn't playing well and you can't gain field position from your pathetic return game, your defense is under massive pressure to not just hold the line, but to make plays. Andre forced a fumble in the first half, but instead of falling on it, the defense tried to pick it up and run, and the ball ended up getting bobbled out of bounds. To me, that's evidence of panic by the defense; they don't think the offense can score, so they tried to take care of it themselves. This is a team divided because of how inept the offense has become.

Special Teams: D

Antwaan Randle El just dropped a simple punt. It hit him in the facemask and skirted away into the waiting arms of Sean Jones, wasting a stop by the Redskins' defense. As I said last week, it's time to put DeAngelo Hall back there. Randle El is more useful on offense, and he's utterly useless in returns. They tried Santana Moss a couple times, which is the right idea, but that means you're putting your "number one" receiver into harm's way (though I don't think the Redskins have an actual number one receiver).

Rock Cartwright is a solid kickoff return guy, if unspectacular. He won't ever break one for a touchdown, but he's pretty consistent about putting Washington into decent starting position, between the 25 and 35.

Overall: D

This was the first game in which the Redskins were disappointing in all three aspects of the game, so it's no surprise that this was the first game this year that was out of hand early and never really competitive. And it's too bad really, because the crowd was pretty damn good for a lot of the game. It was a true home-field crowd for the first time in recent memory, right up until the Randle El botched return.

There's been plenty of talk this week about who's to blame for the Redskins being a below average football team, and there's plenty of people to blame, and plenty to blame them for. But for those of you who'd like to blame Vinny Cerrato, the Redskins' director of player personnel, I give you these links, to the best 40 draft picks from 1997 to 2007, as determined by www.mynfldraft.com. Let me know if you find any Redskins; I wasn't able to.

Top 40 Draft Picks '97-'07

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Apparently, Washington Capitals Fans Are Lame

I've been paying more attention to hockey these days, specifically my home town Washington Capitals. I am not at all embarrassed or ashamed to call myself a new hockey fan. However, according to Yahoo's Ryan Lambert (and a dozen or so Yahoo-using commenters), I should be both embarrassed and ashamed. And I shouldn't get excited about impressive feats unless it's within the exact context of established terminology.

To clarify what I'm talking about, Lambert's specific comment is, "What kind of an idiot throws hats on the ice after a shootout goal quote-unquote completes a hat trick?" He is referring to Saturday night's game against the Nashville Predators, during which Alexander Ovechkin had two goals during regulation, then scored the only goal in the shootout to win the game for the Capitals. According to convention, this does not constitute a true "hat trick," but several Washington fans tossed their caps onto the ice anyways. Lambert thinks only an "idiot" would do that, and if you read through the comments on his post, he's not alone.

These comments bother me in about thirty different ways, and I'd like to talk about a couple of them. By the way, (sic) on all these. You don't find much responsible grammar use on the Internet. Also, I generally assume commenters on sports articles are guys, so I'll be using "he" and "him" a lot. Please don't think I'm sexist; I just don't like writing "him/her" or "he/she," and more fans are men than women, so I'm playing the numbers game.


#8 by Ronald W
As to the idiots throwing hats after a shootout goal, I agree its lame but Caps owner Ted Leonsis wants to start it as a new tradition, the Ovechkin hat trick which is lamer than the skills competition to decide games. Bring back ties. Oh even lamer than the hats was a video during the in-game presentation saluting an award for "Nanking," a film he financed. It comes off at self-promotion of Leonsis.


Please. First off, every owner is also a businessperson. If they weren't, places like the Pepsi Center, General Motors Place, and the HP Pavilion would have different names. Second, the "Ovechkin hat trick" was a play off of a classic term, the "Gordie Howe hat trick" (a goal, an assist, and winning a fight). It's completely unofficial, but the term is valid enough to be on Wikipedia. Ovechkin might be too young to start having things named after him. But I can say for sure that scoring two goals in regulation and the game-winner in a shootout isn't even remotely lame.

Third, Ronald apparently doesn't know anything about Ted Leonsis. He's widely regarded as a fantastic owner, particularly by Capitals fans (and Wizards fans who look forward to his eventual purchase of the team from Abe Pollin). He's extremely accessible, responding personally to most fan emails. Saluting an award-winning film that he had a hand in doesn't feel like self-promotion. You can be proud of an accomplishment without being arrogant, and I'd believe this to be the case with Leonsis.

Let me tell you a quick story. When my father, a Montgomery County police officer, was killed in the line of duty, Leonsis offered complimentary, third-row tickets to a Caps game to my family. So yeah, it gets my goat a little bit when people call him selfish or self-absorbed.


#16 by Potvinsux
That Ovechkin "hat trick" just proves even more that most Caps fans became Caps fans 2 or 3 years ago when they started to get good. Pathetic.


Obviously this commenter is a long-time hockey fan (Felix Potvin hasn't played for a decade), and that's great. I often defer to my "hockey friends" when talking about the sport, because I'm no expert, and I imagine if I knew Potvinsux personally, I'd ask him some of the same questions.

What befuddles me about this person's comment, though, is that he apparently doesn't want anyone else to watch hockey. I get that Potvinsux felt like he was part of some exclusive little club of people who knew all about hockey, but that's not the nature of sports. You can bet that every owner, player, and employee on every team wants more people to like hockey, unequivocally.

And this bizarre attitude isn't isolated to Potvinsux; you hear it with some frequency from hockey fans, which is just insane. This is a sport that had a year-long lockout because it wasn't drawing enough fans, wasn't generating enough money. As a hockey fan, how are you so blind to the advantages of bringing in new fans? How can you begrudge people from supporting the sport that you lost for a year because not enough people supported it? And yet, he calls the new, cap-tossing fans "pathetic." Brilliant.


#53 by Mike
Hats on the ice for a shootout goal? It just goes to show you that the folks going to the arenas these days are clueless idiots. If you know hockey then you should block the arm that is reaching back to throw that hat. Morons.


Just another example of the disdain long-time hockey fans seem to have for new fans. Also, college football overtime is the functional football equivalent to an NHL shootout, and statistics accumulated in college football's overtime periods are added to game and season statistics. FYI.

And also, the official final score of the Capitals/Predators game on Saturday was 3-2; Ovechkin was the only player to put a puck in the net for the Caps. Official or not, Ovechkin accounted for all three "points" for Washington.

Thankfully, there are a few commenters who take the time to point out that Washington isn't the only city that's committed this heinous crime.


#4 by J.P.
"What kind of an idiot throws hats on the ice after a shootout goal quote-unquote completes a hat trick?"
Some Caps fans and apparently some Pens fans, too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0lywJZDnds (1:40 mark).

#27 by Ga Hockey
Say what you will about Caps fans (apparenlty it's an easy mark since the team is Southeast div, and no one in the Southeast Div knows how to play hockey pphhbt! ) but I've seen hats fly for the exact same reason in Toronto and Montreal, where apparently everything about hockey is ingrained into every child at birth.


Listen, I get what people are saying. Ovechkin's performance, while impressive, doesn't constitute an official "hat trick" according to the accepted definition. And a lot of Washington fans are still learning a lot about hockey, from rules to strategies to concepts. But by some casual standards, Ovechkin did score three goals, and the schedule reflects a 3-goal night by the Capitals. To name-call over new fans getting excited about their best player putting on a scoring clinic is just petty.

And maybe just a little bit jealous.

Monday, October 19, 2009

2009 Redskins Report Card: Week 6 vs. Kansas City Chiefs

Chiefs 14, Redskins 6

You know how everyone loves to say "defense wins championships"? Well, here's one more bit of proof for you. When a colossally bad offense goes up against a trash defense, the defense apparently wins out. The Chiefs came into the game on Sunday giving up over 27 points a game, and held the poorly coached, double-quarterbacked Redskins to a pair of Shaun Suisham field goals. Embarrassing? Yes, I'd say so.

So here's the deal. Today, instead of a classic report card, we're going to switch it up a little bit. We'll do sort of a "State of the Redskins" article, and talk about the team's abilities and performances to date, rather than focus on the debacle that was this Sunday's game. Also, I'm only going to talk about the offense here. We all know the defense has played well enough to win most games.

Historically, I've shied away from saying what a team should do. I've accepted that I know a lot less about the inner workings and intricacies of professional football than even the lowliest assistant coach, and I've deferred to their decisions. But at this point, I don't exactly feel like the Redskins have a bevy of elite football minds at work here, so I'm going to make an exception and get my hands dirty.

Going Nowhere

The Washington Redskins' offense has gotten most of the blame for their poor start, and deservedly so. The Redskins average 13.2 points per game, putting them 4th-worst in football. The three worse teams are the Browns, Raiders, and Rams; not exactly pleasant company. But in reviewing their statistics, perhaps the biggest concern is this: they're not particularly good at anything. Passing yards, rushing yards, first downs, time of possession, giveaways, times sacked and sack yardage, the Redskins are in the bottom half of every category. The closest thing that Washington has to a "strength" is completion percentage, in which they rank 13th. But we've seen what you get when a team completes a lot of passes that go nowhere: a 2-4 record through the weakest opening schedule of all time.

So how do you fix it? Changes in personnel aren't really an option, with the trade deadline tomorrow and with the hard salary cap in football. But you certainly don't want to give up on the season altogether; there are always positives that you can generate going forward. Your only option is to re-position that same assemblage of players such that they'll be more successful. You have to change the way you use those players, to better highlight their strengths, and to mask their weaknesses.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

The task then becomes to figure out what these players can do well, which probably takes a better eye than I've got, but I'll take a crack at it. First off, Todd Collins is a nice backup, but he's not your starter. His skillset is narrow and unimpressive; your only chance at righting the ship at all is with Campbell at the helm. Campbell has a good scrambling sense, and isn't bad at throwing on the run...or at least isn't worse. But Campbell can never think that he'll be benched mid-game again. That can lead to panicked decision-making, and you can't quarterback a team that way.

With a depleted offensive line and no elite receivers, the passing game has to find ways to give Campbell enough time to throw. I emphasize the "enough" because if you have shorter routes and quicker releases, you can put less pressure on your offensive line. I suggest a lot of shotgun formations, play-action, and bootlegs, anything you can do to create time for the quarterback. You probably also have to sacrifice any five-receiver patterns, for two reasons. First, Campbell hasn't shown that he can process five different routes quickly enough that the fifth receiver will ever be an option. Second, you're going to need to keep a running back or tight end in to help protect. Three- and four-receiver patterns should be the hallmark of this offense.

A Perfect Time To Panic

You also need the receivers to run crisp routes and display excellent hands. Interestingly, Antwaan Randle El is probably your best receiver in those regards, and he needs to be on the field more. Pull him from punt returns altogether, you need him fresh when the offense starts, and he hasn't been good back there anyways. You can roll with Santana Moss, or maybe try DeAngelo Hall. The Redskins also have youngster Marko Mitchell out of Nevada who dazzled folks in the preseason with excellent hands and play-making ability. There's nothing to risk and a lot to gain by putting him out there at this point to see if he can play when it counts. Would you prefer that Devin Thomas or Malcolm Kelly were the productive youngsters? Sure, but when your offense is stagnant, it doesn't matter where a guy was drafted. It's panic time.

I don't know that there's anything to change about the running game that's going to help you. The Redskins have three of the same running back on the roster in Clinton Portis, Ladell Betts, and Marcus Mason. There's not really anything wrong with them, they're just all the same. As I said last week, the 'Skins need someone like Darren Sproles, a guy who truly offers a change of pace. That guy isn't on the roster, so you just go with what you've got. But, there's nothing wrong with putting Moss or Randle El in the backfield from time to time. They're speedy guys who make the defense react to a different look. No, they're not running backs, but as we've said, nothing so far has worked. To paraphrase a scene from The 40-Year-Old Virgin, what's felt "right" hasn't worked. It's time to try some "wrong."

Zorn

The big story today (big enough even to grace the front of Yahoo's Sports page) is that play-calling responsibilities will be turned over from Jim Zorn to Sherman Lewis. The talk is that this may be a precursor to a change at head coach in Washington, with Lewis, offensive line coach Joe Bugel, defensive coordinator Greg Blache, or secondary coach Jerry Gray taking over in the interim.

I think this would be a mistake. Very little is gained by firing Jim Zorn right now, versus later, or just allowing his contract to expire at the end of the season. The only small advantage you gain is in being able to position yourself earlier for interviewing new head coaches at the end of the season, but even that is debatable. Certainly no one thinks that the Redskins won't have a coaching vacancy in the upcoming offseason, and owner Dan Snyder has made no secret of the fact that he will not be outbid. Any coach potentially interested in the Washington head coaching job will know that the job is available, and that if they get chosen by the Redskins, they'll be paid handsomely.

There is one circumstance where a coaching change would make sense, but it's extremely unlikely. If the Redskins are able to hire their head coach of the future right now, mid-season, then firing Zorn is the right move. If John Gruden, Bill Cowher, or (if he becomes available) Jeff Fisher is willing to take over the team immediately, then you've got half a season for that coach to get in-game experience with the players on the team today. That would give the new coach a chance to evaluate talent, chemistry, and attitudes, so he can make informed decisions about next year's roster.

However, to my knowledge, such a situation has never occurred with an outside coach, and no potential head coach in the organization would be a long-term answer. So I'm sticking with Zorn the rest of the way. You would give Zorn a chance to try to prove to other teams that he can coach in the NFL, which is just the stand-up thing to do. You also avoid what would inevitably be a PR disaster, and perhaps most importantly, it would help to temper Daniel Snyder's reputation as an impossible owner to work for.

Not A Complete Waste

Despite the nauseating performance by the Redskins this Sunday, the day did have one bright spot. Late Sunday, as I was reading through articles about the day's action, I came across a photo of a prominent New York Giants fan. Her name is Reby Sky, and (at least for today) she is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.



Seriously. Go to her website and see how smokin' hot she is. Really, really, really, really ridiculously good-looking. Anyways, we'll go back to the conventional report card system next week, after the Monday night game against the Eagles.

Hail!

Monday, October 12, 2009

2009 Redskins Report Card: Week 5 vs. Carolina Panthers

Panthers 20, Redskins 17

The general sentiment of the whole group of Redskins fans I watch football with was, "Wait, what the hell just happened?" The Redskins had the Panthers on the ropes, up 10-2 at halftime and 17-2 in the third quarter. A couple of bad bounces, and suddenly the Redskins have lost another game to an unimpressive team. Oh brother.

Offense: D

The only thing that saved Washington from an F rating on offense is the fact that they were finally able to punch the ball in (twice) from inside the red zone. Clinton Portis put 14 points on the board; 12 from his two touchdowns, and 2 when he took a safety in the second quarter.

Outside of those scores, the offense was pretty close to dismal. Their 198 yards of total offense was Raider-esque (and just to be clear, we're not talking about the Tecmo Bowl, Bo Jackson Raiders). The Redskins averaged a measly 4.4 yards per pass play, and while Jason Campbell's passer rating was a very good 104.4, it didn't translate into points. We can talk day and night about how awful Derek Anderson was on Sunday (2/17 for 23 yards and an interception), but the Browns did win, so us Redskins fans can't make much fun of him.

The running game seems to long for a change-of-pace back, someone with breakaway ability who's also a good blocker; a guy who would fit into 3rd down situations. If next year goes as an uncapped year, as anticipated, I'd be pretty surprised if Darren Sproles didn't make his way to the nation's capital.

I was a little surprised that the Redskins elected to punt on a 4th and 5 from midfield when they were down a field goal with just over five minutes to go. Washington had used all of their timeouts already, so the clock would only stop at the two-minute warning. That time goes by more quickly than I think people realize. Furthermore, the Panthers had scored on their past three drives. Asking the defense to come out and prevent two first downs might have been naive.

But perhaps most importantly, and cause for concern, is that Jim Zorn's attitude all year had been aggressive. He's had confidence in his offense's ability to make a play all year, even when empirical data didn't support that confidence. The logic in that situation says, if your team can pick up a first down there, you only need a few more yards and you can try a field goal. When your team is down, and has squandered a 15-point lead, it's time to feel some desperation. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, so now it seems obvious that the Redskins should've at least tried for it. But I can only hope that Zorn hasn't lost his gusto, because that's really all he's got.

Defense: C+

The defense did enough to not be blamed for this loss. They picked up two big turnovers to put the offense deep in Panther territory, and the Redskins scored off of both turnovers. Perhaps as importantly, the two turnovers were picked up by the two big signings of the offseason: Albert Haynesworth and DeAngelo Hall. So maybe the local blowhards will lay off them for a week (not likely).

They did, however, falter in the second half. Three scoring drives of 38+ yards each generated 18 second-half points, enough to steal the game away from Washington. The Redskins defense has generally been built on a "bend, don't break" philosophy, but they snapped into several pieces against a fairly vanilla Carolina offense on those three drives.

Perhaps the epitome of this collapse happened on the last relevant play of the game. Jake Delhomme faked a handoff and peeled out for a naked bootleg run. Hall had a play on him, but couldn't figure out how to stop a quarterback from gaining five more yards and the first down. Ballgame. The coaches need to take the whole secondary aside in practice this week and remind them of how to tackle people, especially how to contain runners while you're waiting for help.

Special Teams: D

Well, I think we were all pretty sure at some point the special teams were going to let us down. A 55 yard return by the Panthers put them in great field position to go in for their first offensive score of the game. Glenn Pakulak performed decently as a temporary replacement punter, but they need Hunter Smith back; he was a rare bright spot for this team every week.

The huge punt return gaffe by Byron Westbrook and another week of complete ineffectiveness by Antwaan Randle El needs to be a harbinger of things to come; that is, some kind of changes in the return game or return schemes. Somebody has to accept that the Redskins have the worst return game in the NFL, and to try to do something to fix that.

Overall: D

The Redskins have played five games, and they've played five lousy games. They've played five games against five winless teams (the Giants were 0-0), and three of those five teams got their first victory of the season against our hometown 'Skins.

Prediction: Change. Most likely in the bye week, but it wouldn't be unrealistic to think a change could come sooner.

Top 500 Songs - Dave Matthews Band

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