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.

A Different View of some Local Sports History

I came across this article in the October 8, 2009 edition of the Washington Post. It basically previews one of ESPN's upcoming "30 for 30" series, which is a documentary series. ESPN has done a bunch of documentaries before, so you're probably thinking, "big deal." I was too, until I realized that their intent was to "... import a few well-known Hollywood filmmakers and give them complete creative control." Some of the stories I've come across include what went wrong with the USFL and the story/impact of the Gretzky trade from Edmonton to LA in 1988.

The article that my Mom left for me to read last Thursday was about the documentary "The Band that Wouldn't Die," and its sneak preview last Tuesday at M&T Bank Stadium with the band. The television premiere is on October 13th at 8pm. It starts, obviously, with the Baltimore Colts leaving town overnight in Mayflower trucks set for Indianapolis. From what I've read and previewed, that's where it ends. It goes on to tell the story of how the marching band uniforms avoided the move (when members stole the uniforms back from the dry cleaners) to how they thrived and kept the spirit of football in Baltimore for the 12 years that went on without an NFL team.

Most people know this story and others have felt the pain and heartache of a team moving from their city. This is another perspective on that part of sports. For all of those wondering whether they want to tune in or not, I recommend reading the Washington Post article. While I'm always interested in learning more about my local sports history, the article really got me curious about how this documentary tells their story. I will be tuning in when it airs Tuesday, October 13 at 8pm. Hope you do too.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Crabtree vs. Edwards

Since the announcements came within hours of each other yesterday, I figure there's no reason not to examine the two big NFL wide receiver acquisitions and compare their relative impacts on their teams, this year and going forward.

Michael Crabtree, San Francisco 49ers

Crabtree was the 10th player selected in this year's NFL draft. He was perhaps a victim of Oakland's Al Davis becoming enamored with Darrius Heyward-Bey from the University of Maryland. Most projections I saw around draft day were putting him between pick five to the Browns and pick eight to the Jaguars, so while falling to tenth was probably disappointing, it was by no means a ridiculous dropoff. That's just one more puzzling part of the holdout that kept Crabtree unsigned until now.

Crabtree's holdout extended well into the season, and most fans saw it as a ridiculous sequence of events. The player was asking for money greater than players drafted in front of him because he dropped a few picks beyond where he expected to be drafted. These negotiations were the first anyone's heard of in which mock drafts and blog posts were produced as justification for more money by the player. It sounds like it was ludicrous.

But he's signed now, and it's time to assess how he can help this team. The reality is that the San Francisco 49ers have one of the weakest passing attacks in football (fifth fewest passing yards per game, and they're dead last in passing attempts per game), so adding some kind of talent might have a serious positive impact.

And make no mistake, Crabtree has got talent. There's a reason he was the #1 rated wide receiver on everybody's board in the 2009 NFL draft. He posted huge numbers and made big plays in two prolific years at Texas Tech, and he was almost always on the field for that offense, demonstrating impressive stamina. He's extremely competitive, very physical, and well-rounded. He's also more than happy to throw blocks, which fits perfectly with the 49ers run-first offense. He's only 6'1", but I don't expect his height to prevent him from becoming a solid receiver.

It's always difficult for rookie receivers to have substantial impact, and Crabtree won't likely be any different. Add to that his late arrival to the team, and San Francisco should probably be happy if he can simply run a few crisp patterns in each game over the next 3-4 weeks. Long-term, I expect Crabtree to develop into a Hines Ward type of player, and if he can provide the 49ers with some intensity and consistency, he can help bring this team all the way back from the dead.

Braylon Edwards, New York Jets

There are suspicions abound regarding the relationship between the Jets acquiring Edwards via trade and Crabtree agreeing to a deal with the 49ers. While everything I read says the Jets won't be found guilty of tampering with Crabtree, the timing of the two transactions is certainly conspicuous.

Anyways, let's focus on Braylon Edwards. Edwards had a monster season in 2007, registering 80 catches and 16 TDs, but he fell way back down to Earth last season. He caught just three touchdown passes all season, and he became famous for dropping pass after pass, regardless of quarterback. Interestingly, his yards per game fell from 80.6 right back down to around his previous average of 53.7, which begs the question: was Edwards' fantastic 2007 just an anomaly, and is that mediocre production what we should expect from year to year?

There's always the chance, of course, that his hands get better, and he suddenly becomes an elite WR, year in and year out. Unfortunately for the Jets, though, Edwards' contract runs out after this season, and there were murmurs that he was looking for $9 million a year on a new deal. If he doesn't improve, he's not worth $9 million a year, but if he does, he's worth more like $11 million a year. It's a "rock and a hard place" situation for New York, but my guess is they'd rather Edwards made their decision easy by becoming an elite wideout.

The Comparison

Let me just start by saying I don't think either of these players will be team-changers this season. Both the Jets and 49ers are solid teams right now, and they'll both get a little better by augmenting their receiving corps. Additionally, they're both run-first teams, so the pressure to succeed may be lessened. But I think Crabtree, despite being inexperienced and unproven, will make a greater positive impact on his team than Edwards will on his.

Crabtree's playing mentality fits beautifully with the 49ers' philosophies. He likes getting physical, he likes blocking, and he likes taking short plays and trying to break them for big plays. He's both a good complement to a strong running game, and a useful tool for a non-elite quarterback.

Edwards, meanwhile, will be expected to jump start the Jets' passing game, and bring balance to the Force...and the play-calling. The problem is, Edwards' talents are most effective when he can get loose and catch deep passes, which seem to always be difficult for young quarterbacks. Mark Sanchez looks like he's got the ability to be a nice NFL quarterback, but Edwards' presence may hinder the offense as much as it helps.

Statistically, their production might be fairly close. But I don't think we'll have any doubts at season's end which wide receiver was the bigger addition.

Projections (starting with week 5 statistics):
Michael Crabtree: 48 receptions, 625 yards, 5 TDs
Braylon Edwards: 40 receptions, 675 yards, 2 TDs

Disagree? Vote against me in the poll to the right, and we'll see what you guys think.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

2009 MLB Playoff Picks

We here at Joe and Joe Sports are happy to give you our predictions for the MLB playoffs. Below are our picks for this October, along with one special guest all the way at the bottom.


NICK ENGLE
Joe and Joe Sports - Contributor

Division Series
Yankees/Twins - Yankees
Angels/Red Sox - Angels
Phillies/Rockies - Rockies
Dodgers/Cardinals - Cardinals

League Championship Series
Yankees/Angels - Yankees
Cardinals/Rockies - Cardinals

World Series
Yankees/Cardinals - Cardinals


CHIP HART

Joe and Joe Sports - Writer

Division Series
Yankees/Twins - Yankees
Angels/Red Sox - Angels
Phillies/Rockies - Phillies
Dodgers/Cardinals - Cardinals

League Championship Series
Phillies/Cardinals - Cardinals
Yankees/Angels - Yankees

World Series
Yankees/Cardinals - Cardinals


JOE MANDI
Joe and Joe Sports - Writer, Radio Host

Division Series
Yankees/Twins - Yankees
Angels/Red Sox - Angels
Phillies/Rockies - Rockies
Dodgers/Cardinals - Cardinals

League Championship Series
Yankees/Angels - Angels
Cardinals/Rockies - Cardinals

World Series
Angels/Cardinals - Angels


EDWARD MATTINGLY
Joe and Joe Sports - Contributor

Division Series
Yankees/Twins - Twins
Angels/Red Sox - Red Sox
Phillies/Rockies - Phillies
Dodgers/Cardinals - Cardinals

League Championship Series
Twins/Red Sox - Twins
Phillies/Cardinals - Cardinals

World Series
Twins/Cardinals - Twins


JOE MATTINGLY
Joe and Joe Sports - Editor, Writer, Radio Host

Division Series
Yankees/Twins - Yankees
Angels/Red Sox - Red Sox
Phillies/Rockies - Phillies
Dodgers/Cardinals - Cardinals

League Championship Series
Yankees/Red Sox - Yankees
Phillies/Cardinals - Phillies

World Series
Yankees/Phillies - Yankees


MICHAEL MATTINGLY
Joe and Joe Sports - Writer

Division Series
Yankees/Twins - Yankees
Angels/Red Sox - Red Sox
Phillies/Rockies - Phillies
Dodgers/Cardinals - Dodgers

League Championship Series
Yankees/Red Sox - Red Sox
Dodgers/Phillies - Dodgers

World Series
Red Sox/Dodgers - Red Sox


And now for our special guest...

ALEX HARDIN
Beltway Braves - Writer, Editor

Division Series
Rockies in 4 - Brad Lidge blows 3 saves, 2 dudes, Colorado advances
Cardinals in 3 - Mannywood goes soft, Cards break out brooms
Red Sox in 4 - Different year, same story, Angels ousted by Nation
Twins in 5 - The dream stays alive, A-Rod goes 0-fer, Jeter demands trade

League Championship Series
Cardinals over Rockies in 6 - Carpenter and Wainwright own the Rocks, go to WS
Red Sox over Twins in 7 - The steam runs out, Twinkies fall at Fenway

World Series
Red Sox over Cardinals in 7 - Lester beats Carp, Red Sox win another title

2009 Redskins Report Card: Week 4 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Redskins 16, Buccaneers 13

I know I'm a little late posting this week, but it was very difficult for me to get some perspective on the game. I didn't want to be too emotional, so I took my time. Also I got caught watching the Twins/Tigers one-game-playoff last night, and that was my night.

Offense: 1st half - F / 2nd half - C+

If you didn't see the first half, you're lucky. It was a train wreck. Two minutes into the game, the Redskins were down seven. Twenty minutes in, Jason Campbell had thrown two interceptions and fumbled the football twice, losing one. In four first quarter drives, they gained 25 yards. For the second week in a row, (against the "mighty" defenses of the Lions and Buccaneers), the Redskins failed to score a single point in the first half.

Thank goodness for the second half. Washington scored on their first three drives of the second half, posting all of the points they would need (and all the points they would get) to win the game. They still had just one drive of 10 plays or more, but they also had a 1-play, 59-yard drive on a bomb to Santana Moss.

The running game sure seems like it's going to be a problem. The Redskins did gain 125 yards on the ground, but it took them 35 carries to do it, with a 13-yard scamper from Campbell being their longest run. Additionally, punter Hunter Smith still has the team's only rushing touchdown.

Campbell does seem more willing to run, which I believe is a good thing. However, it seems like there were too many designed run plays, whereas I think the value of a running quarterback is more evident in the passing game. If you can pull linebackers off their coverage to attack the quarterback, or keep the center of the field open because of the threat of a pass, your offense can pick apart an opponent. It seems like Campbell is just overall much more effective when he starts to run, so I think getting Campbell out of the pocket more frequently is the right move. Also, I mean, really, it's only a shadow of a pocket that this hodge-podge offensive line can put together anyways.

Defense: B-

Statistically, the defense did pretty well. They were put into a lot of bad situations by Campbell's propensity for turnovers, and they managed to stifle the Buccaneers offense more often than not. However, the recently cut Mike Nugent bailed out the defense twice with missed field goals. If he makes one of those, the game goes to overtime. He makes both, and the Redskins lose. But again, that Nugent even had those chances was a direct result of turnovers, so you can't fault the defense for all of them.

One problem that seems to arise for the Redskins every year, regardless of coaches or personnel, is their inability to contain a running quarterback. I understand that a running quarterback brings a new dimension to the opposing offense, but too many times Washington players would get a hand on Josh Johnson and not bring him down. It's one thing if he gets loose and everyone is back in coverage; it's another thing entirely if you've got him bottled up and he gets free. That gets fixed with fundamental tackling effectiveness.

Special Teams: C-

This week, the return game was still solid but not spectacular, but the coverage team was less than stellar. Shaun Suisham did plant a couple kickoffs in the end zone for touchbacks, so that was nice. Hunter Smith's injury may keep him out of this week's game, which hurts both the punting and kicking games. Smith is a fantastic holder, among the best in the league, and it's no surprise that with him out of the game, the Redskins missed an extra point. Hopefully a week of practice will get the new kicking team ready to go if Smith can't.

Overall: C-

I hate to put the overall rating so low on a win, but the Redskins really looked awful in that first half. The hallmark of Jason Campbell's career has been that he seems like he avoids mistakes, but he never makes big plays. Well, he made a big play on the go route to Moss, and made some mistakes. I don't know if it's better, but it is different. If Campbell can get the best of both worlds, we'll really have something to cheer for.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Fantasy Basketball - A New Take

I've played the standard fantasy basketball games, with and without little tweaks, and I've generally found it to be unexciting. I don't know if it's owed to the nature of basketball, where statistics are accumulated in great numbers every game, or if it's because I'm not a huge basketball fan, or some other explanation, but it seems like fantasy basketball is an unnecessary exercise.

So this year, I decided to go beyond the "little tweaks," and create a wholly original basketball league. The frame of the league will be a standard rotisserie head-to-head setup, where each owner plays against just one other owner each week. The teams accumulate statistics, and the team with more of each tracked statistic gains one win; the other team gets one loss. So, if in a league with standard settings team A has more points, rebounds, three-pointers, assists, steals, and blocks, team B has better cumulative field goal and free throw percentages, and they have exactly the same number of turnovers, team A will get 6-2-1 added to their season record, and team B will get 2-6-1 added to theirs. It's a little convoluted, and I'm generally not in favor of this system.

BUT, I've made wholesale changes from the standard scoring system, and I think it might just create a pretty fun fantasy basketball system. We keep the framework, as I said, where it's rotisserie head-to-head. However, we use only one category: points. Percentages don't matter, assists don't matter, turnovers don't matter. The only thing that matters is pure, bulk points. Chris Paul and Marcus Camby get dropped dramatically in this system, and pure scorers like Jamal Crawford and Richard Jefferson get a bump.

Certainly I don't have to explain that this system is simpler; it takes a nine-category system and changes it to a one-category system. It's easier to evaluate talent, because you're not looking at whether or not a player's scoring and rebounds will counteract a poor free throw percentage (Dwight Howard), or sacrificing scoring to pick up a spread of other statistics (Shane Battier). It's straightforward and unsophisticated.

Are there problems with a system like this? Of course. Its simplicity results in far fewer opportunities for strategy. And the default rankings will be somewhat useless when it comes to draft day. But the standard system, which has plenty of strategy integrated, hasn't been entertaining to me. So why the hell not try something else?

There are a couple of positives about this bizarre setup:
  • You don't find yourself rooting for strange things, like wanting your opponents' players to score, because you don't want him to get assists.
  • It's easy to track when your players are doing well, and easy to root for them when you're watching the games.
  • Likewise, it's easy to track/root against your opponents' performances.
  • People who show up for the draft have a decided advantage over those who skip out, as you're able to evaluate players solely based on their point production.
You want in, you say? Well, I'd be delighted to have you in my crazy league. Here's the information:

League ID: 115478
Password: points

Hoop it up!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Queen Songs for Rock Band

I like playing Rock Band. I love the band Queen. Ten Queen songs are coming to Rock Band at the end of October. I am happy.
  • Another One Bites The Dust
  • Crazy Little Thing Called Love
  • Fat Bottomed Girls
  • I Want It All
  • I Want to Break Free
  • Killer Queen
  • One Vision
  • Somebody to Love
  • Tie Your Mother Down
  • Under Pressure
Conspicuous in its absence is Bohemian Rhapsody, but it's still a nice little set of songs. And I can't imagine a scenario where I don't buy them all.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Let's Stop Driving: Mother Nature

Mother Nature is a bitch.

We're like a bunch of petulant children who have been getting our way for years while Mom wasn't looking. But eventually, Mom realizes what we've been up to and starts throwing shoes at us. Humans have been advancing technologically at a frantic rate, figuring out all sorts of things, not the least of which is transportation. We drive, we ride, we fly, and we go where we want to go. But what we don't realize is that every time we go somewhere, we're tempting Mother Nature to give us a pump to the forehead.

(By the way, for the purposes of this post, I'm referring to the natural world when I say "Mother Nature. That is to say, "Mother Nature" is the Earth and how it works. Okay go.)

Lights Out

People weren't made for night time. We naturally get tired when lights go out. The basic schedules of our society work around the existence of sunlight. Why? Because people can't see in the dark. We need light for reading, for assembling, for cooking, and yes, for driving. You know how I know we need light for driving? Because we put these giant brightening devices on the fronts of cars.

"So we've got the lights, what's the problem?" you ask, knowing full well that I've already got an answer. The problems are twofold. First, the targeted beams of headlights are a poor substitute for the piercing, all-encompassing glow of sunlight. A night driver's peripheral and rear-view vision is almost nil. The second issue is the human eye. Our pupils grow and shrink based on the amount of light in our environment, to help improve vision in particularly bright or dark situations. But at night, when everything is dark, the beam of another car's headlights feels like staring at the sun, and your vision suffers. Impaired vision + night driving = not good. And that's science.

Through Rain, and Sleet, and Snow...

A 2005 survey reported that the average American commuter spends 26 minutes driving to work each day, and that most of us do that commute five days a week, 50 weeks a year. That's 250 days of traveling 50 minutes to and from work, through all sorts of weather conditions. For those of you not so good with math, that's over 200 hours of driving per year, just on your daily work commute.

We're all familiar with the effect of snow on driving conditions, and sometimes we respect it enough to say that it's not worth taking your life in your hands to drive to work today. But a lot of the time, you go to work anyways. You go despite sleet and snow and icy road conditions. The roads weren't designed for icy conditions, and really, neither were our cars (or we'd have spikes in the tires). But you go anyways, for the $75 or $200 or $500 you make in a day, because it's easier than telling your boss that you're uncomfortable driving in the day's weather conditions. Hey, I know all about it. It's the same reason I prefer ordering pizza online; that way, I don't have to talk to anyone.

What about a foggy morning or a stormy day? You'd never consider taking a day off for those kind of weather conditions, but in a lot of ways, those conditions are just as dangerous as ice, and people don't respect them. You'd never wait an hour to leave for work just because it's foggy outside. But you might be wise to do just that; again, impaired visibility is something that is simply unacceptable when you're dealing with a deadly machine like an automobile.

It's Coming Right For Us!

(Hopefully that reference isn't lost on all of you.)

Outside of weather, Mother Nature provides one more big problem for driving: animals. There are an estimated 20 million+ deer in the United States today, and if you spend any time in a rural or suburban area, you know that they're around. The extermination of many natural predators of deer has contributed to an ever-increasing deer population, and it's no surprise that they're showing up everywhere.

Deer are involved in an estimated 1.5 million vehicle collisions every year, and cause $1.1 billion in damages, along with 150 motorist deaths. Fences, guardrails, and deer whistles have not stifled the impact of deer collisions on humans' daily lives, and it's difficult to foresee a change that will. The reality is that, as long as we have any desire to preserve animals in a somewhat natural environment, and as long as we insist on driving cars on roads, we're going to encounter deer and other animals while driving.

"So we're screwed then, right?" Well, no. As long as we insist on driving cars on roads, yes, we're screwed. That's the whole point of this series of posts, remember? "Let's stop driving," that's the whole idea. I'm just trying to point out all the problems with driving, so we can start to realize that this simply can't be the apex of human transportation. There simply must be something better.

Top 500 Songs - Dave Matthews Band

This was always going to be the hardest of my band lists, because I like so many of DMB's songs, and have liked them so differently over...