Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Philadelphia Roars: We will not give up!

Let’s begin our analysis by considering Romans 8.28:
We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, to those called according to his purpose.
Any analysis of the Dallas affair begins and ends really with the impact of TO’s season-ending injury- although it was re-assuring to see the defense continue to play very well down the stretch, particularly again against the run. It is amazing the difference adding Trotter has made- if he had played the whole season he might have gone to the Pro-Bowl. There is no way he’s coming back next year, right? How can someone with serious ‘backer problems- Minnesota, Oakland, Miami, New Orleans, I’m talking to you- not throw multiple years and multiple millions at him? Philadelphia was pretty bad against the rush; now post-Trotter, frankly the Eagles are pretty good.

The injury is, bluntly, a bad blow. Reid’s singular failure as the head of this football operation has been his inability to draft and develop a single, even average, NFL wide out. I cannot think of any team with a worse collection of wide-receivers entering the play-offs. Pinkston is a poor number two- and probably a true “production-less wide-out” as a number one- drawing the other team’s top corner. There is nothing right now about Pinkston that engenders confidence that he can contribute in a play-off game. He cannot get open, he cannot catch it consistently, defines “a zero” in the red zone. Mitchell is not a bad slot guy; he can undoubtedly catch it. His numbers are not great. But I think that is more because there aren’t that many balls to go around with TO and Westbrook around and McNabb normally throws to the tight ends on those possession style routes. But even I do not believe in Mitchell as an every down guy? Wide receiver is an important minus now, a consequential minus.

Obviously, the various sports networks have an obligation to shriek endlessly about the magnitude and significance of this injury. However, the Eagles are still a heavy favorite to win the NFC- although I admit I cannot see them winning the three consecutive games against good competition needed to win the Super Bowl. Still, of the offensive triumvirate, TO was the only one they could lose, and still be the favorite to win the conference. Let’s not even think about #5 going down. And Westbrook is the guy the whole offense is designed around. They still have two legit game-breakers on offense, which is as many as anyone else has in the NFC.

As the Eagles last gasp drive against Dallas showed, as long as those two guys are upright, they can do damage to teams. Yes, Donovan is going to have to leave the comfort of the pocket and move around downfield again- something he been loathe to do this year. Westbrook has to do more special team duty. A lot of the safety net, the corners Philadelphia cut on offense to minimize Westbrook’s touches and McNabb’s exposure, have to go by the wayside now. But it will be the play-offs, so the precautions probably needed to go anyway. There is still almost certainly no one coming to the Linc in January that they will not score at least 21 against.

Even without Owens, this football team is simply so much better than the completely shot outfit that entered last year’s play-offs: no Westbrook, most of the defensive secondary and defensive line out, three months of gut busting effort to rally from the 1-3 start. Since Thomas should be healthy in a month, and I doubt you’ll see a key player pull more than a cameo until the play-offs, TO ought to be the only key player out.

The Eagle defense will be the best, healthiest and deepest of any unit in the NFC. The special teams are superlative. They’ll be at home- and I guarantee the faithful will be roaring with defiance and anger- with a month to heal and freshen key guys. Reid has won in the play-offs with much less. The team is smart and gutty. Bluntly, I simply do not think anyone can come into the Linc and score 17- or prevent McNabb from scoring 21. But the Super Bowl road just got much, much harder.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Writing on Sports

Not long ago, during my last trip to London, there was a contest in an English newspaper to select the best introduction to a sports story in modern times.

If you write about sports, you know the introduction is the hardest part. Once you are over that first sentence, normally the rest follows just naturally. It follows that the best examples are worth cherishing.

Anyway, the result was a dead heat. First, there was Peter Byrne, of the Irish Times, who wrote from the 1976 Montreal Olympics: ‘It was a memorable evening for Irish swimming here in the Olympic Pool. Nobody drowned.’

The other was Frank Keating of The Guardian, whose preview of the first big fight he ever covered began: ‘Tonight in the Boxhalle, Munich, Muhammad Ali, if the United States of America and The Universe, will fight Richard Dunn, of 23 Railway Cuttings, Bradford, West Yorkshire.’

Feels like you were there, doesn’t it?

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Tulane Football MVPs

My picks for this year’s MVPs:

Defense: Anthony Cannon

Cannon is just a unyielding and dependable I-A player, who would be an asset at just about any program in the country. Sometimes you can look at linebackers and get myopic. You know, this ‘backer runs real well, or has great one-on-one cover skills. But Cannon possesses the most significant linebacker skill: flat out tackle people. Anthony gets off blocks- and don’t waste your time coming at him with a fullback Not a big hitter- but he plays big and he plays violent. He gets to you; you go down. I love his violent side. Remember that Navy game- that ferocity the Tulane defense brought to the field?

I am not exactly serious, but is there a I-A defense in the country that would be better served by taking a few personal foul penalties for late hits, improper hits on the qb, etc.? I would love Tulane to bring that to 2005- a real vicious attitude in the front seven. Sometimes we are simply too easy to play against.

Look at his numbers this year. Eleven tackles at MSU and Houston. Eight stops against ECU. Sixteen(!!!) against USM. This is particularly impressive in light of the fact that no one runs a running play versus Tulane without making sure someone is assigned to block him. It is re-assuring to know Cannon will be out there every game, every play and will make the play, brutally, every single time. He’s 3rd team C-USA this year- can’t wait to see him next year. He’s the defensive version of Irvin; he just gets it.

Joey Dawson was a valiant warrior for a long time here. While I cannot imagine how he’s second team all-league (must be a real weak year for safeties), he is a consistent player. I frankly admit there is a bit of a disconnect between me and the rest of the world concerning this young man. I sometimes wonder if his abilities seem magnified by the indifferent crew around him.

Offense: Roydell Williams

This is a much harder exercise on offense. If you ended the season after the first four games, it would have been the tailback Jovon. If you ended the season after the first eight games, it would have been Ricard. But if you look at the whole thing, it has to be our senior wide out.

Despite starting first year quarterbacks, Roydell had the solid numbers we all penciled him for. Sure, they were down form last year, but he did not exactly have a 1st round NFL draft pick chucking back there this year. And they were only down 150 yards- and he played one fewer game.

Without Roydell on the field, does Chris Bush have his true breakout year? I think we all know the supreme quality of #2 corners in our league was a factor in Bush’s sound campaign.

A lot of offense in football is establishing things you can do: run the ball here, throw it there. And every game, get the ball to Roydell was a thing you could do. He was their best big play threat- and he caught touchdowns. Who is a better red-zone receiver in Tulane history?
Our quarterbacks were too uneven and did not play the whole year. Jovon did not sustain excellence. I do have one other guy who I thought had an outstanding season- but I am going to save him for the next spot....

Most Underrated Player: Chris McGee

How this guy is not all-league is absolutely beyond me? There are six tackles better than him in this stupid league?

He might not be the strongest guy, but does he ever miss a block or read?

The Wave played 22 halves this year, and the offensive line got an “A” or “B” or better in sixteen of them. On the whole team, only the wideouts were more consistent. McGee is the best player on the line- a guy you can start week after week and know you’ll compete there. I am not sure he’s a good player in an SEC-style league with its premium on pure physicality. However, in C-USA where you don’t face monster fronts, McGee’s other skills- picking up the endless stunts and blitzes team employ to cover the pitiful secondaries, moving your feet to spots to block the run in the spread offense, etc.- make McGee is a superior player.

You could consider the punter Beckman here too. And my 9-1 picking Tulane ATS record too. That is 9-1 people.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Hail to the Deadskins!

Sigh.... last night the Redskins played probably about as well as they can. They got a spirited, physical performance from their defense- and an undoubtedly competent game from Ramsey. The Eagles were alternately disinterested and unfocused on offense- although I was heartened to see the defense continue to play competently against the run. It probably says a lot about the merits of these two football teams that the Redskins really only had one chance to win the game- despite playing with effort for once.

Significantly, the Eagles gave the ‘skins a pair of turnovers- and the opening kick return was a sort of ipso de facto turnover (a big field position flip and free points)- and this artificial +3 turnover margin for most of the game, at home, was enough to keep Washington in it. Washington continues to be sort of easy to play defense against; they frankly lack weapons to hurt you and they also don't really try to hurt you either. Seventeen points seems to be their ceiling- so after the first gift touchdown, the skins’ offense promptly sild into fifty minutes of the boring things Gibbs so loves: many aimless rushing attempts with zero follow on play-action, turning Cole into a possession receiver, getting Thrash and other bad players the ball in lieu of Portis, punting, and more punting.

Happily for Philadelphia, the ‘skins also bring two intangibles to the field each Sunday. First, Washington is an incredibly dumb team- and once again committed endless stupid fouls. Most were of the ever popular mindless-type too: selfish unsportsman-like conduct, off-sides, languid pass interference, etc. Second, it is hard to argue that Gibbs has done an absolutely terrible job this year. No team is getting less with more- and he’d run high in any honest vote for “Worst Coach of the Year”.

For example, Ramsey absolutely plays his heart out last night. He took ferocious hits- and hung in there to throw 45 balls without a turnover. Ramsey rallied the troops- and the whole offense busted its guts to get back in the game after falling down by two scores late. They are in a position to win the game late. Courageously, Gibbs promptly rewards them by putting the team in a position to lose late.

You know Joe, just because Theisman and pals are bleating on television about the necessity of taking shots down field doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do. Particularly in the red zone? With the game-tieing FG attempt in the bag? Against the Eagles highly competent secondary? To some tight end I’ve never heard of? Obviously, the deep shot did not fool the Eagles, in that the TE was double-covered! It was not an aggressive play, it was a highly stupid one.

May I suggest Gibbs might take a lesson that I used to beat into my Little Leaguers heads concerning throwing the ball around the field trying to chase base runners? I used to tell them:

Look, in order to make play in the infield, five things have to happen. You have to field the ball cleanly, you have to make a good throw, the throw has to be to the right base, the other player has to catch it and then has to make the tag. None of these five things are probable individually, let alone collectively. So just run the ball in to the pitcher, okay?
Could Gibbs take a lesson from me here? He sends a play into Ramsey that, can we agree, requires his team to do four things that are a near collective impossibility for this bunch: protect Ramsey, ask Ramsey to make a mature downfield throw into tight red-zone coverage (something he categorically cannot do yet), ask someone named Cooley to make a big play, and have two Eagle Pro-Bowlers in the secondary make a dumb play/read? And it is Ramsey's fault the play is a disaster?

Don’t pass the buck here. This play, a deviation from the ball-control passing attack Ramsey has now executed fairly well twice against the Eagles, required the head coach’s approval. Ramsey ought not to have thrown it, but Gibb’s hubristic approach toward this play spills into everything bad or poor in DC: quarterback selection (I alone can fix Brunell), Portis (we’ll emphasize the run even though no one else does it), etc. Gibbs is a huge part of his team’s poor play.

Now, I am becoming a crazy fan of Josh Parry. I gave him a shout out here a few weeks ago, but I want to point a unique wrinkle he gives the Eagles offense. For years teams, with a certain impunity, have shadowed the mobile McNabb. Parry has given them a distinctive angle on countering it.

Obviously, the Eagles have been playing Parry much more recently- mainly to help the back-up guards protect the franchise quarterback. But since the Pittsburgh game, they have also taken to occasionally rolling Parry out of the backfield to the numbers of the field- a typical safety valve sort of thing. However, if McNabb now rolls that way, dragging his “shadow” with him, Parry disdains his receiver role, moves across the grain and tries to blindside the safety/linebacker chasing McNabb. The shadow normally is locked in on McNabb- and if he does not see Parry coming….

Well, after Parry whiffed on two guys against the Packers, Springs found out what happens, didn’t he? Although I wanted their hot rookie safety, it was extremely gratifying to see Springs was clearly out before he hit the ground. There were reports on the internet this morning that when the Redskin’s trainers got to him, he was mewling like a cat. Isn’t that great? Springs thought he was a pretty little kitty.

Obviously, a wide receiver or tailback cannot deliver that kind of blow- but playing a fullback regularly gives the team a guy who runs well enough that you can send him into the defensive backfield. Also, I loved that Parry went after him high. You block a guy low if you want to get him on the ground- a tactical block. Hitting a guy high is a strategic block- a kill shot- a message. The Eagles have left a calling card for all defensive backs in the NFL. You can play a guy “assignment-free” against McNabb, but he better have his head on a swivel, or have the cart warmed up and ready. I loved it. It is clean, physical, nasty offense- and you can never have enough nastiness.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Jon Leiber Joins The Team

As far as it goes, I am just fine with the Phillies inking Jon Leiber to a $21-million, three-year contract. As a pitcher, Leiber used to be a real big strike out guy, a real thrower- and a few years ago Leiber averaged seven K’s per nine innings. He is 34, but three years is not a ridiculous commitment- and let’s face it, a veteran guy you can pencil in to make 30 starts and win 12 of them commands a $6 million a year tag.

Leiber won 14 last year, and his strike outs were down. But moving to the National League the strike outs will come up a little- if just because he’ll face a pitcher 2-3 times a start. I just don’t think you can go wrong in the National League, particularly in a hitter’s park, consistently running a guy out there who misses the bat.

The other plus is it solidifies addition by subtraction. Dumping Millwood and the overrated Milton saves $20 million; that is real money that can be used to help the club. Hopefully not all of the money will be wasted on players like Lofton. I don’t get that at all- although at $1.5 million it won’t hurt to designate him for assignment in July.

On a quick note, the arrival of Lofton means get ready for another Marlon Byrd audition as your everyday centerfielder. I mean, we cannot seriously be contemplating Lofton making 145 starts out there, could we? I would just as soon see Byrd gone; I do not believe this story anymore. Byrd isn’t an untalented ball player exactly, merely a stupid one. And you can’t have a stupid player hit first or eighth- and Byrd cannot effectively hit anywhere else. He’s going to move runners batting second? Pick up cheap RBIs batting seventh? I’d rather play Schirmer out there every day. At least he’d take a pitch, if just because he’s afraid of a pitched baseball.

Anyway, back to the problem at hand. The Phils have a rotation composed entirely of one time all-stars: Lieber, Wolf, Padilla, Myers, and Lidle. And you know what, I am pretty sure from that group a number two, three, four, etc. starter(s) will emerge. Any of those guys could win 14-15 games, and I would not be shocked- and I think four will win ten.

But none can win 18 either- so unfortunately, the core problem remains. The hurdle the Phillies placed in front of themselves by trading Schilling years ago is that it immediately put a premium on replacing him: the overt top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. The Phillies traded away Schilling and he instantly became exactly what they needed. Albeit forced, that move can, and probably has, become a generation hurdle. Great starters are not easy to discover; the Phillies just spent two years and $21 million over two years on Millwood- and we know how that turned out.

Unless one of these guys can win 18, the Phillies cannot win the division. I don’t thin any of them can, so the Phillies, despite their plethora of decent moves, are still chasing the Braves.

She didn't want to leave them

I miss J-1. I am glad he and his family are an important & burgeoning sensation:


According to the article, there is no braver mother in the cephalopod world than Aurora:

Aurora had never given up. Day in and day out for months, she sent waves of water out through her siphon to gently cleanse her eggs, and defended them against hungry sea cucumbers and starfish.
I wish someone would gently cleanse me when I was dirty.

More on J-1:



Monday, December 06, 2004

Louisville = Real Good

Well, that is that.

Louisville’s matter-of-fact thumping of the Wave, 55-7, raised my ATS mark to 9-1 concerning Tulane. Not too shabby.

Correspondingly, I did pick against the Wave in this spot. Again, right now Tulane is not in this Cardinal team’s league. Louisville is an outstanding football team, an outfit that probably would have gone 7-1, 6-2 in the SEC.

The offense was disappointing and Irvin really struggled. Oddly, I am sort of okay with it. Lousiville is impeccably designed to make Tulane look bad on offense. Typically, a team runs the spread offense to equalize a talent discrepancy. Your line can’t protect reliably? It is okay, because they don’t need to block very long with all those 3- and 5-step drops. Your running backs don’t need to be quick or strong- as you artificially create space for them. Your receivers do not have to get open consistently- because if you have five of them out there- someone by accident almost has to be open. And the quarterback is really never asked to make a difficult throw. It replaces talent with a premium on decision-making and execution.

But if you face a superior defense like Louisville features, a truly top-quality outfit based on speed as opposed to bulk, and then they can sort of cover and close those holes and get pressure. Honestly, Louisville’s back seven is in the same league quick-wise as Virginia Tech or Florida. And then you can look real bad real quick. Lots of incompletion consistently turns the down and distance equation against you. You cannot unfailingly fall back on possessing the ball via the rush. Throw in a freshman quarterback making his second start…. well, you might have some problems.

I was actually all right, again just a little, with the defense. Tulane will never play an offense better than the one they played Saturday. Not LSU. Not Auburn a few years from now. The Wave largely got hammered, like everyone else Louisville played. However, unlike last year, when Tulane also played a ton of young guys down low, you can definitely identify a bunch of guys on the defensive line who looked like, with another year of good I-A nutrition and weights, could compete down low against any offensive line in C-USA. Yes, Tulane was outclassed in the secondary- but hey, Louisville has done that to absolutely everyone- including the Miami Hurricanes for large stretches.

The defense does have a long way to go- particularly in the secondary- where Tulane is terrible. Even our good corners can’t cover the second or third receiver or tackle anyone. But for the first time since Bowden left, there is a crop of guys upfront who project to play at a high level in this league.

Figuring Tulane started 1-4, this 5-6 mark is not all that bad. Scelfo might have the same number of down years as his immediate predecessors, but he has raised the bar for a disappointing year to five wins this year- that has to say something positive, right? More importantly, for the first time since 2001, Tulane can reasonably project to be better next year than last.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Tulane vs. Louisville Preview

Well, here the Wave is.

Despite injuries and hard times, the 2004 Green Wave still has a chance to make this a season to remember. Regardless of the outcome, I think the goals any reasonable observer would have set pre-season have been met: a nice competitive team, a “plus” quarterback situation for seemingly at least three years to come, and a team that surely ought to be better next year. Our seniors have a solid campaign to go out on; I admit I never thought they would a play a game for a winning season. I honestly will miss those guys. Another marvelous collection of young men who honored our school with distinction and effort. Roll Wave!

Now, I will be frank (get it?)- and at 8-1 ATS I can afford to be. This game scares the heck out of me. Vegas agrees- listing the Cardinals a whopping -29 over Tulane. I sort of agree, the Wave could play magnificently here- and still lose by forty.

Louisville is good. Scary good. Undoubtedly, the best team in C-USA in years. There is talent every place. Both sides of the football feature top-quality lines- and those of you who think Tulane’s defensive secondary and running back are quality might want to watch Louisville’s versions extra intently. QB Stefan LeFors has seventeen touchdown passes and only two interceptions. He has a 75 % completion percentage- candidly, how is that even possible?

Like Cincinnati and Houston and TCU and yes, even Miami, I am skeptical our defense can do anything to these guys. I sense it is a “pick a number affair”; Petrino can score as much or as little as he wants. Tulane has improved immensely on defense- but if the Hurricanes weren’t ready for this, I doubt the Wave is. I mean, even the simple questions are vexing: how on earth can Tulane cover these guys? Tulane could wish for bundles of turnovers- but Louisville just does not do that sort of thing. This is a superior, disciplined offensive outfit- and a Cardinal team that has nine wins for a reason.

So to have any chance,
the Wave is simply going to have to outscore the Cardinals.

I actually think Tulane will score. Our offense is better than Cincinnati’s crew. But, to win this, you’re talking about having to hang a UAB-style number up there- against a Louisville team with a very good defensive line and the best secondary in C-USA history. Their corners can cover and Rhodes is a fantastic safety. We probably cannot rush the ball at all here- but Tulane might protect more than a little, and the quarterback and receivers can play. So we can score some- but 24 would be a real achievement- and even that is probably not enough to be competitive after the half.

I also don’t buy this Louisville looking past us nonsense. They’re 9-1. Focus has not been an issue for the Cardinals all year long- it is a little much to expect them to start being lazy now. Much like our team in 1998, this Cardinal train is just rolling: people don’t get hurt, players are having career years together, etc.

This year, Louisville is true BCS–quality. Tulane is still largely a pedestrian C-USA team, albeit improving rapidly. However, for us to even be in this past the half would require both a defensive and offensive performance well beyond what the Wave has played this year. I just don’t think the Wave is ready for this spot yet. Give the lines another year to grow, the quarterbacks another year to mature, get some help at tailback and defensive back- and we’ll give this sort of team all kinds of heck next year. But this year... Tulane will acquit themselves well, but probably still get beat pretty thoroughly. So to run my own slate to 9-1 ATS, I am taking Louisville- and giving Tulane the 29.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Introductory Kinesiology?

The attached Advocate article apparently closes the book on a sordid bit of Louisiana history. Ms. Owen, who appears principled and courageous, had the unfortunate temerity to challenge the monster that is the LSU football program. This being Louisiana, she was immediately terminated and had her life threatened.


I have no comment on the case per se- other than can anyone honestly be surprised to see the words “academic fraud”, “death threat”, and “NCAA violations” in any article about Tiger sports? Also, what is worse? Ten players taking "Introductory Kinesiology" or in fact failing "Introductory Kinesiology"?

This part of the reason why Nick Saban gets paid the big bucks- to handle phone calls like this:

Uh, coach. You know those ten guys taking 'Introductory Kinesiology'? The health class no one can fail? Well... uhmmm... they're failing it. But its okay, I've arranged for an off the record 'tutoring session' that the teacher doesn't know about so they can pass without the teacher knowing about it. That's okay too, because the majority of them are 'learning disabled'. Oh, to insure the teacher's silence, maybe we should threaten and fire her?

However, if I were LSU, I would perhaps have paid the money- rather than admit in open court that a majority of the numerous football players in question were “learning-disabled”.