Thursday, January 28, 2010

Slow On The Blog

I really like the NFC -2 over the AFC this weekend. The NFC has a lot to prove here.

I always liked the troubled show Chess. I found this video:

And of course, a shining hour!

Benjamin Franklin, in his article The Morals of Chess, wrote:
The Game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement; several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired and strengthened by it, so as to become habits ready on all occasions; for life is a kind of Chess, in which we have often points to gain, and competitors or adversaries to contend with, and in which there is a vast variety of good and ill events, that are, in some degree, the effect of prudence, or the want of it. By playing at Chess then, we may learn: I. Foresight, which looks a little into futurity, and considers the consequences that may attend an action. II. Circumspection, which surveys the whole Chess-board, or scene of action: - the relation of the several Pieces, and their situations. III. Caution, not to make our moves too hastily


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bobby Hebert and John Fourcade

Like many Tulane undergrad, I retain a great fondness for all things New Orleans. Except while I was in the Army, I have returned to the city just every year since I graduated. I’ve pushed out to Acadiana and Bayou Teche. I love both Mother's and Prejean's.

But one thing I never picked up was any sort of affection for the Saints football team. Mind you, I don’t “dislike” the Saints particularly. I’ll save disdain for our division rivals: Dallas, New York, Washington. The Saints are just another collective to me. Frankly, I booed New Orleans like crazy back in September- and remember with disgust the Saints ending the good multi-year run the Eagles first core group had under Reid back in 2006.

It is odd because I have a goodly number of friends that I keep in touch with from my days at Tulane- none live in New Orleans, all officially root for NFL teams other than the Saints. Yet, all sort of seem to be enjoying the Saints run through the play-offs. And certainly, the people’s sympathetic choice is New Orleans over Indianapolis- the Saints long ago having acquired a minor version of the Chicago Cubs’ national rep as “loveable losers”.

Oddly, that is probably part of it. The Saints have this national reputation for losing- but I was there in New Orleans during a pretty good run for them: 1987-1990 (histoy here- Saints fans might like this site). Jim Mora coached the Philadelphia Stars to a pair of USFL titles- then did a darn good job for the Saints. They got decent quarterback play from Bobby Hebert- and those Dome Patrol ‘backers were super. The Saints were on the verge of being an NFC power (beat the Eagles twice while I was there, including in the Dome on MNF), won 12 games in 1987… I dunno, it was hard to get on any sympathy train while I was there.

Secondly, I was there when John Fourcade and the "replacement players" captured the city’s affections- and, while I am no labor activist, I didn’t like that all that much. The NFL players perhaps weren’t justified in walking out. However, I think I would have walked over the salary cap and non-guaranteed contracts. Guys with short careers facing catastrophic injuries have a right to be worried about their paychecks. Regardless, I don’t like scabs all that much- let alone wildly embracing them over guys who were playing their hearts out for the city (en route to twelve wins) a couple of weeks earlier.

Well, that was a generation ago- has nothing to do with this Sunday. Thinking about Bobby Hebert made me realize how rich football can be to argue about. Hebert is a guy a lot of fans could put in any bucket- from bad to okay to good. I was never that big a fan- a lot of the affection he gets is because he is a local boy made good. He won 60% of his starts in New Orleans- which is fantastic. But that 135 TDs to 124 Interception ratio isn’t good at all, and probably confirms what a lot of folks’ suspect: Hebert’s success was a product of Mora’s defense.

No shame in that- managing games to not mess up is a skill in itself. But one reason Mora was never able to translate regular season success to play-off success might be the quarterback. In another city, Hebert was probably Eric Hipple.


Monday, January 25, 2010

A Triumph For My World View

The AFC Championship game this weekend was a triumph for the world view of Frank Helps You Think It All out. At this blog, we eschew running the football, and embrace a world view of pass, pass, pass. And mercy, do the Colts eschew running the football.

Look at these embarrassing numbers: 1294 total yards rushing, 3.5 yards/carry, dead last in rushing. All terrible- yet eerily similar to the recent Patriots’ dynasty. The Patriots didn't care to run it a lick either.

Sure, everyone knows winning is easier with a franchise quarterback. But not every team is willing to make the strategic commitment to it. You get two chances in the League to throw downfield against the base defense- on first down and third and short. Accordingly, you should be throwing like crazy on these two “traditional” run oriented downs. Show me a team running more on first down than throwing, and I’ll show you a team struggling to score.

You want to know how the Eagles won eleven games with a not so good defense and offensive line? Throwing the football on first down! Throwing the football on every down!

Accordingly, I don’t think you can bet enough on Indianapolis. I’m not exactly sure when the Saints peaked this year (late November?)- but it ain’t right now. Amidst the euphoria in the Dome, one might gently point out the Vikings played both stupidly and horribly- a zillion crippling turnovers and penalties. There were some shaky official calls. I have no idea what the record of NFL teams is when coughing up five turnovers-but it has to be something like zero for one thousand. And it was still a desperate affair at the end.

The Saints just aren’t great on offense anymore. Right now, Brees is not a guy who is going to rescue you with a 300+ yard explosion. None of the New Orleans’ backs scare me- and even mediocre offenses move the ball on the Saints defense. You need to be great on either offense or defense to be great, right?

There is no spread in my morning paper- but I’d be inclined to take the Colts by more than a score in a prop-style bet. I look at New Orleans- right now, post-November- and see a ten-ish win team that rode a good (obviously earned) draw: beating a ten-ish win teams at home off a bye and catching a Vikings team that was a mess and still went for 28 points and overtime.

The Saints step up big in class now, away from home... I think they are in trouble.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Sorry- I've been away from Frank Helps You Think It All Out. I've been battling a tracheal infection. It has been gross and kinda debilitating.

Nevertheless, this caught my fancy- "Jockeys Battle at Philadelphia Park":

Two jockeys at Philadelphia Park got into a fistfight yesterday, which wouldn't be big news - except the jockeys were riding in the fifth race when the brawl broke out.

Divine Light, ridden by Eriluis Vaz, was disqualified after Vaz punched Mi Helena's jockey, Ademar Santos, in the face as their horses rode along the backstretch. Neither horse finished in the money.

A replay showed that after Vaz threw his punch, Santos appeared to punch Vaz right back. Then Vaz nailed Santos with his whip.

Now that, people, is horse racing.


Friday, January 15, 2010

New Football Stadium at Tulane?

There are a ton of rumors about a new football stadium on the Tulane campus: here (subscription required) and here.

I am loathe to comment because I know absolutely nothing.

Worse, I don't want to say anything because it would only to serve to prick the bubble of enthusiasm. Nevertheless, I will go on record as saying I don't believe a word of it.

Sorry. You just can't build something that big in secret. There is zoning, parking, environmental regulations, etc. It is a serious undertaking. If this is a "real proposal", dozens of people had to be making fairly public inquiries- and you can't keep that sort of thing a secret.

Also, the Tulane administratio and community should be fair. Just a few years back, we didn't like when Tulane tried to determine the future of athletics in secret. It also would be pretty dirty pool if Tulane elected to spend nine figures and use up scarce campus real estate without all stake holders being heard and involved. No more secrets.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Twenty Years Ago

Twenty years ago, I was there.

I knelt at center court and just pounded the giant Tulane "T" over and over again. Then I lit a fire on McAlister Drive in a trash can.

It was the first year Tulane basketball was back (en route to a 4-24 campaign), but that night was awesome. Anthony Reed forever!

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Final BlogPoll

Below is my final BlogPoll ballot of the season. You can find the full poll by clicking thru here to CBS Sports.

Unlike last year, where I gritted my teeth and went with Utah in the top spot, I went with the status quo- crowning Alabama. I had no problem putting undefeated Boise State second though. It is a grown up program that does its best to schedule aggressively. It has whipped enough BCS teams to legitimize both the program and an undefeated campaign.

2Florida 1
3Boise State 2
4Texas 2
5Ohio State 3
6TCU 2
7Brigham Young 3
8Iowa 3
9Penn State 4
10Cincinnati 4
11Oregon 4
12Georgia Tech 3
13Virginia Tech 2
14LSU 2
15Utah 3
16Nebraska 3
17Miami (Florida) 3
18Oregon State 1
19Arizona 3
20Central Michigan 4
23Texas Tech
25Southern Cal
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Oklahoma State (#16), Stanford (#20), West Virginia (#21), East Carolina (#23), Houston (#25).

For accountability’s sake, here is my pre-season ballot. Not bad- Florida, Texas and the Crimson Tide all performed as predicted. Picked the right C-USA champion: East Carolina. No outright misses in the Top 12- harder to do then you think.

My touted pre-season surprise team was in fact a nice surprise. Perhaps my “12” ranking was too aggressive- but Miami did return to the national conversation this year and won some big games.

The biggest miss? Cincinnati is totally absent- mostly due to my prejudiced against the Big East. I thought Pitt would win the League- and they arguably should have beaten the Bearcats. I still think a lot of the Bearcats success is Big East based. I’m not entirely sure they’d win five League games in the SEC. So I’ll take that lump.

Similarly with Mississippi. Obviously, I ranked them too high pre-season. But, I’m not entirely sure they aren’t one of the top twelve teams is the country.

I don’t know what I was thinking with Illinois and Notre Dame. The Illini just could not get out of their own way- decent wins over Michigan and Minnesota, decent games with Fresno and Cincinnati. But the defense was a mess and Juice Williams had a bad year.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Daytona 500 Can't Get Here Soon Enough

What a mess that was. I only had my pizza from Firehouse to keep me happy. Obviously, initial observations center around things like NASCAR can’t get here soon enough and at least the Flyers are playing better. Still, the Eagles got their shots in! DeSean Jackson’s witty twittering, employees spitting on the big star and McNabb’s idiotic pre-game air guitar stylings- classy! Speaking of useless and air guitars, the Jets ran right at and right over our useless friend Dhani Jones all game long.

I’ll post the satisfying bitter recriminations later in the week. I will cheerily mention who needs to pack a bag- both the obvious (Michael Vick) and not so obvious (Sav Rocca). But my father offered an encouraging start: how about defensive coordinator Sean McDermott? Can you name a player who got better? Just what concrete examples can he offer of the team’s defense being elevated as a collective?

Look, Dallas is just better right now than Philadelphia- and some of the match-ups they present are additionally problematic.

On defense, the Cowboys have a very good defensive line- which goes at the Eagles biggest problem (outside of linebackers), the offensive line. Most teams fail when forced to play the guys that populate the sixth, seventh and eighth offensive line roster spots. The Eagles survived, even thrived, scoring the most points in franchise history, until they faced a real quality defensive line.

The Eagles all season covered up for the line’s inadequacies with player consistency- at least guys like Justice, Cole, Jean-Gilles have been around the team for awhile. Individually they are all very competent back-ups. So they got away with it until Jamal Jackson got hurt two weeks ago- forcing the eighth roster spot into the game and an additional guard to center switch. A further weakening of two interior line positions was not helpful facing this Dallas defensive line. And getting that eighth guy on the field was problematic earlier in the season too- remember Oakland? Second, they relied on the young skill players to make big dazzling plays in lieu of moving the ball consistently over a dozen snaps.

Unfortunately, Dallas could overwhelm these multiple offensive line substitutions while only rushing four. Add the fact that RB McCoy and TE Celek can’t block anyone- thus freeing up guys to double WRs Jackson and Maclin- and there went the big play potential.

The defensive shortcomings are more personnel related. The Eagles have zero linebackers who grade out as above average. They all, without exception, stink- although Witherspoon might be close to okay and Foiku is a rookie pressed into service. Regardless, Dallas has the weapons here to exploit this mess- good running game and a marvelous tight end in Jason Witten. The safeties stink too- although Macho Harris is a problem of experience rather than incapacity. He can run and hit.

Add in the fact that Tony Romo is a better quarterback than McNabb, at least this bad, slumping version of Donovan who cannot lift the status quo, and Dallas is multiple scores better.

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Picking Green

Frank Helps You Think It All Out is on a solid 10-4 run picking the Eagles ATS in play-off games, including 2-1 last year: Vikings-win, Giants-win, Cards-loss. So for Philadelphia fans, perhaps it is a good thing that, while I am real uneasy about the Eagles chances tomorrow night, I'm inclined to take the head start. The New York Post obliges and has Dallas -4 over Philadelphia.

At first glance, four is a cheap line. As I wrote earlier in the week, did anybody in Las Vegas even see the game last week? Dallas seems better at every position but kicker and wide receiver. In fact, they are much better on defense- shutting out their last two opponents, holding the Saints to 17 on the road. The Eagles have scored one total offensive touchdown in two games against the Cowboys.

Add in a 24-0 beat down just six days ago, and this line looks a little nuts. No way the Eagles are one point ‘dogs on a neutral field, right?

I tend to think there is an unholy trifecta working in bettors’ minds here. First, Wade Phillips is calling the shots on the other side- and he is deeply distrusted. He is a guy with zero success is big, win-or-go-home spots. I would not want decisions vis-à-vis my entire season rattling around in his brainpan. There is also similar concern, not as deep, about Tony Romo.

Second, most bettors dismiss the magnitude of the beating of last week’s game. Dallas is good- falling down 14 to that defense can make you look worse than you are. Philadelphia got caught up in a game where Dallas successfully went to the emotional well. But, everything went Dallas' way- and they put up a not substantial 24 points.

Third, I think there is a real Desean Jackson price premium right now. Philadelphia really ought to be a touchdown ‘dog here- needing help to be within a score late. Well, for one thing, Jackson is generating that “free, unexpected score” more often than not. For another thing, for all its faults, the defense does force turnovers. Personally, I feel the Eagles will struggle to bust through seventeen points here through routine offense- but I also feel that Jackson on the defnese is 50-50 to bust a single crazy play over sixty minutes and push them into the 24-ish range. Between Jackson and a defense, this line is forced to reflect a favorable Eagles’ “random score” premium of half a touchdown- say three or four points- pushing the line from eight to four.

Ultimately, I don’t feel good about this game at all- Dallas is more than a touchdown better than Philadelphia on paper. But I also think Philadelphia will play a more heady game this time- and it is a division game, third time around. That does not make me confident in scoreboard separation- particularly again considering Philadelphia penchant for big play scores. This is the sort of game where it is real nice to be able to just strike for 50 yards in the absence of regular offensive ability. I’ll take Philadelphia +4 over Dallas.

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Chasing the Pirates

For those of us who are fans of C-USA football, it would be remiss to not mention the circumstances around a real atypical champion of our League: East Carolina.

Tulane missed the Pirates this year. So you might have missed just how unusual ECU’s 8-1 conference mark, including the championship game, was. They lost in overtime to Arkansas in the Liberty Bowl- and lost a trio of decent games to good BCS schools.

It was odd because ECU stood the traditional, post Tommy Bowden C-USA conference model on its head: spread offense, great quarterback play, let’s score 40 and make them catch us.

Frankly, ECU was real mediocre on offense. The numbers here demonstrate a Pirates’ outfit ranked in the bottom half in total offense, points scored and passing offense. The Pirates threw for only 210 yards a game. For comparison, Tulane was at 207- and Tulane was a mess on offense a lot. Pirate quarterback Patrick Pinkney would have sunk a lot of C-USA football teams.

As you might expect, their quarterback position, like Tulane’s, was highly suspect. Yet they won the League. How? By utilizing three rushers to go for a Forte like 2100 yards- ball control, protect the defense and qb in lieu of big point- and then adding in the League’s best defense.

Ball control and defense? In C-USA? It is so weird it deserves mention. Pinkney threw 15 TD passes; Case Kennum at Houston threw 44. The Pirates had 55 rushing attempts in the Liberty Bowl. Very weird.

Is this model sustainable? Bob Toledo thinks it is- he’s never embraced the spread, likes to run the football. Undoubtedly, he has got ammo here for his position here.

I don’t know. The spread style prospers in C-USA for three reasons. First, defensive back is the worst overall position in C-USA. Israel Route being named an all league performer, an honor honestly deserved, tells you all you need to know about the talent level at corner/safety in C-USA. Mostly everyone has trouble generating quality coverage people, let alone nickle and dime backs. The spread attacks right at that problem.

Second, a quarterback without an NFL style body can really prosper in our League. Quaterbacks outside the top 20 style recruit can thrive in this system. Hence they are available. The sole difference between Rice winning bunches in 2008 and being horrid this year was QB Chase Clement- and he was never a pro prospect. C-USA has featured dozens of quarterbacks this decade playing at a competent level that couldn’t get a sniff from Wake Forest or Miami. Plus, the spread then rewards you for getting that position right- you can cover shortfalls in ten other offensive starters with the right guy doing the pitching. The spread is a system that rewards what talent you can find in C-USA.

Third, all those three- and five- step drops, plus misdirection running plays, are easier to block for undersized offensive linemen. Puts a lot more emphasis on technique and being in the right place, than size and brawn. And C-USA needs to find things to emphasize besides raw physical talent.

So I’m not sure if this is the wave of the future in our League. Those three fundamentals are unchanged. ECU was able to steal a march because the very top of our League was down this year- who was a legit candidate for top 25, let along top 40? Still, I never thought I would see a team enjoy a season’s worth of success running the football and playing defense in C-USA.

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Monday, January 04, 2010

Just Pitched My PlayOff Tickets

The New York Post puts Dallas -4 over Philadelphia for Saturday’s upcoming Wild Card game. It kind of makes you wonder if anyone in Las Vegas even saw the thorough 24-0 beat down Dallas administered yesterday afternoon that caused me to trash my Linc play-off tickets. The Eagles’ theme for Frank Helps You Think It All Out all year has been ten wins and “just good enough to lose another NFC Championship Game”. I’ll probably have to amend the latter to read “just good enough to lose to an NFC Championship Game participant”.

The defeat was pretty comprehensive. Where are the Eagles “better” right now than Dallas? Dallas has a better offensive line- by a lot- and defensive line. Dallas’ ‘backers are much better. The running backs are a wash- except the Eagles don’t use them when losing. I come up with kicker and wide outs.

Following that line of thought, perhaps most troubling observing McNabb complete his third straight game of crazily spraying the ball around, Tony Romo looks like the more polished performer. In fact, McNabb might be the worst of the six quarterbacks in the NFC play-offs. Brees is definitely better. Right now, the last few weeks, Romo is too. Are you really sure you would take McNabb over Warner (maybe against a fearsome pass rush?), Rodgers or Favre?

Obviously, the loss was not McNabb’s fault. They rarely are. But the career book on this character is rapidly drawing to a close- and it is going to put him in the “good”, rather than “great” category.

It is very frustrating- but McNabb is not the quality of player who can achieve true greatness. That doesn’t mean he cannot win a Super Bowl- but that he can’t will it himself. I’ve been racking my brain to come up with a play-off game where the Eagles rode McNabb to victory over a superior opponent. Can’t really come up with one. Maybe the Green Bay game with FredEx’s miracle grab- but was a road Green Bay really superior?

Instead, you are left with a quarterback that can, say, routinely elevate a team playing sloppily against a .500 team on the road, but not one in desperate straights. Down 14-0 yesterday, is anyone in that locker room seeking to hitch his wagon to McNabb? The Eagles boldest, rally aroundthe quarterback, run in the Reid era was the 2006 December sweep, in a row, of all three division opponents. Not surprisingly, McNabb was out for that. So yes, there is a reason why McNabb is not a pro Bowl candidate- he is simply not a great player.

No shame in that of course. McNabb has won a lot of games. But not championship, elite games. The road to the Super Bowl is complex without such capability.

It isn’t hopeless of course. Vegas’ confidence is perhaps not misplaced. Wade Phillips is still over there calling some of the shots. The whole game went Dallas’ way and they could still only muster 24 points- not great. But I’ll save that for the pick segment later this week.

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