Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Option Offense in the NFL

The season closed out with a pretty good game, with the Redskins pulling out the win over the Cowboys.  It was a bit sloppy at times (especially when the Cowboys were on offense), but it was still a pretty entertaining game throughout.  I'm looking forward to cheering on the Redskins to defeat the Seahawks next week.

As I was watching the game, I was checking in on Twitter.  I read a lot of snarky comments making fun of people who said an option game could never work in the NFL.  Like the success of Griffin (and, to a lesser extent, Wilson) this year suddenly proved that an option game could be successful in the NFL.

First of all, how about taking a "wait and see" approach.  It's one year.  Let's see what happens next year before we start saying that this can absolutely work, and offenses are trending in that direction, and so on.

That being said...
I do believe that it can work in the NFL, but I don't think every team is suddenly going to have success with the option offense.  You need the right pieces to be able to run it successfully.  The main piece, of course, is the QB.
That's where Griffin comes in.
We talked about him before the draft, but it bears repeating: he's a special QB.  A lot of people knew him for his speed, but he also has a cannon arm, and, more importantly, great accuracy (which a lot more people have seen as this season has progressed).  That's what you need for the option offense to work in the NFL: accuracy from your QB.  The defense needs to respect the passing game.  That's why you don't see Pat White running the option offense somewhere (or the Vick brothers, or Eric Crouch, etc.).

In college, it's all about speed, and having better athletes than the other team.  The threat of passing has to be there, but not too much.  In college, the box can be stacked with 9 guys and you can still run a successful option offense.  In the NFL, with no threat of a consistent passing game, the defense can feel free to stack the box and destroy the offense before it gets going.

So, while the statement, "The option offense can't succeed in the NFL" is not exactly true, it's not entirely false, either.  It can succeed, but only with the right pieces.  Last I checked, there aren't a bunch of RGIII's laying around.

I was going to discuss the basics of the option offense, but it's hard to do without diagrams, and I'm fairly tired at the moment.  Perhaps I'll delve into the specifics a little later this week.

Week 17 Picks and ROY Talk

The Cats lost a tough one on the road against Louisville yesterday. Louisville is a good team, #3 in the nation, with a great defense so I'm not too concerned. UL went on a run that concluded the first half and opened up the second half, and it looked like a blowout was looming. The Cats remained calm, for the most part, and fought their way back before shooting themselves out of the game with missed free throws. Going 11/23 from the line in a game you lost by three points is a red flag, but Calipari's teams have never been known for their ability to knock down free throws. What I am worried about is Alex Poythress. He's shooting 64% from the field and 46% from 3P, so he should take more shots, right? Right. Only he doesn't want to. He's incredibly passive when he can get just about any shot he wants at the college level. He played just 15 minutes (three in the second half, didn't see the court for the last 10 minutes of the game) and it was the right call. He was soft on defense, sloppy with his passes and not looking to take advantage of his man defensively. Archie Goodwin often plays out of control (he's going to be Russell Westbrook-lite when he grows up) but you can live with that. It appears easier to get a guy to tone it down, than it is to ramp it up so I don't worry about Westbrook. Poythress has me nervous. If we get the Poythress that showed up yesterday, this team isn't going far at all.

Speaking of bad basketball, after getting off to a surprising 12-13 start, Orlando has lost five straight. All five losses have come to teams with sub .500 records. That's what I like to see. Shabazz Muhammad has been heating up for UCLA and would look great in an Orlando uniform.

Week 17 picks. This saddens me because regular season football is no more.

Falcons over Buccaneers- Even with nothing to play for, I think the Falcons give it a good effort. They'd like to stay undefeated at home this season, and I'd think with the first round off, you'd want to keep your offensive starters in rhythm if even for half. Also, the Bucs stink.

Jets over Bills- Because I can see Sanchez having a good day, and the media being more than willing to give him another chance because the one week benching really made him take the game more seriously. It's all bologna. He still stinks.

Bengals over Ravens- Neither team has much to play for, but I hope the Bengals don't let up and pull the starters. The offense hasn't looked great lately and we need the snaps to hopefully work out some kinks in time for Round 1. I imagine Baltimore gives their starters a series or two before pulling them. Because they're old.

Bears over Lions- Matt Stafford is about to break the record for most passing attempts in a single season...and he has 17 touchdowns! 17! How is it possible that he's throwing the ball around 45 times per game, many of them to the best receiver in the game, and he has a little over a touchdown a game? Is this a guy you want to give $100 million dollars to?

Titans over Jaguars- Poor Jaguars. They will likely get the #1 or #2 pick in what is a terrible draft for quarterbacks. Blaine Gabbert is still on the hook and MJD will likely hold out again in the last year of his deal. On the bright side, it appears Tim Tebow will be there next season. So there's that.

Sidebar: I'd try like hell to get MJD off of the Jaguars this offseason. He hasn't had a carry in over two months, and he's still the teams leading rusher by over 150 yards. This team has been awful all season. Why the hell would a running back come back to waste a prime year on a 2 win team? I think you could get him for cheap, and an extension wouldn't kill you as he's coming off of his worst year. What I'm really trying to say here, is that I hope Cincinnati throws a fourth rounder to Jacksonville for MJD this offseason. But I know better.

Texans over Colts- I'd love to pick the Colts here with Pagano being back on the sidelines, but Houston's just better. If they win, they lock up the #1 seed and I don't think they let that get by them.

Panthers over Saints- I think Cam keeps up his stretch of great play (15 TD's, 1 TO in his last six games) to get the win. The Saints have showed some fight in the last couple of weeks, but they're an old team that just wants to go home. Ron Rivera is pulling out all the stops in an attempt to save his job, so that should be compelling television.

Eagles over Giants- The Giants don't look good enough to just "turn it on" this year. Vick is auditioning for next season and what could be one final contract. I think he gets the win.

Steelers over Browns- Seeing as I don't care about this game, look at this humorous photograph of Mike Tomlin captured after last weeks loss.

Chiefs over Broncos- I want another crack at Denver. And the only way we get it in the first round is if they lose here, and the Patriots win. I also recognize there is ZERO chance of the Chiefs beating the Broncos.

Vikings over Packers- I want Adrian Peterson in the playoffs. It's as simple as that.

Patriots over Dolphins- Miami usually gives NE trouble at the end of the season, but not this year. Pats get enough of an early cushion to still pull their starters without concern.

Chargers over Raiders- Terrelle Pryor gets the start! Good for him. Love seeing new guys get a start and I'm hoping he does well. Still need Oakland to lose for draft pick purposes though.

49ers over Cardinals- Any chance Ryan Lindley bounces back to become a competent starter or even backup at this point? I can't see it. Hoyer gets the start here. He's probably awful too.

Seahawks over Rams- I like this Seahawks team. I'd like to see them keep winning, even if it means Bill Simmons was right about them being a sleeper.

Redskins over Cowboys- Because I want RG3 in the playoffs. Because he's on a great run and that knee has to be feeling better. Because he's going to prove that he's the Rookie of the Year here and put an end to any foolish talk that Luck should win it.

Another sidebar: I hear a lot of "Luck should win ROY! Look at that pro style offense he's had to run". I don't care. This isn't the "All things considered Rookie of the Year" award. He's running a "pro style offense" to the tune of 22 PPG, good for 18th in the league. Griffin and Wilson have their teams at 4th and 8th in the league, respectively, running "non pro style offenses". I don't care how complex an offense is if it's not working. I don't care how simple an offense is if it is working. I don't care if Luck is projected to be the best going forward (I'd still take Griffin). All three teams are in the playoff mix so there goes that argument, and the AFC South is considerably easier than the NFC East and NFC West. Griffin is the Rookie of the Year. Wilson is second. And you could make an argument for Alfred Morris (1,478 total yards, 10 TDs) and Doug Martin (1,766 Total yards, 11 TDs) finishing before Luck. However it shakes, Andrew Luck is not the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Picks

I am also a big fan of the Choo deal, but mainly because it gets him out of the AL Central.  He seemed to put up big numbers against the Tigers, and I'm glad to see him go.  He's a good player, and I think he'll help out the Reds quite a bit.  The upgrade from Stubbs to Choo is a pretty big one.
On another Reds-related note...
Ryan Freel died yesterday of an apparent suicide.  That made me pretty sad.  I always loved watching him play.  He always played balls-to-the-wall, which always led to injuries, but it also led to some amazing defensive plays.

If I were Trout, I think I would roll with some kind of extension, but with a player opt-out clause after 3-5 years.  It would protect himself if he suffered a catastrophic injury, but it would also allow the Angels to feel like they had him locked up for a little while longer at a discount.

Sadly, I haven't been able to watch much basketball.  It always comes down to a crappy, blocky stream, and it's hard to watch a basketball game like that.  Too much back-and-forth.  Gives me a headache.

Picks:

Green Bay over Tennessee
I'm glad the Packers have the division locked up already, because this game worries me a little bit.  Not that the Titans are a good team or anything (as we all saw last Monday), but the Packers have a habit of playing down to their competition.  After watching Peterson roll for 210 yards a few weeks ago, I could see Johnson having a big game here, the Packers offense sputtering a bit, and the Titans pulling the upset.
Of course, it's much more likely that the Packers win by 30, but a close game (or a loss) is not outside the realm of possibility here.
One more note: I've read a lot of articles mentioning the Packers lack of a running game.  I know they don't have the best rushing game in the league, but here are their rushing totals going back to Week 9, and who they did it against:
Arizona: 176
Lions: 95
Giants: 116
Vikings: 152
Lions: 140
Bears: 113

Not too shabby.  Again, not the best in the league, but that's a pretty solid running game right there.

Dallas over New Orleans
Getting DeMarco Murray back has done wonders for the Cowboys offense.  They'll eke out a close one here.

Indianapolis over Kansas City
If the Colts win this, I think they clinch a playoff spot.  A pretty nice turnaround for them, even on a cupcake schedule.

Buffalo over Miami
Spiller!

San Diego over New York Jets
Although nothing would make me happier than seeing McElroy lead the Jets to a win after Sanchez's miserable game on Monday, I just don't think it'll happen.  The Jets have more problems than just their QB.
It's looking like Tebow will be a Jaguar next year.  Can't say I'm surprised.  I wish him the best.

Washington over Philadelphia
I really want the Redskins to blow the doors off here, but I think it'll be close.

Cincinnati over Pittsburgh
Like you, I'm a bit worried about this game.  Which is ridiculous, because the Steelers just don't look very good this year.  Still, I wonder if the Bengals can win this game.  Obviously, I think they will, but it'll be harder than it should be.

St. Louis over Tampa Bay
As you mentioned, it looks like the Bucs have quit again.  Now that they can't blame it on Haynesworth or the head coach, who will they blame it on?

Carolina over Oakland
I've read that Pryor could get some significant minutes in this game.  I'm actually pretty excited about that.  I don't think he's going to be very good, but might as well throw him out there and see what you have.

New England over Jacksonville
Henne will put up some solid numbers, but it won't be enough.  For all the Patriots problems (we've discussed a lot of those here and in person), they can still pile on points in a hurry.  And the Jaguars just aren't a very good team.

Houston over Minnesota
That Ponder/Peterson stat is incredible.  Not unbelievable, because I've seen both of them play.  But still, kind of amazing.
The most amazing thing to me about Peterson is that defenses have been stacking the box against him, since they don't respect Ponder at all (nor should they).  He's been running against 8-9 man fronts.  And he's STILL destroying everyone.  It's amazing.
The Vikings will lose this game, because Ponder will need to make some throws and he won't be able to do it.  But Peterson should still go for 100+.

Denver over Cleveland
You say Peyton pads his stats.  I say Peyton throws 2 picks against a pretty good defense.  But the Browns will still lose, because they're not very good.
I've watched quite a few Browns games this year (thanks, Game Rewind!), and here's what I've noticed about Weeden: he doesn't seem to read defenses very well.  This isn't surprising, considering his age and the college system he played in.  His process seems to be, "Look at receivers.  Are they open?  Yes?  Throw.  No?  Don't throw."  He doesn't seem to predict when they will be open, and he's terrible at "throwing his receiver open".
Maybe that's something he can learn, but I don't think he will.  Not fast enough, anyway.  He was so used to just throwing to the open receiver in college, that he didn't have to throw into tight coverage very often.  And that's biting him right now.

Chicago over Arizona
Because Arizona is terrible.

Baltimore over New York Giants
This is more wishful thinking than anything.  I really don't want the Giants in the playoffs.  A loss here (combined with a Redskins win) really puts a damper on their chances. Please Baltimore: win this game.

San Francisco over Seattle
I know they've put up 50 points in consecutive weeks.  That's very impressive.  But I'm still not a believer in the Seahawks.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Week 16 Picks

I forgot to mention the Shin-Soo Choo deal in my last post. I like it. Basically, the Reds got Choo and $3.5 million dollars cash for Drew Stubbs and minor leaguers. Choo will fit in nicely as a lead off hitter for this offense, a solid defender and is only has one year left on his contract. Initially I had my questions about him playing CF, but he is a Scott Boras client playing for a contract. Boras will have him in tip top shape at CF so that he can suck the soul out of someone in free agency next summer. And when he leaves, speedster and top prospect Billy Hamilton will hopefully be able to fill in a center, as well as batting lead off. It sucks to move on from Stubbs, but he wasn't getting any better. Since a surprising rookie year where he posted 20 HR's/30 SB's, he's had progressively worse seasons and just turned 28. I wish him well in Cleveland, but I'm not sad to see him go.

Speaking of baseball, I thought this was an interesting article. I've thought about how I'd handle things if I were in Trout's cleats, but it's impossible to say. The premise is this: The Angels could throw $100 million at Trout right now to lock him in for the next 6-8 seasons. They save themselves some money if they can buy out free agency years, and Trout is 21 years old with a guaranteed $100 million coming to him. Only he can double or even triple it if he waits it out. What road do you think you'd take?

Don't look now, but after winning four of their last six, the Orlando Magic find themselves just one game out of the eighth playoff seed. That can't happen. A four game massacre at the hands of the Miami Heat benefits us in no way. I've heard rumors of a JJ Redick trade, and I fully support the move to trade any veterans. I'm a big fan of JJ Redick and would hate to see him go, but he's a free agent that can help a playoff team. A real playoff team, not a fringe eighth seed. I've heard rumors that David Khan wants him in Minnesota, and is willing to give up Derrick Williams and maybe more. I'd do that deal in a heartbeat. Williams was the #2 pick just a year ago, and has been playing behind Kevin Love in Minnesota. I'd love to take a chance on him in Orlando. Glen Davis will be out 4-to-6 weeks with a bum shoulder, but was playing very well before his injury. He's averaging 16 ppg and 8 rpg this season, and only makes $6.4 million this year. He can absolutely help a playoff team, though his hustle is appreciated in Orlando. I look forward to seeing how rookie Andrew Nicholson will produce at PF in Davis' absence.

Two weeks of regular season football left. This saddens me.

Falcons over Lions- Welp. I sure was wrong about the Falcons against the Giants. I don't think they win another 34-0 game, but I do think they beat the Lions comfortably. With the Lions probably getting in the hole early, Calvin Johnson may break Jerry Rice's receiving record tonight. 182 yards against the likes of Asante Samuel or Dunta Robinson seems very feasible.

Cowboys over Saints- Though they beat us two weeks ago, the Cowboys did the Bengals a solid last week by beating the Steelers. In return, I am picking them to beat the Saints. Let's call it even, fellas.

Packers over Titans- You know how bad the Titans are? After all Mark Sanchez's follies, a FOUR point loss to Tennessee was enough for Rex Ryan to throw up his hands with Sanchez.

Colts over Chiefs- Secretly hoping the Colts secure the third seed because I think Cincinnati can beat them, should we make the playoffs. Also, the Chiefs are bad.

Dolphins over Bills- 0: the number of minutes I will spend watching this game.

Chargers over Jets- While what's going on with Sanchez is hilarious, it's a shame Tebow is getting a raw deal. It makes perfect sense to start Tebow here, but if he succeeds, Jets management opens themselves up to criticism for not playing him sooner. So Greg McElroy gets the start. And the loss.

Redskins over Eagles- I need RG3 in the playoffs. It's as simple as that. And I think he gets there.

Bengals over Steelers- Terrified about this game. More than the playoff game against Houston last year. More than the last playoff game against the Jets. I'm scared because the Steelers aren't good. If we win this game, we're in the playoffs. If we can't beat a .500 Steelers team with the playoffs on the line, I will remain fearful for our ceiling as a team.

Rams over Buccaneers- The Rams aren't a good team, but they haven't quit yet. Tampa Bay has quit for the year, after losing 41-0 to the Saints. The Bucs have a 3,400 yard passer, 1,200 yard rusher and 1,200 yard receiver. I refuse to believe that Saints defense held them, or anyone for that matter, scoreless without them quitting.

Panthers over Raiders- Cam Newton: 95+ QB rating in each of the last five games, 13 TD's, 0 TO's in the same stretch. Carson Palmer: Is still Carson Palmer.

Patriots over Jaguars- I'm hearing a lot about the Patriots fighting out of that 28 point hole against San Fran (which was impressive), and not nearly enough about how they got in to that 28 point hole against San Fran. I still don't believe in the Pats. They win big here and the stories will start circulating about another Super Bowl run. I'm not buying it.

Texans over Vikings- Adrian Peterson has 700 less rushing yards than Christian Ponder has passing yards. That's incredible. He has my MVP vote, and I'm hoping he gets to Eric Dickerson's record of 2105 yards.

Broncos over Browns- Peyton pads his stats for another MVP trophy against another sub .500 team.

Bears over Cardinals- Can't wait for the Cardinals to give up a second rounder for Kirk Cousins this offseason. Larry Fitzgerald weeps.

Giants over Ravens -Not sure on this one. If Baltimore wins, they clinch the AFC North and may rest their starters for week 17 (against Cincy) for the playoffs. Then again, if Cincy beats Pittsburgh tomorrow it won't matter. If the Giants win, Cincy can win the division in Week 17 against Baltimore. Neither team is playing well right now, but I'll take the Giants on the road.

Seahawks over 49ers- What I wouldn't give to be Matt Flynn. This should be a great Sunday Night game. Seahawks are undefeated at home and still haven't clinched a playoff spot yet. Not to mention, they've scored 108 points in the past two games combined. San Francisco played about 2.5 quarters of amazing football last week, but that last quarter and a half was no good. Granted, I don't think that Seattle offense can come back from a 28 point deficit (despite their recent explosion), but you're also not going to get up 28 points on that Seattle defense. I think Seattle gets the victory at home.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bengal Talk and Week 15 Picks

The Bengals won a game they should have this past Thursday against the Eagles to move to 8-6 on the season. Still, I can't shake the feeling that this is the same exact team as last year. Maybe a bit worse, even though the individual players are a bit better. Last season we went 9-8 (playoffs included), with each loss coming to a playoff team. Not bad for a team with a rookie QB and a rookie coordinator coming off of a lockout shortened off season. And even though the Pro Bowl is worthless, sending four guys (all 24 years old or younger) gives us a nice foundation. Add in the draft pick from the Carson Palmer heist, and Cincy was in prime position to take a step forward.

Only we haven't. Not yet, at least. We currently sit in the sixth seed and control our own destiny to get to the postseason. If we win at Pittsburgh next Sunday and at home against Baltimore the following week, we're back into the playoffs in consecutive years. Not in terrible shape, but it shouldn't be this close. Losses to the Browns and Dolphins earlier in the season are unacceptable for a team looking to take the next step. Last week's unraveling against Dallas was painful to watch. The four Pro Bowlers from last season (Andy Dalton, AJ Green, Jermaine Gresham and Geno Atkins) have each had better seasons. But any growth from this team will come back to Dalton. He has improved this season, so I will give him his credit. His quarterback rating and completion percentage have went up (despite the fact that he has no pass catching RB's for easy check-downs), his deep ball looks a little better and he is looking to run a little more in big situations (9 first downs, 1 TD last season to 14 first downs, 4 TDs this year with two games left to go). He's also 25 years, the third person to ever throw 20 TD's in his first two seasons (Marino, P. Manning) and is making peanuts (Matt Flynn makes over three times as much to hold Russell Wilson's clipboard) so I can't complain TOO much...

...but his pocket presence appears to have taken a step backwards he still misses entirely too many open throws. The line isn't great but he has been sacked 38 times (2nd most behind Rodgers) and a good number of those are on him. He senses pressure and panics. What makes this especially puzzling is the fact that he didn't seem to do this last year as a rookie. Not this much, at least. And his accuracy is only slightly improved, as I've seen him overthrow wide open receives once too many times for my liking. I have hopes that getting our offensive line healthy (two opening day starters have yet to play a game) and getting him a nice possession receiver to be the TJ Houshmandzadeh to AJ Green's Chad Johnson will give him a security blanket so he doesn't feel the need to force an overthrow. I don't think he will ever an elite QB with the likes of Rodgers/Brady/Manning, but I think with some work he can settle in nicely to that next tier of guys along with the likes of Schaub/Ryan.

I wish him the best, but count me among those skeptical that giving $125 million dollars in guaranteed money to Josh Hamilton to function in Los Angeles, will end well.

Week 15 picks. This season is flying by...like they all do.

Giants over Falcons- This very well could be a playoff preview. I'd pick the Giants to win in Atlanta in the playoffs, and I'll pick them to do so here. The Falcons are coming off of a bad loss to the Panthers, and the Giants are coming of whipping the Saints. The Falcons rushing attack has been weak lately, which plays right into the Giants hands. They aren't great at stopping the run, but long third down situations will allow them to let the pass rush loose. Giants win.

Packers over Giants- That Bears offense has looked out of sync lately and have lost their last two games at home. The Pack is on a nice run, sans the NYG game, that will continue here and wrap up the NFC North for them.

Browns over Redskins- It's looking like RG3 won't start tomorrow, and it's questionable whether he will play at all. Kirk Cousins has looked nice in minimal opportunity, but that Browns defense is legit and should be able to contain Alfred Morris. And Cousins is on the road for his first start? Nah.

Vikings over Rams- I'm rooting for Adrian Peterson to keep up this amazing campaign and break Eric Dickerson's single season rushing record. Also, kudos to Dickerson for being honest and saying he doesn't want Peterson to break his record. The fact that Peterson is doing this with Christian Ponder at quarterback makes it even more amazing. Minnesota is on the outside looking in at the playoff race, but Peterson would probably get my MVP vote at this point.

Dolphins over Jaguars- Worst battle of Florida ever.

Bucs over Saints- Remember when each of these teams was making a late season surge for the playoffs? Then they each remembered they were mediocre teams and promptly lost three straight? Me neither.

Broncos over Ravens- Not that I disagree with the move, but a playoff team firing their offensive coordinator less than a month before the playoffs has to be a bad omen. More bad omens: In the past two weeks, Joe Flacco has been beaten by two rookies (RG3, Cousins) and Charlie Batch.

Texans over Colts- My goodness. When the Texans lose, they LOSE. I think they relish the chance to beat up on the Colts after all the losses Indy handed to them over the years, but that Patriots beating has me doubting their chances in the playoffs.

Seahawks over Bills- The Seahawks are terrible on the road but the Bills are terrible everywhere.

Lions over Cardinals- Ryan Lindley may be the worst quarterback I've ever seen. Brian Hoyer has to get a shot soon, doesn't he?

Panthers over Chargers- Cam Newton has been a delight to watch over the past month or so. Phillip Rivers has been bad most of this season...which is delightful to me. I think the Panthers nab another victory.

Cowboys over Steelers- I really need the Cowboys to get the victory here. I have little faith in them, but stranger things have happened.

Chiefs over Raiders- As of now, that Raiders draft pick headed to Cincy would be in the top three of the second round. Not good enough. I want the first pick in the second round. Let's go Chiefs!

49ers over Patriots- Not sold on the Patriots whatsoever. Really hoping San Fran comes in and lays waste to them.

Titans over Jets- WHO?!? Who, I ask, thought this MIGHT be a good Monday night game before the season began?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

RIP Pacquiao and Week 14 Picks

First things first, RIP to any hopes of a Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight.


Sheesh.

Earlier this week, the Magic defeated the Lakers in Los Angeles. And it as FANTASTIC to watch. I didn't catch all of the game, but did see a good bit of Orlando's 40 point fourth quarter, including 35 points in a seven minute stretch, that sealed the game. Jameer Nelson killed the Lakers, as he always has. Arron Afflalo hung a cool 30 on Kobe Bryant. Glen Davis and Nikola Vucevic combined for 40 points, 23 rebounds and 6 blocks compared to the immensely more talented Howard/Gasol's 32 points, 22 rebounds and 1 block. And to ice the cake, intentionally fouling Dwight Howard in the 4th quarter helped to seal the game as he went 7-14 from the stripe in the 4th quarter alone. Just a great win all around. The main thing I picked up from this victory is that Dwight Howard still isn't Dwight Howard. He's maybe 75% of himself. The problem is also with his lateral movement, than with his vertical leaping. He's not as explosive getting off the ground as he was, but when you're 6'11 with long arms and great defensive timing you don't need to get 40 inches in the air. Word to Tim Duncan. But Howard was getting killed on the pick and roll because he isn't quick enough to move his feet like he used to. And neither are Gasol or Antawn Jamison. For most of Orlando's run with Rashard Lewis playing PF alongside Howard the defense worked. Not because Lewis was a great defender, but because he knew where to be and how to funnel people into Howard. Neither Gasol or Jamison has the foot speed of Lewis, and Dwight isn't fast enough to cover up for their mistakes. This lead to five dunks/lay ups in the fourth quarter for Nikola Vucevic. Because on the pick and roll switch, none of the Lakers were quick enough to catch up to Nikola Vucevic. Read that last sentence again. The video below brought tears to my eyes.



I like this Orlando team. They don't have a lot of talent but they play hard, and I think coach Jacques Vaughn deserves credit for that. I think he's been playing too many players (11 guys saw minutes in the first half the other night), but that goes with finding a rotation and trying to find a good balance of minutes between veteran guys on a rebuilding team, and young guys that might not have earned big minutes yet. But it's hard to really get mad at a team that is busting their collective ass, night in and night out. Nikola Vucevic has been a pleasant surprise at center. Rookies Moe Harkless (a favorite of mine because he spells Moe with the "e" like the presumably late and certainly great Moe Szyslak) and Andrew Nicholson has shown flashes of potential. Also, GM Rob Hennigan is looking like a smart man for the way he handled the Dwight Howard situation, given the limited time/options he was presented with. Keeping Dwight wasn't an option, but turning him into Andrew Bynum or Brook Lopez were also options Hennigan didn't jump at. Dwight has been good, but the back is clearly an issue. His free throws and defense have slipped, and he's already mentioned that he would be open to leaving the Lakers. Meanwhile, Andrew Bynum hasn't played a game for Philadelphia and might not ever suit up for the 76ers. Brook Lopez is still having a nice season, but he still can't rebound, he's already missing games with a foot injury and i making max money. I admit, I did want Pau Gasol in return from the Lakers so we could ship him to Houston for some of their pieces. But with the way Gasol has looked this season, I'm not sure what return you could bring in for him. The lesson here. is that I will no longer doubt Rob Hennigan. The upcoming draft is an extremely weak one, and Orlando is currently slated to pick around 8th or 9th, which is fine. The 2014 draft is allegedly where the talent is hiding. By the, Orlando will potentially be in the last year of deals for Gilbert Arenas, Quentin Richardson (yep, still paying them), Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson. $45 million in those four players alone. Plenty of cap space not tied up in Howard's bad back or Bynum's bad knees. Pretty good. Pre-tty, pre-tty good.

Picks

Rams over Bills- The Rams are coming off of two straight victories. That's really all I got here.

Falcons over Panthers- I was THIS close to picking the Panthers here. But then I remember how much Ron Rivera whiffed on that final drive in the last Falcons game. The Panthers safeties are still vulnerable, and I think Matt Ryan takes advantage.

Bengals over Cowboys- Both teams fighting for playoff spots. I'm a little worried about this game. but I think we get the victory here. Benjarvus Green-Ellis has looked great lately, and Andy Dalton has been reaping the benefits with defenses now respecting the run. We've won four straight and will probably need to win out to keeps hopes alive for a six seed.

Browns over Chiefs- Eek.

Titans over Colts- Cincy is really going to need some help from the Colts and/or Steelers to slip in the playoffs. Here's to hoping Chris Johnson busts an 80 yard run or two in an upset.

Bears over Vikings- Yikes, that Christian Ponder bandwagon really ran out of gas, eh? He's looked awful.

Chargers over Steelers- Again, not because this is what I think will happen, but this is what I need to happen. Had the Ravens not sucked last week, we'd currently be in the sixth seed looking down at the Steelers. As is, I'm depending on Phillip Rivers to come through here. My hopes are less than high for that to come to fruition.

Buccaneers over Eagles- Bryce Brown looks the real deal. Nic Foles? Not so much.

Redskins over Ravens- Not picking against RG3 until I have a reason to do so. WE've discussed it, but I agree 100% about the Redskins not letting him open up the offense. The plays they run remind of when a backup QB comes into the game. Run, run, screen, run, slant, option, screen, etc.

Jaguars over Jets- Here's to hoping that the "Tebow!" chants in Jacksonville are deafening. And that Mark Sanchez does enough Mark Sanchez things to make Rex Ryan pull the plug.

49ers over Dolphins- Not a great game for Colin Kaepernick, but it's to be expected. This is why you start him now so he can take his lumps in the regular season. I think he bounces back with a nice game here.

Packers over Lions- Hey man, you take that back about Stafford. He's been overthrowing guys entirely too much for anyone to get a clean look at an interception. He's clearly taken a page out of Tim Tebow's playbook there.

Texans over Patriots- I think the Texans win big here. I'm hearing the Patriots getting a lot of love and I just don't see it with them. This seems like a 3 interception game from Brady, with Jon Joseph coming back from injury.






Saturday, December 8, 2012

Week 14 Picks

How is it week 14 already?  This is ridiculous.

Buffalo over St. Louis
I know that the Rams have a pretty good defense, and they could give the Bills terrific running game some trouble.  But the Bills defense has been looking better lately.  I believe in the Bills offense more than I believe in the Rams offense.
Although I don't feel good about using the phrase, "I believe in the Bills offense."

Carolina over Atlanta
The Panthers came within a couple plays of beating the Falcons in Atlanta earlier in the season.  Newton has been looking better recently.  I think the Panthers pull off the upset here.

Cincinnati over Dallas
It'll be close (because that's the only way the Bengals know how to play, apparently), but I think the Bengals will pull this out.  Probably due to a late-game Romo turnover.  I'll say a fumble.

Cleveland over Kansas City
The Browns defense is looking pretty good these days.  And, with Richardson running like a madman, Weeden hasn't had to shoulder too much of the load.
And the Chiefs are starting Brady Quinn.

Indianapolis over Tennessee
Luck goes for 350+ and 3 TDs over the Titans.  The combination of Johnson and Locker won't be enough for the Titans to keep up.

Jacksonville over New York Jets
Tough game to call.  But, after barely eking out a win over the hapless Cardinals, I think they'll lose to the Henne-led Jaguars.  Either way, we'll be watching this game (or, at the very least, flipping over to it frequently).  The Jets have become a fantastic team to watch.  Every time we flip over, something terrible is happening.

Chicago over Minnesota
Adrian Peterson went off against the Packers.  210 yards on 21 carries.  And they still lost, because Ponder is terrible, especially without Harvin.  They'll need another otherworldly game from Peterson to even have a chance.  Which is possible, but they'll still need Ponder to be a competent QB.  Which he won't be.

Pittsburgh over San Diego
Judging by how they've looked recently, this is how this game will go: the Chargers will stick with the Steelers for the majority of the game, then lose it at the end with a couple Rivers turnovers.  Personally, I can't wait.

Tampa Bay over Philadelphia
The Eagles are terrible.

Washington over Baltimore
I've heard a lot of talk about Griffin after last week's game.  He played great, but it was the Redskins defense that really won that game.  He's capable of being more than he has been.  I love the offense the Redskins have been running, but I feel like they can open it up even more.  Have him throw downfield more.  That'll make all the underneath stuff even more effective.
That being said, I doubt they'll do that here, but I think they'll squeak by the Ravens.  The defense will nab a couple interceptions, and the offense will do just enough.  Something like 24-20 sounds about right.

San Francisco over Miami
Remember when San Francisco was the no-doubt-best-team-in-the-league?  It really wasn't that long ago, really.  The 49ers will have a tough time getting the running game going, but Kaepernick will show why he's the starter and make a handful of great plays.  Niners by 10.

New Orleans over New York Giants
The Saints are pretty much out of the playoffs at this point, but they'll keep playing hard.  They're mad after the loss to the Falcons.  They'll come out firing on all cylinders here.

Seattle over Arizona
Jeepers, the Cardinals are really, really bad.

Green Bay over Detroit
Jennings is back, and should take on an even larger role this week than he did last week.  Which is good, because Nelson is out this week.  And, with the lack of a pass rush, the Packers are going to need their offense to be rolling.  Perhaps a lot of no-huddle?  Rodgers always looks better operating out of the no-huddle.
Anyway, Stafford will throw at least 2 interceptions.

Houston over New England
The Patriots start out a little slow.  The Texans open up a 10 point lead early, and the Patriots can't recover. Should be a good game.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Week 13 Picks

I updated my previous post to reflect the score at the time of each sack.

I was going to comment on UK a bit, but I think you covered it a little better than I could.  So...congrats.

Picks.

Green Bay over Minnesota
I'm scared of Adrian Peterson, because I'm not sure he's human.  But, if the Packers can slow him down a little (and I think they will), they'll win this easily.  I hope you're right, that they just come in and blow the doors off.  I think they will.  Especially with Harvin being ruled out.
It's worth noting that, while last week's game was painful, it doesn't really kill them.  They have the Bears coming up in a couple weeks.  If they win that game - and trade wins and losses the rest of the way - the Packers have the division won.  Even if they lose the division, they still have a great shot at the wild card (at the moment, they're sitting in the 5th seed).
Still, you never like to see your team lose 38-10.

Jacksonville over Buffalo
I'm with you on this.  The Jaguars have been looking pretty good of late.  It's almost like Blaine Gabbert wasn't a very good quarterback.  I know.  I'm as shocked as you.

Chicago over Seattle
It'll be close, but I think Russell Wilson will throw a couple picks, and that'll be the difference.

Detroit over Indianapolis
The Lions defense has been looking better as of late.  They'll give Luck some trouble.  Calvin Johnson has a huge game.  I can see this being something like 28-24.

Carolina over Kansas City
The Belcher story is one of the worst I've heard.  It's terrible.  I don't know how you play after that, but it looks like they're going to.
There's a chance the defense could really step up and play an inspired game.  But I don't see it.  I think Cam will have his way with the Chiefs.  Even a bonkers game by Charles won't be enough for the Chiefs.

New England over Miami
The Patriots have been putting up some insane numbers recently.  I don't think they'll do that here, but I think they'll win by at least 10.

New York Jets over Arizona
I love watching these Jets.  Love it.  They're an absolute trainwreck, and it's immensely entertaining.  They'll win here, but only because Lindley is atrocious.  I can't wait for the countless cuts to Fireman Ed, sans helmet.  Man...I hate that guy.

San Francisco over St. Louis
I'm with you on Kaepernick.  Unless he starts looking terrible, I don't see how you can go back to Alex Smith.  I do think defenses will adjust and he won't look quite as good as he has, but I do think he's a better quarterback than Alex Smith.
I read that article you mentioned.  It's terrible.

Houston over Tennessee
Man...the Titans are pretty bad.

Tampa Bay over Denver
Have we already started seeing Manning's decline for the season?  He hasn't looked quite as sharp the past couple weeks.  Fatigue seems to be setting in.  They're still winning, but I don't think they'll keep it up here.  By the playoffs, his arm is going to be shot.

Baltimore over Pittsburgh
The Steelers have to start Hoyer, right?  After seeing that Batch has absolutely nothing left in the tank, I don't think they have another option.

Cleveland over Oakland
Weeden!  Palmer!
I feel pretty bad for Oakland.  Al Davis finally dies, they bring in a GM and a new head coach, and they're still screwed by the decisions of the past.  And that continues into next year.

Cincinnati over San Diego
The Chargers have been another fun team to watch this year.  They can look really good at times, and absolutely terrible in others.  What happened to Rivers?

Dallas over Philadelphia
The Eagles.  There's another fun team to watch.  It's a joy to watch them fail every week.  The Cowboys aren't great, but they should be able to blow out the Eagles.

Washington over New York Giants
Because why not?

Kentucky Basketball and Week 13 Picks

Good work on the Aaron Rodgers vs. the NYG front line analysis. In watching a bit of that game, I was thinking the same thing you were: that looked like old Rodgers. I've always thought he was holding out for the big play, a la Roesthlisberger. I would be interested to see the score of the game at the time of the sacks, as holding on to the ball a little longer when you are looking for a big play is understandable. Somewhat understandable, at least.

Kentucky basketball is coming off of two straight losses, including the first loss at home in the Calipari era. I'm not worried yet. This is an extremely young team, and the pieces for success are certainly there.Of all the guys that have played in every game this season, four are freshman, one is a transfer and one is a sophomore that played a whopping 12 minutes a game last year. Archie Goodwin is Russell Westbrook-esque, for better or worse. Alex Poythress isn't as aggressive as he needs to be. Willie Cauley-Stein is a fantastic athlete that doesn't know how to play basketball. And Nerlens Noel is overrated. He was the high school player of the year...after averaging a whopping 12 points and 7 rebounds a game his senior year. He was ranked the #1 overall pick coming out of high school and is a likely top 3 pick in the upcoming NBA draft. None of that is his fault. He's just overrated at this point in his career. And that's not a knock on him, because I like him. He has a MKG-sque motor that keeps him involved in every play, has very active hands and is an underrated passer. He's going to be fine, but he's just not there yet. The team has a lot of talented pieces that don't know how to play with each other yet. Goodwin is playing out of position at PG until Harrow gets his legs back. Poythress is learning to fit into the offense after being the man in high school. Noel has lofty expectations on him yet, and no established point guard to get him easy buckets. Cauley-Stein runs the floor well, but his game is painfully raw. If Wiltjer's shot is off, he's worthless. I really think Harrow getting back on the court will help a lot of these problems. If we're still having these same issues during conference play, I'll start worrying.

Meanwhile, UK football has decided to make Mark Stoops their new head coach and I love it. He's the younger brother of Bob Stoops and current defensive coordinator for Florida State. Stoops currently has FSU's defense at #2 in the NCAA, right behind Alabama. Word is that he is trying to bring FSU's recruiting coordinator, Dameyune Craig with him. That would be clutch, as FSU has had a top 10 recruiting class every year since Stoops and Craig signed on in 2009. I'm excited for the Stoops era at UK.


Pick em.

Jaguars over Bills- I'll go with Jacksonville here. They've played a solid game two straight weeks, and Chad Henne has brought Justin Blackmon to life. Also, in the last two weeks, Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown the ball a combined 60 times....for 348 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT. Not good.

Bears over Seahawks- Bears: 5-1 at home. Seahawks: 1-5 on the road. Done and done.

Colts over Lions- If Andrew Luck wins Offensive Rookie of the Year over RGIII because his team makes the playoffs and the Redskins don't, the award should be abolished.

Packers over Vikings- Seems like a classic ass whooping coming here. Packers are only a game up on Minnesota in the standings and are coming off a loss. Vikings coming off a whooping at the hands of the Bears. The game is in Green Bay. Something like 45-17 coming up.

Texans over Titans- Houston is undefeated on the road this season and coming off of 10 days rest. Not a lot of suspense in this weeks games thus far.

Panthers vs. Chiefs- I can't imagine any way this game is played after the news that Javon Belcher killed his girlfriend and then drove to the Chiefs facility and shot himself in front of the police, Romeo Crennel and Scott Pioli. Just an awful story.

49ers over Rams- Guessing this one won't be a tie. Colin Karpernick has been great and I wholeheartedly agree with Harbaugh's decision to keep starting him. Although, the downside of that is that it has lead to horrible writing like this.

Patriots over Dolphins- Though the Dolphins do seem to give the Patriots trouble in Miami, I don't think they have enough to pull out the victory here.

Jets over Cardinals- Yuck.

Buccaneers over Broncos- Despite that loss against the Falcons, Tampa Bay has still looked good lately. Denver has been winning, but has looked less than stellar in the last two weeks against San Diego and Kansas City. Winning streak stops here.

Browns over Raiders- Putrid.

Bengals over Chargers- We are a better football team than the Chargers. We are currently playing better football than the Chargers. The only thing that worries is me, is that it seems like we can't beat San Diego in San Diego. I typed this and went to look for the scores to verify my claims. Boy was I wrong. We lost the last game at San Diego in 2009, right after Chris Henry's death. We beat them in 2003 in SD. Go figure. Either way, Andy Dalton is playing great lately with 10 TD's and 0 turnovers in his last three games. Not surprisingly, that has coincided with some of our best rushing performances of the year. Benjarvus Green-Ellis has averaged 93 yards a game on 4.7 YPC during those same three games. Sucks that Mohamed Sanu broke his foot and will have surgery after catching four of the 10 aforementioned Dalton TD's. But I think we continue the run of good football against bad teams.

Ravens over Steelers- Another loss here coupled with a Bengals victory, will put the Bengals in the #6 seed for the playoffs. Really hoping Chaz Batch has a Chaz Batch-esque game.

Cowboys over Eagles- Bleh.

Redskins over Giants- RGIII is in the zone right now, and shockingly, the Redskins are only two games behind the Giants for the lead in the NFC East. I think Griffin has another great day and they cut the gap to one game.


Packers vs. Giants: Sacks

As I'm sure you can guess, I did not have fun watching the Packers/Giants game last Sunday Night.  It was pretty brutal.
In conversations I've had after the games, I found myself saying the same things: on both sides of the ball, we saw the Packers weakness go against the Giants strength.  On offense, the Packers offensive line was a bit beat up, and the Giants defense is well known for their pass rush.  On defense, the Packers pass rush was at less than 100%, and the Giants have a good offensive line.  Rodgers was under siege all day, while Manning escaped relatively unscathed.
The numbers back this up: the Giants tallied 5 sacks and 7 QB hits against Rodgers, while the Packers only managed 1 sack and 2 QB hits against Manning.

But who was responsible for the sacks on Rodgers?  I decided to take a look at the All-22 film of the game and see if Rodgers had time to throw, and if he had any receivers to throw to.  I timed the sacks, so I'll begin with the time it took for the sack to occur.  We can assume that anything over 3 seconds is on the QB.
(You can click on the images to see a bigger version.)


Sack #1
Sack time: 4.6
Score: 7-7
As you can see, Rodgers has a pretty clean pocket, and two open receivers.  He is sacked by the end coming from the right.  If he were to hit the checkdown receiver on his left, he could have avoided the sack and picked up the first down.  He has time.  Knowing how good the Giants pass rush is, he should've taken the checkdown.


Sack #2
Sack time: 1.6 seconds
Score: 7-17
This one is on Dietrich-Smith.  The Giants blitz with Chase Blackburn coming up the middle.  Instead of sliding over to take care of him, Dietrich-Smith heads to the middle to double-team a DT.  No one gets a hand on Blackburn, and Rodgers didn't have a chance.  He could've gone with the checkdown (Cobb coming out of the backfield), but that might be asking a bit much.  1.6 seconds is a really quick sack.
I included another image so you can get a better view of the line.  Dietrich-Smith doesn't even see Blackburn.




Sack #3
Sack time: 2.3
Score: 7-24
Bonus info: Rodgers fumbled on this play.
I'll put this one on Newhouse.  You can see that Rodgers has a few guys he could throw to.  It looks like the Giants are in Cover-2, and he has a small window to hit the outside receivers (on both sides, the corners are getting ready to release the receiver to the safeties, but there's still some room to get the ball in before the safeties can get over).  He also has Kuhn in the middle of the field.  But Newhouse was barely able to slow Umenyiora down.  The next picture will illustrate it better.


In this image, you can see Newhouse on Umenyiora.  Newhouse clipped Umenyiora's inside shoulder, but Umenyiora was able to get around Newhouse without any more contact.  Umenyiora blindsides Rodgers and forces the fumble.


Sack #4
Sack time: 3.5
Score: 10-31
In the image, Rodgers has a clean pocket and two open receivers in front of him.  The receiver in the middle of the field might be a bit risky, but the receiver on the outside is pretty clear of coverage.


Sack #5
Sack time: 4.7
Score: 10-38
Once again, a clean pocket and two receivers to throw to.  Again, the receiver on the outside is getting clear of the corner, but the safety hasn't moved in to take him yet.  A small window, but a window nontheless.  The receiver running the seam route looks pretty clear of coverage.  He has time, but just didn't pull the trigger on either of these.

Bonus coverage.
I also decided to take a look at Rodgers' interception.  You could see this at the time, but I thought I'd take a look at it with the All-22, all the same.


In this image, Rodgers hasn't even moved his arm back to throw yet, but already the outside corner is breaking in on the inside receiver (I believe it's Cobb).  Rodgers seems to have predetermined where he is going with the ball, and throws it anyway.  It is easily interception.  If Rodgers looks to the outside receiver (I believe it's Jones), he would see a wide open receiver with room to run.  The safety is the only one between him and the end zone.

So there you have it.  5 sacks.  I'll put 2 on the line and 3 on Rodgers.  The interception is on Rodgers.
I'll grant them the short sacks.  But the longer ones (Sacks 1, 4 & 5) are completely on Rodgers.  He has receivers open on both of those sacks, and he knows that the Giants pass rush has to be breathing down his neck.
This is a problem Rodgers has had in the past.  And, while he has gotten better about it, he still sometimes falls back into his bad habits.  I don't know if he's just looking downfield for the big play or sees something that isn't there or what.  But he has a tendency to hold onto the ball for too long.
Hopefully the return of Jennings this week - along with the trainwreck that happened this past Sunday - will gets the Packers (and Rodgers) back to their quick-hitting ways.