Archive for the ‘NFL’ Category

Packers/Bears Preview

January 21, 2011

Just a couple days away from one of the most anticipated games in a long time for Packer fans. I’m confident but still nervous.

  • The Packers have been playing well lately. In their last 5 games, they have lost once – to NE at NE with a back-up QB…and they almost pulled off the upset. They have won 4 in a row since then – knocking off teams with a combined record of 44-20. They beat the Giants to essentially knock them out of the playoffs, the Bears with all their starters in Week 17, the NFC East Champion Eagles and the #1 seeded Atlanta Falcons – in Atlanta in a blowout. The Packers have been the hottest team in the playoffs.
  • I’ll keep saying it – ever since the Detroit loss, something has changed in Mike McCarthy. The way he talks, the way he responds to the press, his demeanor – and most importantly, the way he coaches. The guy is a changed man. His coaching has been top-notch lately – particularly his play-calling. I think what happened is that he was so upset by the Detroit loss that he stopped caring about what people were saying about him. That loss hit him personally. In a sense, he kind of became like Peter Gibbons in Office Space. He very suddenly seemed far less concerned about what people were saying and less defensive in his press conferences. He even became less guarded when he was talking – speaking a bit more freely. McCarthy has simply grown more confident in himself – and this has manifested itself in his confident play-calling, his willingness to take a chance on the inexperienced Starks and even in plays like the onside kick vs NE. His confidence has spread to his team and this is a big reason the Packers have made it this far.
  • Good Jay vs Bad Jay – I wrote about this in my picks column at http://www.dailycaller.com too. The evidence is quite convincing – when he’s good he’s really good and when he’s bad he’s really bad. The difference between his average QB rating in wins vs losses is huge. Before the season I thought the Bears would be good and I thought the Cutler/Martz duo would work out eventually. It has. But Cutler himself is still prone to the multiple turnover game that can really drag the Bears down. Which Jay will show up Sunday? My guess is Bad Jay (not right away, but eventually).
  • Cutler’s Mind vs Rodgers’ Mind – next to stopping Forte, this is most important factor in the game. Rodgers has developed his confidence and has improved his body language out on the field. He had moments of frustration this year and he didn’t always hide it well. But over the last 4-5 games in particular, from what I’ve noticed (because I watch for things like this), he has really improved his body language and by extension, his mental approach. I actually think it helped him to stand on the sidelines and watch the NE game – ever since then he just appears to be so comfortable back there. One clear example of his elevated confidence was how he responded after Atlanta scored first last weekend – and then again how he responded when Weems ran back the kickoff. He didn’t hang his head, look doubtful, act concerned. He simply put his helmet on and confidently drove his team down the field for a TD in each instance. Then, of course, he went on to have one of the best playoff games a QB has ever had. On the other side, Jay Cutler has had a few very good games lately and I would even say that he has demonstrated improved body language over the course of the season. But looks of obvious dejection and frustration after a mistake are still just too much a part of who Cutler is. Bottom line is that if one of these QBs makes a mistake (or his team makes a mistake), I think Rodgers will recover mentally from the mistake more effectively than Cutler. And this could be a not-so-small factor in this game.
  • Stopping Matt Forte. As I indicated above, I think this may be the most important factor in this game. When Forte plays well and contributes – Chicago usually wins. When he’s quiet and not so involved, the Bears often lose. (Forte was noticeably not involved in 4 of the Bears 5 losses this year – interestingly, the only exception was his 151 yards against the Packers Week 17). Forte is a huge safety option for Jay Cutler. He is an exceptional receiver out of the backfield and someone Cutler looks to both for designed short pass plays and in emergency situations. When Cutler panics, he tends to throw balls away, get sacked or throw picks – just like most QBs prone to panicking. When Forte or Chester Taylor are not available as the safe option, Cutler is likely to panic. My guess is that if Capers successfully gets the D to diminish Forte’s contributions, Cutler will turn it over 2-3 times.
  • The Hester/Masthay factor is well documented and I’d skip it except that there is something I need to point out. Chris Kluwe had a fascinating mini-article within one of Peter King’s articles a few weeks back. He was responding to King after King ripped him for punting it to Hester the previous week. While some of it appeared to be Kluwe making excuses, he did get into some of the technical pieces of directional punting and why it’s so difficult. He said that he often hears that punters should just kick it out, but doing this is much harder than common fans realize. He said if it were easier, more punters would do it well. Assuming he’s right here, Masthay did a really good job of at least pinning Hester near the sideline using good hang-time in the last meeting at Lambeau. If he can do that again, I think the Hester factor could be diminished. But one line drive punt to Hester and the game could change quickly. Odd for a punter to feel the pressure he must be feeling heading into this game.
  • On the other side – though I’m not keen on Tramon Williams returning punts, he is massively talented and fast and I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that in a game of this magnitude, he could step it up a notch and give the Bears a taste of their own special teams medicine. I’m not going to bet on it, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if a determined Tramon did some return damage himself.
  • Our O-Line needs to play pretty close to their potential Sunday. These guys are going to be called upon to run block at least decently and to pass block like they never have before. If they can give Rodgers enough time back there and force Chicago to blitz and bring safeties/LBs up, that could seriously open up the passing game. If they allow the Bears’ 4 D-Linemen to penetrate too much, the Packers could be in real trouble.
  • The work of our LBs is important as well. I expect the LBs to take the lead role in shutting down Forte, but also Greg Olsen. The Bears don’t use Olsen much, that was an aberration last week, but he can be another safety option for Cutler in a game when I’m imagining Cutler will be quicker than usual to look for his safety options.
  • Raji getting pressure from the middle will be big. He ended up with 6.5 sacks on the season – impressive for a DT (though not as impressive as the Lions’ Suh who had 10). Raji is a force and could be extra disruptive poking a hole in the pocket.
  • Mike Martz’ play-calling. I think it would be a huge success if the Packers can lure Martz away from the run early. Martz was criticized throughout the season for abandoning the run and setting Cutler up for lots of sacks/picks because of deep drops. Martz responded by actively working Forte back into games and it paid off. But we all know Martz has an instinct, similar to McCarthy in fact, to pass first, run second. Though Cutler could surprise, I would think a pass first offense for the Bears Sunday would most likely result in a decisive Packer victory.
  • Clay Matthews – this could be the kind of game when Matthews makes a lot of noise. While Mike Tice and co have likely been working overtime to scheme against Matthews, something tells me this guy is going to be fired up Sunday and tough to slow down. (If Chicago were smart, they’d dump a few screens over the head of or just around Matthews to keep him honest – the same thing the Pack should do to keep Peppers at bay.)

The Charles Martin hit

January 19, 2011

Check out this video from the Charles Martin “hit-list” game Nov, 1986. While I’ve hated the Bears for years, and while the Bears have also been plenty guilty of poor sportsmanship over the years, I have to say this was one of the cheapest cheap shots in sports history. Just an absolutely evil thing that Charles Martin did to QB Jim McMahon – curiously after McMahon helped the Packers by throwing a pick.

For some reason, while I remember being fully aware that it was one of the most egregious penalties I’d ever see – in the moment, I don’t remember feeling as outraged by it then as I do now watching the video.

For those who remember watching this game live – tell me, how did you feel after Martin did this?

The stabilizing presence of Brian Urlacher

January 19, 2011

For a while now, I’ve noticed folks like to argue about whether or not Brian Urlacher is THAT good. I’ve come across a good number of people who believe he’s overrated – the kind of guy with a reputation that no longer fits his talent level. Yet there are plenty of others who believe he still plays at a super high level and is the soul of the Chicago defense. I’m with the latter group. Before this season, I wrote a post about how I thought the Bears’ defense would come back after an off year last year – primarily because Urlacher would be back in the fold. Adding Julius Peppers and Chris Harris helped too, definitely, but Urlacher is the soul of the defense and I believe his healthy presence is the main reason this defense is good again.

As I thought about this though, I felt I needed some numbers to back this up. Knowing that Urlacher’s stats are usually not that impressive, I went searching for the one thing I was pretty sure would separate him from most – the team’s record when he’s not on the field.

  • Since 2004, the team’s regular season record in games Brian Urlacher played was 56-33. That’s a 63% winning percentage.
  • Since 2004, the team’s regular season record in games Urlacher didn’t play was 7-16. That’s a 30% winning percentage.
  • In the year 2004 by itself, Urlacher played in 9 games – the Bears went 5-4 in those 9 games. Their record when he did not play in 2004? 0-7.
  • Since 2004, with Urlacher on the field, the Bears have had a losing record just once – in 2007. (Note: he didn’t play in 2009 when they also had a losing record and in 2004, the Bears were 5-4 when he was on the field…0-7 when he wasn’t.)

These stats may not blow you away but they should adequately highlight the fact that Urlacher’s presence in the lineup is critical to Chicago’s success. He will very much be present in their lineup this weekend and while he may not have the glamor stats like a bunch of picks, forced fumbles, defensive TDs, sacks, he just gets his job done – his job as leader of the defense.

Defensive Player of the Year thoughts

January 18, 2011
  • I like Clay Matthews and think he’s very good. He should be in the conversation for DPY no question. I don’t, however, believe he deserves it. His stats definitely support the claim that he was especially disruptive this year on defense (13.5 sacks, 5 passes defensed, 1 defensive TD, 2 forced fumbles). I would have voted for him mid-year. But as the year went on, I think he got passed up by one guy – I’ll get to him in a minute.
  • I disagree with Peter King giving his DPY award to Julius Peppers. Peppers has definitely helped reinvigorate a defense that struggled to live up to its reputation in 2009. They were tougher this year in part because of him and his presence. (His 11 passes defensed in particular, were pretty amazing – Matthews had 5).  But the return of Brian Urlacher and the quality play from Chris Harris at safety also helped resurrect the defense. He was good and while I agree with Peter King that he made the defense better – I also think he was helped by having quality around him (Tillman, Urlacher, Briggs, Harris, etc).
  • The guy I would give the award to is NYG DE Osi Umenyiora. He had one stat in particular that really pushes him to the top for me. While he had an impressive 11.5 sacks, tying him for 7th in the NFL – the stat that is positively hard to believe is this: Umenyiora had 10 forced fumbles. 10 FORCED FUMBLES!!! That is one of the most ridiculous stats I’ve seen in a long time. In fact, after a quick check of the stats, it appears that no defensive player has forced that many fumbles at least in the last 10 years – and very likely going a lot further back than that.  The only other guy who was close this year w/re to forced fumbles, was his teammate Justin Tuck who forced 6 (and quite incredibly, recovered 5…and also had 11.5 sacks). Umenyiora was a brutish force for the Giants and while I frankly can’t be sure how much he affected games in other areas (stopping the run, tackling etc) – I’d give him the nod here because of his sacks and forced fumbles – both game changing plays.

Leslie Nielsen officiating theory proven

January 13, 2011

I am working on figuring out how to link to my source here – but it may be that there is no way to link to it online. The source is Sports Illustrated the magazine. (If I can figure out how to link to it, I’ll post it.) In the last issue, featuring Auburn’s victory, there is a great article that discusses the question of why home teams win such a disproportionate amount of games in all sports every year. The authors looked at win-loss records dating back many decades. The percentage of victories by the home team has remained alarmingly consistent. In the article, the authors mention several of the more popular reasons folks believe home teams win more, only to diminish them in favor of the ultimate reason: a Leslie Nielsen-like home-field bias by the officials.

Yes, lots of officiating decisions are difficult to evaluate because they tend to be subjective. One area the authors investigated was the less subjective role of soccer officials during injury time. Combing through piles of info, the authors discovered that soccer officials routinely shortened the stated injury time for home teams with the lead, while extending it if home teams were behind. Let me explain. A soccer game is generally 90 minutes, but often the game is extended for a few minutes because of injuries that took time out from the game. Most games are extended by 2-5 minutes or so. At the beginning of this “injury time”, a sign at half field clearly indicates exactly how much injury time will be played. But the officials are the only ones who keep the “official” time. What the authors discovered is that the officials blatantly shorten or lengthen the amount of time based on the circumstances facing the home team.

There is more evidence cited throughout for other sports too – but the bottom line is that the authors concluded that officiating is the number one factor when explaining why home teams have the advantage they do.

So Mike McCarthy should talk with the Packers before the game Sat and tell them to EXPECT some horrid calls and to expect a home field officiating bias and to expect having to play sometimes against 12, not 11. But if it gets out of control, McCarthy will also need to stand up for his team and let the refs hear it!

Fantastic – Worst 100 Players in NFL History

November 17, 2010

Read here from Deadspin. Hilarious.

Ronnie Brown making a difference

November 16, 2010

While he’s been mired in a sub-par season on the field, off the field, Miami RB Ronnie Brown has been…awesome.

Check out this story about how he is doing what he can to try to reduce teen violence in an area that has experienced some particularly ugly school violence incidents (in/around the Miami area). It’s hard to overestimate the potential impact Brown may be having on these kids. Kids this age are so easily influenced. Unfortunately for some of the kids who resort to violence in particular, the influence is usually not positive. By coming in and taking an inflexible and very public stand against violence – a very cool Ronnie Brown is doing his part to counter the sentiment among some of these kids that violence is cool, or even OK. Nicely done Ronnie.

(Now, run over the Bears this week…with reckless violence.)

Several other NFL thoughts

November 8, 2010
  • Phillip Rivers is the best QB in the NFL this year – by a comfortable margin. To do what he’s done with such a depleted group of receivers is simply unreal.
  • My pick for the NFC title game, Pack vs Atlanta, appears to be back on track. While the Giants look awfully good too right now, the Saints remain solid and the Eagles are always scary, the Pack and Atlanta could well be there.
  • My Super Bowl pick also remains on track – Pack vs Balt. Balt looked tough against Miami yesterday. Ray Rice was all over the place.
  • Michael Vick is so good it’s scary. He seems so focused and comfortable out there. The Eagles with Vick will be tough to deal with if they get into the playoffs.
  • Seattle finally totally and completely imploded at home. This team has a split personality – doormat-like on the road and brutish at home. But yesterday, they got used by a very good Giants team.
  • TB continues to play teams tough. They are really good and need to be given the respect that their play is commanding.
  • Could the Rams with the NFC West? Possible. They seem to have the most complete team of anyone in that division (though I can see SF going on a run…)
  • The Raiders look pretty good. While both KC and Oakland have question marks at QB, they have quality around these guys. The offenses and defenses of both teams are sharp and getting better.
  • I don’t buy into the whole “wait ’til the season ends” approach to finding a new coach. Start now while the season is still going on so that you can get a head start on all the other teams that will be firing their coaches.
  • The Bears were lucky to escape with that win yesterday in Buff. Buff is better now than when the Packers played them – by a lot.
  • Detroit’s meltdown yesterday was epic. They totally, 100% outplayed the NYJ and deserved to win that game, but they much has simply laid down in the last 6 minutes to allow the Jets to score 10 quick, unanswered points.
  • I picked Cleveland yesterday knowing a rested, healed Peyton Hillis would go nuts. The Pats D is weak and Hillis is a very, very good RB. Impossible to tackle, strong, and he even has a bit of a burst sometimes. He’s also a good receiver out of the backfield. The Cleve is finally on the rise and it’s due to the emergence of Hillis, The steadiness of rookie Colt McCoy, their underrated O-Line play – and a strong defense.
  • Top 5 rated QBs in the NFL right now: Michael Vick (105), Vince Young (103), Phillip Rivers (102.9), David Garrard (98.8), Peyton Manning (96.1).

The Moss situation

November 2, 2010

Few more thoughts:

  • My initial reaction to this whole thing was that Childress decided to take an extreme action against Moss not only because of his growing disdain for Moss, but also out of frustration for his team’s record, the criticism he gets regularly in general and especially for the criticism he gets for not controlling his team/Favre. Seemed like a classic case of someone who is stressed from multiple issues building up and merging together – which can lead to one huge stress event (in this case, the unilateral decision to jettison Moss). Seemed really stupid and as much as I think Moss behaves like an idiot (it’s hard to force your way out of NE, they usually decide to abruptly cut/trade veterans when THEY are ready…see Richard Seymour), I figured this was mostly just another boneheaded move by Childress.
  • Then I found out a bit more – that Moss had publicly berated a caterer at the Vikings’ facility for the food they brought in – apparently one of those shame moments when you feel so badly/embarrassed for the beratee, if you will, that you want to puke (or just punch the berater, as it were). The accounts of some of his teammates made it sound like he was totally out of control saying rude things. That’s not “Randy just being Randy, hahaha”… -  that’s totally uncalled for and there is no place for that kind of thing anywhere. And I don’t know this for sure but it was implied that Moss did this to someone from a restaurant where players/possibly Childress knew folks. Sounds like it was personal for Childress. Upon reading that, I’ll admit, a part of me thought for a moment: I guess I don’t blame Childress.
  • Then I thought more about the Vikes giving up a 3rd round pick and lots of cash. Then I thought about the fact that even when he doesn’t try, Randy is still valuable because he’s been opening things up nicely for Harvin (who is now injured, by the way). Then I thought about how Childress went solo with this effort, not consulting Wilf – which is a terrible idea. Then I thought about how the Vikes had to know that even though Moss is apparently older now, he had a recent falling out in NE, so he was still at risk for troubling behavior. Then I thought of that line in Airplane: “they knew what they were getting into, I say, let them crash”.
  • Then ultimately, I circled back to my original conclusion: Childress acted hastily here. He should have brought what may have been a fairly solid case against Moss, to Wilf. He could have cited Moss’ post-game comments, his clear lack of effort and his berating of some poor restaurant employee. Wilf probably would have listened and they may have even disciplined Moss (maybe, Moss had a behavior clause in his contract that he violated…if he didn’t have this in his contract…umm, why not?). But I’ll say it again, I think a not-so-small factor in all of this also may have been Childress’ bruised ego. He’s been blasted repeatedly for not standing up to Favre. He’s often criticized generally when things go wrong (because he deserves it and he generally sucks). And there has been a growing feeling all year that he just doesn’t have control of his team. So what does a bad manager/coach do in a situation when cynical defensiveness no longer seems to work? Get offensive and misdirect anger. I think that’s what happened here and it’s the kind of thing that usually gets a guy fired (especially with a future head coach waiting in the wings like Leslie Frazier).

Vikings release Randy Moss

November 1, 2010

Wow – that was fast. Read here. Here are some thoughts:

  • Did Moss go on some sort of private tirade in front of Childress last night – directed at Childress?
  • Had Moss been a thorn in Chilly’s side since day one (possible considering Moss came on as buddies with Favre…who can’t stand Childress)?
  • Were the Vikes just tired of all the drama, the lack of effort, the undermining comments after the game last night to the media?
  • Is Randy Moss not taking his meds…seriously?
  • Did Randy Moss just realize quickly that Brad Childress sucks – and so does playing for the Vikes?
  • What if he fell to the Packers through the waiver wire? Would he be worth the gamble? As much as I’m almost always a fan of exploring a potential player acquisition, and as much as he would help make our offense really tough to stop, he’s just not worth the gamble right now. Interestingly, if we were sitting at 3-5, I might feel differently, but not at 5-3 with some positive momentum.
  • Regardless of how it happened, it’s pretty funny that it happened.

UPDATE: Not sure how this escaped the final draft of this post, but my theory on what really happened was that Childress took his personal frustration out on Moss because Childress was trying to regain “control” of a team he’s lost control over (because of Favre). He wanted to assert himself as THE GUY. Just read this from PFT that supports this theory – seems more and more that Childress is that retail store manager with the store keys on a key chain around his arm trying to exert control over things he doesn’t really have control over.


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