Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Jumbo Joe is coming to town. Wow, the excitement is building: The San Jose Sharks are in town! The local papers have headlines screaming about his return (buried behind pages of Patriots analysis and will Jim Rice make the Hall - which he did not, unfortunately). Joe Thornton is expected to skate out of the Garden on a bed of roses as he is finally loved by the Boston fans as he pots a hat trick against the lowly Bruins. I know one thing, we are finally going to see Joe Thornton on the ice playing with a spark!

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Forget Denver, we know that unless they fall behind by 20 points, they are going to run, run, and then run some more. But the key for the Patriots is being able to run the ball and staying with the running game. Even if Dillon and Faulk are averaging 2 or 3 yards per rush, they have to keep John Lynch up at the line of scrimmage so as to attack the middle of the field with the tight ends and the wide receivers. The threat of the run is important to the Patriots because of the ability of Tom Brady to play-action and have the middle of the field wide open. One point I have not heard made enough is how the effectiveness of the running game has hinged on one factor for the Patriots this season and last: Daniel Graham. Graham, who has been injured much the season, would be a huge addition to the offensive line if he is healthy enough to play at his old stomping grounds in Colorado.

Of course, Bill Belichick knows that the Broncos will expect this, and with Darrent Williams not completely healthy, the Patriots may instead attack the Broncos with the four-wide set and Kevin Faulk catching passes out of the backfield if he can get locked up with an Ian Gold or Al Wilson who are great pass rushers but not the kind of guys you want covering a speedy scat-back out of the backfield. Also, any chance of get Ben Watson or any of the receivers with John Lynch in coverage is a huge advantage for the Patriots.

On defense, the Patriots should be hoping that Denver runs Mike Anderson most of the time. Running backs like Tatum Bell give them fits, while slower and stronger RBs who plow more north-south tend to be the backs the Patriots can hit and gang-tackle without much of a problem. Speedsters with jukes and moves like Bell make the defense crazy because they cannot hit him and slow him down. Expect the Patriots to try to protect the secondary by only leaving the front seven in the box rather than cheating up a safety.

Stopping the run and controlling Jake Plummer falls into the hands of the Patriot outside linebackers: Willie McGinest and Rosie Colvin. Colvin and McGinest need to seal the outside and direct the running backs towards Vrabel, Bruschi, and the front three. In pass defense, they need to seal the outside and keep Plummer in the pocket, where his happy feet are likely to get him in trouble as he bounces around the pocket uncomfortably. Expect Denver to run some planned roll-outs to give Plummer a chance to get out of the pocket and show off his strong arm on the deep passes. If the Pats get some pressure on Plummer out of the front seven, expect to see the old Plummer emerge and try to force the ball to Rod Smith. Rod Smith being Rod Smith, he will likely still make the catch, but if the Patriots can garner a strong pass rush without calling all-out blitzes, they have a chance to create enough turnovers to pull out an upset against a tough opponent on the road in the playoffs.

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OK, so Jim Rice is not going to make the Hall of Fame. To counteract this transgression, I propose that Tony Perez be immediately removed from the Hall. If Rice was not good enough, then in no way should Tony Perez have his plaque hanging in Cooperstown. Now, the worst part is I love Tony Perez. I remember in 1980 at all of six years old jumping up and down when the Sox got him. I remember telling my Dad I thought he could hit fifty homeruns playing in Fenway. If the Sox got Perez in the mid-seventies instead of 1980, people would be comparing Big Papi to Big Tony right now.

Now count me tickled that Bruce Sutter got in the Hall, and color me pissed off that Lee Smith and Goose Gossage somehow joined Rice on the outside looking in. Why are relief pitchers undervalued by the Hall of Fame voters? Heck, the Goose was not getting any of these sissy saves pitchers now get. He was pitching two, three, or more innings and earning them. Bert Blylevin and Jack Morris are both much better than Don Sutton and even my favorite pitcher from the late seventies and early eighties, Gaylord Perry. Is there a reason Alan Trammell gets less than 20% of the vote while George Brett gets over 90% on the first ballot? I always thought they were pretty similar and equal as players (Brett with a pinch more power, more marketing behind him and more post-season showtime). None of these guys stand a chance with Cal Ripkin Jr and Tony Gwynn coming up for the vote next season.

Back in the pre-Internet days when I was just a dork with the Baseball Encyclopedia, I sat down and created an A List of Hall of Famers, about 25 total. Then I divided up the players in to B and C lists. Is this really a bad idea? A tiered and leveled structure to the Hall of Fame? I think it is a great idea. Have players get elected into the C level and earn their way up higher. Too bad it will never happen.

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Aww, forget it. No one cares about these losers. The front-office took a chance and miscalculated. Blow-up the team and start over, I say.

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You know it is the Patriots in the playoffs and Bill Belichick is rubbing off on the denizens of New England when they win 28-3 and all anyone can talk about is how the defense gave up too many completions and the dropped passes and lack of a Cory Dillon running game in the first half.

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At best, it was a solid win. At worse, it was an inconsistent victory. While the Patriots did not dazzle by any stretch of the imagination (four fumbles, dropped passes, no running game, spotty pass defense in the first half), the team, as they tend to do in January, did enough to win. Remember that in 2001 and 2003, the first game played in the playoffs proved most difficult for the Belichick Boys. 2001 was the snow bowl against the Raiders (or the Tuck Rule game if you prefer), and 2003 was the Windchill Game against the Titans where the Pats had to hold-off an upset-minded co-MVP named Steve McNair (The other Co-MVP that year, Peyton Manning, proved to be a much easier game to win.).

The Jaguars, for all the disrespect that they claimed, really were, a one-dimensional team with a good, but not great, defense. Small wonder that the teams that beat them were the ones with the quarterbacks who can air it out and take on all comers (3 of 5 losses to Manning or Brady). The Jaguars are a young running back and a stud young receiver away from being a serious threat. Fred Taylor and Jimmy Smith are going to run out of gas soon, and one has to wonder if David Garrard or Byron Leftwich can carry a team past the first round or two of the playoffs, which where quarterback play really becomes a major factor in whether a team advances or not.

Seriously, other the fluke of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, when was the last time a team with a worse quarterback reached the super bowl? Neil O’Donnell? Kordell Stewart in the AFC Championship? Defense takes you so far in the playoffs. Eventually the offense needs to make big plays to win a game. The Jets and Steelers both suffered from young QBs who could not make the big throws in the playoffs last year (although I expect Roethlisberger, though not as good as the media proclaims him, will be a super bowl caliber QB in the future). When Jake Plummer actually takes the next step in a big game, it will be the first time (and I hope and doubt that time is Saturday night). Peyton Manning, if the defense does not rest, is running out of chances to make the leap, although there are no doubts about his ability, leadership, and skills.

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