Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Sort of Homecoming


Not just a classic U2 song from The Unforgettable Fire disc, but an apt description of the return of Deion Branch as the Patriots move into the post-Randy Moss era.

Do I think Randy Moss gave the Patriots their best chance to win the Super Bowl.  Well, yes I still think he's an awesome weapon for any offense. Do I understand why they traded him for a miniscule 3rd round pick? You bet I do.  (Did I voraciously root against Deion Branch while he was in Seattle. Umm, yeah. Sorry about that Deion.)

Randy Moss appeared to be a couple weeks away from a full-on meltdown.  There are situations where change is needed despite the fact that the team unloading the problem player has to take whatever they can get and be happy to remove the distraction and be done with him.  Think of Manny Ramirez quitting on the Red Sox in 2006 and again in 2008.  (Don't remember 2006? Here's a reminder: Boston Globe) Anyone want the Patriots and Moss to get to that point? Nope, me either. But apparently it was well on its way to that point.

Now a talent like Randy Moss does not come along every year, but the Patriots need their offensive skill positions to take the step their defense has done and become younger.  No, Brandon Tate is not close to the receiver Moss was, but he can become a vertical option and team with 3rd round pick Taylor Price next year as a springboard to the future at the wide receiver position.

Yes, the Patriots do not have anyone who can jump in and replace the Randy Moss deep option. But, then again, neither do about 24 other teams in the NFL and they'll survive. Pittsburgh unloaded Santonio Holmes because of character, locker room, and potential distractions reasons. Sure, they kept el dope at QB, but apparently they believe they will survive the loss of Holmes and are certainly not missing a beat this year. 

Maybe, just maybe (no, not Maebe Funke from Arrested Development) the Pats are better off without Moss after all.  I sure as heck do not believe their offense is better without Randy Moss drawing double-coverage and opening up the deep pass, but removing a gigantic locker room distraction can only help the team long-term and a team divided wins nothing. Of course, somewhere in the back of my head is a little voice screaming "You win with TALENT!"

Head Troll Kerry Byrne over at http://www.coldhardfootballfacts.com/ opines that maybe Brady-Moss is not all it is hyped up to be. On his post of 10/14/2010, he states:

But Moss’s productivity – as measured by passer rating – had declined in production each year since 2007, according to the data compiled by Deep Threat. Here’s a look at the Brady-to-Moss connection over the years (including Matt Cassel-to-Moss in 2008):



2007: 98 of 160, 61.3%, 1,493 yards, 9.3 YPA, 23 TD, 4 INT, 121.2 passer rating
2008: 69 of 125, 55.2%, 1,008 yards, 8.1 YPA, 11 TD, 4 INT, 97.7 passer rating
2009: 83 of 137, 60.6%, 1,264 yards, 9.2 YPA, 13 TD, 8 INT, 98.3 passer rating
2010: 9 of 22, 40.9%, 139 yards, 6.3 YPA, 3 TD, 2 INT, 64.2 rating

Even more damning:

•In 2007, half of Brady’s picks (4 of 8) came when targeting Moss.

•In 2008, Cassel threw 4 of his 11 picks when targeting Moss.
•In 2009, more than half of Brady’s picks (8 of 13) came when targeting Moss.
•In 2010, both of Brady’s picks (2 of 2) came when targeting Moss.
In other words, the numbers confirm what you might have expected: targeting a deep threat, even a rare and elite performer like Moss, is a high-risk, high-reward venture. And, over time, the risks rose and the rewards declined.

Heck, those kind of stats make you wonder if perhaps Bill Belichick really is that far ahead of the curve. Personally, I hope so. Truthfully, I wonder if Tom Brady is happy to lose one of the biggest weapons in the NFL weeks after signing a long term deal.  Yes, Wes Welker is still around, and Aaron Hernandez is that something special at tight end the Patriots have been looking for since Ben Coates faded away, but is it enough on offense?

In Bill We Trust, right?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ali vs. Frazier

Four games down, and does anyone seriously believe the Lakers-Celtics series won't go all seven games?  Having only seen the great heavyweights of the 1970s on video replay (which, being out of time and context can never do them justice), there is a short supply of battles with superior and evenly matched individuals (boxing is so far gone it is not even funny) or teams.  Battles that truly can go either way on the slightest shift of momentum: that leave you physically spent just from watching.  Not an underdog triumphing over a superior foe, or a superpower overwhelming foes, but two even teams lining up and going at each other at full-speed, no quarter asked, no quarter given, the entire contest.

THIS is what the Celtics-Lakers NBA Championship has become. 

This is the Ali vs. Frazier, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees vs. Kansas City Royals of the 1970s.  This is the Celtics vs. Lakers, St. Louis Cardinals vs. New  York Mets, San Francisco 49ers vs. Washington Redskins vs. Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants (truly the Golden Age of the NFC with four legitimate superpowers in one conference trading hay makers over the decade). This is Mike Tyson vs Evander Holyfield, Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s. This is the Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees, New England Patriots vs Indianapolis Colts of the 2000s.

Are these rivalries declining? You bet. Anyone remember any great baseball rivalries from the 1990s with two evenly matched teams? Baltimore Orioles vs New York Yankees for a year or two? Seattle Mariners vs New York Yankees for a brief period. The steroid era was also great for another phenomenon: craptastic rivalries. Toronto Blue Jays vs Detroit Tigers? Gimme a break!

But the Celtics and the Lakers matching-up right now is a true classic.  My friend, Tim G., taked about how watching the games so far he could feel an ulcer building in his stomach watching from the edge of his seat.  I know exactly how he feels.  At times, I have to switch the channel and give myself a pep talk that its really not the end of the world if the Lakers win a road game.  The fact that the Celtics are "my team" only heightens the drama, just as with the Red Sox or Patriots games.  Yes, I almost brawled with half of Negril, Jamaica after Holyfield beat Tyson while on our honeymoon (Big Mike Tyson fans down there. They knew Michael Jordan and Mike Tyson in 1997 for American Sports.  Heaven forbid you disparage either of them!), but nothing touches as deeply as "your team" fighting out on the court, field, park, gridiron, or ring. 

Why is that?

Because I suffered through the Rod Rust and Dick McPherson years. The Butch Hobson and Joe Kerrigan years. The Rick Pitino and M.L. Carr years. 1-15.  Laughingstock of the league. Worst team ever.  Tickets available at walk-up. 

We were there then.  We are reaping what we sow. We are enjoying the investment on the years we spent supporting horrible teams with horrible coaches, horrible management, and horrible players. 

Celtics vs. Lakers is now a best of three series.  Only a few rounds left in the heavyweight battle. I know I will be on the edge of my seat watching the two champions fight it out.  This is truly the best of the best.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Spring in the Sox

With spring training's end just around the corner, it's time to turn our thoughts to all things Red Sox as the Celtics stutter-step towards the playoffs, the Bruins in an epic battle for 8th place, and our adopted squad in the UK, Everton, trying to make a late rush to make up for their glacial slow start this season in the EPL.

Personally, I liked the Red Sox continued movement towards a team that wins games like a 21st century pitching killer.  Outside of Adrian "Free-swinging" Beltre, the Sox line-up upgrades significantly at shortstop with Marco Scutaro taking over for the Nick Green/Alex Gonzalez nightmare.  With Jason Varitek on the bench and a full-season of Victor Martinez in Fenway Park, the second line-up black hole is eradicated.  Not to blow your mind, but has anyone in Boston compared 1B in Boston versus NY?
Kevin Youkilis - 53.5 VORP, .317 EqA, .548 Slugging Avg, .413 On-base Avg., .961 OPS
Mark Texeira - 54.7 VORP, .318 EqA, .565 Slugging Avg, .383 On-base Avg., .948 OPS
Looks to me like if I were Youk, I'd be looking for a raise considering what Texeira brings home.

Finally, a national (since 99% of the local sportswriters seem to think sabermetrics are a formula for the area of a triangle and they got into writing because algebra was too hard for them in high school) writer sheds some light on the Red Sox offense projected for the 2010 season. Jayson Stark at ESPN steps up referencing the Red Sox PECOTA offense projection while notating the Papi-bounce back last summer.
To wit:
PROJECTING THE 2010 RED SOX

STAT 2009 *2010 CHANGE
Runs    872   846  minus-26
BA     .270  .277  plus-7
OBP   .352  .357  plus-5
SLG   .454  .449  minus-5
HR      212   179  minus-33
* -- Baseball Prospectus PECOTA projection

BIG PAPIRODUCTION:
"...you find a guy who led the league in homers (27), tied for the league lead in RBIs (78) and was third in slugging (.557) from June 6 on."
Meanwhile, on the subject of Big Papi, the greatest evaluator of MLB injuries EVER, Will Carroll over at http://www.baseballprospectus.com/, checks in on the Big Papi comeback and wrist and steroids issues.  Do you think the screaming heads at The Sports Hub or the WEEIdiots bring on Will Carroll or just shout back at idiots calling in with their inane opinions and no attempts to bring the four-letter F word into the discussion: FACT. (Boston sports radio is a rant for another day!)
 
"The Comeback: So if it was steroids, this is an easy story. David Ortiz has that shadow over him like many players, but his gregarious image helps shoo away some of the nastier blowback.
If it was steroids, then unlike his friend Manny Ramirez, he's been able to pass the tests without any issue.
If it was steroids, he won't be any better than last year.
If it was steroids, he beat a test that netted almost a hundred of his fellow Dominicans over the past couple seasons.
If it was steroids and not the wrist, his power shouldn't have come back after that terrible start at about precisely the time wrists tend to come back from injuries. (NOTE: my emphasis here)
Look at Rickie Weeks or Mark DeRosa, who had very similar injuries and very little steroid suspicion. If it was steroids, his age-34 season should trend more like Barry Bonds, rather than sliding downward, though we might expect a bit of a Willie Stargell-style resurgence if we didn't know he already swung for the fences every time up. Ortiz is in a contract year, he's healthy and happy, but you know what—when he comes back, people are going to say it was steroids."
 
Anyone who has perused http://www.baseballprospectus.com/ knows that Will Carroll has made baseball injuries his life work (seriously, I am not kidding).  If he says it was the wrist last spring, not steroids, then I believe him.  Unlike Boston sports radio nitwits, he has credibility.
 
Speaking of credibility, in my second fantasy baseball league (aka "the Dan League" as I call it), I totally boneheaded and forgot about the draft and had the computer autopicking my team. This left me with a shortstop heavy team and no relief pitchers.  Some serious waiver-wire work is needed here to make this team look like a team.  Gotta run, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Panic in January

The Green are evoking panic withtheir myriad issues:
* A losing record in January;
* Kevin Garnett's knee injury being worse than reported expected AGAIN;
* Rasheed Wallace standing at the three-point line and firing up bombs;
* Interior defense deficiencies with Kendrick Perkins in foul trouble all too often;
and
*too many minutes for Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.

Well, the good news is that it is February 3rd, not May 3rd.  The Celtics have three months to get their groove going to go into the playoffs on a roll and pick-up a top three seed.  How to get there?

KG's knees: Rest KG as much as possible.  Yes, he needs to work into shape, but there is plenty of time to get ready.  His healthy presence on defense is the difference beween championship contender and first-round exit.

Rasheed Wallace: Rasheed meet bench.  Bench meet Rasheed.

Presence in the Middle: Danny Ainge needs to find a big man on the cheap to back-up Kendrick Perkins and KG. Glen Davis is as much the answer in the middle as Glenn Davis was the answer at first base for the Baltimore Orioles in the 80s (aka NOT the answer!).

Minutes:  A healthy Tony Allen solves a lot of problems.  He was showing more bounce in the last two or three games than seen from him since pre-KG days here in Boston. Getting back Marques Daniels and integrating him into the rotation before the playoffs will help as well. 

The elephant in the room: Ray Allen and his expiring contract.  Keep him? Trade him?  I say 2010 is not the Celtics year anyway, so trade away.  But whoever they get for him had better be worth it!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Think Positive...

If Bill Belichick ever wanted to wear the underdog label in the post-season, he certainly has scooped it up this year just in time for the playoffs. While everyone writes the Patriots off before the playoffs begin, I look at the playoff teams in the AFC, and see opportunity. The Jets are one-dimensional and Cincinnati is trending downward. Baltimore has lost so much on defense that they will be hard-pressed to win one game. Indianapolis won too many games they should have lost and San Diego is San Diego. There is no one that has been dominant all season long. This is the type of year where any of the playoff teams could end up in the Super Bowl.

DESTINY CALLS:

If Randy Moss were ever going to make the legacy, the Super Bowl signature, to answer the call from destiny and silence the critics, the time is now. To step-up big, to be the offensive nexus, and to be the star who carries the team to an improbable Super Bowl win. That is what is on the line for Randy Moss.

The Welker routes can be run by "King Julian" Edelman, but Edelman does not have that Troy Brown/Wes Welker chemistry with Tom Brady. Edelman is better than nothing, but moving to the slot further weakens an already thin secondary. Is there a warm body to fill the number three receiver role, let alone the number four? Can the Patriots afford to continue to wait for Ben Watson to show-up in the passing game?

No doubt about it, it is time for Randy Moss to ditch the decoy role and show how he can be a complete receiver and run every route and catch everything thrown his way. Moss has got to be the chain-mover over the middle; the deep threat; the intermediate route runner converting the third-and-nine; and being the big target in the red zone.

To be or not be, Randy, that is the question!

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