by Hal Bent, BostonSportPage.com
- BOSTON RED SOX:
- Start ordering those playoff tickets, Red Sox fans. The Red Sox are making big moves! Backup catcher David Ross, a 35 year old defensive specialist is the first big free agent signing by General Manager Ben Cherington. This spells the end of the tenure in Boston for either starting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia or trade bait Ryan Lavarnway. This fails to excite anyone in the Hot Stove zone here in greater Boston. There are so few qualified catchers (and the Red Sox apparently whiffed yet again when they traded for Salty and Yankees grabbed the much more dependable Russell Martin) and there are so many other area for the Sox to fill on their roster.
- Names I don't want to see signed to a long-term deal here in Boston this off-season: outfielders Nick Swisher, Michael Bourne, and Josh Hamilton. The Red Sox need to focus on value in free agency and long-term development in the minor leagues. To escape big contracts only to hand out a bunch more is idiotic and short-sighted. I would prefer to see this team rebuild properly and suffer some poor seasons then spend a wad of cash (and likely suffer even more poor seasons!).
- BOSTON CELTICS:
- With the Los Angeles Lakers taking care of the axiom "stumbling out of the gate", the Celtics have looked lost, being blown out in three games and narrowly edging out terrible teams like Washington (twice) and the Milwaukee Bucks (splitting two games with "the other green team"). This team is lost on defense. Yes, they miss the energy and on-ball defense of Avery Bradley (who hid so many defensive flaws of Rajon Rondo) but this squad appears to have skipped the pre-season practices where they established defensive sets. There is no pressure by the guards, no running through pick-and-rolls, no last line of defense at the basket: this team is lost on defense, which seems ludicrous with their history.
- The team will score points...there are players out there who can get the ball in the bucket eventually (Jeff Green will bounce back, Jason Terry is a legitimate scorer). Yes, working in rookie Jared Sullinger is expected to be an issue, and Brandon Bass will never be anything more on defense than a wide body, but this team has so much more effort to expend on defense. Coach Doc Rivers has to find the correct button and start pushing it immediately if not sooner.
- NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS:
- The Patriots are matching-up with the Buffalo Bills in Foxborough this afternoon. Two areas of concern to watch:
- The pass defense (duh, see my breakdown of the Patriots defensive breakdowns HERE) and more specifically with the defense, the pass rush. Rookie defensive end Chandler Jones has effectively replaced veteran ends Andre Carter (was injured, now in Oakland) and Mark Anderson (now injured in Buffalo) with pressure on the edge, and defensive end/outside linebacker Rob "poor man's Mike Vrabel" Ninkovich has stepped up with some pressure. The Patriots need the inside pass rush to be effective on defense, and that comes from the inside tandem of Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love on early downs, and Jermaine Cunningham on third down or in nickel/dime packages in obvious passing downs. Where they need more pressure is from the trio of young linebackers: Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, and Dont'a Hightower. All three are great against the run, average against the pass while in man-to-man coverage, but graded as incomplete as blitzers.
- Coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Mike Patricia has to realize that if the defense is giving up big plays rushing they may as well switch things up a bit. Bring some pressure already! Stop letting opposing quarterbacks sit back in the pocket and wait for receivers to get deep downfield. Let them worry about which of the three young linebackers is going to shoot a gap and get after the QB. The Patriots showed a bit of this against St Louis, but this needs to become a real weapon in the Patriots defensive arsenal. Getting more pressure through 5 man blitzes (no need for a desperate jail-break or corner/safety blitz) where the offensive line is guessing who to block can only help the secondary.
- The second point is the offense. Buffalo is much improved on defense since the Patriots second-half spanking of the Bills in Buffalo earlier this season. The rust on offense needs to be brushed off early. If the Bills exploit the Patriots holes on offense and jump out to a lead, this defense led by ball-hawking safety (and potential coverage matchup for Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowksi) Jairus Byrd is better positioned to hold the lead. If the offense can establish itself and get ahead early, then the blow-outs predicted by all the pundits this week may come about. But this is not cakewalk for the Patriots. This game is the Bills season. Win on the road against their division nemesis, and it is their Super Bowl victory. Lose, and it becomes time to start exploring a new quarterback in Buffalo next season.
- EVERTON TOFFEES:
- The boys in blue were televised back in the states on Fox Soccer Channel this Saturday morning for their tilt against Sunderland: the return to Goodison by Luis Saha, a great treat to start a long weekend. The match was as frustrating as watching a New England Patriots game, as Everton let a lower-level team dictate the first half and fell into a 1-nil hole in stoppage time before the half. They looked lethargic and were playing down to the competition, letting Sunderland control possession and have multiple chances. Losing Kevin Mirallas to what looked like a hamstring injury early seemed to suck the energy out of the Toffees. Sunderland, mockingly terrible on the offensive side of the pitch, seemed shocked to score themselves, as Adam Johnson banged home a goal and celebrated alone for a minute before the shell-shocked Sunderland lads realized that goals are able to be scored by both squads, not just the competition.
- After the half, David Moyes must have a lit a spark under the squad, as all eleven came out with fire in their eyes, and fettuccine-haired Marouane Fellaini scored the equalizer stuffing the ball into the corner of the net. Not to be denied, the Blues kept the pressure on poor Sunderland, teetering on the relegation line, and Fellaini showed his creativity opening up an easy goal for Nikica Jelavic (Not going to say Fellaini drew away the entire Sunderland defense and goal-keeper, but I could have taken his pass and booted it into the net with ease). After that, the Moyes Boys went into a defensive shell to protect their three points, holding off the lack-of-attack from Sunderland to gain the win and hold onto fourth place on the EPL table.
- As Manchester United continues to run away with the Premiership lead, it is so encouraging to see Everton just two points behind the baby blue Man City and three points behind Chelski (aka the Soviet Supreme Squad, Chelsea). With West Brom and Tottenham Hotspur behind Everton and ahead of Arsenal, this is shaping up to be a great season with some exciting mid-level teams making a strong push in the standings and taking on the big boys. Everton just needs to keep taking care of business versus these lower-level teams and grabbing those three points when they are there for the taking.