Tuesday, September 29, 2015

SMU, NCAA, & the Double Standards of College Athleticism

Southern Methodist University has received punishment for breaking rules from the governing body of Collegiate Sports, the NCAA.  Among the“charges” against SMU include Academic Misconduct and Unethical Conduct in the Men’s Basketball Program along with lack of control of the program by Head Coach Larry Brown.  SMU has been banned from the 2016 postseason and Brown has been suspended for the first 9 games of the season.  While this is not the first time a college team coached by Larry Brown has received NCAA punishment (he coached at Kansas and UCLA previously), the real issue here is the double standards in collegiate athletics in terms of players, coaches, universities and the NCAA.

Let’s first focus on the coaches and what their role is as Head Coaches in collegiate athletics.  What is their job description exactly?  Because if you ask the NCAA, an Athletic Director, a University President, Players, and NBA Scouts you may get 5 different answers.  The reality is that the system makes it difficult to do any of the duties asked of these coaches.  First and foremost, these coaches are expected to win ball games, but they have to do so with limited practice hours every week.  These coaches are expected to recruit talented players, but they are expected to do so with numerous limitations in place on how much they speak to recruits and when/where they interact with them.   These coaches are expected to oversee the sport’s program they coach while also monitoring their players.  Yet these men and women at the collegiate level are expected to also be life teachers, mentors, and university representatives.

While many of these “duties” I state above conflict with each other, I ask what is most important: Academics, Winning Games, Mentorship, or Program Management?  The truth is that every time you hear about sanctions against a school’s Athletic Program or its players, there are three other incidents that never get reported.  There are guidelines published by the NCAA but no consistency in punishment.  Why is the University of Southern California Football program more “evil” in their lack of institutional control than SMU Basketball program?  Why was what Dez Bryant did years ago worse than what Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston did?  Why is Jim Boeheim better or worse than any other coaches who didn’t have institutional control?

I know as the reader you may be saying “I don’t remember half those incidents you are talking about” or “Why are you comparing ‘Apples to Oranges’?” but the whole point is that you don’t remember all the details of every NCAA punishment and that these situations are not all that different.  The reality is that the NCAA is the overseer of a multi-faceted, multi-billion dollar business that hundreds of Universities cash in on every year.   Lots of green is made from televised sporting events and game tickets are sold just like the professional ranks.  But we are told these are “Student-Athletes”, that this is “Amateur athletics at its highest level”, that “Academics come first, Sports come second”; so then why do we hire and fire coaches in college for the same reasons as the professional ranks?

The double standards come down to the simple conflict between what is important.  SMU didn’t hire Larry Brown to be their Men’s Basketball because he graduated so many student athletes or he has a great relationship with Academia.  He was hired to win basketball games, to recruit the best players, because when you bring in the best players and win ball games then the University makes big money.  The truth is that these Universities treat their Head Coaches and Student-Athletes like business investments.  But as soon as the NCAA comes in the University distances themselves from their Head Coaches and Student-Athletes, blaming them for everything.  Everything is alright for the NCAA and Universities to make money off Collegiate Athletics, but when these players and coaches do “whatever it takes to win” then we start the blame game.

I do not blame Larry Brown for what happened at SMU with the Basketball program, just like I do not blame Pete Carroll for what happened at USC with star Football player Reggie Bush.  I blame the system that is in place for putting these coaches and players in a position where they feel the need to “bend the rules” in order to meet expectations.  The NCAA wants their big time TV contracts but want to maintain the “integrity” of Student-Athletics and Academic environment.  The NCAA and their member Universities want the best of both worlds and the Public Relations that go along with it.  They do not care about the Students’ futures or their Academics.  The Universities point to statistics and say “Look at our graduation rate” but do not mention these Student-Athletes majored in Liberal Arts, Communications, Sports Management and other degree fields that have limited real world application for employment.

Whether it is SMU, USC, Syracuse, Miami, Dez Bryant, AJ Green, or anyone else this is all a charade of punishments by the NCAA.  There is no consistency, no bona fide legal process, no use of precedent, just a bunch of subjective interpretations of situations and circumstance b people who care little for the people they place judgments on and only care for maintaining their strangle hold on their power and money.  If it wasn’t for all these double standards, most of these coaches and players would never get in trouble.  Furthermore, these sanctions from the all-mighty NCAA hurt more innocent people than transgressors.  Remember how Penn State lost scholarships and was banned from postseason because of a few men’s negligence and another man’s evil?  Yeah those NCAA punishments only hurt the players and coaches who had to deal with the sanctions in aftermath of all that mess of lies.

Monday, September 28, 2015

New York Mets & the long history of Baseball in NYC

Over the weekend the New York Mets clinched their first playoff appearance since 2006.  Of course Mets players and coaches were excited, but so too are their long suffering fans.  While on the road this past weekend I heard numerous Mets fans calling local New York radio stations talking about how much their team making the playoffs means to them.  For fans of teams such as the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees, and San Francisco Giants this reaction may seem ridiculous, but context is important when discussing baseball fans in the New York Metro area.

The first half of the 20th century New York City was a hot bed of baseball with three Major League Baseball franchises in the city boroughs.   The New York Yankees (who at the beginning of the century were named the New York Highlanders because they use to play games at Hilltop Park in Manhattan) have resided in the Bronx since 1923.  Until the 1950’s two other teams played ball in New York City: the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers.  For three decades the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Upper side of Manhattan Burroughs were the home to 20 World Series Champions (most of those winners played in Yankee Stadium).  In fact, for the first half of century New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, and Boston all were home to two or more baseball franchises.

But the 1950’s ushered in changed across the baseball landscape as teams began moving to new cities, among them being the Giants and Dodgers who both prospected the potential of moving to California.  The two long standing New York borough staples were losing attendance battles with the younger franchise located in the Bronx, the Yankees.  So the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles and the Giants moved to San Francisco after the 1957 season.  Their moves left many New York Metro region baseball fans heart broken and the National League with two less teams in the Northeast.

Before the 1950’s the National League had four teams in the Northeast; after 1957 they were down to only the Philadelphia Phillies as the Dodgers and Giants moved to California while the Braves left Boston to their new home in Milwaukee. 
New York baseball fans certainly were not going to cheer for rival cities Philadelphia or Boston and most National League baseball fans were not going to jump on the Yankees bandwagon.  With the help of powerful lawyer William Shea the New York Metropolitans became the new National League team in New York City.  The team that became known as the Mets paid homage to the teams that proceeded them by adopting Orange and Blue as part of their team colors.  The Mets began play in 1962, making their home in the old New York Giants ballpark, Upper Manhattan’s Polo Grounds.  Beginning in 1964 the Mets began play in another New York City Borough, Queens, where Shea Stadium was built for them.

While New York Metro region baseball fans were happy to have another baseball team in NYC to root for, they had to suffer through the growing pains of an upstart franchise.  From 1962-1968 the Mets were one of the worst baseball teams statistically for any stretch in MLB history.  These years would not be the last time the Mets were bottom dwellers of the National League.  Despite winning the World Series in 1969 and reaching another in 1973, the rest of the 1970’s was a difficult stretch for the team playing in Queens.  This trend would continue for the Mets franchise the next few decades as the Mets’ fans would see teams play great for short stretches, then fall back down the standings.  Meanwhile the Mets would continually be overshadowed by their cross-town counterparts in the Bronx.  The Yankees have won eight World Series championships since 1962.  Yes the New York Mets have won two World Series titles (1969, 1986) and reached the October Classic on two other occasions (1973, 2000) and they are still considered by many that “other team” in NYC.  Adding more insult to injury, since the Giants and Dodgers left town, those two franchises have combined to win eight championships in October. 

The reality of being a New York Mets fan is that your team is not a perennial playoff contender, despite all the talented players to wear the Mets uniform.  From Tom Seaver to Keith Hernandez to Dwight Gooden to Mike Piazza to David Wright, the Mets franchise is one that has tormented their fan base more often than most teams.  Looking back on the history of the Mets, the only consistent part of the franchise has been their tormented, but loyal, fan base.  I know the ballpark doesn’t always sell out, but the reality is that baseball game tickets in New York City are among the most expensive in all of Major League Baseball.  You can’t blame their fans for not wanting the dish out between 55-200 dollars per ticket for good seats to watch a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2006.  In fact, baseball television ratings in New York Metro region is among the highest in the country.

I am not among the New York Mets cheering section, but I am happy for their fans that their team is making is back to postseason play.  I can also appreciate how any sports franchise with as much losing history as the Mets when their fans get so excited about making the playoffs.  But seriously, “Joey from Queens”, relax with the World Series championship’s prognostications, you still have to get to the October Classic before we discuss winning it.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Rubik's Cube that is the UFC Rankings

When I was ten years old I asked my parents to let me take martial arts classes after I saw a Bruce Lee film and an amazing journey began for me.  My love for Martial Arts has grown over the years and led me to start watching Professional Mixed Martial Arts almost two decades ago.  I remember watching online replays of Bas Rutten Pancrase matches and Royce Grace vs Sakuraba PRIDE Superfight. I also watched the nights Vitor Belfort’s speed blitzkrieg of Wanderlei Silva and Tank Abbott, when Rich Franklin defeated Evan Tanner to become the UFC Middleweight champion, and the amazing technical war between Cung Le and Frank Shamrock in Strikeforce. 

I have been allowed the privilege, thanks to my many years in the radio industry and background in MMA, to cover several Bellator and UFC events.  I have seen the sport grow from a misunderstood “combat sport” to one of the top five highest grossing professional sports in the world.  But along the way a lot has changed, for better and for worse.  The “better” is what gets frequently publicized such as major sponsorship dollars MMA athletes have in today’s world and the mainstream acceptance of MMA.  That acceptance, thanks to fighters like Ronda Rousey, Randy Couture, and Ken Shamrock, paved the way for MMA fighters to crossover into the Television and movie industries.  The major television contracts that the UFC has with FOX, Bellator has with Viacom (Spike, CBS Sports), and World Series of Fighting with NBC Sports has put MMA on television on a weekly basis.

One common thread is that the UFC is the king of professional MMA world, where the most of the best fighters on the planet compete.  The UFC led the way in the 1990’s and helped bridge the gap to bring MMA into mainstream sports conversation.  But the UFC also has made promises to the casual and hardcore MMA fan bases that have loosely been kept.  When the UFC took over MMA organizations PRIDE, WEC, and Strikeforce, the plan was for those organizations to keep going forward and there to be crossover fights.  In each case the UFC slowly absorbed fighters into their own ranks and then dissolve the organizational structure, ending their existence. 

In 2015 the UFC is again giving something that frustrates fans and media alike, whether most of them are willing to admit it or not.  On the UFC’s website there are weight class rankings, allowing fans and media alike to have a gauge of where different fighters stand in relation to potential to championship matchups according to them.  Yet we have seen numerous times the UFC neglect their own rankings and put together fight cards headlined by title fights most people did not expect.

UFC Welterweight Champion Robbie Lawler is set to face Carlos Condit in November even though Condit has a record of 2-2 since his title fight loss to George St. Pierre in 2012.  Condit, the former WEC Welterweight Champion, is currently ranked 4th in the UFC rankings, so he leap frogged three men for his title shot.  Meanwhile Johnny Hendricks (number one contender ranking) and Tyron Woodley (number 3 ranked Welterweight) are facing off in October at UFC 192.  Both men have previously defeated Condit while also having better overall records over the last few years.  Woodley has a 5-2 record since arriving in the UFC in 2013, with his only losses coming via judges’ decision.  Hendricks has 3-2 record over the same time period, his only losses coming via controversial split judges’ decisions.  Yet the UFC chose Carlos Condit for the title shot despite him being ranked behind Hendricks and Woodley.

Another example of mixed messages from the UFC is with the evolving conundrum of the UFC Women’s Strawweight division.  Current Women’s 115 lb. champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk is set to face Valérie Létourneau at UFC 193 in November, yet Letourneau is the number 10 ranked fighter in the division according to UFC rankings.  Letourneau is leap frogging Claudia Gadelha (number one contender in the division), Carla Esparza (former champion and number two ranked in division) and Tecia Torres (number 5 ranked fighter and undefeated in her pro career).  Both Gadehla and Esparza are out of action due to injuries so many people expected Torres would be next in line to fight for the belt.  Instead Torres is scheduled to fight Michelle Waterson next; Waterson is the former Invicta FC Atomweight Champion.  Meanwhile on her way to a title shot Letourneau has a 3-0 record in the UFC, all victories over women who are currently not ranked in the UFC’s top fifteen for the weight class.

The reality is the UFC is an organization that signed multiple big money media contracts at a time when they MMA landscape was very different.  A few years ago the UFC’s biggest stars were Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, and George St. Pierre.  Whether people were fans or haters, they tuned in every fight to watch these men either win or lose.  The UFC was also building the brand of Cain Velasquez, Frankie Edgar and Anthony Pettis after their famous championship winning fights.  In recent years since UFC signed media and sponsorship deals grossing the organization billions of dollars here’s what has happened to their stars:

-Jon Jones is currently suspended indefinitely due to his legal problems after a Hit and Run accident; he has been stripped of his title.

-Anderson Silva lost his title for Chris Weidman and since then tested positive for steroids after his fight with Nick Diaz.

-George St. Pierre retired after his controversial win over Johnny Hendricks in 2012; St. Pierre has stated he is not coming back anytime soon.

-Cain Velasquez has won, lost, won again, and lost again his Heavyweight title all while dealing with injuries.

-Frankie Edgar lost his UFC Lightweight Title in 2012 and has moved down to the Featherweight division where is working towards another title shot.

-Anthony Pettis lost his title in 2015 to Rafael Dos Anjos months after being a featured athlete on Wheaties boxes.

In 2015 the UFC is attempting to bank their marketing power around three current champions:

-Ronda Rousey, A woman who has said she will retire by 2017 and wants to spend more time pursuing an acting career.

-Chris Weidman, A talented fighter from New York whose coach is former UFC champion Matt Serra.

-Connor McGregor, A brash Irishman coming from a boxing background who just recently won the Interim UFC Featherweight title.

So with this shortened list of marque marketable fighters, why is the UFC insisting on putting together title fights that conflict with their own rankings?  The whole point of having these rankings published and updated almost weekly is to attract more fans interest in upcoming fight cards. 

One of the UFC’s biggest media deals is with Brazil’s Globo and is potentially in jeopardy due to poor TV ratings.  It does not help that three years ago there were several Brazilian UFC champions and title contenders.  In 2015 only two Brazilians hold UFC titles, one being Jose Aldo who has been dealing with injuries.  The other is Fabricio Werdum who is not even in the top five list of most popular MMA fighters in Brazil.

Certainly it is perplexing the UFC’s reasoning for many of their recent fighter matchups.  The truth is that the UFC needs the MMA fans to continue their support for the king of MMA in order to maintain financial strength and media visibility.  Their current deal with Reebok is still unpopular in many MMA circles since it cut off many sponsors from the UFC arena and some fighter’s lifelines.  There is nothing wrong with calculated risks, but only time will tell if this Rubik’s cube the UFC has placed in front of the media and fans will continue to produce results or if it will be tossed away due to the inability to be understood.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Diagnosis and Solution for Nine NFL teams 0-2 after Week Two

After Week Two of the 2015 NFL season there are nine teams off to a 0-2 start. Many of these teams had pre-season expectations to make the playoffs. So what went wrong between August 1st and September 22nd? Reality hit that being “good on paper” does not equal success on the football field.

So I am going to look at each of these 0-2 teams like a doctor: analyze the symptoms, diagnose the problem, and give a solution/prescription to turn things around.  So let’s get started:

Baltimore Ravens
Symptoms: The Ravens have been playing inconsistent each of the first two weeks.  In week one they limit the Broncos offense and future Hall of Fame Quarterback Peyton Manning to under 20 points then the next week the defense allows 37 points from a Raiders team full of young players. As a team they rank in the lower half of the league in almost every offensive statistical category.

Diagnosis: Injuries at key positions are hurting the Ravens. All-Pro Linebacker Terrell Suggs is out for the season, Pro Bowl Tight End Dennis Pitta is on the Physically Unable to Perform list, starting Offensive Tackle Eugene Monroe is out with a concussion, and rookie Wide Receiver Breshard Perriman is recovering from a knee injury. As a result, the team has been playing guys at these positions who are not at the same level of skill as the injured starters.

Solution: The Ravens do not have a plethora of high skilled players starting at every position. They cannot get away with being the most talented team on the field each week. This team needs to get back to what has served them well in the past, which is being physical on both sides of the ball. If they can physically impose their will on opponents they can win ball games. Neither of their first two losses were blowouts, both games came down to final possessions, so they must execute better in crunch time.
But having to “turn on a switch” and play a certain way at the end of games is a lot harder when the team hasn’t been playing well throughout the game. Starting in the 1st quarter of each game the team needs to impose their will and game plan on their opponents then carry that momentum throughout the rest of the game.

Houston Texans
Symptoms: On paper the Houston Texans are one of the most talented defenses in the NFL. Yet they have allowed their first two opponents this season to score 24 points and 27 points in consecutive weeks. This is facing offenses with limited offensive skill players so it would be assumed that a team as talented as the Texans should be able to slow opponents down. Also, Texans have started two different Quarterbacks in both of their games this season.

Diagnosis: The problem is execution. There is no reason why a defense like this should allow a talented Tight End such as Travis Kelce to be so wide open and be able to score two receiving touchdowns. There is no reason why Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton should not be under pressure when he is the most dangerous player on the opposing offense. Also, after the first two weeks the Texans passing offense is top 12 in the NFL in passing yards per game and has 28 first downs on passing plays. Yet they are only averaging 18.5 points per game and their 3rd down conversion rate is a lowly 24 percent.

Solution: The defense needs to stop leaning on All-Pro Defensive lineman JJ Watt. Yes, he is arguably the best defensive player in the NFL, but one man cannot do everything. Football is a team game and the other players on the Texans defense need to step up and handle their assignments on every play. On offense, this team needs to balance their attack. They are running double the passing plays versus running plays; they need to be more committed to the running game and not leave so much pressure on the passing attack to convert on 3rd downs to keep drives going.

Indianapolis Colts
Symptoms: The Colts have been outscored on the season 47-21 versus teams who when you combine their rosters only have two players on offense who have been Pro Bowl selections. Neither Quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor nor Ryan Fitzpatrick are overly difficult to game plan against. Also the Colts offense is bottom in the NFL ranks in turnovers in 2015.

Diagnosis: The Colts offensive and defensive lines have played poorly in their first two games. Neither side of the ball is gaining leverage against the opposition and these guys are being pushed around almost every play. I do not care how great Quarterback Andrew Luck is, or how talented his receivers are. If the offensive line does not hold their blocking assignments, this offense will keep looking putrid. On the flip side, the defensive front is not getting consistent pressure on the opposing offense, leaving the back end of the defense to be taken advantage of from down to down. Opposing offenses are averaging 343 total yards of offense versus Colts in 2015.

Solution: The offensive and defensive lineman need to do their jobs better or this team will continue to flounder. The men in the trenches are the foundation of success for any winning franchise. It doesn’t matter how talented the Quarterback and Wide Receivers are on paper. Poor execution leads to opponents having the upper hand and then the team starts pressing because they are behind on the score board. The Colts need to get back to the fundamentals of football. They signed Running Back Frank Gore for a reason and I am sure it wasn’t to just block for Andrew Luck.  They need to stop being afraid to attack on defense, especially when you have guys like Trent Cole and Robert Mathis on the roster. The Colts have to impose their game plan on opponents in order to win games. This finesse style of game play the last two weeks certainly isn’t working.

New York Giants
Symptoms: For two straight weeks the Giants have held the lead in games in the 4th quarter, mismanaged their offense, then allowed opponents to get the ball back on offense at end of the game and score touchdowns. The Giants are outscoring teams 37-23 through first 3 quarters; in the 4th quarter opponents are outscoring the Giants 28-10!

Diagnosis: The Giants are not finishing games with the right attitude. Instead of playing the way they did the first 3 quarters all the way until the end, in the 4th quarter, they are playing overly conservative in effort to “maintain the lead” and “not make mistakes”.  A problem in sports is whenever a team or player is worried about making a mistake, those problems manifest themselves during the game and then the worry becomes the nightmare facing them.

Solution: The Giants need to stop letting up on the gas pedal when entering the 4th quarter. They need to be in attack mode all game long, not just 75 percent of the game.  They need to treat the scoreboard like no lead is safe and they have to keep attacking opponents on offense while allowing their defense to continue being aggressive until the final seconds go off the clock. They can lay back when the game is over, not in the fourth quarter.

Philadelphia Eagles
Symptoms: The Eagles offense is averaging only 17 points per game and statistically have the worst rushing offense in the NFL, averaging 35 rushing yards per game.  Meanwhile opponents are averaging 377 total yards per game and the Eagles defense pressure on the opposing Quarterback is so bad they have only one sack in 2015.

Diagnosis: The Eagles are not just playing poorly, but are misusing players on both sides of the ball. Running Back Demarco Murray is a “North-South” power runner who is great running between the tackles. The Eagles keep trying to run him on stretch plays and hand offs out of shotgun. Byron Maxwell did his best work as a Cornerback in Seattle playing a specific side of the field, not matched up on the opponent’s top receiver all game long. While Wide Receiver Jordan Matthews does his best work on slants and deep comeback pattern passing plays, the Eagles keep running him on deep outs and crossing pick passing plays. Linebacker Connor Barwin is great at blitzing the Quarterback on 3rd down and stopping running plays and screen plays as a power player. Eagles keep sending him into coverage on multiple downs.

Solution: The Eagles coaches need to utilize their players based on their skill sets instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. If Chip Kelly is as great a football mind as people claim, he will know how to customize his game plans based around his player’s strengths instead of asking them to run plays they are outside of their comfort zones. Allow the talent on this roster to do what they are best at, then you will have a chance to win ball games.

Detroit Lions
Symptoms: The Lions are in the bottom half of the league in points per game, rush yards per game, total yards per game and 3rd down conversation percentage. Their offense has been inconsistent despite all the talent they have on the roster.  Also, opponents are averaging 29.5 points per game versus the Lions.

Diagnosis: The Lions have built their team around the Pro Bowl Quarterback Matthew Stafford with talented players such as Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Eric Ebron, and Amir Abdullah. But the offensive play calling has been unbalanced. The running game has been so rough that the team’s second leading rusher so far this season is their Quarterback Stafford. Which highlights the other issue. The offensive line is not getting enough leverage at the snap of the ball, allowing opposing defenses to dictate pace and limiting the offense’s ability to execute efficiently.

Solution: The Lions must do a better job at putting the Quarterback in a position to be successful or they will continue to lose games. This team’s defense is built to play when their offense is ahead so they can attack the opponent’s offense. They are not built to play from behind so they need to not start slow as they have the last two weeks. They need to get leads early and execute on offense, giving them a chance to finish the game strong instead of fighting from behind and hope for the best.

Chicago Bears
Symptoms: The Bears offense is not the problem as they average 23 points per game and statistically one of the top rushing offenses in the NFL. The problem is their defense, as their opponents have score 11 touchdowns in just the first two weeks of this season. The defense has registered zero sacks and their only interception is by one of their pass rushers, Jared Allen.

Diagnosis: Ever since the team fired former Head Coach Lovie Smith a few years ago, the defense has played below average despite the personnel on their roster. When your defense is unable to stop opponents then the offense is put in the dubious position of having to play catch up. Being without starting Quarterback Jay Cutler for a few weeks will further inhibit the team’s ability to keep up in games their defense can’t slow down opponents.

Solution: Talented veterans such as Jared Allen, Antrel Rolle, Lamarr Houston, and Shea McClellin need to take command of the situation and lead this team to play better.  These guys know what it takes to be successful in the NFL and without them this team will finish dead last in the division. The Bears do not have the offensive firepower to win only with their offense. The defense must step up, play up to their potential, and keep opponents from averaging 39.5 point per game against them. They need to shave at least 10 points off that average to allow their offense to have a chance to win games for them.

New Orleans Saints
Symptoms: Despite having a future Hall of Famer at Quarterback in Drew Brees, the Saints are averaging 19 points per game and their offensive line has allowed their Quarterback to be sacked six times. Meanwhile, despite having “defensive guru” Rob Ryan as Defensive Coordinator, the Saints are allowing opponents an average of 380 total yards per game.

Diagnosis: The Saints offensive and defensive lines are under performing in 2015.  Despite the big trade to bring in Pro Bowl Center Max Unger in the offseason, the line has been unable to keep defenders off their Quarterback consistently. Also the line is not gaining the leverage needed at the snap to allow any consistency play from the running game. On the flip side, the defense is getting almost no pressure on opposing Quarterbacks and the secondary is playing sloppy in coverage.

Solution: The Saints need to pick up their overall play in the trenches. They cannot expect to win games if they are getting manhandled after the snap of the football on each play. Drew Brees reportedly has a bruised rotator cuff, thanks to his offensive line doing a poor job of protecting him. The defense needs to get more pressure on opposing Quarterbacks in order to make life more difficult for offenses they face. The coaches Sean Payton and Rob Ryan need to see what they can do to shake up their game plan schemes so they appear less predictable week to week.

Seattle Seahawks
Symptoms: The Seahawks are allowing 30.5 points per game to be scored on them, the highest number in the last 5 seasons. They have only gotten sacks on opposing Quarterbacks 4 times and registered zero interceptions. Meanwhile Seattle has allowed their own starting Quarterback Russell Wilson to be sacked by opponents eight times and their offense is in the bottom half of the league statistically in categories such as total yards per game, passing yards, and total points scored.

Diagnosis: This is not a team right now. Too many players are going onto the field not for the team but playing for themselves and to impress to get contracts. Safety Kam Chancellor has been sitting out, refusing to play, because he wants a pay raise after getting a new contract two years ago. This type of attitude is seemingly permeating the rest of the roster as too many guys on both sides of the ball are playing as individuals instead of executing as a unit. With players such as Michael Bennett, Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner and Cliff Avrill, there is no reason why they should be allowing opponents to score as many points per game.

Solution: Protect your Quarterback and get to the other team’s Quarterback. Seattle Seahawks, the solution is simple.  Stop worrying about the next contact or what the guy next to you is doing or when Kam Chancellor is coming back. Step up, do your job, support your current teammates. Don’t worry about who is no longer on the team because they went elsewhere and got paid. Also, you acquired one of the top offensive weapons in the NFL, Tight End Jimmy Graham. Get him more involved in the offense.  Graham led the Saints in targets on passing plays three of the last four seasons in New Orleans and despite the fact everyone knew the Saints were throwing it to him, he still put up huge statistics every year. There is no reason why he can’t do the same in Seattle.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Real Difference between Philadelphia Eagles & Dallas Cowboys

We have all heard the phrase “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it”.  Well on the flip side, how about the phrase “If we do not learn from history then we are doomed to repeat it”?  Week Two of the NFL season embodied those phrases in the matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys.  Two long standing rivals whose organizations are in very different situations.

The Cowboys let their Pro Bowl Running Back, Demarco Murray, leave after leading the NFL in Rushing Yards.  People scoffed at them when the team put their faith in young Joseph Randle and oft-injured veteran Darren McFadden to carry the load of the running game in Murray’s absence. Also, the Cowboys have Lance Dunbar as their third down situation back. The Cowboys took this leap of faith because they have seen this story before and have spent the last few years building one of the top offensive lines in the NFL through the draft. Tyron Smith, Zack Miller, and Travis Frederick were all drafted when the so called “experts” said the Cowboys had other options to pick in the first round of the NFL Draft each year.

The Cowboys invested in depth by picking up the discarded former first round pick Brandon Weeden to be their backup Quarterback. Before Weeden got to Dallas his career statistics were 55 percent completion percentage with a 26 interceptions thrown in two seasons with the Cleveland Browns. In six games playing Quarterback for the Cowboys, Weeden has a 79 percent completion percentage with four touchdowns and only two interceptions.

This is the same Cowboys organization that invested resources into the offensive line and the backup Quarterback during the run of success in the 1990’s.  Those teams had Steve Beuerlein and Bernie Kosar as backups in case anything happened to their future Hall of Fame Quarterback Troy Aikman. Also the tactical moves by Head Coach Jimmy Johnson to build an offensive line with Pro Bowl selections Larry Allen, Erik Williams, and Nate Newton. Replicating the past with unheralded personnel moves such as these have put the Cowboys in a position as leaders in the NFC East with a 2-0 record to start the season.

On the other side of the field Sunday you have the Philadelphia Eagles who for the second straight week played underwhelming on both sides of the ball. The Eagles came into the season with high expectations after an offseason in which they overhauled the roster. The Eagles dished out 104 million dollars worth of contracts to Byron Maxwell, Demarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. Over the last couple years they sent packing Pro Bowlers Desean Jackson, Lesean McCoy, and Evan Mathis in what 20-20 hindsight says was all about Head Coach Chip Kelly not wanting certain types of personalities on his team. Kelly also traded away Quarterback Nick Foles to the St. Louis Rams for former Heisman Trophy winner and 1st round draft pick Sam Bradford to be the Eagles new starting Quarterback.

Despite all the money spent and numerous personnel moves, the Eagles have played below average for the first two weeks of the 2015 NFL season. The Eagles roster looks good on paper, but so did that 2011 Philadelphia Eagles “Dream Team” (as nicknamed by then backup Quarterback Vince Young) that had Pro Bowl offseason acquisitions Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, and Jason Babin to bolster the defense.  This was to match with an offense led by Quarterback Michael Vick who re-signed that offseason with the Eagles a contract that was 40 million dollars guaranteed. Tens of millions of dollars spent to build a winning team that finished the season 8-8.

The reality is that the splashy and headline grabbing offseason moves don’t win football games. The Washington Redskins, Oakland Raiders, New York Jets, and Miami Dolphins are franchises that have won Super Bowls decades ago but did not learn from the past.  Instead these franchises have spent the last 25 years making the multi-million big free agent signings, splashy Head Coach hires, and trades for big name players.  But none of those moves have helped these teams win a Super Bowl.  In fact, only one of those franchises (the 2002 Oakland Raiders) has even reached the Super Bowl.

On the other hand, franchises such as the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens, and New York Giants have put together teams that have not only reached the big game multiple times, but have won the Super Bowl multiple times over the last 20 years. These organizations have built their teams through calculated offseason signings that better the team while using the draft to build a team not just find a star. When these organizations do make mistakes, they do what is necessary to correct course, whether that be fire a Head Coach or unload a player via release or trade.  No one gets every move right, but it’s the smart organizations that learn from their mistakes and move forward to better the team for the current season and the future.

Since Chip Kelly became the Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach he has not been building a team. Instead he has been treating players like interchangeable parts to see if they fit in his system. He uses the draft to select players he thinks can fit his game plan instead of properly weighing the skill sets of these young men. When he drafted Linebacker Marcus Smith, Cornerback Jaylen Watkins and Quarterback Matt Barkley it was never to truly develop these players but instead to plug them into his system based on how he saw their potential fit. In 2015 neither Watkins nor Barkley are on the team anymore while Smith is buried on the depth chart.

Kelly has let go of players such as Wide Receiver Jeremy Maclin, Cornerback Brandon Boykin, Running Back Lesean McCoy, along with offensive lineman Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans because he claims these players did not fit “his” system. Interesting how these players are all playing for new teams in 2015 and they “fit” into other teams who have playoff aspirations.

The Eagles made a splashy move by bringing Kelly in to run their team but Kelly also has brought the wrong mentality with him. College Football has similarities to the Pro game but there is one major difference: while in college you recruit players to plug and play into your system, in the NFL you have to build a team and modify your system for the talent you have on the roster. The Cowboys after spending the first half of the 2000’s learning the hard way, have gone back to the 1990’s Jimmy Johnson model and have built a team. Free agent acquisitions are meant to add a player with a needed skill set to a team, not use signings and trades to build a roster.  We can see what works in New England, Green Bay, Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore, yet the Philadelphia Eagles insist on re-inventing the wheel.

This is the second straight Eagles Head Coach who is an “offensive guru” who has come to “change the culture”. The media buys into the story line while overlooking the facts. Both Chip Kelly and Andy Reid were in their previous jobs for short periods of time. Both men had never been NFL Head Coaches or Coordinators. Neither Kelly nor Reid had spent time working with salary cap restrictions but were asked to be major decision makers in building NFL rosters. Andy Reid and Chip Kelly had limited experience hiring coaches to work under them (In Oregon Kelly inherited most of his staff from retiring Head Coach Mark Bellotti).

So again, I re-state my opening points, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”, and, “If we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.”  No matter how much we debate the merits of team’s offseason activities, it still comes down to winning on the field each week in the NFL.  It’s looking like a long season for the Philadelphia Eagles and a season still ripe with potential for success for the Dallas Cowboys.