Tag Archives: Sports

LeBron James Is A Great Storyteller

 

Every good story has four elements. The first three are provided by the storyteller be it a novelist, director, or playwright. The last is provided by the audience be it a reader, moviegoer, or a person who watches plays (there is no name for this, I checked). There are of course other elements to consider but, these are the absolute basics. The first three basics are provided by the storyteller and are a beginning, a middle, and an end. The last basic element, courtesy of the audience, is belief. Every story starts somewhere, goes somewhere, and ends somewhere. A good story is then believed by the people who see it. This is true no matter how fantastic or whimsical a story. If the audience believes in the story, it’s real.

LeBron James believes the story, as do we all. It’s why he went back to Cleveland and, it’s why we’re all okay with it. This, by the way, is not to say that LeBron James needs permission to go back to Cleveland but the last time he made A Decision everyone was markedly not okay with it.

James told his story starting from the beginning, in an essay he wrote in collaboration with Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated explaining his decision to return to Cleveland. This is an interesting choice when you think about it. He could have just written about his love for Cleveland and Northeast Ohio, followed by his decision to go back home but, he didn’t. He chose instead to tell a story. His story. In his essay he explains the familial relationship he has with Ohio as well as his roots there.

Now the more cynical among us may think LeBron is selling a bunch of hock, just like he did four years ago. The more cynical among us would simply believe that he’s better at it now. The more cynical among us would be absolutely wrong of course. This is because LeBron wasn’t selling anything four years ago either. He was just believing in another part of the story.

Rewind to four years ago. A 25 year old LeBron James looks into the camera and says he’s taking his talents to South Beach and to the Miami Heat. He would later say he was shocked by the reaction he got. Why? Because LeBron tried to make his departure the spectacle everyone wanted, which backfired, as plans of that nature are ought to do. The narrative that should have played out is every sports analysts wet dream (the way the Cleveland return actually did turn out). The best player in the league takes a massive pay cut to try and win multiple titles with his friends. He selflessly turns aside money in the name of team work and winning. Any rational person knows that this totally works on paper. Theoretically it’s a good story. Hell, it’s a even a great story.

A bizarre thing happened though. Somewhere between LeBron’s good intentions and the broadcast of The Decision, the media and fans hi-jacked the story and changed it. They didn’t believe the story line given to them so they turned into something else. Something worse. They turned into the story of a man arrogant enough to air a half hour special about himself. They turned it into the story of a superstar unable to win a title, unfairly teaming up with other stars to finish a singular superstar’s job. Mostly though, astonished media and hurt fans turned it into the story of a traitor who betrayed his hometown for a more glamorous city.

Faster than it took the nickname “the Heatles” to stick, Lebron had become the villain in his own story. He wanted to be the hero but, instead was wearing the black hat.

The only thing that clears up that kind of stink is winning. The revamped Miami Heat did just that, notching 54 wins in their first season together. They did however have some perplexing losing streaks in the 2010-2011 campaign, which only exacerbated the learning curve that James had to overcome in playing with his teammates. That struggle and eventual Finals defeat at the hands of the underdog Dallas Mavericks gave everyone the storyline most near and dear to every sports fan’s heart. Hatred.

Lebron, very much not wanting to be the villain, was not just considered a villain but a defeated one. A Finals victory would have cleared the air, instead fans and media alike took some twisted joy in Miami’s defeat. The Big 3 as they had become known had everything about them questions from their ability to win together to their actual desire to win basketball games. To overcome the villainous title thrust upon him James had to become something he had never been before. An NBA Champion.

On October 29, 2003 LeBron James was becoming something he had never been before. An NBA player. The Sacramento Kings hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers as the first chapter of LeBron’s NBA career had officially begun. Cleveland lost the game but, with the brilliance of the rookie LeBron was on full display, they gained so much more. The Cavs gained the notion that this guy was special and that his story with them was far from over. LeBron, at just 18 years old, dominated the game. The kid was supposed to be raw. He wasn’t. He wasn’t supposed to be able to shoot. Yet he was making shots. He showed a tremendous feel for the game, as though he had been in the league for years. His jumpers fell. Not just the open ones either. On one play LeBron had the ball as the shot clock was running down, he pivoted to his right, elevated and leaned back, he released a high arcing fade away. Everyone knew it was going in and down it went. LeBron James was a natural.

It’s the summer of 2014 and LeBron James is 29 years old. He’s at the point in a player’s career where they begin to think about their legacy. He’s a superstar with two NBA championships, he’s been a future Hall of Famer for a while now, and he’s still in the middle of his prime. It’s the middle of the story. The 29 year old LeBron James headed back to Cleveland is still a natural but he is now at the height of his powers. James has never been better. He’s never been more popular, in fact, after his decision to return to Cleveland, LeBron James surpassed Michael Jordan as the most popular athlete in America. So, what’s next?

A story that has belief also has challenges (if not physical ones then mental ones). Nobody wants to see a hero traipse unencumbered from goal to goal, only stopping to wonder occasionally why life is so incredibly easy. It’s not entertaining and it’s not at all like real life (after all we like stories to remind us of ourselves). LeBron became the most popular athlete post-Cleveland Return. In so doing he must overcome the inherent challenges in it. There are a lot of them.

This is by far LeBron’s most inexperienced team so far, featuring a bunch of youngsters, who not unlike you or I have only seen the NBA playoffs on TV. Just months ago that locker room had a level of dysfunction bordering on complete implosion. The stories coming out of Cleveland were soap opera-esque; Tristan Thompson was accusing Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving of playing buddy ball, passing to just each other, and not getting him involved. After a 3-6 start punctuated by a 29 point loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, there was a players only meeting that allegedly got confrontational. In short, the team was a mess.

Belief is a necessary part of storytelling involving the audience buying into what ever the story is. Who is telling this story? The LeBron story I mean, not the Irving-Waiters-Thompson fiasco. Whose narrative is important here? Is it the media who would have you believe that LeBron going to Miami is an example of his childishness; while his return to Cleveland somehow makes him a paragon of maturation? Is it the fans who spurned James for taking less to win but, rejoiced when he took more to back home and possibly win less? Is it LeBron who insisted that his return to Cleveland and inspire the boys and girls of Northern Ohio? It’s also possible that there is no story at all and that everyone involved you, me, ESPN, and LeBron are all choosing the parts of his life we would most like to romanticize. This inevitably says more about us than the story we’re observing.

The funny thing about sports and in this case, basketball is that while the games are played inside some painted lines, it’s the things that happen outside the lines that seem to impact people the most. There is a blurring of the lines between storyteller and audience that makes it hard to figure out who is commenting on whom. Examples of this are Isiah Thomas’ remarks that if Larry Bird were black he’d be ‘just another good guy’, or Magic Johnson contracting HIV, and the hilarious rivalry of Reggie Miller and Spike Lee. Those moments had a direct impact on how we viewed those players even as they continued their jobs inside the lines.

Each party has a say; the fans, the media, and players alike. Each party believes the story belongs to them. The story really doesn’t belong to anybody but, there is a power of equality in the misconception. If we all believe we own the story, then in a weird way, actually do own it. What makes LeBron special, apart from his freakish athleticism and eidetic memory, is that he figured it out. He’s owned the beginning and middle of his story. He also knows how he wants it to end. He wanted and needed the rest of us to believe it too. And you know what? We did.

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Young Teams Rise In The East

The thing about the NBA is that, very much like pop music, it’s all about star power. That, and depth I suppose, but mostly star power. Almost always in the NBA, the team with the best stars win. You could build a band with Ringo Starr and Ronnie Wood if you wanted to but, I’d imagine that Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger sell the tickets. Likewise, it’s not impossible to build a good team with Chris Bosh and Joakim Noah but, the star power lies with Lebron James and Derrick Rose.

The NBA’s eastern conference has had a bit of a shake up in the last couple of years. A few stars have changed teams, and hopefully a few future stars have been drafted into the league. This has given some teams in the east the ability to, for the first time in years, make it to the playoffs.

Wizards point guard John Wall (left) and Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (right).

The Cleveland Cavaliers are going to be in post season contention if they can stay healthy. They have a number of pieces at their disposal and some potential stars. They’ve made some moves that give them an opportunity to be in the post season for the first time since Lebron James left.

Two years in, and Kyrie Irving is an emerging star. He’s an extremely reliable scorer, has handles for days, is great in crunch time and has court vision to boot. Apart from making Jason Kidd, Brandon Knight and Damian Lillard look silly; Kyrie specializes in shooting. He shoots the ball very well from basically everywhere on the floor. While he does lack a strong defensive presence, he always a threat on offense getting easy shots for both himself and his teammates.

Andrew Bynum is an all star caliber center who averages a double-double when healthy. His biggest problem being, of course, that he is not always healthy (or ever; in the case of the Philadelphia 76ers who never once saw Bynum play a regular season game in their uniform). Andrew Bynum is the perfect example of a player that is worth the risks taken on him. He’s a legitimate 7 footer with a variety of useful and often times crafty post moves. While Andrew Bynum may have red flags concerning his maturity but, he is worth the risk if he plays up to his potential.

Anthony Bennett is the number 1 overall pick in this year’s draft. This came as a surprise to many but, not too surprising since Cleveland general manager Chris Grant tends to be, shall we say, unconventional in his moves at times. The Cavaliers hope that Bennett can bring the athleticism that he showed when he played at UNLV. Bennett is explosive and is capable of finishing above the rim. He’s got a quick first step and speed when running the open floor. Anthony Bennett is not a consistent jump shooter and doesn’t play active defense, those are coachable issues however. Look for Bennett to contribute right away.

Not to be forgotten: Dion Waiters 14.7 ppg 2.4 rpg

The Detroit Pistons are ready to put their previously disappointing seasons behind them. General manager Joe Dumars through some form of magic (most likely) has found a way to keep his job despite putting together a myriad of bad teams. These bad teams directly preceded the  team that won an NBA Finals in the 2003-2004 season and had four other conference finals appearances, that Dumars also built. In a return to form, Joe Dumars has made a number of shrewd moves in the offseason in an attempt to bring the Pistons back to prominence.

Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond have a lot in common. They are both versatile big men. Both are 6’10” and are both highlights waiting to happen. They move well on the fast break. They are both smart and willing passers. Greg Monroe has 3 NBA season under his belt while Andre Drummond just wrapped up his rookie season. Monroe played 33 minutes a game to Drummond’s 20 minutes most likely because they occupy roughly the same place on the floor, and Andre is a rookie. Both show a lot of promise and skill.

Josh Smith is more than capable of being an all star. He isn’t but he could be. Josh Smith has strength not unlike a bull. When he attacks the basket he’s difficult to slow down. On the low block, he’s a nightmare to defend. He’s athletic and has tremendous leaping ability. The Pistons were able to acquire the former Hawks forward for a relatively affordable 4 year $56 million. If Josh Smith had a downside, it would be his tendency to settle for jumpers. He’s big, strong and fast yet is completely satisfied with taking some bad 10-15 foot jump shots.

Brandon Jennings (since we’re on the subject of bad jump shots) joins the Pistons roster via a sign and trade with the Milwaukee Bucks. In exchange the Bucks got point guard Brandon Knight. In Brandon Jennings the Pistons get a bit of a boost in scoring ability. Jennings is more of a volume shooter but he has his nights where he scores extremely well. He’s left handed and unsurprisingly goes to his left a lot; he avoids finishing with his right hand almost to the point of phobia. Brandon Jennings is a much better passer than he gets credit for, even averaging 6.5 assists per game on a team with Monta Ellis on it. Jennings is an improvement at the point guard position and is a better fit than Brandon Knight for this team.

Not to be forgotten: Chauncey Billups 8.4 ppg, 2.2 apg

The Washington Wizards believe this is the year they can make it to the post season. They’ve dealt with everything from bad injuries to just having bad players. This year their roster is stronger than it’s been in a long while giving them hope that they can end a very long drought. They haven’t been to the playoffs since 2007 and haven’t won a playoff series in about 25 years.

John Wall signed a 5 year $80 million deal with the Wizards earlier this summer. This is the maximum amount of money that he could have been paid. While Wall’s career numbers thus far do not justify this pay day, the Wizards believe that he can be an all star caliber point guard in the NBA. 2013 saw a marked improvement in Wall’s jump shot, which is still a work in progress. Wall at 6’4″ is a big point guard yet, he has incredible speed and is capable of going baseline to baseline in under 6 seconds. His jumper is his biggest barrier. At this point nobody takes it seriously. What is taken seriously is his court vision, passing ability and speed that leaves defenders standing still. Wall is also a very good defender.

Bradley Beal just finished his rookie season and it was very impressive. He’s an accurate shooter who, if given any daylight at all, can score at will. Beal can attack the basket both on the fast break, and in the half court. He runs through screens effeciently. Bradley Beal’s biggest draw back is ball handling. He’s not bad but when John Wall was injured earlier in the season he did not seem comfortable in the position of primary ball handler. However, his off ball skills are not to be over looked.

Otto Porter the rookie from Georgetown is a player in development. He looked like the most anemic of the rookies drafted this year when he participated in NBA Summer League play. He is adapting to a new offense and a new role. The Wizards re-signed veteran Martell Webster who plays the same position as Porter, so Otto shouldn’t have too much pressure on him early. He will likely not start. Otto Porter is extremely long and his huge wingspan gives him a defensive advantage. Otto was a good defender in college and an extremely scrappy player diving on the floor for loose balls, actually boxing out and sticking with broken plays.

Not to be forgotten: Nene 12.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg

All of these teams are either trying to develop stars or acquire them. That’s what it takes to win in the NBA. They are on the right track to get to the playoffs and to maybe one day compete for a title.

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A Tale Of Two Cities: Examining Derrick Rose and Robert Griffin III

In two different cities, two young leaders of two burgeoning franchises, playing two different sports suffered two separate ACL injuries. These young men, both possessing the most important knees in their respective cities have one more thing in common. A single question that haunts them, and their fan bases.

When do I return?

The Season Derrick Rose, the Bulls point guard, is known for his quickness and devastating crossover. He tasked himself with carrying the offensive load of his team in his fourth season. He also became a solid defender as well. In the 2011-12 NBA season, Rose led his Bulls to the league’s best record and the number 1 seed in the eastern conference. That season, Rose 21.8 points per game and 7.9 assists per game. While not career highs, these are extremely impressive numbers all the same.

The Injury When the playoffs began, the Bulls faced the surging Philadelphia 76ers. Philadelphia was inconsistent all season but, had won four out of their last five games heading into the post season. Still, the Bulls were heavy favorites going into the matchup with the upstart eighth seed 76ers. Then it, happened.

With 1:22 left in the game, Derrick Rose jumped off his left in the lane as he attacked the basket. This is a routine move for Rose but, this time, he didn’t finish the play. Lacking elevation, he fell to the ground and crumpled in a heap. He attempted to stand but simply could not. Rose had torn his ACL.

The Return Without Derrick Rose, the Bulls in the 2012-13 season, are playing playoff caliber basketball. Not quite at the level that they were a season ago, when they were considered championship contenders. With a current record of 39-31, the Bulls sans Rose are more than capable of holding their own. They displayed their mettle when they ended the Miami Heat’s historic winning streak at 27. The Heat with the best player in basketball, playing the best basketball of his career are all but a shoe in to return to the finals. The kicker? They did it without the team’s second best player, Joakim Noah.

There are obvious downsides to Derrick Rose missing games. Prior to the injury, Derrick Rose was the focal point of the offense. Since then, his Bulls have had to find ways to win in his absence. There will definitely be chemistry issues when he returns. However, by not playing, Derrick Rose and the Bulls staff are hoping to  prevent further injury. This is a great decision. It hurts the Bulls now, but if Derrick Rose is the player that everyone believes he can be, and reaches the heights that fans believe that he can reach, Chicago has everything to gain.

Which brings us to Robert Griffin III.

The Season Fresh off of his Heisman winning season at the University of Baylor, the second overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft was ready to take the league by storm. He did exactly that. Griffin passed for 3,200 yards and completed 65.6% of his passes. He threw 20 touchdowns and accounted for 7 touchdowns on the ground. He threw 5 interceptions, all season. The Redskins began the season an underwhelming 3-6 but, won 7 straight games to win the NFC East title for the first time since 1999 and make the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

The Injury The week 15 matchup between the Redskins and eventual Superbowl champion Baltimore Ravens marks the beginning of a two part tale. In order to get a first down Robert rolled out of the pocket and scrambled upfield. As he attempted to get down he was hit by Raven’s tackle, Haloti Ngata. The weight of the 330 lb Ngata hit the leg of Griffin causing his knee to bend momentarily in the opposite direction.

Griffin led the Redskins down the field twice in the first quarter of the playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. Twice they scored but, on the second drive, Robert’s knee buckled in an attempt to elude defenders. It is at this point that Robert Griffin III should not have been in the game. Whether the coach, staff or player is at fault is the question that still needs to be answered.

The Seahawks rallied and climbed back into the game. The Redskins were deep in their own territory with 6:15 to go in the 4th quarter, and they needed a drive to hold off the Seahawks. The ball was snapped low and as Griffin reached to pick it up, his knee gave out. The Seahawks recovered the ball and scored.

The Return Orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, who is overseeing the recovery of Griffin had only great things to say about his recovery so far.

He wants his recovery to be fairly private, but I can tell you he’s way ahead of schedule. His recovery has been unbelievable so far.

– Dr. James Andrews

This statement and the an interesting Adidas ad almost make it seem like Robert is trying to come back for week 1 of next. This is not smart. When a team trades two first round picks and a second round pick to take a guy, they expect to build around that guy for the next ten years. Robert is that guy. He’s got to be smart and learn from Derrick Rose. Comeback 100%. If that’s week 1, which is unlikely, then it’s week 1. If it’s week 7 then so be it. However, if  Griffin needs to miss the whole season, he needs to accept that that’s just how it’s got to be. Everyone is wondering if he, and the Redskins will make the same mistake twice. If the Redskins make the wrong decision and set him back, then it won’t matter if he’s superhuman or not.

Two young players, two big decisions, and two very bright futures on the line.

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Lights Out! Or How The Ravens Survived the Surging 49ers to win Superbowl 47

A Super Bowl review four days after the big game?! Unthinkable. I thought so too but, now I get to cram all the delicious post-Super Bowl action into here. No body has to lose any sleep over this. Even if (disappointingly) this my first post since the “fail mary” that lifted the Seahawks past the Packers and made Aaron Rodgers angrier than Rich Eisen covering a Brett Favre comeback.

So, without further ado, the notable moments of Super Bowl 47 and it’s after math.

The San Francisco 49ers Start Slow and Pay For It.

In my opinion, San Francisco was too conservative in the first half. This hurt Colin Kaepernick’s rhythm , because San Francisco did not line up very often in the pistol formation nor did they use the read option very much. This is odd because the Ravens’ defense showed a susceptibility to it against the Redskins earlier in the season, and later in the game. The Ravens respect for the run game makes the read option effective against them by opening up holes in their secondary. A weakness the 49ers did not exploit until the second half.

Kaepernick was often times indecisive with his throws early in the game, which led to a 1 interception and no touchdown half for the second year quarterback.

On defense, San Francisco was determined not be beaten by Baltimore’s speedy receiver Torrey Smith. They double teamed him on nearly every play he was in the game, though the Ravens took shots in his direction anyway ( I assume in an effort to keep the defense honest). This allowed slant passes and other underneath routes to be highly effective against them. Torrey Smith didn’t do nearly as much damage Anquon Boldin and tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson did. This was eventually their undoing on the defensive side because the Ravens picked up a number of crucial third and longs by winning those routes.

The Baltimore Ravens Soared Early and Held On Late.

The  much maligned Joe Flacco ended his post season with 11 TDs and no interceptions, including his 3 TD first half performance that netted him the game’s MVP award. Flacco, in a contract year, played like a franchise player deserving of his self glossed elite status.

There was however, more to this game than Joe Flacco. Wide receiver Jacoby Jones turned in his own MVP-worthy performance as well, receiving 1 TD pass and returning a record setting 108 yard kick return at the beginning of the second half to keep the Ravens in the driver’s seat.

Despite Flacco’s stellar first half, he came to earth and was pretty human in the second. The power outage may have had something to do with this, stymieing the Ravens momentum but, regardless Flacco was not playing at his first half level in the second half as far as red zone play is concerned. The Ravens were still moving the ball well but settled for field goals inside the 20 yard line on a couple of possessions that may have iced the game.

The Ravens game plan was very balanced. Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell deserves credit for that. Running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce shared 32 carries between the two of them. Flacco threw the ball 33 times. The Ravens disproportionately racked up yards in the air with 287 passing yards as compared to their meager 92 rushing yards. However Flacco was hot for most of the game and the 49ers have an especially stout run defense. 49ers linebackers Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis made sure that life on the ground was going to be tough for Baltimore.

On the other side of the ball, the Ravens played smart and out witted Kaepernick for much of the game. Especially on Colin’s first half interception. This was a typical Ed Reed performance where, he made deep passes a dangerous option for the opposing quarterback. Reed tracked the play from beginning to end, and as he often does, found himself in the perfect position to make a play on the football.

After the power outage the Ravens had trouble with the mobility of Colin Kaepernick. However, on crucial plays the found ways to hold firm.

Officiating

The referees let the players play in the big game. There were only 7 penalties committed on Sunday by either team.

The most notable officiating moment is the no call on Ravens defensive back Jimmy Smith who made contact with receiver Michael Crabtree at the end of the game. A no-call, that in my opinion, was a good one. Both Smith and Crabtree made contact prior to the ball being thrown and Crabtree pushed off after the ball was thrown.

The Aftermath 

After the Super Bowl 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh (obviously) took offense to the game ending no-call.

Joe Flacco called himself “a Raven for life” which is important because this is the end of his contract. The Ravens can re-sign him or slap him with the franchise tag. He also learned that the MVP of the Super Bowl wins a car.

Colin Kaepernick took blame for his teams’ loss, citing early mistakes as a reason.

John Harbaugh said his brother was the best coach in football as he won a brotherly rivalry for big brothers everywhere.

Ray Lewis did one last squirrel dance after the parade for all of the Baltimore fans, and it was as epic as you thought.

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What We Learned: NFL Week 2 (Better Late Than Never)

Week 3 of the NFL starts in a few hours so a review of Week 2 of the NFL is way overdue. Here’s a look at week 2 in the NFL season, and what we learned.

Alex Smith takes a shot to the face in the 49ers victory over the Lions on Sunday Night.

Steve Sabol, president of NFL Films, dies at the age of 69.

Steve Sabol passed away this passed week of brain cancer. Sabol was the son of NFL Films founder Ed Sabol, and a true visionary like his father was. Ed wanted to bring fans closer to the game. What Steve did, was take that idea and run with it. He brought fans to the game by telling a story. His use of visuals, music, as well as on-field sound served to provide football fans with a cinematic experience. Steve Sabol’s ideas have since been used in other sports. The NBA’s The Association and the MLB’s The Franchise both use techniques that Sabol invented that are now an industry standard. With his ability to take games beyond the scoreboard and turn them into stories, Steve Sabol forever changed the NFL and sports.

We Need The Real Officials Back

Steve Young said earlier this week that the NFL doesn’t care about good officiating or player safety. He couldn’t be more right. As each week passes, NFL defenses begin to test their boundaries with these replacement officials. I watched the Redskins play the Rams last week and that game was a mess from the very beginning. The real officials would know how to take control, especially of a game like that, which was an intense game from beginning to end. Their was a helmet-to-helmet collisions by Janoris Jenkins on Fred Davis that went uncalled, a couple of touchdowns for the Rams that should have been touchdowns but weren’t, and a lot of extracurricular activities after the whistle by both teams.

The replacement refs seemed out of their element. Out of their league. The speed of the game was too much for them to handle and it showed. Division III referees are simply not going to cut it. Young is right the fans will watch even when their team gets screwed out of a game or worse, if a player gets seriously injured because of a game that got out of control.

Peyton Manning Is Still A Work In Progress

Peyton Manning started his first 3 series against the Falcons on Monday Night Football, with three interceptions. This put his Broncos in a hole early. A hole that despite a pretty good game from Manning, after the early INTs, the Broncos would never fully recover.

Peyton Manning missed an entire season of NFL football. He’s going to have his ups and downs as he attempts to return to the form that we know him for. And while I don’t believe he’ll ever get back there, he can get very close. It’s just going to take some time. Knee jerk reactions will leave many looking foolish in regard to Manning. He’ll have some great games but, guess what? There are going to be some stinkers in there as well.

The 2012 NFL Rookie Class Will Be One of the Most Amazing We’ve Seen

Trent Richardson tee’d off on the Bengals last week and with that added support, Brandon Weeded showed what he was capable of. The Bengals still beat the Browns but Cleveland looked a whole lot better offensively than before, thanks to it’s two new rookies.

Andrew Luck was able to play a much, shall we say, nicer defense in week 2 in that matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. Reggie Wayne helped out. Luck’s arm is pretty monstrous regardless of what the critics say. He also showed that he can use his mobility to extend plays and pick up first downs when necessary. Remember Andrew Luck’s 40 yard dash is right up there with Cam Newton’s.

Robert Griffin III looked less impressive than he did in week 1 against the Saints. The Rams are a tougher defense than New Orleans, though. They did slow down the high powered Detroit Lions offense in week 1, picking off Matthew Stafford 3 times. Griffin was intercepted once but he accounted for 3 touchdowns. He had one in the air and 2 rushing TDs.

Ryan Tannehill bounced back after a rough outing in week 1. He like Luck, faced a weaker defense than the one they played a week prior. Tannehill threw for a touchdown and ran for another. He had no turnovers. He looked good and showed poise most likely because he didn’t have to bear the offensive load. Let’s say he received a bit of assistance from Reggie Bush, in the form of 172 yards and two touchdowns.

There’s the recap. What will we learn in week 3?

 

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What We Learned: NFL Week 1

Week 1 of the NFL season is in the books. There are lots of things to look at this week; the five rookies that started, the return of some prominent running backs, and more. Let’s jump in it!

The Giants Need Receivers and The Cowboys Have a Secondary.

Tony Romo and Kevin Ogletree after their victory over the Giants last Wednesday.

The Dallas Cowboys helped kickoff the NFL season last Wednesday with a 24-17 drubbing of the New York Giants. Tony Romo looked electric, as threw the ball all over the yard. Romo offset his one interception by throwing 309 yards and 3 touchdowns. Dez Bryant ran rampant, showing the elite playmaking ability that Dalas was looking for when they drafted him. Kevin Ogletree stepped up in a big way with 8 receptions for 114 yards and 2 touchdowns.

I don’t know if the Cowboys secondary is permanently cured of the knuckle headed play that has plagued it in the past but, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has the Cowboys disrupting Eli’s rhythm all night. The pass rush played a part of course gathering 3 sacks and making Eli Manning uncomfortable.

The Giants struggled offensively. It’s pretty clear that losing Mario Manningham to the San Francisco 49ers this offseason has hurt them. They tried running the ball, which they were worst in the league last season in doing, and they failed miserably at it. They were unable to stretch the field. Both Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks received special attention from the Dallas defense. Nicks was pretty much shut down with 4 receptions for just 38 yards. Victor Cruz had opportunities but dropped a number of passes. While this isn’t a sign of things to come, the Giants need a third option to emerge for Eli or they’ll be in a lot of trouble.

Quarterback Nightmares

What do Michael Vick, Brandon Weeden, Matthew Stafford, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Andrew Luck, and Ryan Tannehill have in common? A metric crap ton of interceptions between them. All of these quarterbacks threw three interceptions on Sunday. Noteworthy: 3 of the 5 rookies starting at quarterback are here. 

Michael Vick and Brandon Weeden were apparently playing to see who could throw the most interceptions. They both tied at 4, I suppose. However what’s interesting about the Eagles is that Michael Vick threw the ball 56 times. 56 times! What kind of game plan is that? This simply adds another chapter the play calling blunders in the book that is Andy Reid. Does Andy Reid know who LeSean McCoy is? Apparently not because McCoy  had just 20 carries.  When you ask a quarterback to throw that many passes some of them are going to get taken away.

Brandon Weeden looked about as lost and confused as a man can get. Beginning with him getting trapped under the American Flag at the start of the game and continuing into the game.

Weeden had some good plays but he threw no touchdowns to go along with is 4 picks and he overthrew a number of open receivers  including what would have been a touchdown to Alex Smith who was wide open in the end zone.

Matthew Stafford was able to help the Lions escape with a victory after throwing 3 interceptions. He threw all of the interceptions in the first half. Then became captain clutch in the waning moments of the game to help his team top the Rams 27-23.

Adrian Peterson looks glorious in his return, Blaine Gabbert looks good.

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson had 84 yards and 2 touchdowns on 17 carries as the Vikings beat the Jaguars in overtime 26-23. Peterson looked like the same dominant player he was when he left. He tore his ACL only 8 months ago. That’s pretty impressive stuff. He was making all of the sharp moves and cuts as always. Furthermore, he was able to take some pretty big hits and keep rolling like we know him to do so well.

Last season, I called for the Jaguars to start Gabbert. Almost as soon as the Gabbert era began, I ate those words. They were very bad tasting words and I can honestly say that Gabbert was the worst quarterback in the league last season. He looked terrified in the pocket and inaccurate out of it. He got his season off to a good start, despite the loss; by completing 26 of 39 passes and throwing for 260 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Shock! 

The Jets shocked the media, and not me,  by scoring points this Sunday. Lots of them. 48 points to be specific. In this age of overanalysis, the media saw the Jets unable to score points of any kind in the preseason and assumed it would carry over to the regular season. That’s not how this works. Mark Sanchez looked golden and Stephen Hill looked great as well, as the Jets steam rolled the revamped Bills offense.

The Redskins shocked the media, and me, by scoring 40 points on the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans. Led by rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III who threw 320 yards and 2 touchdowns, on 19 of 26 passing. Griffin had a perfect quarterback rating at halftime and ended with the best quarterback rating in the league by the end of week 1, with a rating of 139.9. The rookie running back Alfred Morris out of Florida Atlantic contributed another 2 touchdowns. The defense was tenacious and harassed Drew Brees all day long. On a side note: Griffin handles press conferences like veteran. 

The Oakland Raiders had a ton of penalties. Just kidding. The Raiders are still as undisciplined as they always have been and racked up the penalties, including two offsides penalties by Tommy Kelly which kept San Diego’s drives alive, in a 22-14 loss to the Chargers, shocking absolutely no one. Even the media.

I can tell already, this is going to be a great season. This is going to be a great season.

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5 Things To Wonder About This NFL Season.

The Dallas Cowboys beat the New York Giants 24-17 to start the season. The first half of that game was a snooze fest. During that time I started thinking ahead to the rest of the NFL season. Here are some things that might be in store for us.

5. Russell Wilson Beats Matt Flynn For The Starting Job

I don’t know what this is a bigger indication of. The skill of Russell Wilson. The suck-itude (yeah I just made that word up) of Matt Flynn who was payed $26 million for 3 years with the Seahawks, and still couldn’t beat his undersized rookie competition. Or how crazy general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll are for paying a man $26 million and then starting a rookie instead.

If this works for Seattle, Carroll and Schneider, will look like geniuses. If not they’ll look insane, which of course, they totally are.

4. Is Kevin Ogletree the next Victor Cruz?

The Dallas Cowboys under achieving wide receiver Kevin Ogletree had his coming out party against the Giants Wednesday night. He hauled in 8 receptions for 114 yards and 2 touchdowns. He ran his routes perfectly and used some very crafty moves to beat his man off the line. He also displayed speed down the field and was generally a nuisance to the Giants defense as a whole. The Cowboys always believed that Ogletree had skills but he had never displayed them consistently. He may be in line for a break out season, just like Victor Cruz was last season.

Bonus Question: Can Victor Cruz be Victor Cruz?

That same night was an off night for the previously mention Giants receiver. Cruz was targeted 11 times and only caught 6 of the passes. Many of the drops were in his hands, especially in situations where he could have done more damage to the Dallas defense with runs after the catch. The loss of Manningham seems to be hurting Cruz as he is now more heavily relied upon in the offense, and of course more heavily guarded as a result.

3. Can Mark Sanchez keep his job?

If it were up to me he would. Under no circumstances would I put Tim Tebow in for Mark Sanchez. I would not be pressured by the fans and media into doing something so silly. Tim Tebow is an awful quarterback and until that changes I wouldn’t think twice about sticking with Marky Mark to lead the funky bunch. A quarterback that can’t complete more than half of the passes he throws is hardly a quarterback at all. It’s not up to me though.

If Rex Ryan was serious about returning to the “ground and pound” then Sanchez is in luck. He can manage the game. Which he’s very good at. If Rex was just joking then, it was a cruel joke indeed, and it’s not all that funny. Mark hasn’t proven he can go out and win a game. He’ll need run support.

2. Who will win the NFC North?

The NFL’s toughest division is the NFC North. No doubt about it. Aaron Rodgers is a monster and seems to dominate any game he wants to, which is most of them. The Bears have Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall a tandem that will do more than it’s fair share of damage. Chicago also has it’s stifling defense. The Lions have a combo of their own in Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. The Vikings are going to look better this season. Jared Allen is a sack master. Christian Ponder looks poised to take the next step and if Adrian Peterson a.k.a. the best running back in football is healthy, any Sunday is going to be the wrong Sunday to mess with Minnesota.

I think Chicago wins it though. They are the most well-rounded team in the division. They depth at every position. Matt Forte and Michael Bush on the ground, Brandon Marshall and the very impressive rookie Alshon Jeffery at receivers, and Devin Hester can still change the game in special teams.

1. Rise of the rookies quarterbacks?

In addition to the previously mentioned Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill, and Brandon “old man” Weeden will be starting week 1 for their respective teams. This seems to be the trend that NFL teams are leaning towards. However, every year there is a dud. Last year was Blaine Gabbert. He looked ready up until he wasn’t. He looked lost bewildered and confused. Here’s where the current class stands:

Success from RGIII and Andrew Luck are expected, no matter how unfair that is. Too many gaffes from them may have their fans worrying. Especially, Redskins fans.

Ryan Tannehill has no receivers or defense to rely on so most losses won’t be just his fault. However he does know the offense and should be ahead of the curve.

Russell Wilson is in a position to keep something that wasn’t going to be his the first place, the starting job.

Brandon Weeden has the most to lose. He’s on a terrible team, he’s old (at least in football years), and the guy who’s behind him is a serviceable NFL quarterback. Yet he’ll still be expected to perform decently well. Because of his age he won’t have as much time to make mistakes as other quarterbacks.

If most these quarterbacks don’t succeed they may set future rookie QBs  back a bit. Coaches will still take risks on them, but start them? We’ll see.

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Too Much Stock In The Preseason?

There’s a saying that goes like this; “America has two favorite sports. Football, and waiting for football to come back.”

So it makes sense that in our football crazed society that as soon as we see anything that looks like professional football we go nuts. It’s easy to forget that; these games don’t have any meaning so far as score is concerned and there are a lot of mismatches. By mismatches I mean starters against second stringers, as well as the typical tradition that coaches have of saving their real schemes for the regular season.

While there are some indicators that we can take from the preseason, it is in no way itself, an indicator of  regular season success. It is important to not fall prey to this misconception after watching your favorite team lead a solid drive into the endzone. It is similarly important not to be chicken little and exclaim that the sky is falling based on exhibition matches.

For instance, the Jets whose offensive woes can simply number as many, cannot simply be written off for struggling in the preseason. The 20 snaps that starters get during the preseason is not nearly enough to determine how a team will perform during the flow of a game. It can’t tell us how good the Jets may be at bouncing back from rough starts. Both Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow are late game performers (in the case of Tebow, very late).

Another example of preseason overreaction is how we view rookies. The comparisons to Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck seemingly never end. If one of them looks like a rookie at any point, everyone gets worried. Both ESPN and the NFL network talk about both guys scoring their “first NFL touchdowns” as if that were a thing that could happen in the preseason. It can’t. These stats count for nothing. If we all recall Cam Newton had a preseason to forget last year but, took flight during the NFL season. Conversely, Ryan Leaf looked better than Peyton Manning in the preseason and one source even called Peyton Manning “ordinary.” We all know how those careers went.

What does a fan in the preseason look for? We don’t get the view that the coaches and players get when they watch film. Very true but there are things to really look for without firing up the hype machine.

Look for each players skills. By this I mean look for shiftiness in running backs and just general speed. Quarterbacks need to make reads and go through progressions. If you look at where the quarterback is looking you can see him go through his progressions as his head moves from one part of the field to another. Also look at ball location. How much time does the quarterback have to throw? Oppositely, check the pass rush and see where their strong points are.

Try not to look at the score so much. In the preseason it can be misleading and is rarely a good indicator of how the team is actually doing. At this point you’re just better off chilling out. The regular season is only ten days away.

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Chris Cooley’s Release Marks A New Era In Washington.

This may not be major news for a lot of fans but, I’m a Redskins fan and it rocked my world today.One of my favorite players, Chris Cooley was released from the Redskins today.

Chris Cooley, despite spending his entire career during one of the least productive eras in Redskins history, is a class act. He always has been. He didn’t have to put up with the nonsense and dysfunction but, he did. Chris Cooley is one of the only players I’ve ever seen who was a fan of the team he played for, not because he himself was on the team. That meant something to fans. He hated the Cowboys just like the rest of us fans.

Many Washington fans, myself included, saw the writing on the wall. Chris Cooley wasn’t able to stay healthy while the Shanahans were in charge but, if there was ever a player who exemplified what it was to be a Redskin it was Cooley. Chris is one of those players who is reliable to a point. As Mike Wise wrote in the Washington Post today, “Chris Cooley: The Redskin you could count on when you couldn’t count on the Redskins.” Nothing could be truer.

Washington has seen it’s fair share of coaches and quarterbacks and guys like Cooley were the constant. The leader in the locker room that bridged together the different regimes. He was supposed to be here for RGIII.

For Redskins fans Chris Cooley was a joy to root for. He gives 100% on every play and never quits. You can’t replace that easily. When Chris Cooley got choked up at his press conference today, I did too. Many of my most positive memories of being a Redskins fan involve Chris Cooley.

So here’s to Captain Chaos. I wish him well wherever he ends up next. I’ll always be a Cooley fan.

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Open Letter To Jon Jones: You’re Not A “Sport Killer”

To the surprise and chagrin of MMA and UFC fans the world over, UFC 151 has been cancelled. Champion Jon Jones was set to defend his title against Dan Henderson but, Henderson dropped out with an MCL injury. That’s when, as Dana White told foxsports.com, “we did what we do” as he explained that the UFC offices hurried to try find a replacement fighter for Jon Jones. Everyone declined to fight Jon Jones on 8 days notice except for Chael Sonnen. Sonnen was willing to go up a division in order to make the fight happen.

That’s when a funny thing happened. Jon Jones dropped out of the fight. The UFC didn’t see that one coming.

There has never been a cancelled UFC event . . . until now. Nobody is more upset about this than the UFC biggest fan, and it’s commissioner, Dana White. The commissioner ripped Jones in a recent foxsports.com interview calling Jon Jones, of all things, a sport killer. To be specific he called him a “f****** sport killer.”

Jon you’re not a sport killer. In fact your meteoric rise to champion did more for the UFC than the “damage” that this drop out may have done. It’s not your fault that the other fights on the card were pretty weak. Why would it be? It’s not your job to organize the cards. I think that’s Dana’s job.

Now you’re getting killed on twitter and in the media and it’s not even fair. Why would people expect you to take a no-win fight? Yeah I said it. If you beat Sonnen, he only had 8 days notice to fight you, and if you lose to him you’re not the champ anymore. You had everything to lose and nothing to gain in that exchange. Chael Sonnen can call you “a brat” if he wants to. It doesn’t change the fact that this was a pointless fight. Did Chael and Dana expect you to fight just to fight?

Here’s some realism. Sometimes fighters, have different reasons for fighting. Could it be Jon that you wanted to take fights that advanced your career? This fight does nothing for your career and puts you in a position to take unnecessary hits and for what exactly. To save a poorly planned card?

Fighters have to worry about what’s best for them, their families, and their careers.

Now the fans have turned on you. That’s what they do. They don’t understand the ins and outs of things. They don’t know what you were thinking or what caused you to come to your decision. Now the’ll root against you. They’ll leave your bandwagon for Chael’s while they pretend you did nothing good for the sport. They’ll eat up Sonnen’s childish character assassinations.

You’re not a sport killer Jon. Not even close.

Do your thing. Win. Keep winning and you’ll have supporters. Be humble but, keep winning. That’s the only thing you can do.

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