Pats Points: The Return of Welker, Taylor, and the Running Game

Patriots fans around the country held their breath for a few seconds on Thursday when the New England Patriots took on the Atlanta Falcons in their second of four oh-so-important preseason games. Wes Welker got clocked by Falcons corner back Christopher Owens. But Wes did exactly what he used to do: pop back up like one of those punching bag clowns.

And then we all could breathe. You have to admire his toughness, no one expected him to be anywhere near ready for the preseason, much less the regular season, but it looks like he will be ready for the regular season. And if they want to ease him back in, Julian Edelman is looking like he’s never heard the term “Sophomore Slump”.

The big cloud hanging over the offense is Logan Mankins, and while ESPN can’t get enough of the very dramatic Darrelle Revis holdout, there’s been almost nothing from the Pats camp. Surprised? No. Broadcasters can barely get the starting lineup for preseason games out of the Patriots camp, what makes you think they would ever talk about contract negotiations?

Despite the lack of Logan and the questionable offensive line depth, the Patriots showed us they could do something else: run the ball.

Now with Tom Brady, Wes Welker, and Randy Moss on your team, the offense will throw the ball. Last year the Patriots had a committee of running backs and still did not run the ball well. Fred Taylor reminded the NFL that he still has some left in the tank. Remember, Taylor missed ten games last year with an ankle injury, and Sammy Morris missed some time as well. That left inexperienced BenJarvis Green-Ellis and inconsistent Laurence Maroney to get the bulk of the carries.

This year the committee is back. If everyone stays healthy, the Patriots new dedication to a balanced offense can mean breakout years for the younger guys and getting back to form for Fred Taylor. Kevin Faulk will, as always, be consistent, and be the third down and receiving back.

There are questions that looming for the Patriots: the offensive line, Tom Brady’s contract, Logan Mankin’s holdout, and a few injuries injury, we do know a few things. The offense will be more balanced, barring injury to all like, seven running backs, there will be a ground game. Tom Brady looks much better in the second year off his knee injury. Wes Welker is apparently a freak of nature who heals faster than your average human, Fred Taylor is not as old as we think he is, and none of these questions will be answered before the hobo-like Hood Man Bill Belichick says so. Because the Patriots are like the mob, they don’t talk to anyone about the family.

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NFL Jargon: Acronyms, Nicknames and Words to Wonder About

The NFL is one for acronyms and nicknames. With OTAs, uprights, the Fins, Gang Green and pig-skins its hard to keep track of what, exactly, is going on. Here’s a few things to remember when watching or talking about football:

OTAs: This is an acronym for “Organized Team Activities”. These are like the pre-season to the pre-season. They are not mandatory, usually last from late April and into May, and the most you get out of them is a good look at rookies and free-agents and something to talk about if someone’s having issues with their contract. Not terribly exciting, but for the hard-core football fan, it sort of kicks off the football season.

mini-camp: exactly like it sounds. It’s another event before the start of training camp in the end of May, but usually only lasts three days. These are usually mandatory, but no where near as intensive as training camp.

uprights: the goal-post. Usually when a kicker hits a field goal right in the middle it is called “splitting the uprights”.

Here are a few (of the many) team nicknames:

AFC East
New England Patriots: The Pats, Flying Elvi (named for the patriots logo, which resembles a flying Elvis head), Patsies

Miami Dolphins: The Fins or The Fish (“The Fish” is also a nickname for the Marlins, so it is less used than the other)

New York Jets: Jersey B (they play in New Jersey along with the Giants), Gang Green, and the Jest (when they play poorly).

Buffalo Bills: no nicknames but interesting trivia, they are the only team to play their home games in the state of New York.

AFC South
Indianapolis Colts: The Dolts. Not as widely used now that the Colts are pretty good, but still funny

Tennessee Titans: The Flaming Thumbtacks (just look at the logo), also the Oilers or the Tenn. Traitors, but only for people who are angry that the Houston Oilers are now the Tennessee Titans.

Houston Texans: the Texans are really too new to have a nickname. Trivia: they are the only major sports team in the US to not play in the playoffs.

Jacksonville Jaguars: the Jags. Again, they are pretty new. For more information on how a team could be “new” look up “expansion teams”.

AFC North
Pittsburg Steelers: The Black and Gold (self-explanatory), their field, Heinz Field, is also nicknamed the Ketchup Bottle for obvious reasons.

Baltimore Ravens: The Crows. Not terribly creative but still true.

Cleveland Browns: the Dawgs. A corner in the 80s nicknamed his team this to help motivate them and it stuck.

Cincinnati Bengels: the Bungles (when things are going badly) and Cincy (for the city)

AFC West
San Diego Chargers: The Bolts (for the lightening bolt design on their helmets)

Denver Broncos: no nicknames

Kansas City Chiefs: KC (again, the city), and the Chefs (this has something to do with a Snickers commercial…not sure why)

Oakland Raiders: the Silver and Black (team colors), Da Raidahs (for the way Chris Berman pronounces the team’s name)

NFC East
Washington Redskins: The DeadSkins (when they play poorly), The Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons (due to the stink made occasionally by the name “Redskins”, this is an overly politically correct nickname) and the Skins

Dallas Cowboys:The Boys and America’s Team (given by the media in the 90s)

New York Giants: G-Men, Jersey A (being the other New York team that plays in New Jersey), and Big Blue (uniform color)

Philadelphia Eagles: surprisingly, no nicknames for this team.

NFC South
New Orleans Saints:the Aint’s (when playing poorly), the Sinners (play on the idea of Saints/Sinners)

Atlanta Falcons: the Dirty Birds (the team nicknamed themselves this on their way to a Superbowl appearance)

Carolina Panthers: Cardiac Cats (in 2003 the Panthers made a living off of fourth quarter comebacks)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: the Bucs

NFC North
MInnesota Vikings: the Vikes, occasionally the Purple People Eaters

Green Bay Packers: The Pack, their fans are sometimes called “Cheese Heads” because of the cheese head hats frequent at games

Chicago Bears: Da Bears

Detroit Lions: Detroilet (a combo of Detroit and toilet), the Lie-Downs (instead of Lions when they are playing poorly)

NFC West
Arizona: The Cards (short for Cardinals)

Seattle: Seagulls (another play on the team’s name for when things are not going well)

San Francisco: The ‘Niners (short for Forty-Niners)

St. Louis: Lambs or Goats (when playing poorly)

Now you are all introduced to team nicknames, here are a few more words to familiarize yourself with:

line of scrimmage: invisible line across the field where the ball is placed before being snapped. If a defensive player crosses that “line” they can be called “offsides” for a five yard penalty. Note: this is only in the Pros, in college, if the player gets back across before the ball is snapped a penalty is not called.

false start: if an offensive player moves before the ball is snapped, a penalty is called

hold: (or holding) An illegal action where one player keeps another from advancing by grabbing him and holding him back. This happens on nearly every play but is only called when it is in front of a ref or blatantly obvious.

red zone: twenty yards in front of the end zone. In this area, the team is likely to score a touchdown and if not, almost certainly a field goal.

pass interference: illegal hindering of a player to catch a forward pass. This means swiping at a receivers arms to knock them out of the way of the ball or the receiver knocking a defender’s hands away from intercepting a forward pass. Occasionally pass interference will not be called, and you’ll hear the announcers talk about “incidental contact”. Pass interference is usually intentional, occasionally a defender or receiver will run into the other accidentally and prevent the catch, this is incidental contact. Not intentional and not a penalty.

no huddle offense: usually used in late game situations when there is little time left in the game or half, a team will not huddle before each play. This also speeds up the game and prevents defenses from getting set and making substitutions.

blind side: the direction a player is not facing. For example, a quarter back who throws with his right hand will be facing away from the left. HIs left side will typically be his blind side, but it depends on the quarterback and where he is passing.

Now you have sufficient knowledge of football’s acronyms and nicknames, you are ready to impress your friends and can understand the game just a bit better.

Generation Gap: A Boston Fan’s Psyche

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Since 2001 there has been a steady shift in the mentality of a Boston fan. Well, the young ones, anyway. It really took off in 2004 after the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years.

I watch most games with my Dad, he’s been a fan his entire life and he’s the reason I love the Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox, and Bruins as much as I do. But as fans go, we are very different. 

Lets look situation-ally first: Red Sox game, no score, bases loaded, one out, and Papi’s up.

My first thoughts: “grand slam, runs will score on a double, sac fly would score at least one, so would a single or a walk”. These are the first things that float trough my mind. 

My Dad, on the other hand, is the pre-2001 vintage. His first thoughts: “Here comes the double play! They leave more men on base than anybody.”

We all know about Red Sox fans in the pre-2004 era. If one thing goes wrong they curl up in a ball, and get ready for the “inevitable”. And lets face it, a lot has gone wrong in his 50+ years of following Boston teams. The Patriots were awful for a long time, the Celtics were good in the early days, but then turned into a joke in the 90s, the Bruins have been up and down, and the Sox…well, we’ll just say they had some heart-wrenching losses in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. 

If you consider what he’s seen, its understandable that he is, as I call him, a “Negative Nancy”. But I’ve noticed a similar issue with many of the older Boston fans. In April they were ready to throw in the towel, despite the fact that a baseball season had just started. 

Why does this happen?

I’ve decided its all about heartbreak. I have been following Boston sports since I was old enough to understand. Lets assume the age of understanding is about five, so that’s 1991.

So in 19 years, I have seen the Patriots go to five Super-bowls, win three, lose one they had no chance in, and only one heartbreaking loss that still haunts me. I cannot, and will not look at footage from that day.

I have seen the Red Sox win two World Series, and make it to the playoffs almost a dozen times. I only have one heartbreak: 2003. 

The Celtics were a joke in the 90s, and most of the 21st century, until the creation of the Big Three. Now they are pushing for banner 18. Last year was tough, but without Garnett, I did not expect too much. 

So in my experience, the heartbreaks are much rarer, and the teams have played better. How many other cities can say their NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL teams have all been to the playoffs in the past three years? Not many. Three, to be exact: Boston, NY/NJ, and Arizona. And if we were not grouping the New York/New Jersey teams together, there would only be two. 

If you look at it like that, it’s pretty darn amazing, especially since Boston has two championships in that span. But I look at things optimistically. I have a saying in my house, and I have applied it to every sport I watch. I don’t give up until the buzzer sounds or the last out is made. I refuse to admit defeat until the clock runs out, sometimes a little irrationally, but I have seen some terrific comebacks in my time. 

That’s what separates the young fans from the old. The young fans feel the losses, and remember all the heartbreaks, but they also remember the joys, the triumphs, and some pretty amazing plays. 

The older generation, the “Negative Nancys” have not recovered from the heartbreaks. They vividly remember ’67, ’75, ’86, and all the other close-but-no-cigar moments. To them this whole winning thing is new and they aren’t sure how long it will last, so they steel themselves against the inevitable. 

So while the older generation is just waiting for the other shoe to drop, the younger generation is living in the moment. The older generation expects every walk allowed by a Sox pitcher to score, and expected the Bruins to go down after being up 3-0. 

After watching game five of the Celtics-Orlando series, my dad said “They’re done, just like the Bruins.” A sentiment echoed by his friends, and the older fans I know. The young were more hopeful. Going home for game six, we knew the Celtics would win. 

Does that mean the younger generation has more faith than our fathers, and grandfathers? No. Less pessimism? Definitely.  

I gloated for a few days about how optimism always wins in the end. And who knows, maybe the next generation of Boston fans will be another batch of “Negative Nancys.” Maybe they will be irrational optimists, or maybe they’ll just be normal. That would be a switch, wouldn’t it?

Duet Or Ménage À Trois? An AL East Preview 2010


Last year the Yankees (ugh) took home the ring. The year before, the Rays lost to the Phillies in the World Series. And three years ago, the Red Sox won. Needless to say, the AL East is looking to have a repeat appearance this year. But who?

The Red Sox made some moves to shore up defense, the Yankees lost a few bats, and the Rays and Orioles reloaded with young prospects and solid trades.

So who is going to win?

If the Yankees could get consistent starts from their three-four-five guys, they could win the division.

Is that likely? No.

The Red Sox lost a big bat in Jason Bay but added John Lackey, who could be a number one starter. In actuality, he starting number three, behind Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. He’ll be followed by the seemingly ageless Wakefield, Dick-K, and the young, talented Clay Buchholz. Now, Dice-K is injured and we’re not really sure how Buchholz is going to do, but if they all bounce back, the Sox could go for a six man rotation.

Not likely, but it could happen.

The Rays, as always, are the Dark Horse. They have iffy pitching and young guys just starting their careers, but they are faster than the Yankees and Red Sox. Not to mention, they are very talented. Of course that youth does lend itself to inconsistency, especially playing in Boston and New York, where the fans can be pretty hostile. Taking that all into consideration, do they win over 90 games?

Eh. Maybe.

The Orioles are better. Not great, but certainly much better than last year. And Toronto…well, we’ll go ahead and label this a rebuilding year for them. They traded away Doc Halladay, it’s to be expected.

So with opening day just hours away (hallelujah!), what else would we do but make predictions on what is going to happen six months from now? Bear in mind I am not using any sort of scientific formulas, stats, or anything on these predictions, which is contrary to the typical baseball fan’s thinking. (Admit it, we love stats!)

I’m doing something new this year, I’m going with my gut. I’ve watched these guys all spring, and this is what I came up with it.

First, my final division standings:

Red Sox
Rays*
Yankees
Orioles
Blue Jays

Call me a homer, but I really like this Red Sox team. They are a little faster, their defense is better, and the addition of John Lackey is a huge boost to the pitching staff. The bullpen is good, and Daniel Bard is waiting in the wings, so if Jonathan Papelbon struggles with closing, he can be replaced. I don’t see that happening, but I’m sure that a little competition would be a good way to get his competitive juices flowing.
Plus, who wants to face a weekend where your pitchers are Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and John Lackey?
Yikes.
And you’ve got Jacoby Ellsbury, who is stellar and still not done developing. Victor Martinez, Kevin Youkilis, and Dustin Pedroia are great at the plate, and if Papi returns to form?
Double yikes.
If they all stay healthy and the pitchers stay on their form, there’s no reason this team can’t win the division.

Now to explain the asterisk on the Rays.
Like I said, the Rays are the Dark Horse. Evan Longoria is a beast, and they have a few young guys like B.J. Upton who are due for a breakout year. A few good trades and young talent means this Rays team is a lot like the one that went to the World Series in 2008.
I just get a feeling about this team. But here’s a caveat. I think the Rays will get off to a big start, but if they start to falter around the All-Star break, I’m going to put them out of the playoffs. I just think that if they get too far behind or see themselves slipping, they might fold under the pressure. So that’s why I put the Rays as the Wild card*.

So on to Steinbrenner and his evil Minions.
Let’s start with the pitching staff. C.C. Sabathia is a beast. There’s no denying that, but after him gets a little…iffy. A.J. Burnett doesn’t like throwing to Jorge Posada, but Jose Molina is gone, so he has no choice. Andy Pettitte and Javier Vazquez are good inning eaters, but Pettitte’s age makes him a question mark.
And yes, Mark Teixeira, Jeter, A-Rod, they can all hit, but the Yankees bench isn’t exactly deep this year. The losses of Judas (I mean Johnny) Damon and Matsui hurts them in terms of power. The Yankees look good this year, but repeating is very difficult, and in a division this tough? Eh.
I have them (maybe) not making the playoffs. But that’s dependent on the Rays.
My prediction for the Yanks is third/Wild card. They played like a team on a mission last year and I just don’t get that feeling from them now.

As for the other teams in the AL East…
The Orioles really did a lot this year, and while they probably won’t make the playoffs, they will make life hard on everyone else in the East. They have a young staff that in a few years could really give the rest of the AL East headaches, and we could see flashes of that this season. My prediction, they finish in fourth place.

The Blue Jays…they won’t do much this year. They couldn’t make it to the playoffs when they had the one-two punch of Halladay and Burnett. They’ve got some good players, but it’s not enough to compete in a division that has the Yankees and Red Sox.

We’ll start to see things heat up in this division around the All-Star break, that’s when the good teams will separate from the bad and the ugly. Then we’ll know if we have a Red Sox-Yankees duet or a Red Sox-Rays-Yankees Ménage À Trois.

Duet or Ménage À Trois? An AL East Prediction

trios.jpg

Last year the Yankees (ug) took home the ring, the year before, the Rays lost to the Phillies in the World Series, and three years ago, the Red Sox won. Needless to say the AL East is looking to have a repeat appearance this year, but who?

 

The Red Sox made some moves to shore up defense, the Yankees lost a few bats, and the Rays and Orioles reloaded with young prospects and solid trades. So who is going to win? 

 

If the Yankees could get consistent starts from their three-four-five guys, they could win the division. Is that likely? No.

The Red Sox lost a big bat in Jason Bay but added John Lackey, who could be a number one starter but is starting number three, behind Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. He’ll be followed by the seemingly ageless Wakefield, Dick-K, and the young, talented Clay Buchholz. Now, Dice-Ki is injured and we’re not really sure how Buchholz is going to do, but if they all bounce back, the Sox could go for a six man rotation. 

Not likely, but it could happen.

The Rays, as always, are the Dark Horse. They have iffy pitching and young guys just starting their careers, but they are faster th
an the Yankees and Red Sox and very talented. Of course that youth does lend itself to inconsistency, especially playing in Boston and New York where the fans can be pretty hostile. Taking that all into consideration, do they win over 90 games? 

Eh. Maybe. 

The Orioles are better. Not great, but certainly much better than last year. And Toronto…well, we’ll go ahead and label this a rebuilding year for them. They traded away Doc Halladay, it’s to be expected.

 

So with opening day just hours away ( hallelujah!), what else would we do but make predictions on what is going to happen six months from now? Bear in mind I am not using any sort of scientific formulas, stats, or anything on these predictions, which is contrary to the typical baseball fan’s thinking. (Admit it, we love stats!) 

I’m doing something new this year, I’m going with my gut. I’ve watched these guys all spring, and this is what I came up with it. 

First, my final division standings:

 

  1. Red Sox
  2. Rays*
  3. Yankees
  4. Orioles
  5. Blue Jays
Call me a homer, but I really like this Red Sox team. They are a little faster, their defense is better, and the addition of John Lackey is a huge boost to the pitching staff. The bullpen is good, and Daniel Bard is waiting in the wings, so if Jonathan Papelbon struggles with closing, he can be replaced. I don’t see that happening, but I’m sure that, and his last game are in his mind, getting his competitive juices flowing. 
Plus, who wants to face a weekend where your pitchers are Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and John Lackey? Yikes. And you’ve got Jacoby Ellsbury who is stellar and still not done developing. Victor Martinez, Kevin Youkilis, and Dustin Pedroia are great at the plate, and if Papi returns to form…double yikes. 
If they all stay healthy and the pitchers stay on their form, there’s no reason this team can’t win the division.
Now to explain the asterisk on the Rays.
Like I said, the Rays are the Dark Horse. Even Longoria is a beast, and they have a few young guys like B.J. Upton who are due for a breakout year. A few good trades and young talent means this Rays team is a lot like the one that went to the World Series in 2008. 
I just get a feeling about this team. But here’s a caveat. I think the Rays will get off to a big start, but if they start to falter around the All-Star break, I’m going to put them out of the playoffs. I just think that if they get too far behind or see themselves slipping, they might fold under the pressure. So that’s why I put the Rays as the Wild card*. 
So on to Steinbrinner and his evil Minions.
Let’s start with the pitching staff. C.C. Sabathia is a beast. There’s no denying that, but after him gets a little…iffy. A.J. Burnett doesn’t like throwing to Jorge Posada, but Jose Molina is gone, so he has no choice. Andy Pettitte and Javier Vazquez are good innings eaters, but Pettitte’s age makes him a question mark. 
And yes, Mark Teixeira, Jeter, A-Rod, they can all hit, but the Yankees bench isn’t exactly deep this year. The losses of Judas (I mean Johnny) Damon and Matsui hurts them in terms of power. The Yankees look good this year, but repeating is very difficult, and in a division this tough? Eh.
I have them (maybe) not making the playoffs. But that’s dependent on the Rays. 
My prediction for the Yanks is third/ Wild card. They played like a team on a mission last year and I just don’t get that feeling from them now. 
Now for the other teams in the AL East. 
The Orioles really did a lot this year, and while they probably won’t make the playoffs, they will make life hard on everyone else in the East. They have a young staff that in a few years could really give the rest of the AL east headaches in a few years, and we could see flashes of that this season. My prediction, they finish in fourth place.
The Blue Jays…they won’t do much this year. They couldn’t make it to the playoffs when they had the one-two punch of Halladay and Burnett. They’ve got some good players, but it’s not enough to compete in a division that has the Yankees and Red Sox. 
We’ll start to see things heat up in this division around the All-Star break, that’s when the good teams will separate from the bad and the ugly. Then we’ll know if we have a Red Sox-Yankees duet or a Red-Sox-Rays-Yankees Ménage À Trois.

Seroids, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Loathe The List

David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez join Sosa, A-Rod, and Bonds as players named on the now infamous list.

But let’s be clear about this list (that’s not even supposed to
exist). It was a voluntary testing program to learn how wide-spread
performance enhancing drug (PED) use was in major league baseball. We
don’t know how wide spread, we don’t know if there were other lists,
but it is important to remember that at the time, many of the PEDs that
players tested positive for WERE NOT banned.

Another thing about the list: It is not a guide to who used
steroids in the majors. Some of the players on the ever-blessed list
tested positive for items that you can buy at a drug store and weren’t
banned by major league baseball until 2005.

So, before we judge anybody–and I’m including my least favorite player in all of baseball Alex Rodriguez in this–we have to know what they took, for how long, and why.

To automatically judge based on a name on a list…did we learn
nothing from Joe McCarthy? His “list” of card-carrying communists was a
farce. This list is a little more serious, but it doesn’t discriminate
between a legit ‘roid user and someone who used something that wasn’t banned at the time to get over an injury.

Quite frankly I’m sick and tired of hearing about steroids in
baseball. The only people who really care about perpetuating this
nonsense is the media. The fans, the players, and everyone else would
just like to move on. The media won’t let us.

I’d like to see whoever is leaking these names step forward and
claim responsibility. That @%*hole should be in jail. No one seems to
have compunctions that the way we’re getting information about this
list is ILLEGAL. 

Doesn’t anyone wonder why, if David Ortiz was juicing in 2003, his
post-season batting average was below the Mendoza line? Anybody else
wonder if Ortiz’s bat heated up by getting a different batting coach
and having Manny Ramirez hitting behind him? Is that so terribly
illogical that a 27-year-old baseball player could discover his swing
after going to a new club?

Gee. What a novel idea.

Barry Bonds got huge. He was quite literally a Giant. That is not
natural. Ortiz had a seemingly natural progression and hey…he’s in
the middle of what looks like a natural digression.

Here’s an analogy for you. For those of you who prefer things to be politically correct, stop reading now or skip ahead. It’s an analogy to
make a point, nothing more. For those of you still reading, answer
these questions: Do you respect Thomas Jefferson? George Washington?
James Madison? Do you think they were great men?

They were all slave owners. When they lived, slavery was a common
practice, it was not illegal. Yes, it sucked. Yes, it was wrong. And no
one is denying that it was a terrible thing and it’s sad that America
was formed with that institution still in place.

So does that change your opinion of the founding fathers? Should
they go into the history books with an asterisk because slavery was
outlawed almost one-hundred years later? Are they no longer great men?

No.

It’s the same with these players. Habitual juicers…I have more of
an issue with them, but if they weren’t breaking the rules, they don’t
deserve to be punished. Period.

We don’t call for discrediting of men who had questionable practices before it was illegal, why should we do it now?

It’s certainly something to think about. It’s not a black and white
issue, and it’s not something to be judged without all sides of the
story.

Do your research. The media will not tell you all the facts and you
can’t trust the TV. You have to look for yourself. How many people know
what that list is and why none of the names are supposed to be
released? How many people know that the players weren’t doing anything
against the rules at the time of the test?

As fans, we have a responsibility to look into the stories we are
fed every day. We have a responsibility to read and learn and make our
own decisions. As for me, I’m behind Papi 100%. I’m betting it comes
out that he was not a habitual juicer, and he might be one of the ones
who used something over the counter he didn’t even know was a PED, or
didn’t know it’d be banned later. 

How to Succeed At Belichick University

The New England Patriots “system”, run by Bill Belichick is not easy. It requires a player to be smart, selfless, dedicated, and hard working. Some players succeed and thrive in this environment, others drop out because they can’t hack it. Some transfer and some are sent away, finished or not.

The ones that finish have a much easier time, generally, than the ones who weren’t a fit for the system.

One only needs to watch five minutes of a press conference to realize that as a coach, Bill Belichick is not easy to please. He’s ornery, short, and cross. Sort of like a super-secretive mob boss with a Napoleonic complex.

But that makes him a good coach, possibly one of the best ever. His players don’t make excuses, they are quizzed on their opponents, they are expected to understand the game of football and their place in it.

If you can’t handle that, the Patriots will simply replace you with someone who can. Sentiment has no room in New England, you have to have the right stuff year in and year out or you’re gone.

It’s a rather harsh system, but has produced some great people, on and off the field.

Reigning MVP Tom Brady went down in 2008, and back-up to the stars Matt Cassel stepped in, and the Patriots still won 11 games.

2008 is a testament to Belichick University, and the New England system. It is built so all the parts are interchangeable and replaceable. They just have to know what to do.

Some of the players in the organization have fully grasped this concept and are well on their way to succeeding in life outside of football.

Rodney Harrison, the most recent graduate of the Patriots, is already making waves as a commentator. He’s frank, honest, and doesn’t give a flying fig about Farve. It’s refreshing to find a talking head who still has a pair.

He’s already one of my favorite commentators, not just because he’s one of my guys, but because he’s the tamer, friendlier, Curt Shilling of the NFL. Curt will tell you exactly how he feels and what he thinks about a situation. Rodney will do the same, but he’s a hair more tactful than Curt.

Then there’s Mike Vrabel. Vrabel went to the Cheifs with Cassel for a second round pick this year. He’s getting older, and a bit slower, but this was not an easy trade to understand. Vrabel, despite some of the physical problems, is likely a future coach. Or at least an analyst.

He’s a quick wit, but all that football humor comes from a deep understanding of the game and the ability to learn the game as he plays it.

The Patriots will miss his presence in the locker room, certainly, but Vrabel should be destined for great things. Whether its as an analyst or a coach, Mike should continue with the game mentally when he can no longer play physically.

There are a few graduates who are still waiting for some final grades to see if they’ve passed:

Matt Cassel. He may be flash in the pan as far as pure talent goes, but there’s a lot to be said about what he learned as Brady’s back-up and as the starter in the Patriot’s system. If he remembers half of what he learned in New England, and the Cheif’s O-line protects him consistently, he’ll be a decent QB.

Then there’s Josh McDaniels. The rookie head coach of the Denver Broncos was brought up in the Patriots organization, and is attempting to run Denver the same way. That didn’t work out with Jay Cutler, but you have to wonder if maybe the rest of the team will start bucking under.

If McDaniels manages to get that locker room under control and starts to make moves to improve the team, he’ll be up there with Harrison.

The hardest thing for McDaniels now will be in trying to run the Broncos the way the Patriots are run. That system didn’t happen overnight, it has to be built. If he can get Marshall to stop bucking for a trade and settle down to play, he’ll be taking a step in the right direction.

Then there are those who have failed. Most of them never played enough snaps in the NFL to even matter.

The New England system is a unique one.

On one hand it is an incredible learning environment. You will come out of the organization with more football knowledge than you cam in with. On the other, its a ruthless and heartless mob. No one is safe from the ax, expectations are high, and lack of preparation is not accepted

The “university” is all about winning, and the Dean is one ornery, smart, slightly obsessive, and somewhat profane perfectionist named Bill Belichick.

The Boston Red Six?

On Friday, the Boston Red Sox
take on the Toronto Blue Jays to kick off the second half of the
season. On the hill for the Red Sox will be Clay Buchholz.

Many will remember Buchholz from his no-hitter in September 2007.
Others remember how bad his 2008 season was, as he was shipped off to
the minors.

In 2009, Buchholz has been dominating while playing for Triple-A
Pawtucket. But with Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Tim Wakefield, Brad
Penny, and Dice-K, there was no room on the rotation.

When Dice-K went down, John Smoltz stepped up. So what do you do with the sixth man on the pitching roster?

If you’re Terry Francona, you should put him in the rotation. Does this mean that the Red Sox could have a six-man rotation?

It’s possible. If Buchholz proves that he has what it takes to pitch
at the major league level again, it will be difficult to take him out
of the rotation.

Early in the season, there was talk by the fans/media about Tim
Wakefield eventually landing in the bullpen, but he’s tied for the lead
league in wins (with Josh Beckett).

How about John Smoltz? If he’s locating his pitches, he’s great, which means he will stay on the roster.

How about Penny? There was the thought he might be traded, but
that’s not going to happen anymore. Lester and Beckett are certainly
not going anywhere. Maybe if Dice-K goes to rehab, they can throw him
in the ‘pen.

Then you look towards August and September. By then, Dice-K will hopefully be back in good form, leaving the Red Sox with seven quality starters. That is if everyone stays healthy.

As usual, the Red Sox have approached the season with their eyes on
October. Slipping in April and May and late-slump before the All-Star
break mean absolutely nothing at this point.

A few days rest will do the bullpen some good, and they should
bounce back from the issues they’ve had the past two weeks or so. Bay
and Youkilis are seemingly heating up again, and Papi seems to be
rejuvenated.

Josh Beckett and Jon Lester have improved their starts lately. They
seem to be the aces we expected at the beginning of the year.

Smoltz is looking good. Penny is looking good. Clay Buchholz can only add to the rotation.

As far as Wakefield is concerned, his first ever All-Star game
should only serve to motivate and inspire him to keep pitching well.

Would this six man rotation work for the Red Sox? It cuts down on
the number of starts, and thus, the number of possible wins. On the
other hand, would the extra rest make the starters more likely to win?

We might actually get to see the answer to that question.

The Red Sox don’t care if Josh Beckett only has the opportunity to win 15 more games instead of 20, and he doesn’t either.

No one will care if this method helps win a World Series. In fact,
if that happens, six-man rotations might become the new rule in
baseball.

Or maybe not.

The big question facing the Red Sox in the second half is a good
one; what do we do with our extra pitching? They basically have great
bargaining chips that won’t hurt the team if they go.

This would not be a bad move on the Red Sox part. This could put
them in prime position to make a great run in October, whether they use
five or six pitchers in their rotation.

Return to the Beasts of the East

On March 16, 2009, I made the following predictions for the NL East:

  1. Mets
  2. Phillies
  3. Marlins
  4. Braves
  5. Nationals

And I said they were the best division in the National League. I also made these predictions about the AL East:

  1. Red Sox
  2. Rays
  3. Yankees
  4. Jays
  5. Orioles

And I claimed they were the best division in the American League.

How have my predictions stacked up so far?

Lets start with the NL East. I picked the Mets to win the division because they beefed up their pitching and looked good. Injuries and bizarre mental mistakes seem to have plagued the Mets. They’re in fourth, 6.5 games back from the lead. I also predicted that whoever won the NL East, the second place team would win the Wild Card.

The Marlins, as I suspected, were going to be good this year, as well as the Braves. They are young, but talented teams. The Braves aren’t likely to take the division this year, but the Marlins are only four games out and with the Phillie’s pitching woes, that’s not far enough back.

So, my new predictions are this:

  1. Florida Marlins
  2. Philadelphia Phillies*
  3. Atlanta Braves
  4. New York Mets
  5. Washington Nationals

The Mets, Braves, Phillies, and Marlins should stay fairly close to each other throughout the season, but even firing Manny Acta won’t help the Washington Nationals.

*I think the Marlins take this division unless the Phillies manage to land Roy Halliday or Pedro Martinez has discovered the fountain of youth. If one or both of these things happen, the Phillies will take the division.

I no longer believe the Wild Card will come out of this division, the Wild Card will come from the West, and it will either be the San Francisco Giants or the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The second division I delved into was the American League East. I was much closer in my predictions in this division were much closer.

This division has certainly not been a disappointment. Toronto started the season on a hot streak, and though injuries have dropped them to 11 games off the lead, what they did in May and April is still impressive.

The Rays pitching woes have kept them out of first place, but they are hanging around at 6.5 games behind the lead.

Despite spending enough money to buy a small country, the Yankees pitching staff and bullpen have been inconsistent, at best. Wang’s been plagued with issues, Sabathia is good, most of the time. Burnett has been less than stellar, and Chamberlain hasn’t been great.

But their home-run hitting offense, coupled with the launching pad that is Yankee Stadium, have kept the Yanks in the mix just 3 games back.

And despite a rough April and May, and a little rough patch lately, the Red Sox pitching staff has been the best in the division. In the last 16 games that Beckett or Lester have started in, the Red Sox are 14-2, and both are coming off stellar pitching performances.

The offense has slumped slightly, but the balanced batting order can compensate for one player who seems to be struggling.

So how will the second half shape up for the AL East? Roy Halladay is the big bargaining chip that can make a big difference in any team’s fate. If the Rays manage to land him, they will certainly make a run at the Division. If the Yankees land him, they could overtake the Red Sox and win. If the Red Sox take Halladay? No team can stand up against the rotation of Beckett, Lester, Halladay, Wakefield, possibly Penny and Smoltz, and maybe even Clay Buchholz.

So the fate of Roy Halliday aside, how does this division stack up?

  1. Boston Red Sox*
  2. Tampa Bay Rays+
  3. New York Yankees^
  4. Toronto Blue Jays
  5. Baltimore Orioles

*This is a close call. If the Red Sox can straighten out their bull pen and get the offense going again, it will be difficult to take this team out. They’re built for the post-season, and if they continue the domination of the East, they will be difficult to beat.

+The Rays can out-run the Yankees and the Red Sox, but if they don’t get their pitching staff consistently preforming, they won’t be able to beat them.

^The Yankees offense alone keeps them in this race. Their pitching is questionable, and they’ve delt with some injuries that haven’t helped. If this offense hits a road bump, though, the Yankees could be in some real trouble.

My final prediction is this: the Wild Card will come out of the AL East.

We’ll see in December just how good my predictions are.

Mismanaged: Joe Maddon and the All-Star Game

Kevin Youkilis was a few thousand votes away from being the starter
at first base for the American League. Jason Bay led the outfield in
votes, Boston had the most players selected to the All–Star roster by the fans.

So how exactly is it that the five Red Sox that went to the All–Star
game had a total of three at–bats, one inning pitched, and four innings
in the field?

Tampa Bay, who did not have anyone selected to start, ended up with
three players playing a total of nine innings with five at–bats.

That couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that Joe Maddon, the
manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, was manging the AL All–Stars and the Red
Sox are 6.5 games ahead of the Rays in the AL East standings, right?

I don’t think so.

Last year’s epic 15–inning affair, managed by Terry Francona, seemed
much more evenly distributed. The starters got one, maybe two times up
to the plate, and everyone that could get into the game got playing
time.

The game being 15 innings long might have had something to do with
it, but the point stands. Terry Francona gave every single All–Star
their chance to shine, whether they were a Ray, a Yankee, or an
Athletic. It didn’t matter; these guys were there to be exhibited, so
everyone should get their shot on the field and at the plate.

The AL won. Congratulations. Whatever.

This year’s game was a huge disappointment. It was boring, the
changes were hard to keep up with because certain players were
replaced, while others moved all around the field to make sure they
weren’t replaced.

I can’t complain too much about the pitching; that was handled fine,
with the exception of Wakefield. His selection was one of the feel–good
stories of this All–Star Game and he doesn’t even get to pitch?

Come on! He’s 42 and was selected to his first ever All–Star team.
Fun fact: there are only two pitchers in the American league with 11
wins. Both made the All–Star roster, neither made it into the game.
Beckett didn’t play because he just pitched, so that was
understandable, but not putting Tim Wakefield in the game?

Maybe I didn’t enjoy the game as much because the Red Sox were being
pulled away from the spotlight as fast as possible by Maddon. Maybe it
was because there were no homers and a lot of cheap hits that are just
too ordinary.

I have to wonder; had Dustin Pedroia played, would he have stayed in
the game as long as non–starter Carl Crawford or Mark Teixeira?

Judging from last night, I’d say no.

I’m beginning to wonder if the only reason Beckett and Wakefield
made the team was that Maddon couldn’t find a legitimate reason to
exclude them from the roster. His bias would have been too obvious had
he left the two 11–game winners off the roster in favor of guys in
different uniforms with 10 wins or less.

Honestly, this game doesn’t mean much to me personally, but the
pride people take in playing in this game deserves more respect than
that. It deserves more than a manager playing favorites.

I get that having the pitcher batting makes things difficult, but to
not even put Kevin Youkilis, arguably one of the best defensive first
basemen in the league, on the field for even one inning is beyond
disrespectful to his talent and to the fans.

At the end of the game, I switched sides. I started rooting for the
National League, because there was no one left on the field for the
American League that I gave a rat’s you–know–what for.

I might have been more inclined to stick with my league of choice had I felt it was managed correctly.

But last night, I would have gladly traded home field advantage if it meant that Joe Maddon would lose that game.