Saturday, November 30, 2013

OHIO STATE 42, MICHIGAN 41; Hoke Did the Right Thing, Saban not so Much

     This was one of the most exciting OSU/Michigan games I can ever remember.  Congratulations to Ohio Sate for an unbelievable game over a truly excellent Michigan team, 42-41.   Carlos Hyde was was Devin Gardner.  Hyde and Braxton Miller ran for an astounding 379 yards on the ground.
Carlos Hyde was monstrously good gaining 226 yards on the ground and averaging 8.4 yards per carry.

   Michigan also dead some heavy damage on the ground.  They didn't test the middle much, fearing the big OSU line and outstanding middle linebacker Ryan Shazier, so basically they ran wide, and had some success with Freshmen De'Veon Smith, and Derrick Green, along with Senior Fitzgerald Toussaint.  But Devin Gardner was the star compiling an amazing 451 yards through the air--and it could have been even more were it not for some big dropped passes.  

   The Buckeyes came up big, in the end, with Tyvis Powell reading the route and coming up with an interception during the Wolverine's attempted two point conversion attempt for the win.
Tyvis Powell came up big, and came down with the ball in the biggest play of the entire season.

    Afterwards, the sportscasters and sportswriters and jumping all over Michigan Coach Brady Hoke for calling for the two point conversion rather than a one point conversion which would have taken the game into overtime.  I was listening to Fox Sports Radio after the game, and they were merciless.  

     However, in this observer's humble judgment, Hoke's decision was obviously correct.  He had to either entrust his offense to make two yards, or he could depend on his defense in overtime to stop Carlos Hyde (averaging 8.4 yards per carry and getting stronger and stronger during the game).  That doesn't make sense, frankly.   When the defense gives up that much real estate, they clearly are getting their butts kicked and they deserve to lose.     

   Plus, in overtime the Hoker would have to depend on an untested backup  field goal kicker, Matt Wile, with only 3 field goals in his college career, versus Ohio State's senior kicker Drew Basil, who was 8 for 9.   Likewise that matchup enormously favored Ohio State.   The Fox Sports crew seemed not to realize this for at least half an hour, and then sheepishly mentioned that the Wolverines were using an inexperienced backup kicker, but did not mention the importance of a kicker in overtime, only the extra point during regulation.
Let's see...we have a senior kicker and four year starter, while Michigan was forced to play its backup kicker.  Who would have had the advantage in overtime?

   Not to mention the fact that Michigan's stud quarterback Devin Gardner was hopping around on one leg by the end of the game, while Braxton Miller was just as dangerous as Hyde.   Plus Braxton can throw.
Devin Gardner was great on Saturday, and courageously played through an injury.  

   The complaining by second guessers makes it sounds like the Buckeyes win was a fluke.  Just kick the extra point, and Michigan was sure to be able to stop Hyde and Miller....their backup field goal kicker would be certain to outkick the Buckeye's experienced senior kicker....and Gardner's injuries were just about ready to heal at any minute.  OH COME ON!

   No, quit saying that the Coach blew this for Michigan.  He did the only logical thing, try to score two points with just one more play, and OSU just had the answer this day.  It was an unbelievable game, and Michigan was great, but Ohio State was just a bit better.  

   I'm going to go to the championship game next week, and I can't wait.  Michigan State will not be a piece of cake, particularly since it would be the highlight of their season to beat OSU, but not the other way around.  
And Coach Meyer, about that defense...

"I really, really want you to beat Michigan State next...."

   Also I can't help but weigh in on another coach's decision,  this one by Alabama's Nick Saban.  After blowing four field goals with a redshirt freshman, do you try a 57 yarder to end the game?  Or do you worry about the threat of a runback?  I'm not aware of anyone predicting it before it happened, but in retrospect, those 300 pound offensive linemen were not going to catch one of the speediest guys on Auburn's team in Chris Davis, a 4.4 guy.  What's hilarious is there is no one from Alabama in the picture during the runback, only five Auburn players and the entire sideline running to the end zone.  And just like that, Auburn 34, Alabama 28.  Thanks, Coach Saban.    


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Cleveland Browns Start Brandon Weeden vs Jaguars
Brandon Weeden has regained his job as starting quarterback as Jason Campbell is still recovering from a concussion.   

    This week the Browns face the Jacksonville Jaguars.  The Jags looked like they were going to have a deathlock on the first pick in the NFL draft, but after winning two out of three games, this is no longer clear.  Right now in the AFC, Houston and Jacksonville are tied for the worst record, but if Jacksonville beats Cleveland, then they would own a tie breaker versus the Browns.  One more Jacksonville victory and the Browns could have the second worst record in the AFC and could get a top five position in the next draft.  

    The Browns are very, very bad on offense this year.  One item that really stands out is that the offensive line is just getting pushed around.  Given the recent buzz about bullying in the NFL, the Browns can justifiably claim that their line has been bullied by every team they have played so far.  

   The Browns lead the NFL in hits on their quarterback, with 93. Amazingly, they are 11 hits higher than the second place team.  The Browns are also #2 in the NFL in sacks allowed, with 39.  And the Browns quarterback has been knocked out of the game four times this year, with Bryan Hoyer out for the season.
This year, the Browns are incapable of protecting the quarterback, with the starter being knocked out of the game four times.  Browns fans should not assume this can be fixed by drafting a high priced rookie quarterback next year.  

As for the running game, the Browns are even worse.  Veteran halfback Willis McGahee is averaging 2.6 yards per carry for 287 yards, an absurdly low average.  Worse, the Browns cut a rookie named Bobby Rainey, who was immediately picked up by the Tampa Bay Bucs.   After only four games, Rainey has already gained 243 yards for an average of 4.3 yards per carry.   It's pretty bad if a player's production goes up immediately after leaving the Browns.  The Browns O-Line is just struggling despite having Joe Thomas to anchor the line from the left tackle position and Alex Mack, the former first round draft pick, at center.   Both guard positions and right tackle have struggled this year.   The Browns also have only one bona fide threat at wideout in Josh Gordon, who so far has not been caught doing any dope.  

   Likewise, the Browns do not have a true fullback, nor is there a blocking tight end to spell Jordan Cameron or to run a two-tight-end formation.  
   Many Browns fans have made Weeden the scapegoat, but the Village Elliot disagrees.   With such weak players on the O-line, wide receiver, halfback and fullback, it's very hard to succeed in the NFL.  Or Pop Warner, for that matter.

    All three Browns quarterbacks have NFL arms and are generally good quarterbacks, with Hoyer looking the best in limited action.  

    If the Browns go all out to trade up for a top rookie quarterback in the draft, as many expect, that kid may be crushed just like the current quarterbacks.  You can not expect the quarterback to survive the season with the worst protection in the NFL.   If they get 8 games out of their starter, that will be  pretty good.  And no, he is not going to put up numbers while running for his life.  

     As bad as they have been, the Jags have been worse.  This may the best opportunity to see whether Weeden can play.  The Jaguars have only 17 sacks this year, while the Browns have allowed 39.  So Weeden may actually be able to stay upright for part of this game.  Let's see how he does on Sunday.  

Tom Brady--the Best in Cold Weather

After the Patriots miracle victory over the Denver Broncos, a few things jump out at me.  First, Tom Brady's perfect spiral may be not so important in a domed stadium, but when the weather is cold and the wind is gusting, it really makes a difference if the quarterback can throw a really tight spiral. Peyton Manning, not so much.  He is one of the greatest of all time, but it's hard to throw the ball into the teeth of a cold Massachusetts wind if it wobbles.  Kudos for the great discussion of this effect by Mike Greenberg et al of ESPN, and especially the analysis provided by Hall of Famer Cris Carter.   

Leave it to ESPN to also provide some great stats, which you can find here:  ESPN: tom-brady-thrives-in-new-england-weather .  To cut to the chase, Brady (qb rating 91.4), Aaron Rodgers (102.6) and Ben Roethlisberger (95.6)---all qbs from cold weather cities--have outstanding records when the weather is below freezing, whereas Manning is 2-6 with a very pedestrian 68.8 quarterback rating.
Peyton Manning's throws may be harder to catch on a cold and windy field.  

That point was underscored by Coach Belichick's decision to have the wind at their back, rather than receiving the kickoff in overtime.   It did make a critical difference.  

Still, it drives me nuts that teams are so afraid of Peyton Manning's deep ball.  They continually play the defensive backs a few yards behind the line of scrimmage, fearing that they may get torched by the Broncos' wide receivers.  Then they try to catch Peyton with zone blitzes and the like.  I think this is backwards.  Nowadays, Peyton is making his living by making short passes, not the bomb.  I don't think he has such a great arm anymore.  And nobody tricks Manning with a zone blitz.  You might catch a rookie unawares, but Manning is one of the best in the world at coping with the blitz.  I think you cover his receivers with tight coverage at the line of scrimmage.  Instead of trying to fool him with a blitz, teams should use an extra defensive back and challenge  his receivers at the line of scrimmage.  

Which brings me to another point.  What is the Super Bowl going to be like in New York in February?    Players were dropping the football all over the field in the New England vs Denver game, and so the Super Bowl may be error prone as well if the weather is cold in February in New York.  But terrible weather would favor a team like the Patriots and Tom Brady if they get that far.  

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Someday a Woman will Play Major League Baseball

     Someday a woman will play Major League Baseball.  I don't mean as a gimmick by some enterprising General Manager to sell tickets.  I mean legitimately, based on ability, and soon, like within the next few years.  
     The most likely path, I believe, may be for a woman to make it as a knuckleball pitcher, which requires a rather unique skill set.  The most important skill is to be able to throw the darn pitch, which requires a very awkward grip, demonstrated below by legendary Hoyt Wilhelm, one of the early practitioners of the art.  

Hoyt Wilhelm had a career that seemed to span centuries, featuring the knuckleball as his main pitch.  

A good knuckleball is thrown such that it either does not rotate at all, or else rotates very slowly. When that happens the ball moves erratically and consequently is very difficult to hit.  

Although almost everyone can throw a knuckleball to a degree (watch high school players warm up, and almost for sure someone will play around with it), it is very hard to control.  Only a few pitchers can throw it consistently for a strike, but those who can do it have an excellent shot at making a living in the Major Leagues.  

Not all knuckleballs are born equal.  Some guys, like R.A Dickey, throw it hard, around 80 mph, which is the speed of a very good high school fastball. 

Others, like Tim Wakefield, throw a very slow pitch, around 65 mph.  Yet, Wakefield also threw other pitches and could change speeds very well.  A hitter looking for a 65 mph can be overmatched by a fastball coming in 10 mph faster than he expects. 

Wakefield's arm speed is within the range of many female athletes.  Put it this way:  if a person can serve a tennis ball at the professional level, that's more than enough arm strength to be a knuckleball pitcher.  

The knuckleball is not easy to throw for strikes, or everyone would do it.  But I don't know why it would be that  men would have a dominant advantage in this arcane art.    

Hence, I suspect that the right woman, armed with a knuckleball, will probably be able to make the Major Leagues.  

At the moment, not many have tried.  One pitcher, Eri Yoshida of Japan has had some success in the independent minor leagues in the US (Maui Na Koa Ikaika, which is Hawaiian for "Strong Warriors").  
Japanese knuckleballer Eri Yoshida had some success playing against the fellers in pro ball.

Yoshida, despite being only 5'1" is able to throw the knuckleball, reportedly at Wakefieldian velocity. 

Yoshida is particularly interesting because she is inspiring a legion of young admirers and imitators in baseball-mad Japan.  Without really intending to, she has become a sort of role model.  I have to think that others may follow her with even more success.  

To make it to the big leagues, a knuckleballer still has to have a glove and enough speed to cover first base on infield plays.  A slider or curve would be a big help also, even if those pitchers are not Big League calibre by themselves.    I don't see any reason why those talents would be limited to men. If I'm see we might see women pitching for Major League farm teams in the next few years.  

   Maybe someone like 16 year old Chelsea Baker, who throws the knuckleball and, believer it or not, was offered a contract for the Japanese professional league. 

Chelsea Baker was offered a professional contract in Japan when she was just 15 years old.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Browns Over the Bengals, Village Elliot Predicts

    Truthfully, I hate it when the Bengals and Browns play.  I grew up in Cleveland, and am old enough to remember when the Bengals were created by Paul Brown in the old AFL.  We thought, hey, great!  Our former coach (fired by Art Modell, who would go down in infamy after moving the team to Baltimore) has started up a second pro team in Ohio!  So we had two teams to root for, and I most of us were not all that enthralled by Art Modell anyway. 
    Regrettably, that situation changed with the merger of the leagues in 1970, with the Browns and Bengals in the same division.  Of course, Paul Brown wanted desperately to beat the Browns, and Modell's team didn't want that to happen, so a rivalry was born.  
   Anyway, I digress.  This weeks matchup, for the first time in a long time may actually favor the Browns.  It's not that the Browns have a great team, but they are healthy and the Bengals are not.  The Bengals have eight guys on the IR list.   
   People have discovered that Jason Campbell can play a little.  Readers of this column know that the Village Elliot has always liked Campbell, and in particular has noted that Campbell led the Oakland Raiders to a winning record.  Yes, the Raiders, who at that time still had their meddling owner, Al Davis, to ruin the rest of the team.  It's hard to fault the quarterback for the way the Raiders or the Redskins (the team Campbell played for most of his career) played.  Campell is considered to be over the hill by many fans, but at 31 he is not much older than Brandon Weeden, who turned 30 last month
Meanwhile, let's take a look at the Bengals.  They have lost 
Pro Bowler DT Geno Atkins, plus starters, S Taylor Mays, CB Leon Hall, and DE Robert Geathers.  Also lost are RB Bernard Scott, and LB Sean Porter.  For Sunday, DT Devon Still is out, G Keven Zeitler is Out,  LB Ray Malaluga is Doubtful, S Chris Crocker is Doubtful.  Let's not even worry about who is questionable.   I count nine key players as out this week.
   The Browns have lost Quentin Groves, a good backup linebacker, and long term are without QB Brian Hoyer, PR Travis Benjamin and backup running back Dion James. They are in much better shape physically than the battered Bengals. 
   The Browns O-Line has been playing much better. For the first several games they were giving up sacks at a phenomenal rate, which is part of the reason why they can not keep their quartbacks healthy.  Weeden has been knocked out of a few games, and Brian Hoyer is out for the year.  But the line has stabilized things a bit  for Campbell.  They still can not run the ball at all, with Willis McGahee struggling to average 3.0 yards per carry, one of the worst averages in the NFL.   But unknown fullback Chris Orbonnaya has 28 catches out of the backfield, and has a 4.6 yard per carry average lifetime.  Sometime they may figure out that he can play, and actually give him the ball.  For now, the Browns prefer Willis McGahee's 2.6 yards per carry as they wait for him to return to his form from back in the leather helmet days.  
    The Bengals big threat on offense is all-everything wide receiver A. J. Green.  On the other hand, the Browns have a very good cover corner in Joe Haden, and they may be able to slow down Green a little bit. 
    At the beginning of the year, I thought that the Bengals were going to be able to play some two-tight end sets with  Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert.  However, when Jermaine Gresham missed a game last week, journeyman Alex Smith (a former Brown) got the start over Eifert.   
    The Bengals are favored by five points, and if they were healthy I would agree with that.  But the fact of the matter is that they are not healthy, and for that reason the Browns should be clear favorites to win this game.  I handicap this game an amazing nine points differently than the official spread:  Cleveland 24, Cincinnati 20.  



Sunday, November 3, 2013

Hell Freezes Over, Browns Beat Ravens

Davone Bess followed a miserable performance with a great one today.

    Oh boy it has been a long time since the Browns have beaten Baltimore.  Kudos to the Coaching Staff, quarterback Jason Campbell, wide receiver Davone Bess and the rest of the team for edging the Ravens in a tough game, 24-18.  Campbell doesn't seem to get much respect from fans, but the guy had a winning record with the Oakland Raiders, which is not easy to do.  

Fans were ready to execute Davone Bess after a very bad game last week, but this week he caught two touchdown passes and make a key grab on 4th and one that pretty much sealed the victory. 

Weeden haters can say that every time the Browns start someone else (Hoyer or Campbell), the Browns play better:  4-1 without Weeden, 0-4 with.  I don't think it is all Weeden, but no doubt he is the third best quarterback on the team based on what we have seen this year.  

On the other hand, the Browns running game is atrocious, with star Willis McGahee struggling to get 31 yards in 21 carries today.!/image/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_270/browns27cut.jpg
Willis McGahee brought his lunch pail and worked hard for 31 yards today.  

I was also disappointed to see mediocre wideout Greg Little get flagged twice for unsportsmanlike conduct.  He only averages 40 yards per game for his career, so a few good catches is no reason to start taunting the opposition or grabbing their helmets and throwing them around.
Greg Little gained a lot of yards, but gave up 30 yards with two foolish unsportsmanlike conduct  penalties.  Dude, you don't make enough good plays to be taunting people.  

The Browns were very tough on defense today, nailing Baltimore's Joe Flacco for five sacks plus an interception by Joe Haden from a bad pass from Flacco.  

They held Baltimore to a ridiculous 55 yards rushing, with only 17 from star halfback Ray Rice.  You can win with a defense like that.