Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

Archive for February, 2009

Revamped Defense Indeed

Posted by mizzou1028 on February 19, 2009

I can’t say I’m surprised that the Broncos are practically cleaning house on defense.  As a matter of fact, I’m very much in favor of the concept after the entire unit got rolled over at the season at the end of the season last year.  Still, it’s a little bit of a scary proposition when you have no clue who will be lining up at several key positions, even though the players who are being released were clearly not productive and will likely not be missed.  

Dre’ Bly’s departure will have a significant salary cap hit of $9 million, so it is clear that new GM Brian Xanders (yes that is the correct spelling of his name) and coach Josh McDaniels don’t think much of Bly’s ability.  Bly was brought in two years ago to play opposite Champ Bailey, and he simply was not the playmaker that he was early in his career.  We actually had a nickname for him at work during the games: toast.  This was because he got burned so often that we started calling him toast.  The Broncos will certainly need another corner, but this move is as clear an indicator as any that a new sheriff is in town running things personnel wise.  This release wipes out one of the biggest trades of the Mike Shanahan era.  The irony here is Bly never would have been acquired had Darrent Williams not sadly been killed on New Years Eve following the 2006 season.  If that event had never taken place, Williams would still be the corner opposite Bailey.  

The other names released are not what you would call big name guys, but their departures still speak volumes.  Niko Koutouvides in particular was a free agent bust from the word go, a player who received a lot of money from Shanahan prior to last season to be the starting middle linebacker even though he had essentially been a special teams contributor in Seattle.  Thing is, Koutouvides didn’t win the job with the Broncos either.  He didn’t even come close, and proved to be a very expensive and very mediocre special teams player.  Even when the Broncos were losing linebackers due to injury left and right, the Broncos asked Spencer Larsen to play both ways before they called on Koutouvides.   That says a lot right there about his ability or lack thereof.  Clearly the new regime agrees that this was a boneheaded signing and they moved to correct that immediately.

The player that won the middle linebacker job last year, Jamie Winborn, is also gone.  He was released this week too despite leading the team in tackles last season.  There is chatter that he and new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan didn’t get along to put it kindly in San Francisco, and that the risk of them butting heads is part of the reason for the departure.  I’m not sure how much that plays into it, if at all, but regardless it is clear that Xanders and McDaniels are not afraid to shake things up.  Also gone are safety Marquand Manuel, defensive end John Engelberger, and defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson.  It’s no coincidence that every one of these players was brought in via free agency or trade recently by Mike Shanahan.  I’m not sure whether the new pieces to replace any of these players will be an improvement, but it is clear that there is a difference in philosophy here.  

I think in this case I’m mostly excited to see these moves made because, let’s face it, the defense can’t be much worse than it was last season anyway.  As bad as it was (especially in that last game against San Diego, which should have had the intensity of a playoff game, only the Broncos allowed a franchise record rushing day for the Chargers), I think it is clear that some changes needed to be made, and that process has clearly begun.  The draft in April is very important for the Broncos especially from a defensive standpoint.  They don’t have the cash to make a run at Albert Haynesworth, Julius Peppers, or Terrell Suggs in part because the players listed above will be on the payroll next year even though they’re no longer with the team.  They might be able to sign some mid level players, but the bulk of their upgrading is going to have to be done through the draft.  The Broncos know they have pieces in place offensively, so this offseason will be focused on upgrading the defense.  I’m willing to be patient, but so far I like the initiative of the new staff to make things happen.  Should make for a fun offseason.

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Random Thoughts

Posted by mizzou1028 on February 12, 2009

– I am getting really sick of hearing about steroids and baseball.  We know players cheated.  We know there were more players hopped up on performance enhancers in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s than we’ll care to admit.  I actually applaud Alex Rodriguez for his honesty and coming clean, but baseball has a real problem on its hands that just won’t go away, ever.  It’s not as if Rodriguez is the only player that used.  Odds are he was hitting off home runs off of pitchers who were also using.  Obviously that doesn’t make it right, but it is impossible to know for sure which players used and which didn’t, and how much of an advantage those that used really got. 

– The fact is the steroid era encompasses much of recent baseball history.  Is it practical to wipe out records or to keep some of these players (like Mark McGwire) out of the Hall of Fame?  Be honest, how many Yankees fans are going to refrain from buying tickets at the new Yankee Stadium this season because A-Rod admits he used steroids?  None.  How many Yankee fans will cheer him if he hits 50 home runs and leads the Yankees to a title this year?  All of them.  One of baseball’s problems with this is that the fans don’t seem to be near as appalled as they are made out to be.  Ticket sales are way up, ratings are up, and MLB isn’t exactly a struggling operation.  When teams lose, that’s when fans stop going to the games.  A key player gets busted for steroids?  That doesn’t have near the economic impact as a struggling team, so MLB owners will continue to have this issue on their hands. 

– On the plus side, it’s hard to believe that pitchers and catchers are already reporting this week.  If the Rockies weren’t destined to be so awful in 2009, I might be actually be excited about this.  I just don’t think they got enough in return for Matt Holliday, and if Jeff Francis actually does have shoulder surgery later this month as rumored, the rotation is already in trouble.

– It’s also hard to get excited when the Yankees have an unfair advantage that allows them to buy whatever free agents they want.  MLB needs a salary cap in the worst way, but the players union will never agree to it.

– At least we have college basketball for another month.  Other than the NFL, this is my favorite sport.  The college game is so much better than the NBA in absolutely every way it’s not even funny.  For starters, it’s not about individual players.  The college game relies on a team working together.  This is much more fun to watch than an NBA game where an individual tries to take over while three of teammates are standing around watching.  Plus, it’s hard to beat an atmosphere where the crowd is actually into the game and cares about the outcome.  Not that NBA fans don’t care, but there is a big difference between passionate student sections and corporate yuppies that stroll in around the second quarter and leave midway through the fourth.

– I’m also excited about the college game because Missouri (my alma matter) is finally good again.  After a five year absence from the NCAA tournament, the Tigers are 21-4 and 8-2 in conference play. 

– Most of all, the college games are just more intense, competitive and fun to watch.  I am already looking forward to the NCAA tournament.

– It will also be an interesting off season in the NFL.  There are several receivers who could end up moving (including T.J. Houshmanzadeh and Anquan Boldin, and possibly Terrell Owens) plus there are several other big time free agents out there such as Julius Peppers and Albert Haynesworth.  Free agency opens on the 27th after the scouting combine, so we’ll delve more into offseason movement then.  It will be interesting to see which teams try to make splashes and which don’t, keeping in mind that big ticket signings don’t always guarantee success and in some cases quickly blow up in a team’s face.  Look at the Jaguars, who spent big money on Jerry Porter and Drayton Florence last offseason, and released them both this week.

– I will not believe that Brett Favre is actually retired until I see that he is not on the field playing for some team in week one.

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Shannon Sharpe Should be in the Hall of Fame

Posted by mizzou1028 on February 2, 2009

I think it is inexcusable that Shannon Sharpe did not get in the Hall of Fame this weekend.  I know he will get in eventually and that it is only a matter of time, but I thought for sure he would be a first ballot lock.  Sharpe retired with record for tight ends in receptions (815) and  yards (10,060).  Granted, those records have now been broken by Tony Gonzalez, but that doesn’t take away from what Sharpe accomplished in his career.  It seems as though Sharpe got caught in a numbers game because it is hard to make a case against the six guys who were enshrined (Bruce Smith, Rod Woodson, Bob Hayes, Ralph Wilson, Derrick Thomas and Randall McDaniel).  The guys who got in were all very deserving, but Sharpe should have been a first ballot lock with his career resume, which includes three Super Bowl rings.  The rules stiuplate no fewer than four inductees and no more than seven in a given year, so I am at a loss why Sharpe couldn’t have been the seventh candidate.  A case could be easily be made for Cris Carter as well (who I also think should be in and will be in eventually). 

I will preface the following by saying that I am clearly biased as a Broncos fan, but I think it is nothing short of ridiculous that only two Broncos are enshrined in the Hall (John Elway and Gary Zimmerman).  The Broncos have made it to six Super Bowls in their history, have won two of them, and have been one of the league’s most consistent franchises in the 80s and 90s with a lot of great players.  For example, I am convinced that linebacker Randy Gradishar, a seven time Pro Bowl selection and 1978 defensive player of the year, would be in the Hall of Fame had he worn the jersey of an east coast team.  It seems there is a bias against the Broncos that they have only two players in the Hall of Fame, especially when compared to other teams:

– The Cardinals have 11 players in the Hall of Fame, yet they haven’t won a title since 1947, and up until this season had won just one playoff game in 20 years

– The Lions have 13 players in the Hall, even though they’ve long been a league standard for futility.  To be fair, many of the enshrined players are from when the team was successful in the 1950s. 

– The Chiefs have 9 players who are enshrined (including Thomas), even though they haven’t won a playoff game in 15 years and were a league standard for futility throughout the late 70s and most of the 80s.

– The now defunct Houston Oilers have seven representatives, even though they consistently underachieved in the postseason.

Other teams with a lot of guys in: Redskins (17), Giants (18), Browns (16), Rams (13), 49ers (12), Chargers (7), Steelers (18), Raiders (13), Colts (10), Cowboys (11), Packers (21) and Bears (26). 

There are other teams besides the Broncos with room to gripe (for example the Patriots and Jets have four guys each), but for a team with a history such as the Broncos to only have two guys in is absolutely ridiculous.  I know Sharpe will get in eventually, and I think guys like Rod Smith and Terrell Davis should at the very least be considered.  I would like to see some old Broncos like Gradishar and Floyd Little get consideration eventually from the seniors committee as well.  I know a lot of teams think they should have more guys in, but it does seem there is not a balance here.

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Super Bowl Thoughts

Posted by mizzou1028 on February 2, 2009

At the risk of bouncing all over the place with no clear order to my comments from the Super Bowl, I offer my thoughts on the game in a quick hit format:

– What a fantastic game.  For the second straight season, the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl was scored with 35 seconds remaining.  As a fan you can’t ask for much more than that. 

– What a phenomenal job by Ben Roethlisberger on the final drive.  I lost count of how many guys he escaped from during the game, and on the final drive especially he kept plays alive with his feet and made perfect throw after perfect throw.  His pass to Santonio Holmes for the winning touchdown was threaded perfectly through three Cardinals defenders.

– It’s almost hard to realize that Roethlisberger has already won two Super Bowls in his first four years as a quarterback.  The way he can scramble and keep plays alive actually reminds me of my favorite player of all-time John Elway.  There is a certain irony that Roethlisberger wears Elway’s number seven.  While I have certain bitterness toward Roethlisberger and the Steelers because of their AFC title game win over the Broncos three years ago (and my anger over how many Steelers fans elbowed their way into Invesco Field that day), it’s impossible not to applaud his athleticism and the way he gets the job done in crunch time.  I think he should have the MVP, but Holmes is deserving as well. 

– Speaking of which, that was an awesome catch by Holmes for the winning score, and a great job to touch both feet in bounds, but I think David Tyree’s catch in last year’s Super Bowl was much more impressive.  Still, Holmes really stepped up with big catches on the final drive. 

– I don’t think Arizona’s scheme defensively was the problem on Pittsburgh’s final drive.  Roethlisberger and Holmes made a series of terrific plays that any defense would have been hard pressed to stop.  I actually thought Arizona’s defense really stepped things up in the red zone throughout the game, holding the Steelers to two field goals inside the five yard line. 

– Great job by the Cardinals to battle back, overcoming an early 10-0 deficit to get back in the game in the second quarter, and again overcoming a 20-7 deficit to take the lead.  Pittsburgh doesn’t usually lose when they have a double digit lead, and while moral victories don’t count for anything in the NFL, Arizona deserves to be commended for nearly pulling it off.

– James Harrison’s 100-yard interception return at the end of the first half was the play of the game.  Had the Cardinals scored a touchdown, they would have had a 14-10 halftime lead, plus the ball to begin the second half.  The interception and ensuing return caused a monster momentum swing had a big effect on the game.  To be honest I thought the Cardinals were almost done and buried when they didn’t do anything on their first possession of the second half, so they deserve a lot of credit for battling back. 

– On that play, it appeared to me that Kurt Warner misread the coverage by the Steelers defense.  It seemed like he thought the Steelers were going to blitz, and that Anquan Boldin was going to be wide open on the slant pattern.  Instead, Harrison sat back, and saw where Warner was going with the football.  It was clear watching the replay that Boldin was nowhere near open and that throw should not have been made, so it seems to me that Warner may have been expecting something different from the Steelers defense. 

– Give Harrison credit for the job he did on the play.  He read Warner perfectly, and then made a phenomenal run for the touchdown.  His touchdown carried a lot of importance given that time expired during the play, which means that had he been bumped out of bounds at the 2 yard line, the half would have been over and Pittsburgh wouldn’t have been able to add to the 10-7 lead. 

– Larry Fitzgerald deserved a ton of credit during the play too.  If you missed his effort on the play, try to watch him during one of the 50,000 replays you’ll see today on ESPN.  He started chasing Harrison from four yards deep in the end zone (and to boot Fitzgerald was on the opposite side of the field on the play, so he was chasing Harrison at a diagonal from the opposite corner), and kept hustling despite getting blocked by a Steeler defensive linemen.  At one point Fitzgerald even bumped into a teammate at the 30 yard line along the sideline, shoved him out of the way, and very nearly caught Harrison before he scored.  Even though Fitzgerald didn’t prevent the touchdown, his hustle on the play and refusal to give up is something we don’t see often enough from players. 

– I love the way Fitzgerald plays the game, he’s the anti-TO, unselfish, humble and willing to go all-out on every play.  He doesn’t whine when he doesn’t get the ball.  I wish he was on my team.

– The game was terrific, but in theme with the 2008 season, the officiating was, ahem, questionable at best.  Check that, Terry McAulay and his crew were awful.  Consider:

– How is it that the final play of the game (not counting the kneel down) was not reviewed??????  I’m talking about the strip and fumble recovery by the Steelers defense with five seconds left.  It seemed to me that Warner’s arm may have indeed been going forward, and that should have been an incomplete pass.  I am befuddled as to why there is not a bigger stink being made about this.  I’m not sure if the replay was conclusive, but my opinion is the arm was going forward and it should have been ruled an incomplete pass, not a fumble.  At the very least, the play should been reviewed by the booth upstairs.  Even if the call stood, at least everyone would know that it was reviewed.  Why do we even bother to have replay if the biggest play of the entire season is not subject to a review?  It is absolutely inexcusable that a Super Bowl crew wouldn’t look at that play.  Factor in there was a 15-yard penalty assessed on the Steelers following the play, and a reversal would have allowed the Cardinals one shot for a hail mary from the 30 yard line.  Terry McAulay and his crew should be ashamed they allowed this to happen.  Really, I am astounded that this is not a much bigger topic in the media today. 

– Consider also the number of calls that were missed in the game.  For starters, how was Holmes not assessed a 15-yard excessive celebration penalty following his winning touchdown?  The rule says you’re not allowed to use the ball as a prop in a celebration, yet he clearly did.  How about a roughing the passer penalty against the Cardinals for a hit on Roethlisberger, yet a much later after the play and more brutal hit against Warner wasn’t called?  How about the roughing the holder penalty against the Cardinals’ Adrian Wilson?  Seemed to me that was not an intentional blow by Wilson.  What about Roethlisberger getting away with at least two very blatant intentional groundings that weren’t called (one where the refs claimed he was out of the pocket and clearly was not)?  Consider also that the Cardinals were correct on two challenges during the game.  This means that the calls were originally missed by the officials.  All told, there were a lot of flags thrown during the game, but perhaps it’s the ones that weren’t thrown and should have been that made as much of a difference.

– Don’t get me wrong, Pittsburgh deserved to win the game.  They made the plays when they had to especially on the final drive, but you can’t deny that McAulay and his crew had an adverse impact on the game.  I’ll say it again, I am STUNNED that there isn’t more of a fuss being made about the lack of a review on the final play.  The league is very fortunate that the officials’ poor performance is overshadowed by the terrific finish and the great game.  It is ironic though that each of Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl wins in the past four years is marred by poor officiating. 

– All that being said, this is not to take away from the Steelers’ victory.  Roethlisberger and Holmes were amazing on the final drive, and James Harrison had a big impact on defense.  I am confident that future Super Bowls will be along the lines of the previous two years: close games with exciting finishes.  It was a terrific game, one that is hard to top in excitement from a fan’s perspective.

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