St. Louis Rams: A Case Study

Justin continues his breakdown of the current state of every NFL team, continuing today with the St. Louis Rams

Justin Fritze will be breaking down where every team in the NFL currently stands for us here at TOJ, going from worst to first…continuing today with the St. Louis Rams –

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There is a strange three headed beast. It begins with the mustache of Jeff Fisher, surrounded by his increasingly “party first” mullet. It wears black sunglasses, even at night, and it is very predictable in it’s forward motion.

We all know Jeff Fisher was a defensive minded coach, so him picking up a sadistic defensive coordinator has made his rebirth in St. Louis a pretty predictable style of football. Turnovers, quarterback sacks, run the ball, short passing. Kill the clock. Antithesis of the Greatest Show On Turf.

One simple problem. There are no Pro Bowlers at defensive line or linebacker (although Fred Long made the 2008 All Pro team), helped out by a defensive back roster including the 37 year old Al Harris and the 31 year old Quintin Mikell. Add to this the fact that 11 cornerbacks were on IR at some point last season. How the hell do you explain that?

Now, the third head of that beast, Brian “the slant” Schottenheimer, is coming to town off a relatively soul crushing end to his tenure with the Jets. This makes sense to get picked up by Fisher. Why? Because as soon as Brian starts screwing up, Jeff is gonna take over the play calling and remind him, in that gravelly baritone “you have no f*cking clue what you’re doing Brian, and I still owe this kid Bradford $32 million, so if you’ll kindly stick to ruining one quarterbacks career I’m gonna take this thing over from here on out”. Then he will win coach of the year on route to the playoffs.

If the offensive experiment works then Schottenheimer will get his shot at a head coaching opportunity next year, when of course five of the 2012 season’s coaches have been fired. (Making bets on someone’s livelihood is cruel and mean, but this is football, and football is full of clowns.)
But how would it work? Well there’s Steven Jackson, who can bail Bradford out of most 3rd and short situations, a potential monster if they draft Matt Kalil at offensive tackle, or if they decide to go receiver (Kendall Wright?) in the second round, they’ll have at least three guys who can run and catch, with serious upside (Pettis 23, Salas 24, Kendricks 23), even if they completely fail on the draft pick.

THE MAD SLANTER

This is where the offense vs. defense argument comes into play. If Williams gets his way, they will take Morris Claiborne in the first round, disregarding the fact that all logical persons see Kalil as a can’t miss pick who for the next 10 years will appear in multiple Pro Bowls. But the Rams need to make a play to grab every young defensive free agent they can, because they’re going to play the 49ers twice, Arizona twice, and a Seahawks team that may in fact yield a legitimate starting roster for the first time in 5 years. Stealing guys like Cliff Avril and Anthony Spencer could help out with line depth, but they need something else. Terrell Thomas?

So how does Schottenheimer step in from all this obsessus defensus and put his foot down? He loads up the NFL.com page of the Rams, and points to the following statistics: Points (32nd) Yards (31st) Passing Yards (30th) Rush Yards (23rd). BOOM. Win one for Schotty. There are 32 teams in the NFL.

This team, with a decent draft (can’t screw it up from the 2 spot THAT bad) and a few free agent pickups, can actually COMPETE for the NFC West next year. Anyone can compete in the NFC West. If Gregg Williams carries a few tricks over from the Saints, there’s not any elite quarterbacks in their division that are going to put up numbers.

There is one thing to remember: The Rams play some playoff teams next year, and Gregg Williams, regardless of his skills, is now on the wrong side of 5,400 yards passing.

Down With The Old: Breaking Down The Indianpolis Colts

Justin begins his look around the NFL with a breakdown of where the Indianpolis Colts currently stand

Justin Fritze will be breaking down where every team in the NFL currently stands for us here at TOJ, going from worst to first…starting out today with the Indianpolis Colts.

Peyton Manning is not coming back to the Colts. Counterargument? Peyton Manning is coming back to the Colts. No? Without the GM tandem of the Polians, without the strength and conditioning coach that was his best lifeline to the franchise this season, without the offensive coordinator who built the Manning system, and without the head coach who did a half decent job of keeping the Colts in the playoffs under his tenure.

It’s ok Colt fans. Things get worse from here. Kerry Collins? Yeah sorry he’s gone too. I know a few people went out, got drunk, and purchased a Collins jersey somewhere around week 1, or if they are true riders of the ‘shoe, bought it as soon as he signed with the Colts for a cool $4 million. The Dutch Boy Painter? If the Colts don’t get rid of him, then Grigson and his purported “close door analysis of the roster” must have gone horribly awry, because that dude is probably hovering somewhere around bottom 5 quarterbacks that had actual playing time in the 2011 NFL season.

With a passer rating of 60.6, expect Painter to end up on the Jets to give Sanchez a challenge, or try and steal the thunder from Kevin Kolb out in Arizona. Most likely, he sneaks around the IFL throwing touchdown tosses to TO while one of them has a serious reassessment of where life led them. Even Dan Orlovsky isn’t safe, which could lead to a very strange testing of free agent quarterback waters. Possible scenarios: Vince Young backing up Andrew Luck, Jason Campbell backing up Andrew Luck, or even Donovan Mcnabb backing up Andrew Luck.

All in all, it’s not going to be pretty for anyone who has a serious issue with “the Luck” starting out of the gate. According to certain statistics, Joseph Addai did not have a good year. Well I’m not a sports scientist, but I have a brief theory on that. No Peyton Manning, no deep threat, no passing game, no reason to put less than 8 in the box. That means that Joseph Addai was essentially running into a wall of defensive lineman, linebackers, and probably the occasional safety. You can literally hear Addai telling himself how much he hates his life without Peyton, as he utters things like “come back 18”, “Peyton!”, and “how long lord!” right before hitting the hole.

He eventually grew silent altogether when running from the I formation, demanding to his running backs coach that Jacob Tamme should be getting the worst of it at fullback, because fullbacks deserve pain. Which leads us to Donald Brown, who has the sweetest picture onWikipedia that screams “that’s right, I’m PEYTON MANNING’s new running back!”.

I wish I could talk to him now, because in his brief tenure with the Colts he will have had brief time to suckle at the Manning teat, while continuing his career with what could possibly be the greatest quarterback of his generation. Delone Carter? 4th round pick out of Syracuse? Nobody Cares, you will only be used barring serious injury to Addai or Brown.

Ah the receiving core! I’m quite certain Reggie Wayne had about three nervous breakdowns mid game this year, one of which was during the realization that Kerry Collins was throwing him the ball, one when he realized he might have to live with Curtis Painter as his starter, and one when it finally set in that out of 3 quarterbacks, Dan Orlovsky was the best of the bunch. There’s no coming to terms with that, and Wayne’s statement that he wants to stay in Indy was quickly redacted once he realized his head coach and his offensive coordinator, meaning Peyton Manning, would not be coming back.

He will fit in somewhere desperate, like the Browns or the Redskins, and if Peyton does something truly strange like go to Arizona or Seattle, he’ll follow. You see, Reggie Wayne needs a good quarterback to live. He has 5 pro bowls, and 3 all pro seasons, and not one of them was for someone other than Peyton Manning. But again, I come to the defense of Colts fans, as I remind you that you have Anthony Gonzalez, 1st rounder out of Ohio State to help right the ship! Too soon? OK, take Pierre Garcon and stop calling me “Tim from Indy”.

Dallas Clark is in a strange position. He once won tight end of the year. Seeing as how Luck will eventually create his own system akin to Peyton, a tight end is very friendly to Luck, but with great new quarterback usually follows great rookie tight end. Coby Fleener, with the haircut of a 12 year old goth core fan (look at his Stanford bio pic), is already being predicted as a second round pick for the Colts, which will no doubt end Clark’s career as a Colt. You know, because he just happened to play at STANFORD. If Irsay is salting the earth, a good bit is going to Peyton’s core guys. I can see the Tamme/Fleener duo working, but then again I can also see Dallas Clark opening up a rodeo bar and making $345,000 off of Peyton memorabilia if he decides to retire.

Offensive line? NO PROBLEM. Dump sad sack Saturday and let Andrew Luck take snaps from either Peter Konz or Mike Brewster. That’s about the same in terms of blue collar name/average dude persona. Let Anthony Castonzo find out if he really deserved a 1st round pick, and if they don’t draft any offensive line help, there’s probably a few people they could grab in the off season, seeing as how the Patriots and Ravens assembled a ridiculous depth of offensive lineman from rejects and castoffs of other teams. Note to Ben Ijalana, earn that 2nd round draft pick! Don’t pull a Ducasse and ruin it for all the small schools.

Chuck Pagano is going to coach the Colts. That’s right, defensive “guru  Chuck Pagano is going to coach the Colts. Wonder if Tony Dungy had a hand in that one.

With that in mind, a brief look at the defense. I originally thought that Robert Mathis was going to be a goner, but if Pagano is going to be there, why not keep your best two defensive ends and try and build it up through some 3rd, 4th and 5th round draft picks? Jerry Hughes has one last shot to make it, especially if he’s going to be playing under a coach that spent 75% of his coaching career on the defensive side of the ball. If they use a 3-4, Hughes could be an asset in the sub package, or nickel/dime situations, while retaining a role as a starter if he switches to OLB full time. 3 legitimate speed rushers could wreak havoc if they get as exotic as the Ravens did this past year.

As far as linebackers go, Ernie Sims and Pat the Jackhammer Angerer seem to be the only ones safe. There’s going to be plenty of late round linebackers, and if they swing it right they could even trade down from their second round pick to grab one in the 3rd round. With this much changeover as far as defensive coordinators throughout the league, linebackers will be cut and signed at a pace even the hardcore insiders won’t be able to comprehend. Just keep Zach Brown in mind on draft day. It could be the first power move of Pagano’s tenure.

Seeing as how Chuck Pagano specialized in defensive backs, Antoine Bethea is likely to take over the mantle as free wheeler like Ed Reed did in Baltimore. Letting Bethea roam is probably the best option, as he is the only one who seems to have the “leader” status in the defensive backfield. What Colt fans can look forward to is the continuous saga of Bob Sanders finally being over, and getting Melvin Bullitt back as the other half to the safety tandem. One more solid corner and this defense can be in the op half in the AFC in no time at all.

With two defensive backs drafted in last years draft in the 5th and 6th, look for the Colts to throw a few 1-5-5 packages out there, or even some packages with 6 defensive backs in third down situations. This is Pagano’s team now. There will be no more debate as to if Pagano made the Ravens defense good or if the pieces made the job easy. The Colts failed on all fronts last year, and now we’ll see if the new Colts defense can compete.

Accepting The New York Knicks Reality

Justin with a look at the reality for the New York Knicks

The Knicks are attempting to implode midseason instead of waiting till the end of the year like the Jets. At least they can talk about real pressure being in Madison Square Garden and not in the swamps of Jersey, but at this point it’s semantics. Amare can’t own the paint because Tyson Chandler plays Center, Carmelo doesn’t want to pass, and if I have to watch another six seconds of him giving jab steps before throwing up a bogus three again I’m going to personally find James Dolan and whisper something to the tune of “you know Chris Paul isn’t going to win a championship with the Clippers, Carmelo wants to go solo, so um, Jimmy, just imagine Chris Paul in the run and gun D’Antoni system. It’ll be 105 a night, and I hear Phil Jackson is getting bored out there if it all falls apart”.

At this very moment, I’m getting to watch some weird bizarro foursome going on in the NBA right now. I have NBATV, but because Dolan The Emperor is a fascist you can’t watch that feed, and you watch the MSG feed. Thank god I have Optimum or I would be forced to go illegal in my watching of the least together team in basketball (excluding the Wizards, whose antics are akin to a halfhearted light comedy show and may in fact actually turn it around if they toss out about 60% of their roster). The Knicks are playing the Nuggets, who should go ahead and beat on the Knicks in the fourth quarter as Knick fans get to look forward to stepping in puddles of slush for the next two days. That’s right folks, the Knicks are 20-27 since the Carmelo trade, and paying for Tyson Chandler who has approximately 0 all star appearances has only compounded the need for something better than an 8 seed in this years playoffs. That’s if they MAKE the playoffs.

Meanwhile George Karl looks healthy and feeling like he’s got a team that could make a legitimate run to a playoff appearance. Who got the better deal? Maybe Donnie Walsh is going to reappear in Denver and retool that franchise while bragging to the press about how he worked over that Blues Daddy Dolan. I can hear it now: “Oh yeah well I told Jim they want MORE! More players. Italian. Russian. American. They want players from every continent.”

And then you have the antithesis of the Knicks. The Thunder. A thing of purity and beauty NO ONE WILL BE ALLOWED TO TALK ILL ABOUT. Every time I hear someone criticize Russell Westbrook I remind them that he is 23 years old, as is Kevin Durant, and that they will be together for the next five years. I’m not a holy man, but I pray to whatever god exists that they both play their whole career together and they get at least one NBA championship to offset the pure evil that teams like the Heat and the new look Knicks represent. I’m still trying to figure out what the Miami Heat are, and how anyone can create any sort of narrative regarding them without invoking the book of revelation at least five times.

The fact that Russell Westbrook didn’t want the extra $10 million and strong arm the franchise makes it clear they want Harden to get a long time deal as well. If they can keep those three, and keep Perkins, I’ll give this team a shot at a title every year. And that’s the greatness of it. Small town. No commercials. No crazy business ventures. Just basketball. All day every day.

Let me make one thing clear. If I ever see Russell Westbrook in a Lakers Jersey I will never watch a single Lakers game for the rest of his career. It’s bad enough watching that blur of purple and yellow stomp out everyone in the league for the last five years, but I can’t get on board with that sort of soul crushing power play that would only be hatched because of a potential Durant/Westbrook fallout.

NFL Divisional Round: Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On

Justin with a breakdown of the Patriots/Broncos divisional round match-up for TOJ

While everyone from Denver settles themselves in as the sun goes down, Patriots fans are having some serious inner dialogue. What is he going to do? Are they going to play this one conservative? Is Tim Tebow saving the final act for the field where playoff hopes go to die for the home team? What if he starts airing it out all over the place, with the occasional QB draw once he finally gets his 2 deep look?

The problem for the Patriots is not the Broncos defense. It’s the Broncos offensive playcalling, which NO ONE CAN EXPLAIN. Seriously, did anyone think the Broncos were gonna average 31.6 yard per pass? Nope. Not even New England tried that against the Steelers. It was all dink and dunk over the middle, couple of comeback routes and the occasional power run to keep everything close. No one is ready for what the Broncos are going to unleash tonight. Least of all the Patriots secondary. Sure the Pats are going to try some 2 deep zone looks to try and keep things in front of them, but Tebow will bring them closer, if for nothing else but to see if there are still pupils in his eyes.

I keep looking over the sheets of notes I made here, with the name Stevan Ridley popping out at me. That’s what terrifies me most about the Patriots. They can change the pace of a game WHENEVER THEY WANT. They have Green-Ellis to just run up the middle and get blasted a few times for 3 yards a clip. Then there’s the two strangest x factor backs most people have never even heard of. Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen may in fact turn this Patriots running game into a strange troika of smoke-screening, with Danny Woodhead ready for a jumbo formation counter play when Brady checks out of the spread as the safeties of Denver begin to have a very serious dilemma. What happens when the 4 wide set is Danny Woodhead, Wes Welker, Deon Branch, and Rob Gronkowski? Suddenly Woodhead motions in, and Gronkowski slides left into a bunch formation. Decisions need to be made. Quickly.

Let’s be clear. This isn’t about revenge for Tom Brady. He got his revenge by owning the Jets twice this year. This is about respect. Everyone knows that a playoff loss at home to Tim Tebow is going to set this team back about two years, when everyone was unanimously picking them for at least an AFC championship game appearance. That hasn’t happened in over 4 years, and despite the fact that his supporting cast has become great and awful simultaneously, Brady and Belichick know there are only two faces that will appear on the back of the Boston Herald.

Counterpoint: What may in fact be worse for the rest of the league is that a loss to the Broncos is going to cause a dramatic shift for the Patriots in terms of draft and free agent ideology. As of now, the Patriots have two first round picks, two second round picks, and two third round picks. Which leaves this doomsday scenario. Patriots move up about ten spots in the first round, and move up in the second, while cutting the fat of a few older players with some draft day trades. Two legitimate first round picks on defense, and two more second rounders, one defense and maybe another receiver. There will be serious problems if the Patriots get a pass rush anything near the Giants, and if they have a secondary that can at least be adequate in man coverage, teams are going to have a serious issue on their hands when you’re trying to force the ball down the field because Tom Brady just put up 28 on you in less than 15 minutes.

And what if the Broncos win? ESPN executives will begin to hemorrhage and contemplate a running banner of Tim Tebow tweets from now until the Super Bowl. There will be no escape. Giant slayers. Holy rollers. Brady beaters. No one wants to mention the fact that Mark Sanchez beat Manning and Brady back to back on the road last year, because that’s last year, and it’s been established by his own defense that Mark Sanchez sucks.

Tim Tebow winning in Foxborough will change things. That’s why it won’t happen. Even Ochocinco admitted that Tom Brady has turned into the Tom Brady everyone despises outside of Boston. The guy whose main focus is to put up enough points so that he can sit down in the third quarter and let Ryan Mallet humiliate the Broncos defense to the tune of 51 points. John Elway will be grinning either way. This is modern day football. Have no faith in miracles.

NFL Divisional Round: The Nervous Breakdown That Is Alex Smith

Justin breaks down the Saints/49ers match-up for TOJ

What may be the most diametrically opposed concepts of football is going to be taking place in San Francisco, a city that ruined my psyche with it’s plethora of drugs, bums, and general aimlessness. This weekend will not be aimless. It has already been lamely compared to “objects in motion stay in motion until they hit immovable forces”, blah blah blah. OK. Here’s what this all breaks down to. Alex Smith not getting his head removed from his shoulders. Why in God’s name would Greg Williams have any respect for Alex Smith, or the big boi on slow legs Frank Gore? Sure the Saints might get beat down the middle a few times, but the Saints know for a fact that they can turn around and put up 14 before anyone knows what happened. You’ll see.

You’ll go out to smoke a cigarette, Alex Smith marching down the field with some counters, a little play action, and even a few comebacks out of the spread, ball is on the 30. Then what happens? Saints score 10 points. Huh? Yep. Alex Smith gets sacked on the Saints 20, Drew Brees runs a draw for 20 yards and all of the sudden Jimmy Graham gets loose down the seam because the two linebackers are trying to spy over the middle. Easy stuff.

Where this game may get interesting is when Brees gets into 3rd and long, which will happen less than 5 times the entire game. Mark my words. The Saints are going to keep things interesting, two tight end sets, play action, shovel passes to Sproles, and the occasional power run set. The Saints don’t want to overpower the 49ers, they want to outsmart them. The Saints are fencing and the 49ers want a street fight. You don’t get points for punching in fencing.

If Mark Ingram was in this game, it’s not even close. The Saints would stuff it until someone gets knocked backwards, and then the play action is at it’s deadliest. But he’s not in, and Pierre Thomas isn’t going to try to run into Aldon Smith on a regular basis.

What I fear, and what will probably happen, is that if the Saints get desperate and it’s a low scoring game, then the first down hail mary will rear its ugly head and the Saints will somehow gain 60 yards without a completion. It’s the ace in the hole for Sean Payton, and Sean Payton likes poker. Will it make 49ers fans fume with rage for the next week and a half?

I really don’t know if San Francisco, as a city, cares about this game. I’ve been there. I spent a week and didn’t see a single jersey. Given, it wasn’t football season, but I have a hard time envisioning the Castro aglow with red jerseys and vicious drunks. Which is why the team should be permanently moved to Alcatraz and people should have to swim for their lives to see the game if they don’t want to pay the price of admission. Sure, a few people wouldn’t make it, but those who do would make even Raiders fans weep tears of joy.

Jesus, where have I gone with this. Too many nights spent staring at swirling patterns on my hotel room bunk bed, 18 year old street fights, and general madness. I know I wrote about the breakdown of Alex Smith, and he may in fact sneak out of here alive, but there’s only one chance for that, and it’s turnovers. Multiple turnovers. The 49ers can’t slow the Saints down to a crawl, no one can. They’re gonna have to do a job of disguising plays that makes Rex Ryan’s last playoff scheme against the Patriots look like 3 box play calling in Madden. Screw Gameflow. I’m rooting for the 49ers, and I’d like to see the NFC West raise themselves from the murk and get interesting. And I like linebackers, just not Jonathan Vilma. Because he, like many others, proved the Jets are inept at keeping talent. So there it is, I like the mud of the 49ers and I’m still trying to find reasons to not give up on the Jets for good. I got rid of the Knicks a week ago, and I’m on Step 7 of recovery.

Beware The Tide: Why Rex Ryan Should Pray At The Altar Of Saban

Justin breaks down what we learned about defensive football in the National Championship Game

Enough. Enough whining from everyone associated with Oklahoma State about how they should have been in the BCS Championship game, not because they deserved to be in the Championship game, but because it would have been more entertaining. Sure, and watching the Broncos play the Packers in the Super Bowl would be the most watched game in the history of the NFL and/or the ugliest blow out ever put on a green field.

When did things reach their most insane in the aftermath of last nights game? When the unanimous whine from the OK State crew and others trickled onto the radio waves today, where people were proclaiming that Oklahoma State would have beat LSU. By 40. Really? OK. Theoretically Oregon could have beaten LSU if we are to just take the game as LSU’s lack of execution. That’s an open ended theory/excuse that falls on deaf ears for anyone who hasn’t been smashing pint glasses over their head for the past 36 hours. Which is in many ways similar to my one trip to New Orleans, but that’s between me, god, and the sheriff. Even now, as I am writing this, Mike Wilbon is proclaiming that CAM NEWTON WOULD HAVE BEAT LSU!!! OR ALABAMA!!!!

So what happened to the war painted Tigers? Fear. You want to see fear in the NFL? Watch the game tape from when the Jets played the Ravens this year. Mark Sanchez had the same fear Jordan Jefferson had last night. Blind side hits from behind, receivers getting blasted over the middle, fumbles, delays in handoffs, and general skittishness all made more evident by 10 on field cameras and the screaming, half crazy crowd of drunks, freaks and fools in the stands.

Simply put, the front 7 of Alabama may be some of the scariest set of college football players to ever step foot on the field. But it’s not fear of simply getting picked off or losing a fumble that turned the voodoo daddies into porcelain dolls, it’s the combination of experience, retribution and pure rage. (There are 8 seniors on defense). Translation? Ray Lewis. Imagine 4 Ray Lewis clones (actually bigger and faster as the average height of the linebacking core is 6’4 and around 265lbs) lining up in a 3-4, waiting on every play, knowing every gap to shoot, and not just getting to your quarterback or running back, but exactly how to line him up and inflict the most damage. Every time someone from LSU tried to go down the field on a toss or a read option, there were not 3, but usually 4 linebackers waiting to break them in half.

For all the magic around the LSU Tigers, the honey badger, the free for all defense that logistically relies on mostly it’s edge rushers and secondary to lock down receivers, there was too much reliance on their ability to get turnovers, opponent plays for a loss, and kicking domination. Alabama wiped the floor with LSU on special teams, case in point being the honey badger’s attempt at a kickoff return that got him knocked back about 15 yards and Marquis Maze running his first attempt back about 42 yards before pulling up lame with a hamstring injury. Oh yes, and Maze, the number one receiver for Alabama, DIDN’T EVEN COME BACK TO PLAY IN THE GAME.

What no one will state, because it is theoretically impossible, is that every defensive coaches ultimate desire is to play in base packages for an entire game. That is, a 3-4 base, a nickel and a dime. If you had an All Madden defensive squad, there would be no need to switch from base defenses. You make your adjustments pre snap, and shut the play down before it even starts, and if it does start, don’t let it finish. Alabama didn’t blitz, they didn’t come overloaded to one side, and they didn’t get into exotic personnel packages. Perfection needs no decoration.

In the era of teams averaging 45 points a game, Alabama gave up 9 touchdowns in 13 games. They averaged 8.2 points per game allowed, and didn’t let the Tigers cross the 50 yard line until 8 minutes left in the game. Mind you, if AJ McCarron didn’t get sacked on a third down play, the Tigers might not have crossed the 50 yard line at all. THE LSU TIGERS – who wiped the floor with almost all competition between the SEC, the Pac 12, and the ACC, couldn’t score a point the entire game. Even if they had Sebastian Janikowski lining up kicks, they wouldn’t have even been close. Roll tide. Oh yes, and Michigan, who happens to play Alabama in the season opener next year, should start looking for another backup QB. Denard doesn’t stand a chance.

PS – If the Jets don’t draft Courtney Upshaw I’m giving up on them for good.

The Slow March: First Casualties Of Black Monday

Justin looks at the teams in the NFL who fired their coaches and where they go from here

The Rams have excuses. Sam Bradford got too buff, cornerbacks came down with the Greg Oden syndrome (6 cornerbacks on injured reserve), the return of the manchild Josh McDaniels (who may or may not be the future Jets offensive coordinator). Things are tough in St. Louis. Pujols skipped out. Although, looking back on it, it was one of the shrewdest and most cost effective moves in the last decade in the MLB. The Angels will wish they didn’t pull a Steinbrenner in 5 years. Trust me, I’ve been watching the Yankees like a third work anthropologist. Things fail in New York. Fail big.
Bumping Bradford will be like trying to find a date for a cousin whose name shows up on the local ex-con web site. It’s hard to avoid the fact that there were more than one game this year in which he performed like a one legged pirate with osteoporosis.

It’s very real, this uncertainty. It’s going to be snowing in St Louis soon, and to those with the NFL network, the TIVO replays of the Rams season is going to be like Chinese water torture. There will be no bright spots. It’s a Rorschach test without answers.

In being fair to the good people of San Lewie. I will look for something that doesn’t cause you to stare out the window one last time, call up that old dope dealer from your factory job, and tell him you’d like to meet him somewhere off I-95, in the deep woods.

There’s essentially two ways of looking at the Rams offseason. Both will cause Rams fans to scramble to put Bradford jerseys on Ebay, and hold off on the Brandon Lloyd for Pro Bowl resuscitation campaign. Keep Bradford, let Pettis and Salas show off what they’ve got in a full training camp, let Brandon Lloyd acclimate to ,another year of McDaniels? And at least have faith in Matt Kalil, who will be the only Rams player to make the Pro Bowl next year, as opposed to the 0 that made it this year. The upside is that if Bradford is protected, and has a full year of Pettis, Salas, Mark Clayton and Lloyd, and he fails miserably, there is finally a legitimate excuse to part with him and let him attempt to revive his career in some miserable place like Minnesota or Miami.

The other? Vegas. Get Blackmon with the second pick, have a starting duo of Lloyd and Blackmon, while the rest scramble to nail a slot receiver job, and pray to god they reincorporate the spread offense, looking for 4,000 yards passing and giving Steven Jackson and Cadillac Williams a break from the bone crunching they’ve had to take all year. Take a cornerback in the second round (Al Harris is 37), and do some more work on the defensive line with the third round pick. They’ll have a tough time selling this team to anyone through free agency.

Turning from the worst division in the NFC to a team with the most and least potential at once in the NFC South. Has everyone learned their lesson about young head coaches in the NFL? Have a “run” that doesn’t even get you into the playoffs and you become a pariah. Articles about Raheem Morris coming up in the streets, toughness, Dre Beats, Zip Em Up. How many fights you think Belichick got into growing up? Everyone understands there’s some sort of youth movement going on in the NFL, but there’s a point when players have to be accountable for their actions, and from heads on the inside, the whole Aqib Talib not getting cut for attempting to kill someone may have been the first of many wrong decisions throughout the season.

In his most recent interview, Ronde Barber admitted “the uptic is that we’re a young team”. Of course. Young. Full of talent on the defensive line. but what else? Kellen Winslow? Davin Joseph? Is this what the people in Tampa Bay are paying to see?

Everyone sees Ronde Barber leaving in the next year or two anyway, so a 1st round corner would at least give some help to a secondary most likely planning to start this years rookies (Black & Gaitor).

Many aren’t happy with the time Freeman is getting in the pocket so a center in the second round is the backhanded approach at eventually dumping Freeman if he falls apart at the seams in his fourth year. “We got him offensive line help! Even drafted a 4th and 6th round receiver! Looks like we were wrong about Josh. Good thing we drafted Brandon Wheeden in the 3rd round.”

Let us, for a second, be completely truthful about the Buccaneers. Barring some sort of miraculous free agent receiver pickup, the Buccaneers aren’t making the playoffs next year. Their best bet is to ultimately build up that defensive line, try to pressure with 4 and grab a linebacker and another defensive back in free agency, and see it from there. Hope Freeman turns it around and airs it out big time.

As if this wasn’t turning into an out and out pity party, it’s time for the Colts, sadly, without the Polians going forward. The twitter world is already morning the insane exchanges between fans, Polian, and Irsay. It was like a bunch of teenage Friends going off to college and exchanging mushroom trip stories. Brilliant stuff. One real quote: “The New Year will have 7 lives and many faces” You’ll never understand.

Let’s say Irsay gets real loaded one night and Tweets this out. “Housecleaning Special In Indy….18 Reasons To Move Forward…Peyton will not play in 2012…Start Packin It Up Mathis!”

It could happen. The only people the Colts really need to keep, by position, are the following. Delone Carter and Donald Brown at running back. Reggie Wayne at wide receiver. Dallas Clark at tight end. Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana on the offensive line. Jamaal Anderson, Jerry Hughes and Drake Nevis on the defensive line. Antoine Bethea, Jermaile Hines, and Chris Rucker in the secondary. If you haven’t heard of half those names it’s because they were last years draft picks and it’s usually in bad taste to dump draft picks one year into their career.

Mathis? Expendable. Especially if it lands an offensive weapon, which is what Andrew Luck is going to need if they’re going to attempt to run the already installed offense. The Wayne and Clark duo can do a good enough job of keeping the continuum and Andrew Luck makes his own line calls anyway, so keeping old Jeff Saturday there grumbling about Peyton is pretty much pushing it at 36 years old.

There’s plenty more to come, and I’m still weighing writing something about the Jets, because after watching what happened in the last 48 hours concerning that team, I can think of few things as laughably absurd about the situation as a whole. Maybe a Kim Kardashian announcement to pursue a PhD in experimental mathematics, but there would be some shred of admiration in the attempt. WIth the former, there’s nothing.

Wait It Out: A Brief Explanation Of The New 49ers

Justin with a look at the NFC playoff picture, in particular the 49ers

I put in a call to a cousin in Vegas yesterday to see the odds on the 49ers winning the Super Bowl. After wearing out welcomes on both coasts he settled, as it were, at the doorstep of hell.

He was stuttering, trying to get the words out like a man with serious terror closing in from all sides. “The front office boys are saying 9 to 1, but anyone with a real pulse on the thing know its realistically somewhere around 20 to 1. Alex Smith is rumored to be seeing between one and three psychoanalysts at any given time. He’s made of glass…he’s gonna finally crack if they make the playoffs…Harbaugh hedged his bets on a jumpy horse and the thunderclouds are rolling in”.

And so that’s how its gonna go down. NFC championship. Packers vs. 49ers. It’s gonna come down to a game winning drive. 4th and goal to get to the Super Bowl. Here it is. Alex Smith in search of his ultimate redemption. And then it happens. The whole defense blurs into one yellow and green streak. He stands up, staring at the crowd. Finally, exhausted, he drops to his knees and gets down into the act of worship. The last drop of water falls onto the head of the tortured man. Too much. Too soon.

Screw it. At least they’re gonna get there. That’s after Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith send Matthew Stafford to the hospital for the 3rd time in 3 years. That’s right. Most people like to think about the Montana/Rice 49ers. Those people also like to eat fig newtons and read the sunday newspaper.

We don’t have time for that in the new NFL. We want to see people get hit. We want to see quarterbacks and running backs get plastered every time they get into a power run formation. Or spread em out, no protection. That way no one’s going to even attempt a half hearted chop block on a double inside blitz.

Go watch the tape from the 49ers/Steelers game. That’s what defense should look like. Slot killing safeties, Pro Bowler on the defensive line, and two of the most freakish linebackers in pro football. Aldon Smith has a 7’2 wingspan and Patrick Willis lifts weights until they close the gym.

John Harbaugh, to put it bluntly, is the kick in the balls the 49ers have needed for about 5 years. Putting all these ex 85 Bears players in head coaching gigs is assuming they’ll all become these defensive gurus just like Buddy Ryan. It didn’t work. Leslie Fraser is in the middle of a meltdown in Minnesota, Singletary is out of a job, Ron Rivera is the a few bad Cam Newton performances away from being a lame duck head coach and Jack Del Rio is further evidence of the defensive coach as head coach gone awry.

Harbaugh’s philosophy as a head coach was not exactly evident at Stanford, where he arguably had the best quarterback in the country. After examining a season full of 49ers highlights though, a few things are evident.

Harbaugh wants his defense to rely on the linebackers for pressure and the defensive backs to ballhawk, knowing full well most throws are going to get rushed. Theres not too many DB blitzes or zone blitzes. Keep it simple.

On offense it’s a steady mix of running plays,(counters, dives, off tackle) a cross between a spread and a west coast offense. Nothing too predictable. Nothing repeated. Let the other team take risks and make a short field.. Stop the run. Easy in theory. However, no rushing touchdowns allowed in 14 games speaks for itself.

Answering The Call: An Early Look Around The NBA

Justin takes an early look around the NBA

The NBA started, on Christmas, what was an unbelievable set of games. First game. Celtics, aging yet gaining BRANDON BASS? Rondo plays like he’s on fire. Ray Allen can still drop 3’s, and BRANDON BASS? WOW. They can still play. Just don’t watch them any time on a back to back. Which will be a lot. Jajuan Johnson and Etwaun Moore will have their hands full trying to sub in throughout the back half of the season. But for reasons I can’t explain, the Celtics can still throw up points and shut down opposing offenses for long stretches of a game.

Given, the Knicks had Iman Shumpert trying to shut down Rondo, Mike Bibby and Baron Davis didn’t play and to be honest, the chemistry of the Knicks is about 10 games away where it needs to be. But if the Knicks can figure out a good combination of Davis, Bibby as the starting point guards, Toney Douglas coming off the bench and Iman Shumpert putting time in between shooting and point guard, the rest will take care of itself.

As if the world wasn’t going to end, it looks like Miami is going to have a legitimate point guard out of Norris Cole, their first round draft pick out of Cleveland State. Cleveland connection? Who knows. Do they deserve it? Of course not. Miami should not get draft picks for the next 3 years and give them to the 76ers. Lets see. Udonis Haslem is healthy. Shane Battier is one of the smartest basketball players in the league (went to Duke), Mike Miller is focused, and the Wade/James duo looks like they added a few tricks and shed a few pounds over the lockout. Go watch the workouts between James and Durant if you want an explanation for some of what happened yesterday.
Miami singlehandedly set the Mavericks about 10 games back. Which means they aren’t going to take over the West like everyone thought they should after a championship a la the Packers in the NFL.

To be fair to the Mavericks, they have one of the wildest rosters in the NBA. Vince Carter? Seriously? Lamar Odom is a legitimate 6th man, Delonte West is going to have his meddle tested unlike his time with both the Celtics and Cavaliers. He will knock down 3’s, but don’t trust him as an everyday playmaker. Shawn Marion and Brendan Haywood are getting old and Jason Terry is going to be a one trick pony by the end of the season. I trust the Mavericks to make it out of the first round of the playoffs, but they already look worn out after a ridiculous run which got them a ring last year. Scratch that if it happens to be Oklahoma City they face in the first round.

Best showcase of the day? Oklahoma City meets Orlando. Kendrick Perkins may be the scariest dude in the NBA, and despite Dwight Howard’s Iron Man physique, Kenrick ain’t taking shit from nobody. He’s calling out his own guys, namely Thabo Sefelosha, and busting up everyone from Anderson to Turkoglu. Perkins knows the show revolves around Harden, Westbrook and Durant, so he’s there to do the dirty work. Add the regular efforts of Ibaka and Maynor, the Thunder are probably the most complete team in the West.

On a side note, the Magic are going to crumble under the pressure of moving Dwight before the trade deadline. If you take Dwight off this team, you’ve got a bunch of old guys, a couple 30 something veterans and some B level talent. They need to get something big and at least a first round draft pick if they’re going to try and compete next year. Need I remind that the Knicks and the Heat both have their big 3 for the next five years in place?

The last game of the night was probably the best illustration of the next five years in the NBA. Steph Curry and Montae Ellis trying to bring David Lee and the other Warriors to the playoffs. There are no all stars besides West, but there will be 3 by the end of the year. It’s going to be tough, but the Warriors will be in the top half of the league by the efforts of Ellis and Curry alone. They’ve got a bright spot in their draft pick Thompson, and if Rush can help through the stretch they might even creep into the playoffs.

The Clippers are the most hyped team in the NBA, which is probably going to be their downfall. If either Blake Griffin or Chris Paul get hurt, it’s going to be tough to compete with the rest of West on a nightly basis. I do like Chauncey Billups splitting time with Paul to keep him healthy, or sliding into the 2 guard, but Mo Williams is going to have to prove something if he wants to see significant time. There’s too much ego to split up time evenly between the 3, but splitting Chauncey and Mo at the 2 while occasionally sliding Moe into the point on Chauncey’s nights off will help ease the transition.

I’m gonna try and watch the Nets on a nightly basis, which is good because I need something to remind me that not all basketball is good basketball. Sticking to the primetime games is probably sufficient. Even at 66 games, the season seems too long.

Battle Of New York: Fear And Loathing In Green

Justin speaks the mind of a concerned Jets fans heading into Saturday

The Jets have had a great run under Rex Ryan. They’ve made it to the AFC championship two years in a row, upset favored teams and turned around an otherwise wallowing franchise in a relatively short amount of time. This weekend could change things for what was supposed to be a team on the upswing.

If the Jets fall to the Giants, all the Rex Ryan bravado from here on out will become a joke. No one will again take them seriously and they will have confidence issues going into the offseason. Coaches and players will not be safe. The need for a pass blocking tight end, an offensive tackle and a safety will create an all out panic and free agent frenzy in Florham Park. The Jets cannot afford to draft another Vladimir Ducasse.

Add this to the already strange offensive coordinator situation and potential departure of key defensive coaches, a loss to the Giants could mean at least a years work down the drain.

At this point even Rex Ryan sees the writing on the wall. He’s had two losses to the Patriots, a blowout loss to both the Ravens and Eagles, and the Jets have only dominated the Jaguars and the Chiefs. It is like Boise State beating up the Mountain West.

As someone with a relatively heavy interest in a Jets victory, I have devised a plan for both outcomes. A Jets win would create about 6 phone calls to relatives and friends after about half a bottle of Johnny Walker Black, at which point I will recreate the Miami Heat speech of not one, not two, not three. I will also call Patriots fans, who will for a brief moment be my friend via enemy of enemy. I will let them know that I singlehandedly prevented a rematch of the 2008 Super Bowl and that they should be eternally grateful. I will then send out pictures of Kate Upton to all Tom Brady fans and let them know that Tom Brady has finally lost out to Sanchez in the “how hot is my girl” contest.

As a good Giant fan friend of mine will be working until 6pm, it will allow me ample time to cover his entire vehicle in green paint, you know, the sort of stuff that teenage girls use on each others cars days before graduation. There will be expletives, bible quotes, and copious amounts of symbolism that no sane man could understand.

After all this, I will find the nearest Modells and buy a Plaxico Jersey, a helmet and a football and run into his place of work and spike the ball in the middle of his office.

Sadly, none of these things are going to happen. The Jets secondary is going to get burned by the Giants receivers and Jason Pierre Paul is going to put his stamp on a Pro Bowl year. The Jets aren’t fired up. Mark Sanchez is acting like the kid whose parents won’t let him go to the Montauk house after prom. They’ve got nothing to talk about anymore.

And because if a win is not coming I’m going to have to throw it back in the faces of every Giants fan. Yep! Right on to the Super Bowl brother! Charge through the NFC all the way to Indy. You guys really are the big brother. Just do New York proud. We’ll all be rooting for you.

True fear creates an almost comic sense of doom. Some of us in New York are already laughing.