Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fall Classic gets first look at instant replay

When the umpires went to review an Alex Rodriguez double in Game 3 of the 2009 World Series, the precedent of playoff-tested, playoff-approved instant replay became the final straw in a mounting argument that will undoubtedly culminate with the expansion of instant replay in baseball next season.

The umpires overruled a double, calling the ball a homerun off a camera in the first row of the outfield seats - the first ever postseason use of instant replay. And the question must be asked: really, just how hard was that?

That's all it took to get a call right. The umps discussed the play, decided they needed to take a look at a replay of the could-be homerun - the only reviewable aspect of baseball. After a brief delay, they came out and signaled homerun. Easy. Simple. That did not seem to stop down the game for what amounted to an additional hour. The game was already behind schedule because of a rain delay, and yet the umpires had time to saunter into the dugout, find a television, and get the call right.

And getting the call right is the ultimate goal. It's not about being close enough. It's not about being right most of the time. The objective of having umpires, six unbiased umpires spread across the field, is to get the calls right. Instant replay was able to provide the World Series with the correct call and give the Yankees what could have become another Don Denkinger type of blunder in the Fall Classic.

The fuss of keeping the purity of the game cannot be nearly as important as keeping the integrity of the game (Granted, integrity went out the door with HGH and other performance enhancers, right A-Roid?). Still, to maintain that integrity, the calls must be right, and instant replay will be the way this happens in future MLB seasons.

Knocked the FuDuck out: USC 20, Ore 47

The folks at ABC made a big deal about the Trojans' troubles in the state of Oregon over the past three seasons. Guess they were right to do so as USC was beaten by Oregon Ducks on Halloween night. And while this 47-20 loss was the worst in Pete Carroll's tenure and biggest defeat since 1997, it is not as disturbing as any other loss that USC has suffered in recent years. The reasoning is simple: the Ducks are simply better this year.

The game doesn't have to mean the end of a Pac-10 dynasty as we know. Perhaps the streak of seven straight Pac-10 titles and BCS bowl games is just going to be taking a one-year hiatus to make way for the Ducks. Maybe Chip Kelly's ugly-uniformed army is going to be the real deal for years to come. Whatever the case, on this night, and in this season, the Oregon Ducks gave the Trojans too tough a challenge, and USC couldn't respond.

The most shocking aspect of the game was not that the Trojans offense couldn't keep up, it was that the defense didn't allow the offense a chance to keep up. With each possession, the Ducks made their way into the red zone and onto the scoreboard. USC allowed Oregon to march down the field to the tune of 613 yard, including almost 400 yards on the ground -- 392 to be specific. USC hadn't been allowing a fourth of that this season, but a pair of 160+ rushers didn't help the Trojans' cause. Ducks QB Jeremiah Masoli proved too versatile, too quick, too elusive for the USC front seven. He was Vince Young light, a smaller package containing the same toxic results that the Longhorn delivered in the 2006 Rose Bowl.

If USC (now 6-2) had lost its game at Notre Dame two weeks ago, Trojans fans would have reason to lash out. The Trojans were overly penalized and utterly sloppy - albeit in victory - in South Bend. It was a game that USC could have lost because it played poorly. The disappointment in Seattle could be pinned on Aaron Corp's offensive abortion of a performance at the quarterback position.

But while it would be easy to blame the Trojans loss in Eugene on the handful of injuries leading up to or suffered during the game, the sheer lopsidedness of the outcome makes the difference seem somewhat negligible. How much could a healthy Anthony McCoy or any other single Trojan really helped to lessen that gap. Nothing short of the Wild Bunch up front would have stopped the Oregon running game; the Ducks knew it, and the Trojans found out soon enough.

Freshman QB Matt Barkley played about as well as he could be expected to at one of the most raucous stadiums in the nation. He completed 21 of 38 passes for 187 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He was intercepted on the final play of the game, shutting the door on the Trojans hopes for a record-extending eighth straight Pac-10 title.

Oregon was better. Arguably, they were better two years ago before then-QB Dennis Dixon got hurt and the Ducks went into a tailspin down the stretch, making way for the Trojans to win the conference. You could say this is a win two or three years in the making. After nearly a decade of dominance on the West Coast, the Trojans faced the a better team that was too tough to stop. The Oregon offense ran wild. The defense held USC to 4-of-14 on 3rd down conversions. The Trojans punted six times and four times went three-and-out.

The Ducks are now atop the Pac-10 and firmly in control of their own destiny in terms of a BCS berth and Pac-10 title. Their only loss is to BCS-contender Boise State in the first game of the season. Expect Oregon to crack the top 5 in the rankings this week. As for the Trojans, two losses knocks them from the ranks of the elite, and now their slip up at Washington is much less forgivable. Pete Carroll's Trojans won't be Kings of the conference in 2009, and while future seasons remain uncertain, Saturday night's game put the west coast on notice.

Duck season now is open.

Recent USC losses:
The Trojans have lost just eight football games since the undefeated 2004 season that culminated with a national championship drubbing over Oklahoma. Beginning with the heartbreaking loss to Texas in the BCS championship game one year later, the Trojans haven't been in too many positions to concede that USC lost to a better team. It happened Saturday for the first time in a long time.

Date Opponent ScoreWhat happened?
Jan. 4, 2006Texas (Rose Bowl)41-38USC had a chance to close the game out but couldn't convert on 4th and 2. Vince Young drove Texas down the field for the game-winning touchdown.
Oct. 28, 2006at Oregon State33-31USC failed to convert a 2-point conversion to tie the game in the final seconds as John David Booty struggled.
Dec. 2, 2006at UCLA13-9USC offense held under 20 points for the first time since 2001 costing Trojans a BCS Championship game berth.
Oct. 6, 2007Stanford24-23Trojans stunned at home by 41 point underdog.
Oct. 27, 2007at Oregon24-17Mark Sanchez filling in for the injured John David Booty can't get the Trojans a win at Autzen Stadium.
Sep. 25, 2008at Oregon State27-21Sanchez again baffled in state of Oregon as Trojans underestimate Beavers.
Sep. 19, 2009at Washington27-21Backup quarterback Aaron Corp passes for lowly 110 yards as former Trojans offensive coordinator leads Huskies to upset win as head coach.
Oct. 31, 2009at Oregon47-20Ducks dominate on the ground for almost 400 yards at USC is beat by a team that can truly be described as better, not just catching them off-guard.

New Mental Makeup: Mavs 94, Lakers 80

The Dallas Mavericks opened the season with a toe-stubbing loss at home against the Washington Wizards. And while it looked like it would be an easy 0-2 hole to fall into with the World Champion Lakers up next, the Mavs came out as gangbusters and rocked LA at Staples Center for a 94-80 win on Friday.

The Mavs don't beat the Lakers. They especially don't beat the Lakers at the Staples Center. Heck, Dallas even has occasional struggles with the lowly Clippers in LA.

But last night the new-look Mavs - literally, they debuted some sleek new blue jerseys - were firing on all cylinders against a Lakers team that couldn't find its shot until it was too late. The Mavs out-rebounded LA 46-40 with Dirk and Damp each notching 10 boards. But the most impressive line of the night came from the newest Maverick Shawn Marion, who dropped 18 points and six rebounds with a steal and an assist. Marion, along with other newcomers Quinton Ross and Drew Gooden, bring a new mentality to a team that has lacked fight in past seasons.

And while Dallas is without the injured Josh Howard to begin the year, perhaps his absence is best to give these new players a chance to alter the mental makeup of the Mavs. Howard is one of the Mavs who hasn't been as dialed in or focused as he needs to be for Dallas to be successful in past seasons. J-Ho has yet to become the Robin to Nowitzki's Batman.

Now with the addition of talented role players, Howard will be forced to step up his game upon his return. Until that time, Dallas can gel with new players who represent a tougher mindset, something this franchise has lacked in past seasons as evidenced by collapses in the 2006 Finals against Miami and 2007 opening round series against Golden State.

The win against the Lakers is only one win. It only counts for one in the win column, but it's a W that the Mavs don't usually pick up, especially not in LA.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Miles ahead of the rest: Dal 37, Atl 20

A year ago, the Cowboys traded a handful of picks to the Detroit Lions to acquire Roy Williams, the team's true #1 receiver of the future and the heir apparent to Terrell Owens as a go-to option for Tony Romo. Flash forward to 2009, and there is now little doubt the Cowboys have found that successor ... Miles Austin.

Austin made just his second career start, but if that's any indication, then the young wide out shouldn't be left out of the starting lineup until doesn't turn a game into a track meet. Austin caught a team-high six passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns just two weeks after his breakout performance in Kansas City where he set a franchise record with 250 yards receiving on 10 catches. The fourth year receiver is making frequent big plays in the Cowboys offense. His five touchdown passes are more than all other Cowboys receivers combined including Jason Witten.

ReceiverReceiving TDs
Miles Austin
Patrick Crayton
Roy Williams
Jason Witten

Austin is setting himself apart from all of quarterback Tony Romo's other options -- even super tight end Jason Witten. Roy Williams has caught 12 balls in five games (2.4 receptions per game doesn't seem like a true #1. Hopefully the Cowboys (4-2) don't work themselves into another "he's not throwing to me" dispute. Romo is developing more confidence with Austin than the other targets. It's why Patrick Crayton was dropped below Austin on the depth chart. And with his latest performance, is Austin going to officially leapfrog Williams as well.

Here's the Cowboys 2009 receiving numbers after Sunday's 37-21 win over the Falcons.
Receiving Statistics
Jason Witten333129.5221
Miles Austin2150223.9605
Patrick Crayton1725214.8802
Tashard Choice131158.8280
Roy E. Williams1223019.2661
Martellus Bennett77210.3150
Sam Hurd57915.8530
Marion Barber55911.8260
Felix Jones3268.7200
Deon Anderson155.050

In the last two games, Austin has 421 yards and four touchdowns. That is not only the best for a Cowboys over a two-game span ever, it's also the indicator that Austin is Romo's top-performing target. Based on that, there's your true #1. While it may have been necessary to rid the roster of Terrell Owens in the offseason to allow Austin a chance to shine, the brightness from Miles Austin is now casting a glaring and judgmental spotlight on the underachieving Roy Williams.

A few other thoughts on the first big Cowboys win of 2009...
+ Tony Romo continued to show why he can drive fans and opposing defenses absolutely crazy all at the same time. He continued to show his magician-like ability to escape the clutches of defenders on his touchdown pass to Patrick Crayton, and Romo posted his 19th career 300+ yard game, most of all Cowboys quarterbacks ever. Three touchdown passes and no interceptions while completing 21 of 29 passes shows that Romo was able to take care of the ball this week.

+ The Cowboys signed Allen Rossum this week as a return specialist. He was injured on his only return, a 16 yarder that he should have downed. Not only because it would have meant more yards, but also because he was hit hard enough to knock him out of the game. Patrick Crayton went on to return a punt 73 yards for a touchdown. If Felix Jones is healthy enough to return kicks, and with Crayton now out of the punt returners dog house, look for the Cowboys to release Rossum within the next week.

+ It's not surprising that the one Cowboy defender who looked unafraid to tackle in this game is a Cowboy who wasn't on this team last season. Gerald Sensabaugh was constantly breaking up plays, crashing into the ball carrier, and setting a tone for the defense the likes of which the Cowboys haven't seen since Darren Woodsen. Sensabaugh could have added an interception to his day as well if he could have cradled the ball into his heavily bandaged hand.

+ The Cowboys running game was lackluster at best. Dallas gained 115 rushing yards as a team with 31 of those yards coming from a scrambling Tony Romo. With the entire trio of running backs healthy for the first time since September, the Cowboys rushing game was constantly swallowed up by the Atlanta front seven. Barber seemed sluggish, and Felix Jones appeared rusty after missing the last few weeks. It's nice the Cowboys were able to dominate through the air so well, but closer games will be decided on the ground, and this was not the same unit we saw over the first few games. The rushing stats from the day:

M. Barber1447013
F. Jones837012
T. Romo631017

The Cowboys are now 4-2 with their first win over a team above .500 on the season. The Cowboys only wins prior to Sunday came again the still winless Buccaneers (0-7), the struggling Panthers (2-4), and the hapless Chiefs (1-6). The Cowboys have now earned a sliver of legitimacy to match their record. The only way to truly legitimize this team will be with a return to the postseason and snapping the playoff losing streak that dates back to the days of the Triplets. The emotional overtime win over the Chiefs two weeks ago began the process. The victory over Atlanta is now a true testament that the Cowboys are heading down the right track.

Dallas will need a win over Seattle next week to ensure the proper momentum that will be needed before consecutive road games in Philadelphia and Green Bay in November before returning home Thanksgiving week.

Jeff Fisher isn't this bad

Titans coach Jeff Fisher is taking a lot of heat for recently wearing a Peyton Manning jersey, declaring he wanted to "feel like a winner" at a charity function with Tony Dungy. The prank angered Titans fans and players, who are struggling through a currently winless season. Fisher's team might limp to the finish in 2009, but considering that years like this were an aberration for Fisher, perhaps the Titans and everyone calling for his head should hesitate on terminating the longest-tenured head coach currently in the NFL. Fisher has been the Titans head coach since they were Oilers and played in the Astrodome in Houston.

In 15 full years as the franchise's head coach, he's had five different starting quarterbacks to work with, he's had only two seasons where he's been more than one game under five hundred. He's had six 10+ win seasons. Granted, he's taken his team to only six postseasons, and if a guy like Mike Shanahan can get fired after last season, then Fisher is definitely on a hot seat. But he's not exactly cut from the same cloth as the scrubs listed below who have coached the most utterly hopeless teams of the last two decades. If his Titans get onto this list of big-time losers, will that be it for Fisher?

YearBad TeamW-LCoachYears Before
Bad Season
2008DET0-16Rod Marinelli2fired
2008KC2-14Herm Edwards2fired
2008STL2-14Scott Linehan (0-4)
Jim Haslett (2-10)
2007MIA1-15Cam Cameron0 (1st year)fired
2006OAK2-14Art Shell0** (1st year)fired
2-14Dom Capers3fired
2004SF2-14Dennis Erickson1fired
2002CIN2-14Dick LeBeau1
2001CAR1-15George Seifert2fired
2001DET2-14Marty Mornhinweg
0 (1st year)Given 1 more season
[3-13 in 2002, fired]
2000SD1-15Mike Riley1Given 1 more season
[5-11 in 2001, fired]
1999CLE2-14Chris Palmer
0 (1st year)Given 1 more season
[3-13 in 2000, fired]
1996NYJ1-15Rich Kotite1fired
2-14Jack Pardee (1-9)
Jeff Fisher (1-5)
1992NE2-14Dick MacPherson1fired
1992SEA2-14Tom Flores0 (1st year)Given 2 more seasons
[6-10 both '93, '94 fired]
1991IND1-15Ron Meyer (0-5)
Rick Venturi (1-10)
YearNE1-15Rod Rust0 (1st year)fired

**Art Shell in first season of second stint with Raiders

Friday, October 23, 2009

Such bad announcing, even Bryan Gumble is cringing

This must be some sort of joke or this guy is the worst announcer ever.

"...and that happens!"

Seriously, could this phrase become the next "boom goes the dynamite"? Only time will tell.

World's Worst Sports Announcer - Watch more Funny Videos

Seriously, there are bad broadcasters and announcers, but this can't even be real. If it is, then I feel much better about my chances to make it as a broadcaster. Hey, Long Beach Armada fans, don't you feel so fortunate now?!

Schwarzenegger is ready for some LA football

The government of California has moved aside all remaining environmental hurdles for the group interested in building an NFL stadium in the Los Angeles area. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a bill exempting the stadium from environmental laws for a potential stadium in the City of Industry, squashing a lawsuit filed by residents in the neighboring town of Walnut.

The group working to make the stadium a reality - Majestic Realty - is not guaranteeing that the stadium will be built. For that to happen, they will need one of the NFL's teams to be willing to relocate to Los Angeles. The seven teams on the hit list: the Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders.

And yet, don't we have to wonder why there isn't already pro football in Los Angeles. There hasn't been since both the Raiders and Rams left town in 1994. Granted, there is already too much going on in this city for the Los Angeles community to need an NFL team, but I'm sure the fairweather fans of Los Angeles would get behind a team ... once the team started winning of course.

please don't bring up the idea of an expansion team. It's not happening unless there is an even number of teams entering the league at the same time.

So which of the seven teams we've listed could most easily make the move to Los Angeles, a city that already has enough going on, both in the pro and collegiate sports realm and outside of it that it hardly needs an NFL franchise. There are several elements to consider including a team's history in its current market, any potential need for division realignment, and would current NFL fans in Los Angeles accept the franchise in question after already spending time with other teams. The follow seven teams all could use new stadiums. Who might call Los Angeles home?

With stadium OKd, who wants LA?

Let's start by looking at the currently 2-4 Buffalo Bills. This franchise has a strong history in Buffalo as an original AFL team. The franchise has been to a record four consecutive Super Bowls and does have a die-hard following. However owner Ralph Wilson has recently been pushing for regular season games in Toronto, so it's not entirely out of the blue that this franchise might leave Buffalo. If it did happen, however, I would assume they would stay in the region as opposed to moving to the west coast. The five-year deal to play eight regular season games in Toronto runs through 2013. If Buffalo's Bills moved to LA, I can't imagine them still playing in the AFC East with trips every year to New England, New York and Miami. That's rough.

Onto the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are currently 3-3 on the 2009 season. An expansion team in 1995, the Jags don't have nearly the extensive history as the Bills. Jacksonville has been to the postseason six times in 14 seasons but only twice in the last nine years. Their stadium is relatively new, built for the team when they joined the NFL, but only three 9+ win seasons since 1999's 14-2 mark aren't stellar numbers. Yes there are worse teams, but have the Jaguars put down deep enough roots not withstand the lure of Los Angeles? Of the three teams that don't have California ties, Jacksonville seems like the most likely, and the rest of their division opponents are geographically west of them. It's not a graceful move, but it's not impossible.

Moving to the north, the Minnesota Vikings are coming up on the end of their lease at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, which runs through 2011. There are proposals for a new Vikings stadium, but nothing has gotten quite off the ground yet. Owner Zygi Wilf wants the new stadium located in downtown Minnesota, but that may not be as easy as it sounds. Most new monster stadiums end up being out in the suburbs where land is cheaper and more readily available.

Could the Vikings end up following the Lakers from the state of Minnesota to the hills of Hollywood? The City of Angels has already made the former Minneapolis Lakers arguably the most recognizable and successful franchise in the NBA. The Vikings do have a strong history in Minnesota, but they need to find a way to get their stadium deal done in the land of 10,000 lakes. If not, the draw of 75,000 fans from all over Los Angeles might be enough to pry Ragnar from the Twin Cities. Moving the Vikes would break up the nice cluster of NFC North teams (Minnesota, Chicago, Green Bay, Detroit) which is perhaps the most geographically close-knit division.

Now the teams with California ties. Each of the following four teams have strong followings in Los Angeles, which is why I feel bringing any other team from the outside into LA would alienate fans of the 49ers, Rams, Raiders and Chargers.

My second reason - which also would explain why the Chargers would be a good choice for which team to move - deals with Los Angeles football fans favorite teams. The majority of LA football fans mostly like either the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers and St. Louis Rams. The 49ers have been the state's most successful franchise. The Raiders played in LA from 1982 to 1995. The St. Louis Rams played in Los Angeles from their inception in 1946 until 1995.


Moving any team to Los Angeles other than one of the four mentioned above would be awkward because not only would the NFL be taking a team away from its current market - which I don't really agree with - they would also be introducing yet another team to Los Angeles. There are plenty of Rams fans, 49ers fans, Raiders fans and Chargers fans here. LA is big, but introducing a different team to the area alienates fans of these four teams.

Another positive for moving any of these four teams would be to avoid problems with division realignment. All of the following teams play in the NFC or AFC West, so there won't be an cross-country rivalries that get broken up. So which of these four teams is most likely to make the move to LA, or in three of the four cases, back to LA.

At first glance, the San Francisco 49ers appear to be the least likely of the quartet. Unlike the others, they have never played in Los Angeles and have a strong history in the Bay Area to the tune of five championships. The team has been trying to get a new stadium deal done for several years in the city of San Francisco but couldn't get on the same page with the city. With the team looking outside the city at other Bay Area locations, there is always the outside chance of the franchise moving much farther south than just Santa Clara. Again, the least likely of the four teams with strong California ties.

What about LA's original team, the St. Louis Rams? Even without Rush Limbaugh, there is still a St. Louis-based group interested in buying the team to keep it in place. The Rams have had more success in St. Louis since 1995 than they did in the nearly 50 years of football in LA that preceded. Two Super Bowl berths and one championship however seem like a long-time ago for the currently weary and dreary Rams who are 0-5 so far this season. The Ed Jones dome is a more than suitable facility in St. Louis, but the Rams still have plenty of fans in LA despite them walking out on the city like an angry ex-girlfriend almost 15 years ago.

The Oakland Raiders are a wild card simply because of owner Al Davis. He bounced the team from Oakland to LA to Oakland like Marcus Allen bounced off defenders. Would he do it again? I'm inclined to say no simply because he's much older now - although not necessarily wiser - but he may not have the energy and resolve for that kind of move. The Raiders still have more than enough fans in the Los Angeles area (just visit the cheap seats at Dodger Stadium), and their current stadium in Oakland is a pit. If they did come back, it wouldn't be to the Coliseum, the place that Al Davis was trying to get away from in the late '80s. He would move to get what he originally wanted, a new stadium. The old guy is just crazy enough not to put it past him. This could potentially be the "last big thing" Davis does while still acting as captain of the pirates.

The last piece of the puzzle is the closest NFL team to Los Angeles, the San Diego Chargers, who play at the aging Qualcom Stadium. The "Q" opened in 1967 as the home of the Padres and Chargers. The organization has been pushing for a new stadium but with little success. They are currently looking at other cities outside the city of San Diego but still in the local area. Nothing looks solid, and there is history of San Diego teams moving north to Los Angeles, although perhaps adopting the Clippers was a step backward for Los Angeles sports. San Diego may not have as strong a fan base as the Raiders have in Los Angeles, but getting on the bandwagon wouldn't be a major leap for most LA sports fans.

So who is coming to Los Angeles? Well perhaps one of these? Maybe even two tenants sharing the place a la the Giants and Jets. Or maybe this environmental exception will set a precedent that will backfire, allowing the California NFL teams - the 49ers, Chargers and Raiders - to be able to get similar exceptions that will help them keep their teams in their existing communities. It's open season for football in Los Angeles. Prepare to hop onto the bandwagon!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

1996 Wide Receiver Draft Class

Only three receivers from the famed 1996 draft class are still in the NFL, and all three are on terrible teams. Perhaps that class of standouts is finally on its last leg. Recent reports about arguably the most successful receiver of the class, Terrell Owens, being in drastic decline in Buffalo are surfacing, and while having to play in Buffalo might be fate's punishment for all his antics of the years, let's see how he stacks up with the rest of his '96 draftmates.

'96 Wide ReceiverRecYardsTDPlayed ThruNow...
Marvin Harrison1,10214,5801282008Out of the game after gun problems. Peyton Manning and the undefeated Colts seem to be adjusting fine.
Terrell Owens96614,337140presentWasting away in Buffalo, but at least they're selling tickets, right?!
Muhsin Muhammad82911,06261presentBack in Carolina after stint in Chicago, but far from the 2003 Panthers that went to SB XXXVIII
Keyshawn Johnson81410,571642006ESPN analyst who made the job permanent after saying he'd help mold new Panther draft pick Dwayne Jarrett. Johnson was cut the next day.
Eric Moulds7649,995492007Cut in camp by Tampa Bay Bucs in 2008.
Amani Toomer6689,497542008Signed by Chiefs in August only to be cut before the year thus making him a 1-team guy his who career. Enjoy the ring.
Bobby Engram6507,75135presentLimping along in KC after spending 8 years of his prime with the then-high-flying Seahawks.
Joe Horn6038,744582007Looking for his cell phone. Can you hear me now?
Terry Glenn5938,823442007Serving as Intern Coach with the Dolphins and Tony Sporano, who ran the offense in Glenn's time with the Cowboys.
Eddie Kennison5488,345422008Out of the game after a hokey-pokey year with St. Louis in 2008.

First of all, what a hell of a class. It's odd seeing how some of these guys ended their careers while three are still limping along, clinging to the glory they once found. Each of the three receivers still active from this class participated in a Super Bowl, and each is currently struggling in 2009 as their teams are a combined 5-12.

Owens is currently fifth all time in receiving yards, with Marvin Harrison and Tim Brown well within striking distance. Only the still-active Isaac Bruce (15,111) and Owens' former teammate Jerry Rice (22,895) remain ahead of him. He's sixth in receptions and second in touchdowns (one ahead of Randy Moss as of this week, although neither will catch Rice). It's surprising not to see any contender make a serious play for Owens in the attempt to have him do for a contender what Randy Moss did in New England, be reborn, rejuvenated, and retaliatory on the rest of the league.

If this season is the swan song for the 1996 draft class, they gave it a hell of run.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Crayton should have seen it coming

Cowboys receiver Patrick Crayton is upset about not being directly, explicitly told that he had been surpassed on the depth chart by Miles Austin. Crayton struggled while Austin set a franchise record with 250 yards receiving in the Cowboys overtime win at Kansas City. As a result, Austin has been getting more reps with the first team and will be the one to start opposite of Roy Williams, if Williams is healthy.

As for Crayton, he was disappointed that the Cowboys coaches didn't give him the respect of a direct, face-to-face demotion as opposed to simply seeing Austin taking first team reps at practice. Sure, maybe it would be nice for players coach Wade Phillips to hold his hand, wipe away his tears, and give him a shoulder to cry on. And that would definitely be more of Phillips' M.O. to coddle his players than predecessor Bill Parcells.

But this isn't college football. Mike Gundy isn't here to yell at reporter to come after him instead of the players. It's professional football, and Crayton should realize that when a guy has a 10-catch, 250-yard, two touchdown performance, that player is going to get more reps and more time on the field than a guy who has 15 catches and 253 yards through five games.

In a perfect world, the coaches could have made it directly explicitly clear that Crayton was being demoted, but he should have seen it coming. What did he think was going to happen. This isn't a situation of a quarterback being replaced and the offense being overhauled. Back up quarterbacks don't see the field. Third receivers are all over the place contributing, and Crayton will still be able to do that.

He's always been one of the more outspoken Cowboys, something this team does need at times. However, Crayton needs to prove his worth on the field to earn back his starting job. If he plays well enough and Austin struggles, what's the problem with #2 receiver by committee. Then again, the Cowboys still need more from their #1 who still might not play against Atlanta on Sunday.

Crayton should have seen it coming. Then again, he should have held onto the ball on Kansas City too.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ugly week for NFC East

As the Dallas Cowboys sat at home this weekend, reaching the bye week with a 3-2 record after edging out the then-winless Chiefs in overtime, they enjoyed perhaps one of their best weeks in recent memory. The Cowboys record did not change, but Dallas watched as three other NFC East foes stumbled or crumbled during Week 6.

The New Orleans Saints handed the New York Giants their first loss of the season. Those winless Chiefs mentioned above, well they joined the list of anemic teams who defeated the Washington Redskins to get into the win column on the season. In afternoon action, the Raiders clipped the wings of the Eagles.

Here's a quick look at the NFC East standings entering the week and after the Week 6 games:
New York Giants501.000
Philadelphia Eagles31.750
Dallas Cowboys32.600
Washington Redskins23.400

New York Giants51.833
Dallas Cowboys32.600
Philadelphia Eagles32.600
Washington Redskins24.333

Each of the three NFC East teams in action this week showed serious flaws during their outings. Starting with the least disturbing (more as a result of their opponent, not their performance), the New York Giants got blown up in Eli Manning's debut at the Superdome. This game saw the Saints running up the score and putting a larger margin between themselves and the Giants at the top of the NFC. Pencil in New Orleans for a first-round bye come playoff time. As for the Giants, they looked much more human in the 48-27 loss, but they will get a chance to tangle with the conference's other top dog, the Vikings, in the final week of the season. That might be the game to determine the other first-round bye in the NFC.

New York just couldn't stop Drew Brees - not that anyone has been able to do that this season - and the Giants committed a pair of turnovers to go along with 9 penalties for 110 yards. The game got so out of hand that David Carr came in to quarterback the Giants toward the end of the game. That's how bad this game was going. David Carr was voluntarily entered into the game. Yeesh!

In Oakland, the Eagles never got off the ground against the Raiders, and Andy Reid forgot to call running plays. Remember a few season ago when Reid was criticized for being a very pass-heavy offense (pass heavy being 60% pass plays, 40% running plays). Well in this game, Reid called 52 pass plays compared to 14 runs. Someone Matthew do some quick math, and you'll see that's a 79% to 21% ratio of more pass plays than running. Now sometimes you might see that if a team is down big early and need to throw a lot to get back into the game. That wasn't the case in this 13-9 low-scoring affair. Donovan McNabb was under constant pressure, being sacked six times. Now Philly faces three straight weeks of NFC East games, although they get an easy way to start things off with the dreadful Redskins.

How bad are things in Washington? If you're still not sure if head coach Jim Zorn is going to get fired - and soon - as a result of the poor play in D.C., consider that he will no longer be calling the plays. The ugly loss to the Chiefs is the fourth loss by Washington this year, and only the loss to the Giants was something you could really call acceptable. Washington began their season against the softest schedule ever to start a season. No one they have played to this point has had a win to speak of coming into a game with the Redskins. Sure, it's nice to have wins over St. Louis and Tampa Bay - both of which are still winless, and the 'Skins won those games by a combined five points - but how do you explain losses to the likes of the Detroit Lions, Carolina Panthers or Kansas City Chiefs?

You don't explain those types of games. You go back to the drawing board and rethink the entire strategy. The Redskins benched quarterback Jason Campbell during the game. They've neutered their head coach. And people think the Cowboys have problems.

Lots of chinks in the armor of the traditionally strong NFC East in Week 6. It appears this division has plenty of problems to go around.

Fighting off the Irish: USC 34, ND 27

Charlie Weis had his team in position to knock off the rival Trojans on the final play to snap a seven-game losing streak and return the favor for the "Bush Push" game that the Trojans stole in South Bend during Weis' first season with the Fighting Irish. For USC, they found themselves in the nefarious position with their heels on their own goal line thanks to sloppy, undisciplined penalties in the forth quarter.

Irish QB Jimmy Clausen's fastball landed hopelessly away from any intended target to preserve the Trojans 34-27 win and increase the streak of dominance of Notre Dame to eight straight, but USC shouldn't have been in that situation in the first place. The result of Clausen's throw - complete or incomplete - shouldn't change the message Pete Carroll delivers to his USC squad during the next week of pracitce. Stupid penalties that allow the Irish to score 14 fourth quarter points (with a chance for a game-tying 21) is inexcusable. And yet, there really are excuses for all of them...

At first, it didn't appear to be a major problem. A sack of Jimmy Clausen midway through the third quarter and Everson Griffen flexes his muscles for all to see. Too bad he didn't see the ref behind him trying to get him to stop showing off. Flag. Unsportsmanlike conduct and a 15 yard penalty gave the Irish a fresh set of downs and some breathing room to begin a touchdown drive to bring them within a score of the Trojans, 20-14.

On Notre Dame's first drive of the fourth quarter, a Trojans late-hit after a 21-yard pass play gave the Irish the ball on the USC 32 yard line. The Irish chipped away until they finally reached pay-dirt to pull within 14 points of the Trojans, 34-20. The late hit could conceivably be questionable. It appeared the receiver was heading out of bounds but hadn't quite gotten their yet. A no-call would have also made up for a very late hit on Joe McKnight from earlier in the game that went unflagged.

Trojans' QB Matt Barkley suffered his first turnover of the game when a tipped ball was intercepted and returned to the Trojans 13 yard line giving the Irish prime field position. The Trojans and Irish had off-setting 15-yard personal fouls before Clausen found Golden Tate for the touchdown that really brought the Irish back into the ballgame, 34-27. If USC avoids getting baited into offsetting penalties and the flag is only on the Irish, they are backed up from the 15 to the 30 yard line and scoring becomes much trickier.

But the final Trojan blunder came during the final drive of the game with Notre Damn closing in on the Trojans end zone. SC was flagged for hitting a defenseless receiver to gift eight additional yards to the Irish. Frankly had the receiver Robby Parris not been injured on the play, it's doubtful the play would have been flagged. At the same time with an added value on player safety in recent years, these are the things that the refs now look for. The problem is it's never consistent even with the same crew within the same game. On this drive within the final minute, the Trojans caught there foot in a bucket.

It's easy to shrug off each of these USC penalties individually, but upon further review, the troubling big picture is that USC nearly lost to Notre Dame and Fighting Irish because of these plays. I would have thought some of the bravado might have been beating out of the Trojans after the loss in Washington, but after wins against Wazzu and Cal, the Trojans appear to have that swagger back, for better or worse.

USC intimidates many of its opponents and their coaches. At half time, Charlie Weis had to explain to the sideline reporter exactly why being down by six points was "good thing" in his mind. And that's what a lot of coaches think and feel. And that's all they need to do. Any team that can hang with USC and have a chance to beat USC in the final minute has either snuck up on them, or the Trojans have completely let their guard down. In this game, it seemed that both happened.

With a 34-14 lead in the fourth quarter, it may have seemed like time to coast, but Notre Dame chipped away to get back into the game. At the same time, USC began playing sloppy, leading to penalties.

The close call in South Bend should serve as a reminder for the Trojans not to led their guard down the remainder of the season. The schedule the rest of the way isn't brutal. USC has already passed the test of going on the road to three of the four games that looked to haunt the Trojans schedule in 2009. With wins at Ohio State, Cal and Notre Dame, USC is one win at Oregon away from seemingly overcoming some very touch match ups this season. That doesn't mean the Trojans can sleep on the rest of their opponents - including one other road game in Tempe - if they want to still be considered for the BCS Championship game, let alone winning the Pac-10.

For now, USC needs to be thankful that Touchdown Jesus didn't guide Clausen's final throw to a wide open receiver in the back of the end zone. This game began a stretch of five games in five weeks before the Trojans next bye before a date with UCLA at the Coliseum. The Trojans are one three-point loss away from an undefeated season and still controls its own destiny in the Pac-10 if USC can win at Oregon. So now Pete Carroll must get USC to do what it claims it knows how to do best: Fight On!

A few other notes on a sneaky success in South Bend:

+ Charlies Weis fell to 0-5 as head coach of Notre Dame against USC. He's 9-0 against all over Pac-10 teams.

+ Not a bad game for quarterback Matt Barkley who matched his Irish counterpart the entire game. The freshman led USC going 19-for-29 with a career-high 380 yards, two touchdowns and one tipped-ball interception. Considering the Trojans averaged 13.1 yards per pass attempt, it seems fair to say that the big-play Trojans still live on.

+ Speaking of big plays for the Trojans, Joe McKnight, wait, we're not talking about McKnight first? Then who? Who was the Trojans big-play threat this game? Really...? okay tight end Anthony McCoy had a career day with five catches for 153 yards. In a game where Ronald Johnson still wasn't back to 100%, Barkley worked to McCoy for big plays all game long, and while he didn't score on the day, McCoy helped set up four of six Trojans scoring drives. He caught balls for 35, 23, 7, 60 and 28 yards.

+ Now to Joe McKnight and the "Stable" of running backs who were without Stafon Johnson for the first time after his weightlifting accident. McKnight and Alan Bradford combined for 124 yards, and they each broke off bigs runs of at least 20 yards during the game. McKnight showed his usual flashes of speed in breaking away from defenders while still being able to run between the tackles for gritty yards when needed. Both running backs found the end zone in the game.

+ USC's defense kept the pressure on Clausen all night, sacking him five times and knocking him down plenty more. While the defense did not force a turnover, they were able to get guys in Clausen's face all game long. Strong coverage by the secondary helped with a few of those sacks and Clausen had no where to throw.

+ One play that went under the radar that I thought was some great gamesmanship on the part of the Trojans came late in the third quarter to begin the Trojans drive to put 34 points on the board. Notre Dame punted the ball away to Damiam Williams who saw the coverage team descending quickly upon him. As Irish special teamer Ben Turk closed in, Williams snuck his hand in the air for a last-second fair catch, and Turk ran into him prompting a 15-yard penalty. I couldn't believe hearing the announcers on TV just ripping Turk for a stupid penalty when it was clear it would have been near-impossible for him to avoid Williams on such short notice. A very savvy fair catch called for by the Trojans receiver, and he was rightfully smiling about it on the sideline after the play.

+ USC is now 5-0 with Matt Barkley under center with three of his five wins coming in very hostile environments. He certainly doesn't carry himself like a 19 year old.

+ Charlie Weis said he was going to throw the kitchen sink at the Trojans, and he sure tried. Weis went for it on fourth down three times, including a fake field goal to set up the first Irish points of the game. He was trying to open things up for Clausen, as the QB passed 43 times, but it seemed like the Irish didn't entirely let it all out in this game. Weis had what the Irish needed, a chance to win the game on the final play, but his team didn't get the job done.

+ And now to leave you with the words of Pete Carroll from after the game: "We hope to keep this thing going. It's a big deal to us. It's special," he said. "So we've got to hang onto it next time around when they come to our place. We have to get after it and see if we can keep the thing going. Because it's very special for the SC family to continue to be on top of this rivalry."

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