Archive for January, 2010

So Long Grocery Boy

January 31, 2010

by Tommy Lawlor

Kurt Warner on Friday announced that he’s retiring.  This felt like the real deal and not just some initial PC to get people off his back.  Kurt took a beating at times this year and I can see where he feels it is time to move on.

Kurt came out of nowhere to lead the Rams to a Super Bowl win following the 1999 season.  He got them back to the big game in 2001, but they were upset by some kid named Tom Brady.

Injuries caught up to Kurt and he left the Rams and went to the Giants in 2004.  That must have felt like a completely wasted year.  Kurt threw for 2,054 yards, but only had 6 TDs.  6?  That is 1 1/2 games for him normally.

Thankfully Kurt headed west to Arizona and got another chance.  He took advantage of the situation and played great over the last 3 years.  The hapless Cardinals won back to back NFC West titles.  They went to the Super Bowl.  They enjoyed tremendous success with Warner at the helm.

Why leave now?  Kurt goes out “on top”.  He played for a winning team at a high level.  He started 15 games.  Maybe Kurt sensed that his body wasn’t going to hold up next year.  Injuries killed him in 2002 and ’03.  That was a miserable time for him.  Could be that the fear of going through something like that again was key to his decision.

Is Kurt a Hall of Fame player?  Yes.  He went to 3 SBs.  He won the first and lost the other two late in the game.  Kurt had a great playoff record (9-4).  He posted impressive numbers in his regular season career.  Kurt threw for more than 30,000 yards.  He threw for more than 200 TDs.  His career rating is 93.7.  He completed just under 66% of his career passes despite being a guy who liked to throw downfield.

Off the field Kurt was everything you’d want in a player.  He was a good teammate.  He stayed out of trouble.  The religious stuff could be a bit much at times, but the media did a lot of that.

I’ll miss his deadly throws on the dig route that seemed so unstoppable.  I’ll miss watching him shred defenses during one of his hot streaks.  When Kurt was on he seemed impossible to defend.  I won’t miss seeing him take crushing hits.  Kurt hung tough in the pocket to give his receivers time to get open.  He paid for that every game with at least one bruising hit.  I’m happy that I can think of Kurt as a top flight QB and not an old man searching for that final moment of glory.

Pro Bowl Solution

January 29, 2010

by Tommy Lawlor

When should it be played?  Where should it be played?  Is there anyway to keep the top guys from skipping the game after getting selected?

My answer…who cares?  I am a certifiable football junkie.  I can watch just about anything, but I have never watched an entire Pro Bowl.  The game just isn’t all that fascinating to me.  I love the subtleties of football.  There is nothing subtle about the Pro Bowl.  It is a showcase for players.  That’s just not my cup of tea.  I still enjoy watching the MLB All Star Game, but the others don’t mean a whole lot.  I loved the NBA AS Game as a kid because it gave me a chance to see some players that didn’t get on TV much.  The Pro Bowl has never been a big deal for me.

Rather than talk about it any further I think we should discuss something more interesting … the TV show Alice.  I watched that quite a bit when I was a kid.  Why?  I’m still not sure.

The show wasn’t very funny.  Flo saying “Kiss my grits” was amusing the first 237 times, but then got stale.  Mel yelling “Hey dingy” at Vera multiple times an episode was humor that Shakespeare could only dream of creating.

The show was about 3 waitresses, but none of them were attractive.  Think about that.  Linda Lavin, Beth Howland, and Polly Holliday were not sexy women.  They were talented in their own way, but not one of them was a looker.  Think of the guts it took CBS to put out a show like that.  Then marvel at the fact it was a major hit…for almost a decade.  Yikes.

There are many great episodes to choose from when trying to single out the very best one.  I loved it when Santa Claus was involved in a robbery.  I loved the one where Art Carney turned out to be someone’s relative.  The show got very serious once and dealt with a gay football player.  Nothing though will ever come close to the Las Vegas trip.  Linda Lavin, for various reasons, had to dress up and perform as Robert Goulet.  That, my friends, was 1970s TV at its zenith (which is probably also the tv model that I watched the episode on).

For those of you too young to remember the show or who missed it entirely here is the IMDB page:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0073955/

Read at your own discretion.  I can’t guarantee your life will ever be the same.

Super Bowl is Set

January 26, 2010

by Tommy Lawlor

The way you build a Super Bowl team is by establishing a dominant ground game and then playing great defense.  Or maybe you get a star QB and have him throw the ball all over the place and outscore teams.

In the old NFL running the ball and playing stout defense was the way you had to build a team.  That just isn’t the case anymore.  The rules favor the offense more and more each season.  The Colts and Saints are teams that can play good defense, but they are built around their star QBs.  Offense is the constant.  Defense is the side of the ball you hope shows up.

In the 2009 season the two best teams were New Orleans and Indianapolis so I guess it is fitting that they meet for the title.  Both teams had great years, slightly marred by sloppy finishes.  The playoffs came around and both squads just flipped the switch and went right back to kicking butt.

The Super Bowl should be entertaining, but I can’t say this is the most compelling game, especially to the media.  Having an underdog like the Jets would have made for more exciting stories.  Having Grandpa Favre would have been a circus.  Instead we have to settle for the best teams.

***

I talk about the media from time to time.  Phil Simms said something unbelievably dumb during the AFC title game.  He talked about how different this Colts team is because they are balanced.  They can play offense and defense.  Uhh….okay.

Hey Simmsie…go check out the 2006 postseason.  The Colts won that Super Bowl because of their defense.  Look at the scores:

WC round – IND 23, KC 8

Div. round – IND 15, BAL 6

AFC CG – IND 38, NE 34

SB – IND 29, 17

The Colts defense allowed 5 TDs in the 2006 postseason.  Indy gave up a TD on offense and STs as well.  That is very good defense.

I get ticked off when a smart guy like Phil Simms doesn’t know stuff like this.  I did.  I’m no Colts fan.  I don’t cover their games.  He should know that their defense played a huge part in them finally winning the big game.

***

Is anyone else surprised by all the retirement talk?  Favre will be a circus for the next 6 months.  DE Aaron Schobel of the Bills said he’s leaning toward quitting.  DT Pat Williams of MIN is 50/50.  Kurt Warner is trying to figure out what he wants to do.  Ed Reed and Derrick Mason aren’t sure about their futures.

Jeff Feagles thinks all these guys are a bunch of Nancy-boys.  They can have his special punting shoe when they pry it off his cold dead foot.  Maybe.

Jerry’s World

January 23, 2010

by Tommy Lawlor

Last year the Eagles humiliated Dallas in the season finale, beating the Cowboys 44-6.  That loss was so bad that Jerry Jones woke up and smelled the coffee (it was actually Sanka).

Jones had fallen in love with big names and the soap opera feel of the last few Dallas teams.  He knew they were talented, but also enjoyed the constant attention, whether good or bad.  Jerry liked running the circus.

The loss to Philly cut through layer of evil flesh after layer of evil flesh.  It was so deep that it bruised Jerry’s ego (once thought an impossible task).  Jerry then decided to quit running a freak show and concentrate on putting out an actual football team.

Pacman, TO, and Tank Johnson all got exit visas.  Disgruntled vet Greg Ellis left town.  DE Chris Canty headed for Giants Stadium.   No huge free agents were signed.  Dallas decided to let their young guys play.  Great move.

Anthony Spencer had a very good year.  Austin Miles made the Pro Bowl.  Mike Jenkins played at a high level and Orlando Scandrick became a good Nickel corner.  DE Stephen Bowen emerged. Jerry did the right thing by getting rid of the turds and playing the young guys.  His team responded in a big way.

Dallas wasn’t humiliated this year in their final loss, but it was pretty bad, 34-3.  How will Jerry respond this time?  Can he resist his urge to go make mega-deals in order to add big names?  Dallas could be restricted because of the quirky CBA rules about playoff teams adding players.  That could be a blessing in disguise for Jones and Cowboy fans.  Dallas doesn’t need a bunch of huge additions.

Jerry will want to do something.  There aren’t a bunch of turds to let go this year.  Maybe I should start a rumor that DeMarcus Ware and Felix Jones are major troublemakers.  Okay, here goes.

DeMarcus Ware and Felix Jones are major troublemakers.  Jerry Jones must cut them if Dallas has any chance to beat the Vikings and get to the Super Bowl in the future.

(We’ll see if Jerry falls for it.)

Coaching stability is a step in the right direction.  Dallas could use a player or two for depth / specific roles.  The big key for them is to have the young guys continue to improve.  A lot of outside help just isn’t needed.  I’ll be very interested to see what moves Jerry does or doesn’t make.  His old buddy Terrell Owens will be available.  Can Jerry resist?  LaDainian Tomlinson could be on the market.  LeBron James is a pending free agent.  Cavs fans should forget about the Knicks as a suitor and focus on the Cowboys.

Quit being smart and rational Jerry.  That isn’t entertaining to us non-Dallas fans.  Go put in a bid on the Elephant Man’s remains.  That could be just the motivational tool that your team needs to break through and win in mid-January.   Or not.  At least it would entertain the heck out of me.

Revisiting the Jared Allen Trade

January 22, 2010

by Steve Steiner

When you watch Jared Allen flying around in the playoffs against the Dallas Cowboys, giving Flozell Adams fits, and looking like the second coming of Kevin Greene – you wonder how anyone could ever trade him.

When the Chiefs traded Allen to the Vikings in 2008, you could see the logic from both sides of the deal. The Vikings got a really good pass rusher, something they desperately needed after several misses in previous drafts. The Chiefs got an additional first round pick, and two third round picks, in the 2008 draft. They also swapped 6th round picks with the Vikings to move up in that round.

The Chiefs were in rebuilding mode. The picks would be very valuable in that process as long as they were used wisely. The Vikings, although in hindsight it is not so obvious, took a healthy risk with this trade at the time. Jared Allen already had 3 DUI’s on his criminal record and had been suspended for the first 4 games of the 2007 season.  The Vikings were going to have to give Allen a huge contract and he hadn’t shown a lot of maturity to that point. The Vikings made him the highest paid DE at the time, a big risk considering the circumstances.

So it’s two years later. Let’s see how the teams made out:

Chief’s picks from the Vikings:

*1st round (15th overall pick) Branden Albert OT
*3rd round (73rd overall pick) Jaamal Charles RB
*3rd round (82nd overall pick) DaJuan Morgan S
*6th round (182nd overall pick) Kevin Robinson WR

Vikings received:

*Jarred Allen – who totaled 29 sacks over two years, 8 forced fumbles and 3 SAFETIES (that’s eye popping – the 3 safeties)

*6th round – Jonathan Sullivan C  (ironically – the Chiefs got the higher 6th round pick but the Vikings got the better player. Sullivan started for them this season at center and played very well replacing Matt Birk).

In retrospect, there are two obvious keys to the trade:

1) Can Jarred Allen stay out of trouble? Check. Maybe Allen just grew up. Perhaps he saw the light in 2008. Who knows, but that part of the deal worked out and he’s been out of trouble. His production is amazing. He’s one of the best pass rushing ends in the league and the Vikings got everything they wanted and more.

2) The Chiefs needed to parlay the picks into a foundation for the future and, although it may be early to judge this draft, so far it has not worked out exactly as hoped. Branden Albert has not been the dominating LT they expected. There is talk of moving him to guard. He started off his rookie season pretty well, but this year he was a disappointment. Too many penalties and he relinquished too many sacks.

Jamaal Charles got off to a slow start, but finished the 2009 season red hot.  He ran for almost 1,000 yards in the final 9 games, including 259 yards in the season finale against Denver.  Charles averaged a gaudy 5.9 yards per carry.  He has some fumbling issues, but showed the kind of explosive ability that the Chiefs offense desperately needs.

Never heard of DaJuan Morgan?  He’s played in 28 career games and has 41 tackles.  That isn’t exactly what Kansas City was looking for from him.  Morgan finished the season on IR.  He’s only 24 years old so there is still hope, but he’s been a major disappointment so far.  Kevin Robinson was released.

The Vikings hit a home run.  Simple as that.

We’re still not sure about the Chiefs side of things.  Albert can be a solid starter, although it may have to be at G or RT.  Charles looked great late.  Was that just a hot streak or can he do that week in and week out?  Morgan is a backup and special teams player.  Is that his ceiling or will he ever challenge for a starting gig?  To this point, you’d have to say the Vikings have been the big-time winner in this trade.

Chan is the Man

January 21, 2010

by Tommy Lawlor

The Buffalo Bills threw us a curveball and hired Chan Gailey to be their new head coach.  I’m sure many of you are saying “What the heck is going on up there?”.

The key to all good coaching moves is to hire the right guy.  Fans get excited about big names, but they always forget something.  Those guys had to come from somewhere.  Who was Bill Cowher in 1991?  Who was Mike Krzyzewski in 1979?  Who was Urban Meyer in 2002?  And so on.  Bill was the Defensive Coordinator in Kansas City.  Mike was the head coach of the Army basketball team.  Urban was the head coach at Bowling Green.

Fans want splash hires.  They want proven winners with great reputations to come save their teams.  Sometimes that works.  Bill Parcells has won every where he’s gone in the NFL.  On the other hand Joe Gibbs struggled upon his return to the same team where he built his legendary status.

Is Gailey the right man for the job in Buffalo?  That is the key question.  Let’s talk about why the move makes sense.  Buffalo has had an odd power structure for years…maybe since John Butler left.  Tom Donahoe gave them a quality GM at the early part of the decade, but there seemed to be some disagreement between him and owner Ralph Wilson.  Since then there have been different coaches and GM types running the team.

Now Buddy Nix is the GM.  He’s not a figurehead.  He’s not a power hungry guy.  Buddy is a football man.  He will run the personnel side of things.  He’ll let Gailey do the coaching and Russ Brandon and Wilson do the business side of things.  All Nix wants is to control football operations.  He worked in Buffalo as a scout for years so he knows Mr. Wilson and has a feel for the organization.

Hiring Chan gives Buddy a coach who has been around the block.  Chan isn’t coming to town to try and take over.  He’s happy to have the job.  He will work with Nix to build up a roster that both guys believe in.  That’s critical.  Nix came back to Buffalo from San Diego.  The GM (AJ Smith) and coach (Marty Schottenheimer) could not get along out there.  It hurt the team.  It ended up in Marty getting fired when it appeared the team was on the verge of being a championship squad.  The Chargers have been more up and down under Norv Turner.

Chan is also a good fit because he is an offensive coach.  Buffalo has finished 25th or worse in offense for 7 straight years.  That is…bad.  The Bills know that they must improve on offense if they have any hope of challenging for a playoff spot, somewhere they haven’t been since 1999.

Gailey isn’t some offensive genius who can turn water into wine or Trent Edwards into Jim Kelly.  He is a good coach with a solid track record.  Yes, he did get fired in his last 2 gigs as HC.  Georgia Tech fired him because he wasn’t a great recruiter and couldn’t beat Georgia.  Chan did go 44-32 in his time there.  The Cowboys fired him for not being Jimmy Johnson.  Chan was 18-14 with 2 playoff appearances.  The last time Buffalo had consecutive winning seasons?  1998 and 1999.  Gailey has never had consecutive losing seasons, whether in small college football, the World League of American Football, major college football, or the NFL.

Gailey has had offensive success in the NFL.  The Steelers were top 11 in scoring both years that Chan ran the offense.  Dallas finished in the 20s in scoring in the prior 2 seasons to his arrival.  With Gailey in charge Dallas was in the top 11 both years.  Then he went to Miami (sans Marino) as the OC.  Gailey helped them to 11-5 records in back to back years.  The Dolphins finished 8th in the NFL in scoring in his 2nd year.  Keep in mind that team had Jay Fiedler handing the ball off to Lamar Smith.  Miami hasn’t come close to finishing 8th in scoring since Gailey left.

Gailey has a good track record of working with young players.  He’s been a HC in college for almost a decade.  Only one of those seasons resulted in a losing record.  You don’t win in college if you can’t teach players how to play the game.  Chan also spent time in a former developmental league, the WLAF.   He won there.  When he was the Offensive Coordinator for the Steelers he helped a young guy named Kordell Stewart make the adjustment from “Slash” to winning QB (11-5 in his first year as the starter).

Buffalo has some talent in place on offense.  Guards Eric Wood and Andy Levitre played well this year.  RBs Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch are a very good tandem.  WR Lee Evans is a big play threat.  TE Shawn Nelson is a promising rookie.  The team could use a good LT.  Most importantly the team needs a QB who can win games and play at a consistent level.  Gailey has worked with a variety of QBs in his time.  He’s helped HOF players like John Elway and Troy Aikman.  He’s worked with journeymen like Mike Tomczak and Jay Fiedler.  He’s also spent time with young guys like Tyler Thigpen and Kordell.

If Gailey can develop one of the guys on the Buffalo roster now (Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick, or Brian Brohm) or if he can find a QB he will go a long way toward getting that team on the right track.  His track record suggests that he’ll get some guy to play at a reasonably good level and that the team’s offense will show improvement.

Look at the success that Atlanta has had the last 2 years.   The Falcons hired Thomas Dimitroff to run the team.  He then hired Mike Smith as coach.  Who?  And who?  I knew these names, but not casual fans.  Turns out they work well together and brought the kind of stability and organization that was needed in Atlanta.  Big names be damned.  Atlanta hired the right guys.

I’m sure Bills fans would have loved Bill Cowher or Leslie Frazier or Mike Shanahan or even Brian Schottenheimer.  Instead they got Chan Gailey.  That may not be the sexiest move, but it could very well turn out to be the right move.

Title Games Are Set

January 18, 2010

by Tommy Lawlor

The Vikings will play at New Orleans.  The Jets will go to Indy.  Good stuff.

Minnesota was 9-0 at home this year, but only 4-4 on the road.  That is critical.  The Vikings defense played great in home games down the stretch, but struggled on the road.  More than half of the Vikings sacks came at home this year. The last time an opponent scored more than 10 points in Minnesota was back on October 18th when Baltimore put up 31. The Vikings D has been sensational at home since that game, allowing a total of 49 points in 6 games.

Road games are a different story.  Minnesota allowed 92 points  the last 3 away games, all losses. And all due respect to Matt Moore, Jay Cutler, and Kurt Warner, but Drew Brees is a whole other level right now.

This is the matchup most of us wanted.  You have the top two seeds playing.  The Saints were the best team in the NFC this year and the Vikings looked like a Super Bowl team at times.  Should be a good game.

The Jets pulled off a shocker in San Diego.  I sure didn’t see that game coming.  Give Rex Ryan a ton of credit.  He did a terrific job with that team.  That defense is for real and the Jets are getting just enough offense to win.  I’m not sure they can go to Indy and beat the Colts, but the Jets D vs Peyton Manning is a real interesting matchup.

As for Indy…they just keep rolling along.  They don’t always win pretty, but they do win.  The Colts and Jets in the playoffs.  That seems to ring a bell.  Have they ever played before?

Tennessee 2-Step

January 15, 2010

by Tommy Lawlor

What the heck is the University of Tennessee going to do?  Duke coach David Cutcliffe turned them down this morning after disagreements about the coaching staff.  He was the perfect fall-back option after guys like Will Muschamp and Troy Calhoun turned down the job.  Cutcliffe has been a very good assistant at UT and knows that school and program.  With him out of the picture the Vols are back to square one.

Reportedly they are going to hire La Tech head coach Derek Dooley.  This is a desperation move, but it isn’t without merit.  He had some success at La Tech in 3 years.  Dooley is the son of legendary UGA coach Vince Dooley.  Derek knows SEC football from his upbringing.  He understands the pressure and just how cut-throat that league is.

Vols fans will embrace him because he isn’t Lane Kiffin, public enemy No. 1 in the Volunteer State.  Dooley is young (41) and energetic.  He’s never had great talent to work with, but also hasn’t faced great competition and pressure.  It will be interesting to see how he handles everything.

If the move is finalized it will appeal to me in a historical sense.  Derek’s father is the greatest coach in Georgia history, but he is an Auburn grad.  One of Auburn’s best coaches ever, Pat Dye, was a Georgia grad.  Arkansas’s best coach was Frank Broyles, a Ga Tech grad.  Ga Tech’s best or 2nd best coach was Bobby Dodd, a Tennessee grad.  I love how guys will switch schools and create a legendary career that gets them associated with a university they might have hated while in college.  Derek, by the way, went to Virginia.

*****

New player notes were posted on ScoutsNotebook today.

http://www.scoutsnotebook.com/

Coming Back

January 15, 2010

I got away from this blog during December.  I’ll be here all offseason.

Pete Carroll is now the coach of the Seattle Seahawks.  He was up and down as coach of the Jets and Patriots back in the 90s.  Is he more ready for the NFL this time around?  Can he be successful?  I have my doubts.

Pete had a 27-21 record with the Patriots from 1997-99.  He was the guy who took over the team when the Big Tuna went to the Jets.  You may recall that New England had gone to the SB in 1996.  Carroll inherited Drew Bledsoe, Terry Glenn, Curtis Martin, Ben Coates, Willie McGinest, Tedy Bruschi, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Ted Johnson, etc.  Winning games with that group was hardly a major challenge.

Going to the Seahawks right now is a whole other ball game.  The team has some quality players, but also has some major holes.  Pete has uncertainty at QB, LT, WR, RB, DE, S, and CB.  There are players at each spot, but not sure things.

At USC Pete was able to do 2 key things:  recruit and motivate.  Those skills don’t necessarily translate all that well to pro football.  Pete’s energy and enthusiasm can work, but Seattle just had Jim Mora as coach.  Mora is a younger guy with a lot of emotion.  He’s very similar to Carroll in style.

I do think Pete is a better coach now than he was in his first time in the NFL.  Pete has a successful track record and that will help players to buy his ideas and methods.  He had a great staff at USC (Norm Chow, Steve Sarkisian, Lane Kiffin, Ed Orgeron, Nick Holt, Ken Norton, etc.).  I’m not sure if any of these guys will be with him in Seattle.

Part of Carroll’s magic at USC was his rah-rah style that rubbed off on players.  Pete believed in competition and hard work, but also kept things as fun as possible.  He played pranks during practice.  He would have celebrities show up and participate.  Kids love that stuff.  I’m not so sure about NFL guys.

In the end I think Pete will have limited success in the NFL and he’ll go back to college football.  He won’t completely fail.  He’s too good a coach to fall flat on his face.  I hate the fact he left college.  Pete was a great college coach.  Not good.  Not very good.  Great.  He could have been legendary if he was able to sustain that success another decade.  Why pass on that for the NFL?  Terrell Owens can probably think of 35 million reasons.