Ah, the World Series. Be still my beating heart.
Seriously, many of you are no doubt wondering a bit about the Colorado Rockies… Here are some answers …
A month ago, I wasn't even paying attention to the National League West east of the Colorado River. Where did the Rockies come from?
From virtually nowhere, with one of the great stretch-drive runs in Major League history. Beginning on Sept. 16, when they were in fourth place in both the division and NL Wild Card standings, the Rockies won 13 of their last 14 regular-season games to force a one-game playoff with the San Diego Padres. They won that game, 9-8, by scoring three runs in the bottom of the 13th inning.
Did that torrid drive take the starch out of them, empty their emotional tank?
Hardly. The Rockies swept Philadephia in the NL Division Series, and did the same to Arizona in the NL Championship Series.
Has that ever happened before?
No. Since the introduction of the best-of-five Division Series following the 1995 season, no team in either league has swept both series to qualify for the World Series.
So the Rockies are the first team in Major League history to go 7-0 in the postseason?
No. In 1976, the Cincinnati Reds swept the then-five-game NLCS from the Phillies and also swept the World Series from the New York Yankees for a 7-0 postseason. But when the World Series begins next week, the Rockies will have the opportunity to become the first team to start 8-0 in the postseason.
If I've got my math right, that's 21 wins in 22 games. Has there ever been such a streak in Major League Baseball?
Not at this time of the year. The 1935 Cubs won 21 straight and 23 of 24, and the 2002 Oakland A's won 20 straight and also 23 of 24. But sustaining such a streak through the postseason is something else. Closest to the Rockies' accomplishment were the 1960 Yankees, who closed out the regular season with 15 straight wins and 19 of 21 -- but they then dropped Game 1, and eventually the World Series itself, to the Pirates.
Is five-time All-Star Todd Helton, the Rockies' only household name, still their top player?
Helton contributed mightily to his first postseason team, hitting .320 with 17 homers and 91 RBIs, but the Rockies' big gun is Matt Holliday. Holliday is a prime MVP candidate after leading the league with a .340 average and 136 RBIs, while also hitting 36 homers.
Anyone else I should know about?
This is a very deep team. Third baseman Garrett Atkins and right fielder Brad Hawpe also drove in 100-plus runs. And Troy Tulowitzki just missed, with 99.
You better remember that name. He is the rookie shortstop who just turned 23, a 6-foot-3 guy who fields even better than he hits. Cal Ripken Jr. says he does everything as well as he did and one thing even better -- throw on the run. The Hall of Famer is right; Tulowitzki makes off-balance throws better and stronger than anyone in memory.
With all that talent, why did it take the Rockies so long to make a move?
Through mid-September, the Colorado staff had an ERA of 4.45. Since Sept. 16, that figure is 2.80. It always comes down to pitching, and the Rockies have received huge contributions from a pair of youngsters added late to the mix, 23-year-old Ubaldo Jimenez and 21-year-old Franklin Morales.
Does the pitching staff have an ace, the kind of undisputed No. 1 that is needed to set the tone?
Yes, and he is left-hander Jeff Francis, who tied the club record with his 17 wins, then won the opening games of both the Division Series and the Championship Series.
As for the Red Sox, you know everything about them. If you don’t, then you are not watching enough television. Here is something that will not be mentioned on tv. It shouldn’t be mentioned here, either, given the amount of naughty language. But, it is too funny. Your guide to be an annoying New England Sports Fan …
Be sure to try and distinguish yourself as a “real fan”. All “real” Boston fans must be able to judge their fellow Boston fans' credibility. Never been to Fenway? Poseur. Didn't like the Pat Patriot logo? Bandwagoner. Went to college outside New England? Turncoat. Too young to remember the '86 Celtics? F-----.
Adopt the attitude that you, yes you, DESERVE this success. “Hey, we Pats fans know how it used to be back in the day. We earned these titles.” Don’t treat your team’s good fortune as the stroke of good fortune it happens to be. No, no, no. Your championship has to be deeper then someone else’s championship. It has to mean something more. Why? Because you fancy yourself as being introspective. Treat it like some sort of karmic reward for Len Bias dying, or some other twisted, idiotic explanation.
Always treat your fandom as membership to some kind of exclusive club of super cool people. Like the whole Red Sox Nation thing. Oooh, you guys all root for the same team? How unique! How special! ------g die. Be sure to adopt a siege mentality when your team is criticized. “Hey, you can’t rip on Papelbon! He’s fackin’ one of us!” Whatever you need to make yourself feel less alone in the world.
Be sure to grow your hair out under your artificially aged Red Sox hat so that little hair wings sprout out the side. That looks great.
Laugh at your own jokes. You're so funny, guy!
Shun Ben Affleck. Embrace Matt Damon. That apples line never gets old!
Speaking of New England, The Dallas Morning News has hired Albert Breer. I don’t know him. I have no reason to mention him except that I love his work. Here are some examples of it below. He appears to be a football writer that will write about interesting things regarding football. What a concept. Statistical Analysis! I love it.
Tale of the Tape for the Minnesota Game …
We’re seeing a pattern now developing with how defenses attack Tony Romo, and it’s probably one that should’ve been utilized earlier. Pressuring Romo and putting him in scramble situations, these guys have learned, only puts him at his best. Now, the Vikings did try to generate a rush, but they did it in a different way. They’d drop a defensive tackle – usually Kevin Williams – underneath and run what looked like a zone blitz. The twist was that Williams seemed to be there not as a cover guy, but simply to spy Romo. In plenty of other cases, the disciplined, reserved nature of the pass rush indicated that the tackles were instructed to get push, but not hit gaps too aggressively and give Romo a lane to step up into. The first time the QB could do that demonstrated why. On the play, a third-and-2 on the game’s first drive, the Vikings left end spun inside on Marc Columbo. Romo saw this, roll right and – as the play broke down around him – found Terrell Owens sitting down in a hole in the zone for 24 yards. But it was so many other occasions on Sunday when you really saw Romo’s growth. Yes, it was a dink-and-dunk day. Thing was, that Romo seemed comfortable in the pocket, checking down underneath with the Vikings playing off the receivers, and that’s something that will serve him well when the tests get tougher.
A lot of times, I think T.O. gets killed for being a guy who just gets by on being an exceptional physical talent. Well, Sunday proved why he’s more than that with Owens’ awareness and knowledge of coverage. On that 24-yard strike, Owens was running a fly out of the ‘Z’ (flanker) position on the right side. Recognizing that Romo was flushed from the pocket, Owens sat down in a hole between the underneath and deep parts of the Vikings cover-2, finding the space for Romo to get him the ball. Five plays later, on his touchdown, Owens – perhaps the most scrutinized player on the field in coverage – lulled the Vikings to sleep in the back of the end zone, slipped behind the coverage, and settled in a hole between two defenders. And Romo found him for the 5-yard score. Then, on a third-and-9 on the Cowboys’ next drive, he ran a comeback to the right sideline, and made his break with enough space to get back to the ball and out of bounds right at the sticks. Say what you will, but T.O. showed he’s got that football awareness that great receivers generally have.
It’s hard to ever pinned the ebbs and flows of a unit on one player, but really, it seemed like the run defense’s success was based heavily on Jay Ratliff’s play on Sunday. And that’s not unusual, that a nose tackle is the most important guy for a 3-4 defense. In the first quarter, Vikings center Matt Birk absolutely throttled Ratliff, sealing him off and creating lanes on 6-yard runs by Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, and taking him completely out to open seams on zone runs. And then, it happened. In the second quarter, Ratliff turned the tables, controlling Birk at the point and shedding effectively from there on. In the first quarter, the Vikings had 54 yards on eight rushes. From then on, they 77 yards on 19 carries. But 28 of those yards came on two carries at the end of the third quarter, with Ratliff out of the game. So that brings the number down to a pretty respectable 49 yards on 17 carries. Tank Johnson will find his place here, but Ratliff really showed the kind of nose tackle he’s playing in those three quarters Sunday.
So here’s where we explain how it wasn’t all Ratliff getting the job done against
the run. After the Cowboys got gashed on the first drive, they started playing Roy Williams a lot closer to the line. The only question that remains is why that wasn’t the plan from the get-go. The Vikings have little to threaten on the outside, a quarterback who’s struggles don’t need to expounded on here, and the top running game in the league. Williams needed to be down there.
As noted in the rush chart a couple blog entries ago, the Vikings went to max-protect plenty and almost never kept just five men into block. In fact, it was more often than not four blocking six or five blocking seven. So imagine the advantage this gives the coverage. In those cases, you’ll drop seven guys to cover four receivers or six to cover three. And imagine a quarterback as inexperienced as Jackson being forced to find the open man in those situations. Here’s what happens: 6-of-19, 72 yards. Plus, a clinic on how the Cowboys’ pressure is strong enough that the simple threat of it coming has other teams bracing for impact, and opening things up even more for the Dallas defensive playcallers.
Also down there is the effectiveness with which Dallas ran the ball out of three-receiver sets – 58 yards on seven carries – and I’ll go a little further with it here. On the Cowboys’ first drive, out of the no-huddle, 10 passes were called in 14 plays. The Cowboys ran three plays, all completed passes, while the no-huddle kept the Vikings’ base personnel on the field. And then Dallas turned the tables. When the Cowboys’ went to ‘11’ personnel from there, the Vikings brought in a fifth defensive back. And that allowed the Cowboys to rip off chunks against a six-man front.
I agree that Adrian Peterson needs to see the ball more. But I can also see why he’s not ready to play on an every-down basis. In the fourth quarter, a blitzing Bradie James flat-out embarrassed Peterson with a spin move on his way to a sack. It’s not that unusual that a top rookie back has trouble with blitz pick-up, since most weren’t asked to do it much in college. That doesn’t make it any less of a liability. And if you simply bring another back into handle that, and have someone like Peterson in to run, it can tip your play-calling to the other team.
Marc Columbo’s struggles were well-documented here on Sunday. There was the sack he allowed to Kenechi Udeze, the way Ray Edwards beat him to create a sack for Bryan Robison, and the two false starts. But Kyle Kosier had a similarly tough day dealing with nose tackle Pat Williams, who causes trouble for most. And Williams, not noted as a pass rusher, was able to get in Romo’s face some, in addition to keep the running game out of the middle of the field.
Finally, I’m starting to see the difference in how Julius Jones is used. The trouble with Jones, to me, seems like it has as much to do with how he fits his linemen as anything. Jones is at his best on zone running plays where he’s charged with reading the defense, finding a seam, and making one cut into the opening upfield. It’s for the same reason he was good on screens Sunday: Jones works well in space because he has burst and can change direction quickly. The way he cuts can catch defenders, influenced in a direction by the blocking, off balance. Well, the trouble appears to be that the Cowboys line isn’t well-fit to run much zone. Yes, they can do it, but the massive front is better in man-blocking situations that require less movement and quickness. And those looks fit Marion Barber like a glove –
he’s aggressive into the hole and can beat guys one-on-one with his shake or his shoulders. That’s not to say that Jones is better than Barber. I think it’s clear that Barber’s been better. But it is to say that Barber has been put in a better position to succeed with a line and scheme that fits his style better.
Romo’s Targets …
Here's a new addition we're going to throw in this week. We'll chart the number of times each player had the ball thrown his way, his catches and drops. Here goes, starting with the high number for the day:
TE JASON WITTEN
Thrown to: 13 (10 first half/3 second half)
Final stats: 10 catches, 86 yards (9-73 first half/1-13 second half)
WR TERRELL OWENS
Thrown to: 7 (6 first half/1 second half)
Final stats: 7 catches, 103 yards (6-81/1-22)
RB MARION BARBER
Thrown to: 5 (4 first half/1 second half)
Finals stats: 4 catches, 9 yards (4-9/0-0)
WR PATRICK CRAYTON
Thrown to: 4 (4 first half/0 second half)
Final stats: 2 catches, 19 yards
RB JULIUS JONES
Thrown to: 4 (3 first half/1 second half)
Final stats: 4 catches, 30 yards
FB DEON ANDERSON
Thrown to: 2 (2 first half/0 second half)
Final stats: 2 catches, 16 yards
TE ANTHONY FASANO
Thrown to: 2 (2 first half/0 second half)
Final stats: 2 catches, 14 yards
THROWS TIPPED AT LINE: 2
QB TONY ROMO
First Half: 28-32, 231 yds., TD
Second Half: 3-7, 46 yds.
NFL Draft improved! …for me, anyway…
The NFL moved to speed up its draft on Tuesday during owners' meetings at which it also discussed having the Buffalo Bills play regular season games in Toronto, expanding the reach of the NFL Network and moving the Pro Bowl.
No action was taken on any of those issues except the draft, in which the time between picks in the first round will be cut from 15 minutes to 10 to help speed up a process that went a record 6 hours and 8 minutes last April.
Starting time was also moved from noon EDT to 3 p.m. for the first day, which will be limited to two rounds instead of three.
"We believe this will make for a more streamlined and efficient draft," commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement issued during the league owners' meetings.
Mike Leach is allergic to punts …
Texas Tech coach Mike Leach just about cringes when he says the word.
Leach, the master of the spread offense, can't stand to punt.
Leach has a hard time pulling his national-best offense off the field, and it cost the Red Raiders against Missouri in a 41-10 loss. Leach went for it on fourth down seven times Saturday, and Tech converted only three attempts.
Tech gambled on fourth down five times inside Missouri's 40-yard line and made it just once. Two of those failed attempts came with Tech down only a touchdown.
"Yeah, I didn't think it was a good idea really," Leach said Monday. "I mean, it was short, and we had a lot of space and whatnot, but it wasn't a good idea. I should have punted."
Tech plays Colorado on Saturday before finishing its season against Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma. The Red Raiders still have a shot at a special season, but it could be dashed if Leach mirrors his impatience against Missouri.
Leach often put his defense in a bad position against Missouri in situations where a punt could have pinned Missouri deep in its own territory instead of giving the Tigers a short field.
Aggressiveness in football is generally good but at times can be devastating.
"Between frustration and everyone wanting to do well [against Missouri], it becomes a series of over-corrections, which is too bad," Leach said. "And on my part, too. You know, punt. I don't like to punt, but punt."
Though his defense has been put in difficult situations at times because of the fourth-down failures, interim coordinator Ruffin McNeill said he has no problem with Leach's aggressiveness.
"You can't hold back," McNeill said. "You have to shoot all your bullets, and that's been our philosophy since we've been here. Mike has probably gone for it more on fourth down than anybody, so we expect it.
"Mike thinks he can make it and keep the ball – that's just his mentality. He wants to keep the ball."
The Red Raiders have punted 15 times this season (less than twice per game). Their opponents have punted 42 times.
Leach's go-for-broke play-calling Saturday makes one wonder if he trusts his defense enough to keep Tech in games. But McNeill and Tech defensive players say that's not the case.
"I don't think it's that. I just think he has confidence in the offense," senior cornerback Chris Parker said. "You watch the whole season, and they get that any time, any place."
For the season, Tech's success rate on fourth down is 50 percent (9-for-18), tied for 55th nationally. A 50-50 chance is far from a sure thing.
Leach said his philosophy on going for it on fourth down is simple.
"Can you get it, more or less," Leach said. "If you think you can get it, try to get it."
Martellus Bennett has failed smile …
After a month-long silence, Martellus Bennett met with reporters at Texas A&M's weekly media luncheon on Tuesday. He simply "took a break like Tiger Woods."
The loquacious tight end cracked wise as usual. But Bennett turned serious at one point and said he'll likely jump into the NFL Draft this April if he's considered a first- or second-round pick.
"You've got to get out while you're hot," Bennett said. "That's what I told Reggie [McNeal]."
Bennett never said he was disappointed about coming to A&M. The 6-7 junior said he was impressed at how McNeal, A&M's former quarterback, excelled in a pass-oriented offense in 2004. But A&M switched to the option and now many believe Bennett, once the nation's No. 1 tight end recruit, has gone underutilized.
When asked whether he could show his skills at the NFL scouting combine, Bennett said, "I'm going to have to do it somewhere. As far as blocking and run after catch, I've been doing the best I can."
Bennett said people tell him every day that he should leave A&M for the NFL.
"But those people don't have an impact on my life," he said. "People tell me I should go rob a bank with them, but I don't do it. People tell me to do stuff all the time."
As for the decision, Bennett said he'll talk with coach Dennis Franchione and get his input. But mostly, "I will talk to my brother for a long time about it, my dad, my mom and my little sister."
In 31 career games, Bennett has 80 catches for 935 yards and seven touchdowns. Many A&M fans expected more. So did Bennett. As for why that hasn't happened, Bennett said, "I have no idea.
"I've been working hard, doing everything I've been told to do," Bennett said. "I've been taking in everything like coaching and all that. I've just got to work on something else.
"When Reggie was here, they were throwing that thing. I don't know how Reggie didn't make the NFL, but he had a cannon for an arm. He was one the best quarterbacks I've ever seen as far as pocket presence and everything."
Weekly Buccigross focuses on the Blackhawks resurgence after Wirtz’ death …
The Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues are two NHL franchises attempting to make that long, purposeful climb out of the NHL gutter.
The Hawks have missed the playoffs in seven of the past eight seasons and last won a postseason series in the spring of 1996. The Hawks have WWW on the front of their uniforms this season. That is not the start of a Web site address, it is for the late owner William W. Wirtz, who died before the season began.
Wirtz was a compelling individual with contrasting characteristics shared by a fair number of wealthy, 20th-century white men. Generous to charities and short-sighted in the marketing of his hockey team, Wirtz was a successful businessman who supported good causes and neglected the infrastructure of the Hawks management and marketing departments. Considering the number of companies under the Wirtz family's umbrella, it's not surprising a company here or there may go awry from time to time.
Hawks fans pointed to Wirtz as the reason for the demise of this once passionate fan base. As society evolved in the mid-1990s with the big bang of the Internet, the Hawks were still run like an 8-Track player with Journey's "Infinity" blaring in a '78 Trans Am. The NHL was changing and the Hawks seemed to either under-react or overreact. When Wirtz passed away, there was little sentimentality from Hawks fans. Instead, they asked, "Would the funeral be televised in Chicago?"
After the NHL lockout, the Blues, strapped with older players and big contracts, missed the playoffs for the first time since the 1978-79 season and missed the postseason again in 2006-07 after a 24-point improvement. Owner Dave Checketts and president John Davidson began running the show last season and this duo could sell a coal-burning power plant to Al Gore. They gots mad people skillz. So, to call the Blues a gutter team is probably not accurate; they're more like a gutter ball from Mark Roth. The Blues' two-season playoff drought is likely over.
The Blues were a big-time team as the 21st century arrived. They were a first-class organization that spent a lot of money and treated people well. Successful sports franchises are not all about spending money; it's also the ability to understanding and interacting with different kinds of people with different needs. That's one thing the Blues were always better at than the Blackhawks. Now, with the Checketts/Davidson duo at the helm, the Blues might be the leader in the clubhouse in that department.
In Chicago, GM Dale Tallon and chairman Rocky Wirtz are trying to close that interpersonal communication gap. An early first step in their attempt is televising home games. After only five home games were aired locally last season, Wirtz is reportedly in the starting stages of talks with Comcast SportsNet to televise more home games this season.
''It's important to understand that Comcast SportsNet's current schedule was developed well over a year ago, so fitting the Blackhawks into that schedule can't be done overnight,'' the Blackhawks said in a statement. "[This is] ''the appropriate next step to re-energizing Chicago hockey fans and creating new fans. 'We have already showed, and will continue to embrace, positive change, and we remain committed to a bright future."
From 2000-04, the Blues' point totals were: 114-103-98-99-91. They signed free agents and went for it all, but never reached the Stanley Cup finals. Now, they are trying to rebuild through the draft and sign smart free-agent deals (three years, not seven, for Paul Kariya) in an attempt to build their 21st-century salary-cap team and reconstruct their fan base. That is difficult to do, but not as difficult in the cap era.
The last two No. 1 overall draft picks have been made by these two franchises Erik Johnson, the big and sturdy Chris Pronger-like defenseman for the Blues, and Patrick Kane, the quick and smart Daniel Briere-type forward for the Hawks.
Dwight vs Andy
Tell me this isn’t goofy!