Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tennis Majors Update

Here is the year-by-year, major-by-major rundown since Federer began winning majors in 2003. Here is how he got to 16:

YearAustralianFrenchWimbledonUS Open
2009NadalFedererFedererDel Potro

Table Tutorial

Friday, January 29, 2010

Happy Birthday

It was yesterday 50 years ago that the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys were born. January 28, 1960 at the NFL meetings the league decided to award Minnesota and Dallas with NFL expansion franchises.

The two teams opened their very first game against each other in beautiful (some would say) Sioux Falls, South Dakota in front of just over 4000 fans on August 5, 1961. Of course the Cowboys won 38-13. The two teams would represent the NFC in nine of ten Super Bowls between IV-XIII. The Cowboys won twice (VI, XII). Vikings not so much.

The Cowboys started during the 1960 season by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Cotton Bowl September 24, 1960. Minnesota's first regular season game was in the 1961 season against the Chicago Bears with a 37-13 victory for the Vikings.


  • Mark Fistric will play tonight avoiding a suspension that could have resulted from swinging his helmet at Eric Nystrom during an altercation. He was fined the league max $2500.

  • In my opinion, he probably wasn't suspended by the NHL because he has no prior offenses, he already served nearly an entire game by being ejected and the major resulted in two Flames goals. It was the right call by the NHL, but had it been Steve Ott, they may not have been so generous.

  • Jere Lehtinen will play tonight after missing time after his collision with Brenden Morrow.

  • Alex Auld will start in goal tonight against the Av's he's 5-0 in his last five starts with a 2.31 GAA and a .914 save pct. at the American Airlines Center and is 3-1 in his last four overall.

  • The Avalanche lost 1-0 to Minnesota last night at the Pepsi Center. Minnesota is 6-0-2 in thier last eight at Colorado and 13-2-2 in thier last 17 overall against the Av's.

  • The Wild slow the game down, take care of the puck and wait to take advantage of their opponents mistakes. One reason the Wild may have a good match up against the Avs is because the Avs give up alot of shots, 32 per game, which is near the most in the NHL. If the Stars slow the game down, and frustrate a young but very quick Av's squad by keeping them to the outside they could have some success tonight against one of the best in the Western Conference.

I do like the Stars tonight against a very good Colorado Avalanche squad as long as their effort is consistant with the way it has been three of the last four games. Especially since Auld has been really solid at home as of late.

Links For You

Here are a few old posts I wanted to run by you:

1) - With the Rangers finishing 2nd this year in the Baseball America Farm System rankings, I wanted to show you the study done from last January when the Rangers finished 1st and the question was whether there was a correlation between system rankings and future major league wins. Click on the link for my findings.

2) - And then here is the idea that I am pretty sure we did here first almost a decade ago (seriously), our objective NFL Franchise Rankings, v 8.0 that we released last year after the Super Bowl was completed. Of course, I will be working on this year's version for next week, but you can add up the numbers on your own if your job is really, really beating you down.

Beyond that, the blogging career is admittedly taking a lighter work load these days for a while. Call it post-Cowboys grind recharge. I am sure the hamsters in my head will be back to their normal work load soon.

Also, we have offered Tori Holt a platform for his random sports thoughts - whether he posts once a month or once a day is up to him. So, please make him feel welcome.

Happy Friday.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


You might be wondering who or what the heck is this dude with the blog doing hanging out with our Bob Sturm? Well I wanted to introduce myself, my name is Tori Holt. I start by saying thanks to Bob for allowing me to post on his site. He’s the man. Not me. I am new. And I am not trying to be Bob. He’s giving me an opportunity to share my passions, which are like yours (the reader) and Bob’s (the man). I cannot thank Bob enough for being a great mentor; much like Ralph Strangis is to me with the Dallas Stars.

I am a sports guy at heart; love it, that’s all I do. I am new to the area, and have started this season covering the Dallas Stars which happens to be a new adventure for me. As you will find out, I am from Minnesota, love their sports but have a passion for the local teams as well, predominately the Stars and Texas Rangers! Rangers are sick.

The last six years I have done play-by-play, color, studio and hosting mostly on TV and some radio on Fox Sports Rocky Mountain and Altitude Sports and Entertainment for the Colorado Avalanche, Denver Pioneers, and Colorado Eagles (CHL).

Dallas is a wonderful city that I have started to really enjoy, and I am fortunate to be in such a great situation with so many great people to learn from at the Ticket and the Stars, and to be in a city with such great sports fans that have so much knowledge of sports. I thank you for taking a look at my blog and I hope as time passes it’s something you look forward to. If it sucks, don’t read it, and let Sturm know what a loser he decided to befriend. Sturm won’t mind, he’s used to idiots being a Packers fan! Kidding Sturm, thanks again to the reader, and Sturm, you’re the man!


I’ve been getting a little emotional over this whole Vikings season, loss, and Favre deal. And although I am not the second grader anymore that used to sit under my Grandpas
Coffee table every Sunday along with him living and dying each moment forming that bond that will last me my lifetime. This season for one day each week I got to be that kid again and think about how he would have loved to be here to see something so spectacular.

I think we have all found that sports has given us a reason to relate with our family members, or have memories with our friends that possibly we would never have. This Vikings season, because of the passion and joy brought to the team by one man, Brett Favre helped ease the pain of a bad economy, or a late mortgage, or a fledgling business. If for not for all time but for the three hours that he gave everything he had. For those three hours like him on the field, it made us feel like that it was only that game that mattered. And for those three hours this season, that was all that did.

Although it didn’t end like a movie, such is life. But in life how many times to you get to go back and be that second grader hanging out with your Grandpa again?

I appreciate the fact that I witnessed one of the greatest athletes of our time. Nobody gave more. Thanks Brett. I hope you comeback but if you don’t, I am glad I got this year. Win or lose, like him or hate him, I am glad that what he did in his life mattered to so many.

For so many, I think we all wish we lived like that.
Til Next Time,

Ralph Strangis on the Vikings

Ralphie is many things, not the least of which is a die-hard Vikings fan. I cannot tell you how many times we have debated Brett Favre. And now, that he has become a part of Vikings lore, he wrote about the NFC Championship Game that will live forever.


Favre and Vikings Classically Heroic
Ralph Strangis – January 25, 2010

So often it is the outcome that consumes us, that validates our performances and supports our claims and beliefs. We use the scoreboard to tell us if we’re winners and trophies of every kind to proclaim to the world that we are who we say we are.

The problem is – that outcomes are the end product of complex equations. No single factor or person can control an outcome, despite our egocentric notions and grandiose beliefs to the contrary. In a football game the outcome is determined by combining all elements; your team’s players, their team’s players, subjective officiating, booth reviews, opportunities and mistakes, plays made and missed at all junctures, the toss of a coin, and the haphazard bounce of an oblong ball on a synthetic surface. It follows that looking at the scoreboard as the only means to evaluate success or failure is at least simplistic and often off the mark entirely.

In Sunday’s NFC Championship game the outcome, the final score said: New Orleans 31, Minnesota 28. Some will say then that simply the Saints won and the Vikings lost. They will posit that the Vikings are cursed, that Brett Favre choked, that the legacy of Minnesota late-season failures is secure and that New Orleans has finally shed its losing ways and are “AINTS” no more. Yes it is a hard-fought and important victory for New Orleans, and they are more than a deserving team to represent the conference in the big game.

As a lifelong Vikings fan I saw something else too. I saw a classic and epic tale of a group of players that would not shut down or quit. I watched as mistakes that would completely destroy a weaker group embolden them and solidify their intent. I watched as injured players pushed on through unrelenting pain. And I saw a 40 year-old quarterback defiant in the face of one bone-rattling hit after another willing himself and his team to keep battling no matter how many times he or they hit the canvas. Playing it safe, pushing the game down the tracks and hoping for something good to just happen for them is not a part of this group’s DNA.

Twelve months earlier the Vikings limped through a playoff game against the Eagles with all the purpose of a rudderless craft. They had players, but they were hardly a team. That group slipped into the pile with all those other Vikings teams which had teased their fans a bit, only to leave them hollow and waiting for next year.

The franchise is replete with heartbreaking losses and characterized by teams who either would not or could not show up when they were counted on most. Not this group. Not on that Sunday. This team is unlike any Vikings team before it, and it was because of one guy.

Vikings coach Brad Childress knew exactly what he was doing when he pursued Brett Favre and got him to leave his cozy quasi-retirement. And he also knew when to get out of the way after a late-season battle over whose team this would be. Favre’s message at the time - that Childress signed off on and the team took complete ownership of was – this is Brett Favre’s team – and Brett Favre’s team will not quit playing. Not ever. No matter what. In the second half of the Monday night game in Chicago the dye was cast. The Vikings smacked around a disinterested Giants team in the regular season finale and then hammered the Cowboys in the Divisional playoff game that put Dallas on an airplane home crying foul; that the Vikings had the audacity to keep playing – no matter what.

Saints Coach Sean Payton had been paying attention. His game plan was to go after the head of the snake, and that’s what his team did. But Favre and his team would not surrender or succumb, they would not, as many previous editions of the Vikings had, go quietly into the night. Despite Favre and his team’s own transgressions, despite sustaining a torrent of unwelcomed body belts, and despite a solid counter-punching opponent, this Vikings team did anything but go quietly into the night.

It may seem a stretch, but to watch the game I couldn’t help but think that Favre and his teammates more than once said “this game may do me permanent harm, but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to keep getting up.” No – this is not your father’s Vikings team.

The most important lesson then is this; how will you acquit yourself at life’s most critical moments? How will you respond when things get “too hard”? Will you continue to battle with every last ounce you have – or will you just – slip quietly away…?

Brett Favre may be the classic literary tragic hero; his greatest strengths will also be his undoing. But he doesn’t know anything else. He is at all times trying to win a game, not trying not to lose it.

To a starving fan base he brought hope and promise and delivered more heroic moments in weeks than they’d seen in years. To a mid-pack team he brought a swagger and confidence and will to fight than they had never known, and those things will stay with this group going forward. And to an audience of millions he showed what true character and real heroism really is, if they were paying attention. That the scoreboard did not validate his actions is hardly the point.

You may find it odd that I think it selfish of me that I want him to retire. I’m a Vikings fan, yet I want to remember Sunday as his finest hour and can’t imagine anything ahead that will match this season or his performance against New Orleans. At 40 years old - he took their best shots and kept coming back at them. This was his opus, his master work. Favre put everything together for one day – all of it – every representation of his body of work. His young warriors alongside him followed his lead. And he and his team just flat out refused to stop playing.

I think about the interception; the decision and the throw. Is there any doubt that they would have been in that spot in the first place without him? And at the end of the day, it’s just one play in a game that had many that conspired to form the outcome.

But honestly - that’s the Brett Favre I saw in Green Bay, that’s the Brett Favre I saw all season, and that’s the Brett Favre I want. And Sunday gave us every indication that as long as his body is able to do what his spirit commands, he’ll stay with it. Someday, and perhaps sooner rather than later, the body will fade, even though the fire still burns, and he’ll know it, and that will be that.

I know, if you’re a Vikings fan you really wanted the Super Bowl champion sweatshirt. But on Sunday, Favre and the Vikings gave you a much more valuable souvenir.

Ralph Strangis is a Minnesota native, lifelong Vikings fan, and is the play-by-play broadcaster for the Dallas Stars hockey team, currently in his 20th season with the club.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Playoff Stat Update

Turnover Battles for the Playoffs




Totals for Playoffs
9-0-1, 100%
The winning team won the turnover battle in every game of this postseason (except the Colts tying the Jets). This is not a likely result, but it's probably more understandable than you might think. Consider it: For a team to win a game despite losing the turnover battle, they usually have to amass a considerable advantage in total yards. In the playoffs, the teams are much closer in talent, making it much harder to gain that advantage. They are so closely matched that it is not surprising that the game would come down to a few key plays and it is further not surprising that those plays would mostly be turnovers.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Stars Mail

Let's do some morning stick-and-puck odds-n-ends on our Tuesday morning. I hope we can all just pretend that 4-0 trouncing in Colorado never happened and move on. The good news on the road trip is that the Stars brought home a road Win at Edmonton. The bad news of course, is that the trip also had a disappointing night in Vancouver and what appeared to almost be an absolute no-show in Colorado.

Tough times and health issues are not assisting. But, those who can must continue marching and getting points. This is getting difficult to navigate in such a way that the team finds itself into the playoff mix.

I was asked yesterday what I think about the Stars playoff chances, and my response was that I am not as optimistic as I was a month ago. As we passed New Year's Day, it sure looked like the Stars were figuring out the Marc Crawford way and starting to come together. But, since then, the Stars have won 4 games out of 12, suffered injuries to some key guys, and won their first road game since mid-November.

The hopes that this team gets on a run in the final 30 games may be more in the realm of wishful thinking if they don't pick it up right away. 9 more games until the Olympic Break and 10 more games before the March 3 trade deadline. It all starts with the next 4 at home against Western Conference foes - the Flames, Avalanche, Coyotes, and Wild. In fact, 3 of the next 9 are against Dave Tippett and those shockingly impressive Phoenix Coyotes. They sit 5th in the west and if it wasn't for the shockingly impressive Colorado Avalanche in 3rd, they would be the talk of the west.

They are still right in the mix, but the results of this homestand are vital.

Let's check some email:

Hello Bob Sturm show. Dallas' only real radio hockey expert. Do you think the Stars regret trading away Mike Smith and Dan Ellis now? Okay, well maybe just Ellis at this point, but wouldn't it have been better to have those guys instead of paying a guy $5 mil grab some wood, bub? Alex Auld isn't the long term answer here. The Stars had a goalie surplus and now they have nothing for the future. And for a team that is building for the 'future", that is not good. I know it's all hindsight now. Do you think the Stars put all their eggs in the Gustavsson basket and really had no other "backup" plan? Pun intended. Also, do you think the Stars can trade Marty for "value" before the deadline? What do you think they could realistically get back? Thanks, and I never listen to BAD radio.

Wow. Every Stars fan's worries are tied up in goal these days, right? We are all wondering what will happen next. Will the Stars extend Marty's deal? - (I have heard nothing that tells me they will) Will they try to trade him? - (If they do, don't expect much back besides a similar salary in a dump from the other team to get a deal with future cash off their books) What are the other options?

I have to believe nothing is more on Joe Nieuwendyk's mind more than this issue. Did he take a chance on Gustavsson and get burned a bit? Maybe, but wasn't it worth taking? He almost got a goalie many people feel is a sure starter in this league for just a small amount of money and no assets in a trade. I think he needed to go to the mat for the guy. But, there is plenty of hope.

Look around the West right now. There are all sorts of goalies that were acquired for little or nothing that are doing well for their teams.

Craig Anderson signed in Colorado as a free agent in July for 2 years and just $3.6m total. That's right, he is starting for the Avs and one of the main reasons they are in 3rd place and he is making $1.5m - about what Jere Lehtinen is making this season.

The Coyotes continue to ride one of my favorite goalie in the league, Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryzgalov was acquired from the Ducks through Waivers (of all of Brian Burke's great moves during his tenure with the Ducks, how does he allow his back-up to stay in his own division? Trade him to the east for a bag of pucks so you don't have to see him half a dozen times per season!) Ilya then extended his deal with Phoenix for 3 years and just under $13 million.

It can be done. We have had many years of Belfour and Turco. We always have felt like we knew who the goalie was and that he was one of the pillars of the way the team was structured. It won't be easy to find the next one on the fly, but they are out there - and you don't always have to make them one of your highest paid players.


I bet by now your email box has been avalanched by the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of emails regarding the cowboys, but I was hoping you could impart some of your hockey wisdom upon me. Lately my friend and I have been debating whether or not the Stars should make a move by the trade deadline. We both agree that they seem to be a few pieces away from being a true contender in the west. The disagreement comes on what those pieces should be. I believe that the Stars problems are rooted in their poor defensive play and goaltending. I suggest getting a premier defender like a Dion Phaneuf or Jay Bouwmeester. My friend on the otherhand feels that the Stars should join the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes. I know it seems idealistic on both of our suggestions, given the Stars current financial situation, but we would like your opinion for the sake of arguement. Should this team make either of these moves, or should they stay put with the current incarnation?

They must address the defense corps and goaltending situation before we drop a single puck in 2010-11. Now, we must figure out how they do it. At the deadline? Perhaps. Trade? Free Agency? More cash from the owner? Who knows. But, there is no doubt in my mind that this team as presently constituted is not ready to win in the playoffs of the NHL. They need more on the blueline and they need a goalie that they believe in for the future.

I don't think this team is impossibly far away, but I think we can all agree that they are a ways from being a finished product that other teams fear. Too many holes at this point in time.

But, as for your debate with your friend, I think the Stars have a proper amount of guns up front. The question is whether they play the right 200-foot style to please Nieuwendyk/Crawford. Are they tough to play against? Are they cohesive? Are they consistent? These are more questions to either answer or address with a move.

* One final note: The other day, I was on the treadmill with the NHL Network. They ran a 30-minute program called the "Ovechkin Ovation" which was pretty much Alex's highlight film. I loved it, and it reruns today at 5pm, so I wanted to let you know you need to see it. He is a genius on the ice and for my dollar, the one guy I would pay to see above all others in the NHL today. Check it out.

Expect to see this goal broken down in great detail:

Final Cowboys Turnover Chart

This is a chart that I keep on the side for my personal reference that I thought some of you might enjoy as reference tool for yourself-

2009 was a fabulous year for taking care of the football. The Cowboys gave away possession of the football 33 times in the 2008 regular season, and they come back in 2009 and cut 14 turnovers off that total, giving it away only 19 times in 2009. Only Green Bay (16) and Minnesota (18) gave the ball away less than the Cowboys in the NFC. Phenomenal job by the offense of really making things easier on themselves.

The defense, however, remained rather flat. There is a lot to like about a Wade Phillips defense, but one thing that is not impressive at all is the ability to take the ball away (and really, what is more important than that?). In 2008, the Cowboys forced 22 turnovers and in 2009, they actually went backwards to 21. 43 takeaways in 32 games for the last two seasons barely beats Green Bay's 2009 production (40), New Orleans (39), and Philadelphia (38).

We can talk all we want about a dominating defense - and the scoring defense should not be overlooked - but for this defense to get to a higher level, they need to get guys who can take the ball away, too, right? This is one reason why I might try to upgrade a few spots if the opportunity presents itself rather than assume my defense is fine. Ken Hamlin might be a candidate as I do not recall many huge ball-hawking moments for him in the last few years.

Cowboys TurnoversOpponents Turnovers
GameFumbles (Lost)INTSGiveawaysFumbles (Lost)INTSTakeaways+/-
W @ TB0 (0)001 (0)00E
L vs NYG1 (1)340 (0)00-4
W vs Car0 (0)001 (1)23+3
L @ Den1 (1)122 (1)01-1
W @ KC2 (2)020 (0)00-2
W vs Atl1 (1)012 (1)23+2
W vs Sea2 (1)012 (2)02+1
W @ Phi0 (0)110 (0)22+1
L @ GB2 (2)132 (0)00-3
W vs Was1 (1)120 (0)11-1
W vs Oak0 (0)001 (1)01+1
L @ NYG1 (1)012 (1)12+1
L vs SD1 (0)000 (0)11+1
W @ NO0 (0)002 (2)13+3
W @ Was0 (0)113 (0)11E
W vs Phi0 (0)112 (1)01E
Totals12 (10)91920 (10)1121+2

Table Tutorial

And here are the numbers on the turnover story in the 2 playoff games - clearly a story of two different turnover-related outcomes.

2009 Playoffs:

Cowboys TurnoversOpponents Turnovers
GameFumbles (Lost)INTSGiveawaysFumbles (Lost)INTSTakeaways+/-
W v Phil1 (1)013 (3)14+3
L @ Minn4 (2)130 (0)00-3
Totals5 (3)143 (3)14E

Final Playoff Seeding Numbers

- Home Field Advantage -

This table simply tracks the success or lack thereof of higher seeds and home teams in the NFL Playoffs. The AFC and NFC Seeds columns show which teams advanced to the AFC and NFC Championship Games. Then the "*" shows who made the Super Bowl from each conference.

Lots of trends in here, including the #1 seed in the NFC has advanced to the Championship game in 18 of 20 years since the playoffs expanded. The only 2 teams not to get there were the 2007 Dallas Cowboys and the 2008 New York Giants.

YearHome RecordAFC SeedsNFC Seeds
19908-21* vs 21 vs 2*
19918-21* vs 21* vs 2
19925-52 vs 4*1 vs 2*
19938-21* vs 31* vs 2
19948-21 vs 2*1* vs 2
19957-32* vs 51* vs 3
19968-22* vs 51* vs 2
19976-42 vs 4*1 vs 2*
19988-21* vs 21 vs 2*
19997-31 vs 4*1* vs 2
20008-22 vs 4*1* vs 2
20017-31 vs 2*1* vs 3
20028-21* vs 21 vs 2*
20036-41* vs 31 vs 3*
20046-41 vs 2*1* vs 2
20054-62 vs 6*1* vs 5
20068-23* vs 41* vs 2
20075-51* vs 32 vs 5*
20085-52* vs 64* vs 6
20097-31* vs 51* vs 2

Table Tutorial

(* = Super Bowl Team)

Most compelling piece of information I found here? 14 of 20 years (70%), in the NFC, the championship game has been the #1 seed vs the #2 seed - proving the bye week and home field mean something.

Also, the NFC went 5-0 this season in home games. Repeat. Every single home team won their game in the NFC playoffs.

In the AFC, 1 vs 2 it has happened only 7 times (35%). Not sure what that means other than the fact that maybe the NFC has had better top seeds that make it less likely to have upsets - like the Cowboys and 49ers. On the other hand, maybe the AFC has had many playoffs where top to bottom the margin is very close. No clue, but this year, the home teams in the AFC were 2-3, with the Colts being the only home team to win a home game - and they did it twice.

Now, with our Super Bowl, we finally have another match-up of #1 v #1. #1 NFC has played #1 AFC only twice before, way back in 1991 (Washington vs Buffalo) and 1993 (Dallas vs Buffalo).

The Morning After: Championship Sunday

Super Bowl XLIV is all set and what a day of high drama football we had in the NFL. I think most of us were watching as detached fans who merely wanted to see awesome football and the prospect of a great Super Bowl match-up.

And in the end, I feel great about two #1 seeds seeing each other in the Super Bowl for the first time since 1993. That was the #1 Bills against the #1 Cowboys (the following day was the first every broadcast day of the Ticket - this sports station in Dallas that turned 16 years old yesterday), and this will be the #1 Colts facing off against the #1 Saints.

The subplots are everywhere, as they were yesterday. Since we have 13 days to look ahead, let's spend this morning looking back at the genius of Championship Sunday, and now the sadness of knowing our dear friend, the NFL, is about to go away for 8 months of other things. Yuck.

Nothing comes close to the NFL and the moments of hysteria that go with it. Truly the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat is shown for all to see every weekend, and yesterday was no exception.

Where do we start?

Here we go with the AFC game first:

* This game was riveting in the sense that the Jets actually had a game plan that did about as well as it could do. They wanted to pound the rock to pull the Colts safeties up, and then when the corners relaxed, they would ask their rookie QB to try to hit a home run to Braylon Edwards of play action - and it worked for 80 yards and a TD. Then, they wanted to sucker the Colts into thinking there was no way Brad Smith would throw a pass out of the Wildcat, only to have him crank a long pass to Jerricho Cotchery that set up the Jets' 2nd Touchdown. They did everything right in taking a 17-6 lead, and yet you knew, right?

* You knew that this game was all about Peyton Manning. This is what makes Peyton Manning an absolute genius. His drive right before half surely was as demoralizing to the Jets as it was brilliant to see. Four plays, which started with an incomplete pass, but then the next three plays were all completions to Austin Collie - for 18 yards, 46 yards, and 16 yards and a Touchdown. It was simple, it was lethal, and it put the Colts right back where they wanted to be going to the intermission. Meanwhile, the Jets' knew that everything worked perfectly in the 1st half for them, and yet the Colts were just 1 drive from taking the lead.

* Here is the thing about Peyton Manning - and it is something that has worked against Brett Favre for 19 years - he has 1 ring. People have a hard time appreciating the work at the very pinnacle of a sport if they only have climbed the mountain 1 time. If Manning is so great, they will say, then why is he only 8-8 in the playoffs (before yesterday)? In both Manning's and Favre's cases (and Mickelson, Barkley, Malone, and how many more greats) they might have had more had they not peaked during another's dynasty. Favre had the 1990's Cowboys to deal with (and lose to) and Manning had the 2000's Patriots who beat him down during his prime. He is now almost 34, and finally the Pats have stepped aside in their dominance, and we are seeing that Manning may be the best that there ever was. But, football doesn't award titles to the team with the best QB. That isn't how Super Bowls are often won. Now, he can win his 2nd, and then I would think even his biggest critics (and I was one until I saw the light in the 2006 AFC Championship Game) will concede his shocking level of excellence. Anyway, back to yesterday, once he got going, it didn't matter that Darrell Revis had essentially taken Reggie Wayne off the menu for Manning. He went to Pierre Garcon 15 times for 11 catches and 151 yards, Austin Collie 9 times for 7 catches and 123 yards, and threw for 377 yards despite the Jets giving him all sorts of trouble. Like making Jordan work for his 50, the Jets did all they could do - he is just that good.

* As we would see in the 2nd game, some QBs never learn to stop making rookie throws, but Mark Sanchez will need to be more careful with some of his throws. All things considered, though, he had a real solid run and if things might have bounced a different way, he might have been the first ever rookie QB to get to the Super Bowl. I liked him plenty back in April over Matthew Stafford , but whether he really is better remains to be seen. But, they asked him to stand tall and deliver a few times to make crucial throws, and they must be delighted with where he is as a rookie with his whole career in front of him. I think to get Sanchez and Shonn Greene in the 2009 draft and then to see them yesterday indicates how key getting the draft right can be for a team in the short and long term.

* Bob Sanders, a man who has made many, many big plays from the safety position on previous Colts teams has only played in 47 of the 96 possible games in his NFL career. During the game I started thinking about his usual absence and how the Colts have basically treated his presence as a bonus, not an expectation. It reminds me of Troy Polamalu and his special play at safety, because both guys are unreal ball hawks who can turn a game, and yet they both have a hard time playing that physical style and staying on the field. Although, in fairness to Troy, he has played in 16 games in 4 of his 7 seasons - Sanders has never played 17 games in a season.

* The Jets, who had their opponents miss all 5 FG attempts in their previous 2 playoff games, had no luck with Matt Stover. Stover, now the oldest person to ever play in a Super Bowl at age 42, made all 3 of his attempts on Sunday as he stands in for Adam Vinatieri.

* There was one play with about 5 minutes left in the 3rd Quarter that will haunt the Jets, I would think. A deep pass down the left sideline to David Clowney would have been a huge gain down inside the Colts 20, but the pass was a full yard or two out of bounds. A real chance for Sanchez and the Jets wasted, but the only reason for this note was that Phil Simms actually described it as an "excellent throw". Just curious how that is even possible.

And to the main event, the NFC Title game in New Orleans:

* What a game. Instant classic. What we always hope for, and we got it last night.

* 12 men in the huddle. Such Vikings folk lore. You cannot write this stuff. Without that penalty, I am pretty sure we all knew they were running it on 3rd Down and kicking a 50-yarder to try to go to the Super Bowl. But, the penalty happened, and the Vikings faced 3rd and 15 from the 38 yard line. Then, the Favre decision happened. If he would have run, I think it is fair to say - even on a gimpy ankle - that he runs to the 32 or 31 yard line. And there you are back to a 50 yarder for the win.

* The Vikings first two drives were Touchdowns with great and relative ease. The final 7 drives of those same Minnesota Vikings: Fumble, Touchdown, Interception, Fumble, Fumble, Touchdown, Interception. Here is the simple equation for those of us who follow the turnover game, You never, ever, ever, go -4 on the road in the NFC Playoffs and win. The fact that it was still even close is phenomenal. -4 is roughly a 100% loss rate. And you can still list a dozen ways the Vikings might have won that game.

* How about the Saints ability to deal with the Vikings Defensive Line versus what the Cowboys were able to accomplish a week earlier. The fear of the screen slowed them down, and so did the ability to block them far better than the Cowboys did. But, to see Edwards-Williams-Williams-Allen look good, but far from great was the real difference in this game to me. While Brett Favre is getting beat up, Drew Brees almost doesn't get touched the entire game. It was an impressive display up front from a Saints OL that most people cannot name one member.

* Seeing the Saints win is good for football and good for sports. I think there are occasionally stories where all of us put down our agendas and decades of love and hate and simply admit that this is a story that should happen. The city of New Orleans deserved this for enduring what it has dealt with. Not saying football pays for the mortgage or rebuilds your house, but you cannot tell me that football doesn't build morale. This city banded around those guys, and as a 3rd party, I think the only thing cooler would be if the Super Bowl was actually at their stadium. Good for you, Saints.

* If you listen to my show or read my blog (I assume you do that much) then you know where I stand on Brett Favre. No athlete in my life has left a bigger fingerprint on my sports obsession that this guy. I type to you in my office, where I am surrounded with pictures of moments that he played a role in. Love the guy, and despite this odd turn of events that has him playing QB for my life-long enemy, I still felt myself pulling for him to accomplish his final mission in glory. For years, he has had people go on rants on how he is no longer worthy of playing QB in the NFL and that they are sick and tired of him. How they want him to go away and stop making this league all about him. How they think it is outrageous that he won't retire and just walk away. He may have brought a lot of this outrage on himself by the way he conducted his last several off seasons, but nevertheless, the story was there for all to see.

I looked at this game as perhaps his finest effort ever for about 59 minutes of the game. I thought, win or lose, that this was to him what the 1994 NFC Championship game was to Troy Aikman. A game, that while the result did not go his way, only showed his courage and fire and perhaps in defeat, defined him best. It was like watching Rocky take a beating, but he wouldn't stay on the mat. I am sure another QB in NFL history was hit that hard that many times, but it seems like the number of times he was hit and the number of big throws he made combined to show what he, at the age of 40, is still all about. Running down that dream of ending with a 2nd Lombardi Trophy.

But, fairy tales and sports hardly ever go together. In tragic fashion, he made one throw too many. Took one chance that he shouldn't have, but those chances defined his career as much as the record breaking TD throws. I started saying a decade ago that "You live by the Favre and die by the Favre" because he defines both. He is no Aikman or Montana. They don't make that throw. He is one of a kind. He seems to be Phil Mickelson - amazing talent, combined with circuitry that allows for a meltdown when you most expect it. And then the courage (or lack of judgement) to try that same throw in that same spot again.

So, while you may have celebrated wildly yesterday because of what might be his ultimate demise, honestly, it just made the legend grow for me. Like William H. Bonney, it ended the only way it could end - shot down in a blaze of glory. Sorry, it may be seem hokey, but it has been in my head since the throw left his hand.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Stars Live Blogging

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Football 301: Decoding Garrett - Minnesota

Well, so much for the idea that Jason Garrett had become a bit of a "puppet master" with the rest of the NFL. Every hot streak eventually cools, and while sometimes it might be self-inflicted, the end of this hot streak was surely forced by the physical superiority of the Minnesota Vikings front.

There is no other way to explain the destruction of the Cowboys offense. 246 yards and 3 points both were season lows. And when you consider the Cowboys had 138 yards in their first 3 drives, it is clear how things went from bad to worse; The exit of Flozell Adams from the game meant that the Boys could only account for 108 yards on their final 10 drives.

Not a misprint.

108 yards on their final 10 drives.

But, despite that, I have received many missives from the masses that report to me that they really liked what Doug Free brought to the table and that they are ready to move on from the Flozell Adams era. 40 plays for 108 yards and that is considered a success because Jared Allen didn't get 4 sacks? I think we may have to amend our player grades. Please don't confuse what I am saying - I am not suggesting Free was horrid. But, I am saying that because he needed help with some max protection (you will see on the video that he constantly had a TE next to him), and because Jason Garrett and Tony Romo would not attempt certain things in the playbook since Adams was missing - we might need to curb our enthusiasm just a tad about the arrival of the new Left Tackle.

This is not to say that Flozell and the starting crew had things all figured out in the first 3 drives, because they did not. But, things went from bad to worse when big #76 was unable to return.

Another thing I found quite interesting was the pregame concession that the Cowboys made to the Vikings on 3rd or 4th and short scenarios. I do not necessarily blame them, but because of who the Vikings have, and the lack of success we saw in short yardage against the Chargers and Redskins in December, the Cowboys were pretty sure they had no chance to run the ball to gain 36 inches at the Metrodome.

I hate to say I had this called in Week 15, but I did:

It is certainly not difficult to imagine the trouble that can cause down the road. If you combine that with a kicking situation that is less than rock-solid, you can understand the ice the Cowboys stand on is exceedingly thin. Think about it: The Cowboys are in a crucial game with huge stakes (every game from here until the Super Bowl would qualify as a crucial game with high stakes) and they face a 4th and half of a yard from the opponents 31 yard line. Do you trust the kicker to make a 49 yarder? No. Do you trust your OL and RB to be able to ge that last 18 inches? How could you after the issues against the Chargers and Redskins in the last few weeks? The quandary is there for all to see.

Holy Cow! The only thing that was wrong was I had it at the 31 yard line instead of the 30. Anyway, 3 times in the early going, the Cowboys had to decide what to do in short yardage.

Offensive Play #3 - 3/1/D37 - Cowboys try pitch left to Austin +8, FD
Offensive Play #6 - 3/1/O46 - Cowboys go S11, Pass to Crayton +12, FD
Offensive Play #16 - 4/1/O30 - Cowboys refuse 4/1, miss 48 yard FG

3 chances to demonstrate you can run on the Vikings, and due to past performance and the Vikings film, the Cowboys realize they shouldn't even try it. A concession made to the Vikings spoke volumes. Stunning news for those of us who fancied the Cowboys a true power run team. Sure, they are all about power on 2nd and 8, but a true power team is unstoppable in short yardage. And, the Cowboys may still be alive if they could simply get a yard. We will never know.

And, then the true indictment of the Offensive Line; 6 sacks of Tony Romo. Romo was running for his life, and because of that, I honestly felt that it was next to impossible to evaluate him fairly. There were elements of Romo's game I didn't care for - not the least of which was the appearance that he became far more interested in the pass rush than his receivers - but I was left wondering which QB in pro football would have found success under those circumstances. I would argue that there likely wouldn't have been one.

We will show you in Football 301 each sack, and I think you will see that this was not a 1-on-1 loss that led to the sack; but, rather this was a full and complete overwhelming of the entire OL. There were plays where you see 3 and sometimes 4 of the Vikings front 4 beating their blocks. Even worse, it became such a siege that even the Vikings back-ups Robison and Kennedy were routinely running free at Romo.

A complete and total OL meltdown. And on the heels of the 2007 and 2008 finales where the OL also failed, I am inclined to suggest that the Cowboys need to strongly consider alternatives in the OL in 2010. We can debate Doug Free or Cory Proctor, but the team really needs to figure out a way to upgrade this unit since the last 3 seasons they were undone by this group, despite relative health each time.

Here is the breakdown by groupings:

Totals by Personnel Groups:
PackagePlays RunYardsRunPass

Table Tutorial

Definition of the Personnel Groups, click here .

One last things about the sacks before we dive into the videos; all 6 sacks were in the shotgun. And, now that we have all of the data we need, we see the results in 2008 and 2009 are similar in this fashion - Shotgun sets are not what this team does best.

Shawn, who helps collate our data, sent me this:


18 Games

12: 193-1291, 6.69, 5 TD, 1 INT
21: 111-651, 5.87, 4 TD, 1 INT
22: 201-1168, 5.81, 9 TD 0 INT

The very popular and explosive formation of choice?

S11: 340-2038, 5.99, 13 TD, 8 INT

So, if we are to critique the Cowboys offense, we see quite clearly, this team is not good in short yardage, not very good in shotgun and 3 WR, and awfully strong in everything else.

When the Cowboys were balanced, under center, and mixing things up, they marched up and down the field all season long. But, when they became 1-dimensional, they couldn't execute. More research coming, including an effort to figure out why they are so easily sacked in the shotgun, and how many of the sacks allowed were in that set-up.

I know we generally focus on the positive plays on our video breakdowns, but A) we don't have much to choose from since the Cowboys had 1 play over 20 yards and B) the result of the game begs for us to take our knowledge of what we learned and try to see why bad things happened in this playoff exit.

Video Breakdowns:

Thanks, Brian at DC . He has done a ton for this project this season, and deserves your occasional visit to his site.


The Play:1Q - 1/10/33 - Jones +8 13

What Happened: 2nd Drive of the game, the Cowboys are determined to run the football. 13 personnel, and if you can't run up the gut with great success, set them up and then bounce it outside. What I liked here was once again the pulling ability of Big Len, as 70 Davis gets out in space and then tosses 52 Greenway 3 yards in the air. Joe Buck gives Greenway credit for the tackle, but I assume that was news to Chad. Effective run that shows the Cowboys can get to the edge against the Vikings. The fake that Phillips helps sell up the middle is what freezes the linebackers and makes them commit inside. I might wonder why this was tried very few times.


The Play: 1/10/50 Screen to Jones +11

What Happened: 2 plays later, 12 personnel, and another 1st down, where the Cowboys have double WR to the left. This overloads the defense and occupies them in a way that vacates the flat for Jones to get a release that appears uncovered. Once he gets into space, we again see the ability for Felix to make a guy miss. A few of my coaching buddies asked me why we didn't see more of the Cowboys screen game, as the surely had to feel that with the Vikings ears pinned back all day, they would certainly be susceptible to the screen. However, this was the lone success in that department.


The Play: 2Q - 22 1/10/26 - Pass to Bennett +16

What Happened: OK, the last positive play from the game, a spot where the Cowboys seemed poised to tie the game. "22" Which puts the Vikings in a run state of mind. Then, you get the deep safety, so essentially, we have 51 Leber trying to decide who he wants to focus on. The deeper 80 Bennett or the shallow 34 Anderson. Romo waits for Leber to declare, and then throws it to the other one. Easy execution and a safe throw. We certainly have to wonder why this wasn't run throughout the season more. Especially on 1st down against "22" teams are putting so many in the box that you would think that this would have been easy pickings for Martellus Bennett and Tony Romo. Alas, Bennett finished the year with 159 yards. If it wasn't for Roy Williams, Marty B would have been for more frustrating for Cowboys fans.

The Play: 3Q - 1/10/24 - Toss to Barber -6

What Happened: Down 17-3, this could possibly be the last nail in the coffin for the Cowboys. They are driving into the deep end of the field, and if they can get a Touchdown here, they will be right back in the game. Now, a few things about what we are looking at here. This is that exact same "22" naked pitch that worked so well in Week 17 and Week 1 - both times going for touchdowns. Watch all 3 plays - they are identical. And each time, the only thing the RB has to do is beat the DE to the edge. He is by himself. It is a naked run, and all of the blockers are selling the play to the opposite side of the field. If he beats the DE to the edge, he may go for a Touchdown - but credit Ray Edwards for his film study. He saw this 2 weeks ago, and he wasn't falling for it. Also, watch Romo in presnap. For 3 days now, everybody has blamed Jason Garrett for the puzzling decision to call that play for Barber, when it is clear that Felix is much quicker and makes more sense for this play. But, I think Romo checked into the play at the line. If he did audible, as I think he did, Garrett is getting blamed for Romo's bet that Barber can beat Edwards to the corner. Big mistake. Drive killer, and game killer. The Cowboys never had a chance after this.


The Play: 3/10/20 - INT Leber

What Happened: Here is the Romo Interception that demonstrated how out of sorts he was. He had to double pump his throw and then he made a throw he absolutely should not have thrown. But, this is the game in a nut-shell. Cowboys are in max protect, but because Colombo cannot stay in front of Edwards, Romo must step up into Jimmy Kennedy to keep from getting mauled by 91 again. Then. the other thing I want you to see is the odd design of 11 Williams' route. What is Roy supposed to be doing on this route? He attracts nobody, he is not considered for the throw, and it seems like the Cowboys are playing shorthanded with him. This is where his performance hurts the most. 2 or 3 players only in a route, they must all be threats or you have no chance. On this play, Romo has 1 guy in route that is an option 84 Crayton. When he is not open, he either eats another sack or tries to force in the ball. 82 Witten and 23 Choice cannot even consider sliding out into a route. What a mess.

Below, I also want to show you the 6 sacks from Sunday. Usually, these are in a different post, but I wanted to put them here, too, because they were the story of the game. The complete collapse of the pass protections.

Sack #1 - 1Q - 3/14/38 S11 - Edwards

What Happened: This is the end of the 1st drive. On this particular sack, I might blame Romo for trying to wait too long. Easy for me to say, but I think you have to get the ball to Choice in the left flat here and hope he can get you some FG position. But, he tries to stay alive, and the DL closes out on him. Kosier, Adams, and Colombo hold up pretty well here, but Davis gets beat badly by Robison, and Romo must step up quickly. Once he does, Edwards gets off Colombo and hits Romo. The start of the ambush.


Sack #2 - 2Q - 2/G/8 -S02 - Edwards/Williams

What Happened: Shotgun Empty? Again? How many sacks do we have to give up in Shotgun-Empty before we stop running that package altogether? Anyway, both tackles get beat, and the play is doomed. This is 2nd and goal and the score is just 7-0. The Cowboys execute here, I am sure the game is way different. Instead, they can protect neither flank, and are over-run with no RB protection. This, just 1 play after wasting 1st and Goal with the Wildcat. Talk about not taking advantage of your rare opportunity. This will also be Flozell's 2nd to last play. 3 possessions, all go fairly deep into Minnesota territory = 3 points. Then, your Left Tackle is gone. Church.


Sack #3 - 2/11/28 - Sack Allen

What Happened: Here, Witten is in his stance late and Jared Allen blows around the corner on him in a real mismatch. How this 1-on-1 happens is a fair question as it sure seems that Doug Free isn't quite sure where he is supposed to be. Also, note the twist stunt on the other side has 96 Robison coming free up the gut. If Allen doesn't get there, Robison would 1-count later. The route is on.


Sack #4 - 1/10/46 - Edwards Sack last play of half

What Happened: This might be exhibit A as to why you still need Flozell Adams. Just watch Doug Free on this play as Jared Allen puts him on roller skates and look where 68 Free Ends up. Sure, Edwards makes the eventual sack, but this is what Free's issue seems. So susceptable to the bull rush, and at Left Tackle, you better believe they will test your strength on a regular basis. You must be able to drop your anchor. He is quick, but is he strong? Not enough.


Sack #5 - 3Q - 3/14/28 Sack Greenway S12

What Happened: I want to say this before we break down this play: For my money, Marc Colombo may have been the best member of the OL all season. But, boy, did he struggle. I think he is still injured. This time, 52 Greenway gets the sack, but the play is destroyed again by 91 Edwards, who decides to change things up (perhaps just to keep from being monotonous) and dives inside. Colombo has no chance again, and from there, chaos ensues, and Greenway gets a sack.


Sack #6 - 4Q - 3/4/47 SACK Kennedy/Williams

What Happened: Minnesota is just toying with the Cowboys by here. 93 Williams fakes he is about to drop into coverage, and then the Cowboys block others. His pause leaves nobody accounting for him, so he then sprints right up the gut and has Romo dead to rights. Jimmy Kennedy cleans up, but again, so many breakdowns on the OL mean that players get the sack, but did not do the work to earn it.

It is over, but boy, what a mess!


Past Episodes:
Playoffs - Philadelphia Eagles
Week 17 - Philadelphia Eagles
Week 16 - Washington Redskins
Week 15 - New Orleans Saints
Week 14 - San Diego Chargers
Week 13 - New York Giants
Week 12 - Oakland Raiders
Week 11 - Washington Redskins
Week 10 - Green Bay Packers
Week 9 - Philadelphia Eagles
Week 8 - Seattle Seahawks
Week 7 - Atlanta Falcons
Week 5 - Kansas City
Week 4 - Denver
Week 3 – Carolina
Week 2 - New York Giants
Week 1 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Garrett '08

Football 301: Targets and Sacks - Minnesota

Target Distribution:

Targets - Playoff vs Minnesota

Table Tutorial

Unreal. 1 pass to Roy Williams. 8 targets for Austin for just 34 yards. What a mess. Here is an interesting number: Romo vs Eagles 23-35, Romo vs Vikings 22-35. Odd, no?

By the way, if you want to see the full regular season totals, They are here , but I didn't want to add playoff games to the totals, lest I throw off comparison numbers.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Morning After: Vikings 34, Cowboys 3


I am always interested in the rationale of fans the day their team exits the playoffs (By the way, I am one of these fans who try to put my feelings into words, so don't think I am looking down at anyone).

Fans who are victims of the excruciating OT loss wish that they would have been blown out because that wouldn't hurt so much. But, then fans who are victims of the blow out wish they would have been beat in the last minute because then they would feel like they are competitive and closer to their goal.

Both sides are just looking for something to make themselves feel better.

But, the facts are these:

1) Losing is gut wrenching in the NFL Playoffs.
2) 11 of the 12 teams will experience this feeling in some way, shape, or form.
3) The other 20 teams in the NFL aspire to switch spots with you.

See, that is the thing about the NFL season; Just when you get things figured out, they all change. The Cowboys own the line of scrimmage, right? 7 days later, they certainly did not.

The Vikings, Saints, and Colts did not finish the season on a roll, right? It appears they rolled pretty well this weekend, and I believe we all got a slight reminder of why all 16 games matter. To get playoff home games and bye weeks, it will require a 16 game body of work that is nearly flawless. And when you achieve that, it will guarantee nothing - but you will be in your building, with your noise, and your fans. And that will greatly beat the alternative.

I was sure this game was so close that there would be one play that would certainly reach legendary status in both cities because it decided the game - and perhaps the destiny of both organizations. I guess I had that one wrong.

This game did not come down to one play. It came down to the Vikings defense blowing up the Cowboys offense in just about every way, shape, and form. The Cowboys did not give the ball away, the Vikings took it. The Cowboys did not make huge mistakes, the Vikings just made plays. They looked like they had a pretty good idea of how to destroy drives with a "Minus Play" as Tony Romo would reference them in the press conference. One minus would sabotage a drive, and that is something we have become quite familiar with over the season. Drive all the way down the field and then a minus turns 7 into 3, or 3 into 0 as quick as it gets. The yards have not been converted into points often enough.

The key match-up of the Vikings DL against the Cowboys OL was a mismatch. Romo was sacked a career-high 6 times and escaped several more with his feet. Obviously, they finally were bit by the injury bug when Flozell left the game with a calf injury (as an aside, for some reason I feel better when my key injured players "look" injured on the sideline - Flo seemed pretty normal over there.) and the OL that was already under siege seemed almost "done for" right there. Ray Edwards was great, Kevin Williams did plenty, and Jared Allen attracted all sorts of attention. Romo was running for his life. He was beat up pretty badly, and when you hit him - or any other QB hard enough (especially from the blind side) he will cough up that ball.

So, because of the pressure, Romo started getting rid of the ball quicker so as to stop getting hit. This led to a 2nd half that completely lacked throws to the Wide Receivers, and a very impotent Cowboys offense.

Meanwhile, the Brett Favre show was certainly on full display. After a 3-and-out to start the game, Favre led the Vikings on 3 straight scoring drives to put the Cowboys in a deep hole, 17-3 in the 2nd Quarter. The theory that was repeated all week (maybe all season) that "Favre will make a mistake at some point" seemed to never happen. I don't recall anything close to an interception and his incredibly efficient play kept the Cowboys defense on the run. It wasn't a number of great plays, and Adrian Peterson certainly did not get off, but the damage was done - slowly, but surely - and by the end the Cowboys had been sliced and diced.

I don't think for a second that the Cowboys are 31 points worse than the Vikings. But, things just snowballed. The Cowboys did not grab the chances early and the Vikings just fed off the momentum in a game that was never in doubt.

And now, here we are. Standing, looking at a pile of rubble again, as another season of Cowboys football smolders. Just 1 day ago, we all thought we were really enjoying this movie, and couldn't wait to watch more.

And then, Thud.

I think the Cowboys' season was successful in some regards. But, surely, when you lose by 31 in a playoff game, we must look in the mirror and ask some difficult questions again. Making the Final 8 is nice, but not near enough. I believe I will let the smoke clear before elaborating on my Wade Phillips views, but obviously, on Saturday it seemed foolish to suggest his job was on the line. But, with that loss now on the ledger, I assume it will at least be considered again with no contract in place for 2010.

More thoughts and observation from the spanking at the Metrodome:

* I assume most everybody felt like I did when Wade waved out the FG team to try a 48 yarder on 4th and 1 on the 2nd drive. There are, of course, a number of reasons why that was a bad idea. First, in the playoffs or any difficult road game where you are an underdog, you must make the absolute most of your chances. I know that I said "Punts are good" on Friday, but it is an altogether different animal when you are at their 30 yard line and facing a 4th and 1. You need to try to take the game by the scruff of the neck. Second, your kicker is Shaun Suisham. This may have snuck by some people, but Wade knows this. He has to know that Suisham shouldn't be trusted for anything longer than a chippy. I am not suggesting that I have a ton of great ideas against the Vikes in short yardage (No, not the pitch right to Barber!) but I certainly am not risking a kick that, if missed, demoralizes the team and gives the Vikes great field position.

* -3. Two other games were worse than -2 in this season of "Romo Friendly" protect-the-ball football. -4 loss to the Giants in week 2 and -3 at Green Bay. Not breaking new ground here, but -3 is almost impossible to overcome. In fact, in the NFL regular season 2009, the record for those -3 or worse is 1-49. Somehow, the Patriots were -3 against the Panthers and still scratched out a win.

* Marc Colombo had no answer for Ray Edwards, and when Flozell left the game, the Cowboys had to give all of the help to Doug Free all of the time. It was the worst case scenario. We have no idea how differently things might have been, but Flozell actually was able to stay in front of Jared Allen awfully well in the first 3 possessions. I wonder how healthy Colombo was, because Edwards is good, but I am pretty sure he isn't that good. If Free would have kept his RT job, I suppose they would have just slid him over to LT if Colombo had to come into the game. But, that is your game. The Cowboys couldn't protect the edges and Romo was running for his life from the very start of the game. The passing game was brought to its knees without hardly any impact from Cowboys WRs or Vikings DBs. Amazing. The pass rush controlled the game.

* The most amazing thing about the Brett Favre aerial attack (starring Sydney Rice): Neither Rice on Sensabaugh's TD nor Rice on Jenkins' TD were an example of poor coverage at all. He dropped the ball right on their hands and the defenders were hip to hip with the receiver. He is a 40 year old QB dropping the ball right on their hands from 40 yards away. We have never seen anything like the 2009 season of Favre.

* But, on that Sensabaugh-allowed TD, what was Terence Newman's role? It sure looked to me like that crucial moment in the SD game where Newman is supposed to get the jam on Vincent Jackson and doesn't which allowed a very big completion. There is nobody else in Newman's zone and yet he pretty much just watched Rice run by him. I am no DB coach, but that seemed very bizarre to me. Equally bizarre might have been how Sensabaugh seemed to have no idea where the ball was when Rice had it right next to him and they both jogged into the endzone for the final 10 yards. Find the ball, son. I would love to know several things about that play.

* Here is my take on the question about "running up the score". Honestly, I had very little issue with it once the Cowboys decided to use all 3 timeouts down 27-3. Prolonging a game that was already determined is essentially "asking for it". I understand Wade Phillips and Keith Brooking and anyone else being angry. It should make you angry that they are scoring again when they don't have to. But, again, I think you risk angering the other sideline when you call all of your timeouts down 24 points, so don't be shocked when they return the favor with their resources, too. Just yesterday, I was reading a story about the Washington Capitals "running up the score" by leaving their best players on the ice for a Power Play up 6-1, and one of the comments left was this: When I was listening to a baseball game this past summer, the idea of “running up the score” arose and I heard probably the best comment about it I ever heard. The announcers said that they were sure the team winning big would agree to stop scoring so many runs, if the losing team agreed to stop trying to come back. If both teams agreed to stop trying and just go through the motions, fine, but otherwise just play baseball. I guess that is exactly how I feel. If you are still doing everything in your power to come back, then they should be allowed to do everything in their power to end the game and force your surrender. And let's not forget the Cowboys were up 34-14 last week, and throwing on 1st down 3 different times. This is the NFL, people. Not your kid's little league game.

* Why is it odd to see Prince at a Football game? Surely, it seems plausible that a man can grow up in the United States and follow football his whole life. Millions of us do. But, it is Prince. Next thing you know we will find out that he won his Fantasy Football League or something crazy like that. There cannot be a very long list of American males that would be more unlikely to see at a NFL game. Seriously. Try to name 3.

* I wonder what the future for Marion Barber is. I really appreciate what he brings to the table, and I think he is quality. But, like Julius Jones before him, it seems like the options (Felix and Choice) are perhaps now better options. The life-span of an NFL RB is shockingly short. That is why it is vital that the Vikings win quickly, because Adrian Peterson's prime may only last 2-3 more years if history is our guide. For every Emmitt Smith, there are 10 Larry Johnsons.

* It seemed clear that Keith Brooking was being picked on by the Vikings in their offensive attack. In the 3rd Vikings drive, they isolated him against Kleinsasser (+14), Peterson (+18), and Taylor (+9). He is clearly an emotional leader, but he also is part of a defense that has many superior parts - so they attack places where they think they can do some damage. And it is no secret that getting Brooking in coverage is a place many teams have tried to attack. The Vikings did it with success.

* Anthony Spencer, Mike Jenkins, DeMarcus Ware, and Jay Ratliff are all young and potentially dominant players on the defense. There is no reason to believe that this defense won't continue to be very, very solid. I think for the first time entering an off-season in years the Cowboys can focus their resources on the offensive line and Wide Receiver in the spring. Not saying the D doesn't have any holes, but I think they are closer than ever.

* Tony Romo's press conference to end the season went much better this year than last. I think he has come a long, long way in the last 12 months in the maturity department. I believe in the kid. He is not perfect, but he is darn good.

I thought the Vikings might win this one, but I certainly didn't see it ending like this. The Cowboys are closer than they have been in years but still awfully far away. I think we are all interested in knowing what is around the next corner.

The offseason begins today. Get to work, front office.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Game Plan Friday: Minnesota Vikings

Fascinating. That is how I would describe what we are all looking at Sunday at "high noon" at the ol Metrodome.

A fascinating study of football from many, many perspectives. Not the least of which is that when looking at these two teams, there are so many similarities at so many spots.

For instance, of all of the teams in the NFC, one team has almost an identical way of running their offense as the Dallas Cowboys. That team, of course, is the Vikings.

They use their run to set up the pass. They use the pass to set up the run. They use the presnap to confuse you and make you commit to one or the other, and then they take that false alarm and use it on you. When going right, both of these teams call plays that are all tied together in perfect harmony. As a brilliant game of chess, everything they do is to set up the next thing.

The running plays are very similar. The beef on the OL is very similar. The play of the efficient QB can also be strikingly similar. And yes, the instincts of the QB when the play breaks down can often times make one think that the two QBs are cut from the same cloth.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Which Game is Which?

Game Plan Friday is being prepared, but how about a little game of which is which?

Here we go where each game in the NFC Semi-Finals has a QB who has been here quite a few times versus a QB who is a bit wet behind the ears.

GAME ARecordTDsINTsRating
QB 112-10392885.2
QB 21-24186.0

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GAME BRecordTDsINTsRating
QB 19-33113104.6
QB 21-25292.7

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So, which game is which?

Hit the Jump to reveal the exciting answers!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Junior Miller on Dirk and Bird

My partner in sports obsession, Craig "Spank" Miller, has a sports blog that I enjoy. Partly, because he only posts when he has something, not when a boss or an inside voice tells him that it is time to make the doughnuts. I really wish I could control my inner demon that tells me to get to blogging again.

Anyway, visit his blog. It is good.

Yesterday, he dove into Dirk vs Bird and you should read it all. But, I wanted to give you a taste here:

The subject is, in fact, the reason that I started this blog. I was listening to BAD Radio one day, and heard the King of Blogging, Bob Sturm, utter the phrase "Put Dirk on those Celtics teams with Parrish and McHale and he would probably have a couple of rings." After calling a wrecker service to come and tow my car out of the ditch that I had driven into upon hearing that, I emailed Bob. I love Bob. Bob's sports brain is huge (quickly). But I told him that I thought his comment gave too much credit to Dirk, and not nearly enough to Bird. I told him I had many thoughts on this topic, and that I should probably start a blog so that I could get all of my thoughts on this subject out in a way that I can't do on our radio show.

In the comments, I wanted to try to defend my position on in the comments:

I certainly feel that my argument has been stretched slightly, but that is what happens. My discussion was more about circumstance. It is the Troy Aikman v Dan Marino debate. Could Marino have won 3 Super Bowls in Dallas? Very possible. Could Aikman have won 3 Super Bowls if he was in Miami with Marino's cast? I highly doubt it. But, Dale Hansen swore to me the rings would go with Aikman and avoid Marino because Aikman knew how to win the big game and that he wasn't all about the stats.

I wonder how much things depend on something each player has nothing to do with: dumb luck of where the NBA meat grinder spits you out. Dirk goes to a hopeless franchise that featured about 5,000 fans for his first game at Reunion. The best player he ever played with was Steve Nash - another great player who was only great on one end.

Bird went to a perfect place. Played with a great guard in Dennis Johnson, and not 1, not 2, but 3 of the best big men of the entire generation in Parrish, McHale, and Walton - although Walton's contribution was minimal for sure.

So, my discussion was based on Dirk's ability to take over a game, and to develop into being almost unguardable at this stage of his career. He also has the ability to grab double-digit rebounds which should not be sneezed at, and plays reasonable defense now.

Let's just say the Celtics take young 19-year old Dirk in 1979 and put him around a legit center, a player-of-the year defender at forward, and a backcourt that is strong.

I am not asking him to be Larry, or better than Larry. But are you telling me Dirk at 26 years old in 1986 couldn't help McHale, Parrish, Johnson, Ainge, and Walton beat the Rockets?


Junior then responded:

Yes, that's what I'm saying. That year, Bird led Boston in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and Basketball IQ. Would Dirk have done that? Take away the best scorer, passer, rebounder, and steals guy from that team--are they the same? Not to mention, take away the smartest guy, the guy with the killer instinct, and the heart and soul of that team--still the same? Dirk replaces all of those qualities? No way.

More proof: 2006. Dirk couldn't lead Dallas to the title over an average Miami after being spotted a massive lead. Not much on his resume that indicates he could fill Bird's shoes in 1986 to the tune of a title.
I should add, because upon second glance I see that you had Boston taking him in '79 and grooming him: My bottom line is that, even with that grooming, he and Bird are not the same players--not the same people (which I outlined in the post). Not the same position, not the same instincts (which can't be groomed--you either have them or you don't). Just not the same. So to expect the same result is a stretch, methinks.


To which I respond,

I would like to propose a chat where we can query each other's positions for further clarity if you are up for it for an hour sometime. I guess I have a hard time fully processing 2 things even inside my own mind:

1) - Does the setting of one's career really affect the outcome? If Dirk is developed by someone other than Nellie, does it change is game? And if so, how much? Does Nellie's lack of concern of defense shape his projects for their full career long after he is gone (Nash and DIrk)?

2) - Should any player be judged based on the "best player he played with theory"? If so, how do we reconcile Parrish/McHale/DJ with Dirk's cast? And who would go down as the 2nd best player on the '06 Mavs? And if they had won the title, would it have been one of the great "solo missions" in the recent NBA? Josh Howard? Jason Terry? There is nobody of enduring relevance on that entire roster. Shouldn't we consider that?

My real issue is if Dirk had 2 more legit in-their-prime top 50 players with him, wouldn't he have his basketball immortality cemented? And if yes, than doesn't Larry get judged the same way?

And, as Simmons points out, would Bird have a chance in the 2009 NBA to be anywhere near the force? He did play when forwards were not long, athletic, and defensive. Nowhere near what Dirk deals with.

My final thought (for now): If Larry Bird was drafted by Golden State or Indiana back then, is he more remembered than George Gervin or Sidney Moncrief? I am not asking if he was greater, I am asking is he "Larry Legend" - and a man with no shortcomings - including rings.

To which he responds:

All great points and great hypotheticals. However, I think we have to draw the line somewhere. I think we leave it at comparing Dirk in his prime to Bird in his prime. If we start changing the hypothetical (what if Dirk played with these guys and what if Dirk didn't have the bad Nellie influence early) then it becomes a different debate or topic. Why not ask "What if Dirk were born black, in North Carolina, with an insane competitive drive, and with great hops and wore number 23?" At some point the hypothetical gets pushed to where it's not even the same question. If you have Dirk taken by Boston, or not coached by Nellie, or not raised in Germany, then he's not Dirk. If you have Bird coming from Europe, or a comfy home life, or landing in Golden State, then he's not Bird. It becomes a different conversation.

As far as the supporting cast, I think it's about which player has it in his DNA to make those around him better. Bird had it. Dirk? I don't know. But I think if Bird played with the '06 Mavs, we would think more highly of that cast, because Bird would have made them better. If Bird had never landed in Boston, I'm not sure we look at McHale and Parrish and DJ and Ainge the same way we look at them now. If it had been Dirk, or Gervin, or Robinson, or anyone outside the top 20 all-time players that had landed in Boston instead of Bird, I don't think they raise those other guys to the level of champions.

If I had to answer the what if Bird landed in Golden State would he have made them great question, I say yes. Heck, he landed at Indiana State and took them to the title game--with zero supporting cast! That speaks volumes.


And, then today, I see we have even more from Junior , including this very true statement:

And yes, Bob, I would be happy to discuss this on your show one day. However, since we were both born with Got-To-Be-Rightus in our DNA, I'm pretty sure we will either end in a stalemate or come to blows. Or both.

Truer words...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How Psychics, Steroids and Mark McGwire Ruined Baseball For Me

For better or worse, I had a "front row seat" to the circus of a season that led to Mark McGwire's breaking of the single season home run record in 1998.

In some ways, I now realize I had more access to players opinions of Mark and the Cardinals than the St. Louis Post-Dispatch baseball beat writers. Maybe that's why I feel the obligation to shed a little more light on the situation. Maybe it's because I wanted to call Mark McGwire a liar after watching his MLB TV "confession" where he said he only took small amounts of steroids and only did so to stay healthy. Another reason could be that I've interviewed Taylor Hooton's father and heard the pain in his voice when he described the influence that steroid-using athletes have on young people.

For me that was the 1998 season where record-breaking baseball players became akin to Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.

I was sitting next to the player's wives and children in the stands for both McGwire's season-opening grand slam and the fateful night he broke the home run record against the Cubs. At the time I was a freshman at Lafayette High School in West County St. Louis and my mother had become close friends with the wife of a Cardinal baseball player.

I'll spare you the back story on that one, but needless to say my younger brother and I were thrilled. My brother would spend every birthday at Busch Stadium when we were growing up and I wrote a 4th grade book report on Stan "The Man" Musial's biography. That project also featured a mock radio interview with Stan (played by my father), but I digress.

When my family was invited to the opening game of the 1998 season it was a dream come true. Sitting in the stands and watching Mark hit a grand slam gave me the goose bumps. It was amazing just to be a spectator.

As we got to attend more games and spend more time with the Cardinals players and their families it became clear that the Cardinals were actually "Mark McGwire and the Cardinals." I got the feeling many of Mark's teammates were frustrated by the fact that the team's season was revolving around his race for the home run record.

What made the scene even more dramatic and theatrical was Mark's psychic. She would attend the games and sit in the wive's section or another lower level area and signal Mark when he was going to have a good at bat. If I ever had any doubts that Mark cared more about breaking the home run record than his teammates, his health or his own sanity — this proved to me that nothing else mattered. I can't speak for all, but it appeared to me that the pyschic was not a welcome addition to the Cardinals entourage. I heard a lot of complaints about her and her access to the clubhouse.

When the news broke and Mark admitted that he was taking Andro it was like the day I realized Santa wasn't real: The facts always pointed to performance enhancing drug use, but you just didn't want to believe because he was on such an incredible home run hitting tear.

But no one had to tell me or my brother Mark McGwire was using steroids to help him hit home runs. My father played college football in the late 70s and taught us what to look for in athletes who were using steroids. He knew what steroids did the body and pointed out those features to us in people we saw playing professional sports. He wasn't a scientist and he didn't do roids, but he had a lot of locker room experience.

Most of the adults that I met didn't want to believe the evidence either. Mark's success was good for the town and good for the organization — the Cardinals had waffled in the postseason in the 90s and St. Louis was hungry for a winner. It makes sense that it took an Associated Press writer to break the Andro story. I don't think anyone at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch would have had the guts to write that story if they had seen the bottle in his locker.

Steve Wilstein, the AP writer who broke the story agrees with me. According to Wilstein, baseball beat writers accused him of trying to tarnish the home run race. That's why I can't stand the baseball beat writers who refuse to cover anything other than what happens on the field: when you ignore steroid use you are condoning it.

When Mark hit his 62nd and record breaking home run against the Chicago Cubs on Sept. 8 at 8:18 p.m. I should have felt like I was given an early birthday present. I turned 15 the next day and all I can remember is that was the night I quit believing in the magic of baseball.

I will always have respect for professional athletes, but there is something special, almost sacred, about witnessing a record breaking moment and steroids took the nostalgia of that moment away from me forever.