Thursday, December 29, 2011

Knicks Look Bad in Loss to Warriors

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It's tough to expect NBA teams to come out firing on all cylinders this season after the lockout severely shortened training camps. The Knicks signed Tyson Chandler in the offseason and, two weeks later, they were playing the Celtics on Christmas Day.

It takes weeks, even months for a basketball team to gel on the court. The Knicks had the same issues last season after trading most of their roster for Carmelo Anthony and chemistry was still a work in progress two months later in the playoffs.

The need to preach patience with this team is evident. Last night's road loss to the Stephen Curry-less Warriors, however, was a poor performance all around. The Knicks held an eight-point lead with eight minutes to play in the third quarter but were outscored 52-30 over the final 20 minutes.

Brandon Rush scored 11 points in a nine-minute span and his 19 points in the game matched the output Golden State could have expected from Curry. Ishmael Smith, who started in place of Curry, outplayed Toney Douglas and exposed the Knicks' biggest weakness right now: The lack of a true point guard.

Upon signing Chandler, the Knicks had no choice but to amnesty Chauncey Billups and his $14 million salary. In losing Billups, the Knicks lost the only true point guard they had on their roster and, while Douglas had some good moments in the opening-round playoff loss to Boston, he's struggled to prove he's the answer in the season's first two games.

There's no real reason to rush to judgment as I alluded to earlier; the season is still young and even championship-caliber teams are going to have their inconsistent games in the first two or three months this season. But watching the Knicks struggle last night was extremely painful, especially against a team as defensively inept as the Warriors.

Chandler couldn't stay on the court with foul trouble, logging just 22 minutes, three rebounds and no blocked shots after swatting six against the Celtics in the opener. Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire shot 8-for-27 from the field and had just 29 points combined while Bill Walker had 14 points and made six of his eight shots off the bench.

When Bill Walker is your best offensive option, you're in trouble as a basketball team. The Knicks shot just 40 percent as a team and made only four of their 21 three-point attempts, allowing Golden State to generate easy baskets and build momentum at home late in the game.

A better performance should be expected from the Knicks against Kobe Bryant and the Andrew Bynum-less Lakers tonight. We saw last night though that it's not about who their opponent is missing, but whether the Knicks can keep their stars in rhythm.

This is not a deep basketball team, especially without Iman Shumpert for up to a month. Chandler needs to stay out of foul trouble because without him, the team's interior defense is even worse than it was last season. The Knicks also won't win many games when both Anthony and Stoudemire have bad shooting nights.

Last night was the worst-case scenario for the Knicks this season and boy, did they look pathetic. I don't expect games that bad very often this season but if they start to become the norm, New York basketball fans will be screaming Baron Davis' name before we know it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Fab Melo Hosts Block Party in Syracuse Rout of Seton Hall

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After losing Rick Jackson to graduation, many thought Syracuse would struggle to replace his 10.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. While the Orange have missed Jackson on the boards, sophomore Fab Melo has been a more imposing presence than his predecessor on the defensive end.

After blocking a Syracuse-record 10 shots in a 75-49 victory over Seton Hall where the Pirates managed just 15 first-half points, Melo is now averaging almost three blocks per game. That average puts Syracuse's most improved player this season just outside the national top 10, no small feat considering most of the players above him play at a much lower competition level.

Much has been made of Melo's transformation from last season, when he weighed about 275 pounds and averaged fewer than ten minutes per game. Much like highly-touted recruits Michael Carter-Williams and Rakeem Christmas this season, Melo was a significant disappointment as a freshman.

The seven-foot center came back ready in 2011, shedding over 30 pounds to drop a more desirable playing weight of 244 pounds. While Jackson was a solid interior defender, Melo's presence alone changes far more shots than the 6-9 Jackson could have dreamed of.

As much as I liked Jackson, Syracuse is better off with Melo at center this season than they were with Jackson and the same lineup last year. It helps that Melo has averaged over 20 minutes per game and shown the ability to run the court effectively, picking up cheap buckets as a trailer.

Melo isn't the only sophomore to come back and play a bigger role for the Orange this season, as guard Dion Waiters has almost doubled his scoring average, assists and steals while shooting over 50 percent from the field and provided a spark off the bench. Waiters was great once again against the Pirates, scoring 15 points on 7-for-10 shooting with three assists and three steals.

His improvement has led to an increase in playing time, which has helped Jim Boeheim limit the minutes of turnover-prone senior Scoop Jardine this season. Jardine is much more effective playing around 20 minutes per game than he was playing 30.

Seton Hall's Herb Pope came into the game with Syracuse averaging over 20 points per game and more than 11 rebounds. He left after a four-point night where he made just two of his nine shots. As a result, his team scored just 49 points. Other teams with big-time scorers who rely on getting points in the paint may face similar fates against the Orange.

Syracuse has always been a great defensive team in their 2-3 zone, but Melo's presence in the paint just may propel this team to their first Final Four since 2003, when they won the national title behind another Melo, Carmelo Anthony. It's not unfathomable to think that the nation's current top team could finish the season right where they are now: On top of the college basketball world.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Mark Sanchez: Should His Days in New York Be Numbered?

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It took almost three seasons of inconsistent play, but the media is finally starting to question whether the Jets should give up on Mark Sanchez. This is why they shouldn't.

Learning Curve

The quarterback position is the most difficult transition from college to the pros. I've always been an advocate that a quarterback should not start right away and, depending on the player, should sit on the bench for anywhere from half a season to two years.

Thanks to a lack of in-house options, Sanchez was thrown to the wolves right away with the Jets after just one season as a starter at USC. All he did was lead the team to two AFC Championship Games in his first two seasons and while that team was focused on defense and the running game, Sanchez made the plays he needed to make to move the offense and win football games. He saved his best football for the playoffs, when it mattered most.

Most people would agree that the top five quarterbacks in the NFL this season (excluding Peyton Manning, who didn't play) are Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning. The career progressions of these five quarterbacks shows how steep the learning curve truly is.

Case Study

Rodgers famously sat behind Brett Favre for three seasons until his breakout fourth season when he threw 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. We all know what he's done this season, his fourth as a starter.

Brady sat for one season, but didn't reach the 30-touchdown plateau until his eighth season as a starter. In the three years since, taking away the season he was injured, he has done it twice.

Brees sat for one season but didn't even crack 20 touchdowns until his fourth year in the league. Up until that point, many people were saying he couldn't cut it as an NFL starter.

Roethlisberger is the exception here, posting quarterback ratings over 98 in his first two career seasons as starter. Even he didn't crack 20 touchdowns until his fourth season, however, when he threw 32. His third season was actually the worst of his career with a 75.4 rating, 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions.

Manning sat for half a season and, after year three, the New York media was questioning him as well. His third season looks eerily similar to Sanchez's with 24 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and nine fumbles compared to 30 touchdowns (six rushing), 15 interceptions and 10 fumbles for Sanchez. Actually, Manning's was worse.

My point here is clear: Every one of the quarterbacks on this list got better after their third season in the league and with the exception of Brees, whose numbers jumped in his third year as a starter, none took a quantum leap until their fourth season starting in the NFL.

Aaron Rodgers never threw more than 30 touchdowns until this year, his fourth as a starter, and he has a shot at 50. Brady threw 50 in his seventh season; his previous high was 28 and he never totaled 30 touchdowns in a season before that like Sanchez has this season.

It took Manning until year five as a starter to post a quarterback rating over 80. If the Giants gave up on him after year three, they don't win the Super Bowl in year four. If the Chargers gave up on Drew Brees after year three, he may have become a career backup and the Saints wouldn't have a Super Bowl trophy from the 2009 season.

Quarterback is unlike any other position in the NFL where early failures are generally a sign of a busted pick. Some quarterbacks don't hit their full potential until they're close to 30. Sanchez's quarterback rating has risen every year as has his ability to make plays, not to mention he's just 25 years old.

In his first season, he totaled 15 touchdowns. He had 20 in year two and 30 so far this season. Yes, his turnovers are costly at times but he's dropping back almost 35 times per game and the Jets called 64 pass plays against the Giants last week! There are only a handful of NFL quarterbacks who can succeed when put in that situation.

Flawed Coaching Philosophy

One of the keys for the Jets on Saturday was to keep Sanchez effective by establishing the run and working off of play action, where he's one of the league's best. Instead, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer called almost 40 more pass plays than run plays against a team full of backup linebackers. What a genius.

Giving up on Sanchez isn't the answer for the Jets. The Peyton Manning trade talk will continue but New York has too many other holes to give up multiple draft picks to get him; they still won't win the Super Bowl (think about Manning's supporting casts in Indianapolis) and when Manning retires and they have no ring, they'll look really bad.

The answer here is firing Schottenheimer, which has been the answer for at least two years. If the Jets keep their embattled offensive coordinator on board, Sanchez will not be an NFL starter when his rookie contract expires in two seasons.

If the team starts fresh and brings somebody in that can play to Sanchez's strengths while developing other parts of his game, he has a chance to be a top 10-12 NFL quarterback considering the dearth of quality quarterbacks in the league today.

Let's take a quick look at the previous two quarterbacks Schottenheimer coached with the Jets. In his final two seasons with New York, Chad Pennington started 24 games and threw 27 touchdowns and 25 interceptions with an 83.8 quarterback rating. The year after when he went to Miami, he threw 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions with a 97.1 quarterback rating and won Comeback Player of the Year.

Brett Favre came to New York with high expectations but he struggled, throwing 22 touchdowns and 22 interceptions with an 81.0 rating in his one season as a Jet. What did Favre do the following year with Minnesota? He only threw 33 touchdowns compared to just seven interceptions and compiled a career-high 107.2 passer rating, the only time in his career he topped 100.

Struggles As a Team

People who say that Sanchez has regressed this season are missing the big picture. The Jets' entire team has regressed while Sanchez has improved, but the team's reliance on him to do more has exposed his flaws that were disguised when the team had a strong running game and an elite defense.

If New York can fill some of their other needs in the offseason, this team can definitely return to the playoffs with Sanchez at quarterback assuming he continues to improve like the majority of quarterbacks do from season three to season four.

I said before the season that 2012, not 2011, would be the year that decides Sanchez's NFL future and I stand by that assessment. If we're having this same discussion at the end of next season, it's probably time for the Jets to move on.

The Jets entire team was built to win over the past three seasons but rather than acquire a veteran quarterback to hold down the ship in 2009, they traded up to draft a rookie. Those are severely conflicting ideals and if the Jets are willing to give up on Sanchez after just three seasons, you have to start questioning their personnel decisions over the past three years more than their choice of quarterback.

Monday, December 19, 2011

New York Jets: Where do they go from here?

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Yesterday's game in Philadelphia can be described in a few ways. Pathetic. Disgusting. Embarrassing. There's more, but there's no reason to harp too much on what happened.

The Jets' 45-19 defeat is just one loss as Rex Ryan said, but it's also the fifth time in their six losses this season that the Jets have lost by more than a touchdown. This team cannot play from behind and considering they have scored first in just three of their 13 games this season, that's a bad thing.

This New York team obviously has a lot to improve on, but thanks to Detroit's comeback against Oakland they still hold the final Wild Card spot in the AFC and control their own destiny. Before the playoffs can come to fruition, the Jets have some work to do.

-Keep Mark Sanchez effective

At this point in Sanchez's season, we know what he is and what he isn't. He is a quarterback who can succeed as a game manager with an effective rushing attack in a close football game. He is not a stud that can have success throwing the football on every down to bring a team back.

That's not to say that Sanchez can't play with the game on the line. In his three-year Jets career, Sanchez has shown a propensity for fourth-quarter comebacks. This year, he's done it against Dallas, San Diego, Buffalo and Washington, accounting for half of the Jets wins.

It seems that Sanchez is the antithesis of Tim Tebow, however. When the Broncos have won this season, Tebow gets a ton of credit he doesn't deserve when his team gave him a lot of help throughout the game. When the Jets win the credit is generally thrown at the defense or the running game, while Sanchez serves merely as a scapegoat in Jets losses.

This includes yesterday, which just wasn't his fault. Santonio Holmes' fumble that was returned for a touchdown put the Jets in an early hole and his drop deep in Eagles territory a few minutes later landed right in the hands of Asante Samuel. The Eagles turned it into a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.

On the Jets next drive, Wayne Hunter's inability to contain NFL sack leader Jason Babin led to a third-down sack on the drive's only pass play. Philadelphia scored again to make it 21-0, then forced a Sanchez fumble that allowed them to go up 28-0 with a short field.

Up until that fumble, none of the Jets' deficit can be put on Sanchez. Does he overthrow receivers at times? Yes. Will he make some poor decisions with the football? Yes. But he doesn't deserve the vilification he gets most of the time and when the Jets win, he usually deserves more credit.

Being Mark Sanchez in New York is a tough gig. The Jets need to help him out by not giving up the ball on offense; if you recall, Dustin Keller got the ball ripped away from him after a catch earlier this season that turned into a Chargers touchdown and put the Jets in a hole to start the game. Sanchez makes enough mistakes on his own, but he'll also make plays when you need him to; just not when he's facing a multiple-score deficit.

-Stop putting the defense on the field first

This seems like a blasphemous statement, considering the Jets are obviously a better team on defense than on offense. Many times this season, however, that defense has allowed an opening-drive touchdown to put the offense in an early hole. From there, one three-and-out and another opposing score creates a double-digit deficit, and we know how well the Jets react to those.

It would be a novel idea to put the offense on the field first and let the Jets control the pace of the game from the start. This team has proven multiple times this season that they can only win a certain type of football game, so why not give the offense a chance to create that atmosphere?

When the Jets defense was suffocating over the past two seasons, deferring was the way to go to give them the ball in the second half. While the defense is still good, it's not the same unit we've gotten used to seeing. Rex Ryan may still have the utmost confidence in them, but maybe it's time to switch it up and show some confidence in the offense.

The Giants' defense is bad enough that the Jets can control the game on the ground in the early minutes and work off play-action, which plays right into their strengths. If the Jets win the coin toss again this week, I would love to see Ryan put Sanchez and the offense on the field first.

-Fix the run defense

This one is listed last because it's the most difficult of these three keys for the Jets to accomplish. Losing Jim Leonhard was a definite blow to this team from a leadership perspective but also against the run, something they have struggled with all season even with Leonhard in the lineup.

Bart Scott is a step slower and the Jets obviously miss veterans Shaun Ellis and Trevor Pryce along the defensive line, not to mention the season-ending injury to Bryan Thomas. Frankly, I'm out of ideas on how the team can fix these problems this season.

For this week, however, the Jets should be able to get away with bringing Eric Smith into the box and playing an eight-man front. Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are explosive on the outside, but Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie are probably the best cornerback tandem they have faced all season.

Unlike Brent Celek, Fred Davis and the other tight ends that have killed the Jets all season, Jake Ballard isn't a top-10 consideration at the position. He's had a solid season up to this point, but he's not the kind of tight end that will hurt the Jets down the field if they bring a safety up to help stop the run. If anything, slot receiver Mario Manningham is more of a threat running down the seam.

Even still, the Jets should be focused more on stopping Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. Both are effective runners on the edge, the part of the field the Jets struggle most to defend in the running game. If they can stop the run early with an eight-man front, open up a lead and make the Giants throw the football, they can drop Smith back into coverage and play the pass.

It may seem like a lot to ask, but Ryan and Mike Pettine have no choice but to use smoke and mirrors to cover up their defense's biggest weakness. The Jets' season and playoff hopes depend on it.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Early Observations From the Knicks-Nets Pre-Season Game

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The Knicks opened up their pre-season schedule today against the Nets with a 92-83 victory at Prudential Center. New York forced 25 New Jersey turnovers as new addition Tyson Chandler had both of the team's blocked shots and added three steals.

Other than a solid performance on the defensive end, there are a few other things that stood out about the Knicks' performance today.

-Iman Shumpert is a better shooter than we thought

We all knew Shumpert could play defense and the rookie from Georgia Tech showed that ability in the first half, using his long arms to slap the ball away from Deron Williams and take it coast to coast for an easy layup. The 17th overall pick also looked good shooting the basketball, touching nothing but the net on a few long jump shots early in the game.

The Knicks will need Shumpert to play 20-25 minutes per game this season behind Toney Douglas and Landry Fields, as he is already the team's best perimeter defender. Shumpert plays with confidence on both ends of the court and was aggressive with the ball in his hands, while Fields looked passive at times last season, especially after Carmelo Anthony arrived.

Nobody wants to overreact to one impressive pre-season performance but if Shumpert can find consistency with his jump shot, the rookie is more physically gifted than Fields and could find himself joining Douglas in the backcourt more often than not. Both are combo guards who can take on the ball-handling responsibilities, although Anthony will likely bring the ball down on occasion as well.

-Carmelo Anthony might be developing into a willing passer

For all of his offensive talents, Anthony is much maligned for being a black hole on offense. Generally when he touches the ball, he doesn't like to give it up. This left the Knicks offense stagnant at times last season and didn't allow his teammates to get into an offensive rhythm.

In today's game, Anthony showed that not only does he have the ability to be an effective passer but he might be willing to do more when it comes to orchestrating the offense. He showed off his passing ability on two nice second-quarter feeds to Renaldo Balkman for easy baskets at the hoop and set up a Tyson Chandler dunk in the third quarter with a beautiful bounce pass off of a pick-and-roll.

With the Knicks cutting Chauncey Billups thanks to the new amnesty clause, the team lacks a true point guard. The ball will be in Anthony's hands a lot on the offensive end and if he's willing to take on more of a point forward role in the offense to complement his scoring ability, this Knicks team could be even more difficult to defend.

-New York's bench has a nice mix of shooters and defenders

Everybody knows Mike Bibby can shoot; it's about the only above-average ability he has left at this stage of his career. Second-round rookie center Josh Harrellson out of Kentucky showed some long-distance ability as well and could help the Knicks stretch the court when he plays.

Harrellson was one of the most improved players in college basketball last season, which led to him being drafted in the second round after being well off the NBA radar before the season. He's deceptively athletic on the court and could give the Knicks some decent minutes behind Tyson Chandler.

Bibby and Harrellson should mesh well with the second unit, which looks like it will include Shumpert along with Renaldo Balkman and Jared Jeffries, three players who are known more for their defensive abilities. It will be interesting to see how Bill Walker may fit into Mike D'Antoni's rotation once his groin gets healthy, as he's another player who isn't afraid to toss up three-pointers off the bench.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Tyson Chandler: Did the Knicks Overpay?

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Tyson Chandler brought a defensive presence to the Mavericks last season that helped them win a championship. Now, he will try to bring the same presence to a Knicks team that sorely needs it.

Chandler signed a four-year, $58 million contract with the Knicks today, meaning the Knicks will have to use the one-time amnesty clause created by the new collective bargaining agreement to release point guard Chauncey Billups. This leaves the Knicks extremely thin in the backcourt, but gives them the interior defensive presence they have been lacking for years.

I've heard a lot of people say they think the Knicks overpaid for Chandler, but I disagree. It certainly seems to take them out of the running for an elite point guard like Chris Paul or Deron Williams, but the Knicks already play great offense. They struggle protecting the basket and outside of trading for Dwight Howard, another unlikely scenario, Chandler was the best option for the Knicks to fix their biggest problem.

This leaves the Knicks with Toney Douglas, Landry Fields and rookie Iman Shumpert to man the backcourt. Douglas will likely be the team's starting point guard and he's a player who benefited from Billups' veteran presence last season. Douglas learned things about the position he never knew from Billups and hopefully he can succeed in the role.

If Shumpert develops an offensive game, particular a better jump shot, he may be the Knicks' point guard of the future. For now, he will be a role player coming off the bench and his ability to defend three positions should mesh well on the court with Chandler's post defense and the Knicks two big scorers, Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire.

In the end, this is a big win for the Knicks. They may be out of the running for Paul or Williams now barring a trade including Anthony or Stoudemire, but they shored up their biggest weakness on the inside of their defense. Besides, waiting for something to happen with Paul or Williams could have left the Knicks with nothing, so why not get a player who can fill a need now?

Chandler should help the Knicks drastically improve their porous defense from the last few seasons, which may also attract even more players to play in the Big Apple. That's what Stoudemire did by signing last season and if the Knicks continue to add talented pieces that fill their needs, they could be legitimate championship contenders for years to come.

At the least, I bet the Heat are unhappy that the road to an NBA title (or in this case, an Eastern Conference title) may once again go through Tyson Chandler.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Syracuse Takes NIT Title With Late Comeback Against Stanford

This blog has become more of a hosting site for my other work than actual writing, hasn't it?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Syracuse Basketball: Preseason Opener Observations

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With the NBA still at the bargaining table and making little headway towards a new collective bargaining agreement, Syracuse's preseason game last night finally gave many die-hard basketball fans what they were looking for: on-court action.

Regardless of the competition level of opponent Cal St. Los Angeles, who flew across the country strictly for the experience and financial gain of playing a top-five team, it was nice to see the game of basketball being played rather than hearing about millionaires fighting over two percent differences in revenue sharing.

Syracuse won the game 79-49, but the halftime score was surprisingly close at 29-22. The Orange looked out of sorts offensively at times, but that's to be expected in the team's first action of the season. They stepped the scoring up in the second half with a 50-point outburst to open up the game and look more like a team ranked in the top five.

Anyway, here are a few things that stood out from the opener for Jim Boeheim's squad:

- Fab Melo looks rejuvenated and ready

At first glance, sophomore center Fab Melo looked slimmer walking onto the court before the game. At second glance, he looked quicker and more explosive while scoring six of Syracuse's first seven points. In 17 minutes of action, Melo led the team with 12 points and added eight rebounds, two blocks and a steal.

It would be asinine to anoint Melo as the savior after just one impressive performance, especially against an inferior team whose tallest player stood just 6-9. Somebody has to replace Rick Jackson though, and why not the seven-footer?

Melo was highly touted coming into last season but may have been the NCAA's biggest bust. Baye Moussa Keita returns as well and the Orange also brought in 6-9 forward Rakeem Christmas, but Melo is the player with the height and physical skills best suited to fill Jackson's shoes defensively and on the glass. Now, he just needs to keep improving and be consistent every night.

- Syracuse may be the deepest team in the nation

The Orange started the four players everybody would have expected in Melo, Brandon Triche, Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph, but the fifth was even shocked himself to get the nod. Christmas started alongside Joseph at forward, scoring six points, grabbing five rebounds and blocking three shots in his first 19 minutes of collegiate action.

Regardless of whether Christmas continues to start or Boeheim uses Keita or C.J. Fair when the Orange open the regular season, the rest of the team's bench is impressive. Dion Waiters would start on most NCAA teams while Michael Carter-Williams was one of the top recruits in the nation. For the record, I've already mentioned nine players.

Syracuse can go deeper than nine, too. Freshman Trevor Cooney wasted no time showing off his shooting prowess, making a three-pointer just 20 seconds after checking into the game. James Southerland returns as well and if his shot selection is improved from last season and he can cut down on turnovers, he deserves playing time as well.

Boeheim will have a lot of decisions to make with his lineup in the season's first few weeks. His team can legitimately go 11 deep at times, but no coach wants to play that many guys on a nightly basis.

Even still, I wouldn't be surprised to see Boeheim go with an 11-man rotation during the non-conference schedule to see which units work well together, although it will be interesting to see who will be the odd man (or men) out when Big East play rolls around. It may be Cooney even if he doesn't redshirt this season, but he might already be the best outside shooter on a team that lacks distance marksmen.

- If there's anything this team lacks, it's a go-to guy on offense

This was the major issue with the Orange last season and was a big reason for their early departure from the NCAA Tournament. Most expected Kris Joseph to take over last season in Wesley Johnson's stead, but he was passive at times and didn't take the reigns. Joseph didn't look the part last night, either.

In his defense, Joseph has been bothered by an injury to his knee, and not the same knee he underwent surgery on in the offseason. He wasn't himself last night and it showed, but it's still a question whether he possesses the killer instinct to put the Orange on his back when they need him to.

Triche is the other player of whom more is expected, especially since he was the Orange's most-improved player from the 2009 season to last year. His jump shot still looks somewhat inconsistent, but if him and Joseph can take the ball to the rim with authority that may be a non-issue.

Fair showed flashes of offensive brilliance last season and comes into 2011 with a supposedly improved jump shot thanks to an offseason of hard work. If Fair really has extended his game beyond 15-20 feet, Syracuse may be able to rely on the trio of Joseph, Triche and Fair to carry the scoring load without a true top dog.

Then there's Jardine, possibly the only member of the Orange who has never seen a shot he didn't like. He had nine points and seven assists last night and played the role of playmaker and distributor, a role that most fans would love to see him embrace rather than chucking up bad threes at inopportune times.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

St. Louis won the World Series, but did they deserve it?

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The Cardinals didn't win the World Series last night. The National League All-Stars won it in July.

In no way am I trying to take anything away from the Cardinals. They won this series by outplaying the Rangers in key moments when it mattered the most. It just so happens that it's easier to do that on the comfort of your own home field.

St. Louis stayed alive with two strikes and two outs in the bottom of the ninth of Game 6 thanks to World Series MVP David Freese, who also won that game for them in the 11th inning with a walk-off home run. After that momentum shift, the result of Game 7 was merely a formality.

For people who watched Game 6 and saw a clueless Nelson Cruz try to catch Freese's game-tying triple, it's hard not to think that he would have known where the wall was in his own home park and been more aggressive going after the ball. Before this year's World Series, Cruz had never set foot in Busch Stadium.

I'm not excusing Cruz's misplay, which essentially cost his team a World Series title. He's a highly-paid professional athlete, regardless of whether his strength is hitting home runs or making game-saving plays in the field. It's a play that could have been made, but is significantly more difficult in a foreign outfield.

If home-field advantage in the World Series was determined by team record like it should be, Texas would have played at home in Games 6 and 7. While the same exact scenarios are unlikely to unfold in a completely different park, you can't convince me that St. Louis wins this series without four games at Busch, "team of destiny" or not.

The home team won five of the seven games in this year's World Series, with the only exceptions coming in Game 2 in St. Louis and Game 3 in Texas. The final four games of the series, by far the most pivotal ones, were all won by the home team.

Ever since the 2002 All-Star Game ended in a tie, the result of the Midsummer Classic has affected which league gets home-field advantage in the World Series. It's absurd that the results from a game that doesn't matter has an effect on games that do and ultimately, the league's championship.

If the outcome of this year's World Series doesn't convince Bud Selig that his 2003 solution to "fix" the All-Star Game is flawed, nothing will. St. Louis beat both Philadelphia and Milwaukee to get to the World Series, and it's ironic that players from both teams helped them win once they got there.

Phillies pitchers Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee allowed just one run in the first three-and-two-thirds innings of the All-Star Game. If they had instead gotten shelled, the Rangers would likely be the team popping champagne like they won the championship game.

Brewers' first baseman Prince Fielder hit the three-run home run that put the National League up for good in the fourth inning. Think Fielder is happy that he aided a World Series victory for a hated division rival?

It's truly a shame that an All-Star Game from nine years ago affected the result of the 2011 World Series. It would be an even bigger shame if Selig didn't recognize his mistake and reverse it. If he doesn't, this won't be the last time the issues comes up. Mark my words.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

New York Jets: Will the bye week help them heading into the second half?

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Coming off their best game of the season, the Jets will take a week off before heading to Buffalo for a divisional clash with the 4-2 Bills. After building momentum with a great second-half performance against San Diego, is hitting their bye week a good or bad thing for the Jets?

Getting Healthy

The bye comes at a perfect time for numerous New York players, none more so than All-Pro center Nick Mangold. Mangold returned three weeks ago against New England but has been limited in practice and looked out of rhythm at times against the Chargers. He was even uncharacteristically called for multiple penalties last week, including one that negated an early Santonio Holmes touchdown and led to an interception two plays later. The extra rest should allow Mangold, who has been playing at less than 100 percent on a high ankle sprain, to fully heal so he can back to practice and take the necessary reps with the first-team offense.

The Jets much-maligned rush defense should also receive a boost after a solid performance containing San Diego's Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert. Mike DeVito hurt his knee in practice late last week and missed Sunday's game, while rookie Kenrick Ellis filled in and sprained his ankle in the first quarter. According to Rex Ryan, DeVito would not have been ready for a game this weekend but should be good to go for the Bills game, as should Ellis. The Jets will need both along a thin defensive front to stop Fred Jackson, who ranked second in the league in rushing before Buffalo's bye last week.

David Harris also suffered a sprained ankle in the second quarter against San Diego and missed time before returning later in the game. While his injury is far from worrisome, as it's not a high-ankle sprain like Mangold's, the extra week should allow him to make sure he's back at full strength as well.

The Jets running game finally got off the ground against a tough Chargers front seven, but both Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson missed snaps in the game. Greene appeared to injure his ankle on a non-contact play in the fourth quarter but returned to the game shortly after, possibly because Tomlinson was sidelined with the flu. Both players should be fine by this weekend, and a full week of practice behind an offensive line that finally seems to be gelling should lead to good things on the ground for the Jets against Buffalo's 25th-ranked rush defense.

Momentum Breeds Chemistry

The Jets seemed to put things together on both sides of the ball in the second half of last week's game and, after watching the tape and analyzing the good and bad from their performance, should be able to use the bye week to build on what they did right and eliminate what they did wrong last week.

Mark Sanchez and Plaxico Burress finally got on the same page, connecting for three short touchdowns that proved to be the difference in the game after having to field questions about their chemistry (or lack thereof) the week before. The pair certainly put those issues to rest with Sunday's performance and with two weeks to prepare for a Bills secondary that has struggled at times, fans have to wonder what's in store for an encore.

The Jets will also look to build on the momentum from their best rushing performance of the season and their first game holding the opposition under 100 yards on the ground since Week 1. Shonn Greene went over 100 yards for the first time all year, hitting holes that weren't there in previous weeks with newfound authority, creating yards after initial contact and bouncing off defenders like the pinball he was as a rookie. The defense held a hot Chargers running game to just 97 yards, forcing Philip Rivers to beat the Jets' secondary. He couldn't.

Confidence Lingers

Ryan and the Jets have always been a confident bunch, but now they will have two weeks to wallow in their biggest win of the season. That would be a negative for many teams, but this bunch has played with a target on their back since making the AFC Championship game in 2009 and seems to thrive under the expectations of success. It also seems to help when Ryan says something controversial in the week leading up to the game, which we should expect about a week from now.

Coming off a three-touchdown performance and two more weeks of practice with Burress and emerging rookie Jeremy Kerley, the inconsistent Sanchez should head into Buffalo on a high note with his receiving corps. He will need all the confidence he can get, as the Bills led the NFL with 12 interceptions before going on bye last week.

The defense has also played with a certain swagger, which seemed to return in the final 30 minutes against the Chargers, who struggled to move the football and didn't score a point after the second quarter. If the Jets can contain Jackson, Ryan Fitzpatrick may have a difficult time beating Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie considering the multiple injuries to his receivers.

Naysayers may believe that a two-week layoff is the worst thing to happen to the Jets right now, as they are flying high after a strong performance against a team many thought could represent the AFC in the Super Bowl (do we say that every year about San Diego?). However, New York is still a flawed team with issues they need to fix and you can bet Ryan has not lost sight of that after just two victories. The extra week should help the Jets further fix these flaws in preparation for a second-half playoff push.

New York finally put together a complete half for the first time all season and despite their struggles, still sit at 4-3, which says a lot about the potential of this team. With Baltimore losing a terrible game on Monday night in Jacksonville, no AFC contender has been as consistent as the Packers in the NFC. The playoff picture is still wide open and a confident Jets squad is one that nobody wants to play in the season's second half, especially consider they still haven't put it all together for an entire game this season.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Rex Ryan: Will Comments About Turner Help the Jets Win?

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In a development that shocks nobody, Jets coach Rex Ryan opened his mouth and created a buzz in the media on Thursday. Ryan was asked about his interview for the Chargers job in 2007, which eventually went to Norv Turner.

""Well, I think I would have had a couple of rings," Ryan said. "I'm telling you, those teams were loaded."

It's hard not to love it when Ryan makes comments like these. While they may not help Brian Schottenheimer open up the playbook or help the Jets' defense stop the run, they undoubtedly help deflect attention away from the on-field performance of his team and redirect it solely towards Ryan, making him the story. Win or lose.

Instead of talking about all of the issues facing his Jets team, which might have posted one of the most unimpressive 18-point wins in NFL history against Miami on Monday night, the media is all over Ryan essentially saying he's a better coach than Turner.

The Jets head coach isn't the first person to question Turner's coaching ability and he probably won't be the last. Ryan was right when he said the Chargers have been loaded over the past few seasons and honestly, what do they have to show for it?

In Turner's four seasons at the helm in San Diego, he has just an appearance in the AFC Championship Game in 2007 and an opening-round playoff win in 2008 to show for 41 regular-season wins. Ryan has two appearances in the AFC Championship Game in two seasons with the Jets and has definitely earned the right to say a few words. It also helps that Ryan's Jets beat Turner's Chargers to reach the AFC Championship Game in 2009.

Realistically though, the issue at hand is less about the past and more about this Sunday's matchup between AFC playoff hopefuls. Ryan has once again succeeded at taking the headlines away from his struggling football team and letting them rest solely on him, something he has done consistently since joining the Jets before the 2009 season.

Like it has in the past, this strategy should allow the Jets player to relax and fly under the radar heading into a big game at home, where they are 3-0 on the season. Ryan's detractors may claim that his comments put more pressure on his players to come up big this weekend but even if the Jets lose, the media will focus on the battle between the coaches before looking at the Jets' deficiencies as a football team. It's not a complete free pass for the players, but it's about as close as they're going to get.

Regardless of how you feel about Ryan's comments, one thing seems certain. The Jets will need to take shots downfield on offense and clamp down on Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert in the running game to have a chance against a very good Chargers team.

Ryan has set himself up to take the heat if his team loses Sunday and now, it's on the players to realize they have less to lose and come out strong early to make their beloved coach look good. It definitely wouldn't be the first time.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Brandon Lloyd Trade Rumors: Should the Jets make a play at the Broncos' receiver?

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With the Denver Broncos putting All-Pro receiver Brandon Lloyd on the trade market today, Jets fans should be intrigued. For a team struggling in all facets of their offense, adding a legitimate deep threat would seem to be a great move.

This is especially true considering the recent heat being placed on offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer for being too conservative. If the Jets added Lloyd before Tuesday's trading deadline, they would have no choice but to throw downfield to take advantage of his skill set.

Many may look at Lloyd's season last year and be tempted to label him a one-year wonder, but that couldn't be further from the truth. I've long been a fan of Lloyd's talent, almost stubbornly so, but he's always had the Pro Bowl ability he finally showed last season.

The main drawback for many teams interested in acquiring Lloyd is that he's a 30-year-old receiver who has played just one full season since 2005, which came last year. Perhaps that's the logic behind the Broncos asking price of just a third-to-fifth-round draft pick, which screams value.

Lloyd has been outspoken in his support of recently-demoted quarterback Kyle Orton and with Tim Tebow now at the helm in Denver and Lloyd set to hit free agency after the 2011 season, Denver may be somewhat desperate to make a move. With youth and depth at the receiver position and a need to rebuild, it makes perfect sense for the Broncos to test the waters.

With a bargain contract of $1.395 million and a reasonable asking price, Lloyd is a player the Jets should inquire about. General Manager Mike Tannenbaum is no stranger to trading draft picks for elite talent after trading a fifth-round pick for Santonio Holmes and a third-round pick (which became a second-rounder after the Jets' improbable 2011 playoff run) for Antonio Cromartie last year.

The Jets are still in win-now mode despite a 2-3 start and this marks the perfect opportunity to strike for a player of Lloyd's caliber. Plaxico Burress has been a moderate disappointment with just 13 catches for 202 yards, issues with dropped passes and a lack of chemistry with Mark Sanchez, while the trade of Derrick Mason opens up a spot in the receiving corps.

Sanchez and Lloyd would have to get on the same page quickly in order for him to make enough of an impact to help the Jets this season, but just the presence of a downfield playmaker might open up the short-to-mid passing lanes for the offense. If the two can't develop their chemistry and Lloyd leaves after the season, all it cost the Jets was a mid-round draft pick and a negligible contract.

This looks like a low-risk, high-reward situation for a Jets team that needs a spark, and Lloyd is exactly the kind of player New York could use to jumpstart their offense. While any trade involving Lloyd seems unlikely let alone one including the Jets, who haven't been reported as having interest since the news broke, it would be wise for them to at least look into making this move.

If the Jets can pull the trigger and turn their season around, we may very well look back at this trade as the reason the team made another run to the playoffs and potentially beyond in 2011.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

New York Jets: Who's to Blame for Slow Start?


After a 2-0 start at home in 2011, the Jets have dropped three straight road games to Oakland, Baltimore and New England, allowing 30 points to each team after letting up just 27 in the first two games combined.

That stat would make you think it's their defense that's letting them down and, to an extent, that's true. But it's difficult to play defense when your offense is consistently going three-and-out and you spend twice as much time on the field as you do on the sideline.

The recent trade of Derrick Mason for a conditional seventh-round draft pick may have a minimal impact on the field, much like Mason did in his short stint with the team, but the reasons behind the trade go much deeper and may hit on the ultimate problem for the Jets so far in 2011.

Mason and fellow receivers Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress reportedly approached Rex Ryan before the New England game to complain about Brian Schottenheimer's offense, as New York's top three receivers had just 35 receptions for 432 yards and three touchdowns through four weeks. By comparison, tight end Dustin Keller and running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene had combined for 41 catches, 521 yards and three touchdowns.

Many are quick to defend Schottenheimer's conservative offensive approach due to the development, or lack thereof, of third-year quarterback Mark Sanchez. Without a competent quarterback, you can't stretch the field in the NFL and hit your receivers with consistent success.

You also can't stretch the field if you don't try, and the Jets don't. They have attempted just 13 passes of over 20 yards this season, an average of fewer than three per game, despite Sanchez averaging almost 35 pass attempts per game.

Defenses have been able to play with eight in the box against the Jets all season, suffocating the short passing lanes and leaving no holes in the running games. As a result, Sanchez has been blitzed religiously and has nine turnovers in just five games, while Greene and Tomlinson have averaged just 3.3 yards per carry and are consistently being hit in the backfield before they reach the holes that don't exist.

That brings me to the Jets' next problem: Their offensive line. Many questioned the Jets' release of former Pro Bowler Alan Faneca last preseason, but the team still succeeded on the ground and all was quickly forgotten. But losing Damien Woody to retirement before this season cost the team another veteran presence in the trenches and one they have struggled to replace.

Matthew Slauson and Wayne Hunter probably aren't legitimate NFL starters and Brandon Moore is aging. While D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold are studs, the two games that Mangold missed proved disastrous for the Jets with undrafted rookie center Colin Baxter snapping to Sanchez.

Mangold returned for Week 5 and the difference was noticeable, but the Jets also played against one of the league's worst defense, if not its worst.

Speaking of bad defense, the Jets have had their share of struggles on that side of the ball too. They have been solid against the pass but their run defense leaves much to be desired. Linebackers Bart Scott and Calvin Pace are a year older, while defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson is a talented yet inexperienced rookie.

Losing Bryan Thomas for the season is another big blow to the New York run defense. Backup Jamaal Westerman is an excellent pass rusher, as seen by his two sacks against Tom Brady on Sunday, but Thomas is a former defensive end whose main job in the Jets' linebacking corps was stopping the run. Thomas' torn Achilles will keep him out for the rest of the 2011 season.

It seems like I've hit on every aspect of the Jets team as reasons for their early struggles this season outside of their special teams unit, which is arguably the only reason they aren't 1-4 after multiple big plays in Week 1 against Dallas.

As much as it's difficult for me to blame coaches when players don't execute, the players can't be expected to succeed with a gameplan that handcuffs their talents. If I had to choose the biggest culprit for the Jets' 2-3 start, it would be Schottenheimer. And as the percentages below tell you, it's not a particularly competitive blame game.

Brian Schottenheimer: 55%
Offensive line issues: 25%
Rush defense: 15%
Mark Sanchez: 5%

What it ultimately comes down to is this: If Schottenheimer would open up the offense and take even occasional shots downfield, it would make things much easier for Sanchez, Greene, Tomlinson and the offensive line.

If the offensive line could hold up longer in pass protection, Sanchez would have time to get the ball downfield rather than running for his life, which it seems like he's doing far too often this season.

If Sanchez was able to stay comfortable in the pocket as a result, he could find time to convert third-and-long situations. It seems like when the Jets face third-and-nine or longer, they complete a pass that falls a yard or two shy of the marker. This would prevent three-and-outs and give their defense some rest, which would help in stopping the run.

And if Sanchez would just throw the ball away sometimes or was better at feeling blind-side pressure, he could limit crucial turnovers that have either led to points for opposing defenses or quick turnarounds for the Jets defense.

As you can see, there's a lot of blame to be tossed around this organization after a 2-3 start and it's all interchangeable. When one part of the team struggles, the rest of the team feels it.

But trailing in the division by just two games, all hope is not lost. There's a lot of work to be done, however, and the Jets will need to fix a few things if they plan on contending.

Step one: Open up the offensive playbook. Sanchez has talent, but you can't expect him to show it without letting him loose. He's already turning the ball over, so what do you have to lose? You never know, the rest might just fall into place.

Monday, September 26, 2011

New York Jets Week 4 Report Card

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First off, let's be realistic and say that the way the Jets have played this season, they deserve to be 1-2 rather than 2-1. If it wasn't for Tony Romo's extra-early Christmas gift in the fourth quarter of the September 11 opener, they would be.
That being said, the grades in my upcoming report card won't reflect a team that's won two of its first three games. Let's get to it.

Rushing Offense:

It's unfair to grade the Jets based solely on their performance on the ground against a struggling Raiders' run defense, especially without starting center and offensive line captain Nick Mangold. While Shonn Greene had his best game of the season, he didn't even reach 60 yards (15 carries, 59 yards).

Just like last season, LaDainian Tomlinson looks like the best running back on the roster. He isn't running as well as he did at the start of last season and was essentially useless last week against Jacksonville, but Tomlinson totaled 154 yards on 11 touches this week, while Greene has 194 total yards all season.

Tomlinson is more of a factor in the passing game than Greene, which explains his lack of touches in the Week 2 blowout and his extensive usage in Weeks 1 and 3. Greene, however, caught seven passes for 47 yards against the Raiders and it looks like the Jets will look to get him outside the tackles more often.

With the team's current issues in the middle of their offensive line, the Jets will have to get Greene outside with tosses and swing passes if they hope to make him effective. He struggles to build momentum up the middle and looks plodding at times, but give him a head of steam and a 200-pound corner and you have a recipe for success.

The ground-and-pound mantra is dead, at least until Mangold returns in a few weeks and even with him, the running wasn't working. Two years ago, the Jets had an elite offensive line. Now, it's average at best

New York has two studs in Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson, an aging veteran in Brandon Moore and inexperience at the other spots. They will continue to struggle running the ball inside the tackles if they can't win the battle in the trenches.

Grade: D+

Passing Offense:

While the stats look pretty from the Oakland game, where Mark Sanchez completed over 60 percent of his passes for a career-high 369 yards, three total touchdowns and just one interception, the game tape tells a different story.

Sanchez was wildly inaccurate at times and careless at others. While he made a few big plays in the passing game, the stats are slightly skewed by a 74-yard dump pass early in the game to LaDainian Tomlinson. He also had 12 of his 27 completions to his running backs.

After being turnover-free through the first five games last season, Sanchez already has four interceptions and a fumble through three games in 2011. He has made many bad decisions and, combined with frustrating inaccuracy at times, hasn't taken the leap forward that many expected.

The only positive to take from Sanchez's early-season performance is that his completion percentage is way up, sitting at 63.1 percent compared to 55.4 for his career. He has accomplished this as offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has opened up the playbook with more shots down the field, something myself and many others who follow the Jets have been clamoring for since last season.

Sanchez still is nothing more than a game manager, but I still think it's too early to completely give up on him. I've always compared him to Ben Roethlisberger, who was the definition of a game manager in his first three seasons with the Steelers.

It wasn't until year four that Roethlisberger became a true playmaker with 32 touchdowns, not having reached 20 in any of his first three seasons. And while Big Ben started for three seasons at Miami (Ohio), Sanchez started just one at USC before joining the Jets. I doubt the lockout helped Sanchez either.

It may sound like I'm making excuses for the Jets quarterback, but I'm just choosing to take the route less traveled when it comes to Sanchez: patience rather than panic. If we're having this same conversation next season, I'll be done with Sanchez. But this year, it's not just his fault.

The real problem here is the Jets' lack of a successful running game. With the offensive line in shambles and a power back who can't seem to find space on the interior, New York will have to rely on the arm of Sanchez more than expected this season.

I'm not sure that's such a good thing for 2011, but maybe opening up the playbook and forcing him to win games rather than not losing them will finally allow him to develop into the player he has the talent to be.

Grade: C+

Rushing Defense:

Another area that was expected to be one of the strengths of the Jets has been anything but in the early part of the season.

The Jets allowed 234 rushing yards to the Raiders, including 171 on 19 carries for Darren McFadden. McFadden is an absolute stud, but for the Jets to allow nine yards per carry to anybody is shocking.

That performance came a week after the Jaguars ran for 112 yards on New York and, while they shut down Felix Jones and the Dallas ground game in Week 1, there is an obvious chink in this team's defensive armor.

The Jets' only loss along their front seven was defensive end Shaun Ellis, an aging run-stopper whose best days are clearly behind him. So what has made this unit so vulnerable in 2011?

Is David Harris still hobbled by his toe injury? Are Bart Scott, Calvin Pace and Sione Pouha just another year older and step slower? Is rookie Muhammad Wilkerson's presence along the defensive line a detriment? All of the above?

We'll learn the answers to these questions in the coming weeks, likely this Sunday when the Jets face former New Rochelle and Rutgers standout Ray Rice and the Ravens. If this unit is legit this season, they need to bounce back with an inspired performance and at least contain Rice this week. If not, it could be a long season for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.

Grade: C-

Passing Defense:

The Jets made journeyman Luke McCown look like a complete clown in Week 2 but then again, he's always been a complete clown. Jason Campbell was his typical average self on Sunday and Tony Romo was having a great day through the air in the opener until he folded late.

I have less complaints about New York's pass defense than I do with any other facet of their team. It's hard to argue that there's anybody better than Darrelle Revis at the cornerback position because you never hear his name called unless Romo is throwing a ball right into his chest.

I can definitely complain, however, about the still-inconsistent play of Antonio Cromartie, who coincidentally got paid big money once the lockout ended.

After one of the best games of his career against McCown and the Jags which included two interceptions and a touchdown, Cromartie was burned and flagged repeatedly against Oakland. If there's one thing the Raiders' receivers have it's speed, and Cromartie struggled to run with them or stay with them out of their breaks.

I'm not looking forward to watching Cromartie attempt to defend either speedy Ravens Lee Evans or Torrey Smith next week, especially after Smith's three-touchdown breakout against the Rams.

The Jets' pass rush is still non-existant outside of blitz packages, which are difficult for Rex Ryan to dial up when Cromartie can't cover anybody. Wilkerson is not ready to be the pass rusher this team needs and they will continue to be very boom (see: Jags game) or bust (see: Cowboys game) until they can pressure the quarterback with a four-man rush.

Grade: B-

Special Teams:

As usual, Mike Westhoff has the Jets' special teams unit playing at a high level. If not for a well-designed punt block that sprung Joe McKnight free up the middle, New York would have never beaten Dallas in Week 1.

I like what I've seen out of Jeremy Kerley on punt returns; he's small, quick and isn't afraid to go upfield first and gain a few yards rather than running sideways and gaining nothing.

As for kick returns, I'm fine as long as Antonio Cromartie never sees another ball. His fumble against Oakland essentially handed the Raiders the game late and, while he can be a game-breaker, the potential for good does not outweigh the potential for bad considering the new kickoff rules. All risk, minimal reward.

Nick Folk gives me no reason to complain, making all six of his field goal attempts this season, while T.J. Conley is what we thought he would be at punter. He's not crushing balls (41.4 yards per kick) but he has done a decent job of hanging balls in the air and placing them around the sidelines to prevent big returns.

Grade: A-

As you can see from my grades, I'm very disappointed in the Jets' performance through three games this season. Their record may sit at 2-1 but if they played up to their potential, they could definitely be undefeated. They also could (and should) be 1-2.

That's not to say I don't have confidence in this team turning things around, but it needs to happen sooner rather than later. No disrespect to the resurgent Bills who are a legitimate team for the first time in a while, but the Jets needed to take advantage of the Pats early loss on Sunday. They couldn't.

With three teams looking like 10-win possibilities within the division and the Ravens and Steelers looking the same way in the AFC North, one of these five teams will miss out the playoffs. If the Jets don't pick things up in the coming weeks in every facet of the game, it very well could be them.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Looking for the real scapegoat for NCAA realignment? Look no further than the BCS

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Syracuse and Pittsburgh continued the exodus of college programs from the Big East and Big 12, in essence destroying the country's best basketball conference and possibly its second best as well.

Football will always be the breadwinner in college athletics, and obviously the moves made by schools like Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Texas A&M were strictly related to increasing the revenue received from their football program.

Big East football hasn't been the same since Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College all left for the ACC in 2005 and from that standpoint I can see why Syracuse and Pitt are leaving the conference.

But I can't help but think that if the Bowl Championship Series was never adopted back in 1998, we wouldn't be seeing radical changes to the NCAA conferences. The BCS rewards power conference teams and devalues the accomplishments of teams from mid-major conferences.

While the Big East is still technically a "power conference" in the eyes of the BCS, its deterioration as a football conference leads to lower strength of schedule rankings for its teams and therefore, a more difficult road to the top of the BCS.

The BCS led TCU to commit to joining the Big East last November for the 2012-13 season. Leaving the Mountain West for a "power conference" would certainly help TCU's chances at a national title bid, but what will happen now to the Horned Frogs and the rest of the Big East?

We're still waiting for all the dominoes to drop, the next big ones looking like Texas and Oklahoma. If the Longhorns and Sooners leave the Big 12, it would create the possibility of the remaining schools like Kansas joining the Big East. The conference would be garbage in terms of football, but would sustain viability in basketball.

If Texas and Oklahoma leave, maybe Boise St. would join the Pac-12 or another power conference, giving their football program more viability as a national-title contender. And even if those schools stay, Boise St. may be able to find a power-conference suitor if other teams leave.

In the end, this realignment will lead to fewer, larger "super conferences" and will likely include more total teams than the current alignment, giving more programs the opportunity to compete to make the title game.

If only college football had adopted a playoff system by now, Syracuse and Pitt would still be members of the Big East. TCU wouldn't have joined last year either, and I doubt any of this realignment would be happening right now.

It's a terrible development for somebody like me from the Northeast, who is admittedly less obsessed over college football than 90% of the country that resides west and south of Pennsylvania. I prefer college basketball, in part due to the always-competitive nature of the Big East, my local conference.

Now the BCS has essentially taken Big East basketball away from me. No longer will the mecca that is Madison Square Garden host the Big East tournament, one of the more exciting postseasons in sports. The ACC tournament may be there once every three of four years, but that's little consolation

Out of 16 teams in the Big East, 11 won 20 games and had .500 conference records. The depth of the conference made almost every game interesting and even when my beloved Orange weren't playing, I would go out of the way to watch random Big East games. The entertainment level was through the roof.

But now, the conference has lost two of its powerhouses. If the Big 12 dissolves and teams like Kansas and Kansas St. enter the Big East, it will still be a decent basketball conference even if it loses more schools with football programs, like Connecticut and West Virginia, to the ACC. But it will never, ever be the same, especially with the loss of rivalries departing schools had with the remaining ones.

Thanks to the BCS, college basketball has been ruined ever so slightly for myself and many others. And until college football adopts a playoff system, the national-title picture will continue to be one big joke, "super conferences" or not.

With college football being no better and college basketball being worse, this whole situation is a lose-lose for NCAA sports. Just not financially.

More and more programs will now have the opportunity to line their pockets with football-generated millions, while players continue to see none of the profits they so obviously create.

Paying college players is another topic for another day. But it's a topic that will only garner more attention than it recently has in the near future, and rightfully so.

Realignment proves that college sports is nothing more than a professional business focused on making money. And for these business to refuse to pay their student-athletes is absurd. Give up the amateur pretense, NCAA. This realignment is officially the last straw, and nobody is buying it anymore.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

NFL Teams Going After Rival's Free Agents Like Never Before

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In the modern era of NFL free agency, it has become commonplace to move from one location to the next. It's also becoming an industry trend for players to leave their old teams to sign with their biggest rivals.

Case in point: Ex-Giant Steve Smith signed with the Eagles yesterday. Smith says the Eagles wanted him more, which is just as much about him spiting the Giants for not showing serious interest in bringing him back than it is about Philadelphia wanting him.

This also isn't the first example of a New York player going to his former team's biggest rival this offseason. Former Jets defensive end Shaun Ellis, an 11-year veteran who was drafted by New York in 2000, took a similar path last week when he signed a one-year contract with the Patriots.

While Smith is in the prime of his career, Ellis is nothing more than a rotational lineman at age 34. Both players will have an impact on their new teams, but let's start with Smith.

From the Giants point of view, I understand. They have a budding superstar in Hakeem Nicks and a former third wide receiver in Mario Manningham who looks primed to breakout and become a solid No. 2. Smith is also a question mark thanks to microfracture knee surgery.

They drafted Ramses Barden last season and have guys like Domenik Hixon and last year's pre-season standout Victor Cruz, so it's not like the Giants don't have a few guys vying for playing time. Regardless, Eli Manning is going to miss Smith.

Manning has proven to be turnover-prone throughout his career, throwing at least 17 interceptions in four of his six seasons as a full-time starter. He threw a career-high 25 last season, which I believe to be a direct result of Smith's injury issues.

In the first eight games of the season, in which Smith caught at least four passes in all eight, Manning threw 11 interceptions. In the final eight games, where Smith played in just one game and caught only one ball, Manning threw 14 interceptions, a rise almost half an interception per game.

Manning had just one game without an interception during the season's second half; he had three such games with Smith in the lineup.

The Eagles recognized this and also saw the value in signing Smith for cheap (yes, $4 million is cheap for a Pro Bowl-caliber player). They are deep at receiver even if Jeremy Maclin's personal issues take him into the regular season and can afford to wait a few weeks while Smith gets healthy.

Even if Smith doesn't return at a high level, the Eagles will take advantage of his absence when they play the Giants. With a revamped secondary and Jason Babin added to rush the passer, Manning will struggle against Philadelphia without his favorite security blanket.

Nicks and Manningham are big-play receivers and neither can replace what Smith did for the Giants. Manning's receiving options look limited this season, especially with Kevin Boss' departure - although I like Travis Beckum.

Smith should have a larger impact on the field in Philadelphia than Ellis in New England, but the former Jet will help Bill Belichick in many other ways.

Ellis knows the Jets organization in and out, especially their defensive schemes over the past few seasons under Rex Ryan. Like Smith, he didn't feel wanted by the organization and will likely be looking to spite the Jets.

What Ellis can't do on the field anymore, he will likely do in the film room and on the sidelines. He knows the defense, he knows the players he will be lining up against and he knows how to beat them.

Whether he can do it himself anymore, Ellis will help everybody else along the New England line when it comes to playing against New York.

He won't make the on-field impact that Jets castoff Danny Woodhead made when he signed with New England early last season, but don't think he won't be an asset to the Pats. Bill Belichick wouldn't have signed Ellis if he didn't think he would help in some way.

It's too early to tell what will happen when the Jets and Pats square off and the same goes for the Giants and Eagles. But the defection of Smith and Ellis to bitter division rivals sways the pendulum slightly towards Philadelphia and New England. At least for now.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Jets re-sign Harris, going after Umenyiora?

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The Jets assured their "Core Four" will remain together for another three seasons by re-signing linebacker David Harris to a four-year, $36 million deal, including $29.5 million guaranteed, the most for a linebacker in NFL history.

This deal confirms that Harris, Darrelle Revis, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold will remain in green and white until 2014, when Revis' restructured contract expires.

After the Jets gave Santonio Holmes $50 million and Antonio Cromartie $32 million, many wondered whether Harris would remain unsigned by the team heading into next offseason.

New York knew they couldn't afford to let Harris hit free agency in 2012, not with Bart Scott aging and the premium on middle linebackers in their 3-4 defense. The team also saved $6.4 million dollars on the 2010 salary cap by backloading the deal.

The Jets may find themselves in cap hell in a few seasons but they're playing for a championship right now, future be damned. With an extra $6.4 million this season, what else could the Jets possibly do?

With Shaun Ellis still unsigned and first-round pick Muhammad Wilkerson behind the eight-ball thanks to the lockout, the rumors have begun to swirl about the Jets poaching another player from the Giants to bolster their pass rush - disgruntled defensive end Osi Umenyiora.

Umenyiora believes he's a top-five defensive end. I don't, and I don't think many people around the NFL do either. The Giants were reportedly looking for a first-round pick in exchange for Umenyiora, but have since realized that nobody is willing to part with one.

Under the new collective bargaining agreement, which significantly lowered rookie salaries and signing bonuses, high draft picks have even more value now than ever. Teams already overvalued their first-round picks in the pre-lockout days, meaning now most NFL squads won't be so willing to part with their top picks.

I think the Giants can legitimately expect a second-rounder in return for Umenyiora, especially from a good team who won't have a second-round pick that lands inside the top 50 or even the top 60.

AFC rivals Baltimore and New England are also interested in the Giants defensive end, meaning the Jets will have some competition if they throw their hat into the ring. If anything, trading for Umenyiora to keep him away from Bill Belichick would be a win for New York.

Any team that trades for Umenyiora will have to sign him to a new contract, even though he has two years left on his current deal. The Jets just freed up enough cap space to cover a large portion of the contract they would have to give Umenyiora.

This is a match made in heaven. The Jets desperately need a pass rusher along the defensive line, have the money to pay Umenyiora and have shown a willingness to move draft picks for immediate help.

After trading a fifth-rounder and third-rounder respectively for Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie last season, the Jets would be making a huge blunder if they refused to move a second-rounder for Umenyiora this season.

Holmes and Cromartie were impact players the moment they stepped on the field for New York, much more so than any fifth or third-round pick would have been.

This team is trying to win now and everybody knows it. Make the move now, worry about the money later. It's not like they haven't been playing by that strategy all along.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Can the Jets legitimately sign Holmes and Asomugha?

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First off, I would like to say "Welcome back" to myself. After over a week away from the writing world and a few months away from serious football discussions, I am back in business.

In the three months after the NFL draft, I conducted my own personal "boycott" of the NFL. Deep down I thought they could get a deal done and I was far more optimistic of their chances than those of the NBA, but I wasn't going to give them attention they didn't deserve. At least not until I get paid for this.

I didn't even start my fantasy football league until yesterday, despite the ability to open it weeks ago. You want my business? Get back on the field, and that's exactly what the NFL has done.

Now it's time to get down to what the Jets need to do in the next few days to solidify their chance at another deep playoff run.

The first order of business for New York is to re-sign Santonio Holmes. Holmes is the best offensive player on the market and he made a huge impact for the Jets after returning from his suspension last season.

In 12 games last season, Holmes had 52 receptions for 746 yards and six touchdowns. In his final nine, he had 42 catches for 616 yards and all of his scores.

It took Holmes three games to get acclimated to Mark Sanchez and the Jets' system but once he did he was a difference maker, scoring game-winning touchdowns in the final 10 seconds (or on the final play) in two consecutive November victories.

I know the Jets have other free agents to sign, namely Braylon Edwards and Antonio Cromartie, but Holmes is easily the best player of the three. Edwards and Cromartie are top-10 names in this free agent period, but there's another big name the Jets are rumored to be after.

Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, arguably the league's top cover corner (along with current Jet Darrelle Revis), is hitting the market. It's rare that a player of this caliber becomes an unrestricted free agent and the Jets would love to pounce on the former Cal stud.

I think Asomugha and Holmes are the two best players available. The real question is: Can the Jets afford both?

Already $1.2 million over the new salary cap, New York has some tough decisions to make. They can restructure the contracts of players like D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas, but will that be enough to allow them to pay two top-tier free agents?

I'm no salary cap expert, but I'm not sure the Jets will be able to afford these two players. So the question becomes, who should the Jets go after harder?

If the Jets add Asomugha and lose Holmes, it will be absolutely impossible to throw on this team. They were a top-six pass defense last season and the Raiders were second, mainly due to Asomugha's presence.

Combining Asomugha and Revis would make New York's pass defense the best in the NFL, hands down. With an already solid group of linebackers and Shaun Ellis being the only potential loss along the defensive line, the Jets run defense would also stay in the top 10 after ranking third last season.

It's a legitimate possibility that the Jets could allow fewer than 15 points per game if they sign Asomugha after allowing 19 points per game last season. But would their offense be able to move the football?

Even with Holmes and Edwards last season, the Jets sometimes struggled to score points. Losing his top two receivers would not help Mark Sanchez's development, even if New York brought in players like Plaxico Burress, Randy Moss or Sidney Rice if they could afford him.

LaDainian Tomlinson is a year older and another year slow and while Shonn Greene is likely to take on an increased workload, he's yet to prove he can handle the extra touches.

If the Jets keep Holmes and miss out on Asomugha and Cromartie, they will be stuck with Kyle Wilson on the other side. Unless Wilson made vast improvements during the lockout, which seems unlikely, he's not ready to start at the NFL level.

The Jets may have Revis shutting down one side of the field but Wilson will get picked on all day, not to mention how bad the Jets nickel and dime backs will be.

Keeping Holmes would mean the Jets offense could stay afloat and Sanchez would avoid a disastrous third season. But would that be enough to overtake New England and finally win the division?

It really doesn't matter who wins the division, as the Jets proved last season. The defensive-minded Jets beat the offensive-minded Patriots in the playoffs because of the way the teams were built.

Adding Asomugha to an already stacked defense would make the Jets a force to be reckoned with in cold-weather playoff games. As much as I love Holmes, if I had to choose one player, it would be Asomugha.

There are talented but troubled wide receivers on the free agent market that would come cheaply as low-risk, high-reward gambles. Burress and Moss are the two names the come to mind.

Both of those receivers have reputations as selfish players, but both would step into roles where they would see a lot of balls thrown their way. That, along with the opportunity to play for a winning football team, means these two could be excellent gambles.

Filling the cornerback position opposite Revis will not be cheap for the Jets. And having Revis and Asomugha locked up for multiple seasons gives the team time to draft talent at receiver as well, leaving their Super Bowl window open for a few more seasons.

The NFL is a passing league. If you can stop the pass, you can win games. No matter how bad their offense might be, Revis and Asomugha would allow the Jets to do just that.

The Jets would love to get their hands on both Holmes and Asomugha, but that would take some skillful cap maneuvering. They will likely have to choose one, and the choice should be Nnamdi.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Anthony and Stoudemire give Knicks fans another reason to root against a lockout

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After reports surfaced that Deron Williams has a deal in place to play in Turkey if the NBA lockout doesn't end before next season, similar rumors swirled around Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.

Stoudemire and Anthony reportedly reached out to the players' union about rules and insurance issues of playing overseas. Stoudemire's agent said his client is not interested but if he was, this would be terrible news for Knicks fans.

The major problem with this idea is the risk of injury. The Knicks were one of the few teams willing to give Stoudemire a max contract last offseason because of his injury history, which includes retina surgery and microfracture knee surgery.

Stoudemire also was ineffective in the Knicks' first-round playoff series against Boston due to a pulled back muscle, which he is still in the process of rehabbing.

Even Anthony has not been allowed to lift weights or shoot a basketball while rehabbing right elbow bursitis and, while that injury is nowhere near as serious as any of the ones in Stoudemire's past, it still proves the point that the Knicks can't afford to have their two stars risking injury overseas.

I've said previously that the Knicks can't afford to lose a season during the prime of their star players due to a lockout and this news adds to that sentiment. What happens if, god forbid, Stoudemire plays overseas and suffers a career-threatening injury?

The Knicks could not get insurance on Stoudemire's contract when they signed and if he was injured overseas, they surely would not have to pay him the balance of his $100M contract. Both Stoudemire and the Knicks would be screwed.

That scenario would leave the team with money to sign another big-name player, but would also ruin the current team structure Donnie Walsh and others have worked so hard to build and set the rebuilding process back a year or two.

While Knicks fans need to root against an extended lockout, they also need to root against their stars going to play overseas. The move makes sense for Deron Williams, who has just two years left on his contract, can opt out after next season and may not want to stay in New Jersey anyway.

Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony are not Deron Williams. Stay put, boys.