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.