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Sunday, August 29, 2004 

Road Improvement

After last week's debacle, New England had nowhere to go but up. They lost in Carolina last night to the Panthers 20-17, but the final score was decided by the third-stringers in the fourth quarter. While the Patriots cost themselves scoring chances with a ridiculous number of penalties (15 for 128 yards), I was glad to the see the offensive and defensive lines play better. Tom Brady was sacked for a big loss by Julius Peppers to end the first drive of the game, but had plenty of time to throw for most part. He completed his first 6 passes (7 if you count the bomb to Bethel Johnson that was wiped out by a Corey Dillion holding penalty) and looked very sharp overall except for one interception. Brady spread the ball around, as David Patten continued his strong preseason with 6 catches, rookie TE Benjamin Watson added 6 more including a TD, and Deion Branch caught 5.

While the defensive line did not have to face the injured Stephen Davis (too bad, would have been a better test), they held their own against DeShaun Foster. It was nice to see the Panthers go three and out on their first two possessions while the Patriots controled the clock.

The first cut-down day is Tuesday, then a quick turnaround for the last preseason game against Jacksonville on Thursday, followed by a week off before the opener against Indy.

 

Hail to the Chief

With the Republican National Convention opening in New York City tomorrow, politics is on my mind. With apologies to the Red Sox radio guys (Joe and Jerry), here's my all-Republican team:


RB Keith Lincoln San Diego/Buffalo 1961-68 (AFL)
DL Roosevelt Manning Atlanta/Phila. 1972-75
WR Ike Hillard New York Giants
CB Tory Nixon San Francisco 1985-88
DL Henry Ford Houston 1990's
RB/DB Frank Reagan Giants/Phila. 1941, 1946-51
LB Frank Bush Houston 1985-86

In the spirit of bi-partisanship, here's the Democratic lineup:


DL Cortez Kennedy Seattle 1990's
KR/WR Billy "White Shoes" Johnson Houston/Atlanta 1974-88
WR Cris Carter Phila/Minnesota 1990's
CB Charles Clinton Houston 1987

And who could forget TE Andre President, who played 1 game for New England and 2 for Chicago in 1995? :-)

 

Spreading the News

As the NFL TV contracts get set to expire after the 2005 season, three news items have caught my attention recently. First, the NFL Network will become available on Comcast Digital Cable in September. As the NFL Network reaches more homes, it increases my fear that the NFL will try to use it as leverage against the traditional TV networks. I'm sure the NFL loves the idea of eventually leveraging Comcast's on-demand service...

Speaking of "all NFL, all the time", the Cowboys Channel will start airing on Comcast in September, and the Patriots ownership may be leaning in that direction as well. A Patriots channel might have trouble competing against NESN (Red Sox, Bruins) and Fox Sports New England (Celtics) year-round, but they could offer exclusive access to pre-season games and post-game press conferences that die-hard fans would appreciate.

And finally, there are rumors that ABC wants to cancel Monday Night Football. As I've written before, I think a more flexible prime-time package would make more sense.

Saturday, August 28, 2004 

Quick Hits

After losing Correll Buckhalter to a season-ending injury last week, the Eagles signed Dorsey Levens to add some depth. Levens played mostly a short-yardage role with the Giants last year. Brought in to provide a better compliment to Tiki Barber (while Ron Dayne sat on the bench), Levens did not play until week 7 and was used inconsistently at first. Over the last month of the season, as the Giants season withered away, Levens got 6-8 carries per game with mixed results (3.0, 4.6, 0.7, 2.4 per rush per game). But at 34, his best days are clearly behind him, so the most the Eagles should expect is a few carries in the red zone to spare Westbrook some pounding.

Speaking of the Giants, it looks like Tom Coughlin is going to have to choose between a fumble-prone Kurt Warner and an inconsistent Eli Manning as his starting quarterback. Last night, Manning completed just 4 passes for 20 yards with 2 INTs in a 17-10 loss to the Jets. Warner was an impressive 9 for 11 for 104 yards, but fumbled twice (one recovered by the Giants, the other negated on a penalty). Warner has likely won the job, but given Coughlin's low tolerance for mistakes, this could be a long year in the Meadowlands.

I also wonder if we'll ever get the full story on Quincy Carter's release by the Cowboys. I have a hard time believing that the Jets would have signed him if the drug rumors were true.

Sunday, August 22, 2004 

Dreadful

There isn't much good to say about last night's Patriots game. Losing 31-3 to the Bengals would be bad enough, but the disturbing part is that the Patriots were unable to control the line of scrimmage on either offense or defensive. It's a cliche, but if you can't stop the run you have problems. Last season, the defensive backs got most of the press with their league-leading 29 interceptions, but it was Ted Washington and the other guys up front who held opponents to 89.1 rushing yards per game, third-best in the league. (By comparison, the Patriots were 18th in passing yards allowed.)

Hopefully the Patriots will show some improvement when they play the Panthers later this week. The Panthers will definitely be motivated, and Jake Delhomme is coming off a great performance against the Giants.

 

Run away

I never like it when a player forces his way out of town. The Dolphins traded DE Adewale Ogunleye to the Bears yesterday for WR Marty Booker and a draft pick. Booker replaces the injured David Boston and gives the Dolphins back some quality depth at that position. However, I wonder how much the loss of Ogunleye will affect Jason Taylor by giving opposing offenses less to worry about. It seems Wannstedt wants to get all of the distractions out of the way and try to build a team around the players who want to be there. But it would have been a better deal if they could have landed a running back with some upside.

Saturday, August 21, 2004 

Answering the bell

After Correll Buckhalter's season-ending knee injury last night (torn ACL), it's up to Brian Westbrook to carry the load for the Eagles. Last season, Westbrook reached double-figures in carries just 4 times, and was not a factor in the passing game until the second half of the season. By comparison, Buckhalter had 6 games with 10+ carries, and Duce Staley (now with the Steelers) had 3. It will be interesting to see how Westbrook handles the extra pounding since he's a fairly small back (5-8, 200). Similar concerns have been raised in the past about Priest Holmes and Warrick Dunn. Holmes has stayed healthy and is arguably the best back in the league. Dunn hasn't, and now T.J. Duckett is looking over his shoulder.

If Westbrook falters, the lack of a running game will make it hard for Donovan McNabb to get enough time in the pocket to hook up with Terrell Owens downfield. And we all know what a distraction an unhappy Terrell Owens can be...

Saturday, August 14, 2004 

Early Kickoff

New England won its first game of the preseason last night, 24-6 over Philadelphia. The starters didn't play much, as expected, especially with the pouring rain early in the game. It's always dangerous to draw conclusions from preseason, though new additions RB Corey Dillon and P Josh Miller appear to be upgrades at those positions and NT Keith Traylor held his own between Richard Seymour and Ty Warren on the defensive line. Backup QB Rohan Davey was shaky, and one of his touchdown throws was lofted into a crowd and likely would have been intercepted if more experienced defensive backs were in the game. Of course, Philadelphia is a young team in the secondary, especially at cornerback, so New England's success through the air last night needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

Sunday, August 08, 2004 

Serious Business

Has anyone else has paid attention to the recent NFL decision to replace its internet game audio feeds with a service on Sirius, one of the major satellite radio providers? It's being rolled out with ads featuring Tom Brady and John Madden. At the moment, I don't subscribe to Sirius or XM, nor do I have high-speed internet service, so take the following comments for what they're worth.

I wonder if internet radio broadcast revenues were disappointing, or if the NFL simply sees a bigger upside with Sirius. Major League Baseball still has game audio on-line (I used to listen occassionally at a previous job :-) but baseball lends itself better to radio, and it might be easier to sell a package of 162 games to an occasional listener than just 16.

The technology could also be a factor. Some folks are still scared of computers. The Sirius service looks easier to integrate into a home stereo system than a typical computer audio setup. Plus, Sirius is cheaper than the high-speed internet service you need to reliably listen on-line.

The bottom line is that the NFL appears to be leaving no stone unturned when it comes to investigating alternative media. Who knows, some misplaced fans might buy the NFL Sunday Ticket package and the Sirius radio package so they can watch their favorite team and listen to the hometown announcers.

Saturday, August 07, 2004 

Big D

Is Dallas doomed? The tangled demise of Quincy Carter this week leaves the offense up to Vinny Testaverde for now until Drew Henson is ready. I couldn't help flashing back to 1993 when Bill Parcells signed the immortal Scott Secules to play QB until a rookie named Drew Bledsoe was ready. Bledsoe won the job in camp and would have played the whole year if not for an injury in week 5 against Phoenix. Secules threw 2 TDs and 9 INTs in limited playing time.

However, this year's Cowboys are better than that Patriots team (which was 2-14 in 1992 and had to win their last four games just to finish at 5-11 in 1993). Dallas's defense was number 1 in total yards allowed and passing yards allowed, and fourth against the run. It wasn't that productive in terms of turnovers (25 takeaways, T-20th) but it carried an offense that only scored 18.1 points per game into the playoffs.

Parcells, like most defensive-minded coaches, designs his offenses more to hide his weaknesses than to showcase strengths. He tried to limit Carter's role last year because he could be inaccurate and interception-prone. Carter started all 16 games, completed 57.8% of his passes for 17 TDs and 21 INTs, but was shaky in the second half, with 16 INTs in his last 10 games. By comparison, while Testaverde didn't win a lot of games for the Jets, he did complete over 62% of his passes with a good TD/INT ratio (7/2).

My biggest worry is if Dallas's offensive line can save Testaverde from taking a pounding. But even if Testaverde can't throw it enough to take advantage of Keyshawn Johnson, Terry Glenn, Jason Witten, and former teammate Richie Anderson, the combination of Eddie George and rookie Julius Jones should be able to generate a decent running game. With a weak schedule (29th, though strength of schedule doesn't mean as much these days) the playoffs are still possible. But Parcells's dreams of another Super Bowl may be fading unless Henson learns quickly.

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On a related note, Miami's offense suffered another blow with David Boston's likely season-ending injury. Maybe they'll give Tim Brown a call...

Sunday, August 01, 2004 

Read all about it

I've finally gotten around to adding a "Local Papers" links section (see below). Each team is listed alphabetically, by division, as a link to a major newspaper in their area. Some of the choices were subjective (Boston Globe instead of the Herald for the Patriots, Chicago Tribune instead of the Sun-Times for the Bears, etc.) but I hope they'll be useful for "scouting the opposition". I used refdesk.com's state-by-state listing of newspapers to help my search.

I decided to link to the newspaper's main sports page in most cases, since I know websites can be frequently re-organized. Several of these papers require free registration before reading any articles, while others make certain content (columnists, etc.) available only to subscribers.

Enjoy.

 

Carry that Weight

The rest of the country probably doesn't care, but it looks like Bill Belichick is resorting to mind games to keep Patriots backup QB Rohan Davey's head from growing too big. Since Davey's award-winning season in NFL Europe, the Patriots have signed QBs Jim Miller and Kurt Kittner, and now according to Tom Curran of the Providence Journal Davey has been temporarily assigned No. 73 in training camp because he arrived overweight. The obvious irony is that the Patriots have retired No. 73 for Hall-of-Fame offensive lineman John "Hog" Hannah. Guess the Coach has a sense of humor...

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