Sports Outside the Beltway

Thoughts from a Sports Guy Reader

This was an e-mail I sent in to Bill Simmons (the very funny and actually intelligent sportswriter known as the “Sports Guy”) at 3:45am after reading his latest column… I decided it was good enough to post.

I’m an Indians fan currently living in NYC (yes, the ALDS rocked), and I thought you’d enjoy a few tidbits from the Indians’ announcers and an Indians fan in light of your latest article.

  • 1) Tom Hamilton announced as Blood Pressure Borowski came in that “Indians fans might be shocked to learn that he had more 1-2-3 innings this year than Mariano Rivera.” My brother called me up to tell me this and say “Yep, I was shocked.”
  • 2) Every ex-Clevelander I know has come up to me this postseason and said “You know, this year feels different. I’m not waiting for something horrible to happen that ends it all… I feel like they actually might win!” I’m sure that until 2004, you could appreciate that one.
  • 3) Then again, as I listened online to Game 2, when Youkilis hit that liner on the 11th pitch in the bottom of the 9th, I almost had a heart attack. (I’m 24.) Within 60 seconds of that moment, I’d spoken to my brother in NY, my sister in Baltimore, and my father in Cleveland. And amazingly, we’d all survived.
  • 3a) Indians’ announcer Hamilton about 2 seconds after pausing after that catch said “Cleveland, you can breathe again.”
  • 3b) I hadn’t been breathing.
  • 4) You haven’t seen enough Browns games. That’s the only way you can think that Indians’ fans won’t stay loud in the freezing cold. I’ve been to subzero Browns games at the end of the year when they’re WAY out of it, and you’d think they were still in the playoff hunt. 40 degrees?! That’s like a sauna to Cleveland fans.
  • 4a) The Indians’ announcers in Game 2 noted in about the 4th or 5th inning that the Sox fans didn’t seem as loud as the Indians or Yankees fans had been in the first series. It could be because it’s a smaller park, but Hegan thought that they seemed like they were waiting for the World Series to get really into it.
  • 4b) As a total throw-in, Bill Belichik is an *******. He completely sucked when he coached the Browns, and while he’s not at Jordan/Elway/Modell/Jose Mesa/Steelers level of hatred in Cleveland, that’s only because everyone thought he was too boring to listen to to even hate.
  • 4b2) I think the only reason Romeo Crennel didn’t get fired as the Browns’ head coach after Week 1 is because people are afraid he’ll be the next Belichik: Supposed defensive genius, clueless-looking head coach, sounds like he’s going through the motions in press conferences, never looks like he cares about anything, spends a couple of years squandering great offensive talents (Kosar/Metcalf; Winslow/Edwards), brings in semi-washed up but decent LBs from his old team (Pepper Johnson;Willie McGinest)… it would be typical Browns to let him go and then watch as he somehow turns up in 7 years in his 2nd Super Bowl, citing what he “learned” in those “hard times” as a Browns head coach.
  • 5) Whenever Joe Borowski enters a game, I have terrible Jose Mesa flashbacks, thinking “NO! Leave in Mike Jackson!!” (Betancourt)
  • 6) You know that if the Indians keep winning these games, there’s a strong possibility there will be no good ALCS MVP choice. If Borowski has 4 scoreless innings and 3 saves, would it not be the funniest thing ever if he’s standing up there, receiving the award? Wouldn’t you (in between tears and yelling) crack up at your TV screen? This could really happen.


Bonds hits 756

…just in case you didn’t hear that a million times yet.


In Five or Six

Cavs all the way, baby.


The King’s Resurgence

Brian Windhorst of the Akron-Beacon Journal, probably the most knowledgeable writer in the country about Lebron James, has an excellent article on ESPN discussing Lebron’s sudden resurgence over the past month. In the article, he questions what exactly it was that ‘set Lebron off’:

So then perhaps there was a column that proved to be the final straw. Maybe it was a private call from Wade or another peer. Maybe James’ bed at a posh Beverly Hills hotel was particularly comfortable. Whatever it was, something cracked Feb. 15 in Los Angeles.

I think it was none of those. On February 14th, the night before that game, I called up my brother. “I think that tonight was the best thing that could have happened to the Cavs”, I remember saying. The Cavs had just lost 99-98 to the Jazz – in Utah – on a terrible non-call at the last second when Sasha Pavlovic was clearly fouled at midcourt as he was running down the court to take what would have been the game-winning shot. They were furious, and had no problems stating as much to anyone who would listen.

The Jazz game was important for the Cavs, who seemed to only put effort into games against top-tier Western Conference teams for a while. This was a chance to beat yet another top Western team in their own arena – and it was stolen from them. Suddenly, the Cavs had something to prove… and this was compounded by tough losses to both the Bulls and Heat a week later. But the Cavs then went out to Dallas, and not only hung with the best team in the NBA on their own court, but had the game come down to the final seconds – only to watch Lebron miss two straight shots that could have tied the game. Again, I spoke to my brother, and once again, we agreed: This has the potential to be, combined with that Jazz loss, the spark that really lights the Cavs up for the rest of the year.

The Cavs went on to win their next eight games, and were surely looking ahead to tonight’s rematch against the Mavericks when they blew a 10-point lead to the lowly Bobcats before eventually losing in overtime last night. During those eight games, they took out a measure of revenge against the Pistons, beating them in Auburn Hills, and defeating Utah at home during Carlos Boozer’s return to Cleveland – while Lebron played absolutely incredible basketball.

Tonight, the Cavs have another chance to beat the Mavs and show that they truly are legitimate championship contenders. This is a huge game – for the Cavs as a team and for Lebron as their superstar. Tonight, we’ll finally see what the Cavs are really made of. A win tonight will put the Pistons and Heat on notice, not to mention the Mavericks, that Lebron wasn’t kidding when he said this is the year the Cavs go for the NBA championship.

A win tonight will show that when the Cavs are playing with some fire under them, they may be the best team in the NBA.

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Saints vs. Colts?

I’m picking Colts vs. Saints after this weekend… not only because that would obviously be an amazingly fun game to watch, but because I really think that’s what is going to happen.

Some great facts I found out this week… The Bears have given up 25.8 points a game since their top defensive lineman Tommie Harris got hurt. Great D? Ha. Remember, the Saints one of the best offenses in the league.  The Saints, meanwhile, haven’t given up more than 17 points to an NFC team since Week 5 except: Twice to Philadelphia (week 6 and last week), winning both 27-24; and 31 to Carolina in Week 17 after they benched all their starters.

When #1 offenses have played #1 defenses in the playoffs, the offense has won 7 of 10 times. Twice, they shut out the team with the great defense. Ooh, more: The Saints are the highest scoring road team in the NFL with 29 points per game. In fact, in their last three road games — against the Falcons, Giants and Cowboys — they averaged 34 points a game and only gave up 12 points per contest.

And, as a final reminder, home-field advantage is non-existent in the conference championships. The road team wins as often as the home team in the NFL. Over the last 10 years, the road team is 10-10 in conference championship games. However, I think the Colts will benefit greatly from playing in the RCA Dome tomorrow, where they have won all 9 times this year. Meanwhile, I think the cold in Chicago will help them from being blown out, as they would if the game were in New Orleans. But it won’t save them from the Saints’ offensive attack.


The Suns’ Win Streak Hits 28…

…almost. An interesting factoid in Bill Simmons’ latest column:

In a related story, the Suns are 26-2 in their last 28 games. Here were their two losses:

Dec. 22: They lose to the Wizards in OT (144-139) in a game that Arenas tied with a 3-point play in regulation, then Nash missed a wide-open 3 that could have ended it.

Dec. 28: They lose in Dallas by two (101-99) when Nowitzki made a jumper with 0.1 seconds left.

With two reasonable breaks (Nash making the 3-pointer, Nowitzki missing the jumper), the Suns could be working on a 28-game winning streak right now. I’ve mentioned that to three people over the last 48 hours and all of them said the same thing: “Wait a second … whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat??????”

Truth be told, I’ve been concentrating more on the Mavericks’ 31-4 record since their horrid 1-4 start, and my Cavs’ 8-4 (.667) record against Western Conference teams, which is better than anyone but Milwaukee’s 10-5 (.667) among East teams. While a few teams hover around .500 against the West, only the Cavs and Bucks seem to actually play well against them, which means the Cavs may be the only hope the East has of winning the NBA championship this year.

It’s hard to tell if the Cavs can hold onto the #1 seed in the East, but if they can, they have a legitimate shot at the title. They’re one of the best home teams in the league at 15-3, and have finally started winning on the road as well, winning two of four to date on their 7-game West Coast trip (8-11 on the road overall). With homecourt advantage in the East against a group of teams who all struggle on the road but Detroit (who aren’t dominant at home), they can make it to the Finals. Once there, they’d love to face the Spurs, who they swept the season series from this year.

Better the Spurs than the Mavs or Suns…


Westbrook off the Right End

In all the hubbub over the Eagles’ win over the Giants, one will hear many different reasons why the Giants lost: Coughlin stinks, Manning blew it, Andy Reid is a genius, etc. All of those are probably true to varying degrees, especially when one looks at the last two months and how the Giants went from 6-2 to 8-9, while the Eagles lost their MVP and didn’t flinch.

But the simplest answer lies in the Gamebook from today’s game. For much of the game, the Eagles kept running Brian Westbrook – and his backup, while he was out battling stomach cramps – up the middle, off the right guard or right tackle, or somewhere to the left side. They simply didn’t get far, though: Westbrook had 6 carries to the left for 10 yards, Buckhalter had 1 carry for no yards. That’s a net of 1.4 yards a carry to the left. They weren’t much better going up the middle or off right tackle, with Westbrook carrying 7 times for 15 yards, while Buckhalter earned a respectable 19 yards on 5 carries – combining for just under 3 yards a carry.

But the Eagles ran Brian Westbrook off right end seven times during the game, and here’s how each one went.

2nd quarter:

  • 2-1-NYG 49(14:22) 36-B.Westbrook right end for 49 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
  • 1-10-NYG 37(12:33) 36-B.Westbrook right end to NYG 15 for 22 yards (47-W.Demps).

3rd quarter:

1-10-PHI 26 (14:53) 36-B.Westbrook right end to PHI 37 for 11 yards. FUMBLES, ball out of bounds at PHI 37. R11

4th quarter:

  • 2-5-PHI 34(14:08) 36-B.Westbrook right end to PHI 37 for 3 yards (33-J.Bell).
  • 1-10-PHI 34(4:57) 36-B.Westbrook right end to PHI 45 for 11 yards (47-W.Demps).
  • 2-4-NYG 49(3:19) 36-B.Westbrook right end to NYG 44 for 5 yards (96-B.Cofield).
  • 1-10-NYG 32(2:00) 36-B.Westbrook right end to NYG 19 for 13 yards (54-B.Short).

The grand total: Seven rushes off right end for a grand total of 104 yards and a touchdown, an average of 14.9 yards per carry. The first one went for a spectacular touchdown; the second one was the very first play the next time the Eagles had the ball – 22 yards. The third was on the first play of the second half, and netted an extra five with the facemask. The last three were possibly the most important, all coming on the game-winning drive.

The Eagles must have seen something early on. They kept pounding to the left or up the middle, willing to net only 44 yards on 19 carries from their running backs… and then exploding to the right, especially when it mattered most. The Giants never caught on… and they’re heading home.


Home Sweet Home

The NFL’s Wildcard round is notorious for great, roller-coaster games. The last few years, almost nothing has been a given, topped by last year’s wild ride by the Pittsburgh Steelers from the last seed in the AFC all the way to a Super Bowl championship.

But this year will be different. This year, it seems clear that not only will all the home teams win their games, but most of them should take the points, too. Looking at the games individually, it’s clear why…

Kansas City @ Indianapolis – This is the easiest of them all. Looking at it simply… the Colts are 8-0 at home. The RCA Dome is LOUD… unless Peyton Manning asks them for quiet. The Chiefs are 3-5 on the road. Herman Edwards is one of the worst clock-management coaches in the NFL, while Manning is the best at running a 2-minute drive. Watch for it to be a tight game until the end of the first half, when Edwards manages to give Manning back the ball with way more time than he should have [say, by throwing on 3rd down with :50 seconds left in Chiefs territory]. Manning will take the Colts down for a score, and they won’t look back. Will Larry Johnson have a great game? Probably. But as bad as the Colts are against the run, they’re great against the pass (2nd in the NFL). While the Colts can do enough to hold Johnson and the Chiefs to a couple of touchdowns and field goals, can anyone seriously expect the reverse from the Chiefs’ defense against the Colts’ offense? I think not. [Side note: The Chiefs were just 5-7 against the better conference, picking up 4 wins against the NFC. That doesn't bode well for them, either.]

New York Giants @ Philadelphia – One of the most overlooked aspects of the McNabb-for-Garcia switch after McNabb got hurt was the style of Jeff Garcia. Not only is he obviously a very good quarterback who was incredible in San Francisco, but he is the exact same type of passer as McNabb: A roll-out, pocket-moving QB who can run if he has to but generally just stays back and makes smart throws. McNabb was having an MVP-type season according to many when he got hurt, with a 95.5 QB rating; Garcia’s rating is 95.8 in his 6 games. On top of that, the Giants can’t seem to do anything to stop Brian Westbrook (271 yards, 3 TDs in 2 games against them) and the Philly defense has been consistent all year. Finally, the Eagles dominated the Giants for 7-1/2 quarters this year, with only that fluke 8 minutes or so at the end of the game in Week 2 which still makes no sense. I can’t see the Giants (who barely held off the Redskins last week) somehow beating the hot Eagles.

Dallas @ Seattle – Anyone who saw Detroit walk all over the Cowboys last week knows they have no defense. If I hear one more time about Parcells being a “defensive genius”, I think I’ll scream. They’re terrible, and have been all year. Their offense has improved with Romo, but Seattle is going to run all over them, now that everyone’s healthy. People seem to have forgotten that this is the same team that was in the Super Bowl a year ago, and that they suffered through bad injuries all year – but now, almost everyone’s back. Their secondary is still banged up – which is important against Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn – but they should be able to stop the Cowboys a couple of times, while the Cowboys will barely able to stop them at all. Oh – Seattle’s notorious for having amazing home-field advantage the last few years, and the Cowboys have shown that they get confused on occasion as it is.

New York Jets @ New England – This is the “Mangini v. Belichik game”, it seems… They split the season series, so it’s hard to say that the Patriots are a lock to win, but… they’re a lock to win. The Jets surprised the Pats in that game, certainly. But they won’t be able to do the same twice, especially in Foxboro yet again, in a playoff game. Remember also that the Jets weren’t all that impressive this year. They didn’t beat anybody good except the Patriots, and while the Patriots themselves haven’t been all that great this year, their defense still gave up less than 15 points a game on the year. The Patriots won’t be going to the Super Bowl this year, but they’re not bowing out this week.

Home should be sweet this week in the NFL. Next week, though, is a completely different story…


Trade Down, Mr. Savage

The Cleveland Browns got blasted yet again this Sunday, this time by the lowly Tampa Bay Buccanears. They are 4-11, have scored less than everyone but the Bucs and the Oakland Raiders (whom they barely defeated earlier in the season), and they lost every single division game they played.

But next year should not be a rebuilding year. As it stands now, a Browns’ road loss this coming Sunday at Houston would give them the second pick in next year’s draft. While they could draft a top player at a “skill position”, they’d be much better off following the pattern of other smart teams and trading that pick down for a number of low first-round and second-round picks – and draft a number of top offensive linemen.

The problems the Browns have are not because of their defense, which has actually played well in most every game this season despite an incredible amount of injuries. It’s not TE Kellen Winslow, who will end up with 80 receptions and 800+ yards after this Sunday. It’s not the wide receivers, though they have dropped a number of balls this season (including some crucial ones) – Braylon Edwards has over 800 yards in his first full season, and Joe Jurevicius should break 500 yards. The problem is not Charlie Frye, either. A 2nd-year quarterback who gets sacked 43 times in 12 games and still manages to complete 63+% of his passes (despite tens of drops over the season) deserves a commendation, not criticism. He does tend to hold onto the ball a bit long sometimes, but other than that has shown that if he has some time in the pocket, he can make plays. Many people point to his 16 picks – well, that’s very nice, but if you watch the Browns, you’ll notice that a number of those were tipped by his own players. It’s also easy to drop extra people into coverage when the running game is completely inept – with a good chunk of the blame falling on the terrible offensive line.

It’s true that LeCharles Bentley got hurt to start training camp, and he had been their major signing. But it’s also true that many Browns’ season ticket holders and fans (I am proud to be both) immediately thought, “That’s it. Season’s over.” The offensive line just isn’t all that good – and there was absolutely no depth. Phil Savage is no fool – hopefully, he will continue being a draft guru and make the right moves, establishing an offensive line that can push the opposition around. We haven’t yet seen just how good Edwards and Winslow can be, as the offense isn’t on the field long enough and the line isn’t giving enough time for them to truly get into the open.

The Browns’ special teams is one of the best in the NFL – they have a great kicker, a great punter, and incredible return men. Their defense has been solid even with the backups in, and rookie DE/LB Kamerion Wimbley showed how good he can be, recording 10 sacks. Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 is finally getting the players to fit it. There’s even a nice amount of depth, though a younger starting NT might be nice, as they have been poor against the run.

If the Browns can draft an offensive line, and perhaps pick up a couple of small defensive pieces and a running back, they could not just be an average team, but a strong playoff team. Most importantly, the Browns must draft linemen who can push around their divisional foes. The Browns are 4-5 outside of the division this year, and were 5-5 last year. But they’re 1-11 against the AFC North, and the line is why. Their rushing yards in six division games: 57, 38, 99, 51, 18, and 68. That’s an average of 56 yards a game… and that’s pathetic.

The Browns need an offensive line. It is Phil Savage’s job to make sure they get a good one… and fast. Trade down, Mr. Savage.


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