Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Bullet Points = Pulitzer

  • The Ninth understands that many of you ran to your computer screens Monday morning like so many children to the Christmas tree, eager to hear tell, as we had promised, of our visit to the MLB MVP awards. But alas, dear souls, there was no tell. That's because, sadly, there was no visit. As it turns out, the good people at Major League Baseball wish all guests and spectators to attend their award receptions in full black tie, and as The Ninth is wildly cheap, that wasn't happening. But worry not, a good friend (who already owns a tux) was in the proverbial house, and has Fantastic stories. Capital F. It's what we in the business of unpaid internet sports blogs call a "pocket column". Something that is not timely in nature, so you can save it in your "pocket" for when sports news is slow. So then, after the Bowl that is Super, we'll discuss the MVP awards. Just to wet your whistle, Roger Clemens is heavily involved. (Pun Intended).

  • Carolina has more passing plays for over 20 yards than the Indianapolis Colts. Shocking, but true. If, as The Ninth previously suggested, the way to beat to New England is with the unexpected, you might see Delhomme go deep a couple times early. If it works, the Pats could be in trouble. The one thing even the most devout Patriot believer is quietly afraid of is New England falling behind fast.

  • If you think New England will entirely abandon the run because of Carolina's stout d-line, you're insane in the membrane. Insane the brain. Remember the book on Tampa Bay, when they were good? Run right at that defense, no matter how tough it looks. And it worked. (The book now: Show up with complete uniform, Step on field, Receive victory.) On top of this, New England was 30th in the league in yards per carry this year, but ran it anyway. They played no game with less than 21 rushes, and finished 12th overall in rushing attempts. So even though their runs didn't succeed, Weis and Belichick realized it was important to keep trying. The Patriots will not flee to the air in Houston, even when they get stuffed. Sounds crazy, but it's the only way to keep the defense honest.

  • What do you think Ken Watanabe said when saw he was nominated for an Oscar? My guess: "Ken Watan.... -- who the f is that? Oh it's...., oh God. Please kill me."

  • It would seem that Carolina's game plan is to go after Tom Brady. One place that the Patriot QB has not spent much time is on the ground, and the Panthers are talking like they're going to change that. It's a nice idea, and I suppose it's worth giving a try, but maybe John Fox should ask his mentor Bill Parcells about it first. Dallas, you see, is blitz-obsessed, and Week 11 against New England was no different. They went after Brady over and over, and they got burned almost every time. In typical blitz situations New England would load up the pocket with every tight end and running back they could find, and were able to buy Tommy Smiles some time. They then sent one or two of their speed receivers deep, and because Dallas was blitzing at least one of their safeties, he only had to beat one man. Branch open, Brady with time, 50 yards please. There's nothing a prepared offense would rather see than a blitz, because if blocked, it can mean big yards. Pressuring Brady is certainly a valuable goal, but if they try it on usual blitz situations, Carolina will get burned just as bad as Dallas did.

  • It is approaching the point where it is hard to think specifically about the Super Bowl. Sure you discuss football theory or possible game plans, but the potential of the game actually taking place inspires a giddiness not seen since TiVo was installed in The Ninth Home Apartment. Combine the week lay off with the solid possibility of two Super Bowl wins in three years and Patriot Nation recklessly cowboys up. But the big question is, will it be the same? Will it be better, worse, or just as good as 2001? No matter how lovely the victory over the Rams was, it felt a little flukish. Admit it. Yes, New England beat them soundly, in a totally not-cheap manner, but if, say, a functioning human were coaching St. Louis instead of Mike Martz, there might have been a different result. The Pats won, and a win is a win, but no one is confusing that team with the 85 Bears. This squad though, is whicked different. It's alarmingly good, and in all likelihood, it will stop the Panthers without the need of last minute heroics. This then could be a more convincing championship, if that's possible. But the first time is the first time. And how do you beat the first time? There's a dirty joke in here somewhere....

  • Wanna know how many good teams the Panthers beat this year? I'll give you a hint, it's 1. One team. Did I ruin that? The Indianapolis Colts. And it was in Indy, so that is a legitimate feat. The rest of their victories however, are over the following: Jacksonville (by 1 point), Tampa Bay and New Orleans (both twice), Washington, a Vick-less Atlanta, Detroit, Arizona (pee-yoo), and the "Giants". That's it. There is the litany of success. Does anyone else take their impressive running game somewhat less seriously now that you see what it was running against? We're talking about Stephen Davis here folks. A good back, but no Clinton Portis. Stephen Davis is a useful version of Antowain Smith; strong, somewhat fast, drives through the holes. He has borderline pro bowl talent, but to run all over the Pats, you need a bit more than that.

  • The Ninth feels strongly that Larry Centers will have a big day. Chip block, check down receiver, dump pass, 10 yards. Over and over. Two sentences, no verbs. The word is also that Rodney Harrison will be spending a lot of time in the box, both blitzing and playing the run, so he could really add up some tackles. Unless John Fox is a far more creative and aggressive coach that the Ninth expects, New England should win without a war. Because Carolina would have to do things that are essentially not in their nature, it is very difficult to pick them to win. Not saying they couldn't, but it's unreasonable to expect them to. The final pick then, is New England 17, Carolina 9. Giddy up.
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    Friday, January 23, 2004

    This Silver Paint Itches

  • If the point of your website is to write things that people can't find in the "standard" media, and said media is having a hard time coming up with articles, that doesn't bode well for your site. That being said, once baseball season gets rolling, watch out. Watch out, I say.

  • When Eugene let up that big play to start the game against the Colts, you got a little worried, didn't you? Did a pretty good "Tebuckey Jones, End of 2001" impression with his last couple of hits though.

  • Everyone likes to compare the Panthers to the 2001 Patriots. There certainly are similarities, but Carolina is a run-first offense that relies on great d-lineman, while New England moved primarily through the air and depended more on coaching and special teams for their success. If I had to pick a recent similarity for Carolina, I would go with the Denver team NE faced on Monday Night. Big time runners (Portis and Davis) whose main goal is to make 3rd down manageable for their mediocre QB's (Kannell and Delhomme). Big points, when they come, are nice, but great defense holds these teams together. The major difference? Denver has a top-notch secondary. While not terrible, Carolina can be thrown on. Charlie Weis should Weis it up next Sunday.

  • You know that bald guy who paints his head silver for every Pats home game? How bad a rash does that stuff leave? And how long does it take to clear up? Does he look at the schedule and beg for home/away/home/away just so he can get the burning under control? His poor wife.

  • What exactly is the logic behind spreading 5 wide when you're on the goal line? The Patriots tried this little gem in the fourth quarter last week, and guess what? Pickscky Miglicksky. The point of using extra receivers is to stretch the defense, create mismatches, and challenge them to cover a lot of ground with a few men. But when you're ON THE THREE there isn't a whole of ground to cover. The D can go into man-to-man and play tight, because a receiver can't get by you deep. Safeties can go into full coverage without risk. I know it was fun last night on Madden, Charlie, but that doesn't mean we put it into the game plan.

  • If Lord of the Rings 3 isn't a member in the "Brian Daubach Inexplicably-Free-Ride-Even-Though-You-Stink" club, it ought to be. The movie is two hundred and twenty minutes long. 2 - 2 - 0. You have to plan when you're going to urinate. And a solid sixty of those minutes could have gone in the trash can and nobody would have cared. First 20 minutes - crap. Last forty minutes - weird, vaguely homoerotic short people crap. And where have I seen those battles scenes before? Oh, that's right, in the last friggin' movie. The first two were great, but that doesn't mean we have to blindly accept the third as the crowning jewel. Pee-yoo. The Ninth holds its nose.

  • It is now en vogue to suggest that Keith Foulke is the most valuable addition to the Red Sox this offseason. Catchy, but wrong. Curt Schilling, when right, is perhaps the most valuable overall pitcher in the game. He shuts teams down, and he does it for a long time. Yes, closers pitch important innings, but they don't pitch that many of them. Even the best stoppers amass only about 5 tough saves (entering with the tying run on base) a year. It simply is not that hard to get out of an inning without giving up three runs (sad but true, Wayne Gomes). Foulke will be helpful, but Schilling will be a godsend. Oh, and while we're talking about relievers -- dollars to donuts that we see the Bill James Closer again in 2004. More on that later.

  • I don't think you can beat the Patriots by playing your game. Whatever you do most frequently, or best, on offense, they will have thoroughly prepared for. There is nothing you are so good at that they can't stop. The strength of New England is their game plan, and if you play right into, you're screwed. The answer then, is to attack the way Tennessee did, go after whatever limits their scheme, and hit it early and often. The Titans spread the field out, used multiple receivers, and made New England simplify their plan. If you force Harrison, Wilson, and a few linebackers into coverage, the defense has less options. They've got to stay in a nickel, and they can't blitz as many people from as many odd locations. Well, actually they can (they did against Indy), but if they're not prepared to do it from the get-go, it will take a while to adjust. If Carolina presents something New England does not expect, even if they aren't especially good at it, they have a chance at some early points. Just like Tennessee did. But you have to hit the open man. If the Panthers insist on run, run, dunk - they'll lose. Belichick will be all over that.

  • Don't worry sports fans, Eddie Andelmann has been locked up by WWZN for three more years. Never again will we have to listen actual sports talk on sports talk radio.

  • More next week, including Super Bowl pick (like that's tough to guess) and a report from the MVP awards in NYC. That's right, the Ninth will be in attendance.

    Tuesday, January 20, 2004

    The Song That Never Ends

    As far as I can tell, the following is a compilation of various internet postings and can not be corroborated by any "legitimate" news outlet. The Ninth has been listening to the new Clem Snide album, so can't really speak to any of it, but it sure is fun.

    From BDD:

    1:20:04, 1:17pm: ESPN radio's Bruce Levine on Dan Patrick's radio show is now saying that talks on the Manny-for-A-Rod trade heated up this past week and John Henry and Tom Hicks either met last weekend or will meet this coming weekend. Patrick says A-Rod was bending Bud Selig's ear about the trade at Sammy Sosa's birthday party in the Dominican and is pressing hard for the deal. According to Levine, who says the deal will happen according to his sources, all parties still want the deal to go through, and Selig's comment was to "get the deal done then call me only after everyone has approved the trade." Patrick says the deal will get done most likely by "this weekend." Alex has not spoken to manager Buck Showalter since the trade talks stalled in December.

    Terry Shumpert and Alex Rodriguez! An embarrassment of riches.

    Wednesday, January 14, 2004

    Thumbtacks Down, Bring On The Lucky Charms

    I intended to write a Game Log for Titans v. Patriots, I really did. But if you start the game by mixing leftover New Year's party liquor with warm Crystal Light lemonade, you're really not in prime "quippy analysis" form. By halftime, most of the commentary in the The Ninth Home Apartment consisted of "Wow, mini Oreos really taste better than normal Oreos", so that was pretty much that. Onward and upward then, let us look forward instead of back. What are some things to keep in mind this weekend?

  • Peyton Manning vs. Eugene Wilson: Patriots safety Eugene Wilson has had, by all accounts, an excellent rookie season. To be a rookie starter at a position you've played your whole life is good enough, but to do it at one you learned during Week 1, that's a whole other animal. And Wilson didn't just hold down the fort, he impressed. Until the Pats rolled into Indy, that is. Against the Colts in Week 13, Gino officially looked like a rookie. At least three times he bit hard on a Manning pump fake, allowing the receiver to get behind him for big yards. Players getting behind safeties is strongly discouraged. You certainly can't blame Eugene, but he had a tough time against the Titans last week as well. Limps McNair went after him early and often, and had success. In a secondary that boasts two Pro Bowlers and the league leader in passes defensed, it's hardly a surprise that QB's look for Wilson's man. But after last week and week 13, we'll probably a lot of #26's jersey this weekend, let's just hope it isn't always the back.

  • Bill Belichick vs. The Colts Offense: It's well-covered territory that Belichick has had great success against Peyton, so we won't dwell on it here. One handy stat though: Manning's teams average about 8 points less against Belichick than they do any other opponent. Worth noting. In the second half of their game this season however, the Colts didn't seem to have much trouble putting up points. So now Patriot Nation is concerned. Well how about this: Who thinks this Colts offense is better than the Rams group that the Patriots shut down in the Super Bowl? (None of you should be raising your hands.) Who thinks this Patriot defense is even tougher to score on that it was back then? (All of you should be raising your hands.) Who thinks Bill Belichick waits all year to face an offense that thinks it can't be stopped? (Keep em up.) Who's being looked at strangely by their officemates? (Loser.)

  • Colts Defense vs. Patriots Offense: Say it with me, "The Colts have not punted this postseason." Whoopee. So why haven't they scored more points? Against the Chiefs, Indianapolis took a knee once (end of half) and went out on downs once (end of game) -- all other times they scored. So they must have had about 60 points, right? No, "only" 38. Obviously that's plenty, but if they were never stopped, shouldn't they have scored like fifty hundred? What could have possibly held them back? Simple - their defense. You can't score if you're sitting on the bench. The Colts are 20th in the league in rushing yards allowed, 24th in yards per carry, and 28th in rushing touchdowns. Holmes went for 176 on Sunday with 2 touchdowns. If Antoine Smith is healthy and focused, he could have his best game of the season. Combine that with some effective dinking and dunking by T. Brady and a steel lock on the turnover box, and you could shut Indy down.

  • Bethel Johnson vs. Colts Special Teams: The Patriots put themselves into the Super Bowl in 2001 largely because of their Special Teams play. Brown was a terror on returns and Vinatieri was auditioning for the Bernie and Phil's pitch man. In the AFC Championship, New England put up 14 ST points (a punt return and off a blocked figgie), and started the clock on the Kordell Stewart interception countdown. Let's all take a moment to remember how much fun that was. Aaaah. Ok, so the Pats have a chance to do something similar this week. Bethel picked up 192 (!) yards on kickoffs against Indy earlier, including a TD and a big 62 yarder in the 4th quarter. Dante Hall of Fame ran one back last week, even though Indy ought to have prepared heavily to face him. This is a major weakness, and as we all saw in 2001, it can win and lose games. Bethel was big against Tennessee, can he do it again?

    Look, this game isn't going to be easy. The Herald's Michael Felger and Kevin Mannix think New England will march easily to the Super Bowl. That's being over-confident. If the Pats are at the top of their game they should probably dispatch the Colts, but you can't guarantee that will happen. It's hard to imagine this team not being sharp, because frankly, they have been since about September. But there were moments against Tennessee when they weren't all there. The first half on Saturday night was a little loose, and the defense did not look organized at all moments. McNair was able to drive down field without a lot of difficulty, and a tighter offense could have had at least 7 more points. That won't cut it against the Colts. If New England has no lapses, they will win -- they are the better team. If they give Manning a few brakes however, this could get away from them. Tackles must be made, coverage has to be tight, and turnovers can not be a factor. New England can keep Indy out of this game, but the margin for error is anorexic. I tell you one thing, I can't wait to see what happens. Now where's the rest of that Crystal Light.....
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    Thursday, January 08, 2004

    O Crap.

    I know the Orioles don't have much starting pitching, but according to this, the AL East is going to be one heck of a hitter's division next year. If what ESPN reports is correct, the Birds could very easily toss this out on April 5th:

    Melvin Mora - 3b
    Luis Matos - CF
    Miguel Tejada - SS
    Vladimir Guerrero - RF
    Rafael Palmeiro - DH
    Javy Lopez - C
    Jay Gibbons - 1B
    Larry Bigbie - LF
    Brian Roberts - 2b

    The order could change, but it seems pretty likely that all those players will be there. That's really something. Start with Matos and Gibbons, who both got their big kid pants last year, add a couple of MVP candidates in Miggie and Vlad, toss in a future HOF in Raffie Viags, and garnish with a solid catcher with 30 HR pop. Oh, also, Melvin Mora, who's coming off the best season of his life. I dare say there isn't much better out there. Unfortunately for the Baltimores, the people that throw the ball will look something like this:

    Sidney Ponson (likely to return) - RHP
    Rodrigo Lopez - RHP
    Omal Daal (likely to stink) - LHP
    Eric DuBose - LHP
    Tracy Morgan - NBC's The Tracy Morgan Show

    Ok, it will probably be Kurt Ainsworth and not T-Morg, but it's tough to predict how spring training battles will shake out. Their bullpen has some nice arms in Julio, Dejean, Parrish, and Ryan -- but that's not enough to make up for what will be a lot of 4 IP, 6 ER afternoons. Obviously there are holes here, but this team lost more than 90 games three years in a row, and in 2004 they're a lock for .500. I think. Irregahdless of it being irregahdless, that's some impressive GM work. Wait a few years, get some pitchers, they might just play a playoff game or two.

    I'll take a one-way ticket to the AL Central please? Something with a window, not too close to the bathroom. Thanks.

    Wednesday, January 07, 2004


    I know this is a little ridiculous, and I am certain this deal is 99% dead, but Manny Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra, Alex Rodriguez, and Magglio Ordonez have all been removed from their respective team websites. Each were initially featured on the top banner, and late last night, they were taken down. It's unlikely that it's a coincidence, but as Barry Bonds isn't on the Giants website, and you can't find Derek Jeter at Yankees.com -- I wouldn't read too much into it.

    Tuesday, January 06, 2004

    When Thumbtacks Invade

    Does anyone else feel like it's easy to forget how good the Patriots are? Every Monday morning you believe they're the best, you know they can't be beat, and you understand exactly what's going on here. But something happens. Days slide to the middle of the week and the immediate visions of Mike Vrabel sacks and Deion Branch grabs fog over, and you begin to doubt. "Yeah they keep winning, but come on, the players just aren't this good." You don't like thinking it, but you know that deep down you're probably right -- and thank goodness you're so much more realistic than your friends. And why don't they bathe more often? Friday rolls around and you're severely concerned -- maybe Jacksonville could be just the team to knock the Pats off. Sure they have no quarterback, defense, or head coach, but New England had some trouble running the ball last week, and really, the players just aren't this good. By the time Sunday morning pops up again you've put 50 bucks on the Jaguars and you're wearing teal green socks and boxers. It'll be tough to watch the ol' Patsies fold up, but this collection-of-mediocre-athletes-named-after-a-jungle-cat really has something going for it. But then, after all this self-doubt, flip-floppery, and downright treason, you get to watch them again. You see a confident and relaxed Tom Brady, moving coolly in and around the pocket. You see a group of receivers that more than makes up in depth for what they lack in star power. You see a pair of running backs who, well, skip that. But most of all, you see the defense. Oh look at that defense. Two corners who can play one and one with anyone in the league, an omnipresent safety that hits harder than Joe Jackson, a linebacking crew that the 3-4 should have been invented for, and two d-lineman who can be on my Pro Bowl team anytime (please note: I have no Pro Bowl team). You see what is, without doubt, the best team in football. And once again, you believe.

    So right now, a lot of Patriot Nation is in the doubt phase. The Titans are certainly a tough team. They're well-coached, they can shut down the run, and they've got Steve McNair. When the two teams played earlier this year it was a real battle, and it took a late interception by a hobbled Ty Law to seal a victory. Saturday won't be easy, but when looked at objectively, it shouldn't be that hard either. In week 15 and 16 Tennessee beat Houston and Buffalo by a combined 5 points. Their pass defense is suspect (30th in the league in both completions and yards allowed), and if Anthony Wright can play well against them, imagine what Tom Brady can do. McNair is a concern, but he threw two ugly picks last week and looked more than a little unsteady. But this really isn't about Tennessee. This is about our Patriots. New England, whether or not our Red Sox-addled, snow storm-demented brains can accept it, is the best team in football. By far. Michael Felger said it best this week on Sports Final: "There's the Patriots, and then there's everyone else.". It's just a fact. Only because this squad couldn't compete with the capital G Great Dallas and SF teams of the 90's, people feel like they're not that special. Should this New England squad go down as one of the all-time classics? Probably not, but they're a heck of a lot better than everyone else. And no, that doesn't make them a lock for the Bowl that is Super. It's hard to go all the way, and as we all know, the best team doesn't always win (see "Florida Marlins, 2003"). But the point is, they should. They should take down Tennessee by something in the neighborhood of 20-13, and then they should put the hurt on whoever follows. It doesn't mean it's going to happen, but our job, as loyal fans and readers, is to believe.

    Monday, January 05, 2004

    I Just Happen To Like New York

    Isiah celebrates the New Year by making his first idiotic move. The kickers here are the TWO first round picks (one of which is almost certain to be top 10), the cash, and the complete lack of flexibility he has angled for. Did he throw in Jason Varitek too? Isiah is the NBA's answer to Cam Bonifay.