Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween Dream Comes True

Friday in Sportstown….

The Mavericks returned and there is some good and some same ol same ol. But, for the most part, too many easy baskets for them and too many jumpshots for us.

Sigh. But, wow. The Thriller Dance was Boffo. Amazing job, Mavs Dancers/ManiAACs.

By the way, when the question was Josh Howard for Ron Artest, it didn’t seem like any major upgrade. But, how the heck did the Rockets get Artest for Bobby Stinking Jackson and stuff? Artest for Jason Terry? Artest for Eddie Jones and stuff?

Just making sure that he couldn’t have been added here. He seems to understand the relative concepts of defense, hustle, and grit.

And, he is insane.

4th Quarter fade in opener …Cavs on Monday, Spurs on Tuesday…

The Mavericks want to play faster, which they did in the season opener.

Too bad they couldn't slow the Houston Rockets to something less than a blur.

The defense, as they say, is a work in progress after the Mavericks were outrun in a 112-102 loss to the Rockets, a team that managed just 82 points 24 hours earlier against Memphis.

Worse, Houston didn't play Tracy McGrady a single second in the fourth quarter, when they outscored the Mavericks by 11 and limited them to 6-of-24 shooting. The Mavericks won't panic about 0-1. But they departed American Airlines Center knowing that there isn't going to be anything easy about this process.

"This whole year is going to be a dogfight," said Jason Terry. "The fast break was good when we got it. But you have to get stops to get it. We didn't get the stops."
Down 95-93 midway through the fourth quarter, the Mavericks surrendered a layup and a 20-foot jumper to Ron Artest. That was the beginning of the end as they scored only a technical foul free throw while the Rockets went up 108-94 with 4:13 to play, a run capped by Artest's 3-pointer.

Artest finished with 29 points. Yao Ming had 30. The Mavericks wasted large nights from Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard, who combined for 61 points through three quarters but didn't have a field goal in the fourth until the last three minutes when the cause was essentially lost. Everybody in a Maverick uniform faded in the stretch.

The Mavericks did look comfortable with the new offense, running up 37 fast-break points.

"We had shots that didn't go in, but the [lack of] consistency on D is probably the biggest factor," Rick Carlisle said after his Maverick coaching debut. "Our aggressiveness was good. We just needed to be better."

Offensively, he said the results weren't bad, in spite of the awful fourth quarter.
"We converted about 15 of 18 fast breaks in the first half, and if you can get the
ball upcourt and score at that kind of efficiency rate, you have to do it," Carlisle said. "There's going to be a formula that is going to be right for us. We're not Loyola Marymount from the late '80s. We're not Phoenix from the last four years. But we have to use Jason Kidd's abilities to generate easy baskets to the best of our ability. At the same time, we got to do it in a way that doesn't erode our defense."
As Kidd said: "We put up enough points. But we didn't stop anybody."

Also, I think the Cowboys can compete for a while on Sunday, but put me down for Giants 24, Cowboys 13…

Rafa Vela looks at the Giants advantages

I’m looking at the Cowboys-Giants matchups and I see lots of statistical similarities. But there’s one stat that’s a Giants walkover:

 New York — 4
 Dallas — 13

The Giants have turned the ball over in only two games this year, once in their season opener against Washington and three times against the Browns, their only loss so far.

Dallas turned the ball over in every game until last week’s Tampa Bay game. That blank sheet let them outlast the Bucs 13-9.

Which gets us to this week. I’ve seen lots of calls for Brooks Bollinger to start over Brad Johnson. Please. Raise your hand if you think Bollinger can go four quarters against the Giants rush, in an offense he’s trying to learn on the fly and not commit a turnover.

Bollinger has played a Jim Johnson scheme once. He replaced Kelly Holcomb in a 23-16 loss to the Eagles last year and was a respectable 7-10 for 94 yards. But that was in a Vikings uniform. I don’t know if he’s got the Cowboys’ scheme down, having missed all of training camp.

The Giants are a blitzing team. They’re good and it and they have to be. I’m not impressed with their secondary, which has two new safeties and Aaron Ross regressing in his second year. They’re going to do what they do, overloading the middle of the line, overloading a side, bringing corner blitzes and playing zone and man behind them. They’re a 4-3 version of the Cowboys.

This will leave room for the type of throws Johnson can make. Slants, crosses, hooks, curls and seams.

If Dallas is going to compete, they’ll need another close game, of the type that they played against the Bucs and the type which the Steelers played against New York last week. It’s too much to ask Dallas to stop the Giants run. They’re averaging 5.1 yards an attempt. But they need to drop this at least a yard. Hold New York under 4.0 yards a carry and the game goes to Eli.

More on the Giants ground and pound

But when we are talking an NFL offense that features balance, that is deep across the lineup, that forces defenses to cover all areas of the field, that compiles big plays and also sustains long drives, this Giants model and mold is distinguishing itself.

It has not lost a fumble. For two straight games it has not allowed a sack. It leads the NFL in rushing offense (157.3 yards per game). It leads the league in runs of 10 or more yards (37). It ranks third in total offense (378.9 yards per game). It ranks sixth in scoring offense (27.3 points per game).

It features three running backs (brute Brandon Jacobs, versatile Derrick Ward and spunky Ahmad Bradshaw), each of whom give a defense something different to handle. It has four receivers (lanky Plaxico Burress, savvy Amani Toomer, crafty Steve Smith and tireless-worker Domenik Hixon), each of whom have double-digit numbers in catches and retain four of the top five slots in Giants receptions. Behind that wave is Sincorce Moss (a two-touchdown receiving game this season), rookie Mario Manningham and Super Bowl XLII hero David Tyree, who has been battling a hamstring injury.

Tight end Kevin Boss continues to mature, quarterback Eli Manning is steady to spectacular, and the offensive line is a cohesive, often-times dominating unit.
Add it up, and that is not your basic NFL offense.

That is an enviable offensive cache. It is an offense with a concrete identity.
First, the Giants will try to run the ball down the throat of Dallas to see how it responds. Then it will look for play-action. The Giants offense, due to Cowboys injuries in the secondary, could be facing a trio of rookie cornerbacks (Mike Jenkins, Alan Ball and Orlando Scandrick) for much of the game.

Thus, the Giants might be tempted to take more deep shots in this clash.

"We're going to try to run the ball, win up front and keep mixing," Manning said. "Overall, we try to get rid of the ball fairly quickly in the passing game. We try to get to second-and-3s in our offense. Simple stuff -- but it's hard to come by. We've got variety."

They've got attitude.

"Our offense does not back down from anybody," Ward said. "We're not the most glamorous offense or have the name like 'America's Team.' They had 13 Pro Bowlers last year. We had one. But we get the job done."

Finally, our last big topic is Tech and Texas. I swear I have no feel for this one. I fear teams trying to go in to a night game at Lubbock, as I think Tech and their crowd kick it up a notch.

But, I also have learned that Colt McCoy ’08 is on a different level – and I need to stop expecting Colt McCoy ’07 to show up.

So, I have a half-baked reason for both teams to win and then I consider the poor defensive stats for both. I guess, I take Texas in a close call because I have confidence in their major wins against Oklahoma and Missouri and Oklahoma State. I know Tech is good, but I don’t know how good. They have two very impressive wins – the obliteration of Kansas State and Kansas on the road, but how good are those two teams? Not better than any of the 3 teams Texas just got done with.

I have no doubt Tech can win this game, but if forced to pick, I have to stick with Colt and the Horns: Texas 42, Tech 38

Notes from the showdown

Can Texas keep running the top-12 gauntlet? - The Longhorns have already subdued No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 11 Missouri and No. 7 Oklahoma State in successive weeks and is now set to face No. 7 (BCS) Texas Tech on Saturday. With a win, the Longhorns will become only the second team in college football history to beat a top-12 squad four weeks in a row. Notre Dame did it in 1943. Easier said than done - especially in its first true road test during the streak.

Texas Tech's defense on third-down plays - The biggest struggles during Tech's two most recent losses have been stopping Texas' offense in critical plays. Texas clicked on 17 of 27 third-down plays and was 5-for-5 on fourth-down plays against the Red Raiders in those two games. Tech's improving defense has to do a better job Saturday night in order to spark an upset performance.

Colt McCoy Gold!

AP’s Tech-Texas preview

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Decoding the Offense - Week 8

Again. What a mess this offense is without Tony Romo. I have no idea how some of my colleagues can seriously suggest that Brad Johnson was anything but horrible. If the object of the game not to turn the ball over, let’s put a fern at QB.

Meanwhile, here is what the painful numbers suggest.

Under Center, Brad Johnson had 12 pass plays that produced……21 yards.

In the shotgun, Brad Johnson had 24 pass plays that produced….81 yards.

The yards per attempt are so comical that I can think of no other option than to praise him for not throwing a pick.

As for the play calling, it seems difficult to ponder how anyone would call plays for this mess, but Jason Garrett must and he had a few small new wrinkles this week:

“S10” – Shotgun, Barber back and 4 WR’s. They ran this one time and I would look for it more if the team doesn’t have Witten. It resulted in a sack.

“S02” – Shotgun, no Barber or RB, and 2 TE. They ran this once for 0 yards.

And “22*” – which is the short yardage formation that is only different from “22” in that it has Barber at Full back and Choice at TB. They ran this 4 times for 3 FDs from short range.

Bring back Tony Romo, please….

Here is what the Tampa Bay game gave us:

62 Offensive plays – (26 runs/36 passes) Here is how we break it down:

1st Down plays (25 = 6 different packages – 11 runs/ 14 passes)

“12” – 6 (2 runs for 1 yard/4 passes for 7 yards)
“21” – 7 (4 runs for 16 yards, FD/ 3 passes for 13 yards, FD)
“22” – 3 (3 runs for -1 yards)
Knee - 1


“S11” – 6 (1 runs for 9 yards, / 5 passes for 28 yards, FD)
“S11H” – 2 (2 passes for 7 yards, TD – 2 Yard TD to Roy Williams)

2nd Downs (20 plays – 5 looks – 8 runs/12 passes):

“12” – 8 (3 runs for 12 yards, FD/5 passes for 1 yard, SACK)
“21” – 2 (2 runs for 5 yards)


“S11” – 8 (3 run for 11 yards, FD/ 5 passes for 14 yards, SACK)
“S02” – 1 (1 passes for 0 yards)
“S10” – 1 (1 pass for SACK)

15 3rd downs for the Cowboys – 5 looks (5 runs/10 pass) (3 for 15, 20%)

“22*” – 2 (2 runs for 3 yards, FD) 1 for 2


“S11” – 7 (2 run for 5 yards/ 5 passes for 21 yards, FD) 1 for 7
“S11H” – 3 (1 run for 8 yards, 2 passes for 6 yards) – 0 for 3
“S12” – 3 (3 pass for 10 yards, FD) 1 for 3

And 2 4th Downs (2 runs)
“22*” – 2 (2 runs for 3 yards, 2 FD) 2 for 2

Regardless of Down and Distance, here are the yardage results for each personnel package:

26 runs - 36 passes

UNDER CENTER (31 – 19 runs/12 passes)

“12” – 14 (5 runs for 13 yards, FD/ 9 passes for 8 yards, SACK)
“21” – 9 (6 runs for 21 yards/ 3 passes for 13 yards, FD)
“22” – 7 (7 runs for 5 yards, 3 FD)
Knee - 1

SHOTGUN (30 – 6 runs/ 24 passes)

“S11” – 21 (6 runs for 25 yards/ 15 passes for 63 yards, 2 FD, SACK)
“S11H” – 5 (1 run for 8 yards, 4 passes for 13 yards, TD to Williams)
“S02” – 1 (1 passes for 0 yards)
“S10” – 1 (1 pass for 0 yards, SACK)
“S12” – 3 (3 pass for 10 yards, FD)

Personnel Package Description
”11”1 running back and 1 TE
”12”1 running back and 2 TE
”12W” same as 12, just with both TE’s in the backfield in front of Barber
”13”1 running back and 3 TE
”21”2 running backs and 1 TE
”22”2 RB and 2 TE
”22*”2 RB and 2 TE, Barber at FB
”23”2 RB and 3 TE
”31”3 RB’s and 1 TE. Jones, Barber, and Anderson.
“11H” 1 RB and 1 TE, but Witten is playing the “H” or “F” back
“12H” 1 RB and 2 TE, with Witten playing “H”.
“S11” Romo in Shotgun, 1 RB, 1 TE
“S10”Shotgun, 1 RB, 0 TE, 4 WR
“S02” Shotgun, 0 RB, 2 TE
”S11H”Shotgun, 1 RB, 1 TE, Witten playing “H”
”S12” Shotgun, 1 RB, 2 TE
“S21” Shotgun, 2RB, 1TE
“S01” Shotgun, 0 RB, 1 TE, 4 WR

Reading for the Day


Some solid reading for a Wednesday morning, as you will quickly be ready for Sunday in Giants Stadium:

Gary Meyers stirs it up ..

Justin Tuck wants to beat the Cowboys and he doesn't want to hear any excuses about Dallas not having Jessica Simpson's boyfriend at quarterback.

Tony Romo won't play Sunday against the Giants and Tuck is genuinely disappointed. Maybe Romo should give Brett Favre another call for another dose of motivation about playing hurt. The first one didn't work.

"Everybody wants to beat everybody at their best. We don't want to have excuses like 'Romo is not playing, we didn't have this guy, we didn't have that guy,'" said Tuck, the best player on a Giants defense that leads the NFL in sacks. "We don't want excuses like that. But it won't change our approach. We are still going to go in there and try to sack whoever is back there."

Romo will miss his third straight game with a broken pinkie, Terrell Owens could be ready to blow if he doesn't start getting the ball more and Jerry Jones won't really be happy until he replaces his puppet Wade Phillips and is coaching the Cowboys himself.

Welcome to Dallas week for the Giants. How 'bout them Cowboys?

"We hate them," Tuck said Monday. "They hate us."

Clearly, it's much better for the Giants that Romo is out and Brad Johnson, the 40-year-old statue, will get his third straight start unless Jones tells Phillips to start ex-Jet Brooks Bollinger, which would really put fear into the Giants defense.
"When you are a competitor like everybody on this football team, you want to play the best," the Giants' defensive end said. "I can honestly say I wish they were coming here undefeated."

Instead, the Cowboys are a mess coming into Giants Stadium.

In one of the greatest victories in their history, the Giants went into Dallas last January and eliminated the Cowboys in the playoffs, sending a city and team that were anticipating a Super Bowl into a prolonged state of depression.

Now, just halfway through the regular season, the Giants have a chance to bury Dallas in the NFC East. The Cowboys have become a Sunday afternoon soap opera, and they bring so much of it on themselves. Did Jones really have to trade for Pacman Jones? That one worked out pretty well.

If the 6-1 Giants beat the Cowboys this weekend, they will have a three-game lead on them in the loss column and drop them to 5-4, putting them in a wild scramble just to make the playoffs.

"We want Dallas. I'm sure Dallas is the same way with us," Tuck said. "They always want to play us."

The Giants chuckled at all the Dallas propaganda going into the season. They were among the most forgotten Super Bowl champs in history and the Cowboys were anointed the team to beat in the NFC. It's the Super Bowl champs who are supposed to be fighting distractions and complacency, but instead it's the Cowboys who are self-destructing.

There's a chance some of the Giants might be talking this week about how Coughlin got a good laugh at Jerry Jones' expense after the playoff victory. A couple of days before the game, Jones distributed two tickets to each of his players for the NFC title game along with two tickets for the game against the Giants.

He was being a bit presumptuous, as it turned out. Coughlin told his players about
it before the game and it fired them up even more to beat Dallas. After the victory, which sent the Giants to the NFC Championship Game in Green Bay, NFL Films had footage of Coughlin's speech to his players.

"I don't want anybody talking about this in the media," he said in a real serious tone, then with his right arm extended like he's holding something in his hand, he tells them, "Jerry just sent the tickets over. So, we're all set."

Coughlin broke into a huge grin. The players roared. Maybe for the first time, Coughlin actually has provided bulletin-board material.

Even More on Jerry’s move

Jason Witten has broken ribs …he plans to give it a try…

Breathing right now for Jason Witten isn’t easy. Sleeping isn’t a given, either. Despite pain accompanying such simple tasks he hopes to play.

Witten said he plans to practice this week to determine whether he can play Sunday against the New York Giants, despite having a broken rib.

“Practice will tell me everything,” Witten said Tuesday evening. “I don’t know yet. I’ve never had to deal with anything like this before. I’ve broken my jaw before and that was something that hurt, but this is something that is totally different.”

Witten had to leave during the second quarter of the Cowboys’ 13-9 victory on Sunday against the Buccaneers, but eventually returned. The return in the second half didn’t last long as the injury reduced him to a cheerleader role on the sideline the remainder of the game.

He said the bone is broken but there is no cartilage damage.

He has given some thought to just waiting until after this game to rest and heal through the bye week. But it’s clear his first priority is to try to do everything to play against the NFC-East leading Giants.

“I guess in hindsight you’d say, ‘Yeah,’ because you don’t have to worry about taking a hit,” Witten said. “It’s just part of the chances you take.”

He will wear extra protection — most likely a flak jacket — to guard against further injury this week during practice.

This would not be the first time Witten has played in some serious pain this season. He suffered a separated shoulder in Week 2, but did not miss any games. Now he’s hoping a broken rib won’t sideline him, either.

At a time when a lot of big-name Cowboys are out with injuries, Witten’s injury couldn’t come at a worse time. The Cowboys’ offense is already without starting quarterback Tony Romo, guard Kyle Kosier, change-of-pace running back Felix Jones and now possibly Witten. Minus some of those names, the Cowboys have scored a combined 27 points the last two games.

“It is frustrating. I felt like I was having my best-year ever, and as an offense we had some things go bad here recently,” Witten said. “I felt I’ve been playing well. It is frustrating, but it could have been worse. I’m trying to be positive about it right now.”

Witten leads the Cowboys with 46 receptions for 549 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He is also relied on heavily in run blocking and pass protection.

Without Witten, the Cowboys would elevate rookie Martellus Bennett to the top spot on the depth chart. He has eight receptions for 145 yards and a touchdown this season. The other option is Tony Curtis.

But Witten’s preference is to play. Apparently if both sleeping and breathing are
painful, football won’t be much worse.

Michael Lombardi says what we are all thinking

I am sure that quarterback Brooks Bollinger will get a ton of reps this week during the Cowboys practices as they prepare for the Giants. There is no way that the ‘Boys can keep playing Johnson with his eye level and his unwillingness to throw the ball down the field.

Meanwhile, whether you are ready or not, here is the NBA season upon us….
Are the Mavs going to shut up the critics?

The critics aren't big fans of the Dallas Mavericks. Most analysts rate them no better than sixth in the Western Conference.

Many put them at eighth or even out of the playoffs.

Jason Terry doesn't much care for those sorts of predictions.

"I'll be shocked if we finish eighth or ninth in the West, and I probably won't be on this team next year if that's the case," Terry said Tuesday, adding that he loves Dallas and has no plans on leaving, if he has anything to say about it. "I want to be here. I've got a better suggestion than eighth or ninth."

Terry will have plenty to say about the Mavericks' fortunes when their season opens Thursday against Houston. Coach Rick Carlisle wants his team to utilize the 3-point shot, but only when the looks are good, either in transition or after tossing the ball around in the half-court set.

That should be right in Terry's wheelhouse.

"If we share the ball, we're going to make our share of shots," Carlisle said. "I don't know why, but the more guys that touch it, the more frequently it goes in. That happens more times than not when you're able to get a stop and get an advantage."

The making of shots goes back to playing defense well enough to trigger a fast break and getting open looks in transition. Failing that, Terry sees a better flow to the offensive sets in half-court situations.

That's what the motion offense Carlisle has implemented is designed to do.
And as for the Mavericks being dismissed by national observers, Terry said it's not such a bad thing.

"People doubt us and it's been a long time since we've had that doubt," he said. "I think teams are going to come in [thinking], 'Yeah, we ran through the Mavericks last season.' But it's going to be a big shock for them.

"Starting Thursday, we got to protect our home court."

Bill Simmons types what we are all thinking …the Mavs and Suns are old…

The window will officially close on Dallas and Phoenix as title contenders.

Remember how excited we were when the NBA briefly shed the "No Balls Association" tag this past February and Dallas (Jason Kidd) and Phoenix (Shaq) swung for the fences? Well, it didn't work -- the Kidd gamble was doomed from the start, and the Shaq gamble was nullified when Phoenix suffered a colossal Stomach Punch loss in Game 1 of the Spurs series (and by the way, the Suns choked that game away, so I'm not absolving them). If this were "Entourage," the '09 Mavs and Suns would be a reeling Vincent Chase right after "Medellin" bombed, only they don't have a superagent like Ari to save them. Stick a fork in them. And yes, I picked that analogy only because it combined Marc Stein's favorite show with his two favorite NBA teams.

(The good news: We haven't lost either team from the "wannabe contender" group just yet, and they still have a chance to win 45-50 games. Also, we get another elite year of Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki; a potential career year from Amare Stoudemire; 15-20 box scores from opposing point guards against Jason Kidd that will resemble some of Oscar Robertson's best work; a full season of Josh Howard jokes; two Suns with WNBA hairdos; tons of bitterness from the Phoenix fan base toward Robert Sarver, not just for blowing their 2004-2008 window by being cheap but also for indefensibly selling the Rudy Fernandez pick in 2007; and Shaq officially shifting into Kareem-in-1989/Ewing-in-2000 full-scale calcification mode.)

The rest of the ESPN geniuses look at the squad

Adande SOUTHWEST: 4 | WEST: 8 Would feel better about having Jason Kidd around for a full season if he hadn't looked so average during the Olympics. Rick Carlisle has a tough job changing the mentality of a team that has folded in its past three playoff series.

Barry SOUTHWEST: 4 | WEST: 7 Time for this team to be broken up. It's not the right mix since the 2006 Finals meltdown. Just not a championship-quality team. Maybe they'll deal Howard if they get off to a slow start. Don't be surprised if Cuban mixes it up.

ESPN Mag SOUTHWEST: 4 | WEST: 8 The Mavs are younger than the Suns, but the story lines are the same: Like the Kings of C-Webb, Bibby & Co., they missed their opportunity for a ring. Carlisle's newness will have them all saying it's not the same ol' song. But it is.

ESPN Mag SOUTHWEST: 4 | WEST: 8 Biggest challenge of Rick Carlisle's career. He'll get more out of Jason Kidd, but this team needs a major overhaul. The psychological scar of the 2006 collapse is still visible.

Ford SOUTHWEST: 4 | WEST: 8 The Mavs' problem is that they didn't make that significant infusion of youth to an aging franchise -- they went opposite. The trade of Devin Harris and two first-round picks for Jason Kidd will haunt them for the next five years.

Hill SOUTHWEST: 4 | WEST: 8 Dirk Nowitzki is a franchise player who is unable to be a closer. The Mavericks have been sliding backward since going to the 2006 NBA Finals. This might be the year they don't make the postseason.

Hollinger SOUTHWEST: 4 | WEST: 7 The Jason Kidd panic trade likely ended their title-contending days, but any team lining up Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard at the forward spots should at least make the playoffs, especially given new coach Rick Carlisle's track record.

Rose SOUTHWEST: 4 | WEST: 9 It will be very important for this team to get off to a fast start. Especially with so many changes made and distractions this offseason. They will be led by Nowitzki, Kidd and Howard. Rick Carlisle has proven to be a great coach.

Sheridan SOUTHWEST: 4 | WEST: 9 Although owner Mark Cuban tries to subcategorize all of ESPN's talent by what he sees as their respective shticks, we'll categorize his team as what it is: a mediocre assemblage of talent whose long-term hopes were ruined by the Jason Kidd deal.

Stein SOUTHWEST: 4 | WEST: 6 Just a thought: If they won 51 games last season when everyone in Mavsland was so unhappy, should we hold off on all those obituaries until we see how the Mavs look (and feel) under Carlisle?

Welcome back, Otter

Steve Ott has been hobbling because of a sore groin for much of this season, but the last time the Dallas Stars had him in the lineup, they played one of their best defensive games of the year – a 2-1 win against the New York Rangers.

So when Ott returns tonight after a three-game injury hiatus, the Stars are hoping they will be better defensively.

"We miss his energy out there," coach Dave Tippett said. "He plays the game hard every shift. He's a physical player who will compete for space. He's a gritty player that plays hard in those defensive areas. That's what we need right now."

Ott played on the left wing with Brad Richards and Sean Avery in practice Tuesday, and that could mean the two agitators will be on the same line against the Minnesota Wild tonight. Tippett tried that combination with some success in the preseason but has stayed away from it during the regular season.

"I can't wait to see it," center Mike Ribeiro said. "Those two together would be interesting."

Ott said he's excited about returning. He has been trying to play injured, and he believes he lost some of his edge.

"I think with something like that, you have to sit down for a while and just let it rest," Ott said. "I feel much better, and I've really been able to push it the last couple of days."

Ott has an obvious love for the game, and his annoying antics often create tension-breakers for his teammates on the ice. With the Stars 3-4-2 on the year and the Wild 6-0-1, Dallas needs a release of pressure.

"I've been bugging him to come back," Ribeiro said. "We've been having some ups and downs, so we need a guy like that. He brings energy to the building."

Great question about the Longhorns

David from Jackson, Tenn., writes: With the Longhorns playing Texas Tech this weekend, that will make four top ten opponents in a row. Has any team ever done that before? And if so, has any team won all four?

Tim Griffin: I asked your question to ace ESPN research department college football guru Brad Edwards and he's researching it as we speak. But he turned up the 1960 Iowa team as what he considers as the hardest schedule in history. Check out the gauntlet the Hawkeyes had to charge through that season.

IOWA HAWKEYES, 1960 season

Oct. 1 at 6 Northwestern W
Oct. 8 at 13 Michigan State W
Oct. 15 12 Wisconsin W
Oct. 22 10 Purdue W
Oct. 29 19 Kansas W
Nov. 5 at 3 Minnesota L
Nov. 12 3 Ohio State W

That's a seven-week stretching featuring games against No. 6, No. 13, No. 12, No. 10. No. 19, No. 3 and No. 3. Incidentally, the Hawkeyes finished 8-1 that season and No. 3 in the AP poll.

Most amazingly of all, that Iowa team didn't even get to a bowl game. Only one team from the Big Ten was allowed to go to bowls back then. And Minnesota advanced after winning the head-to-head game, losing to Washington in the Rose Bowl.

Iowa finished the season 8-1 and No. 3 in the AP poll

And with all due respect to the Longhorns, I think they've been one-upped by the Hawkeyes on this.

Andy Reid defends Lawyer Milloy

Nobody in the Eagles' locker room had anything bad to say about Lawyer Milloy yesterday, after the Falcons' safety knocked tight end L.J. Smith out of the game a little more than 3 minutes into the fourth quarter with a concussion, on a vicious shoulder hit to the face delivered after the ball had bounced away.

Milloy, who was penalized 15 yards for unnecessary roughness, is in his 13th NFL season and has never been known as a dirty player, Eagles coach Andy Reid noted. But closing fast after a Donovan McNabb pass bounced off a defender's helmet away from Smith, Milloy unaccountably lowered his shoulder and drove it into Smith's face.

It was hard not to recall a similar hit by a similarly revered veteran safety, almost exactly 6 years earlier. On Oct. 28, 2002, at Veterans Stadium, Brian Dawkins unaccountably lowered his head and blasted defenseless Giants receiver Ike Hilliard, with the overthrown ball nowhere near Hilliard. Dawkins' hit, which drew a $50,000 fine, was helmet-to-helmet, which Milloy's was not, and Hilliard suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Smith eventually walked off the field, with assistance.
There was no word after the game on how long he might be sidelined.

"You saw by the players' reaction on both sides of the ball that they knew it was one of those things where it was a bang-bang deal," Reid said. "It is an emotional game, and sometimes things happen. I hated to see it happen to L.J. He was having a heckuva game. That's part of the game. Lawyer is not a cheap-shot guy, that's not his deal. He's been in this league a long time, and he's a clean player. For whatever reason, that one slipped by."

Dawkins said he didn't think of the Hilliard hit when he saw Smith go down.
"Playing the position, those things are going to happen," Dawkins said. "You don't have the vantage point to see everything everybody else sees. I understand exactly the situation he was in."

See the hit for yourself: LJ Smith concussion

Rollerblading Gay or not gay?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hoy es Martes

As we continue to figure out how to play Sunday’s game in New York without a QB, here are some items of interest to the football fan:

Thanks to Scott with the Cowboys, the all-time list of horrendous offensive displays that still resulted in a win:

Fewest net yards in a win:

172 vs. Tampa Bay (10/26/08)
174 at Cleveland (12/12/70)
177 at Minnesota (10/20/68)
180 vs. Chicago (9/28/97)
185 vs. Tampa Bay (11/21/82)
190 vs. St. Louis (12/4/66)
195 at N.Y. Giants (11/11/73)

Mac Engle on the odd story of looking for any QB option besides the silliness of Brad Johnson

Like leading a horse to water, Dallas Cowboys coach Wade Phillips had to literally be led to say Brad Johnson will start Sunday against the New York Giants. But he did say it.

Despite leading the Cowboys to a victory against Tampa Bay on Sunday, Johnson’s status as the quarterback is as shaky as the offense under his direction. Even though he is expected to start against the Giants in New Jersey, Johnson appears to be guaranteed not much of anything beyond the Cowboys’ first offensive series against the top-ranked defense in the NFC.

Third-string quarterback Brooks Bollinger, who was signed by the Cowboys on Sept. 8, is on notice. Should the Cowboys struggle Sunday and show a penchant for three-and-outs and punting, expect Bollinger to play. Just don’t expect any miracles.

And don’t expect anyone else, either. Sources said after the Cowboys’ 20-point loss against the St. Louis Rams on Oct. 19, which featured Johnson’s debut as the starter, there was not enough time for another veteran passer to come in and prepare himself adequately for anything other than the game against Washington on Nov 16. By then, Tony Romo is expected to be back.

"It’s the same thing I said the week before that we weren’t changing any people as far as starters were concerned on the defense or whatever," Phillips said. "So I mean you know we didn’t play well. But we didn’t play up to our standards and so our offense, they had a tough game but Tampa is good on defense."

The Cowboys feel like they got away with one against the Bucs. The Cowboys finished with 172 yards of total offense, the lowest total ever in franchise history in a win. They aren’t so sure they can get away with a similar offensive performance two weeks in a row, particularly on the road against a team like the 6-1 Giants.

The Cowboys fear they need something more than just safe — i.e. no turnovers — from the quarterback position. They want plays from the quarterback position.

In Johnson’s first two games as the Cowboys quarterback, he has completed 53.7 percent of his passes with two touchdowns, three interceptions and has been sacked six times. His passer rating is 60.3.

Against the Bucs, Johnson completed 19 passes, but averaged 2.8 yards per pass play. On the Cowboys’ lone offensive touchdown series, the Bucs kept the drive going with a pair of third-down penalties that resulted in automatic first downs.

Michael Lombardi offers interesting stuff on the playoff picture

We’re approaching the halfway point of the season. Last year, none of the 12 playoff teams had a losing record through 8 games.

2007 Playoff Teams

1. Patriots 8-0
2. Colts 7-1
3. Chargers 4-4
4. Steelers 6-2
5. Jaguars 5-3
6. Titans 6-2

1. Cowboys 7-1
2. Packers 7-1
3. Seahawks 4-4
4. Buccaneers 4-4
5. Giants 6-2
6. Redskins 5-3

The Chargers fall to 3-5. Only 5 of the 104 teams that started 3-5 since 1990 made the playoffs (4.8%)

The Saints improve to 4-4. 38 of the 108 teams that started 4-4 since 1990 made the playoffs (35.2%)

Started 3-5 and Reached Playoffs
SINCE 1990
Final W-L Playoff W-L
‘02 Jets 9-7 1-1
‘96 Jaguars 9-7 2-1
‘95 Lions 10-6 0-1
‘94 Patriots 10-6 0-1
‘90 Saints 8-8 0-1

Intern TC is back at it….


LaDanian Tomlinson ran for over 100 yards, and Philip Rivers threw for over 300 yards, yet the Chargers lost. That marks the first time this season that this sort of thing has happened, where both the RB and QB topped their magical marks and managed to lose. This week, the Jets and Redskins both made their second appearance on the list of people who won the game despite losing the turnover battle, which highlights the fact that the Cowboys are still the only team to do it three times. Also, if things held true to the season averages, a team that won the turnover battle every week would go 13-3, a team that had a 100 yard rusher every week would go 12-4, and a team that had a 300 yard passer every week would go 11-5.

TC Fleming

Here are the season statistics for winning the turnover battle. Traditionally, if you win the battle even by a +1 margin you hit a 80-85% win rate. So far this season, the teams that win the turnover battle are 74-20, 79% win percentage.

Positive 74-20 0.787
Even 22-22 0.500
Negative 20-74 0.213

+6 1-0 1.000
+5 3-0 1.000
+4 5-0 1.000
+3 11-2 0.846
+2 20-5 0.800
+1 32-11 0.744
0 22-22 0.500
-1 11-32 0.256
-2 5-20 0.200
-3 2-11 0.154
-4 0-5 0.000
-5 0-3 0.000
-6 0-1 0.000

Meanwhile, here are the numbers for the 100 yard rushers in Week 8. For the season, the teams with 100 yard rushers in a game have a 41-13 record for a 76% win rate…

Week Eight

Brian Westbrook PHI ATL 167 Win, 27-14
Clinton Portis WSH DET 126 Win, 25-17
DeAngelo Williams CAR ARI 108 Win, 27-23
LaDanian Tomlinson SD NO 105 Loss, 32-37
Total Record 3-1

And 300 yard passers in Week 8:

Week Eight
Kurt Warner ARI CAR 381 Loss, 23-27
Philip Rivers SD NO 341 Loss, 32-37
Drew Brees NO SD 339 Win, 37-32
Jason Campbell WSH DET 328 Win, 25-17
Chad Pennington MIA BUF 314 Win, 25-16
Marc Bulger STL NE 301 Loss, 16-23
Total Record 3-3

And the season win rate for 300 yard passers is 23-12, 66%...
Meanwhile, another week, another huge game for Texas

Then there's coach Mike Leach, a master at remaining straight-faced while ignoring the gigantic – burnt orange? – elephant in the room.

Distractions? Those are at their highest traditionally when you play Nebraska and Notre Dame, he said. Biggest game in school history?

"No bigger than the eight [games] that led up to it," he said. "There wouldn't be the sensation around this one if it weren't for the other eight."

But Leach – who has beat Texas once, in 2002 – didn't discount the importance of his players staying focused.

"They do a pretty good job with that," Leach said. "They spend a lot of time together, so they may be more on the same page then some of the other groups I've had."

Perhaps not coincidentally, of the three players made available to the media Monday, none was named Graham Harrell or Michael Crabtree.

Matt Williams – the student-in-the-stands-turned-extra-point-kicker? Hah. No chance.
Tech is preparing to face a defense that ranks second nationally in sacks, with 3.63 per game.

The Red Raiders have allowed three sacks this season – No. 2 nationally – two of which came on the same series last week against Kansas, with Tech already up big.
"You hate to see that happen," Reed said. "We're just going to try to eliminate them as much as we can. ... They're going to try to put pressure on Graham."

In turn, the Tech defense, almost always labeled the program's glaring soft spot compared to its relentless offense, is charged with disproving that tag against UT and quarterback Colt McCoy.

"We feel challenged every week," said McBath, who had three interceptions last week. "As explosive as the offenses are in the Big 12, they can score on any play."
It's early in the week. The buzz will only build.

"Our best is good enough to beat anyone in the country," Reed said. "And I'm sure Texas believes their best is good enough to beat anyone in the country. We've got to make sure our best shows up."

My Stars Blog update – click here to read the whole thing …my thoughts on the Turco slump…

Anytime the NHL ranks goaltenders in the department of save percentage, and your franchise doesn’t have anyone listed in the Top 30….

Anytime the NHL ranks goaltenders in the department of goals against average, and your franchise doesn’t have anyone listed higher than dead last…

Anytime you look at the NHL standings and check the column for goals allowed, and your franchise finds itself in absolute dead last…

You begin to catch yourself with a fairly uneasy stomach.

Pass the Tums.

Anderson, the Spider, Silva is a bad man

I admire Barch’s courage, but owned by Brashear

Monday, October 27, 2008

EPL Update - P1 Report

Mehul's report:

Since Arsenal's 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge in February 2004, Chelsea had gone 86 games at home without defeat. Liverpool ended the streak yesterday on a first half Xabi Alonso goal. The win puts Liverpool at the top of the table, 3 points ahead of Chelsea.

Xabi Alonso's solitary first-half goal ended Chelsea's 86-game unbeaten home league record and put Liverpool three points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League.

Alonso struck in the ninth minute when his 20-yard shot deflected off Jose Bosingwa and left Petr Cech wrong-footed.

It was Chelsea's first defeat under new boss Luiz Felipe Scolari, but Liverpool were always in charge of a pulsating contest at Stamford Bridge and look real title contenders on this form.

Chelsea had not been beaten at home since Arsenal's 2-1 success in February 2004 but Liverpool deserved their triumph with an impressive display.

Chelsea began the brighter of the two sides and their initial thrusts almost resulted in an opening goal.

Nicolas Anelka dribbled his way into the penalty area in the third minute but was tackled before he could test Jose Reina.

The ball fell to Deco but the Chelsea midfielder's shot was deflected to safety.

Liverpool went ahead in the ninth minute with their first attack of the game.

Chelsea failed to deal with a thrown-in when John Terry could only half-clear Dirk Kuyt's clever back-header.

The ball fell to Alonso on the edge of the penalty area and his shot deflected off Chelsea right-back Bosingwa into the net.

Arsenal took 3 points from a win against West Ham at Upton Park. An own goal by West Ham defender Julien Faubertin the 75th minute gave the Gunners the lead and a 90th minute strike from Emmanuel Adebayor sealed the 2-0 victory.

Arsenal capitalised on a poor weekend for title rivals Chelsea and Manchester United to secure maximum points from a hard-fought 2-0 win at West Ham.

Following Liverpool's victory at Stamford Bridge earlier this afternoon, and United's failure to beat Everton, Arsene Wenger's side knew just what was at stake as they looked to keep pace with the Barclays Premier League leaders.

The Gunners - fresh from a fine 5-2 Champions League trashing of Fenerbahce in Turkey - certainly had to dig deep for their win, which came courtesy of an own goal from Julien Faubert when he deflected a shot from substitute

Emmanuel Adebayor late in the second half, which was harsh on inspired West Ham keeper Robert Green, before the African wrapped things up in stoppage time.

Nevertheless, it is these such keenly-contested clashes which Wenger's young squad will have to come through if they are to have a say in the destiny of the title come May - and on this afternoon's evidence, they could still just have the final word.

With 25 minutes left, Wenger made a double change as Adebayor and Abou Diaby - who had played so well in Turkey - were introduced, replacing Nasri and Walcott.

Green was having an inspired afternoon and made another fine one-handed save to keep out Van Persie's low, angled drive.

When the England stopper was finally beaten by a stinging 25-yard free-kick from the Dutchman, his luck held as the ball cannoned off the base of the post and bounced away.

Arsenal, though, finally got the breakthrough with quarter of an hour to go when Adebayor weaved his way into the area and hit a low shot back across goal.

With Bendtner lurking in the six-yard box, the unfortunate Faubert stuck out a boot which diverted the ball past Green.

Adebayor should then have done better when following up his own shot, only to stab over from close range.

The Togo frontman eventually made sure of what could yet prove to be three vital points in an intriguing title race when he latched on to a long pass up field from Bendtner to round Green and smash the ball into an empty net.

To compound the misery for West Ham, referee Phil Dowd showed striker Carlton Cole what seemed a somewhat harsh straight red card for a sliding tackle from behind on Song.

Man United settled for a point in 1-1 tie at Everton, dropping them to 6th place with a game in hand.
Everton outmuscled Manchester United to claim an unexpected 1-1 draw thanks to a spirited second-half comeback.

The champions had dominated the first 45 minutes of the Premier League clash with a controlled and confident display, to the point that Everton were chasing shadows.

United held a deserved lead through Darren Fletcher at the break, but in the second period Everton stormed back with a physical performance, with Marouane Fellaini heading the equaliser.

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was able to make five changes to the United side that outclassed Celtic in the Champions League in midweek.

Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra were back from injury, while Ryan Giggs returned as captain. Wes Brown and Ji-Sung Park were also recalled.

Everton had former United striker Louis Saha up front with Ayegbeni Yakubu, while Joseph Yobo and Phil Neville returned from injury.

The hosts were either brave or foolhardy to play two wide-men in Steven Pienaar and Mikel Arteta, leaving Leon Osman and Fellaini sometimes cruelly exposed in central midfield, where Giggs pulled all the strings.

United found space with ease. Dimitar Berbatov may seem to show an economy of effort, but his clever link-up play kept United moving forward with menace.

Everton did have a couple of decent half-chances early on, firstly when Fellaini took a pass from Joleon Lescott and saw a shot on the turn blocked by Nemanja Vidic.

From the corner by Mikel Arteta, Belgian midfielder Fellaini headed just over. Then Wes Brown needed to make a hasty block when Saha struck a low drive from the edge of the box.

But United's movement, quality passing - and the amount of men they got forward so quickly - had Everton constantly stretched.

Fletcher had a header from Giggs' corner deflected wide, and Neville blocked a drive from Cristiano Ronaldo. Wayne Rooney then blasted wide after a free-kick had been blocked.

A goal from the champions has been on the cards for a while when Fletcher broke the deadlock after 22 minutes.

Another week, another win for Hull as they continue their red hot start with a 3-0 road victory at West Brom. Since the game was a day before the Liverpool-Chelsea clash, Hull had a brief share of 1st place with their 20 points.

Hull produced another stunning performance to claim an unlikely share of the Barclays Premier League lead this afternoon.

The promoted Tigers were second best to West Brom for large parts of a full-blooded encounter at The Hawthorns but hit the hosts with three goals in the second half.

In a blistering 20-minute spell, Hull - earlier indebted to goalkeeper Boaz Myhill and the crossbar for keeping them in the game - snatched victory trough Kamil Zayatte, Geovanni and Marlon King.

Hull's fourth successive win, amazingly, put them level with Chelsea and Liverpool at the top of the table and left them in good heart for clashes against the Blues and Manchester United next week.

It was a second successive heavy defeat for the Baggies and, like last week's 4-0 loss to United, was one in which the scoreline barely reflected their effort.

The result could hardly have been anticipated at the break after the hosts enjoyed a number of opportunities.

Ishmael Miller, recalled to add some firepower to the goal-shy home attack, proved a particular handful for the Hull defence and Myhill had to be at his best.

West Brom took an early grip on the game and earned their first opportunity from a free-kick on the edge of the box after Andy Dawson chopped down Miller.

Miller's deflected effort was easily gathered by Myhill but left-back Dawson had been injured in the challenge and was limping out of position as the Baggies attacked again.

In another news from the weekend, Tottenham fired manager Juande Ramos and hired Harry Redknapp away from Portsmouth. A day after the switch, Spurs were victorious for the first time this season, but not enough to keep them out of last place. Tottenham were 2-0 winners to Bolton.

Harry Redknapp took less than 24 hours to deliver what Tottenham wanted all season - a victory, 2-0 over Bolton, to kick-start their Barclays Premier League campaign.

Roman Pavlyuchenko and Darren Bent grabbed the goals against Bolton at White Hart Lane but all eyes were on Redknapp after his appointment to succeed Juande Ramos as Spurs boss.

They are still bottom of the table but have made up ground with other strugglers and crucially have a morale-boosting first league win of the season, at the ninth attempt.

Bolton, who had Gavin McCann sent off, gave Spurs nervous moments but there is enough for Redknapp to work with when he gets to work this week, with key contributions coming from players who struggled under Ramos.

Ramos' hasty departure came too quick for the club to change the matchday programme, so fans were given a chance to read the Spaniard's final notes.

"If you believed everything that was being speculated on then your perception of the club would be far removed from the reality,'' he wrote.

The reality was Ramos heading back to Spain and Redknapp in the dressing room and dugout, even though reserve-team coach Clive Allen picked the team.

Redknapp was unveiled to the Spurs fans before kick-off - something not afforded to Ramos due to the embarrassing manner of Martin Jol's departure a year ago.

The encouraging sign for Redknapp was skipper Ledley King being available, four days after playing in the defeat to Udinese - it was the first time he had been ready for games in such quick succession for 10 months.

As expected of a team with a new manager, there was an extra zip to the hosts, something missing so far this season.

In other scores from the weekend:

Newcastle 1 - Sunderland 2
Middlesbrough 1 - Blackburn 1
Stoke 0 - Manchester City 3
Aston Villa 4 - Wigan 0
Fulham 1 - Portsmouth 1

Standings after Round 8

1. Liverpool - 23 pts.
2. Chelsea - 20
3. Hull - 20
4. Arsenal - 19
5. Aston Villa - 17
6. Man Utd - 15 (game in hand)
7. Portsmouth - 14
8. Man City - 13
9. Sunderland - 12
10. West Ham - 12
11. Blackburn - 12
12. Middlesbrough - 10
13. West Brom - 10
14. Everton - 9
15. Wigan - 8
16. Fulham - 8 (game in hand)
17. Bolton - 8
18. Stoke - 7
19. Newcastle - 6
20. Tottenham - 5

And, Edith…gulp…

Edith's Soccer Blog

I just arrived back home this morning after a long flight. First of all, thanks to Bob Sturm for expensing my trip to report on the Chelsea v. Liverpool game match. Let me assure you, Bob, I did not rent those movies that the hotel will certainly accuse me of having expensed to my room.

As you have surely heard by now Liverpool defeated Chelsea 1-0 in an offensive showdown that would make Don Coryell wet his pants.

Xabi Alonso scored the only goal of the match when his nine minute shot was deflected beyond goalkeeper Petr Cech by the Blues full-back as I bellowed “MOOOOOOOOSSSSSEEE” from the stands.

The result ended Chelsea's incredible 86 match unbeaten home league record in the Premier League.

Game Story

A first half goal from Xabi Alons ended Chelsea's' 86 match unbeaten home league record and put Liverpool three points clear at the top of the Barclay's Premier League.

Alonso struck in the ninth minute when his 20 yard shot (that's nothing to be proud of, Russ. Yep 20 yards!!) deflected off Jose Bosingwa to leave goalkeeper Petr Cech flat footed.

Chelsea had their moments but Ashley Cole wasted their best chance of the match in 73rd minute by firing wide from eight yards.

Chelsea began the brighter of the two sides and their initial thrusts almost resulted in an opening goal.

Nicolas Anelka dribbled (somehow this is not a penalty) his way into the penalty area in the third minute but was tackled before he could test Jose Reina.

The ball fell to Deco but the Chelsea mid fielder's shot was deflected to safety.

Liverpool went ahead in the ninth minute with the first attack of the match.

Chelsea failed to deal with a throw when John Terry could only half clear Dirk Kuyt's clever back-header.

The ball fell to Xabi Alonso on the edge of the penalty area and his shot deflected off Bosingwa past Petr Cech.

Match Report

Now on to the mailbag:

Dear Edith,

What makes you think you are qualified to report on soccer?


Dear Marcus,

I don't think my work would be on the Internet if I were not qualified.


This Saturday I will be traveling to cover the Chelsea v. Sunderland match at Stamford Bridge and will have a full report next week.


Edith Wordsworth

And finally, Brandon:

Liverpool 1, Chelsea 0

Allow me to editorialize here as a newbie Reds fan:



With that out of the way, Liverpool served notice that while they may
have had a great bit of luck in pulling off some last minute victories
against mediocre competition, they are very much a legitimate threat to
ending a drought in the Premier League that has lasted since 1990. And
they did it by becoming the first visiting team in 87 matches to defeat
the Blues at Stamford Bridge. A streak that spanned 56 months.

Coming into Sunday's match, Chelsea had not allowed a goal in six
Premier League matches. But it didn't take long for that streak to end.

10 minutes in, Liverpool had won a throw in on the far side on Chelsea's
end of the pitch. Alvaro Arbeola threw in to Dirk Kuyt, whose chip into
the box was headed out by John Terry but only to the edge of the box
where Xabi Alonso gathered it, and fired a shot that was intended to
curl towards the right side of the net and away from Petr Cech. Along
the way, it deflected off defender Jose Bosingwa and Cech could only
watch helplessly as the ball bounded into the left corner.

Armed with a 1-nil lead, the Liverpool defense headed up by veteran
Jamie Carragher took over, thwarting the Chelsea attack over the next 80
minutes with an Ashley Cole slice wide at the 73rd minute proving to be
the only cause for concern for Pepe Reina.

Like previous matches, this tilt had it's chippy moments with four
yellow cards handed out. Captain Steven Gerrard was questionably booked
for what appeared to be a good challenge on Bosingwa just before
halftime. Then in the second half with Chelsea pressing on a corner,
Jason Terry fouled Reina, causing the Spanish goaltender's blood to rise
for a bit before cooler heads prevailed.

Alonso had a golden chance 17 minutes into the second half to pick up
his second goal of the match when his free kick bid eluded the vision of
a frozen Petr Cech. The Czech goaltender was bailed out however by the
post to his left

Everton 1 Manchester United 1

The Red Devils had gotten back into the race in recent weeks, but may
very well look back at this visit to Goodison Park with disgust come May
in a result that left Fergie whining about the officiating.

United opened the scoring 22 minutes in when a through ball from Ryan
Gigg was gathered by Darren Fletcher who fired low and across former
United goaltender Tim Howard. Moments later, United missed two golden
opportunities to stretch their lead when Howard made two fabulous saves
on Ronaldo and Nemanja Vidic five minutes later.

United held the lead at the half, but saw that lead vanish 18 minutes
into the second half when Phil Neville's cross was headed past Edwin Van
der Sar by the 6'5" Maraouane Fellaini. Both clubs battled to a tie over
the next 27 minutes but not without a little drama from Merseyside's own
Wayne Rooney, who was booked at the 68th minute for clobbering Mikel
Arteta. Rooney, who started his career with Everton, heard it from the
Toffee supporters and responded by kissing the United badge on the front
of his jersey, which is technically a bookable offense.

The referee decided to let it slide. Yet, Fergie decided to question
Alan Wiley's decision for reasons only known to him.

“The referee was to blame, and the crowd was egging him on and there was
every chance he may have been sent off, and not for anything he did in
the game.”

Yeah, OK. Don't expect the FA to do anything to golden boy Fergie, whose
side sits eight points behind Liverpool with a game in hand.

Arsenal 2 West Ham 0

The Gunners averted a draw with a pair of goals in the last 15 minutes
against a frustrated West Ham squad at Upton Park to stay four points
behind Liverpool. Arsene Wenger's squad finally broke through thanks to
an own goal by Julien Faubert, whose clearing attempt on Emmanuel
Adebayor's shot instead found the back of his own net. Adebayor would
ice it in extra time with a goal of his own off a counter attack,
causing frustration to boil over for Carlton Cole, who was sent off two
minutes later for a reckless swing on Alexandre Song.

The Hammers fell to 10th with their 5th loss in the Premier League season.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Week 8: Dallas 13, Tampa Bay 9 (5-3)

According to some simple math, the Cowboys went 34 days with just 1 win after dismantling the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night football on September 21. In some circles, that is not that bad a total (Detroit, Cincinnati), but around here, the sky was falling. Now, with 2 wins in 35 days, after a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Cowboys have a reason to play the 2nd half of the 2008 season. At the halfway pole, they sit at 5-3, and are right in the thick of things as far as trying to make the NFC playoffs.

But, wow. That was ugly. The offense was as painful to watch as anything since Chad Hutchinson was under center, and about as unproductive. 172 yards total offense and 3-15 on 3rd downs! And yet, we should all remember that the ugly win against Tampa Bay with a back-up QB who cannot seem to throw a ball in the ocean from the beach is worth no less than the systematic throttling of the Packers 5 weeks ago.

The NFL season is certainly far more marathon than sprint. And on a Sunday where style points were not being accumulated, a superb defensive effort was required and received by Wade Phillips and the Boys. Otherwise, they surely would lose. And although it took all 60 of the minutes on Sunday, the Cowboys did exactly what we said they had to do; figure out a way to get a win.

Give full marks to a team that was down several star players and on the brink of a certain disaster if they lost again. They absolutely need a result. And, although it was far from easy and farther from pleasing to the eye, I think the fight and resolve we saw from members of that defense especially should be congratulated. Now, let’s all remember how hard it is to find wins in this league, and soldier on to New York City for a date with the Champs next Sunday. Hopefully, the Cowboys will have enough bodies to fill out the roster.

Notes, Views, and Observations from “Winning Ugly in Week 8”:

• Sam Paulescu is the new hero of Texas Stadium after his crunching hit on Clifton Smith. Have you ever seen anything look weirder than a #2 with a wrap up tackle? Geez.

• I mean this in the best possible way: Brad Johnson is horrible. I know he is trying, and I know the back shoulder fade to Roy Williams at the half was a throw that may have won the game, but he missed so many throws in the Tampa game that he actually missed more than he did against St Louis. To his credit, the only difference was that he did not throw picks this week. At least if you are going to be bad, make your bad throws to nobody rather than the opponent. He did that pretty well on Sunday. Every other element to his throwing the ball was below the grade requirement for the position. He missed open receivers. He missed a Touchdown to Owens that is a throw he has to make. He repeatedly checked down for no gain to end drives, and he shows no signs of it improving now that defenses are clearly in on the tendencies. I don’t see any way they can stretch and test the New York Giants defense, so I am willing to take suggestions for next Sunday unless Mr. Romo is feeling better. Is Brooks Bollinger a possibility? Could he be worse?

• Possible play of the game (or one of Norm’s 5 plays you may not remember)? 3rd and 3 for Tampa at the Dallas 25 late in the 2nd Quarter. Garcia back to pass and has no place to go, he rolls to the right sideline before slipping and Jay Ratliff falls on top. Ratliff gets the sack and a 43 yard FG becomes a 51 yard FG. Next play, Bryant misses wide right, and the Cowboys not only save 3 points, but take over at the 41 yard line with 2:23 left in the half. Can’t take that sack if you are Tampa.

• Here is the big question: Was Tampa Bay picking on Anthony Henry because they knew he was hurt? Or was he fine until Garcia picked on him for most of the first 3 quarters? You know a guy isn’t playing well when Garcia would rather throw at him than 2 rookies elsewhere on the field.

• The first 3 offensive drives of the Cowboys on Sunday were amazingly bad. They really set the bar low for what the afternoon would hold. Also, Texas Stadium set a new record for booing the Cowboys. By my watch, the Cowboys fans began booing Johnson and the offense at 14:06 of the 1st Quarter. That is right. :54 seconds of patience before the faithful felt compelled to voice their displeasure.

• Antonio Bryant looks like a different human being. He is just 27 years old, and he looks fully grown as a WR in this league. After many wasted years of screwing up, maybe he is ready to grow up as a man. If so, the Bucs have a talented player at a huge discount. You have to be a pretty big screw up to have that much talent and not be employed in the NFL in 2007.

• Near the end of the 1Q, on a play where Garcia hit Michael Clayton for 17 yards to the Cowboys 14, did Mike Jenkins try a flying leg kick?

• It took Marion Barber 31 touches to accumulate 100 yards. And you know something? I thought he was great on Sunday. He ran with abandon and conviction. I thought he was the best player on the offense by a mile.

• Flozell Adams versus Gaines Adams? Give me Gaines Adams. Hard to believe he has only 4 sacks this season, and only 2 before today.

• I really, really hope Jason Witten is not out for long. This team cannot take any more injuries. Especially of that quality.

• Bobby Carpenter made a play! Bobby Carpenter made a play! Bobby Carpenter made a play!

• I think Bradie James is playing some of the best football of his career. I also think that he has plenty of leadership in his bag as well.

• The Cowboys almost got another punt blocked on the play with the running into the kicker penalty. They surely cannot afford that nonsense at this point.

• If we are going to rip Wade (and we are) then let’s give the man some credit. He ran that fade with six seconds to go rather than play it safe with the Field Goal before half time. He went for it at his own 39 in the 4th Quarter (which once again demonstrates that he was trying to do whatever he could to get a win). And, he called several blitzes and a pretty aggressive game for his defense. I thought he did a nice job. The playcalling on offense will get ripped, but I ask whoever rips it, “what would you call with Brad Johnson as your QB?”

• DeMarcus Ware had his sack streak end. Oh well. He still was the most dominant member of that defense. But, bro, can we wait until the ball is snapped? I think the center was baiting him, but if they don’t call the center for the false start, that is on #94. Ware: Watch the ball!

• Is Chris Hovan wearing a tank top? That is the goofiest jersey cut ever. We should not be able to see your nipple through your arm hole. And by the way, I would consider testing that dude for steroids.

• 5 trips for the Bucs inside the 25 and they came away with only 9 points? That is a credit to the defense. If they cracked for 1 TD, there is a good chance the Cowboys lose. They had to be great yesterday, so let’s credit them where it is surely due. They could not afford one busted coverage over the top, and with nearly a completely reserve secondary they held it together. Dave Campo should get a game ball given that Alan Ball, Orlando Scandrick, Mike Jenkins, and Keith Davis were all on the field plenty.

• Is it asking too much to get Roy Williams on the field a bit more?
Shouldn’t he have a reasonable idea of his role by now? I bet he is not on the field 33% of the plays yet. That Touchdown is a testament to his ability, but he cannot help from the sideline.

• Giants week? Yikes. This doesn’t look good. The good news is that the worst they can hit the bye week at is 5-4. And now, they can relax, and fly under the radar knowing nobody will give them a chance next Sunday at the Meadowlands.

Liverpool 1, Chelsea 0

While doing the pregame show for Cowboys-Bucs, allow me to take a moment to say this:



Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ask Sports Sturm #3: JD versus the Fern - Updated

Dear Sports Sturm-

I am pretty sure Jon Daniels doesn't know what he is doing, and he has actually made a huge mess of this thing. Is it possible the Rangers would be better off if they had no GM at all, or perhaps a nice houseplant like a fern sitting in his chair not answering the phone?

Dave - A frustrated Baseball Fan

What if the Rangers did not make any trades, any free agent signings, and only kept what talent they had when John Hart left?

This discussion is surely a controversial one, but it is all based on the idea that the case could be made that the Rangers would have been better served if they would have made no trades and no free agent signings from October 5, 2005 (the day Jon Daniels was named general manager) until this very day.

This is not to say that a fern is a better judge of talent than Jon Daniels, because that is ridiculous. Daniels knows more in his little pinky about baseball than most of us would ever hope to know. But, that is not the point. The point is that very smart baseball men occasionally get on rolls where they cannot make good deals. It would appear that Mr. Daniels had a spell like that for a few years.

This study does not take into account several very important factors. For instance:

1) There is no accounting for payroll. The idea that the Rangers would have resigned their own free agents (including Teixeira, Cordero, Soriano, and Matthews) is a very daunting expense. Even those of us who would love to see their payroll increase would concede this is an absurd bill. At the same time, the cost of Millwood, Padilla, Catalanatto, Jason Jennings and Milton Bradley would not have occurred, so you could see how you would add over $43 million in players (without Teixeira’s new money determined) while subtracting roughly $33 million. If you assume that the Rangers could have done a similar deal with Chris Young that the Padres did, that would add another $2.5 million, so the Rangers payroll would still be at just about $80 million dollars- or up about $13 million from the $67 they spent in 2008. Also, we must figure out how a fern would go about negotiating with Scott Boras, but for the sake of discussion...

2) There is also no accounting for player development. Whenever the discussion of Edinson Volquez or Jon Danks is raised, many will often suggest that the Rangers never would have gotten the performance out of those young lads that their current teams did. Well, you might be right, but in the court of sports discussions, we always assume that Michael Jordan would have been great in Portland, Brett Favre would have been great in Atlanta, and Randy Moss would have been pretty solid in Dallas. Of course, there is no telling, so any arguments on this line are surely subjective and impossible to prove.

3) A fern needs to be watered regularly. And we are assuming that the Fern would make all of the same draft picks that Jon Daniels and his staff has made.

4) There is no accounting for prospects. This is about the major league teams. If Daniels strategy has been to ignore the big league team and just stock pile for 2009 and beyond – a theory that has been advanced by more than a few people, then he will get the last laugh, as the fern has been trying to win now. But, that is purely guesswork at this moment in time.

But, after we are aware of those and other factors, it is very interesting to look at the Rangers Major League club at this moment, October of 2008, and compare them to what they would be if they only had the talent they had in October of 2005, and the draft picks they have made since then.

First, an email explanation of the methodology, from our intern, TC, - the man who put this study together - and a man after my own heart:


The question you brought up yesterday--would the Rangers be better off if they had not made any moves at all--is one I'd been meaning to look in to as well. I had a little extra time after I got off work today, so I did the math. If the Rangers had not made any trades, not signed any new players, retained the players they had before Daniels, and drafted the same as they did in real life, it seems they would be a strong playoff team today.

The spreadsheet I've attached has two pages. One is just a list of key moves made by Daniels. The other is a comparison of the stats of the current team compared to the stats of the team as it would look had a fern been the GM. The key stat here is Wins Above Replacement Player. A team made up entirely of players who could be replaced easily by street free agents would win somewhere around 20 games. So if we add around 20 wins to the total of the WARP of the real team, we get an 82-win team. Since the real team ended up winning 79 games, I'd say the stat does a pretty good job of estimating wins.

The stat estimates that the Fern-led Rangers would win somewhere in the neighborhood of 108 games. So even allowing that the stat to be off by 10 games, the Rangers are still a wild card team. If they're as good as WARP indicates with a top 3 of Danks, Volquez, and Young, I don't think it would be crazy to call them a World Series contender.

I might have left someone out of either lineup, and one could argue that maybe the starting rotations ought to look different. On both sides, I tried to find the player who would most help their cause. I certainly would appreciate your input as to who should be where and stuff. But any changes at this point would be minor and unlikely to affect larger point: that a fern would be a much better manager than
Jon Daniels.

I figured since you have Moneyball on your desk and read the Pro Football Prospectus books that you would be okay with stats like WARP. I further figure that those sorts of things aren't well suited for use on the radio, since lots of people don't know what they mean and some people have a prejudice towards that sort of thing. I did this just so that I could know with precision how much better the fern is than
Daniels, but if you want to turn it in to an Ask Sports You and would like to change the stats being used, let me know which ones you would like me to look up, and I would be happy to find them.

TC Fleming

OK, with that in mind, here are the current Rangers, including their “WARP” rating from the most this season. The players used, are the players who own the highest WARP at each position. That is why Blalock is at 1B, and Teagarden is your Catcher.

The Jon Daniels – Texas Rangers

1B Hank Blalock 1.7
2B Ian Kinsler 8.2
SS Michael Young 8.1
3B Chris Davis 2.3
RF David Murphy 3.4
CF Josh Hamilton 8.1
LF Brandon Boggs 1.6
C Taylor Teagardn 1.1
DH Milton Bradley 7
======== 41.5

SP Kevin Milwood 3.6
SP Vicente Padilla 4.1
SP Kason Gabbard 0.9
SP Eric Hurley 0.5
SP Brandon McCarthy0.6
======== 9.7

CP CJ Wilson 0.9
RP Jamey Wright 2.1
RP Josh Rupe 1.7
RP Warner Madrigal 0.6
RP Kameron Loe 0.5
RP Wes Littleton 0.2
RP Frank Francisco 3.7
RP Joaquin Benoit 1.2
======== 10.9
Team Total 62.1

And here is the best team the Fern could roll out for this season:

1B Mark Texiera 10
2B Ian Kinsler 8.2
SS Michael Young 8.1
3B Chris Davis 2.3
RF Mark DeRosa 8
CF G Matthews, Jr. 1.6
LF Alfonso Soriano 5.8
C T Teagarden 1.1
DH Adrian Gonzalez 8.1
======== 53.2

SP John Danks 8.5
SP Edinson Volquez 7
SP Chris Young 2.8
SP Eric Hurley 0.5
SP Scott Feldman 1.8
======== 20.6

CP Fran Cordero 5.8
RP RA Dickey 2.5
RP Ron Mahay 2.2
RP CJ Wilson 0.9
RP Joaquin Benoit 1.2
RP Josh Rupe 1.7
RP Frank Francisco 3.7
RP Wes Littleton 0.2
======== 18.2
Team Total 92

So, there you have it. The JD Rangers get 62 wins (+20) for 82 real wins, and the Fern Rangers sit at 92 (+20) for an absurd total of 112 real wins. Even if Bill James is off by a dozen wins – which he very seldom is, the result puts the fern at 100 wins in 2008.


Do you believe it? I am not sure even I do, but it shows you the shocking subtractions that have been made around here.

Let’s hope the supplies on the farm are as good as they have been advertised.
I look forward to your comments below.

Update 10/26, 8:00am: There appear to be some issues with TC's study with the WARP and with a few lineup issues raised by some readers that shall be sorted in out in good time (when I get done with the Cowboys today). I thought of taking it down until everything is airtight, but the link is out there so for now, please know that we are aware of some issues and will try to work to work them out quite shortly. Lo Siento.


Update 11/1: So, when I did this originally, I sent it out to the discriminating eyes of my Rangers media heroes. Guys like Newberg, Hindman, Grant, Lewin, and Adam Morris. Morris, of took the time to give TC's numbers a strong test. Here is his email response:

A couple of things...

1) You left out Marlon Byrd, who would give the Daniels group an additional 5 wins or so compared to having Boggs out there.

2) Much of DeRosa's value is derived from him playing 2B. If you put him in RF, instead of 2B, his WARP probably drops by about 3 or so.

3) Ditto with Adrian Gonzalez at DH...Milton Bradley was a better offensive player than Gonzalez was this year, even factoring in the time missed, so it doesn't make sense to say Gonzalez would give you more wins above replacement as a DH.

4) This also overlooks the fact that you are giving Fern a full season from your 1B, while giving Daniels about 1 or 1 1/2 months from his 1B.

5) Laird had a higher WARP than Teagarden, although that's the same for Daniels and Fern.

6) You also omitted Matt Harrison, who had a higher WARP than Eric Hurley. And if you are going to include Jamey Wright (a f.a. right now), you should probably include Eddie Guardado, who adds a couple of wins to the bullpen.

7) Danks and Volquez would likely have a WARP about a half-run lower apiece if they were in Texas, owing to the terrible defense behind them (which would result in more earned runs allowed, resulting in a lower WARP).

8) You could also just combine Cruz and Murphy (since Cruz didn't come up until Murphy was done for the year), and give you a combined WARP from the COF slot that you don't have Byrd in, which boosts the current total.

Really, there are three guys on your "Fern" list who made significant contributions that weren't made up by guys currently here...that's Teixeira, Cordero, and Danks. Otherwise, Soriano's WARP was lower than Byrd's this year, DeRosa was either a wash with Kinsler at 2B or a wash with the Cruz/Murphy combo, Volquez/Hamilton is a coin flip, Bradley/Gonzalez is a wash...

He then did a very extensive blog post on the topic here ...I am impressed and honored by the attention to detail.

But, even with the adjustments made, the difference in wins appears to still be 15 wins in the fern's favor. 15 wins is the difference between first place and last place in the AL Central, and in the Rangers case, 15 wins would take you from 16 games out of the Wildcard chase to merely 1.

So, while I certainly did not like to have so many oversights in the project (TC and I both share the burden of guilt) I still suggest that while he weakened the argument from 30 wins to 15...15 wins is still 15 wins.

Here is the response from embattled TC:


Here is the new spreadsheet with the inclusion of Win Shares to back up the original argument. And I was wrong about the math on the phone. It's pretty close to a 15-win advantage for both methods, WARP and Win Shares.

Also, I just read Adam's post and the accompanying comments, and I have some pretty mixed reactions. On one hand, I've never had anything in the ballpark of 42 responses to anything I've written before. Having this many people discussing something I'm kind of involved in is neat, and at least in the case of Adam getting involved, it really helps towards the goal of learning the true and accurate answer to the question.

But on the other hand, some of these commenters seem to really miss the point. I'm sure that you've had some of the same reactions. By posing and answering a bit of a fun question, we are not declaring our baseball philosophy. We're just trying to answer the question. By looking in to this matter, we are not saying that payroll and prospects are unimportant. We're just saying it's too complicated to consider for this specific experiment.

Finally, I quibble with Adam's conclusions. I really appreciate his tweaks to the lineups (although I wonder how exactly he was able to account for DeRosa and Gonzalez), but to look at the differences and dismiss them seems silly. Using his totals, the Fern wins 15 more games. 15 wins is a lot. 15 wins is a ton. Granted they would miss the postseason this year (15 more wins gives them 94. The Red Sox took the wild card with 95 and the Angels took the division with 100 wins), but Paul DePodesta says in Moneyball that if a team wins 95 games and misses the playoffs, that team should be okay with that. I think he would say the same of 94 wins.

Wouldn't everyone around here just be overjoyed with 94 wins? Based on his response at the end of the post, I don't think he values 15 wins the same as I do. It seems like a lot of this difference comes from the fact that he boils the 15 wins down to Cordero, Danks and Teixeira then separately dismisses all three losses. I agree with him on Teixeira, but just because people weren't clamoring for Cordero doesn't mean he wouldn't be a great help to the team. Then he dismisses Danks, saying it has been beaten to death. No doubt it has been beaten to death, but it's still significant. You can't just say it's not important because it's been heavily discussed before.

Our original conclusion is that a Fern would be better than John Daniels. That conclusion is still true, and it's true by a pretty impressive margin. Not as much as we thought initially, but still an impressive margin.

So, there you have it. Decide for yourself.

Here are the new amended lineups:

First Daniels - Updated
Daniels WARP
1B Hank Blalock 1.7
2B Ian Kinsler 8.2
SS Michael Young 8.1
3B Chris Davis 2.3
RF David Murphy/ Nelson Cruz 10.4
CF Josh Hamilton 8.1
LF Marlon Byrd 5.4
C Gerald Laird 2.7
DH Milton Bradley 7
================= 53.9

SP Kevin Milwood 3.6
SP Vicente Padilla 4.1
SP Scott Feldman 1.8
SP Matt Harrison 1.2
SP Brandon McCarthy 0.6
================= 11.3

CP CJ Wilson 0.9
RP Jamey Wright 2.1
RP Josh Rupe 1.7
RP Warner Madrigal 0.6
RP Kameron Loe 0.5
RP Eddie Guardado 2.5
RP Frank Francisco 3.7
RP Joaquin Benoit 1.2
=================== 13.2
Team Total 78.4

And the Fern's:

1B Mark Texiera 10
2B Ian Kinsler 8.2
SS Michael Young 8.1
3B Chris Davis 2.3
RF Mark DeRosa 8
CF Gary Matthews, Jr. 1.6
LF Alfonso Soriano 5.8
C Gerald Laird 2.7
DH Adrian Gonzalez 8.1
=================== 54.8

SP John Danks 8.5
SP Edinson Volquez 7
SP Chris Young 2.8
SP Eric Hurley 0.5
SP Scott Feldman 1.8
=================== 20.6

CP Francisco Cordero 5.8
RP RA Dickey 2.5
RP Ron Mahay 2.2
RP CJ Wilson 0.9
RP Joaquin Benoit 1.2
RP Josh Rupe 1.7
RP Frank Francisco 3.7
RP Wes Littleton 0.2
==================== 18.2
Team Total 93.6

The End to a fun little debate that has grown a life of its own...

Friday, October 24, 2008

A very uncertain pick.

Well, I hate to blow this out of proportion, but you better win this thing Sunday against Tampa Bay. I just don’t know that I can totally buy into it. Tampa Bay is a quality squad, and the Cowboys are reeling.

I guess I make this pick completely out of respect for guys like Jason Witten and Greg Ellis and Bradie James and Marion Barber. I believe they don’t want to go out like this, so they will dig a little deeper and win a game they must win.

I think Tampa and Monte Kiffin will make it extremely tough, by clogging any and all short routes and challenging the Cowboys to throw it over the top, where Brad Johnson’s weak arm will be called into question.

Should be intriguing. And it should be scary.

Cowboys 17, Tampa Bay 16


Gil Brandt looks at the big games and calls it one of the biggest games in Cowboys History!

Tampa Bay QB Jeff Garcia vs. Dallas QB Brad Johnson

This may be one of the biggest games in Cowboys history. At 4-3, Dallas plays the Giants and Redskins on the road after this game.

With Tony Romo out, this becomes a quarterback matchup between a 38-year-old (Garcia) and a 40-year-old (Johnson). Johnson started 14 games for Minnesota in 2006. He's very smart and knows what to do with the ball. He will require great protection and a clean pocket, because he doesn't have much arm strength when he can't plant and use his lower body. He will provide much-needed leadership
The entire NFC South had just one player selected to the Pro Bowl last year -- Garcia. He's smart and understands the West Coast offense. He's able to move around and very seldom makes a bad pay.

Ironically, while Johnson played QB for the Buccaneers' Super Bowl-winning team team in 2002, Garcia will be throwing in this game to a pair of former Dallas WRs -- Antonio Bryant and Joey Galloway, who will most likely be the main targets.

Michael Lombardi’s review and comment on the news ….

FROM CALVIN WATKINS OF THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS…“The season’s not over,” Stewart said. “You should get measured by what you do at the end of the day, right? Not at the beginning. Look at the full body of work. Don’t judge me on not even half of the season.” Stewart has received most of the criticism over the defense’s struggles. Though this is Phillips’ 3-4 scheme, Stewart was brought in from San Diego last season to help teach it to the new defensive coaches and players. “The way you look at it is, you knew the job was rough when you took it,” he said. “All you can do is be you, coach hard, be the best coach you can be at whatever you’re supposed to be doing. And then what happens, happens. If you get blamed, you get blamed.”

I think the biggest problem with the Dallas defense lies in the expectations of being a shut down unit. They have gotten pass rush pressure from Demarcus Ware, but have not been able to get consistent pressure from anyone else. And some of the guys that they are counting on to be good players have not matured as players, or have seen their better days as players. For example, linebacker and first round pick Anthony Spencer has not been a factor, and the play of Anthony Henry has been so bad it amazes me that he is still active for games. All that talk about this being a top talent defense is just that– talk. Now, I am not saying there is not room for improvement from the coaching side, because we all can do our own jobs better. But when you look at the Cowboys on paper, they are just good on paper, not on the field.

No love from Phil Simms, either

The crew on Showtime's "Inside the NFL" didn't hold anything back when asked about the Cowboys on Wednesday's show. Cris Collinsworth called the Cowboys "the most individualistic team in the league," which sounds fairly accurate to me.

Added Phil Simms: "When I watch the Cowboys it's like a boxing match. They want to go out there and win a decision by dancing around. Sooner or later you got to punch somebody in the mouth. They don't punch anybody in the mouth. The first thing I notice about all their games is they are never the aggressor physically and you can't win in the NFL unless you are."

And here's what Bill Cowher said: "You have to cater your defense to what you have personnel-wise. They have coverage issues. In my mind what they have to do is get some way to create pressure. I know [Demarcus] Ware is a good rusher. But at the same time they got to get there quicker. They've got to be more disruptive with their front. I look at this team right now and they are trying to play the same way they did when they had everybody healthy. They don't have everybody healthy. Right now you've got to cater that defense to what you have and they aren't doing that."

Big 12 NFL Draft thoughts

My Stars Blog this morning …including Ovechkin Videos…

And finally, The real big game this weekend ...Chelsea vs. Liverpool...Sunday Morning, 8:30am, Setanta...

The top two in the Premier League clash at Stamford Bridge on Sunday as Chelsea host Liverpool, live on Sky Sports 1 and HD 1.

Chelsea currently sit at the table's summit, but only by goal difference as Liverpool lurk in close proximity after matching their weekend opponent's unbeaten start.

Liverpool's positive beginning has seen Rafa Benitez's title credentials taken more seriously than any of the Spaniard's previous four campaigns in England as the Reds start to resemble a squad which can realistically end an 18-year wait for league glory.

Luiz Felipe Scolari's Chelsea, however, have the critics purring, with the Blues ridding themselves of the conservative football played under former managers.

The 2005 and 2006 Premier League winners also boast a daunting 86-game unbeaten home record in the league and, with Liverpool recording only one three-point haul at Stamford Bridge in 16 visits, their opponent's task appears all the more intimidating.

Liverpool, though, have become the comeback kings this season after coming from behind against Middlesbrough, Manchester United, Manchester City and Wigan in the league to leave confidence high ahead of their trip to West London.

But Chelsea captain John Terry is as eager as any of his team-mates to deliver a dent to the aspirations of their title rivals as the England captain prepares to take his place in the heart of Scolari's defence.

The centre-back has been accused of putting club before country after featuring in last weekend's drubbing of Middlesbrough having missed the World Cup qualifiers with Kazakhstan and Andorra with a back injury, but he is now fully recovered.

Reds trio
Top-scorer Frank Lampard will continue to prove Chelsea's lynchpin in the centre of midfield, while Juliano Belletti - who was star of the show against Boro - will hope for a recall in the continued absence of Michael Ballack (foot) after dropping to the bench against Roma in the UEFA Champions League.

Liverpool have captain Steven Gerrard and midfielder Xabi Alonso available, despite fears that the star duo may miss out, but Benitez is to make a late decision on the fitness of striker Robbie Keane.

The trio were substituted against Atletico Madrid in Europe on Wednesday as Gerrard (fatigue), Keane (groin) and Alonso (knee) suffered.

But Benitez looks set to name Gerrard and Alonso in his starting XI as he attempts to compensate for the absence of Fernando Torres, who is missing with a hamstring injury, while Dirk Kuyt should return after dropping to the bench at Atletico.

Possible starting XIs:
Chelsea: Cech, Bosingwa, Carvalho, Terry, Bridge, Mikel, Lampard, Deco, Malouda, Anelka, Kalou.

Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Dossena, Riera, Alonso, Mascherano, Gerrard, Kuyt, Keane.

Hockey Awesomeness

UFC 90 – Saturday Night