Thursday, November 8, 2012

Random Fall Sports Thoughts

The books I've been reading to blog about recently aren't coming out until later in the winter, I've got a whole big thing about election reform in the works, but I think we can wait until we've all caught our breath a bit (either from wailing in rage or smugly smirking when making eye contact with other liberals, which takes a bit more oxygen than you might assume), and well, I wrote about tomatoes two weeks ago. (Probably six weeks too late to be useful, but well, it's out on the Internet. Just bookmark it.) So my post this week is a slew of random sports thoughts from the past couple months.

The Biggest Loser in the NHL Lockout is Your Boston Bruins
Think about the state of Boston sports in early October. The Reds Sox were, well, you know. The Celtics hadn't started playing and the scab referees were sowing chaos all over the NFL. If the NHL season had started on time, the Bruins would have been the most popular team in New England. Not only would they have been the only professional team actually playing an actual version of their sport, but their season was packed with story lines. How would Tukka Rask handle being the official number one goalie? Would Tyler Sequin compete for the scoring title? What would Nathan Horton's capacity be? Would Doug Hamilton make an impact? Would Patrice Bergeron finally, finally, be recognized as an elite NHL player? And this before any games are played. Unless something went horribly wrong, the Bruins would make the playoffs, mostly likely winning their division again, and, if they stayed healthy, their young stars continued to improve, and their veteran stars (Krejci, Lucic, Bergeron, Chara) played liked stars, would be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. All hockey fans are the losers in this stupid, stupid lockout, but if there is one organization that lost a major opportunity, it is our own Boston Bruins.

How Did the Sox Get Farrell So Easily?
When the Red Sox first showed some interest in John Farrell, last year, the Toronto Blue Jays demanded Clay Bucholtz in exchange for a meeting; Jays get Bucholtz, Sox get a conversation. I think everyone; fan, player, coach, owner, wanted John Farrell to come back and manage the Sox once Tito was run out of town, it was just a matter of when. At the beginning of the season, before Armageddon hit, I would have assumed Valentine would stay his two years (which would have lined up with the end of Farrell's contract) and unless he won a World Series, be politely replaced. So when the bubonic plague swept through the second half of the Sox season and Valentine was fired, the Jays must have known the Sox were desperate for Farrell. This is not a knock on Mike Aviles, I'm just shocked the Jays would settle on one player. Maybe they know something the Sox don't. Maybe it was just that they knew they weren't going to keep Farrell after the end of his contract and figured they'd get that part of their club settled quickly and easily. Who knows what they're reasoning is, but the Sox have to feel a lot better about their resources this off season since they had to spend so little on Farrell.

Ortiz and Ellsbury
I like the Ortiz contract. Well, I don't like any professional sports contracts, but when you take the real world absurdity of all professional sports out of the picture, I like the Ortiz contract. Are the Sox probably overpaying him? Well, they're not really paying for the next two years. There was some strong evidence last year that Ortiz could be worth something like that, but there was also some strong evidence that he is one tweaked knee away from uselessness. This contract pays Ortiz for his career and all but guarantees he'll retire in a Red Sox uniform, so we can all begin fantasizing about Tek coaching pitchers and Papi coaching hitters. In terms of Ellsbury and trade rumors and the occasional absence thereof, what we can know for sure is that nobody in the league has much confidence in his durability, but in a very weird way. He is just so talented, that his trade and contract value is massive, except that, for some reason, he keeps get season ending injuries. The economics of trades make it almost impossible to accurately evaluate a trade involving him. If he stays with the Sox through the off-season and if he extends his contract with them, his stability here might come as much from this impossible value calculus as it does from his value as a player.

A Tale of Four Teams
I work on Sundays, so I don't get to see many Pats games over the season. Usually, I use NFL Game Center to keep track of what's happening, and even though the display is only color coded lines across a field, if you have a good sense of what football looks like, you can get a lot out of that data. It's not complete, but there's enough information to draw some conclusions. The Patriots seem to field four different teams. First is the front seven on defense which, lead by Vince Wilfork (Pro-Bowl at this point), are ranked 7th in rushing defense and have forced 7 fumbles (2nd), have only given up 3 rushing touchdowns, and only one run of more than 20 yards. They've also come up with huge plays, like Wilfork forcing the fumble against the Cardinals and the sack/fumble of Sanchez in over time. Then there's the secondary. Maybe they still haven't quite figured out the bend-don't-break pass defense. Maybe they're still too young to handle NFL style offenses. Maybe Patrick Cheung, talented as he is, doesn't have the ability to lead the team needs from him. Maybe, they just don't have Super Bowl caliber talent. Whatever it is, the Patriots are way down at 28th in passing defense giving up an average of 8 yards a passing play and 281.1 passing yards per game, with a 65.8% completion rate good for 6th worst in the league. Aqib Talib (when he can play and more on him later) might be a piece in the puzzle kind of player, providing just enough raw talent in the secondary for the scheme to come together and the pass defense to radically improve. But even if he only moderately improves the secondary, that might be enough for another ring.

The offense seems to be just as divided. There's the no-huddle offense (NFL Game Center indicates when a play is no-huddle) which is, in standard Patriots fashion, tearing defenses apart and there's the huddle offense which seems to stall out, usually on really important drives. Maybe Josh McDaniels doesn't have a complete grasp on the talent at his disposal. Maybe the no-huddle just keeps defenses off their feet. Maybe the players execute the no-huddle plays better. But, of course, you can't run the no-huddle all game. At least one sports writer thought they looked worn out by the end of the Denver game. (Of course, by then they'd already scored 31 points.) One of the problems the Patriots have had over the last few years is managing the clock; keeping the ball in situations when it's best to slow the game down. Having an actual running game (which, man, is that pretty sweet) will help, but they still need to be able to huddle, walk up to the line while the clock ticks away, take a breath, and execute enough plays to sustain drives. Without at least being mediocre that this, it's hard to see them winning another Super Bowl this year, no matter how well the rest of the season goes.

On Aqib Talib
I don't know if he'll be the missing piece that makes the Patriots defense championship caliber, but, he won't tear the team apart. The big risk of volatile players is that their behavior will lead to team wide conflicts, but that hasn't happened with the Patriots. Whether the high-risk player has worked out or not, none of them have brought the team down with them. This probably part of why they were able to get Talib for basically nothing. The Bucs were done with him, other teams didn't want to risk it, and the Pats knew he'd either improve their secondary or he wouldn't. Another reason why Bellicheck should be talked about as an all time great.

The Big Gap in My Sports Fall
Finally, a major part of my sports Fall will be missing this year. For the past eight years, the Lewiston Maineacs, a Quebec Major Junior Hockey Team, played the Friday after Thanksgiving, so I was always in town to see it. The whole fam would go and then I would go out with my friends afterward. High quality hockey with a dose of hometown nostalgia. Alas, for a whole host of reasons, the Maineacs were dissolved (right before they were due for a playoff run) and the arena hasn't found a replacement for them. The AHL Portland Pirates will play a few games there over the winter, but not on this particular night. I think Lewiston is a great fit for a junior team, and, assuming the overall economy begins to improve and Lewiston hockey fans have learned a little about the cycles of Junior Hockey, a team, maybe from Eastern Junior Hockey League (which already has a team in Portland), should be successful.

No comments:

Post a Comment