Phil Jackson ACTUALLY Considering Joining The Knicks

Phil Jackson hanging with John Lithgow and the UCLA Bruin

Phil Jackson hanging with John Lithgow and the UCLA Bruin

So I’m going about my normal Saturday, leaving the gym and see the following SportsCenter alert on my phone: “Phil Jackson leaning toward taking job with Knicks as president of basketball operations.”  I immediately laugh out loud thinking that ESPN’s mobile alerts were hacked.  Then I think about it for a second and realize this opportunity actually isn’t below the Zen Master.  It’s such actually an amazing opportunity because it is so truly terrible.  The Knicks have somehow repeated the Isiah Thomas Cycle TWICE within a decade.  Isiah Thomas notably was the Knicks GM and proceeded to run them into the ground in the early 2000s with terrible signings (Jerome James, 12th man extraordinare, and Jared Jeffries signed to Full Mid-Level Exceptions, wow), trades (acquiring Eddy Curry while trading away Tim Thomas, 2006 1st Round Pick (All Star LaMarcus Aldridge was selected with this pick) and the 2007 1st Round Pick, (All Star Joakim Noah was selected with this pick), questionable draft picks (selecting Michael Sweetney over David West, selecting Renaldo Balkman over Rajon Rondo, etc.), and completely ignoring the soft salary cap existence.  

The Odd and Happy Couple

The Odd and Happy Couple

Enter Donnie Walsh, who brought the Indiana Pacers into their glory days in the 90s took on the great challenge of fixing up that joke of a franchise.  He amazingly helped the franchise back into relevancy, making solid draft picks (not trading them away for a 300+ lb. center who makes Andrea Bargnani look ferocious on the boards, Isiah!), getting rid of the fat financially and literally (yes another Eddy Curry fat joke, the Knicks of ’07-’08 were once called the “fattest team in the NBA” as well), and creating financial flexibility for the 2010 NBA Free Agent Sweepstakes.  Overpaying Amare was a necessity since they needed to get at least 1 star in order to try to draw a second: LeBron or Dwyane Wade.  The Knicks ended up losing out that summer but still had enough young, talented, and cap-friendly players to give them an opportunity to land another big star.  The 2010-11 regular season started off with a bang for New York with Amare and Raymond Felton playing the best basketball of their careers along with breakout seasons by Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and then-rookie Landry Fields.  Meanwhile in Denver, Carmelo Anthony was getting impatient with the repeated first round playoff exits and looking for a new opportunity in a bigger market in an effort to win a championship.  With his pending free agency following that season, he was surprisingly open with the Nuggets so they wouldn’t be left with nothing in return after his departure.  The Knicks could have waited for Free Agency and simply signed him, but that is nothing that Carmelo wanted to chance given the pending lockout.  Melo wanted to make sure he would get a max contract given the uncertainty with what the new collective bargaining agreement would allow.  Knicks owner James Dolan stepped in and forced Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni, who both were against giving up so much to acquire Melo, to go through with making the trade.  This trade ended up leaving Donnie Walsh unhappy since he wanted complete decision-making autonomy without the interference of James Dolan.  He left the Knicks soon after and Glen Grunwald became the new GM/puppet for Dolan.  

Glen Grunwald made some good moves and some questionable moves.  Quick summary is that he signed Tyson Chandler in the summer of 2012 to anchor the Knicks defense and proceeded to increase the average age of a Knick player from 26 years old in the 11-12 season to 31 years old in the 12-13 season.  The Chandler signing made sense given their defensive struggles, still a solid signing in my opinion.  Not retaining young talent and replacing that with some All Stars from the 1990s was not the right move and the Knicks are still handcuffed to this day and have resulted in the Knicks current mess. 

Back to Phil:

Phil Jackson is the only person on this planet who MAY (I reiterate MAY) force James Dolan to sit his rich, ignorant, entitled ass down and actually allow someone to have full reign on the New York Knicks franchise.  At this point, it seems clear Phil will likely never coach again, even though he claims he may do so on a short-term basis.  Although he may enjoy coaching on its own merit, he likely doesn’t want to deal with the labors of being on the road with his team.  Also, what incentive does he have to coach? It can only hurt his legacy as the best NBA coach of all time.  Jackson is known to get restless but coaching is too tiresome for the 68 year old.  A front office role would keep him involved in the sport he loves in a less demanding manner while still sharing his expertise.  

So why do the Knicks make sense at this time?

The Knicks are so unbelievably bad right now, there is almost no way for it to hurt his legacy.  Anyone with sound reason and education in basketball will look at the Knicks and see there is an extremely high degree of difficulty for rebuilding at this time.  This leaves him with a low risk, extremely high reward situation if he can help to turn things around and bring New York a championship level team.  Phil has also never had experience in a rebuilding situation, he’s almost always had at least 2 superstar level talents and was able to win that way.  That has been the only reasonable criticism of him.  With Amare’s contract coming off the books in the 2015 offseason, that financial flexibility can create an opportunity to bring along that second superstar.  That is if Carmelo is willing to stick around for another year of misery; he is due to be a free agent after this season.  If he can rebuild THIS team to success, there would be no person to challenge him as the best coach/basketball mind in NBA history (except troll of all trolls Skip Bayless of course).  It also doesn’t hurt that Phil spent 10 seasons with the Knicks back in his playing days. 

If James Dolan agrees to give Phil full reign, I don’t see how Phil wouldn’t take this job.  If Dolan does not, Phil likely would and should reject this offer.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the days ahead.  

Predictions for Divisional Weekend (Part 1)

Older QBs vs. Younger QBs… This Saturday… Youth Will Prevail

Wild Card Record: 2-2

After a hard fought Wild Card Weekend, we are fast approaching perhaps the greatest weekend in sports. The eight best teams in the NFL remain and each of the matchups is very enticing, as four teams look to punch their tickets to Championship Weekend.

After an average 2-2 start last weekend, I’m back for more punishment as I make my Divisional Round playoff predictions. I’m hoping to improve on my X-factor predictions as well, considering that save Michael Crabtree, I was way, way, way, way, way off last week. Trent Richardson had one carry (and one fumble) for zero yards. I’m not sure I heard Brandon Boykin’s name called all night long against New Orleans, and Giovanni Bernard was relatively quiet all game long and lost a key fumble on the goal line at the end of the first half that cost the Bengals seven points.

Let it be known that in my humblest of opinions, this weekend is the best and most competitive weekend in all of sports. And with the eight teams involved in this weekend’s showdowns, this year should be no different. Let’s not waste any time… here is how I see this weekend shaking out.

 

New Orleans (11-5) @ Seattle (12-4)

The Saints shocked the world last week, overcoming a fate that has plagued the franchise since its establishment in 1967. Last week, New Orleans finally won a road game in Philadelphia 26-24, an outcome that not even the superstitious Pat Solitano, Sr. could have ever imagined. Last week proved two things: any time you have Drew Brees at quarterback your team has a chance to win and that the Saints are better than they were getting credit for. Let’s not forget that in week 13, the Saints faced a Monday Night Football game sitting at 9-2 (when you’re 9-2 through 11 games in the NFL, you’re very, very good) with a chance to hop into the driver’s seat for home-field advantage in the NFC with a win. The only problem, New Orleans rolled into the most hostile environment in the league, CenturyLink Field – in Seattle.

Let’s call a spade a spade… the Saints got their doors blown off, as Seattle rolled 34-7, cementing their perch atop the NFC. New Orleans would go on to split their last four games 2-2, including two losses on the road at St. Louis and Carolina, that ultimately sent them to the six-seed, meaning to earn a trip to the Super Bowl, the “who-dats” would need three straight wins… all on the road. That’s a pretty tall order for a franchise that prior the 2013-2014 postseason, had NEVER won a playoff game on the road.

Well, the Saints are a third of the way there. Winning one road playoff game doesn’t change the facts, however. They are traveling to Seattle once again, a little over a month after they were embarrassed on Monday Night Football. They are still better at home in the comforts of the dome (8-0 this season), where Drew Brees can work his magic on the Superdome turf.  Had New Orleans won the week 13 showdown and this matchup was being played in the bayou, I might forecast a different outcome. But I don’t see a way that the Saints offense can withstand the noise of the 12th man with a ferocious Seattle defense playing as physical as ever.

Some quick notes on Seattle: notwithstanding a Week 16 home loss to the Cardinals, Russell Wilson is 15-1 as the starting quarterback at CenturyLink Field. Seattle was the number one ranked defense in both yards and points (2nd straight year) allowed per game. It’s been the offense that was the wild card this season. Despite averaging 26.1 PPG (8th best in the NFL), the Hawks dealt with bouts of inconsistency at times during the regular season. New Orleans will have to contain Russell Wilson’s legs and make him earn a victory with his arm. One thing to watch for is the return of Percy Harvin, who vows to play after seeing limited action during the regular season. He will no doubt be itching to prove his worth, justifying the first round pick that Seattle paid to bring him over from Minnesota last offseason. Look for Harvin on kick and punt returns, catching passes, and even some read-option designs out of the backfield. The Saints defense better find #11… and fast.

As a Niners fan, I’ll be rooting hard for New Orleans. I just don’t see it happening. Seattle has the strongest home field advantage in the NFL and too many weapons on both sides of the ball for New Orleans to match.

 

X-Factor: Percy Harvin

Prediction: Seattle 37 New Orleans 20

 

Indianapolis (11-5) @ New England (12-4)

Death, taxes, and Brady/Belichick are better and smarter than you. These things are the only certainties in life. I don’t care that the Giants and Steelers each won two Super Bowls, the New England Patriots have clearly been the team of the 21st century and have been a model of consistency for almost 15 years. New players filter in and out each season, often star players, but this year was probably Bill Belichick’s best coaching job to date. To think of what the Patriots lost before and during the season, a 12-4 record and another AFC East title is mind-blowing. Wes Welker to rival Denver, Danny Woodhead to San Diego, and Aaron Hernandez to the confines of a jail cell would be significant enough losses. Throw in season-ending injuries to Rob Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, and now Brandon Spikes (hmm, possibly not to injury?) and it was a recipe for a 6-10 down year. But why should I be surprised at the 12-4 triumph? This is the same team that managed an 11-5 record after losing Tom Brady in week 1 in 2008 and was forced to be led by Matt Cassel. Every team is inflicted with injuries, especially at this point in the season. But counting the injuries, free agent departures, and incarcerations, the Patriots played all or most of the 2013 season without what was/would have been arguably seven of its ten best and most important players.

So, after all that they have overcome this season and throughout the entire decade, why do I sit here thinking that there is no way the Colts do not win this game. Am I going “media-style” and falling too much in love with Andrew Luck’s game too quickly? Is the hangover from the wild comeback win last week against Kansas City still lingering in my mind? Do I know there is no way the defense allows 44 points again this week? Or did I have a little too much to drink when I wrote this? I think what it comes down to is far simpler than any of that… I just think that this time, these injuries might just be too much to overcome. I cannot get past it. I mean… we’re talking the top pass catcher, the top run-stopper and the two best tacklers on the team here.

It pains me to say it… but the Patriots are going down (sorry Pops). I think the Patriots will actually have a great defensive game plan, complete with Aqib Talib minimizing T.Y. Hilton. That being said, look for Coby Fleener to kill New England in the middle of the field and become Andrew Luck’s favorite target Saturday night. Ultimately, behind Luck, the Colts pull a shocker in Foxboro and set up a date in the AFC Championship Game next weekend with Colts legend, Peyton Manning (DAMN!!! SPOILER ALERT!!!!!)

 

X-Factor: Trent Richar… haha just kidding. Coby Fleener

Prediction: Indianapolis 27 New England 23

What a Wild Weekend

What a Wild…Wild…Wild Card Weekend

Wow! The opening weekend of the NFL playoffs did not disappoint. The four games from Wild Card Weekend all had their special, memorable moments. Records were broken and overall there were highs, lows, and plenty of fireworks. The historic comeback and record breaking performance by the Indianapolis Colts started off the weekend with a bang and the other three games followed right in line. Let’s take a look at how each of the four games played out.

 

Indianapolis Colts 45

Kansas City Chiefs 44

 

This was a clear tale of two halves. Alex Smith and the Chiefs dominated the opening 30 minutes, jumping out quickly to a 24-7 lead and took an astonishing 31-10 lead into the half. After Andrew Luck threw an interception on the opening play of the second half, the Chiefs capitalized right away, scoring a touchdown with 13:39 to go in the third quarter to take a 38-10 lead. From there, the Andrew Luck show began. After getting the ball back, Luck led the Colts right down the field for a score, capped by a 10-yard Donald Brown touchdown run. After a Robert Mathis strip-sack, the Colts scored quickly again to narrow the gap to 38-24. Still down two scores, the Colts now had a quarter and a half, and a fired up Lucas Oil Stadium crowd, to mount the comeback.

That’s exactly what happened. Despite mixing in his third pick of the game in the second half, Andrew luck led the Colts on three more touchdown drives, including a 5-yard touchdown after he recovered a Donald Brown goal line fumble, and the game winning 64-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton with 4:21 remaining on one of the prettiest throws you will ever see. The Colts completed the comeback to win the game 45-44 in one of the most memorable playoff games in recent memory. The 28-point revival was the second largest in NFL playoff history.

In the purest of sports ironies, after the Chiefs rested many of their key players in Week 17 to prevent major disasters, the injury Gods struck down hard on Kansas City. The Chiefs managed to jump out to what, at the time, seemed like an insurmountable lead despite losing MVP candidate Jamaal Charles minutes into the game. Then, after backup Running Back Knile Davis filled in admirably for Charles (100 total yards, 7 receptions, 2 total touchdowns), he too went down with a knee injury and would not return. The Chiefs also suffered injuries in the game to Wide Receiver Donnie Avery (79-yard touchdown catch) and pro bowl defenders Justin Houston and Brandon Flowers.

Players of note: Alex Smith finished with one of the best performances of his career, passing for 378 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions (one lost fumble), despite losing his best offensive weapon on the opening drive. Smith also added 57 yards with his legs, including some key scrambles to extend drives. My predicted X-factor turned out to be a NON-factor as Trent Richardson got just one carry and lost a fumble on the same play. He did not receive another touch the rest of the game as Donald Brown continued to shine as the Colts primary runner and pass catcher out of the backfield.

Co-MVPs: Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton

It’s impossible to pick one guy over the other. The QB-WR duo combined for a record setting day and together led the Colts to the improbable win. Luck remained poised throughout the game, despite three interceptions and facing a 28-point deficit and ended up with five total touchdowns and the fifth highest passing yardage game in NFL history (443). Hilton was Luck’s favorite target all day, as the second year receiver hauled in a franchise playoff record 13 receptions for 224 yards and two touchdowns, including the game winner. You can never count out Andrew Luck – the kid is special.

Disappointment of the Game: Defense

This distinction could have fallen a number of ways: the number of devastating injuries to key players, not getting to witness the special talent of Jamaal Charles in the playoffs, or to Andy Reid and the entire Chiefs team for blowing a 28-point lead. However, NFL postseason football should be all about defense – or at least some semblance of it — and this game featured none. The two defenses combined to allow 1,049 yards and 58 first downs. The Colts are going to have to tune up that defense quickly or they will be blown right out of Mile High Stadium next week by Peyton Manning and company.

 

New Orleans Saints 26

Philadelphia Eagles 24

 

In what was projected to be the offensive shootout of the opening round, the Saints/Eagles game began with a completely different composition. Following a game that saw 89 points light up the scoreboard in Indianapolis, the two high powered offenses managed just 13 points combined in the first half as each defense held strong and made up for the complete lack of defense from the 4:30 game on Saturday. Despite outgaining Philadelphia by 70 yards in the first half, two Drew Brees interceptions led to a 7-6 halftime deficit for New Orleans. It didn’t help the Saints to be without leading rusher Pierre Thomas, who missed the game due to injury.

Out of the tunnel to begin the second half, the offenses started to wake up. After a quick 3-and-out by the defense, Drew Brees and the Saints offense took the ball at midfield and went right down the field in six plays to score their first touchdown of the game (Lance Moore 24-yard touchdown reception), regaining the lead 13-7. After stopping the Eagles once again, the Saints went on a near 5-minute touchdown drive to go up 20-7, which was promptly answered by a LeSean McCoy touchdown run to cut the deficit back to 20-14, heading into the fourth quarter. As expected, Brees was the key to the Saints offensive turnaround, finishing the third quarter 7-8 for 99 yards and one touchdown/no interceptions.

Each team traded field goals to start the fourth quarter and then the Eagles finally regained the lead 24-23 after a Nick Foles to Zach Ertz 3-yard touchdown pass with 4:58 remaining. However, a long kickoff return by Darren Sproles, plus a 15-yard horse collar penalty, put the Saints across midfield, only needing a field goal to pull out a win. From there, Sean Payton and Drew Brees engineered the clock perfectly, manufactured a 5-minute drive to run out the clock, and Shayne Graham kicked the game winning 32-yard field goal, providing the Saints with a 26-24 victory and the first road victory in franchise history. The win sets up a rematch with Seattle next Saturday, where the Saints were blasted 34-7 on Monday Night Football in week 13.

 

Players of note: With leading rusher Pierre Thomas out with an injury, Mark Ingram answered the call as the workhorse, rushing for 97 yards and a touchdown (3 catches/17 yards) as the Saints primary back, giving the generally high octane passing attack a little more balance that kept the aggressive Eagles defense on its toes all night. NFL rushing champion LeSean McCoy was held to just 77 yards and one touchdown on 21 carries.

MVP: Shayne Graham has played for seemingly every NFL team in his long career, including a brief stint with the Saints to begin his career. After terrible inconsistency by Garrett Hartley over the last two seasons, Graham was re-signed by the Saints on December 17, 2013. He rewarded the Saints for his second chance on this night by going 4-4 (36, 46, 35, 32) on field goals, including the game winning 32-yard field goal as time expired.

Stats of the Game: Surprisingly, the Saints were not led to victory by 400+ yards from the golden arm of Drew Brees. Rather, this game was ultimately won by the banged up New Orleans defense. The Saints allowed just 256 total yards to an Eagles offense that averaged 417 per game during the regular season, and in total, the Saints offense outgained the Eagles by 178 yards. The Saints won the time of possession battle 35 minutes to 25 minutes, which was fueled by third down efficiency (NO: 7-13; PHI: 3-12 (2-2 on 4th). Despite losing the turnover battle 2-0, the Saints defense held strong all night to help earn a date with Seattle next week.   

 

San Diego Chargers 27

Cincinnati Bengals 10

 

There’s the old cliché that says “well, it’s better to get there and lose then to not have gotten there at all, because at least you had a chance.” If I’m a Cincinnati Bengals fan, I call bullshit. The Bengals have not won a playoff game in 23 years. Specifically for the last three seasons, the team has looked strong in the regular season and made the playoffs, this year winning the North division, with hopes of ending this playoff losing streak and making some noise in the AFC. This year, the team looked so resilient and balanced for the entire season that some analysts were even picking the Bengals to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium on February 2nd.

One thing that I forgot when I picked the Bengals over the Chargers this week, and what the analysts must have forgotten about as well, is that Andy Dalton sucks. S-U-C-K-S… SUCKS! In what is now three career playoff starts, Dalton sports a 0-3 record and the Bengals lost these games by a combined 44 points, with the offense only managing 11 points per game. In those games, Dalton completed just 57% of his passes, with one touchdown, six interceptions and a lost fumble, all equating to a quarterback rating of 56.2[1]. Yesterday was just par for the course, as Dalton finished the game 29-51 and had three turnovers in the second half, including two brutal interceptions and a lost fumble despite going untouched. His decision making and accuracy throughout were very poor. If I’m a Bengal fan, I’m hoping that it’s just one more season (his contract expires after next season) of suffering through Andy Dalton-led games, regular season or playoffs.

I’m not spending a lot of time on this game – it was essentially unwatchable and was easily the least intriguing/entertaining game of the weekend, as predicted. There are no real stats to throw out and nothing much to analyze. The Bengals lost in heartless fashion (again), despite being the largest favorite of the weekend at -7.5 and going through the entire season undefeated, winning all eight games at home.

I stand by my earlier prediction that the Chargers cannot win the Super Bowl. Of the eight teams remaining, I believe they are the only team without a shot to hoist the Lombardi trophy – and having to travel to Denver next weekend, who has revenge on the mind, does not help their chances either. But I do need to formally apologize to old Philly Rivers. I expected him to fail this week and instead he went out and managed a brilliant victory. While only throwing 16 passes (12/16), he made some key throws to extend drives and made plays when it counted the most. More importantly, he avoided big mistakes – the Bengals feasted on defensive opportunities this year, forcing 41 turnovers and scoring six touchdowns during the regular season. Great game, Phil. However, opposing Peyton Manning is as far from opposing Andy Dalton as it gets.

Players of Note: Andy Dalton sucks.

MVP: Anyone not named Andy Dalton.

LVP: You guessed it! Andy Dalton.  

 

 

San Francisco 49ers 23

Green Bay Packers 20

 

This game took years off my life. Before the game, one of my best friends said to me “you’re getting worked up — over a game that you have no control over?” It was a completely logical question with no possible rational answer that I could give her. I could only respond, “Yes.” I’m not sure what it is about sports, particularly with teams that we root for, that makes men act the way that they do. We’re not getting paid, have no stake in the outcome one way or the other, and will still have to get up and go to work the next day whether the team wins or loses. That is, unless your team blows the Super Bowl, you find yourself in an insomnia-laced stupor, and are literally too tired to go in the next day. I’m not proud. Yet, for some reason, these games become like life and death. They become games filled with anxiety, stress, and plenty of foul language. I felt more nervous yesterday than Jim Harbaugh looks – and that man is wound so tight he makes everyone feel a little uncomfortable. All of the above happened yesterday for me, but thankfully, Colin Kaepernick made it all okay.

In frigid temperatures, including wind chills that reached -14 degrees, the 49ers added another chapter to their recent owning of the Green Bay Packers. Granted, the Packers, most specifically their much maligned 2013 defense, played fantastic. Without their best defensive player, Clay Matthews, the Packers held the Niners to 23 points, with the help of two important goal line stands early in the game, which kept the game from getting out of reach. In the end, Colin Kaepernick and the stout San Francisco defense were able to conquer the freezing temperatures as well as one of the game’s top quarterbacks, to earn a date in much warmer Carolina next week.

From the opening kickoff, San Francisco looked very good. After a quick 3-and-out to begin the game, the Niner offense took the ball and went down the field. Despite getting inside the 5 yard line for a first-and-goal, Kap and crew could not punch it in, settling for a field goal. After yet another stop by the defense, it was more of the same, going right down the field, only hoping this time for seven to jump out to a bigger lead, knowing Aaron Rodgers was bound to get hot. After another Packer goal line stand, with help from a blatant missed pass interference call, the Niners again settled for a field goal and a 6-0. This is where the stress began to rise. After a Kap interception on the next drive, the Packers went right down the field with their best drive of the game to that point, culminating with a Rodgers-Nelson touchdown.

It was pretty deflating to have outplayed Green Bay so significantly, yet find them down 7-6. Fear that they had missed their early opportunities began to creep in. However, the resilient offense came alive with a three minute drive that ended with a Frank Gore 10-yard touchdown run. After a Crosby field goal as the half expired, it was nice to be up 13-10 but the thought that it could really be 21-6 San Francisco was impossible to ignore.

After a scoreless third quarter, each team traded touchdowns on their opening possessions of the fourth quarter and after a second Mason Crosby field goal with 5:06 remaining, the score stood at 20-20. My first thought after the field goal crossed through was “okay… just one long, sustained drive and they can run out the clock and win the game, never giving Rodgers the ball back.” That’s what I wished would happen… not necessarily what I thought would happen. Well, color me surprised. The offense used up the remaining 5:06 with a thorough 14 play drive that went 65 yards before knocking in the winning field goal. The key play was Kaepernick’s third down scamper inside of two minutes, and the game ended the way all 49ers fans, including myself, wanted… with Aaron Rodgers on the sidelines. The winning 33-yard field goal was both stressful and stressless. The seconds leading up to that kick were exhausting. But after a Green Bay rusher jumped offside, it did not matter that the kick was almost blocked or that it narrowly flew through the right upright, because Dawson would have gotten another crack, five yards closer. But, like he has done all year, old reliable placed the Niners in the Divisional Round next week and the sigh of relief I felt was more than I could describe.

See you in Carolina… where the high temperature is expected to be a sweat-inducing 62 degrees.

 

Quote of the Night: “It’s not cold. It’s all mental.” Colin Kaepernick when asked by Erin Andrews in a post-game interview how cold it was during the game.

 

Stats of the Game: San Francisco outgained the Packers by 100 yards. It was truly a fantastic performance as a unit, holding down one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL. Through 59:57 of play, the score was tied 20-20 and almost every other measurable statistic, other than total yards, was close. In the end, after a Phil Dawson field goal (he has made 32 of last 33 attempts), San Francisco led in the one stat that mattered most – the score – earning the 23-20 victory.

 

San Francisco

Green Bay

First Downs

22

18

Total Plays

62

61

Total Drives

10

10

Penalties

2

3

Time of Possession

29:03

30:54

 

MVP: Despite the performance of a defensive unit that held Aaron Rodgers to his lowest passing yardage total in his playoff career (177), and a strong performance by wide receiver Michael Crabtree (my lone X-factor to not embarrass me), Colin Kaepernick was easily the most impressive player in Lambeau Sunday. Just like he did a year ago, Kaepernick controlled the Packers with some laser throws, especially to his favorite target Crabtree, who reeled in eight of Kap’s 16 completions for 125 yards. But once again, on this day, the difference in the game was Kaepernick’s ability to scramble outside the pocket and turn dead plays into long gains that just demoralize a defense. While it was not the record setting 181-yard explosion of last year in Candlestick, he picked up 98 rushing yards, none bigger than the 11-yard gain on 3rd and 8 with under two minutes to go. This first down (after a huge block from Frank Gore) allowed San Francisco to kill the remaining time on the clock and kick the winning field goal as time expired, never giving Rodgers the change to break the hearts of Niner-Nation. It was a tremendous drive engineered by Kaepernick that chewed up the remaining 5:06 of the clock.

Frustrating Issue of the Game: Despite getting the victory, the 49ers cannot beat Carolina or Seattle, let alone win the Super Bowl, without cleaning up its management of the play clock and timeouts. I’ve witnessed the same problem all season long. The 49ers burn through timeouts in a half faster than Tony Siragusa burns through a Five-Dollar Footlong. A usual culprit of wasted timeouts during the season was the ever-overzealous Jim Harbaugh, who can’t help himself when it comes to throwing the red challenge flag. I swear the man is a robot. A play will go down, Harbaugh immediately gets all riled up, and slings the flag onto the field just like he throws the pigskin during pregame warmups. Just like that, one challenge and one timeout down the drain.

There were no such challenge issues on Sunday. However, this was mainly due to the fact that San Francisco had wasted timeouts so fast in each half that a challenge was virtually impossible. Just as they had all year, disarray and dysfunction at the line of scrimmage led to Colin Kaepernick burning quick timeouts. Before the 9:00 mark in the first quarter, San Francisco was already down to one timeout after two near delay of game penalties. That was infuriating enough. It got even worse in the second half after Kaepernick burned a timeout before the first play of the second half… yes, I said THE FIRST PLAY OF THE SECOND HALF. If a team gets one play right, it should be the first play of either half, given all of the preparation and planning time they have leading up. To make the wasted timeout sting a little more – the next play was an incompletion. No positive yards – one timeout gone. Then, even MORE infuriating was when the second timeout was blown.

Again, early in the third quarter, Kaepernick signaled for a timeout as the play clock approached zero. Generally, I am in favor of taking the delay of game penalty and using the next play to get back some yardage, saving the timeout for a critical spot late in the game. In this case, I wasn’t as upset because the Niners were on the cusp on field goal range in a close game and points were at a premium. Satisfaction quickly turned into frustration when Kaepernick took a sack on the very next play after the timeout, knocking the offense out of field goal range, forcing a punt. It turned out a delay of game** penalty would have been the better option. Burning timeouts is one thing. Not capitalizing on the use of such timeouts is thereby wasting timeouts and often comes back to bite teams at the end of games. Luckily, notwithstanding all the stress, the Niners escaped and are moving on. But, this issue needs to be addressed now, because they will not be invincible going forward and at some point on the path to the Super Bowl, those timeouts might prove more valuable than ever. Exit soapbox.

**Fun fact: even with all of the burned timeouts during the season to avoid delay of game penalties, San Francisco STILL lead all teams in 2013 with 11 delay of game penalties, the only team with double digits in that category[2]. OY! Am I right, Doogie Shratweiser?




[1] http://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/D/DaltAn00/gamelog/post/

[2] http://www.nflpenalties.com/penalty/delay-of-game?year=2013

Team America: Puck Police

With just a few short weeks until the opening ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics, team USA announced their final 25 man roster at the winter classic on new years day. In recent days ESPN has been pumping out their usual “Coverage” and “Analysis” of hockey, and by that I mean there has been almost nothing mentioned about it on sportscenter because Skip Bayless and Steven A. Smith would rather debate what Lebron James had for lunch… but I digress. The roster itself has proven to be an interesting, and in some asepects controversial one, but all in all this team has the ability to make a solid run at the gold medal they fell just short of in Vancouver 2010.

Here are my line pairings for the squad (In no particular order):

Forwards-
Left Wing- Center- Right Wing:
Dustin Brown – David Backes – Ryan Callahan
Max Paccioretty – Joe Pavelski – Patty Kane
Zach Parise – Ryan Kesler – Phil Kessel
James VanRiemsdyk – Paul Stastny – TJ Oshie

Extras: Derek Stepan, Blake Wheeler

Defense:
Brooks Orpik- Paul Martin
Ryan McDonagh- Ryan Suter
Cam Fowler- Justin Faulk
Kevin Shattenkirk- John Carlson

Goalies:
1) Ryan Miller
2) Jonathan Quick
3) Jimmy (PLEASEDONTEVERLEAVETHEBENCH) Howard

At first glance there are a few things that stand out about this roster, the first being that it is not by any means an all star team. While there is plenty of star power on this bench, every player will have a role to play on this team and if head coach Dan Blysma can get them to gel and play his brand of fast paced offense, they could very well be a force to be reckoned with in these games. There is one thing that is constant throughout the entire roster, this team has speed. Everyone can fly, and they will have to with the extra ice that comes with the Olympic territory (the ice surface is bigger in international competition than it is in the NHL). The speed of this squad is probably one of its biggest assets, and it will come in handy against teams like Sweden, Russia, and Canada.

This team’s greatest strengths lie in the offensive zone for sure. With players like Pavelski, Oshie, Stastny, and Stepan there is a lot of ability to move the puck and make plays happen in the offensive end. The extra ice could make this powerplay unit VERY dangerous with the level of skill and puck possession these guys have. To add to these playmakers ability to move the puck, Kessel, JVR, Parise, and Pattie Kane (Fastest hands in the west) have all proven they have the ability to bury the biscuit. Offensively this team should be really fun to watch and has the potential to carry this team far.

One thing that this team will have no shortage of is leadership. There are three players on this team that wear the C for their respective NHL teams, Dustin Brown of the Kings, David Backes of the Blues, and Ryan Callahan of the Rangers… and to be quite honest, with the “lead by example” approach that Ryan Miller brings to his game in Buffalo, I’m going to count him as a captain as well (Sorry Steve Ott, but you know who really carries that team). This is a trait of team USA that will not show up on any stat sheets, but will certainly help them in terms of playing as a unit, and that is something that will make or break this team in these games.

While the offensive end looks fast and furious, it is the defense that has some concerned. Despite the fact every D-man on the roster is having a stellar NHL season, the back end of this roster is very, very young and inexperienced. Orpik and Martin are the only two players on the blue line over the age of 24, and while age may just be a number, veteran experience plays a critical role in these games. Much like the look of the offense, this defense is going to be fast and move the puck well, but only time will tell if these youngsters are ready to stand tall with the best competition on the planet.

Another slight concern for this team is its depth. For the international stage this squad is not going to be as talent heavy as some of its competition in the field. Russia is going to have a high powered offense led by Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, and Ilya “I may not be retired after all” Kovalchuk, Sweden will be a very well rounded team with Henrik Zetterberg up front, Erik Karlsson on the blueline, and Henrik Lundqvist backstopping, and without stating the obvious, Canada’s team should be pretty stacked from top to bottom (its their game after all). As I mentioned earlier team USA is going to have to play as a unit and execute their game plan if they want to go far in this tourney, because playing wide open, chance-for-chance hockey is just not going to work for this team against this type of competition.

X Factors:

Goaltending:
If Ryan Miller puts on a performance anywhere near the caliber of his showing in Vancouver, you can expect a good run for a medal. His numbers are solid despite only having ten wins playing on a god awful team in Buffalo, but his save percentage is reasonable when you consider the guy has no defense in front of him. I imagine him being at the top of his game for these Olympics, and putting a real team in front of him cant hurt anything. If you have any doubts, just check the tape

If Quick lets in some softies like this one… welp we might have some issues.

Two way hockey:
If this team can find a way to play consistently on both ends of the ice, up and down the entire roster, they will have great success. The two way grind is going to rely heavily on Parise and Callahan to lead the way. These guys are two of the best players in these games at this style of hockey. They can play great defense, hit hard, pass well, and score some beauties. Leading by example will be key in this department, and if we see a little of this or some of that stuff from last time around
these guys could really provide a spark to the rest of the team.

Identity:
This team will have a bit of an issue finding its comfort zone, if it even finds it at all. What kind of hockey they will play is still up in the air with this versatile team dynamic. What is certain however is that they will need to match their game plans to suit their opponents in this loaded field of play. Its going to be up to Blysma to tailor up some strategies that fit this teams skill set, match up well against the opponents style of play, and he’s gotta do it all without causing too much of an identity crisis in the locker room. Who said coaching was easy?

Now time to look at what could have been. There are quite a few firestorms about who should have made this roster, some of them are justified, while others …. well… not so much.

Snubs:

Cory Schnieder- Granted he would be riding the pine pony behind two other goalies no matter how you cut it, but I still take him over Jimmy “Soft Serve” Howard any day.

Bobby Ryan- He’s a perennial 30 goal scorer, his offense is ALWAYS valuable to a team, but he isn’t very quick. GM Brian Burke says he doesn’t fit this team because “He is not intense. Intense is not even in his vocabulary.” Well Burkie, you GM’d the Leafs through some of their worst seasons ever, and have now moved to Calgary to do …. well the exact same thing. Its time to drink a nice tall glass of shut the fuck up. If there is anyone that should have made it who didn’t, its this guy right here.

Seth Jones- He may be the best 19 year old Nashville GM David Poille has ever seen… but he is still Too young. Even for this team. Definitely expect to see his name on this roster next time around though.

Kyle Okposo- The scoring and playmaking ability are definitely there, the guy has 42 points for the Islanders this season in a campaign that has revolved around himself, John Tavares, and Thomas Vanek. The Problem with Ok is his horrible defense, which kinda comes along with playing for the Isles. Despite putting up 42 points he still sits at a -2 (+/-) for the season. To put it nicely, he is a defensive liability this team cannot afford.

John Tortorella- Part of me REALLLLLY wishes he would handle all of the pressers for the Olympics, because then we would end up with jems of international diplomacy such as like this

Dubs:

Dustin Byfuglien- Yes he is a physical force to be reckoned with. Yes he can shoot from the point and can put up offense. But he is big and slow and the extra ice that comes along with the Olympics does not come with a happy meal for old Dusty. They literally had to trim the fat..

Jack Johnson- He played a critical role in the silver medal run in 2010, but has had an absolutely terrible time playing since being traded to Columbus (and lets be honest, who wouldn't) and while its sad to see a talented guy like this fall so far, it shouldn't be terribly surprising he was not chosen for the roster.

Tim Thomas- He's old. He's slow. He currently collects checks from the Florida Panthers. He dislikes our government. Where in any of this does it look like Timmy should be going to represent America in anything? Tell him he's gotta call Obama for permission, he probably wont want to go anyway.

Final prediction:
I can see this team definitely has the potential of coming home with a medal this year in Sochi, but the cold hard truth is that Russia will not be an easy team to beat with their powerful offense and the hometown crowd on their side, and Canada is ... well Canada. I see this team falling to Russia or our neighbors to the north in the knockout rounds, and playing in the bronze medal game against either Finland or Sweden. Here's to hoping, FOR 'MERICA!, that the boys can channel the determination of the 1980 Olympic team and topple those Russians one more time and bring home some gold!

merica