Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Evaluating the Chip Kelly experience two years in

It was a disappointing end to what looked like a promising 2014 season for the Philadelphia Eagles.   Just over a month ago, the Eagles were fresh off of a 33-10 beat down of the Dallas Cowboys in Dallas on Thanksgiving and were sitting atop the NFC East at 9-3 and a first round bye in the playoffs looked like a real possibility.   However, the Eagles followed by losing three in a row and while 10-6 was good enough to win the division in Chip Kelly’s first year on the sideline, this year the same record left the Eagles out of the playoffs.

Having seen two years of Chip Kelly as an NFL head coach it’s obvious he can coach in the NFL, which many doubted upon his arrival to Philadelphia in January 2013.    However, there is clear room for improvement.   With the exception of a loss in 2013 to Minnesota and a loss this season to Washington, Chip Kelly’s Eagles beat the teams they’re better than.   However, against contending teams, the Eagles have been exposed which leaves them as a good team but not elite two years into the Chip Kelly era.

The secondary has been the biggest problem these last two seasons.  Go back to September 2013 when the Broncos destroyed the Eagles 52-20 in Denver.  Peyton Manning shredded the Eagles defense for 327 yards and four touchdowns.   Aaron Rodgers didn’t play against the Eagles last season but this year at Lambeau Field Rodgers threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns in a 53-20 Packers win.   For whatever the reason may be, the Eagles left Bradley Fletcher on Dez Bryant with no safety help in a huge week 15 home game against Dallas and Bryant went off for 114 yards and three touchdowns.  The following week in Washington, Fletcher was left on DeSean Jackson who had 126 receiving yards against his former team.   In a meaningless week 17 game against the Giants, Odell Beckham Jr. totaled 185 yards and a touchdown while Ruben Randle added six catches for 158 yards.  While it’s easy to point the finger at Fletcher, Nate Allen and Cary Williams haven’t exactly lit the world on fire either.  Adding Malcolm Jenkins in free agency was a good move but there’s a lot more work to do to fix this secondary and it couldn’t be more apparent.
                                                                   Matt Rourke/AP
Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman have some work to do this offseason
to get the Eagles into the conversation as one of the NFL's elite teams.

The Eagles were exposed in a different way in their 24-14 loss to the defending champion Seattle Seahawks.  Against the NFL’s best defense, the Eagles high-powered offense stalled and the Eagles allowed Seattle to posses the ball for close to 42 minutes and gave up 440 yards of offense while only mustering up 139 yards of their own.  The Eagles defense did about all you could ask for in this game considering the time of possession.  While Seattle isn’t an elite passing team, the Eagles held Marshawn Lynch to 86 yards on 23 carries and kept him out of the end zone.  This game was about an elite defense belittling a good offense.

The Eagles struggled on offense against another good defense in San Francisco earlier this season as they failed to score an offensive touchdown in the 26-21 loss.  Chip Kelly is hailed as an offensive genius but will have to find ways to score points against some of the NFL’s better defenses in order for the Eagles to get to the next level.  While the Eagles won’t admit it, the offense isn’t the same without DeSean Jackson who was the wide receiver that could stretch the field and be a big play threat.  Jeremy Maclin had a very good 2014 and rookie Jordan Matthews showed signs of a bright future.  However, Riley Cooper was very disappointing this year after the best year of his career in 2013.   Third round pick Josh Huff was mostly a nonfactor in his rookie season.  The Eagles don’t have much depth at wide receiver and desperately need a big play, stretch the field type of playmaker.

Perhaps ending 2014 like this will be a blessing in disguise for the Eagles.  A necessary wakeup call for Chip Kelly and General Manager Howie Roseman.  While Malcolm Jenkins and Darren Sproles were good additions, the Eagles had a draft that yielded one productive player this season and let DeSean Jackson go for nothing.  Moves like that cannot be explained.  Had the Eagles won the division and won a home playoff game this coming weekend maybe that would have masked some of the issues that need to be addressed.  In the big picture, it’s hard to complain with Chip Kelly through two years.  He’s won 20 games.  He’s proved he can coach in the NFL.  But now it’s time to take the next step.  No more inexplicable offseason decisions.  The Eagles were exposed on offense against Seattle and San Francisco and the holes in the secondary are quite glaring.   Time to fill them.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

When will a non-quarterback win the Heisman?

Tonight there are three worthy candidates hoping to flash the pose in New York and win the Heisman trophy.   But there’s no drama leading up to the announcement because yet again everyone seems to know who it’s going to be.

Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon both had phenomenal seasons for their respective schools yet the consensus belief is that Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is going to run away with the award. 

                                        Andy Manis/Associated Press
Gordon's best game of the season was his 408-yard effort
on November 15 against Nebraska in which he did not play
in the fourth quarter.
It would be nice to have some suspense building up to the decision but there’s a quarterback bias that seems to win out every year, which ruins the fun deciding who’s going to be college football’s most outstanding player.  Since 1956, Barry Sanders, Kevin Smith and Marcus Allen are the only three running backs to run for more yards in a single season than Gordon’s 2,336 this season. 

I know it’s hard to argue with the season Mariota had throwing 38 touchdowns and two interceptions but it would be nice if voters valued each position equally and didn’t favor the quarterback. 

                                                        Bob Rosato/Sports Illustrated
Darren McFadden had two outstanding seasons at Arkansas
but fell just short of the Heisman in both 2006 and 2007.
Darren McFadden was a two-time Heisman runner up at Arkansas falling just short in 2006 and 2007 to Troy Smith and Tim Tebow respectively.  Mcfadden set the Arkansas single season rushing record in 2006 with 1,647 yards on the ground only to break that record in 2007 with 1,830 rushing yards.  The Razorbacks became trendsetters in McFadden’s time there as they started running the wildcat offense with McFadden as the centerpiece and the wildcat soon made its way into the NFL.  Yet,
McFadden never made his way up to the podium to give a Heisman speech.

Adrian Peterson totaled 1,925 rushing yards his freshman year at Oklahoma but fell short to Matt Leinart in the 2004 Heisman race.  In 2003, Larry Fitzgerald had 1,672 receiving yards for Pittsburgh and a jaw-dropping 22 touchdowns but it was Oklahoma quarterback Jason White that won the Heisman trophy.  Larry Johnson eclipsed 2,000 yards on the ground for Penn State in 2003, averaged 7.7 yards per carry, and scored 20 touchdowns and all that got him was a third place finish behind Iowa quarterback Brad Banks and Southern California’s Carson Palmer. 

                   Matt Slocum/Associated Press
Adrian Peterson burst onto the scene as a
freshman running for close to 2,000 yards at
Oklahoma but had no Heisman to show for it.
Since 2000, the Heisman has favored quarterbacks and it’s not fair.  Ron Dayne, Ricky Williams, Charles Woodson, Eddie Geroge, Rashaan Salaam, and Desmond Howard all won the award as non-quarterbacks in the 90s and there have been many more legendary running backs that have won the award, so what’s caused the change?

I’m not trying to argue against Mariota because that’s really hard to do but more than anything else it baffles my mind how Gordon can rush for the fourth most yards in a single season in college football history and not even be considered.  Let’s not forget Cooper and 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns.  If it weren’t for him who knows how many losses Alabama would have in a loaded SEC West.

Entering this season 12 of the last 14 Heisman winners have been quarterbacks and that’s if you count Reggie Bush as one of the two non-quarterbacks who ended up vacating his Heisman.   With all signs indicating Mariota will make that 13 of the last 15 who knows when the next time a Heisman winner will not be a quarterback.   Your guess is as good as mine.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The best holiday of the year

Thanksgiving is really a day like no other and has become my favorite holiday.  It used to be Christmas for me.  I still love Christmas.  But now that I’m passed the age of waking up at 7 AM on Christmas, checking my stocking, waking up my parents and opening presents, I’ve began to like Thanksgiving more and more.

As a sports fan, nothing beats a day where you can sit on the couch all day watching football with family, eat copious amounts of food and not be called lazy. Thanksgiving is probably the only day when that is viewed as the norm.  So now that I’m at the age when waking up on Christmas morning isn’t the same anymore, I’d be lying if I said Thanksgiving wasn’t my favorite holiday.

Christmas Day has become an all day affair for the NBA, New Year’s Day has always been a great day for college football and more recently the NHL with the winter classic.  Easter can be a bit of a wild card for sports fans but if it falls late enough there are usually some big NHL and NBA playoff games and maybe even a final round of the Masters.  But nothing is comparable to Thanksgiving and the NFL.  Three games spread out throughout the day in what will always be the best holiday tradition for sports fans.

This year will be a little more satisfying than other Thanksgivings as I’ll get to watch the Eagles and Cowboys with my family.  My grandfather was an Eagles season ticket holder for years at Veterans Stadium and so I always enjoy watching a game with him.

The Lions and Cowboys always play on Thanksgiving and for the better part of the 2000s the Lions were the warm-up game for the Cowboys at 4:30 as the season was always over by Thanksgiving for the Lions.  That’s not the case this year as the Lions are battling for a playoff spot in the NFC and welcome into Detroit a division rival in the Chicago Bears. 

The Eagles and Cowboys are next.  Is there really a better stage to play this game on?  Thanksgiving Day in Dallas, both teams come in at 8-3 tied for first place in the NFC East.  Get your popcorn turkey ready.

Lastly the 49ers host the Seahawks as both teams are jockeying for position in a jam-packed NFC playoff picture.  It’s a rematch of last year’s NFC Championship game and looks like it’s becoming one of the NFL’s best rivalries.

While the slate of games isn’t always the best on thanksgiving, the tradition will always last.  After looking at each of the three games tomorrow, it looks like we’ll have three good ones to enjoy anyway and there will also be lots of food to enjoy.  For someone like me, that’s all it takes.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Why four teams is not the answer for College Football

There is less than one month left in the college football season.  Early on in each week, we see the new polls released and begin to prognosticate who the four teams will be in the inaugural college football playoff.  The problem is, none of it really matters.  The four teams seem to change every week and when all is said and done teams five, six and seven will probably have a legitimate complaint for being left out.

The only team that looks like a lock to make the playoff is Florida State.  If the Seminoles can get past Miami this week, in a weak ACC, they should be playoff bound.  Oregon also looks safe as of now as well with a bye this week and then conference games against Colorado and Oregon State, but the Ducks one loss this season did come a then-unranked Arizona team.  However, two of the top five teams will face off on Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa, as Alabama will host Mississippi State.   Therein lies the problem and is the reason why a four-team playoff will ultimately prove to be too small.

Mississippi State and Alabama could very well end the season as two of the nation’s best four teams.  If Alabama wins on Saturday then they’ll jump into the top four, and Mississippi State’s playoff hopes will take a hit and with a game at the end of the season at Ole Miss it’s very possible Mississippi State could miss the playoff.  If Mississippi State wins, with two losses Alabama’s chance of making the playoff is almost non-existent.  But some could easily argue Alabama could take down Oregon, Florida State or Texas Christian who are currently teams two, three and four respectively.

It’s tough for teams like Mississippi State and Alabama to run the table in a very deep SEC West division.  It’s not as tough for Florida State to go undefeated in the ACC or Oregon to win out in the Pac 12.  A four-team playoff favors the Florida States of the world who can beat up on an average schedule at best and works against the SEC teams who have big games each week just to stay in the conversation.  It’s hard to see both Alabama and Mississippi State making the playoff this year, but if the playoff were eight teams both would probably qualify.  Baylor is another team that sits on the outside looking in that beat TCU earlier in the season.  While there certainly were complaints about the BCS, there are still going to be unhappy teams this year and rightfully so.  If expanded to eight teams, it’s hard to see teams nine, 10 and 11 having the same complaints teams five, six and seven may end up having this year. 

Ultimately, it boils down to strength of schedule.  Teams with more difficult schedules have much more difficult paths to the playoffs.  Florida State had some close calls against Oklahoma State, Notre Dame and Louisville but hasn’t really been tested otherwise and of those three close games, Louisville was the only conference opponent for the Seminoles.  In order to devalue the importance of strength of schedule, the playoff needs to go to eight.

Monday, October 27, 2014

2014-2015 NBA Season Preview

On the eve of another NBA season here are my standings, awards, and playoff predictions:

*Numbers next to certain teams are playoff seeds

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

1.     Toronto Raptors (4)
2.     New York Knicks (8)
3.     Brooklyn Nets
4.     Boston Celtics
5.     Philadelphia 76ers

Analysis: Not much to like about this division.  Toronto is the only team that has a chance to win 50 games.  The Raptors have a nice athletic core with Terrence Ross and Demar Derozan on the wings and a good point guard in Kyle Lowry.  It gets ugly fast though.  The Knicks were a mess last season and if Derek Fisher struggles to implement the triangle offense in the Big Apple it might not be any better.  By default, I think the Knicks sneak into the playoffs.  Brooklyn’s attempt to contend for a championship last season failed and they have an aging nucleus and don’t have too many draft picks.  Lionel Hollins coming in as the head coach won’t help fix that.  The Nets are in trouble.  The Celtics are in the midst of a rebuild and should look to trade Rajon Rondo to acquire more draft picks though watching sixth overall pick Marcus Smart this season will be interesting.  The Sixers are firing up the tank again and will probably win fewer than the 19 games they won last season.

Southeast Division

1.     Washington Wizards (3)
2.     Miami Heat (5)
3.     Charlotte Hornets (6)
4.     Atlanta Hawks (7)
5.     Orlando Magic

Analysis: Washington is one of the best up-and-coming teams in the NBA.  With John Wall and Bradley Beal anchoring the backcourt and the addition of Paul Pierce in the offseason, the Wizards should win this division.   In the first year of the post-LeBron era, the Heat should be good enough to make the playoffs, but Dwyane Wade’s health should be worth monitoring as well as Chris Bosh’s production after he got a max contract over the summer and is taking on a much larger role on offense.  The Hornets are another nice team on the rise and the addition of Lance Stephenson should definitely get them back in the playoffs for the second straight year. Atlanta is just okay and much like the Knicks sneak in by default as I think there’s a big gap between Charlotte and Atlanta.  Orlando is looking to add more pieces in the draft and will struggle through their third season since the Dwight Howard trade.

Central Division

1.)  Chicago Bulls (1)
2.)  Cleveland Cavaliers (2)
3.)  Detroit Pistons
4.)  Indiana Pacers
5.)  Milwaukee Bucks

Analysis: The Bulls are for real pending the health of a certain point guard and former MVP out of Memphis.  Derrick Rose needs to stay on the court but if he can I think he can still play at a high level and contend for the MVP award and Tom Thibodeau will of course have his team playing defense.  Adding Pau Gasol should help them on the offensive end.  Cleveland will be so much fun to watch. I think it’s awesome that LeBron went back home and I can already imagine Kevin Love throwing outlet pass after outlet pass to him in transition.  Detroit could be a borderline playoff team because I think there’s too much talent on that team for them to be as bad as they were last year.  Indiana is in bad shape.  They lost Lance Stepehnson and Paul George may miss the entire season.  They’ll be quite the offensively challenged team.  It will be hard for Milwaukee to be much worse than last year with Jason Kidd on the sideline now and Rookie of the Year favorite Jabari Parker providing lots of offense.

Western Conference

Southwest Division

1.)  San Antonio Spurs (1)
2.)  Houston Rockets (4)
3.)  Dallas Mavericks (6)
4.)  Memphis Grizzlies (8)
5.)  New Orleans Pelicans

Analysis: This is the best division in the NBA.  San Antonio comes in as the defending champs and until proven otherwise, I’ll put them as my top team in the West.  Houston lost Chandler Parsons but Trevor Ariza will help them defensively and knock down three-point shots like Parsons did.  Dallas got a lot better in the offseason adding Jameer Nelson, Raymond Felton, Al-Farouq Aminu, Tyson Chandler, and Chandler Parsons to a team that won 49 games a year ago.  Memphis will still be rock solid on defense, adding Vince Carter was a nice move, and Zach Randolph will still give them reliable post offense.  New Orleans has some nice young players but it’s just hard to take anyone else in the West out of the playoffs.

Northwest Division
1.)  Oklahoma City Thunder (3)
2.)  Portland Trail Blazers (7)
3.)  Denver Nuggets
4.)  Minnesota Timberwolves
5.)  Utah Jazz

Analysis: Oklahoma City will miss Kevin Durant enough early on to slip back from second in the West last year to third this season but once he gets back they’ll be a title contender.  Portland didn’t really do anything major in the offseason, and while LaMarcus Aldridge is so much fun to watch I don’t know if they can earn home-court advantage in the first round again.  Denver has some decent young players but that’s not enough to make the playoffs in the West.  Minnesota will be really fun to watch with their young core but inexperience will keep them around 30 wins this season.  Utah is continuing a rebuild, which I think may take some time.  I’m not sure if Trey Burke and Dante Exum can play together.

Pacific Division

1.)  Los Angeles Clippers (2)
2.)  Golden State Warriors (5)
3.)  Phoenix Suns
4.)  Los Angeles Lakers
5.)  Sacramento Kings

Analysis: The Clippers have a lot to prove this season after a disappointing six-game exit in the second round of the playoffs against Oklahoma City last year.  Golden State will still score a ton of points even though I’m still not sure why they fired Mark Jackson. Phoenix is good, but not good enough to make the playoffs in the West.  I think Kobe has a nice year for the Lakers, but he doesn’t have enough help.  Sacramento has one of the best centers in the game in Demarcus Cousins, but he doesn’t have enough help either.  Selecting Nik Stauskas eighth overall over Noah Vonleh who could have helped Cousins up front was a head scratcher.


MVP: LeBron James (Cleveland)
Coach of the Year: Dwane Casey (Toronto)
Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Davis (New Orleans)
Sixth Man of the Year: Tristan Thompson (Cleveland)
Rookie of the Year: Nerlens Noel (Philadelphia)


Eastern Conference

First Round

1-Chicago over 8-New York in 5
2-Cleveland over 7-Atlanta in 4
3-Washington over 6-Charlotte in 6
4-Toronto over 5-Miami in 7

Second Round
1-Chicago over 4-Toronto in 6
2-Cleveland over 3-Washington in 6

Eastern Conference Finals
2-Cleveland over 1-Chicago in 6

Western Conference

First Round

1-San Antonio over 8-Memphis in 6
2-LA Clippers over 7-Portland in 6
3-Oklahoma City over 6-Dallas in 7
5-Golden State over 4-Houston in 7

Second Round

1-San Antonio over 5-Golden State in 6
2- LA Clippers over 3-Oklahoma City in 7

Western Conference Finals

2- LA Clippers over 1- San Antonio in 7

NBA Finals

Cleveland Cavaliers over Los Angeles Clippers in 7