Marquise Goodwin’s Motivation? His Sister

10 06 2013

James Walker of ESPN.com recently wrote about Buffalo Bills rookie receiver Marquise Goodwin and his inspiration to keep playing the sport he loves at the NFL level.

His answer is different and genuine.

Goodwin has a sister, Deja, that has cerebral palsy, which is a muscle and brain disability. This prohibits her from having control over most bodily functions that many of us take for granted. She has little power over her muscle movements and can not do most daily routines without help from someone else.

Saying that their relationship is “closer than white on rice,” Goodwin explains that he has always been very connected with his sister from the day she was born.

The excerpts below give a good representation of Deja’s impact on Goodwin.

 

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I went to school with Goodwin for two years before he graduated and experienced a superstar receiver that helped turn a struggling football program into a regularly playoff-bound team. Every time the ball was hiked from the line of scrimmage, you just couldn’t wait to see his burst of speed down the sideline that inevitably was too much for the opposing secondary to handle. Oh yeah—followed by an assured catch from a man that holds the national high school record in the long jump.

During his time at my high school to his four years at the University of Texas, I’ve always rooted for Goodwin to succeed—why wouldn’t you want your hometown hero to do great things?

But this article gives me another reason to root for the Bills rookie. I see someone that has more incentive to play a professional sport than for money. Or fame. Or social status.

He’s playing the sport for something more important than those trivial entities. He’s playing the sport for the sister he clearly cares about.

I can definitely root for a player like that.

To read the entire ESPN article, click here.

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Game 162 – The Biggest of Them All

3 10 2012


Here we go.

Today is the day that could lead to the reigning AL Champions reestablishing themselves as the Buffalo Bills of the MLB or simply closing out a tight race when push comes to shove. Dempster will soon step out onto the mound at the Coliseum and must pitch his best game since he put on a Rangers uniform if he wants to give his team a chance to save face. A lot of face.

The Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers are all tied up with a record of 93-68. That’s right – the AL West team that doesn’t have one player making over $10 million, compared to the team in Los Angeles that has seven of those, will be challenging the team that has been the sole leader of the division for 177 straight days. (Can you say #Moneyball?) You know that new one-game, wild-card playoff that will implemented this year? A trial run is about to take place.

Winner takes all Wednesday afternoon as the team that comes out on top between the A’s and Rangers will claim the AL West pennant. Even though Texas had a 13-game lead on June 30 and had a four-game lead with six games to go, that is just as in the past as the Rangers past two failures in the World Series. This entire six-month long season will literally be defined by one day of baseball. That one day has arrived.

Ryan Dempster (7-3, 4.64) will attempt to avoid pitching as he did last Friday when he allowed the Angels to rack up four earned runs in 5.2 innings pitched. Since he came down south, it has been difficult to figure out Dempster as he has been one of the more inconsistent starting pitchers. Even though he has pitched fairly well of late, he must be at the top of his game since he will be facing a stout, young pitcher that hasn’t been afraid of the limelight. A.J. Griffin (7-1, 2.71) has been one of the best rookie pitchers of late, winning 10 of his last 12 outings. He has a certain command that is not often seen from first-year pitchers and will be difficult to slow down.

The Rangers can only blame themselves for the pressure at hand. They have played nowhere close to their level of baseball during the most important stretch of the season. Losing eight of their past 12 games, including four of their last five, this would go down as one of the best representations of choking in modern-day sports.

Inconsistency seems to be the new consistent and making the crucial hit seems to be a constant struggle for everyone in this lineup – even AL’s player of the month for September Adrian Beltre (2-11, no RBIs in his last three games). Speaking of inconsistent, Josh Hamilton has decided to go into yet another slump as he has gone 1-8 in the last two losses, while failing to hit a home run in the past eight games. When he carelessly swings the bat, he again looks like the man that went through that dreadful drought midway through the season. How can the Rangers put their faith in that type of unpredictable batter?

Pitching has it’s fair share of problems. The players in the projected playoff rotation – Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Dempster – have all had recent off nights while a lingering injury to Mike Adams has put the bullpen into question. Yes, closer Joe Nathan picked up his 37th save against the Angels Sunday night, but also blew one while picking up the loss earlier in the day to the same team.

The Rangers not only want to win this game for their own dignity, but they do not want to allow an A’s team to enter the playoffs even hotter than they already are. Remember the last time they had to face a surging team in the postseason? Alexi Ogando, Matt Lowe and Neftali Feliz sure remember. If Oakland pulls this one game out and takes the division, you would have to give them the clear advantage if they face Texas later on in the AL playoffs.

Even though the Rangers’ current situation can only described as frustrating and stressful for a DFW sports follower such as myself, this is what makes sports one of the most intriguing genres on television. Most season finales do not have the ability to promise their viewers a finish that will either evoke pure joy or utter distress – two emotions all television shows dream for from their viewers. And once this intense game comes to a close, fans of the losing team will only have to wait a short time period before they get yet another one-game stress fest.

“Take one game at a time” never has seemed to be more fitting for Ron Washington and the Rangers than it does right now. Before they can begin their quest to conquer the MLB mountain known as the postseason that they have geared up for, attempted to climb and come right near the peak two years in a row, it all starts with this one game. They may have already clinched a playoff berth and will live to play another day no matter the outcome of game 162. However, game 162 will shape the mindset of every single Ranger. Game 162 will either start their playoff run with a bang or a bust. Game 162 will give Texas the AL West or give them a win-or-go-home playoff game.

Go take your third straight pennant if you want it. Or continue to crumble toward the finish. It’s all in your control, Rangers.

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NFL Preview 2012: AFC

5 09 2012

 

 

 

Co-writer: Josh McSwain

 

AFC east

1. New England Patriots (12-4)

Offense — (A).      With a great line and a bevy of offensive weapons, they are primed to put up a lot of points again. The question remains in the backfield though. Who will be the starter a running back? Stevan Ridley has impressed the most so far, but fellow 2011 draft pick Shane Vereen and the versatile Danny Woodhead will also contribute. Brandon Lloyd will also be an x-factor for them. Can he be the guy that stretches the field for them? No matter what roles are taken on by which players, this will surely be another dazzling year for Tom Brady.

Defense — (B-).     They got aggressive in the draft, trading up for Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower. With Vince Wilfork, Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo and a host of others up front, such as Trevor Scott and Kyle Love, they should be passable up front. The secondary is the question mark. They allowed Joe Flacco to look like an All-Pro quarterback in the AFC title game, and once again allowed Eli Manning to beat them. With the names they have back there – Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington – they should have played better. With a much lighter schedule and only one All-Pro starting quarterback going up against them, we’ll see if a this new season provides a boost.

Special teams — (A-).      Stephen Gostowski is a solid kicker, and Zoltan Mesko has been respectable ever since breaking the starting lineup 2 years ago. Woodhead is a decent return man, but I imagine Jeff Demps will be taking over in that department this season.

 

2. Buffalo Bills (9-7)

Offense — (C+).      Kind of a work in progress. But with Fred Jackson carrying the load in the backfield, they will be fine. They really missed him after he got hurt last season. Ryan Fitzpatrick is the big question mark. He was Dr. Jekyll during the first part of last season and Mr. Hyde at the end. Injuries to the line and receivers certainly played their part in that though. As long as he takes care of the football, they should be just fine. The line has improved, and they got a steal with Cordy Glenn in the second round. He’s going to be a fine player.

Defense — (A-).      They were awful last year, I realize. But with Kyle Williams returning from injury, they have a front that can rival any in the league. Mario Williams will command attention. You can only double one of them. After those two, you have to deal with Marcel Dareus. And when you think you’re done, you have to deal with 10-sack man Mark Anderson. At linebacker, they have a solid core with Nick Barnett, Kelvin Sheppard and Arthur Moats, with depth with veteran Kirk Morrison. Adding Stephon Gilmore to the secondary will help. Aaron Williams and Gilmore will form a good duo for years, and Jarius Byrd and George Wilson are solid at safety.

Special teams — (A).      Brian Moorman is a very good punter, still as good as ever, and Rian Lindell is still a solid kicker. Leodis McKelvin averaged almost 20 yards per punt return, and Justin Rogers averaged almost 30 per kick return.

 

3. Miami Dolphins (6-10)

Offense — (C+).      Ryan Tannehill is raw and ordinarily would not be ready for the NFL, but playing in his college coach’s system will certainly decrease the learning curve, though it will still be there. It also doesn’t help that his receivers are absolutely awful. Davone Bess, their slot guy is their best receiver. Brian Hartline, Roberto Wallace, Legedu Naanee? They leave a lot to be desired. By the end of the year B.J. Cunningham and Jeff Fuller, Tannehill’s college teammate could be starting. The only constants on their offense are Jake Long and Reggie Bush. Mike Pouncey and Jonathan Martin are both young linemen that could be pretty good.

Defense — (A-).      They have a very good unit here. Paul Soliai anchors a 4-3 line that also features Cameron Wake, Randy Starks and Jared Odrick. Karlos Dansby is a very good ILB, and Kevin Burnett and Koa Misi are a solid group of LBs. Trading Vontae Davis will hurt their secondary, but they do have a good group back there still with Sean Smith, Richard Marshall, Nolan Carroll at the nickel, Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons at safety.

Special teams — (A-).      Dan Carpenter has been up and down in his 3 NFL seasons, kicking with a 89% accuracy rate in 2009, regressing to 73% in 2010 and improving back to 85% last season. Brandon Fields is one of the best punters in the league. Rookies Marcus Thigpen and Lamar Miller will fight it out for the kicker returner spot, and Davone Bess anchors the punt returner duties.

 

4. New York Jets (5-11)

Offense — (D).      They have a recipe for disaster. Sanchez is a competent but not confident QB, and Tebow is an unorthodox quarterback that is going to be hemmed into a box when he takes over the starting job (you know he will unless Sanchez lights it up). It honestly wouldn’t surprise me if McElroy finished the season, and wouldn’t surprise me if he did well. But they have lots of other issues than the QB spot. Shonn Greene has not been anything spectacular at running back, their WRs are very lackluster, Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill and whomever else they have at WR won’t scare anybody. They have to hope Dustin Keller has a pro bowl caliber year. Right Tackle is another problem. The rest of the line is solid with Ferguson, Mangold, Moore and Slauson. But they have to find a starter out of Vladimir DuCasse, who though listed at guard could slide over, ex 2nd overall pick Jason Smith who failed epically in St Louis, Austin Howard and Paul Cornick.

Defense — (A-).      They have always been very good and hard-nosed on this side of the ball. Starters Mike Devito, Muhammed Wilkerson and Quentin Coples, their first round pick, will wreak havoc, and Sione Pouha is a solid anchor at NT. They need to find an edge rusher. Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas are not that guy. But David Harris and Bart Scott are a good duo. Their secondary is good, with Revis Island leading the way. But the injury prone LaRon Landry will be a liability, particularly in coverage. Yeremiah Bell and Antonio Cromartie are both solid players back there.

Special teams — (C).      Who will be the kicker? Nick Folk? After you brought in Josh Brown? What does that say about Folk? TJ Conely is a serviceable punter, and they do have some spark in the return game with Joe McKnight and Jeremy Kerley.

 

 

AFC west

1. San Diego Chargers (10-6)

Offense — (B+).      Rivers had a down year last year, but he will bounce back this season. Vincent Jackson is gone, but he is very overrated. He’s great one week and terrible the next. Gates needs to stay healthy, and hopefully for them, Robert Meachem will be more consistent than Jackson. But Rivers is a superstar QB who has shown he can play at a high level no matter who is around him. Ryan Mathews needs to step up though. He finally passed 1000 rushing yards last season, but he needs to take the next step forward. After losing Marcus McNeill and Kris Dielman, they will need to work out the kinks of their offensive line, but they can get those worked out.

Defense — (B).      They regressed under Greg Manusky last season, but under the leadership of John Pagano, they should rebound. They need to find a duo of rushers. Shaun Phillips, Larry English, first round pick Melvin Ingram and Antwan Barnes are all vying for that spot. Barnes had 11 sacks last season. Phillips had 11 in 2010. They need to all get on the same page to have success. Jammer is a solid corner, but is getting old. Cason is young but has broken in well. Weddle is a great safety. Is Atari Bigby the answer beside him? We’ll see.

Special teams — (B).      Kaeding is the most Jekyll and Hyde kicker in the league, being great in the regular season and terrible in the playoffs. Mike Scfries is a phenomenal punter. Eddie Royal will spice up the return game, and Richard Goodman will compete for returns as well.

 

2. Denver Broncos (8-8)

Offense — (B+).      Though Manning will turn their passing game upside down and make the true talent of their receivers come out, he will hinder the run game, which was tops in the league last season. Willis McGahee also figures to not have as good of a year. The offensive line will have to adjust from all the run blocking to a lot of pass blocking. The level of rust Manning has will be the ultimate determinant of how well this season goes.

Defense — (C).      They kept them in a lot of games last season. But can Tebow’s energy boost that made them play over their heads last season be preserved this season? They have a great pass rush with Ayers, Dumervil and Miller, but after that they have a primordial secondary and weak interior.

Special teams — (B).      Prater is a good kicker, and Britton Colquitt is a solid punter who will be very good in time, particularly in the thin air in Denver.

 

3. Kansas City Chiefs (8-8)

Offense — (C).      Even with Jamaal Charles coming back, they still have issues on this side of the ball. First, Matt Cassel. He is not and never will be an NFL starter. He is merely a good backup who looked good in the Pats system the two years he was in it. They thank the Lord every day they have Dwayne Bowe, a top 5 NFL receiver. That guy is a monster. They need Baldwin to step up and be a #2 guy. Tony Moeaki returns from injury, which will also help at least some. Peyton Hillis brings a good bruising back to complement Charles, and they will carry the ball a lot this season.

Defense — (A-).      They have a chance to be an excellent unit. They need more out of Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey though. But Tamba Hali is great. Derrick Johnson is great. Brandon Flowers and Eric Berry lead a good secondary. But losing Brandon Carr will hurt. Kendrick Lewis stepped up last season when given the chance, and they need him to continue this season.

Special teams — (B+).      Ryan Succop is a serviceable kicker. Dustin Colquitt is a fine punter. Dexter McCluster and Javier Arenas are both threats to take the ball back all the way every time they touch it.

 

4. Oakland Raiders (7-9)

Offense — (B-).      Carson Palmer is a gunslinger. He resembles a lesser form of Brett Favre… now you have the picture. He will throw for a lot of TDs, may even lead the AFC in TDs (yeah, I said it). But he may also lead it in ints, and he will accumulate seemingly good stats because of the fact their defense is so bad and he will have to throw a lot. If McFadden gets hurt, then he will have to throw even more. If McFadden stays healthy, they could have one of the most lethal offenses in the league. But without Michael Bush, if he goes down they don’t have a reliable backup.

Defense — (D).      They are simply awful. They have too much talent to have been as bad as they have over the last few seasons. Tyvon Branch is good at safety, but Michael Huff has not lived up to his draft spot, and their corners are a big question mark. LBs are another concern, and while the DL can rush the passer, they do need to stop the run better.

Special teams — (A).      They have the best punter in the AFC, if not the league, and the kicker with the strongest leg. They set the standard. Whether they will get the chance to play a part toward winning football is still to be determined.

 

 

AFC north

1. Baltimore Ravens (11-5)

Offense — (B).      Joe Flacco proved he can be counted on to win in the playoffs last season. Ray Rice is a great back. But they have below average receivers and OL. Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta are both coming into their own right now at TE. Unfortunately, they are average at best at the WR position. Boldin has struggled to stay healthy, and Torrey Smith was kind of a feast or famine player last season. The offensive line has also been nothing spectacular. They used to have one of the best in the league, but now Ben Grubbs is gone, Birk is old, and Oher has played nothing close to his level of fame. Yanda is great at RG, and Bryant McKinnie has shown he has a little left, but how much will he have this season?

Defense — (A).      Even without Suggs, they have a loaded unit. Ngata is the scariest DL in the league, and Terrance Cody and Pernell McPhee are both excellent. Ray Lewis is still solid, Courtney Upshaw was a steal in the second round, Jameel McClain is solid, and Paul Kruger is a solid fill in who will move back to a situational rusher when Suggs comes back. Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb are a great duo of corners, and Ed Reed is still a ball hawk, even though he is declining. Bernard Pollard is a good run defending safety.

Special teams — (B).      Justin Tucker, the rookie from Texas who has shown off an impressively strong leg in the preseason. Sam Koch is one of the most underrated punters in the league, never gets much credit because of Shane Lechler’s stranglehold on the AFC pro bowl spot.

 

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)

Offense — (B+).      They have a one of a kind QB that can make plays that no other QB in the NFL can. He is the toughest QB in the league, and has played through all kinds of injuries. With Mike Wallace, the league’s premiere deep threat and up and coming star Antonio Brown in the fold, as well as the solid handed Heath Miller. Finding a runner will be one concern. Can Isaac Redman carry the load? Will Jonathan Dwyer be able to contribute? Chris Rainey has looked good so far, and will certainly make some plays this season. Getting Mendenhall back for the stretch run will certainly help them. Having David DeCastro would have made their offensive line a lot better, but unfortunately they have lost him for what we presume is for the year. But, as they have proven in the past, they can win without a great offensive line.

Defense — (A-).      They have undergone a lot of change this offseason, but they are still the Steelers. No matter who is out there, they put out a successful unit. James Harrison needs to come back quickly though. He is a guy who absolutely scares the crap out of people. He and Lamarr Woodley are both players to fear. With James Farrior being released this offseason, Larry Foote slides into the starting lineup. He is on the tail end of his career, but if they can get any sort of leadership out of him he has done his job. Timmons and the outside guys are the playmakers. On the line, Hampton and Keisel are certainly getting up there in age, while Ziggy Hood is only 25. Cameron Heyward provides good depth. Troy Polamalu is still one of the ultimate playmakers on the defensive side of the ball in the league. He is the MVP of the defense. When he is out due to injury, they aren’t the same. Ryan Clark is serviceable at FS, and Ike Taylor is still solid. Keenan Lewis has a lot on his plate on the other side, and should get plenty of attention this season.

Special teams — (C).      The Achilles heel of this team if there is one. Shaun Suisham has always been a very inconsistent kicker, and they cleaned house at punter, going with undrafted rookie Drew Butler. Emmanuel Sanders held the return duties last year, but Rainey will certainly push him for those jobs. I expect him to take them at some point.

 

3. Cincinnati Bengals (5-11)

Offense — (C).      I think they overachieved last season. Andy Dalton has a very low ceiling at QB, and was the most NFL ready QB in his class of QBs. For all those who expect huge things out of him, they will be disappointed. A.J. Green is a phenomenal receiver, but they need a #2 guy. They drafted Mohammed Sanu for that (twice, by some estimates). Jermaine Gresham is a fine tight end, arguably one of the ten best in the league. But they went 9-7 with one of the easiest schedules in the league last season. I think they will get knocked back to reality this season.

Defense — (B).      A solid unit under Mike Zimmer, they have been one of the best in the league in the 2009 and 2011 seasons. They were roasted by injuries in 2010. They have a who’s who of corners with Leon Hall, Adam Jones, Nate Clements, Jason Allen, Terence Newman and first round pick Dre Kirkpatrick. Geno Atkins and Domata Peko are one of the better DT duos in the league. Those are the two strongest points of the unit.

Special teams — (C+).      Mike Nugent comes back from injury at kicker, and Cincinnati Bearcat turned Bengal Kevin Huber is a serviceable punter. Brandon Tate is not as spectacular as others, but he can get it done returning the ball.

 

4. Cleveland Browns (3-13)

Offense — (D).      Brandon Weeden is a gunslinger at QB, and because Cleveland will be behind a lot this season, he will rack up the interceptions this season. Unfortunately, with only Greg Little, Mohammed Massaquoi and others at WR, the TDs don’t figure to come easily. Trent Richardson was a wasted pick at #3. He may end up being good someday, but they could have picked up a good runner later. They could have had Justin Blackmon at #3, or traded down for more picks, because they have a lot of holes.

Defense — (B).      One of the more well coached units in the league under Dick Jauron. Joe Haden, DTs Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin, D’Qwell Jackson are the best players on the unit. Jabaal Sheard and Frostee Rucker are two decent rushers off the edge, but won’t give offensive coordinators sleepless nights. But give Sheard time and he could be great. T.J. Ward is a big hitter at safety, and newcomer Eric Haag will be good.

Special teams — (C).      Phil Dawson is not what he used to be, missing 10 kicks over the last two seasons. Reggie Hodges has been a journeyman punter, and missed all of last season with injury. Don’t expect much from him. Josh Cribbs – he used to be a big factor in the return game, but not as much anymore. He hasn’t returned a kickoff for a TD since 2009 and only one punt return for a TD in the last two years. Returners never seem to be great for that long.

 

 

AFC south

1. Houston Texans (12-4)

Offense — (A-).      Their only real weaknesses are a lack of a #2 WR, which is a problem because of the fragility of Andre Johnson, and the health of Matt Schaub. Can they really depend on him to lead them to a title? He has always been solid when healthy, but he has not played in a playoff game his whole career. Assuming they make it back to the playoffs and he can stay healthy, how will he react? Will he be the same guy? We may find out this season. The offensive line is terrific, but losing Eric Winston was a difficult blow. I have no doubt they can adequately replace him, but there will be a drop off. Owen Daniels is another fragile player that is a great threat over the middle when he is healthy.

Defense — (A-).      They were one of the best defenses in the league last season after having terrible defenses ever since the franchise began a decade ago. Personnel wise, there is not much fault you can find with them. Antonio Smith, JJ Watt and Shaun Cody are terrific, Connor Barwin, Brooks Reed and rookie Whitney Mercilus are a QBs worst nightmare, Brian Cushing is great inside, and Johnathan Joseph leads a good secondary. My questions for this unit are as follows- will Wade Phillips finally sustain success? And will complacency ever get into their heads? They need one more year before I give them an A grade, as I did with the Ravens, because the Ravens have been a dominant defense for years. The Texans have the ability to be that good, but will they?

Special teams — (B).      Shayne Graham and Donnie Jones are both journeymen. Trindon Holliday is an electrifying return man, but health must be a concern moving forward because he is so small.

 

2. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)

Offense — (C+).      This is a very conditional grade. I always thought Gabbert would improve this season because of the fact he had an offseason and got a competent offensive coaching staff. In the preseason, he has improved for sure, but still has a ways to go. Justin Blackmon will help get him there. Anything they can get out of Marcedes Lewis is a bonus. Even with all the talk about MJD, he will be there this season. He has nothing to gain from holding out. As long as the offensive line holds up, they could be a sneaky productive offense.

Defense — (B+).      They have a fundamentally solid unit, but the injury bug has always hit them hard. Particularly in the secondary. Mathis is over the hill and Cox needs to stay healthy. But they have a front 7 that can rival most in the league. Terrence Knighton is one of the best DTs in the league that nobody has ever heard of. But Tyson Alualu needs to start playing like the 10th overall pick he was. Upgrading the pass rush is also essential. Maybe Andre Branch will be the guy who can complement Jeremy Mincey.

Special teams — (A).      Josh Scobee is one of the best kickers in the game, very underrated. Bryan Anger was picked extremely high, but he can really boot it. Experience doesn’t mean a whole lot at the punter spot. Finding a return man is a must. I would think they could use MJD on returns a little bit now that their offense can throw more, and with Jennings and Toston taking carries it can free up some touches for MJD in that way. Otherwise Cecil Shorts and others will be duking it out for those spots.

 

3. Tennessee Titans (6-10)

Offense — (C-).      Jake Locker. A bad pick at #8 two years ago. He was never a very accurate QB at Washington, and he won’t be in the NFL. He does have intangibles and can run, which basically makes him much like Tim Tebow. Without Kenny Britt, who is constantly in legal trouble, he has a bunch of #2 guys like Nate Washington, Damian Williams, etc. to throw to. Jared Cook at tight end will have a break out year this year. He could be in the pro bowl. He’s a big target with freakish athletic ability. But the key is Chris Johnson. Can he get back to his 100+ ypg form? That will be the key to the season.

Defense — (B-).      With former first rounder Derrick Morgan and free agent addition Kamerion Wimbley, they could have a good pass rushing duo. Dave Ball is a good third end as well. But after that it gets a little shaky. Jurrell Casey and Sen’Derrick Marks are two young DTs that need to get stouter inside. Akeem Ayers had a decent rookie season, but he should be better in his second year. Colin McCarthy and Will Witherspoon are decent starters as well. In the secondary Michael Griffin and Alterraun Verner lead a decent group, along with Jordan Babineaux and Jason McCourty, who had a great rookie year but lost the form last season.

Special teams — (B-).      Rob Bironas is a great kicker, has been for years. Brett Kern struggled the last two years punting in Tennessee. He had his best numbers in Denver. Darius Reynaud is slated to handle the kickoff and punt returns, after missing last season with an injury.

 

4. Indianapolis Colts (4-12)

Offense — (C+).      I think Andrew Luck will gel with his new players fairly well, though it might take some time. Knowing Coby Fleener from college will certainly help him. Dwayne Allen is another playmaking tight end, and having Reggie Wayne stick around will help Luck immensely. Donald Brown showed flashes of brilliance last season, and he figures to be the permanent solution there. Putting a line in front of Luck and Brown will be the challenge.

Defense — (D+).      This could be a long year for the defense, which switches to the 3-4. Longtime starters Freeney and Mathis move to pass rushing OLBs. Cory Redding follows former coordinator to Indy to play for Chuck Pagano. Antonio Johnson and Fili Moala round out the D-line. Pat Angerer and Kavell Conner start inside, and they both are good players they will just need time to adjust, as will much of the unit. Vontae Davis will be an upgrade at corner, starting alongside Jerraud Powers, Antoine Bethea and another ex Raven, Tom Zbikowski.

Special teams — (A-).      Adam Vinateri is still there kicking FGs, and still great. Pat McAfee has blossomed into one of the better punters as well. LaVon Brazill is a rookie taking over the return spots, along with fellow rookie T.Y. Hilton. This will be a long rebuilding process, but after last year’s lost season, anything will be an improvement.

 

 

 

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In Case You Missed It…

17 03 2012

Aside from all the March Madness, the past few days have been some of the busiest sports days I have ever seen. Here’s a rundown of what has happened in case you missed it…

 

NBA

  • Derek Fisher is no longer a Los Angeles Lakers. The Purple and Gold traded him and a 2012 first-round pick to the Houston Rockets for potential-filled center Jordan Hill. The Rockets had a game against the Clippers on Saturday but Fisher did not show up. This breaks his league-leading record of 537 consecutive games played. This was not an easy move for long-time teammate Kobe Bryant to take in.
    • “Very difficult,” Bryant said. “I’m not used to it because I’ve been with him my  entire career, aside from that little stint that he had away from us. So, it’s very different for me. It’s pretty weird.”
  • Unlike Dwight Howard, who decided to stick with the Magic at least one more season, Deron Williams has made it clear he wil opt out of his current New Jersey contract this upcoming offseason and become an unrestricted free agent. Even with the Nets most recent “win now” move, all signs are pointing to a new team for D-Will. Unless the Nets make the playoffs and compete at a high-level, he has to be gone. His destination would seemingly be either Dallas or Orlando.
  • The Portland Trail Blazers have finally given up on their 2007 No. 1 overall pick and waived Greg Oden. Even though he has played only 82 games the past 4 1/2 seasons and has never been able to get healthy, he has stated he will stay away from NBA teams for a while and try to heal his body. This has to be considered one of the biggest flops with a No. 1 overall pick, especially with what Kevin Durant has done since he came into the league.
  • The Portland Trail Blazers fired Nate McMillan after 6 1/2 seasons when his club never made it out of the first round of the playoffs. Even though this sounds like a coach that needed to go, it’s unfortunate he had to because he brought the Blazers back to relevancy even though almost every single one of his seasons were filled with injuries. He is a great coach that will easily find another job. This might have been the first season when his team was finally relatively healthy, but with the Blazers’ current sub .500 record, a change needed to take place.
    • The Blazers organization wasn’t done with their huge shake-up. They traded Marcus Camby to the Houston Rockets for Jonny Flynn, Hasheem Thabeet (he is, in fact, still playing), and a future second-round pick. Blazers’ owner Paul Allen clearly wants to leave the Oden-Roy-McMillan era completely behind him and move forward with a Aldridge-Matthews-Batum core. Their frontcourt now looks to be very weak as Joel Pryzbilla (came out of retirement this year) and Kurt Thomas (39 years old) will have to carry most of the load at the center position. Once all of the Blazers’ picks are cashed in, it will be easier to see what their new identity is.
  • As Derek Fisher leaves Hollywood, a young point guard has stepped into his role. The Los Angeles Lakers sent Luke Walton (yes, after 11 seasons in the NBA, he’s finally playing somewhere else than L.A.), Jason Kapono, a 2012 first-round pick and the right to swap the Miami Heat’s 2013 first-round pick with the Lakers’ first-rounder to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Ramon Sessions and Christian Eyenga. Even though this trade looks like a mess, it boils down to one player: Ramon Sessions. He backed up Steve Blake in his first game with the team but eventually might take the starting point guard position. He is a scoring point guard and will look to take it into the paint. This radical change to the identity of the Lakers’ backcourt might give them just enough firepower to make a few more playoff pushes with the player that has the fifth-most points all-time.
  • Stephen Jackson is headed back to the place where he received his one and only championship ring in 2003. The San Antonio Spurs sent Richard Jefferson and a 2012 first-round pick to the Golden State Warriors for the hot-headed shooting guard. (Interestingly, he played a total of zero games with the Warriors before this most recent trade.) Even though the Spurs have been unable to prove they can be successful in the playoffs with their new offense-first style, I think Jackson will fit in with their new tempo. Greg Popovich is a no-nonsense kind of coach and won’t put up with any shenanigans from Captain Jack. Also, that nickname will have to go if he wants to buy into what the Spurs are selling. Being a part of the Warriors, Bobcats and Bucks the past 6 1/2 seasons, he hasn’t had to worry about winning; he has focused on himself and his stastistics. Now, he will need to put the team before himself to be successful. Can he do that? The Spurs are willing to take that risk.
  • In one of the oddest deals to take place on Thursday, three teams traded some unexpected names. Sending Nene to the Washington Wizards, the Denver Nuggets acquired Javale McGee and Ronny Turiaf from the Wizards. The Los Angeles Clippers also sent Brian Cook and a 2015 second-round draft pick to the Wizards for shoot-happy guard Nick Young. The Nuggets did not get the good end of this deal as Nene is a much better player than McGee. Denver must have been worried about Nene’s health and thought that they might as well bring more youth to their squad since big man Kenneth Faried has been playing so well. The Clippers should be very happy because Nick Young will be able to partially fill the role that Chauncey Billups left behind when he went down with a season-ending injury.
  • Two Eastern Conference playoff teams made a few trades for the present, losing part of their future.
    • The Indiana Pacers acquired Leandro Barbosa from the Toronto Raptors for a second-round pick. This gives the Pacers yet another role player to make them easily one of the deepest teams in the league. Paul George has averaged 30.2 minutes per game this season and will gladly let Barbosa take some of those minutes. Dropping all the way to fifth, the Pacers need Barbosa to provide some consistent play off the bench.
    • The Philadelphia 76ers acquired Sam Young from the Memphis Grizzlies for the rights to Ricky Sanchez. Averaging four points less than his first two seasons with the Grizzlies, Young has not looked like the same player from his previous seasons. He eventually fell out of the Grizzlies’ rotation. Even with all these negatives, the Sixers are excited about what the 6-6 swingman can bring to the court.
  • The biggest stories of this year’s NBA trade deadline pertained to the players that didn’t get traded (Dwight Howard, Deron Williams and Pau Gasol). One of the most surprising players to stand pat is Atlanta Hawk’s Josh Smith even though multiple sources stated Smith wants out of Atlanta. This story has died down, but if the Hawks have another mediocre season followed up with a quick outing in the playoffs, Smith might remind his current team of the request.
  • The Golden State Warriors sent cash considerations to the Atlanta Hawks for a 2012 second-round pick. There isn’t much to this trade other than Atlanta trying to get under the salary cap.

NFL

  • The Bills emptied out there pockets and gave Mario Williams a contract worthy of the best defensive player to ever play the game receiving. (Does he deserve to be on that level?) The Bills gave the defensive end a six-year deal worth $100 million and $50 million of the contract is guaranteed. That guaranteed money is what makes this signing ridiculous; it stands as the NFL record for guaranteed money. From a monetary standpoint, they did overpay him. However, luring a superstar to play in the not-so-thriving Buffalo sports market is difficult to do without a grandiose offer. Since Williams had the same amount of sacks as the entire Bills team in 11 less games, he will surely make a huge impact and possibly push them into the playoffs.
  • It looks like the Denver Broncos, Tennessee Titans, and San Francisco 49ers are the finalists for the Peyton Manning sweepstakes. Who will be the team to take him? There is no clear front-runner right now, but it should be noted that Manning went to the University of Tennessee so he most likely has some ties in Tennessee. If he goes to the Broncos or 49ers, he would be taking the spot of a quarterback (Tim Tebow or Alex Smith) that won a playoff game last season. Whenever he makes his decision, be prepared to be inundated with Manning-Mania.

NHL

  • The Dallas Stars and the Pittsburgh Penguins are catching fire with their current play.
    • Even though the Stars have lost their last two games to Winnipeg and Chicago, they won six straight and 10 of 11 before that. They currently control the Pacific Division, leading the Phoenix Coyotes by two points. This would be big for a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since the 2007-2008 season.
    • Having an eight-game winning streak earlier in the season, the Penguins have surpassed that streak with their current 11-game winning streak. When you tack on two other four-game winning streaks, it’s easy to see that this team is streaky. That’s why even with all their winning streaks, the New York Rangers still lead their division by a comfortable 10 points. With Sidney Crosby hopefully being fully healthy and ready to lace up his skates every time the Penguins play, they might be able to put together a run for the Atlantic Division title.

Tennis

  • On a Saturday that Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer were expected to put on a show in the BNP Paribas Open semifinals (their game was rained out and delayed), John Isner decided to create his own story. John Isner defeated top-ranked Novak Djokovic 7-6 (7), 3-6, 7-6 (5) as he had 20 aces against the No. 1 ranked player in the world. Even though this isn’t a Grand Slam tournament, it is still classified as an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event. Many of the top tennis players in the world travel to Indian Wells, California to compete. Isner will face Rafa or Roger in Sunday’s final. With the lack of American tennis success recently, a championship here would be great for our country.

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NFL Nutshell: Week 12

28 11 2011

 

San Francisco 6, Baltimore 16

You shouldn’t pick on your little brother, but John Harbaugh did just that by means of his football team. The Ravens’ defense was stifling, to say the least, holding the young 49ers to only 170 total yards. Alex Smith and Frank Gore were never able to get into a solid rhythm as the Ravens continue to battle the Steelers and Bengals for the top spot in the AFC North.

 

Miami 19, Dallas 20

The Cowboys have indeed won four straight and look to be one of the hottest teams in the NFC, but their ability to play up or down to their opponent’s level is worrisome. To add to that, they really enjoy playing close games for some odd reason; if you take out Weeks 7-10, the Cowboys are winning or losing their games by a net average of 2.8 points a game. If they truly are a 7-4 ball club, I feel as though a Dan Bailey last second field goal in each of the wins against the Redskins and Dolphins should not be happening.

 

Green Bay 27, Detroit 15

Aaron Rodgers is usually the sole reason for the Packers’ victories; however, in this Turkey Day showdown, the defense’s addition of three interceptions heavily influenced the Packers’ ability to stay undefeated. Ndamukong Suh’s ejection in the third quarter for simply a dumb move on his part also helped the Packers rack up 17 points once he was removed. The Lions looked immature and frustrated during this game, so we’ll see how they bounce back against the New Orleans Saints next week.

 

New England 38, Philadelphia 20

Even though Vince Young had his career high in total passing yards with 400 yards through the air, the Patriots’ 17-point blitz in the 3rd quarter all but dashed the “Dream Team’s” playoff hopes. Tom Brady has been lights-out during the Patriots’ current three game winning streak; he has thrown for 308 yards per game, connected on eight touchdowns along with no interceptions, and holds an average passer rating of 120.73.

 

Denver 16, San Diego 13 (OT)

Tim Tebow did in fact lead his team to this overtime win to give the Broncos their fourth straight win; however, the defense has played an even larger role during this streak, holding their opponents to only 12 points a game the past three games, which has given Tebow the opportunity to win the game on the last drive.

 

Chicago 20, Oakland 25

In a game in which quarterback play was subpar from both sides, Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski made a lot of fantasy football owners happy by converting 6 of 6 field goals to give the Raiders this odd win where they only had one touchdown but 25 points. The Raiders will need to continue to win to keep the charging Broncos away from the divisional lead.

 

Carolina 27, Indianapolis 19

Standing all tied up at ten points apiece in the second quarter, it was conceivable that Indianapolis could finally pull off a win; the Colts had even scored their first touchdown of November. However, Cam Newton and DeAngelo Williams pounded the ball on the ground for three rushing touchdowns combined to keep the Colts on track toward a 0-16 season.

 

Buffalo 24, NY Jets 28

Ryan Fitzpatrick has had some problems during the Bills’ recent struggles, but yesterday’s loss was not on him; he finished with 264 passing yards, three touchdowns, and a 111.5 passer rating. However, his defense was unable to contain Sanchez, who threw four touchdowns, three being for more than ten yards. With Tennessee (6-5), San Diego (4-7), Miami (3-8), and Denver (6-5) next on the Bills’ schedule, they have one last chance to salvage any hope of a playoff spot.

 

Houston 20, Jacksonville 13

The two Matts (Leinart and Shaub) standing on the sideline, one in a sling and one in a boot, epitomized this injury-derailed football team. Texans’ 152nd pick, T.J. Yates, finished this game off (luckily it was only the Jaguars he had to deal with) and will have to stay at the helm unless something changes. Sitting at 8-3 and first in the entire AFC, the Texans have a huge opportunity to do something substantial this year. Maybe Skip Bayless isn’t that crazy with his idea to (make sure you’re sitting down for this) bring back… Brett Favre.

 

Monday Night Football:

NY Giants vs. New Orleans – 7:30 p.m. CT

These two teams have solid records, but they have been difficult to figure out thus far. The Giants have big wins against the Bills and the Patriots but bad losses to the Redskins and Seahawks. The Saints handed Houston one of their three losses and defeated the Bears, but they let the Buccaneers beat them and allowed the Rams to pick up their first win of the season. However, if the Giants continue with their inability to get anything on the ground as in the past two games, Eli Manning will be hurt because he needs a solid running game to have a chance to play efficiently. Drew Brees will throw for over 300 yards, collect three touchdowns, and the Giants will continue to be pushed farther away from a divisional championship. Pick: Saints

 

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NFL Nutshell: Week 11

21 11 2011

 

San Diego 20, Chicago 31

This was a fairly evenly matched game with the score remaining in reach for the Chargers throughout the game. However, another Phillip Rivers’ interception in the red zone during the fourth quarter when the Chargers were closing in on making the deficit four points brought this game to a close. The Chargers’ 2-4 red zone efficiency could not hold up against the Bears’ 3-3 efficiency. Counting Rivers’ two interceptions from last night, he now sits atop the league with an alarming 17 total interceptions. These two teams couldn’t be headed in more different directions; the Bears have now won five straight games and are becoming a solid, balanced offensive club without Matt Forte having to do all of the work while the Chargers are on a five game losing streak and are creating doubt in the minds of all the San Diego fans as to whether this Norv Turner and Phillip Rivers duo has run its course (if you ask me, I say it has).

 

Buffalo 8, Miami 35

Buffalo actually had more total yards (247) than Miami (242). In fact, Matt Moore threw the ball 20 times and racked up only 160 yards. There are some glaring aspects to this game that explain why it was a 27 point blowout. To put it simply, the Bills could not make a play when the pressure was on. They were 0-12 on 3rd down, 0-2 on 4th down, and were a horrid 0-3 in the red zone. Fitzpatrick’s two interceptions occurred right in their own red zone, leading to easy Dolphins’ touchdowns. The Dolphins couldn’t have been more efficient. While the team was perfect in the red zone (4-4), Matt Moore almost matched that perfection, completing 70% of his passes, producing three touchdowns, and throwing no interceptions. To a lesser extent, these two teams are headed in directions similar to the Chargers and Bears. Even though the Dolphins are most likely out of playoff contention, their three game winning streak has allowed Reggie Bush to show his value and has given the fans a reason to show up to their home games. The Bills, on the other hand, continue to give us the impression that “they are who we thought they were.”

 

Dallas 27, Washington 24 (OT)

No matter where these two teams sit or when the game takes place, a Cowboys-Redskins match-up always finds a way to be a great game. With neither team gaining more than a seven point lead and an early fourth quarter field goal putting the score at 17-17, this game called for some clutch play from Romo and Grossman. Both men stepped up and made some big plays. Romo started it off with a great 59-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten, which is the longest touchdown reception of Witten’s career. That gave Romo his eighth touchdown in the last three games. Grossman wasn’t down and out yet though. The Redskins’ final drive started at 5:35 on the clock before Grossman decided to take his game to another level. He went 8-11, converted three third downs, and threw a perfect fade ball for Donte Stallworth to go and get. This left only 14 seconds on the clock and forced the game to go into OT. Overtime consisted of a Graham Gano missed field goal followed by a Dan Bailey just-made field goal to give the Cowboys their third straight win and the Redskins their sixth straight loss. The Cowboys now lead the NFC East with two easy Miami and Arizona games coming up, while the Giants have to take on the Saints and the undefeated Packers before facing the Cowboys on December 11th.

 

NY Jets 13, Denver 17

As an avid sports fan, I am continuously bewildered at Tim Tebow’s complete transformation when the last drive comes along. It’s not simply “clutch” play; he turns into an entirely different player. Tim Tebow was 4-6 with 46 passing yards and 50 rushing yards on the winning drive of this game. Prior to that drive, he was 5-14 with 58 passing yards and only 18 total rushing yards – matching Willis McGahee’s total rushing yards to finish the game. (That tells you something about the balance of their offense….) What happens when the Broncos face a team that puts up more than 13 points and Tebow has to play like he does in the waning minutes for the entire game? I don’t have an explanation for his baffling statistics, but Tebow and his Broncos are winning, which is all that matters in the standings.

 

Monday Night Football:

Kansas City vs. New England – 7:30 p.m. CT

It has been difficult to get a grip on where these two teams are headed. The Chiefs have a four game winning streak sandwiched between a bunch of losses. During those wins, they looked like the team that won the AFC West last year. During their five losses, it looked like they were regressing to their 2007-2009 football days. Matt Cassel has had as high of a passer rating as 138.9, but also as low as 38.3. The Chiefs’ main running back, Jackie Battle, has been the closest thing to consistency since his 119 rushing yard burst against the Colts. Even though the Patriots sit at a much better 6-3 and lead the AFC East, many questions are still revolving around this ball club. Tom Brady has put this team at the top of the league in passing yards per game (326), but the defense is counteracting that by being dead last in passing yards given up per game (308.9). When you have Golden Boy, many times simply out-throwing your opponent can be a reasonable option. However, this reliance on their offense might hurt the Patriots in the long run. Even though both of these teams come in to this conference showdown with their own problems, I can’t see the Patriots dropping a game like this. They are 13-5 on Monday Night Football under Bill Belichick and get to play on their own turf. BenJarvus Green-Ellis will go back to his early season form and attack the Chiefs 27th ranked rushing defense, while Tom Brady will… well, be Tom Brady. Pick: Patriots

 

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NFL Nutshell: Week 10

14 11 2011

 

New Orleans 26, Atlanta 23 (OT)

This was the Falcons’ game to lose; they had 12 more first downs, 26 more plays, 118 more total yards, and 6:29 more possession time. However, Drew Brees and his Saints got the one stat that counts: the win. Their defense had a big stop against Michael Turner on a 4th-and-1 in overtime which set up the game-winning field goal. With no help from his running game (only 41 total rushing yards), Brees threw the ball 43 times, completing 30 of those passes for 322 yards. He has now thrown the ball a total of 379 times this season, which is by far the highest number in the league. Comfortably sitting atop the NFC South since the three other teams in their division lost yesterday, the Saints definitely need to allow Drew Brees to give his arm a break during the team’s bye week.

 

Buffalo 7, Dallas 44

Wow. Those Cowboys continue to confuse fans as to how good or bad they truly are. Two weeks ago, the ‘Boys seemed completely lost as the Eagles easily sent them to a 3-4 record. Now, they have taken care of Seattle and not only took care of, but destroyed the falling Bills. Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, and Dez Bryant were all at the top of their game today. Romo was 23 for 26 with 270 yards while throwing three touchdowns and no interceptions. DeMarco Murray continued his rookie outburst with 135 rushing yards and a touchdown. Dez Bryant caught six passes for 74 yards and a touchdown. Watching these three studs perform at the level they were playing at made me realize this team can be extremely dangerous if all three threats are playing up to their full potential. On the other side of the field, Ryan Fitzpatrick no longer has the poise he once had early on in the season (especially during his three interceptions), and this Bills team is looking more and more like an early season tease.

 

Denver 17, Kansas City 10

In a crucial divisional match-up, Kansas City went for it on 4th down as many times as Tim Tebow completed a pass…two times. I understand Tebow played a major role in both touchdowns (throwing for one and running for the other), but to be able to win on such poor quarterback numbers leads me to believe that the defense played a much greater role than the offense in this game – and they did. Denver held the Chiefs to only 258 total yards and forced Cassel to be 13 of 28 passing, even though four of those passes were dropped balls by Cassel’s receivers. So, the defense was in fact the larger contributor to this Broncos’ win, but the media will find a way to talk about the fact that the quarterback who completed fewer passes than Colts quarterback Dan Orlovsky is now 3-1.

 

Washington 9, Miami 20

Following seven straight losses to start the season, the Dolphins have now put together two solid wins in a row. Furthermore, this is Miami’s first home win since game 1 of the NBA Finals – oh wait, that’s the LeHeat. The Dolphins haven’t won at home since November 14, 2010. Reggie Bush continues his push for relevancy, scoring both of the Dolphin’s two touchdowns. Even though Matt Moore had no touchdowns and one interception, he did throw an efficient 69%. Rex Grossman continues to tempt Mike Shanahan to pull his John Beck card out…again. Grossman has now thrown zero touchdowns and six interceptions in his past two games. That’s simply unacceptable. It’s hard not to feel bad for Shanahan, who has had nothing but problems since having to part ways with John Elway in 1999. The Redskins’ 3-1 start to the season can most assuredly be called a fluke, since they have now lost five in a row and sit at the bottom (yes, even behind the Dream Team Eagles) of the NFC East.

 

New England 37, NY Jets 16

The Patriots and Jets both came into this game sitting at 5-3 overall and 2-1 in divisional play. The winner of this game would, for the time being, sit atop of the AFC East with Buffalo’s loss. However, the Patriot’s two “kowskis” didn’t allow this game to even be competitive. Tight End Rob Gronkowski had an outstanding night with eight catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns. He has the second most receiving yards by a tight end, sitting behind Saints Jimmy Graham. It’s amazing how quickly Belichick (or Tom Brady) implements new pieces into his offense and fits them into the system perfectly. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski was another major contributor, tacking on three field goals, including a 50-yarder. Tom Brady just did his normal thing with 329 yards, three touchdowns, and a 118.4 passer rating. Even though New England hasn’t won a Super Bowl since 2004, this is a team you always have to consider dangerous and a legitimate contender.

 

Monday Night Football:

Minnesota vs. Green Bay 7:30 p.m. CT

8-0. Aaron Rodgers. Lambeau Field. Enough said. Pick: Packers

 

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