Thursday, January 29, 2009

My Dad And His Rooting Interest

While chatting on the phone with my dad earlier this week, the conversation eventually came around to Arizona being in the Super Bowl. My dad mentioned that two of his students are from Pittsburgh originally, and are big Steelers' fans. My dad said he told them he had to root for Arizona for two reasons:

Reason 1: Because back when the Cardinals were still in St. Louis, Terry Bradshaw and the Steelers used to regularly humiliate the Cardinals. One game in particular that stuck in his craw was a game where he remembers the Cardinals apparently knocking Bradshaw out of the game early, then jumping out to a 3+ touchdown lead. Except Terry returned in the second half, showing no ill effects of whatever laid him low, and lead a Pittsburgh comeback. I get the impression my father doesn't believe Bradshaw was actually injured, and so he's still holding a grudge.

Reason 2: As he put it himself, 'I unfortunately passed the Cardinals' fandom on to my son, then abandoned him'.

I found that second reason pretty amusing. I have a hard time gauging how my dad feels about me having taken up the Arizona Cardinals' fan banner. Most of the time I think he feels bad for me that they've been so lousy. At the same time, he holds (or did hold) considerable ill will towards the Bidwells for moving the team, so I think part of him enjoys the fact they continued to stink, that they deserved it*. In the past when he's asked me how the Arizona Caards have been doing, I had the sense he was fighting himself. He didn't want to know, but he kind of did. or maybe he already knew the answer and just didn't want to have to commiserate with me about it. Or listen to me scream bloody murder about the performance of Jake Plummer**.

* He views the current state of the Kansas City Royals the same way, that their ineptitude is payback for benefitting from the Denkinger call in '85. I don't believe he's moved past that one. Or that he's bothered to try.

** Or scream bloody murder about how Jake was being blamed for the performance of the team in excess of any damage he might be inflicting.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Well That's Just Swell, He Said Sarcastically

I read that some Arizona Cardinals' "fans" decided a proper celebration for the team's trip to the Super Bowl would be to burn cheers in the yard of Donovan McNabb's home.

Fantastic. People are just now finding out there actually are Cardinals fans, even if they think we're probably all bandwagon jumpers, and now they're going to think we're nothing but a bunch of goddamn soccer hooligan wannabes!

I'd like to think we could handle prosperity a little better than that, but I guess there are always going to be a few jackasses in the bunch. Too bad for McNabb, like he's not going to have enough trouble. I'm sure the NFC Championship loss with start up the talk about letting him go again in Philly, and the stuff about whether he shrinks in the big moments, or whatever else he'll have to hear about, now he's got to get his yard fixed up.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Conference Championship Recap

Steelers 23, Ravens 14 - Now, let's have no more of this "Joe Flacco is Joe Cool" nonsense, alright? At least not until he steps his game up considerably. Thumbs Up to Mitch Berger for that tackle on Leonard on the punt return. Not only did you tackle him, you stripped the ball, even if it did tumble out of bounds and remain in Baltimore's possession. On the other hand, Thumbs Down to Berger for that flop that drew the roughing the kicker penalty in the first half. Thumbs Down to the ref that called it while we're at it. The guy barely grazed Berger, and I do not approve of rewarding people who took acting lessons from Vlade Divac. Fucking kickers, that's why nobody likes you.

Lot of hard hitting in that game. The Ravens defensive backfield looked to be getting a little thin there for awhile, especially that one play late in the first half when Heath Miller ran over the guy who tried to tackle him, and one of the wideouts leveled another Ravens' DB. Personally, not the matchup I would have preferred for Arizona. Sure, the Ravens are a fierce defensive team too, but Pittsburgh actually has an offense that can produce points without getting awesome field position thanks to their defense. Baltimore didn't seem quite as capable. Also, I'm concerned about the pressure Pittsburgh can bring getting aimed at Warner. Sure, he's smarter than Flacco, but he's a lot less mobile too. Offensive line better get ready.

Arizona 32, Eagles 25 - They wouldn't be the Arizona Cardinals if they made it easy would they? Last week's game against Carolina notwithstanding. Rack up huge lead, blow huge lead, then retake lead and hold it. I see a few fans complaining about the lack of pass interference on the 4th and 10 throw to Curtis. I'd say it was questionable, because Curtis did appear to be losing his footing on his own at roughly the same time, so I don't know how much Hood did. Besides, Curtis still ought to have caught the ball.

Anyway, if the ref swallowed the flag, then I figure that makes us even for the no call on the pass interference at the end of the regular season contest against the Cowboys in Arizona, back in 1998. Arizona got screwed when the refs looked the other way on a much more egregious example of pass interference, so this evens the score. I find the accusations of conspiracy by the league amusing. The NFL would rather have the Arizona Cardinals' and their diminutive fan base in the Super Bowl, rather than the Eagles and their fans, who would likely be rabid at the prospect of adding a Super Bowl title to the Phillies' recent World Series triumph?

Ah well, Arizona's in, so now all that's left to do is sit through the tedious two weeks of buildup before the actual game. I hate that they wait two weeks. Why? Doesn't that throw the players out of their groove? Granted, it's not nearly as bad as college football, with the six weeks or whatever in between the end of the regular season and their "championship" game, but still. Is it to get both teams as healthy as possible, and if so, how often does the second week actually help there?

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Divisional Round Recap

It's a madhouse, a madhouse! Lower seeds winning, home field advantage counting four naught! Well, almost.

Steelers 35, Chargers 24 - Things just didn't seem to go San Diego's way. Darren Sproles busts off a 63 yard kickoff return? Rivers first pass afterward gets tipped at the line and intercepted. San Diego's D actually holds and forces a punt? It bounces off one of their player's heads and the Steelers recover.

I'm oversimplifying it, of course. The Steelers offensive line, which had been letting Ben Roethlisberger get a tad battered this year, actually held up well. San Diego got a grand total of 1 sack, and Ben had plenty of time to convert on all those third-and-long situations, even with the Chargers seemingly frequent blitzes. Plus, San Diego couldn't seem to stop Willie Parker after the 1st quarter. He wound up with 146 yards rushing, with an average of 5.4 yards a rush. On the other side, Sproles couldn't duplicate last week's magic. It seemed as though San Diego had him charging into the heart of the line an awful lot. I know the Steelers have a fast defense, but with a small back, I'm not sure that's the best use for him.

Eagles 23, Giants 11 - First time an NFL game had that final score. The Giants ran the ball pretty successfully, except on those two 4th and inches in the 4th quarter. Which, I guess, is when they needed it most. So maybe you could say they didn't run the ball successfully, if you wanted to. The Giants did their job on Westbrook, 46 total yards on 20 touches, but the Eagles had some excellent field position where they didn't have to move the ball much to score points. Oh, and the Giants kicker missed two field goals. I guess we can argue about how much those mattered, six points in a game with a 12 point margin of victory, but the miss could cost momentum, provide Philly with decent field position, and it wasn't a 12-point game when they were being missed, so who knows. I'd say what it boiled down to was Eli Manning had a less than impressive game. He couldn't seem to make the throws he needed to. Maybe it was the wind (McNabb wasn't exactly stellar, either), or his receivers (there were a couple of passes that just missed, and I can't tell whether Eli got too much on it, or if the receiver slowed down too soon), but the numbers say he didn't come through for them.

Ravens 13, Titans 10 - Credit to the Ravens' defense, they forced turnovers, whether it was by putting pressure on Collins (the INT), or hitting Titan ballcarriers really hard (the two fumbles). Still, the Titans shot themselves in the foot with all those penalties (12, costing 89 yards), and with all the turnovers deep in Ravens territory, they only have themselves to blame.

I don't know what to make of Flacco's performance. After two playoff games, he's 20 for 45, for about 320 yards. He does make a couple of nice deep passes each game, which I guess scares the defense just enough they have to play back, which helps the run. Still, I about did a spit-take when one of the announcers called him "Joe Cool". Uh, NO. That's Joe Montana's nickname. Until Flacco wins 4 Super Bowls (or at least starts completing more than 50% of his passes), he doesn't get tabbed with that name. No sirree.

Brief aside: I was really pleased with the day Justin Gage had (10 catches, 135 yards). Too bad his teammates cocked everything up. Two thoughts emerge from that performance, the first being where was that during his time in Chicago? I don't recall the Bears having a stupendous receiving core during his time there, so I can't figure whether it was a lack of effort by him, a misjudgment by the coaches, or a mark of how bad the QBs were. Secondly, if i were the ravens, I'd be concerned what Pittsburgh will do. I like Gage, but I have to say that Hines Ward is probably better, so what's he going to do to them?

Cardinals 33, Panthers 13 - Well, damn. That exceeded my expectations considerably. Arizona not only won, they went east and won. Not only that, they feel behind almost immediately, then scored 33 unanswered points, before Steve Smith's meaningless TD with 50 seconds left. I can't understand why Carolian abandoned the run so early. I know they fell behind, but it was only 20-7 with over 5 minutes left in the 2nd quarter. The Panthers were down 17-3 to Arizona in the 3rd quarter back in Week 8, and they kept running the ball. And it's not as if they weren't successful on Saturday, with 15 carries for 75 yards. Yes, 31 of those yards came on D'Angelo Williams' carry on the opening drive, and excluding that Arizona held them to 44 yards on 14 carries (3.14 yds./carry), but I don't think you can just forget about the running game. Well, if you were Kurt Warner throwing to Fitzgerald, Boldin and Breaston, you could but Delhomme is not Warner, past playoff performances to the contrary.

I'm glad Arizona decided to go beyond the "tackle Steve Smith" strategy, directly to the "keep the ball away from Steve Smith" plan, which worked all the way up to the final minute of the 3rd quarter. Curiously, Carolina adopted the "don't tackle" plan Arizona used on Smith in Week 8, and employed it against Larry Fitzgerald. Didn't work any better for them than it did the Cardinals. Also, big ups to Hightower. I've been down on him this year, owing largely to his poor showing once he became the starting RB. This time, he went for 76 yards on 17 carries, plus a 3-yard TD catch. James added another 57 yards on 20 carries. Granted, that's not a great average, and the team only averaged 3.4 yards a carry, but they ran it 43 times. Love that commitment to the running game (being way ahead helps, I imagine).

Also, congrats to the defense. I know Delhomme made some bad decisions, and Carolina's playcalling was questionable, but I think the defense deserves at least some of the credit for those six turnovers, you know? They pressured him, even if they only had 2 sacks, forced him to move, throw on the run, and when they had the chance, they held on to the passes he threw to them. Worth noting: Arizona had 30 takeaways in the regular season, which is nothing to sneeze at. So far they have 9 in the playoffs, compared to 2 turnovers.

And now, we see what happens in the conference finals.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

I Said I'd Do It, And Here We Are

All the way back in June, I did that post about "liberated fandom", a term I attributed to Freedarko. While discussing them, I amde on offhand reference to comparing the failure of the Suns with Shaq to the Biological Species Concept, then said I would get into that. It took six months, but I'm going to give it a whirl.

Starting point, the Biological Species Concept. There's considerable discussion in the biological scientific community about how to define "species". The Biological Species Concept is one proposed explanation, and probably the one most people have a passing familiarity with. Basically, two organisms belong to separate species if they are unable to produce viable offspring. For example, under the BSC horses and donkeys are considered separate species because the product of their mating (a mule) is sterile.

The method of producing separate species is frequently the result of some barrier coming between two segements of a single population. Say there's an ice age. With the water freezing into glaciers, sea levels worldwide drop. A strip of land rises above the water, connecting the mainland to some island*. Part of a population of some organism expands out to that island across the strip of land. Individuals move back and forth for several generations, keeping the populations genetically similar. Then the ice age ends, sea level rises, and the individuals are trapped on the island, isolated from the mainland. There's no exchange of genetic information (in the form of sex and reproduction) between the two populations. Over the course of several generations (how long that is depends on how long a generation is for the species), the island population becomes genetically distinct, since they only have their own small group to breed with. They're also exposed to unique selective pressures the mainland population is not, and vice versa. Point is, given enough time, the island population will become genetically distinct enough they can not succesfully breed with the mainland individuals (who have been changing over the same time span in their own way), if they are somehow brought together.

The BSC has certain flaws. Wolves and coyotes are considered separate species, but coyotes are able to interbreed with wolves in North America. A concept based on sexual reproduction is somewhat useless when dealing with single-celled bacteria that primarily use asexual reproduction. But it's just one of two dozen or so different definitions. So how does all this relate to the Phoenix Suns?

Phoenix, under D'Antoni, went to the extreme end of "run n' gun" style basketball. Seven Seconds or Less to shoot and all that. Defense wasn't completely ignored (I believe the Suns were usually in the middle of the pack in opponents' field goal percentage), but the emphasis was one getting shots quickly, and trying to lure your opponent into playing the same way, with the idea being they aren't conditioned for it like Phoenix is. Problem was, Phoenix couldn't make it to the Finals with that strategy. They kept running afoul of San Antonio, a team self-disciplined enough to resist the siren song of run and shoot. The Spurs were going to take their time, attack the basket, concentrate on slowing down Phoenix and not allowing easy shots. In the battle of wills, the Spurs were imposing theirs with greater success. So Steve Kerr's apparent response was "if you can't beat 'em, join'em". Emphasis on offense wasn't producing championships, so maybe more focus on defense would work. Thus Shaq, the imposing interior presence was added, to bring the Suns more in line with the blueprint of recent championship teams.

In this scenario the Suns are the small population that went out on the island, and the Seven Seconds or Less years are the time between ice ages, with the sea level is up. Shaq's arrival is the start of another freeze, and the Suns attempt to reintegerate back into the larger NBA population. Except they'd been gone too long. Having built a team in one form, they weren't able to so easily become defense-minded. Nash is weak defensively, Barbosa was undersized for a point guard, Diaw the same for a center/power forward. What's more, the Suns traded the most versatile defensive player they had (Marion) to get Shaq, who is quite large, but not really quick enough to come off his man and make driving to the hoop inadvisable (I mean he lacks lateral quickness). The Suns were too different an animal to easily adjust to the new challenges they faced by eschewing their offense-first syle. I think I've thrown natural selection into the mix there at the end.

Of course, the nice thing for NBA teams is that given enough time, they can change again. If they get a coaching change and some appropriate personnel. So they don't find themselves locked into a particular blueprint the way organisms can**.

* An example would be the island of Trinidad, off the northern coast of South AMerica. One species that demonstrates this distribution pattern is the tayra (Eira barbara), a member of the msutelid family. Though the individuals on Trinidad haven't been separate long enough to be a unique species from the ones scattered through Latin America. Not to our current knowledge, anyway.

** Turtles, for example. The shells are great as a defense mechanism, but the physiological changs they've undergone to get to that point - the ribs broadening out and moving outside the skin to form a shell, their clavicle and pelvis being located inside the shell, which helps them get their limbs inside the shells, but limits mobility - have locked them into a set pattern. It's unlikely turtles could become speed-dependent to escape predation, or walk on two limbs, or become arboreal, because they've become too specialized.


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

My Hall Of Fame Ballot

'Cause why not? The way I look at it, if you think a guy should be in, vote for him. None of this "well, nobody should get in unanimously" crap, or "I don't think he's a first ballot Hall of Famer, so I'll vote for him next year" garbage. The only way I can see not voting for someone is because you've got more than 10 people you want to vote for, in which case I can see leaving off the player you think needs your support the least. With that out of the way, here we go, and keep in mind, I can't always justify these, partially from laziness, partially from the choices being emotional.

Alan Trammell - I've seen some good cases for Trammell. He's not the offensive force Ripken was (though in the mid to late '80s he was close), and he's not the defensive phenomenon Ozzie was (who is), but I believe he's good enough. Yes.

Jay Bell - No. Don't think he has the numbers.

Matt Williams - Uh, No.

Andre Dawson - Yes. I know, terrible on-base percentage, but that 400+ HRs/300+ SBs really speaks to me. You can decide whether that means it's good I don't have a vote or not.

Dale Murphy - I think he just got old too fast, because he was going good until his early 30s, then it's as though his body just forgot how to play. No.

Dave Parker - I did not realize he had over 2700 hits. All I ever read is that he's not a HoFer, and that it's his fault for squandering his talent (on coke, I think). But, his overall numbers are't really better than Murphy's, so I'd say No.

Ron Gant - No thanks.

Rickey Henderson - YES!

Tim Raines - Yes. I think his base stealing, on-base percentage, and his little bit of power, help him earn a spot. Plus, those stories about him sliding headfirst so he didn't break his vial of cocaine in his back pocket. Yeah, just say no to drugs, but those are the kind of colorful characters our kids (or your kids; I haven't got any) need to learn about when they visit Cooperstown.

Jim Rice - I have no idea. I've heard so many arguments both ways, and I have no memories of him at all, so I don't know.

Greg Vaughn - No.

Mo Vaughn - No.

Don Mattingly - No. Will Clark couldn't even stay on the ballot, and I'd say he was at least as good as Mattingly.

Mark Grace - Don't think so. No.

Mark McGwire - Jeez, here is where the bias starts to show. Not the bias against players I don't remember (see Rice, Jim), and it's not a bias about use of steroids, or accusations of use of steroids. I just don't like big, slow power hitters. I was even that wild about Albert Pujols until he stole 16 bases in 2005, and he's a ludicrously better overall player than McGwire. Shit, I don't know. It's an awful lot of HRs, and impact on the game is part of the consideration, I think, and McGwire (and Sosa) can certainly claim that. So, Yes, which I guess means a yes for Sammy in a few years.

Harold Baines - I'm not a big fan of guys who can't field a position. I know Molitor was frequently a DH, but I don't think there was any doubt he could play in the field, he just got hurt easily when he did. Baines seemed like more of a David Ortiz, Giambi DH, the "get him off the field, he's fuckin' terrible". Or in Harold's case, maybe it was he was just old. No, based on my anti-DH bias.

Bert Blyleven - Almost 5000 innings, over 3700 Ks, 242 complete games, hell Yes. I'm not going to hold for less than stellar teams that hurt his win total against him.

David Cone - No. Didn't play long enough to rack up the impressive numbers.

Tommy John - I think Joe Posnanski (among others) probably made a good point, that if you're going to give Sutter credit for popularizing the splitfinger, can't John get some credit for pitching well after the medical procedure that now nears his name? If he'd stunk it, he probably wouldn't have lasted long enough to get that. Yes.

Jack Morris - I really like that line about how the only time he wants to talk to a woman while he naked is if she's on top of him, or he's on top of her. It's a funny line. He's got some memorable postseason performances, but I don't know that he has the wins. Yes.

Jesse Orosco - Fuck No. St. Louis had him for a year and he threw 2.3 freaking innings. They gave the Mets Joe McEwing for him (who hit .243 in five seasons) and got completely robbed on the deal.

Dan Plesac - No.

Lee Smith - Well, if I'm going to give Blyleven and John credit for having long careers and compiling numbers as starters, probably have to do the same for Lee as a closer, right? Yes.


Sunday, January 04, 2009

Wild Card Round Recap

So, all the road teams were favorites and on Sunday, that held true. Saturday? Not so much.

Eagles vs. Vikings - I caught the first half and the 4th quarter. Spent the 3rd on the computer, apparently missed a fumble by McNabb (or a forced fumble by Jared Allen, depending on how you want to view it) and a bunch of punts. Looks like the Eagles were willing to keep trying to run, even though it wasn't working (23 carries for 67 yards, and that's with a 27 yard run by Buckhalter), and since that meant lots of touches for Westbrook, the Vikings at least had to honor it as a threat. Plus, McNabb didn't seem to let the noise or the hits the Vikes were delivering phase him, while Jackson seemed to get more rattled the longer the game went, even though he wasn't getting hit that often.

I wasn't that impressed with Adrian Peterson. He had the 40-yard TD run, but didn't seem to do much otherwise. Chester Taylor seemed to be generating positive yards more consistently. Maybe Peterson is more of a Barry Sanders back, good for the home run, but prone to losing yards. Or maybe the Eagles run defense just did a solid job (excluding letting Peterson roll for that 40 yard TD).

Ravens vs. Dolphins - I saw the first half of this, went for a walk, and came back early in the 4th quarter, with Baltimore leading 20-9. Simmons said the Ravens' one weakness was the big play downfield, and if that's true, then yeah, the Dolphins were pretty much screwed, with Pennington having a less than outstanding arm. Miami couldn't run, and Pennington made some mistakes thanks to Baltimore's pressure, and the Ravens just ran the ball down their throat. Which was nice, because it meant that it didn't matter that Flacco did jack all. OK, he did have two 31 yard completions, one to Mason and one to Heap, but other than that he didn't do anything. Which is fine, since "anything" includes not making any mistakes, like throwing picks, and I get the impression Flacco is Trent Dilfer, the Next Generation. How well that will work against the Titans, I don't know.

Colts vs. Chargers - OK, I didn't watch any of this game. Don't judge me, I was watching Equilibrium and Grosse Pointe Blank. From the highlights I garner that the two keys were that a) Indy couldn't tackle Sproles to save their lives, and b) San Diego punter Mike Scifres kept the Colts pinned down in the shadow of their end zone all day. Going to be rough on any offense to go over 80 yards for touchdowns seemingly every damn time. Only other thing I have to say about the game was that was a pretty cute trick the Colts pulled on that quick snap that lead to the big Reggie Wayne TD catch. It was so cute, the Eagles went and used it against the Vikings on a short yardage situation, except Griffin wasn't busy looking at the sideline like Cromartie and picked off the pass. Whoops, guess Minnesota was watching the game too.

Falcons vs. Cardinals - I'm not going to sit here and say I knew Arizona would win the game. I believed they could, but wasn't sure they would. But hey, they did win! Super! They shut Turner down (18 carries, 42 yards), pressured Ryan (2 picks, fumble, safety), and ran the ball. They weren't enormously successful (28 carries, 86 yards, 3.1 yards/carry), but like the Eagles, they kept at it, and the Falcons had to at least keep it in mind, which helps lead to 42 yard TD passes to Larry Fitzgerald off a flea-flicker. Boo-ya! That was a beautiful catch.

Interesting stat I saw. Edge James had 16 carries for 73 yards. That's not the interesting stat. What's interesting was every carry went for between zero and ten yards. I think I mentioned this in my last post, but the thing I think James gives the Cards is a guy who is going to keep going forward, rather than dance around in the backfield. He won't explode for a 40 yard run like Adrian Peterson, but he won't get caught for losses in the backfield either. He at least gets the Cardinals a couple of yards, which helps keep them in shorter yardage situations.

Now they get Carolina, which is the matchup I preferred. Not because I think the Panthers are any easier than the Giants to beat. The Cardinals have played them both (Carolina on the road, the Giants at home), and lost both times, though they kept it close against the Giants and were leading in the 4th quarter against Carolina before they decided to stop tackling Steve Smith (never an advisable strategy). Both teams run a lot, throw when they need to, and play tough defense. So either way, Arizona has to do what they did against Atlanta: run often enough and with enough success that the defense doesn't drop 7 into pass coverage, and their defense has to avoid giving up 21 points in the first quarter and screwing with any chance of having a balanced offense. The reason I'd rather face Carolina is, Arizona is still going to throw frequently, and I imagine the weather will be more helpful in Carolina than in the Meadowlands.

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