Tuesday, November 15, 2005

New York Nuggets
By Zach

Editor's Note: As you may or may not know Sportszilla recently implemented a new feature, the guest column. Every so often, we'll have friends, colleagues, or whomever write a piece for the site on whatever catches their fancy in the world of sports. Today on Sportszilla we're very fortunate to have former WNYU Sports Director and Cheap Seats host, as well as current WFAN producer John Schmeelk providing the first of two guest columns.

Football: Handicapping the NFC East

Funny things tend to happen on Monday Night Football. Last night the Eagles dominated the Cowboys for more than 55 minutes, but still lost the game. Cowboys fans would have thought they were watching the Redskins game on Monday night from earlier in the season, except this time the shoe was on the proverbial other foot. The NFC East, especially the Giants, need to take note. The Cowboys just won what anyone would have said before the season was the toughest game on their schedule. The offense played poorly, the defense was caught off guard when Andy Reid, gasp, ran the football, but a win is a win is a win, especially one in Philadelphia. The Cowboys lost a few games like this during the year, and they’ve won a couple. They’ve played games decided in the last two minutes seven times this season and right now their record is 4-3 in those games. That’s the difference between being in first in the division and last.

The Giants have done likewise this season, with Eli Manning winning a few games down the stretch, games very similar to the one the Redskins lost to Tampa on Sunday. And even though the Redskins have the easiest schedule of the three they seem to be missing something. Teams are figuring out Santana Moss a little bit, and Clinton Portis has been consistently solid, not spectacular. The Skins defense is very good, but not as good as a lot of people think. Look what the Giants and Bucs did to them the last two weeks. Absolutely torched them. The Skins will still win nine, maybe even ten games, but it won’t be enough to win the division.

The Eagles are all but done. Even if Donovon McNabb ops not to have his hernia surgery now, and comes back in a week or two, he won’t last. Look at the two plays he was injured in against Dallas. Neither was violent or particularly hard, and he could barely move afterwards. And the Eagles defense allows too many big plays to cover for a mediocre to sub-par offense these days. They were fortunate last night as once in the first half and another time in the fourth quarter Bledsoe had Terry Glenn behind the Eagles defense but missed him on an underthrow and overthrow respectively. The Eagles reign atop the NFC is over. This does not mean they will be a pushover the rest of the season, and might even finish at 8-8. They stop the run exceptionally well at home, and are well coached by Any Reid.

The Giants have played well this season, better than most expected, but not as well as their record dictates. The reasons are simple. Despite playing poorly in a few games Eli Manning has shown a propensity for being able to lead drives in fourth quarters to either take leads or tie games. Depending on a rookie QB to do this throughout the season is not a good recipe for success. Second, even though Manning has been extremely inaccurate this season he had avoided the bug turnovers that can hurt a team. Generally a 50% passer will throw a lot of picks. Manning hadn’t until this week when those interceptions hurt against an inferior Vikings team at home. The Giants say Manning is accurate in practice, but in game it seems like he is often restless in the pocket and has happy feet. He often throws off his back foot, which is a recipe for disaster. Until Manning becomes more accurate and calms down in the pocket expect more of these turnovers in coming weeks. The Giants also had an extra home game this year thanks to the greed of NFL execs when they got to host the Saints in Week One. The Giants are a bad road team, Manning only has one road win in his whole career and that’s against the Cody Pickett-led 49ers. To quote my Brooklyn brethren, “That don’t count.” Giants still have to play at Seattle, Philly, Oakland and the Redskins. They won’t get more than one win from those games. Their biggest game comes against the Cowboys on December 4th in the Meadowlands, a game they have to win if they are to win the division. They already lost the Dallas once, and the Cowboys are 3-1 in the division. Likely the Giants come up just short of the division, and make the playoffs as the first or second wildcard.

The Cowboys, with their win against Philly are in the driver’s seat. They have a good division record, and have already beaten the Giants. They still must play the Giants and Skins on the road, as well as Carolina and all three of those will be tough to win. But the team has a good running game with two young backs in Marion Barber and Julius Jones, anchored by two Pro Bowl guards in Larry Allen and Marco Rivera. They bring a young, strong and aggressive defense that is getting better every year. Once Anthony Henry gets back, they have arguable the best cornerback trio in football. Aaron Glenn has been good, other than his mistakes in the game against the Redskins, Anthony Henry can be beat on double moves but plays the ball extremely well but very little spoken of Terrence Newman is a true shutdown corner. He hasn’t been beaten deep once the entire season, and is rarely even thrown at. This frees up the Cowboys to bring pressure with their linebackers, something that makes the 3-4 hard for offenses to read. They also have six linemen than can truly play in Greg Ellis, LaRoi Glover, Jason Ferguson, Kenyon Coleman, and rookies Marcus Spears and Chris Canty. Rookie DeMarcus Ware plays the end on nickel downs, and rushes from the linebacker spot on 3-4 formations. His natural ability has forced teams to begin to double team him opening up lanes for solid veterans Ellis and Glover.

All that is well and good, but means nothing if one player doesn’t continue to play well: Drew Bledsoe. The Cowboys season rests on his shoulders. So far this year spare a handful of plays he hasn’t held the ball too long. When he has time, he can throw it better than any quarterback in the NFC. But the Cowboys have two young inexperienced tackles in rookie Rob Pettiti and third year player Torrin Tucker and are becoming susceptible to the pass rush at times. However, Sean Payton has done a good job keeping tight ends Dan Campbell and Jason Witten and the running backs in to protect Bledsoe. But when the rush comes Bledsoe has shown the tendency not to take a sack and force throws. Last night the pass Lito Sheppard picked off was a prime example. Bledsoe must avoid these mistakes, and take a sack and be patient. Eventually he’ll have plays where he’ll be able to survey the field and find his myriad of weapons, Terry Glenn, Keyshawn Johnson, Peerless Price, Patrick Crayton and the ultra-consistent Jason Witten. If he can avoid those mistakes, and the line can give him time to chuck it down the field the Cowboys have the most complete team in the NFC East and will win the division with 10 or 11 wins. Sorry Giants fans, your team isn’t quite ready yet.

Knicks Nuggets

As read here a couple weeks ago, the Knicks started slow, looking absolutely lost on offense. Larry Brown’s doghouse apparently is big enough to fit the sloth-like Jerome James. The Knicks’ defense is much improved, currently fifth in the league in field goal percentage against. They lead the league in rebounds per game. Their free throw shooting has been surprisingly poor. Eddie Curry is still getting into shape. Matt Barnes, as read here has gotten some starts at small forward.

The rookies have made an impact, as has youngster Trevor Ariza. Channing Frye is an impact player already. Lee has great instincts but needs to get tougher in the paint. Nate Robinson is often out of control, and is figuring out if he drives in the half court he will get swatted every time.

Surprising me a ton, Jamal Crawford is slowly but surely figuring it out. He still takes the occasional bad shot, but now they are forced drives not fade away 20 footers. An improvement for sure. He is no longer settling for the long jumper, rather dribbling in closer for a floater or 15-18 foot jumper. But he is a two-guard, not a point, and Larry Brown better figure that out.

Quentin Richardson has been a disappointment, the main reason for the Knicks lack of offensive production. He was missing his threes early on, and wasn’t posting up smaller players. But he is settling in after missing most of the exhibition season with a hamstring injury. But he is still too often a statue behind the three point line waiting for a kick out. He needs to be more aggressive in the flow of the offense.

Marbury is in a tough spot. He is the team’s best scorer, ball handler, and passer. He is adjusting to Brown’s system more and more every game and is cutting down on his early season turnover problems and making the easy simple pass. But it is taking away from his offense, which hurts the team. He is reluctant to take the ball in and be aggressive when he is the primary ball-handler, afraid to be scolded about breaking one of the Brown’s set plays. Marbury and Brown must figure out a way to find a better balance to allow Marbury to use his scoring ability to help the team. They may need to trade Richardson or Crawford for a ball-handler which would allow Marbury to play the two more.

Can I please stop seeing Malik Rose? His offense is non-existent; he can’t shoot and is too short to finish around the basket. I know he hustles and listens to Brown but I would much rather see Frye or Lee play a bit more. Or Maurice Taylor.

Most importantly the team is playing defense like they did under Van Gundy, and are hustling for loose balls, even Marbury. He has bought in and the others are following. The team is actually drawing charges, including Richardson The team is on their way.

I said New York nuggets, and the Nets aren’t in Brooklyn yet. Sorry guys, back to your swamp. Though I can still hear Richard Jefferson whining to the officials from here. Dude, shut up already.

The Hot Stove

Yankees have brought back Matsui, something they had to do. Good work by Cashman and Tellum to get the deal done. Now they will throw money at BJ Ryan and try to find a centerfielder somewhere. The latter won’t be easy. Few are on the market and the ones that are do not fit what the Yankees need. Giles is a corner outfielder, and is old with his declining power numbers. Preston Wilson just isn’t any good. They may be forced to bring back Bernie and platoon him with Bubba Crosby for a season. Not an ideal situation. They will more than likely try to work out a trade for someone like Juan Pierre or Randy Winn who more fit who they are looking for.

The Mets have been quiet but it won’t be for long. Expect Minaya to be very active very early. Billy Wagner will be their first acquisition. Then he will try to deal for Manny Ramirez or Delgado. But they’ll only get them if they deal either Hielman or Seo along with Lastings Milledge, their best outfield prospect. If Mike Cameron is wearing a Mets uniform next season it will be a shock. He is in the last year of a reasonable contract and has value around the league. Would the Mets and Yanks ever work out a trade? He’d fit perfectly with the Yankees. Don’t hold your breath.

Puck Bounces

There’s hockey going on? Oh … guess so.

It’s like Bizarro-World in hockey land. The Devils are bad and the Rangers are good. Swedish league MVP Hendrick Lundqvist has been great in net for the Rangers, and Jaromir Jagr is unstoppable playing with more freedom under the new rules.

The Devils, on the other hand, are struggling to adapt to the more offensive oriented game. Without their neutral zone trap they are powerless. But Lou Lamoriello is a great GM and he’ll make some moves and have this team back on track.

Shoot-outs are a lot of fun. Great rule change. More fun in these games and less goonage. We like. Even though I’m still not watching. Sorry folks, I’m not that desperate for entertainment, not yet anyway.

John Schmeelk currently leads the WNYU Sports Department Fantasy Football league thanks in large part to the ridiculous season of Steve Smith. He also somehow finds time to hang out with most of the Sportszilla crew on a fairly regular basis. If you liked what he wrote, leave a comment or e-mail us at sportszilla at gmail dot com and we'll try to convince him to write more.

Also, if you're interested in writing a guest column, send us a sample column. It should be no less than 250 words, no more than about 750 (though if it's good, we'll make an exception).


Blogger David Arnott said...

For some reason, Brian Sabean is convinced Winn's torrid two months in SF is for real, and so he's got him penciled in as the starting CF for next year. If the Yankees want him, the analytically-minded Giants fans would be happy to provide him as long as New York took Edgardo Alfonzo's carcass, too. You wouldn't want the poor man's Luis Sojo on the roster, would you?

7:47 AM  
Blogger Bryan Koch said...

"Drew Bledsoe. The Cowboys season rests on his shoulders."

"Drew Bledsoe. The Cowboys season rests on his shoulders."

"Drew Bledsoe. The Cowboys season rests on his shoulders."

I thought maybe quoting that three times would drive the point home. Cowboys fans, I'm sorry for the heartbreak in advance.

12:14 PM  

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