Eric Wood’s Canadian Tuxedo vrs. Stevie Johnson’s Halloween Costume – who ya got?

So Eric Wood paid tribute to Toronto as he headed up north to play in this season’s Toronto series game with his best Canadian tuxedo.  He was kind enough to post a pic on Twitter:

Meanwhile Stevie Johnson had a nice Halloween costume.  He dressed as his head coach Chan Gailey…not much of a resemblance and I don’t quite think that Gailey wears his hat like that but funny nonetheless:

So question is who ya got?  Which look is better?  Wood or Stevie?

Thoughts on Bills/Redskins

So Week 8 is in the books, a week away from the official halfway point of the NFL season and the Bills are 5-2 and sitting pretty in a tie atop the AFC East.  Clearly the Bills are one of the surprise teams of the season, if not the surprise team.  The Bills had their annual home away from home game in Toronto on Sunday and for the first time in the four year venture came out on top by a score of 23-0.  Here are some thoughts on the game:

  • Let’s start with Marcell Dareus.  The man is a beast, plain and simple.  You can tell at this early stage in his career that he is going to be one of the best.  Not many guys can say that they can single handedly take over a game in only their 7th game as a pro.  Dareus did just that yesterday.  Even if it was against an inferior opponent in the Redskins Dareus was flat out dominant.  4 tackles, 2.5 sacks and constant pressure on the pocket all game.  If the Bills get more of this the defense will be one of the better ones in the league by the end of the year.
  • Speaking of the defense and their 9 sacks, give credit where credit is due – the Bills cornerbacks finally played a complete game and it showed up front.  Florence, McGee, and McKelvin are all above average cover men and their performances should show more than they have for the first 6 games.  A little pressure goes a long way but at the same time it’s hard to make a hot read with a guy like Dareus bearing down on you when the corners don’t let receivers get a clean break off of the line.  This unit is crucial to the success of the Bills in the second half of the season.
  • The Redskins run game was stopped cold thanks to a smothering defense, again led by Dareus.  It will be interesting to see if that carries over to the Jets game.  The Jets once vaunted run offense has been disappointing thus far this season and the Bills will be smelling blood after their dominant performance this week.
  • There is not much more that you can say about Fred Jackson that hasn’t already been said.  The guy is a bona-fide MVP candidate.  He may be the most complete back in the NFL right now.  That’s saying something for a guy who just turned 30 prior to the season.  He’s got 721 rushing yards and 353 receiving yards through 7 games, giving him a whooping 1,084 yards from scrimmage through the first 7.
  • The newly minted man Ryan Fitzpatrick showed a bit of rust early but brushed it off to to finish with a good day overall.  He was an efficient 21 for 27 for 262 yards, 2 TD, and INT and the team’s first lost fumble of the season.  He didn’t have to do too much and overcame some bad turnovers early.
  • People have been heaping praise on top of the Bills offensive line all year and yesterday’s game was a prime example of why.  They were missing both of their left tackles, Demetrius Bell and Chris Hairston.  They asked Andy Levitre, who has been a Pro-Bowl caliber player at left guard to kick out to left tackle and inserted back-up swing guard Chad Rinehart into the left guard position.  The unit didn’t miss a beat.  The Redskins recorded only two sacks, both in the 4th quarter when Fitzpatrick just held onto the ball rather than risk a bad pass.  This unit has been, and continues to be outstanding despite the malignation that is suffered in the preseason.
  • Nobody ever tell George Wilson that he isn’t one hell of a football player
  • Rian Lindell has become so automatic that you are shocked when he misses, so much so that there is not a doubt in your mind that he is going to hit the next one.
  • Again, kudos to Chan Gailey for being the exception to the rule once again and getting his team ready to play after the bye.  Teams are only 8-10 coming off of the bye this year.
  • Finally we must talk about a bit of karmic justice.  Two years ago, prior to the 2010 season, the Bills were at a breaking point.  They had not been to the playoffs in 10 seasons at that point and had just run through a cavalcade of colossal disappointments at the quarterback and head coaching positions.  Owner Ralph Wilson had seemed to have had enough and showed an interest to opening up his wallet to a big name coach to come in and oversee the operation.  The team first turned to Mike Shanahan, who had been fired by the Broncos the year prior after a long and fruitful run in Denver.  Shanahan took an interview and then casually brushed the Bills off, waiting for Daniel Snyder to offer him the moon to come to Washington, where guys love to go when they want to get paid.  The Bills had to settle for an also-ran, Chan Gailey.  Well on Sunday that also-ran and his team handed Mike Shanahan the first shutout of his long and illustrious coaching career.  If that’s not a sign that the football gods are on their side, I don’t know what is.

It’s a big week ahead, the biggest game of the year to date takes place this Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium when the Jets come to town to take on the Bills.  This one will tell us a lot about where we will go from here.

Twitter @ErikVenskus

Sox pick up Scutaro’s option

The Boston Red Sox have been seemingly searching for a long term solution to the shortstop position since Nomar Garciaparra was traded out of town during the 2004 season.  In a year with Jimmy Rollins, Jose Reyes, and Rafael Furcal all entering unrestricted free agency, you might expect the Red Sox to invest big money into one of these marquee shortstops.  Not quite.

The Red Sox exercised the 2012 team option for Marco Scutaro tonight.  Scutaro has been a solid player in his first two years in a Red Sox uniform, putting up a .284 AVG, .343 OBP, .744 OPS line to go with a .968 fielding %.  Scutaro gives the Red Sox what they want in the lineup, particularly from a bottom of the order option – good plate discipline, good contact, and solid fielding.  The other three options in the shortstop market all provide high risks to go along with potential high rewards.

With Jose Iglesias waiting in the wings it was a no-brainer to bring Scutaro back with a 6 million dollar option for 2012.  Scutaro will be 36 next season but showed no signs of slowing down at 35, providing good production in August and September for the Sox last season.  And Scutaro has been a hard worker and good clubhouse presnce for the Sox in the past two years and it would would nice to see him play in October for only the 2nd time in his 11 year career in the majors.

It was really a no-brainer for Cherington but so far he is 1-1 in his moves.

Twitter @ErikVenskus

 

First managerial interviews for Red Sox revealed

Rob Bradford of weei.com is reporting this morning that Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin and Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum will be the first two managerial candidates to interview with the Sox’ front office.  I love one of these guys and am not at all enamored with the other one.

Mackanin, 60, has been Charlie Manuel’s bench coach in Philadelphia for the past three seasons.  He has become interim manager on two different occasions, with the Pirates in 2005 and the Reds in 2007.  He also held the bench coach position with the Pirates from 2003-2005.  He is similar to Charlie Manuel in temperament and style, which I am not too sure would fit in well into the clubhouse culture of the current Red Sox team.  I think he is a respected name that warranted an interview but ultimately he doesn’t seem like one of the stronger candidates for the job.

Sveum on the other hand is an interesting prospect.  He was hired for his first big league coaching position by former teammate Terry Francona in 2004 when he was named 3rd base coach of the Red Sox.  He spent two years with the Sox before leaving to go back to his hometown team, the Brewers in 2006 as bench coach for manager Ned Yost.  He went back to 3rd base coach at the start of the 2008 season but was named interim manager when Yost was fired.  When Ken Macha was hired for the 2009 season he retained Sveum as the hitting coach.  Sveum has been the hitting coach for the last three seasons, including this season’s NL Central winning club led by new manager Ron Roenicke.  He is exactly the type of hard-nosed high energy guy that the Sox could use in the clubhouse.  He has a reputation for being a good in-game strategist as well.

Bradford said that more interviews would take place later in the week.

Twitter @ErikVenskus

Time for another chapter in the Toronto seriezzzzzzzzzzz

Bills owner Ralph Wilson made a pretty shrewd move four years ago when he brokered a deal with the city of Toronto to host a game every year for the following five seasons with the city.  It was a pretty good deal for the Bills when you consider that they got paid up front.  That means it didn’t matter what the gate was, that’s all on the Rogers Centre.  And of course in turn it meant that the Rogers Centre doesn’t care what kind of atmosphere there is in the stadium, as long as there is any atmosphere.  That means fans of different teams will just trot in from the street to watch a football game.  And trust me, it hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“The fan support in Toronto is a night-and-day difference from what we have in Buffalo. For the most part, it’s a show. You see just as many jerseys for the opposing teams as you do the Bills. They cheer for any big play regardless of whichever team makes it” Bills starting safety and captain told reporters earlier this week when asked about the games in Toronto.  The feeling is ever more exasperated when you are a 4-2 team and the Ralph has been as raucous as it’s been in years during the home games in the early portion of the season.  This just seems like a letdown for the home town team.  Football teams are supposed to have a home field advantage.  Giving up that one game of home field advantage could prove crucial for a team during a playoff run, which the Bills are in right now.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Toronto is a very nice city and the Rogers Centre is a pretty good place to watch a game, a baseball game at least.  I’ve been there before and it’s definitely amenable.  But for a home football game in October, I’m not so sure.

The deal does have it’s advantages for the Bills, as evidenced by James Walker of the ESPN AFC East blog this week (Wilson’s blog).  The aforementioned up-front money will tally 78 million dollars by time the deal is up, totalling 9.75 million dollars a game.  That is more than half that the Bills makes in one game at the Ralph.  The Bills also have had an increase of season ticket holders from north of the border since the deal went down, now making 15% of the base.  That’s not a bad number for a team trying to regionalize and stay put.  But that doesn’t help the game day atmosphere that so far has been abysmal.

Of course it doesn’t help that the Bills are 0-3 so far in the Toronto series and have been a team that has finished under .500 in each of the first three years of the deal.  Maybe the switch goes on, if not this year then next year, due to fielding an improved, competitive team.  Maybe that was the trick all along.  Nevertheless fans better get used to it because as the Bills negotiate a long term lease with Erie County that will likely keep the Bills in Buffalo long term, the Toronto game will be a big money making option that looks to go along with it.  Perhaps a necessary evil?  Or maybe a bit of wishful thinking, an actual 12th man shows up at the Centre?

Twitter @ErikVenskus

At long last Bills think they have found their man

There have been a lot of fall starts in the Buffalo Bills’ search for a franchise quarterback to replace Hall-of-Famer Jim Kelly.  They thought they had one in 3rd round pick Todd Collins in 1995.  He didn’t work out.  They thought they had one when they traded the #9 pick in the 1998 NFL draft for Jaguars back-up Rob Johnson.  He didn’t work out.  They thought they had one when they traded their 2003 1st round pick to the New England Patriots for Drew Bledsoe.  He didn’t quite work out either.

Since the retirement of Jim Kelly in 1996 10 different quarterbacks have started games for the Bills.  Todd Collins, Alex Van Pelt, Rob Johnson, Doug Flutie, Drew Bledsoe, J.P. Losman, Kelly Holcomb, Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Brian Brohm.  Out of all of these guys Ryan Fitzpatrick this week became the first incumbent starting quarterback to secure a contract extension with the Bills.

Everyone knows the story on Fitzpatrick.  He went to Harvard and got a degree in economics.  He was a 7th round pick of the St. Louis Rams in the 2005 NFL draft.  After spending the 2005 and 2006 seasons with the Rams and making 3 starts Fitzpatrick was traded to the Cincinnati Bengals prior to the 2007 season for a 7th round pick in the 2008 draft.  Fitzpatrick spent two seasons on the Bengals, starting 12 games in 2008 for the injured Carson Palmer, before heading into unrestricted free agency prior to the 2009 season.  On February 27, 2009 the Buffalo Bills signed Ryan Fitzpatrick to a 3 year, 6.9 million contract to back-up former 3rd round pick and incumbent starter Trent Edwards.

The back-up label all but lasted 5 weeks when Trent Edwards was hurt in a game vrs. the Jets and Fitzpatrick came on in relief.  Fitzpatrick started 8 games that year and when new coach Chan Gailey came in before the 2010 season he named Trent Edwards the starter for that season.  That lasted 2 weeks when Edwards was benched in favor of Fitzpatrick, who has since started every game for the Bills with the exception of last season’s finale which he missed due to injury.

Heading into Sunday Fitzpatrick has started 27 games for the Bills, sporting a 12-15 record.  He is 516 for 870 for 5,899 yards, 44 touchdowns, 31 interceptions and a 81.8 quarterback rating.  Currently he is 8th all-time in Bills history in yards, 6th all-time in touchdowns, 8th all-time in completions, and 9th all-time in attempts.  He is only 28 years old and should have 4 or 5 prime years left.

The Buffalo Bills made a huge investment in Fitzpatrick when they signed him to a 6 year, 59 million dollar contract this week but it’s more than the gaudy numbers that Fitzpatrick has put up with the Bills that General Manager Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey valued.  Fitzpatrick is a captain and a team leader.  During the NFL lockout he worked out with his young receivers and let them stay at his Arizona home.  He is a leader on the field as well, and his poise has lead the Bills to two late game wins this year.  He also leads by example.  Two weeks ago the Bills lost to the Giants in large part because Fitzpatrick missed Stevie Johnson, who had beaten his man twice, and under threw the ball 5 yards short and into the hands of Giants DB Corey Webster.  Fitzpatrick took the loss on his shoulders and saying that he should have played better.  He is idolized by young receivers David Nelson, Donald Jones, and Naaman Roosevelt, who were all undrafted out of college and all play key roles in Fitzpatrick’s offense.

Is Fitzpatrick the answer to the Bills’ decade long woes?  Well, the Bills put large stock into Fitzpatrick this week in the hopes that yes, he is the answer.  One thing I know is that the Bills are in their best position since 2004 to make a late season run at the playoffs.  There are ten games left and the Bills will probably need 6 more wins, which would keep up the pace from the first 6.  Is Fitzpatrick the man that will take him to the promise land?  The Bills’ brass think so, and we will all soon find out.

Twitter @ErikVenskus

There’s baseball…and then there’s this

Wow.  There are baseball games and then there is what happened last night.  The World Series Game 6 magic appeared again last night in all it’s glory after a bit of a hiatus.  When whomever invented baseball invented it so many years ago, this game was pretty much the standard on which all games should be played.    It was a tightly played, error-filled, sloppy first 6 innings which saw the teams trade runs to an eventual 4-4 tie with three innings to go.

In the flash of an eye the drama started in the top of the 7th when Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz bashed back-to-back home runs.  The Rangers added an insurance run, scored by Game 4 starter Derek Holland, who was poised to become a Series hero with a shutdown performance in relief in Game 6.  7-4.  9 outs away from the first World Championship in Texas Rangers history.    Holland came out and mowed the Cardinals down 1-2-3.  6 outs away.

The Rangers go quietly in the 8th.  Derek Holland comes out for the 8th.  He gets clean-up hitter Lance Berkman.  5 outs away.  The next batter Allen Craig, in for injured Matt Holliday hits a solo home run. 7-5.  It’s ok, you think if you’re Texas. Still 5 outs away.  David Freese grounds out.  4 outs away.  Yadier Molina’s hit brings Derek Holland’s night to an end.  Mike Adams is greeted by two singles to load the bases for Rafael Furcal.  First pitch swinging, ground ball to 1st.  Bases left loaded.  3 outs away.

Cards closer Jason Motte works around a walk in the top of the 9th.  Neftali Feliz enters the game to shut down the Cards in the 9th.  He strikes Ryan Theriot out.  2 outs away.  Albert Pujols lines one into the gap for a double.  Lance Berkman, the tying run, walks.  Feliz strikes Allen Craig out looking on a nasty curve ball.  1 out away.  The next batter is 3rd baseman David Freese, who had a crucial error earlier in the game.  Feliz quickly jumps out to a 1-2 count.  1 strike away.  The Rangers player gather at the top of the dugout in anticipation of running out to mob their teammates on the field.  The players on the field are standing on the back of their feet, ready to run in.  Freese takes the 1-2 pitch and pokes it over the head of right fielder Nelson Cruz.  Pujols and Berkman score.  Freese slides safely into third with a game-tying triple.  Just like that the dream is on hold for the Rangers and is suddenly still alive for the Cardinals.  Molina hits a sharp liner to Cruz to send the game to extra innings.

Motte’s back out for the Cards in the 10th.  After getting Ian Kinsler to pop out Elvis Andrus hit a single into center field.  The announcers quickly start debating whether Andrus should attempt to steal second.  It doesn’t matter.  The next hitter, Josh Hamilton, whose path to the majors makes Bilbo Baggins’ “There and Back Again” look like a leisurely Sunday morning stroll through the Boston Common, laces a 2-run home run into the seats in right field.  9-7 Rangers.  Once again, 3 outs away.  Veteran journeyman Darren Oliver enters the game for the Rangers to get the last 3 outs.  Two lead-off hits and the pitcher is due up.  Tony LaRussa decides to pinch hit a pitcher for a pitcher, putting Edwin Jackson for Jason Motte.  Then he pinch hits another pitcher, Kyle Lohse, for Jackson.  Lohse drops down a sacrifice bunt to put the tying run at second.  2 outs away.  Ryan Theriot grounds to third, scoring a run and leaving the man on 2nd.  1 out away.  Pujols is up next…a toddler could have made the call to intentionally walk him.  Up comes Berkman.  Berkman works a 2-2 count.  Again, the Rangers are 1 strike away.  Berkman takes the next pitch up the middle for a game tying single.  9-9.  Feldman finishes off Craig to get out of the inning and go to the 11th.

Cards pitcher Jake Westbrook works around a Napoli single to retire the Rangers in the 11th.  Mark Lowe comes on for the Rangers for the bottom of the 11th.  David Freese to lead off.

And that’s the beautiful thing about sports.  You start to hear about these things from when you are a child.  Fisk’s home run.  Flutie’s hail mary.  Havlicek stole the ball.  The immaculate reception.  Gibson’s home run limp.  And then you grow up and you understand what it all means.  You see and experience it with your own eyes and then you find out the best part.  When it happens you don’t know who, when or how.  It just happens.  It happens in a moment but it’s not like any other moment.  Most moments simply come and go.  These moments are frozen in time, talked about, watched and celebrated for generations.  You hand these moments off to your kids, like clothes or money or family heirlooms.  And then they’ll hand it off to their kids. When these moments happen, while a state of euphoria takes over an entire city, hearts are broken all over another whole entire city.  That’s some powerful stuff.

It’s funny that FOX, who spends millions and millions of dollars a year on promotion and production of shows like American Idol and X-Factor, had their best reality TV show episode of the year come on a cold October night in St. Louis, Missouri.  This is real life drama, unfolding right in front of your very eyes.  If Scorcese, Spielberg, or Lucas can do any better I’ll all eyes and ears.  When the MLB reconvenes in April they need not use those corny catch phrases or some B-level celebrities in their ads, they only need these moments.  This is why we love sports.  This is why it’s such a monumental part of the American fabric.

David Freese took a Mark Lowe pitch straight away to center field, into the grassy knoll beyond the fence, leaving Busch Stadium in a frenzy.  Freese, a St. Louis native, ran gleefully around the bases with the smile of a chesire cat on his face as his teammates anxiously stood behind the plate to greet him.  In a few minutes it was over.  But the moment, like so many others before it on cold October nights, when the weather is turning and the seasons are changing, will forever be frozen in time.

Oh yeah, and I haven’t even mentioned – there’s one more game tonight.  It’s winner take all.  Tell me it doesn’t get any better than this.

Twitter @ErikVenskus

Bye Week Check-Up – New York Jets

Now it’s time to check up on the 3rd place team in the AFC East – the Jets.  Rex Ryan was talking Super Bowl at the beginning of they year but it looks like the Jets have got ground to make up if they are going to make the playoffs.  The comeback win over the Chargers was a good start and they can now get rested during their bye week but they have two tough games looming at the outset of the bye that could make or break their season.  Here’s a look at the Jets so far.

Quarterback

  • Mark Sanchez (129 for 231, 1,545 yards, 12 TDs, 6 INTs, 83.0 QBR) – Sanchez has been seen as a disappointment by some but I think at this point what you see is what you get with the annointed “Sanchise”.  I don’t think he’s too bad, and I think the Jets did him a disservice to let one of his security blankets, Braylon Edwards, walk but he is what he is.  He’s still a guy that can get you to the playoffs.

Running Backs

  • Shonn Greene (114 for 426, 3.8 avg., 2 TDs, 503 total yards), LaDainian Tomlinson (34 for 111, 3.3 avg., 371 total yards), Joe McKnight (10 for 26, 2.6 avg., 55 total yards), John Connor (5 for 18, 3.6 avg., 27 total yards) – Greene has been a disappointment coming off of his breakthrough 2010 season with just a 3.8 avg. per carry.  Tomlinson has been so-so but I’ve been saying for weeks that they should get him involved more at this part of the season.  Joe McKnight is emerging as a multi-faceted threat.

Wide Receivers

  • Santonio Holmes (22 for 311, 3 TDs, 1 1Ds), Plaxico Burress (18 for 134, 5 TDs, 16 1Ds), Derrick Mason (13 for 115, 7 1Ds), Jeremy Kerley (9 for 82, 1 TD, 6 1Ds) – Santonio Holmes has had a much publicized slow start to the season.  Plaxico has been doing what he does best and the Jets would be wise to get him the ball more as he is productive when he does.  Kerley is trying to move into the slot role.  I usually don’t use the cross-out but that’s what you get when you are exiled from the team, as Derrick Mason was.

Tight Ends

  • Dustin Keller (25 for 372, 2 TDs, 17 1Ds), Jeff Cumberland (2 for 35, 1 1D), Matthew Mulligan (3 for 12) – Keller has been the Jet’s most productive pass catcher but even he seems to be underutilized.  The other guys are solid role players

Offensive Line

  • D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Matt Slauson, Nick Mangold, Brandon Moore, Wayne Hunter, Vladimir Ducasse, Colin Baxter – This unit has played ok but with inconsistencies.  Ferguson is his usual Pro Bowl self.  Nick Mangold might be the team’s MVP judging by how poorly they played when he was out of the lineup.  The rest seem pretty pedestrian.  Baxter did not play well spelling Mangold and has been cut.

Defensive Line

  • Sione Pouha (21 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 FR), Mike DeVito (19 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 FF), Muhammad Wilkerson (17 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL), Ropati Pitoitua (10 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL), Marcus Dixon (5 tackles, 1 FR), Kenrick Ellis (4 tackles, 1 TFL), Martin Tevaseu (1 tackle) – This unit has been solid.  Mike DeVito is a solid workman-type player that thrive in Rex Ryan type defenses.  Ellis and Wilkerson are promising youngsters

Linebackers

  • David Harris (36 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT), Bart Scott (36 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 TFL, 1 FF), Calvin Pace (33 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 TFL, 2 FF), Jamaal Westerman (16 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 FR), Bryan Thomas (14 tackles, 4 TFL), Josh Mauga (10 tackles, 1 INT), Nick Bellore (8 tackles), Aaron Maybin (6 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 FF), Garrett McIntyre (4 tackles) – The Jets linebacking corps continue to be beasts.  They have combined as a unit for 13 sacks in 7 games.  Harris, Scott and Pace are all studs.  Bryan Thomas is as well but he is lost for the year.  The combination of Jamaal Westerman and Aaron Maybin has wreaked havoc on QBs.

Defensive Backs

  • Eric Smith (44 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PD), Jim Leonhard (27 tackles, 1 FF, 1 PD), Antonio Cromartie (22 tackles, 3 INTs, 5 PDs), Darrelle Revis (20 tackles, 4 INTs, 10 PD), Kyle Wilson (18 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PD), Brodney Pool (17 tackles, 0.5 sack), Donald Strickland (14 tackles, 2 PD), Marquice Cole (7 tackles, 1 FR), Isaiah Trufant (4 tackles), Ellis Lankster (3 tackles), Emanuel Cook (2 tackles) – Darrelle Revis is the best defensive back in the league, and he might be the best player in the whole NFL and he is playing like it this season.  The safeties are above average.  Antonio Cromartie has been inconsistent but when he’s good, he’s good.  Wilson and Strickland are good guys in the nickel and dime.

Coaching

  • Rex Ryan is the same loud mouthed, hard nosed coach he has been in his first two seasons with the Jets.  Some of the things haven’t worked but most of it has.  Brian Schottenheimer has been criticized often in New York and will be under the microscope for the remainder of the season.  You can’t argue with the rest of the coaching on defense.

Remaining Schedule

  • @ Buffalo
  • New England
  • @ Denver
  • Buffalo
  • @ Washington
  • Kansas City
  • @ Philadelphia
  • NY Giants
  • @ Miami

The Jets have bounced back from a poor start to go 4-3 through 7.  The first two games after the bye may be the toughest on the remainder of the season.  If they lose them both they will pretty much have to run the table the rest of the way to contend for the division.  Call it a hunch but I see them losing those games and trying to claw back during the rest of the season.  I give them a 9-7 finish in 3rd place.

Twitter @ErikVenskus

Recap of Ben Cherington Press Conference

I got a chance to check out the Ben Cherington press conference late last night.  Not a bad first impression.  Here are my thoughts:

  • Ben Cherington is one cool, calm and collected guy.  At the same time the guy talks and sounds exactly like Theo Epstein.  I guess that is what happens when you work every day with a guy for 10 years.
  • I found in interesting that Cherington was a pitcher in college.  Not sure why, but it just interests me.  I don’t even know if that has any positive or negative affect whatsoever.  Just find it interesting.
  • It sounds like they are re-dedicating themselves to putting more resources into scouting and the international markets.  That is all well in good, in fact it seems much needed, particularly in the international markets, but why do they have to re-dedicate themselves?  Did they get away from it?  If so, why?
  • In listening to Cherington I really feel like he is ready to step up and tackle this role.  He’s been waiting for 5 years since he became co-GM and since then two of his co-workers have become GMs.  He seems hungry and I think that will do him well.
  • Some might say that Cherington was sucking up to the current ownership by continually calling them the “greatest ownership group in baseball” but remember that this guy was hired during the Haywood Sullivan regime which is a nice reminder of how much better this ownership actually is than previous regimes.  I think about that every time someone rips the current ownership…”Would you like the Haywood Sullivan ownership group back?”
  • It seems with all of the comments that the front office kind of went into cruise control these past few years.  You can’t help but think that Theo has had this exit in mind for more than just the past few months.  Things just seemed to have become lethargic behind the scenes.
  • He talked about getting the best medical staff, which I kind of took to mean that the current one is not good enough.
  • With what he talked about in regards to the manager, I felt he was very specific because he knows exactly what he was looking for.  I’ve said before that although Tito and Theo were close I don’t think Tito was ever really viewed as “Theo’s guy”.  I think Cherington is looking for someone who can be “Ben’s guy”
  • That being said, I don’t think that we are looking at a Bobby Valentine, Larry Bowa, or any other big name.  I think he wants someone tough and passionate but not someone who is going to butt heads with him or ownership.  That kinda rules those kinds of guys out.
  • I liked the accountability that he showed in regards to making better decisions and not running away from some of the mistakes and not throwing Theo under the bus since he was the ultimate decision maker.  That being said, he mentioned Crawford and maybe it was kind of a balancing act to go with Henry’s comments but maybe he really does believe that Crawford can bounce back.  There is no doubt that Cherington identifies Crawford as an important part of the team on and off the field.
  • I got a laugh at Lucchino making a mention that Theo borrowed the gorilla suit.
  • Did anyone else play a press conference drinking game and drink every time a reporter mentioned drinking in the clubhouse?
  • Lucchino dropped an interesting Beltre mention.  Shot at Theo?  Maybe, maybe not but the comment was no doubt timely.
  • Most of the free agency talk is by the books and you could have copied right from any of Theo’s early off-season press conferences in the past 10 years.  Maybe they spend maybe they don’t but they never telegraph their moves and they won’t give anything up in regards to their own negotations.
  • Loved the setup to the Lackey announcement.  He got the wheels spinning in the heads when he mentioned the three guys in the rotation, omitting Lackey.  One thing I was wondering when he talked about personnel was when he said that there were “a couple” internal candidates to replace Papelbon if he left.  I know Bard would be considered one but who is the other(s)?  Couldn’t be Jenks who is coming off of serios injury, could it?  Aceves?  Weiland?  Not sure I see another candidate and even Bard is iffy.
  • From how Ben Cherington talked about Marco Scutaro, I feel that the option pick-up is inevitable.  I know Rollins, Reyes, and Furcal are available I don’t quite see the Sox going there.  If that is the case I think the Scutaro option should be inevitable.
  • I bet the reporters were rolling their eyes when he launched into his pre-amble about Lackey.  Then BOOM!  Right in the you know what.  Hey, it’s one thing off his list of things to do this season – find a taker for Lackey.

Well, there you have it.  I came away impressed.  I think Cherington is really going to do well.  His “Cool Hand Luke” style will do himself well here.  You could even make the argument that we may be getting a more motivated version of Theo Epstein since they share an almost identical philosophy.  He’s got a lot on his plate but one of his first decisions will be the most important, that’s finding a manager.  Like I said – if it’s his guy and his guy works out then he will be fine.  And of course the Lackey bombshell didn’t hurt but now he’s already got a problem on the list for next off-season.  Either way, I can’t wait to see what’s next. Good luck Ben.

Twitter @ErikVenskus

Bye Week Check-Up – Buffalo Bills

Yesterday I reviewed the pole sitters of the AFC East, the New England Patriots.  Today it is time for the surprising second place team, the Buffalo Bills.  The day has struck an ominous tone already for the Bills, with Shawne Merriman being placed on IR for the 2nd time in as many seasons as a Buffalo Bill.  But there have been surprises and great performances aplenty during the Bills surprising start and ultimately the offense is what carries this team.  Here’s a look at the Bills:

Quarterbacks

  • Ryan Fitzpatrick (134 for 202, 1,477 yards, 12 TDs, 6 INTs, 95.3 QBR), Brad Smith (0 for 1, 1 INT, 15 rushes for 70 yards, 1 TD) – Fitzpatrick has been a revelation for the Bills this season.  All tolled for the Bills in the last three seasons when he has played he has put up numbers akin to Jim Kelly in his prime.  Fitz is also one of the team’s biggest leaders and will be key in bouncing back from the pre-Bye Week loss to the Giants.  Brad Smith started to settle in as Wildcat QB before the break and should be used more often in the second half of the season.

Running Backs

  • Fred Jackson (106 for 601, 5.7 avg., 6 TDs, 880 total yards), C.J. Spiller (15 for 107, 7.1 avg., 1 TD, 162 total yards), Johnny White (8 for 26, 3.3 avg.), Corey McIntyre – Fred Jackson is an MVP candidate and perhaps the most versatile runner in the league.  Jackson has been so dominating that Spiller was reduced to a bit player despite his paltry 7 yard average until he stepped up to fill in for Donald Jones at WR, showing his own versatile.  Corey McIntyre is the unsung hero of the offense, he is a devastating blocker.

Wide Receivers

  • Stevie Johnson (33 for 382, 4 TDs, 22 1Ds), David Nelson (27 for 319, 2 TDs, 15 1Ds), Donald Jones (16 for 174, 1 TD, 7 1Ds), Naaman Roosevelt (7 for 129, 1 TD, 5 1Ds), Roscoe Parrish (1 for 16, 1 1D) – Stevie Johnson is proving to be a reliable #1 receiver even without Lee Evans besides him.  David Nelson just keeps getting better or better.  Jones lacks consistency but is prone to making a big play.  Roosevelt has reliable hands.  Parrish was a big blow to the offense when he was lost for the year.

Tight End

  • Scott Chandler (13 for 98, 4 TDs, 9 1Ds) – Chandler was a revelation early but his production has tapered off towards the bye.  Almost all of his catches are for first downs or touchdowns so it would be wise to get him the ball.

Offensive Line

  • Demetrius Bell, Andy Levitre, Eric Wood, Kraig Urbik, Erik Pears, Chad Rinehart, Chris Hairston – This is by far the most surprising unit on the team, perhaps even the league.  Eric Wood and Andy Levitre have played like stars.  Kraig Urbik’s play makes me wonder what Pittsburgh was thinking when they waived him.  Bell and Pears are solid but inconsistent.  Hairston played well in relief of Bell and looks to have a future on the line.

Defensive Line

  • Dwan Edwards (25 tackles, 1 TFL), Marcell Dareus (15 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL), Spencer Johnson (13 tackles, 1 sack), Kyle Williams (9 tackles, 1 TFL), Alex Carrington (5 tackles, 2 TFL), Kellen Heard (3 tackles), Torell Troup (2 tackles) – The most disappointing group on the team.  Kyle Williams in particular has been a disappointment coming off of his best season yet.  Torell Troup, who has been hurt and ineffective, has also been a disappointment.  Dareus is one of the loan bright spots but there are times where he is the only one that the opposing O-Line needs to focus on.  Alex Carrington is emerging and should get more playing time through the 2nd half of the year.

Linebackers

  • Nick Barnett (48 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 INT, 1 FF), Danny Batten (12 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 FR), Andra Davis (11 tackles), Kelvin Sheppard (10 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 FR), Shawne Merriman (9 tackles, 1 sack), Arthur Moats (9 tackles), Chris Kelsay (7 tackles), Chris White (6 tackles, 2 FF), Kirk Morrison (1 tackle) – This may have been the most disappointing unit on the field if it weren’t for the D-Line and Nick Barnett, who has been outstanding and a huge upgrade over Paul Posluzny.  Andra Davis looks old and slow and Merriman is lost for the year.  The only hope for improvement is increased playing time and productivity from youngsters Sheppard, Moats, Batten, and the recently re-signed Antonio Coleman.

Defensive Backs

  • George Wilson (57 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 INT, 1 FF, 5 PD), Jairus Byrd (46 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 PD, 1 FF, 1 FR), Bryan Scott (32 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 2 INTs, 2 PD), Leodis McKelvin (25 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR, 4 PD), Drayton Florence (20 tackles, 2 INTs, 5 PD), Terrence McGee (11 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 PD), Aaron Williams (11 tackles), Reggie Corner (5 tackles, 1 INT, 3 PD), Da’Norris Searcy (1 tackle, 1 INT), Justin Rogers (1 tackle) – This one is truly a tale of two levels.  The safeties have been outstanding and the cornerbacks have underachieved.  Wilson and Byrd are playing at a Pro Bowl level.  Florence and McKelvin have both been wildly inconsistent in the early going.  McGee and Williams would help complete what should be a formidable Cornerback group if they could remain healthy.  The key to this group is consistency.

Coaching

  • Chan Gailey has been tremendous as both a motivator and a x’s and o’s guy for this team.  He will likely be in the running for NFL coach of the year if his team can keep up their pace.  Curtis Modkins is offensive coordinator in name only but he is also Running Backs coach, and the Bills running game is pretty damn good.  With the exception of the Philly game George Edwards has struggled to put his guys in position to put pressure on the Quarterback, which leaves the secondary vulnerable.

Remaining Schedule

  • Washington
  • NY Jets
  • @ Dallas
  • @ Miami
  • @ NY Jets
  • Tennessee
  • @ San Diego
  • Miami
  • Denver
  • @ New England

With that schedule I see no reason that the Bills can’t duplicate their success from the first 6 games and post at least a 6-4 record and get them to 10 wins for the first time this century.  The games vrs. the Jets will be crucial as they will probably play the rest of the season neck and neck.  The Bills offense will get healthier and their defense will get younger and if they can execute the may just be playing in January for the first time in 12 seasons.

Twitter @ErikVenskus

 

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