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Three Downs from Ravens/Panthers: Bmore Edition

The Ravens just keep on rolling. In beating the Carolina Panthers 17-13 Saturday night, Baltimore faced a squad who finished as the second overall seed last year in the NFC. Although Carolina was nursing several key injuries, Baltimore still went into Carolina’s house and continued to show that last year’s AFC Championship game appearance was no fluke.

It ‘s also important to note the quality of opponent and the location of the game. Considering Saturday’s game marked the third preseason game for both teams, a contest in which teams usually gauge with extreme importance, the win signaled that the Ravens are indeed ready for the season to start.

The times they are a-changing up in Baltimore. The defense hasn’t fallen off but the offense continues to flash the look of a potent and consistent unit. Here are three things I took from Saturday’s clash.

 

First Down

Baltimore’s biggest knock right now is the lack of an elite wideout. Sure they don’t have the big name you would like to see lining up out wide, but the caliber of their quarterback makes the wide receivers look better than what people give them credit for. Joe Flacco continues to impress, and with his big arm and excellent decision making, his receivers are receiving opportunity to capitalize. Derrick Mason finished with six grabs for 71 yards. Kelly Washington chipped in three catches for 66 yards with a long of 42 yards. Even Ray Rice added eight receptions for 67 yards.

Flacco spread the ball around nicely and starting receiver Mark Clayton should return soon to give the offense even more firepower. The receivers in Baltimore might not be great, but they’re not terrible either. A premier receiver would really put this team over the top but even with their current set, Baltimore is an elite team.

 

Second Down

If you want to start your own 3-4 defense then it’s important you have an impact lineman. The Ravens might have the best 3-4 lineman in the business in Haloti Ngata. The 6-4, 350-pounder returned a pick 25 yards last week against the Jets for the team’s first score. Saturday night, Ngata added sack to round out a solid preseason in only two halfs and one series played this summer for the 25-year-old.

Ngata can play anywhere on a three-man line. He can crash the pocket from the nose tackle spot. He can rush the passer from the right side defensive end and he can shut the run down from the left side. But his effort and pursuit is what makes him a real standout and that was never more evident than in Saturday’s game against Carolina.

At the 4:06 mark in the second quarter, Ngata started out rushing the passer on a quick screen play to Panthers receiver Steve Smith. Ngata read the play then released from his battle with a guard to begin the chase down of Smith. After Smith eluded the boundary cornerback, he squared up with Baltimore standout safety Ed  Reed. Reed was fortunate to have the angle on Smith, who was prancing along the left sideline. Reed cornered Smith along the sideline, forcing Smith to hit a spin move that normally would’ve left Reed grasping for air but Reed managed to hold on long enough for Ngata to flatten Smith along the sidelines 26 yards later.

The announcers gave Reed the credit for the takedown but it was the pursuit of Ngata that allowed Reed to trap Smith along the sidelines. A one-on-one battle between Smith and anybody would usually equal a win for Smith but the closing of Ngata was unexpected and the two Ravens teamed up to shut down what could’ve been a potential long touchdown.

Baltimore better get a handle on their run defense soon, otherwise expect to see alot more of Lewis & co in the background. AP Photo/Chuck Burton

Baltimore better get a handle on their run defense soon, otherwise expect to see alot more of Lewis & co in the background. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

 

Third Down

I didn’t see all peaches and cream Saturday night. For the second straight week, Baltimore was terrorized by a quick running back. The Ravens had all kinds of problems with the Jets’ Leon Washington last Monday night. Saturday night, it was Carolina third-string back Mike Goodson who gashed Baltimore for some nifty gains. For a unit that traditionally doesn’t let up on anything ground-related, the past couple of weeks have been eye opening.

I expect the run defense to be somewhere between good-great once again this season but they better get it together quick. The Ravens are scheduled to face LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Ryan Grant, Kevin Smith and Darren McFadden this season.

Washington and Goodson aren’t anywhere near the big names of the aforementioned and if Baltimore is having trouble containing the little names of the league, then problems could be on the horizon.

August 30, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Three Downs from Skins/Pats: D.C. Edition

Friday’s 27-24 defeat to the New England Patriots could be looked at as a downer for the Washington Redskins. But it’s preseason so of course we don’t focus on such things. The only thing that matters in preseason is performance: who’s playing well and who stinks. The offense had been smelling pretty rotten before Friday but they bounced back in a major way. Here are three things I took away from this weekend’s game.

 

First Down

Jason Campbell is a pretty tough guy. No, not the leather jacket, muscle car riding, t-shirt kind of guy but the even-though-you-criticize-me-I’m-still-going-to-do-my-job-kind-of-guy. Campbell has been under fire for the last three seasons in D.C. Attempts to bring in Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez over the offseason only solidified the team’s discontent with the former Auburn Tiger, but Campbell never says the wrong things. Unlike Cutler, who pouted his way out of Denver, Campbell remains a professional. His struggles through the first couple of weeks against the Ravens and Steelers could easily be excused, but critics are hungry for anything they can use to usher Campbell out of the district.

Campbell redeemed himself against the Patriots’ complex 3-4 scheme. Appearing poised and confident, Campbell showed arm strength, proper decision making and the leadership that should earn him big dollars next year. If he can transfer his production into the regular season, some quarterback-starved team is going to come calling at the end of the ’09 campaign.

Campbell will turn 28 this December and is set to enter the prime of his career. Obviously he has the mental toughness after a few wacky years in Washington. He has the arm strength and he has the poise and professionalism. If the Redskins don’t want that, there are several other teams that do.

 

Second Down

The Redskin defense struggled against the Pats, but a lot of teams struggled against New England the last time Tom Brady and Randy Moss were on the field together. Lock down corner Carlos Rogers didn’t play and that left DeAngelo Hall as the lone talent to go up against Moss, who responded with a six-catch, 90 yard, two-touchdown game before the half. I can’t get down on the Redskins for their performance Friday. New England had a record breaking offense in ’07 and one preseason game doesn’t scratch off Washington from the top defense list.

The pass rush looked ineffective on Friday but Brady gets the ball out quick. Nevertheless, the Washington defense is going to be good this year. If rookie Brian Orakpo and newly acquired Albert Haynesworth play up to expectations, the Redskins are going to be a tough unit. Thankfully, they don’t play New England this season and if they do see the Pats again, it would be in the Super Bowl, which should give Washington plenty of time to figure out what they did wrong last Friday.

 

Third Down

The passing game looked good. Santana Moss made some tough grabs, Malcolm Kelly continued to show progression and Chris Cooley had the play of the game with a 73-yard catch and run. Kelly only caught one ball but he ran precise routes, caught the ball when it was thrown to him and showed some run after the catch ability on the lone ball he did haul in. Last year’s top pick Devin Thomas caught a few passes and even showed some spark on kick returns. A lot of folks are down on him but considering he didn’t start until his junior year at Michigan State suggests Thomas will have a way to go before he becomes a consistent threat.

All of Campbell’s receiving options stepped up Friday. Clinton Portis couldn’t really get anything going on the ground but it’s well known what Portis can do. The passing game is going to be the deciding factor in D.C. this season. Whether Campbell and the crew can get the aerial show up and running is going to mean postseason or offseason for Redskins. If they can continue to do what they did Friday, the postseason could be in the cards.

August 29, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Three Downs from the Ravens/Jets: Bmore Edition

Another solid performance from the Baltimore Ravens last Monday night against the New York Jets. The first team units looked great on both sides of the ball. The Ravens harassed the Jets offense and didn’t get flustered by the Jets blitzing defense. The offense looked crisp behind a solid offensive line and the offensive playcalling by Baltimore coordinator Cam Cameron was unexpected and effective. Good playcalling, a strong armed quarterback and a top run game should elevate Baltimore to elite status once again this season. Here are three things I took away from the Monday night clash.

 

First Down

Joe Flacco looks like the real deal. Yes it was preseason and the Jets defense wasn’t trying to tip their hand but you have to admire Flacco’s poise and arm strength. The Ravens signal caller looked cooler than Joe Camel standing in the pocking rifling darts all across the field. Flacco doesn’t take many sacks and when he does feel the heat, he doesn’t make foolish throws that can cost his team field position and ball games. He looks nothing like a small school kid trying to adjust to the big leagues of the NFL. Considering the Ravens have never had a quarterback of Flacco’s caliber since their 1996 inauguration, it’s easy to see why fans are hanging all over this guy. If Baltimore would’ve gone out and nabbed a big time receiver this offseason, Baltimore’s Super Bowl chances wouldn’t even be a question.

 

Second Down

Ray Rice is nice. Not in the generous, careful and giving kind of way. But the slashing, juking and shifty kind of way. I had my doubts on Rice as a starter but after some brief cameos last year and a killer training camp this summer, Rice could be poise to become the star back in Baltimore. His competition is pretty impressive with the popular Willis McGahee and the bruising LeRon McCain, but Rice offers the quickness and receiving skills that the other backs don’t. The former Rutgers star had a legendary career during his time as a Scarlet Knight and his second round draft selection was based more on his size than skill. Nabbing Flacco and Rice in the same draft has the potential to give Baltimore a very dangerous backfield for years to come.

 

Third Down

I could spend this last down ranting about the Ravens defense but it’s no secret that Baltimore annually fields a ferocious unit. One of the most impressive things to me Monday night was the play of Baltimore’s offensive line. Although I wasn’t a fan of the team losing Jason Brown, the Ravens did add Michael Oher, one of the top tackles in the draft. Former Minnesota Viking Matt Birk, rounds out an athletic and imposing unit. Against the blitz packages of Jets coach Rex Ryan, the Baltimore offensive line held up just fine. Ryan blitzed defensive backs and linebackers to no avail Monday. Just as they showed against the Redskins a couple of weeks ago, the Baltimore line is no slouch. The Ravens easily have the best unit in the AFC North from left to right and the fact that they start four young linemen up front is an encouraging compliment to a young backfield. You have to like the direction Baltimore is going in. Although some of their defensive stars are getting a little long in the tooth, you should never expect the Ravens to field a mediocre unit. Budding stars like Flacco, Rice, left tackle Jared Gaithers, and left guard Ben Grubbs on the offense should make Baltimore a contender for years to come.

August 26, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Three Downs from the Redskins/Steelers Game: D.C. Edition

Bounce-back win by the Washington Redskins last Saturday night against the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers. I had the pleasure of covering the game live so here are three things I took away from the game.

 

First Down
The Redskins defense is going to be top flight again this season. The addition of a few athletic pass rushers is going to do wonders for a unit that couldn’t get to the QB last year. Washington’s secondary is lined with some blue chip athletes, stocking the front seven with some strong and fast rush men should make for a good equation: Athletic Secondary + Athletic Front Seven = Havoc & Terror

 

Second Down

Regardless of what the defense does, if the offense doesn’t improve it’s going to be a long season for the Redskins. I’m trying not to make too much about the ‘Skins last two games, because playing against the Ravens and Steelers in back to back weeks would make any offense look anemic.

But still, the Skins are scheduled to play the Cowboys, Eagles and Giants six times this season. The Cowboys lead the league in sacks last year and the Giants might just do that this year with all the rush men they have suiting up for them. Although the Eagles won’t have the late Jimmy Johnson devising their scheme this season, their unit is still stockpiled with some of the finest defensive standouts in the league.

Washington has its work cut out for them this year, playing two of the top defenses is no excuse to be anemic compared to all the heat their divisional brothers are going to put on them. Although Washington scored two touchdowns against last year’s No. 1 unit in Saturday’s game, the starters were only capable of notching a field goal against the Steelers first team. Including their shutout against the Ravens, Washington’s first team offense has averaged 1.5 ppg in the last two weeks. Egh.

 

Third Down

Chase Daniel showed moxy, poise and playmaking ability in limited time. Several players can stand out against a team’s second and third team unit so Daniel’s performance could be a bit overrated. But for a player who had a spectacular college career and a guy who’s resting behind a couple of incumbents, Daniel’s perfomance should probably be looked at a little closer.

Campbell is in the last year of his contract, Todd Collins, his backup, obviously isn’t the long term answer. Last year’s sleeper pick, Colt Brennan, has already been forgotten and quarterbacks don’t just sit in free agency waiting for the phone to ring. Daniel has a lot of factors going in his favor so he might want to start taking this opportunity as a serious one.

August 24, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Soap Opera? No, just Favre

Back for more? Favre signed a two-year deal with Minnesota Aug. 18

Back for more? Favre signed a two-year deal with Minnesota Aug. 18

So Brett Favre pulled it off again huh? Reusing what’s become his annual offseason get-out-of-jail/training camp-free card, he elusively dodged another summer of haze and helmet clashes by declaring his intent to remain retired.

Not content with allowing Michael Vick to hog the headlines, Favre got on a private jet, zoomed to Minneapolis and then signed a two-year deal with the Vikings, effectively stealing the thunder out from under the newly reinstated Vick. Sources say he’ll start on Friday against Kansas City.

While Vikings coach Brad Childress is probably jumping for joy over his team’s renewed outlook on the season, I’m sure there’s a few disgruntled Vikings shaking their head in disgust. No not Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels, I mean….. who cares about them right? This is all about Favre.

Adrian Peterson is probably ecstatic, the subtraction of eight-man fronts will undoubtedly add a wider smile to the All-Pro’s team photo this season. And I’m sure some of the 20-something wideouts on the roster have dreamed their whole careers of catching passes from Favre, but what kind of example does this set for the other guys on the team?

Jackson and Rosenfels duke it out all summer, then three days before their next preseason game, “Hey thanks guys but don’t even worry about the competition, the guy not even on the team, who was reading TV Guide while you were reading your playbooks has already won it.”

I mean ok, it’s Brett Favre but seriously, at 39 (Favre turns 40 in October) does anybody really expect him to be throwing the pigskin with the same velocity in January compared to September? He already has a tear in his rotator cuff and two weeks to prepare for the regular season should give him the advantage against the New Yorks, Baltimores, Chicagos, Pittsburghs and Arizona’s of the league right?

Now everyone on ESPN wants us to believe that Minnesota is Super Bowl bound. Why? For all of his illustrious career, Favre has only one Super Bowl win to his credit.

His last season as a Jet, he looked extremely ordinary down the stretch and his penchant for throwing costly interceptions is becoming his trademark.

Let’s not forget about some of the competition in the NFC.

The Giants made NFL idol Tom Brady look ordinary during the midst of his record-breaking season. The Eagles were a quarter away from going to the Super Bowl and the Cardinals were a miracle reception away from winning the whole thing, so I’m not exactly ready to plug the Vikings into my preseason pick just yet.

Minnesota will undoubtedly be better with Farve but the threat of some resentment will surely flow through the veins of the team.

When Favre does eventually retire, an acting career could be next in line

When Favre does eventually retire, an acting career could be next in line

These type of shananigans don’t happen in Pittsburgh, they don’t happen in New England and they don’t happen in New York, well, atleast not with the Giants. It’s no secret that those three teams have been the models of success over the past few years.

Although there is no competion when it comes to quarterback for those clubs, there have been plenty of unsettled positions on each of thoses rosters where the coaches have elected to reward guys already on the team instead of bringing in some marquee name veteran. Hell, often times those clubs have been the ones cutting ties with the marquee names, not upstaging their current guys to make room for new ones.

Even Favre’s longtime Packer team could only stomach one summer of Farve’s training camp call out.

I can’t blame the Vikings for what they did. For a team that felt they were one piece short of a being a true contender, the bid for Brett had no price tag.

But sometimes the price to win can be a costly one.

August 19, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 4 Comments

The Perfect Scenario, Vick signs with Eagles

 

Vick might be a big name but his supporting cast is even bigger

Vick might be a big name but his supporting cast is even bigger

A lot has been made about embattled superstar Michael Vick’s return to the NFL after the former Atlanta Falcon signed a two-year agreement with the Philadelphia Eagles last Thursday. The initial thoughts on last week’s deal ranged from topics challenging Donovan McNabb’s job security to the possibilities of Vick replacing McNabb in a few seasons.

Talk about a rush to judgment.

Vick’s arrival in Philadelphia will have no immediate or long term impact on McNabb’s status whatsoever. The newly signed Vick will signal the addition of a mega talent in 2001’s top overall draft pick but expecting a quarterback who’s been out of the league for over two years to exactly just come back and challenge the starter or even the second and third string signal callers is a bit or a lot of bit unrealistic should I say.

The West Coast offense employed by the Eagles and head coach Andy Reid is a notoriously difficult system to just come in off the street (literally) and grasp. And for a quarterback who often struggled as a starter before his two-year hiatus, to throw Vick anywhere near the starter’s fire would be disastrous to both a team with Super Bowl aspirations and a player who many spectators and critics are eager to see fall flat on his face.

But the former scenario is nowhere near the case in Philadelphia. The Eagles have their own bonafide superstar in McNabb and a backup in Kevin Kolbwho was drafted in the second round of the 2007 draft with the design of replacing McNabb.

With McNabb in the picture, Vick won't have the chance to be the lone star in Philadelphia

With McNabb in the picture, Vick won't have the chance to be the lone star in Philadelphia

With both players having significant experience in Reid’s offense, the idea of any quarterback who hasn’t started a game in two seasons knocking either out of their position roles is rather uh……. what’s the word….. ridiculous, that’s it, ridiculous!

It’s obvious Vick is the real winner here in this deal but there’s more to just rejoining the league that certifies this as a victory for the Vick side.

For all of Vick’s highlight reel scrambles and mid-air hurdling jaw droppers, his passing skills left a lot to be desired. Sure he had the XXXL arm and could fire a football out the stadium but his accuracy and pocket awareness were the two things that needed a major upgrade.

People forget, but McNabb shared a lot of Vick’s qualities when he came into the league as a heavy-armed, scrambling playmaker out of Syracuse in 1999. His pocket awareness and accuracy were the sources of many a boo days in Veterans Stadium but as McNabb aged, his quarterback traits improved.

Studying under a passing coach in Reid, McNabb’s skills were bound to develop and he now stands as one of the better pocket quarterbacks in the league as he readies himself for his 11th season in the league and his 10th as a starter.

Vick’s walking into a win-win situation in Philadelphia. The pressure is off him to be the franchise savior that he was asked to be in Atlanta.
He’ll be brought along slowly as he goes through the daily practice routine in an offense designed to maximize a quarterback’s abilities. McNabb will lecture the lefty on learning how to adjust his mental game as his physical ability leaves him. And being a part of an annual contender will undoubtedly strain the winner’s mentality into him.

The Eagles might incur some heavy pressure to unveil their new weapon but after last year’s mockery in Baltimore, Philadelphia should be more than hesitant against pulling a similar stunt. Vick will probably get some clock running the infamous Wildcat package but expect nothing else. I wouldn’t look for him to handle much of the quarterback duties and for a guy who has annually played a low-contact position, I doubt the Eagles will be lining him up at running back and receiver as several have speculated.

So while many of us may be sitting back, patiently waiting to be tantalized by the barrel of excitement we’ve come to expect in Vick, the truth is, we probably won’t be seeing the lid lifted off of that barrel anytime soon.

With McNabb firmly entrenched and the Eagles set to compete for a Super Bowl for the next two years at the least, we’re a long way from hearing broadcasters fall out of their chairs describing a Vick touchdown run.

Well…..maybe not too far, Madden and youtube are just around the corner you know.

August 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment

Warming up to Orlando

Ok, Ok, so I’m slowly starting to warm up to last June’s blockbuster Vince Carter trade. Although there has been several articles written bashing, trashing, and smashing the move, I’m beginning to see the silver lining in all of this.

While I do agree that Carter is a bit too much on the 30ish side for my liking and though I wish the team could’ve held on to promising youngster Courtney Lee, I guess my oppurtunistic side rather focus on the pros instead of the cons of this deal. I don’t know about the rest of you, but seeing coach Stan Van Gundy and Orlando’s once prolific offense grinded to an anemic halt by the more athletic Lakers in June’s Finals made me flat out sick.

Watching the pick-and-roll ran over and over and over again until I got tired of seeing the Lakers defend it better each and every time was tough to process. I give credit to the purple and gold defense because Los Angeles reduced the once effective staple of the Magic’s offense into a useless ineffective gimmick.

By the time game five rolled around, Orlando’s quality of shots out of the pick-and-roll had gone from good to simply “Stan would you please stop running this (expletive)!”

But that was the sickening part about it. Orlando couldn’t stop running that “expletive” because no one on the roster was qualified to get his own shot off.

Since his innaguration season in 2007. Van Gundy has inherited a talented but tainted roster. He’s been fortunate to acquire a vast array of scorers but the vacancy for a playmaking ballhandler has been an open position on advertisement for the last couple of seaons now.

The club has tried to promote from within but their list of employees haven’t been the best qualified for the position.

Turkoglu's lack of athleticism often left him unsuccessful on his forays to the cup

Turkoglu's lack of athleticism often left him unsuccessful on his forays to the cup

Not Jameer Nelson, not Hedo Turkoglu, not Lee, not Mickael Pietrus, not Keith Bogans, not J.J. Reddick, not Trevor Ariza(yes, that Trevor Ariza), not Keyon Dooling, and definitely not Rashard Lewis.

Thus, Van Gundy installed his version of the Magic pick-and-roll base offense and ran it to the max down in Orlando. Quite genius on his part, but also quite redundant and quite easy to defend by top notch defensive teams with the right personnel.

Don’t get me wrong, Nelson, when healthy, is an All-Star caliber point guard with the quickness and mindset to get to the cup. But hovering around the 6-foot inch line means more times than not, it’s difficult for him to get his shot off against bigger opponents.

Turkoglu, the 6-foot-10 Turkish Michael Jordan, was the closest thing that Van Gundy had to a playmaking ball handler so he drew up the offense to feature the silky shooting small forward as his centerpiece. A three-point sniper equipped with loads of craftiness, Turkoglu embraced his new role well and the Magic rode their gimmicky offense all the way to the NBA Finals last year.

For everything Turkoglu was to Orlando, what he was not was the guy who could free himself from defenders without the aid of the pick-and-roll and it was never more evident than in last June’s championship series. Seeing Kobe slice and dice his way to the cup and create for his teammates only highlighted the Magic’s major offensive weakness.

Vince Carter may not be the athletic wonder he used to be, but his ability to drive to the basket will certainly appease Orlando

Vince Carter may not be the athletic wonder he used to be, but his ability to drive to the basket will certainly appease Orlando

Introducing Carter, the former one man highlight reel brought in last June to possibly replace Turkoglu as Orlando’s go-to-guy. At 32, Carter can still play—and at a pretty high level if needed. Though critics suggest he’s lost much of his athleticism, let’s be honest here, whatever athleticism Carter has left is still more than what Turkoglu has possessed at any point-in-time in his underrated career.

While critics will argue that Turkoglu is able to play the point and distribute to his teammates, I deny this claim to full detail. Turkoglu is an unselfish player and can throw the lob ball pretty well. But make no mistake about it, Orlando’s system was not predicated upon him running up the court, crossing over and slicing into the lane, dishing no look style to Howard while the defense collapsed on him.

The Magic’s system was a scheme-orientated plot designed to compensate for the lack of a penetrator by making it easy for players to pass to the open guy provided top option Dwight Howard was covered on his bull rushes to the basket. Think I’m joking? Rashard Lewis, a career 1.9 assist man, has had more assists the past two seasons under Van Gundy than he’s ever had in any two-year period of his 11-year career.

In his last four games against the Lakers in the Finals, Lewis dished out seven,five,four, and four assists as the pick-and-roll was ran nonstop to counter Los Angeles’ lock down defenders who had the perimeter covered heavier than a hypothermia victim.

While we’re at it, we might as well dispel another myth. So Carter’s a ballhog they say? Last year in New Jersey—a dry land in terms of talent outside point guard Devin Harris—Carter averaged 4.7 assists per night. Surrounded by more assassins than a Mexican Cartel, Turkoglu barely edged out Carter with only 4.9 dishes a night. Keep in mind that Carter played with a true point guard in Harris while Turkoglu ran with a true gunner in Nelson, making Hedo the primary ballhandler and reducing Vince to a secondary ball carrier.

Need more proof? Since the 2006-2007 season, Turkoglu’s first full time season as a starter, he has averaged 4.38 assists per game while running with third rate point men from Keyon Dooling to Carlos Arroyo to Travis Diener while Orlando has compiled a 151-95 record over that time span. During that same stretch, Carter has averaged 4.86 dimes a game while playing alongside the likes of top tier talent at the point in Harris and Jason Kidd compiling a 109-137 record over in Jersey.

You would think the more successful the team, the lower the caliber of lead guards, the more assists that would pile up right? Wrong! To whom it may concern, this article is not an attempt to bash Turkoglu, but if the Magic are going to substitue Carter in place of Turkoglu, this article only serves as a means to say Carter will be an effective upgrade into an offense devised on scheme.

Add in the facts that Carter can create his own shot without help from a pick and is a legendary strong and acrobatic finisher at the rim, and Orlando’s offense may actually be better than it was last season.

Let’s get to the real benefit of Carter’s addition. Since his introduction into the executive office down in Florida, Orlando general manager Otis Smith has made a lot of savvy moves. If there’s one move Smith would probably like to have back, it’s breaking the bank on the one-dimensional Lewis to the ransom of $100 million plus.

Lewis’ 6-11 frame encouraged Van Gundy to play him at power forward but you don’t pay a sweet shooter over $100 million and play him out of position against down low bangers. Although Dwight Howard is a superman when it comes to blocking shots and rebounds, even Superman had his share of sidekicks.

The addition of Bass gives Superman the help he sorely lacked in last year's Finals

The addition of Bass gives Superman the help he sorely lacked in last year's Finals

The Magic needed a power forward to take the stress off of Howard and relieve him of his do-everything-on-the-block duties that he’s excelled in the last couple of years, but going up against the Lakers’ band of bigs was a task to tall for the former slam dunk champion.

Turkoglu’s lack of athleticism meant he couldn’t move over to the two-guard slot full time to make way for a true power forward but Carter’s insertion into his natural shooting guard role means a move back to the three for Lewis, where he thrived at in Seattle and it also relieves the slender forward of his low post defensive mismatches. The Magic can still run the same spread-em-out lineup if they like by inserting Pietrus at the two and letting Carter and his 220 lbs run at small forward with Lewis drawing power forwards away from the rim.

Perhaps the biggest bonus in the Carter deal is that it gets Orlando off the hook from the five-six year deal that Turkoglu was seeking and places them responsible for only two more years of Carter’s current four-year contract that he signed in ’07. With Carter coming off the books in 2011, it provides the Magic with several options: They can let Carter’s contract run out and go after another shot creating perimeter player through free agency, or they can move Carter when he enters the last year of his deal for a disgruntled young perimeter player or several players.

Carter has a team option for $18 million after the fourth year of his deal, which will more than likely not be picked up by any team. His salary in the 2010-2011 season will circle around $17.3 million, a pretty enticing number for a team looking to clear some cap room, making the Magic a possible heavy trade contender for the 2010 season.

While the loss of Tony Battie along with Rafer Alston as part of the deal may hurt the Magic’s depth, keep in mind that Orlando picked up a similar sweet shooting big man in Ryan Anderson, who’s range actually surpasses Battie up to the three-point line. Also remember that forgotten point man Anthony Johnson outplayed Alston as the team’s lead guard during several stretches in last year’s post season.

The Vince Carter trade was not the end to Smith’s summer wheeling and dealing. The Magic were officially in the hunt for a power forward and nabbed one in Dallas’ Brandon Bass, a 24-year-old underrated athletic banger with major upside while retaining the overvalued “Polish Hammer” Marcin Gortat to backup Howard.

Adding Matt Barnes will certainly add to the Magic’s depth, and it gives them a versatile swing man to help continue the stretch-the-floor-method that was ran with Hedo Turkoglu. It also provides Orlando with another long range bomber while Lewis serves a 10-game suspension to start the year.

While the Magic may have overhauled their roster, the pieces they added makes them arguably one of the deepest teams in the East if not the deepest. Cleveland and Boston will certainly be formidable, but an enhanced post game from Howard and a healthy Nelson to go along with the surrounding pieces should make Orlando the team to beat in the East.

August 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Madden 2010: Curse Revealed

madden_cover

Nowadays, being a Madden cover model is like a being a childhood star. It’s all nice and enjoyable at the time but as the years start to fade, your performance starts to falter and your life and career damn near go up in smokes.

Even if you don’t believe in curses, you have to admit it’s something more than a coincidence occurring with the number of guys who have seen their careers flipped upside down once they grace the cover of the John Madden Football videogame.

Almost like a scene out of The Ring, how after you watch the video tape, your phone rings and something extremely bad happens to you in seven days. Well….maybe not that serious, but still, something extremely bad happens to you within several months after you get your picture taken for the cover of Madden.

With two different covers with two different jerseys, Farve should've read the tell-tale signs for a wacky 2008

With two different covers with two different jerseys, Farve should've read the tell-tale signs for a wacky 2008

Brett Favre was the latest victim, seeing his Jets squad fall out the sky from a midseason high mark of 8-3 that not only had them thinking playoffs but dreaming Super Bowl. After Favre’s throwing arm collapsed, the Jets’ season was done, losing four out of their last five games to miss the playoffs and end number four’s Hall of Fame career on a sour note.

2008’s cover featured Vince Young, who is now tip-toeing along the edge of one-hit-wonder status after an inspiring rookie year. Since his ’07 debut, Young has been benched, booed, hinted at retirement and reportedly mentioned suicide all in the same season.

2007’s victim is still on milk cartons nationwide. Shaun Alexander was the first player to appear on both EA Sports football titles – Madden 2007 and NCAA Football 2001 – the result, two injury plagued seasons following his mega ’05 campaign that saw him rush for 1,880 yards and score 28 touchdowns. Now the former MVP is currently out of the league and out of sight, out of mind.

2006's pose doomed McNabb for the next two seasons

2006's pose doomed McNabb for the next two seasons

In his heyday, Donovan McNabb was one of the most dangerous scramblers in the game. His ability to jog around the field and make plays from the quarterback position was undoubtedly reminiscent of another former Philadelphia duel-threat.

All that changed for the 2006 cover man on November 19, 2006, when he tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee against the Tennessee Titans, zapping the Pro Bowler of his lethal agility and urging him to become more of a pocket passer.

That was only the second part of a two-year haze that McNabb would endure after his ’06 illustration hit the stores in 2005.

The first part featured McNabb ducking and dodging verbal bullets from his teammate at the time, Terrell Owens, who opened vocal fire on seemingly everyone associated with the Eagles organization during his tenure in Philadelphia.

After several controversial statements and publicly questioning McNabb’s performance in a disappointing Super Bowl loss earlier that year, Owens would later be suspended for the rest of the season while McNabb would have his year end early after deactivating himself with a sports hernia injury and sore thumb on his throwing hand.

Lewis has tackled many opponents, but the Madden curse wasn't one of them

Lewis has tackled many opponents, but the Madden curse wasn't one of them

It wasn’t the ’04-’05 season that tackled 2005 cover boy Ray Lewis. The Madden Curse blindsided Lewis the following year with a nagging thigh injury that would cut the campaign short for the walking Hall of Famer. Lewis still remains a potent run stuffer in the afterlife of a superhuman career, but he hasn’t posted over 100 tackles since the 2004 season, ironically, Lewis’ cover year.

Even Vick couldn't elude the Madden curse

Even Vick couldn't elude the Madden curse

 

 

 

 

 

 

There shouldn’t even be a draw up of what happened to 2004’s Madden Man. Armed with blistering speed and a XXXL arm, Michael Vick exploded onto the scene as America’s secret weapon.

Almost otherworldly, Vick was brought back down to earth when he was brought to the ground in a preseason game against the Ravens.

A fractured right fibula would keep the lefty out until late November of the ’03 season, but even that was minor compared to the fate Vick would later suffer amid federal charges for dog fighting.

Is it a coincidence that all the aforementioned players suffered some type of life-altering, season shifting, career threatening fate? Maybe, maybe not.

With two players posted on the cover for this year, should a similar fate happen to both of the cover men in the future, EA Sports may have to revert back to placing John Madden on the cover by himself.

Troy Polamalu and Larry Fitzgerald outline the prototype for their respected positions.

One’s a big-time, highlight reel playmaking safety, the other is a wish-you-could-but-you-can’t stop him wideout who’s on the cusp of greatness. Fitzgerald’s playoff performance trampled a monster regular season and made the former ball boy look like the best wide receiver ever in history.

When Polamalu wasn’t leaping over piles, he was making game-changing interceptions on the Steelers way to their sixth Super Bowl title.

Both are true superstars at their position, both are equipped with the humbleness and work ethic to continue to dominate the sport for the next few seasons.

Unless of course, the curse gets to them first.

The odds of both phenoms bowing out this season to the wrath of the Madden curse is highly unlikely, but then again, claiming the seasons of the last six cover men was a bet I would’ve gladly wagered seven years ago.

Glad I didn’t.

August 5, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Breakout Players: DC/Bmore Edition

Let’s face it, with retirement, injuries and player deflections, if you want your favorite football team to make noise, then somebody from your squad is going to have to step it up. It’s no secret that players breakout every year and become household names with strong seasons.

While there’s probably more than a handful of guys on the Redskins and Ravens rosters ready to breakout, I figured you wouldn’t want to read all that and I wouldn’t want to write all that, so to make it easy on both of us, I just listed the key guys essential to their teams success in ’09.

Regardless of how they finished last season, neither the Ravens or Redskins finished in the Super Bowl, so apparently there’s room for improvement. If either team plans on going to Disney World after next February, here are the guys ready to breakout and take them there.

Flacco primed and poised

Flacco primed and poised to show '08 was no fluke

Joe Flacco

Perry Green, my colleague at the Afro-American Newspaper in Baltimore, makes it his daily routine to bring me up to date on Flacco’s greatness at least three times a day during the week. In the morning before he signs in, in the afternoon when I get back from lunch, and once again at the end of the day before he leaves the office.

Even though I tactfully and sarcastically shoot down his praises every single time, it’s only out of good humor, the truth is, I think Flacco is the real deal. Super arm strength, better than average mobility and the poise of a London Royal Guard (you know, those guards in London with the big hats, who can’t move, laugh or flinch), Flacco’s rookie season was extremely impressive.

Although Flacco has already enjoyed a breakout season of sorts, if he can have a monster season coming out of tiny Delaware, I’m eager to see what he can do with a full season in the league under his belt.

If Matt Ryan hadn’t performed a search and rescue mission in Atlanta after the Michael Vick disaster, Flacco would probably be sitting in his living room looking up at the Rookie of the Year award right now.

For all the good things the former Blue Hen did last year, the fact that he lead the Ravens to the AFC Championship game in his first year out of a FCS school (if you don’t know the difference between a FCS school and a BCS school, it’s like comparing Radio Shack to Best Buy) signs the ticket for me.

The Ravens brought the 6-foot-6 signal caller along slowly last year, enforcing a power running game and playing smothering defense to make life easier for the rookie. With well-respected veteran, Derrick Mason, retiring a couple of weeks ago and a few key departures off of Ray Lewis’ unit, expect Flacco to be pushed into more of a leadership role on offense.

If last year was any inclination, he’s more than ready for the challenge.

 

If Kelly can take the next step, Washington can take a big leap forward

If Kelly can take the next step, Washington can take a big leap forward

Malcolm Kelly

Even though I think Devin Thomas is extremely talented, Kelly gets the nod from me for the breakout candidate between the two. Thomas was pretty much a one-year wonder at Michigan State before being drafted in the second round of last year’s draft, which leads me to believe he still has a ways to go in mastering his craft.

Kelly on the other hand, produced from the first game of his freshman campaign to the moment he left school as a junior at Oklahoma. I just feel confident that even with a throwaway season last year, Kelly is ready to explode on the scene as the more polished wideout between the two.

If not for a sweet 16ish-like outburst during the combines last year, Kelly probably would’ve been the first wideout selected in 2008’s draft. Yet a so-so 40 time and a fallout with his trainers eradicated any chances of Kelly coming off the board in the early picks.

Equipped with strong hands, body control and the size and hops of a shooting guard, the freestyle king (no joke, kid can flow, check his youtube) fits the mode of the prototype new age wideout that everybody wants nowadays.

The 6-foot-4, 218 pound prospect has the goods to take Washington’s offense to the next level. If he can stay healthy and adjust to the West Coast offense, the sky’s the limit for this immensely talented youngster.

And even if he doesn’t cut it at wideout, the Skins can always turn to Thomas and Kelly can always turn to the rap industry.

August 1, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment