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Thursday, August 30, 2012

College Previewkakke: BCS Predictions and JESUS FOOTBALL TONIGHT

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So here we are, my friends. Both at the end of this series of college football previews and at the end of the worst sports drought all year: the football offseason. Tonight, South Carolina plays at Vanderbilt. Tonight, Mike Leach makes his return against a bunch of mormons. Tonight, my friends, there is football.

So here you go, Red and mine's predictions for the BCS bowl games:

Orange Bowl:

Iggins!: Clemson vs. USF
Code Red: Virginia Tech vs. Shitty Big East Champion

-Thank you for the specifics, Red. The only difference here is in our predicted ACC Champs.

Fiesta Bowl:

Iggins!: West Virginia vs. Wisconsin
Code Red: Oklahoma vs. Nebraska

-So we have the B1G #2 in this game vs... well, Red picked West Virginia to win the Big 12 but then put them in a bowl game as an at large. WAFFLER.

Sugar:

Iggins!: Georgia vs. Oklahoma
Code Red: LSU vs. West Virginia

-Once again, I contend Red is a flip-flopper. SEC Championship Game loser vs. Big 12 #2 here.

Rose Bowl:

Iggins!: Michigan State vs. USC
Code Red: Wisconsin vs. Oregon

-B1G Champ vs. Pac 12 #2 in the Rose it looks like. All of these pairings seem too likely. Hopefully Louisiana Tech goes 12-0 and screws this thing up.

National Title Game:

Iggins!: LSU vs. Oregon
Code Red: Georgia vs. USC

-And we both agree that the SEC champ will face the Pac 12 champ in the title game.


Well, that's it boys and girls. Football starts tonight; our national crisis has ended. I'm gonna go cook some bratwurst and yell at my TV until it starts.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Rick Telander is the Dumbest Man Alive

It's concerning to all Bears fans that Brian Urlacher may not be ready for the season opener. It's possible a knee injury may slow him down all season long. No one, however, has just suggested in any way even the slightest possibility that Urlacher may miss all off the season. That doesn't stop Rick Telander, however, from somehow deciding that the Bears may (and probably should) cut Brian fucking Urlacher. I don't even know where to begin. As usual, he's in italics, I am not.

He didn’t play.

Telander is correct. Brian Urlacher did not play in the Bears most recent preseason game. This is the last factual and sensible thing you'll see in this article.

And the question is: Can he play?

No, Rick. The question is when he will play. Which nearly everyone with any degree of medical knowledge agrees will be sometime within the next month at the latest. I mean the guy was practicing and running around at traning camp less than a few weeks ago. I don't think the surgery somehow made things Worse.

Brian Urlacher may be the heart of the Bears, but if the pump in the middle of the machine is busted, you either fix it or get a new one.

Or if that heart happens to be a future hall of famer with a swollen knee who just had an operation to fix said knee and is projected to be back soon, maybe you just duct tape that shit and wait for the part to get back in operation. You don't chuck him overboard because he may miss some regular season time for just the second time in his 12 year career.

Nick Roach filled in for Urlacher at middle linebacker against the New York Giants — doing what he has been doing this preseason — and was . . . OK.
 
One play stood out early on. It was a sweep that Giants running back David Wilson took around left end for 15 yards. Roach was blocked to the ground on the play.
 
Then, early in the second quarter, Roach broke up a pass from Eli Manning to running back Henry Hynoski, and the Giants were forced to punt. Nice job.

Acceptable backup starter played like acceptable backup starter. Thanks, Rick.

But is this what it’s come down to: Nick Roach for Brian Urlacher? Six-one, 234 pounds for 6-4, 258? Good for superior? Steady for Hall of Fame?
 
What has what come down to? No one but you is trying to make this a decision. Nick Roach is just there until Urlacher gets back. Everyone else but you says he's coming back.  This isn't a choice. This is just a temporary solution, you moron.

Sure, you can say such speculation is premature. Urlacher just needs more time to rehab his injured left knee. He’ll be fine by the season opener, 14 days from now, at Soldier Field against the Indianapolis Colts.

Premature was't the word I had in mind. Asinine? Paranoid? Attention-whoring headline from a hack writer desperate for material? Damn. That's more than one word.

That’s what Urlacher has been saying. That’s what coach Lovie Smith has been saying. That’s what teammates have been saying.
But how do they know?

Probably beacuse they see him daily. Or have access to his medical records. Or to the doctors who've operated on him and given a timetable. You know, people who have actual information as opposed to shit-brained columnists trying to make a stir by playing on the paranoid fears of meatball fans.

They don’t.

You don't know that. You have absolutely no evidence to support this idea that Urlacher is concealing evidence that he'll be unable to play this year. God, I hate you.

And here’s the thing. The Bears have to decide no more than 13 days from now — the Saturday before that opener — if Urlacher is all that he’s supposed to be, all that he once was, or at least a good-enough replica of his eight-time Pro Bowl self that he can hold down his expensive spot in the middle.

That Saturday, Sept. 8, is the last day the Bears could release Urlacher and be off the hook for his $7.5 million 2012 salary. Keep him until Sunday and they owe him everything.

Or you know, whether to decide on starting him week one or waiting until week two. That feels like a far cry from deciding whether or not to toss the best Bears player of the last twenty years beacuse his knee injury might force them to play Nick Roach for a couple of games.

You could say, what’s the harm in just keeping the guy, no matter what? He’s been a great leader, a great representative at the position the Bears are known for, middle linebacker, the position of Bill George, Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary?

Or, instead of keeping him as a symbolic gesture they keep him because the idea that he'll be unable to start all season goes against all of the information they've been given by medical professionals and Urlacher himself, rather than, say...you?

And you would have a point.

Thank you. You do not.

But $7.5 million is a lot of cap space. It’s money that can’t go to free agents. It’s money that can’t be used to tie up quarterback Jay Cutler for more years.

It's money they're committed to for just this year. I don't think there are any free agents out there in fucking August that they're going to need 7.5 mildo of cap room to spend on. I also know that Cutler's contract runs through 2013 and an extension would start next year, not this year, so that has absolutely no bearing on the situation. Let's just make shit up at this point, Rick.

People, this is a bottom-line business. If the 34-year-old Urlacher can’t regain his speed and sideline-to-sideline range and his drop-back quickness, he becomes a very nostalgia-laden, shiny-headed cheerleader.

Fair point. But there's no reason to believe, until we see him on the field, and again, EVERY OTHER PERSON WITH ACTUAL INFORMATION SAYS WE WILL, that he can't. He made the goddamn Pro Bowl last year. Cutting him for a slowly-healing knee sprain would be epically stupid even for an organization that had an ironclad grip on worst personnel decisions in their division until Matt Millen bumbled in.

All the secrecy and irritability emanating from questions about Urlacher’s healing knee have made Halas Hall seem like more of a closed camp than usual.

There's no secrecy involved. The irritability comes from conversations like this:

Rick Telander: Will Urlacher be ready for the opener?

Lovie Smith: We hope so. The doctors told us that was a realistic timetable. Nick Roach had a scope done in 2010 and came back in 2 weeks, so there's precedent. This was a minor operation and Brian had been taking part in practice before it happened.

Rick Telander: So you're saying you have no idea whether or not Urlacher will be available at all this season and you're considering cutting him?

Lovie Smith: What the fuck is wrong with you? 

Rick Telander: *eats paste*

Smith is halfway in love with Urlacher, and releasing him would be akin to taking his favorite dog and shooing it off a cliff. Indeed, the very thought of it ending like this for Urlacher in Chicago is painful.

 
Or cutting the best player on his defense over the last decade because he might miss one, or even two games. The thought of Urlacher's career ending like this is not only painful, but horrifying, as it would mean the front office was run by a bunch of panicked, ill-informed idiots who piss in the face of reliable medical information.


But how is that knee?


We don’t know. 


He's right. The only logical answer is that it can only be horrible and irreperable and we must get rid of him. You didn't come to that conclusion? Would you like to try some of this paste?


The best answer is, not good. Eight months of rehab for a bad sprain? A secret trip overseas to — maybe or maybe not — get blood-cell therapy? Arthroscopic debridement surgery two weeks ago?


Okay. The mysterious trip to Germany is odd, I'll grant you that, but Kobe supposedly had the same operation and missed no time. There's nothing to suggest that that would slow his rehabilitation. And calling a scope by it's full name to make it sound more terrifying doesn't actually make it anything more than the routine operation that football players have all of the time and return from in a matter of weeks. This, again, is a Telander scare tactic.


And then, what, the guy is supposed to come back with barely any team practice and no game time-ups and lead the way?


Barely any team practice? He participated in the first two weeks of camp. He had a full offseason of rehab and workouts. Only Rick Telander would assume that Brian Fucking Urlacher would fall completely out of shape and forget the defense he's played in for nine years in a matter of weeks.


Urlacher will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, which means he could go anywhere he wants for whatever he could wrangle. And he could just continue rehabbing and take his Bears millions this season.


Yes, Urlacher has just one year left on his deal, meaning the team can easily part with him with no hard feelings should he be unable to fully return from his injury this year. That's a good thing. He may come back completely fine within the next few weeks and sign a team friendly extension to end his career in the right place. Instead, just cut him now because they need that money for....well, nothing. Surely they need the roster spot! Oh, they can IR him whenever they want if this should somehow turn into a season ending injury? Only Telander's scenario would result in bad blood and horrible press for the Bears, so of course he, the guy who would be quickest to pounce on them if they followed his own advice, wants them to do it.

Oh, and of course Urlacher would just rehab and swindle money from the Bears so he can focus on his next contract. It's always a good idea to miss an entire season in order to boost your stock in free agency.


Yes, he wants to play. And, yes, he came back from that serious wrist injury three years ago — the one we thought might ruin him — and has been a rock. Indeed, except for that 2009 season, Urlacher has started 96 straight games over seven years.


Always good to throw in points that completely contradict your agument, folks. Take notes.

But so what?


What about this convenient note that completely contradicts my "Brian Urlacher is fragile and used up" narrative? I should never have even put it in here!"


Bottom line, baby.


The bottom line? You mean like the salary cap completely unaffected by money already committed to
Urlacher?


In fact, this is a poker hand combined with high-stakes chicken. 


Over here you’ve got Urlacher. Over there you’ve got first-year general manager Phil Emery.


Urlacher’s good at bluffing. Rookie Emery, well, what do you think?
  
I think Emery probably pays Urlacher's doctor, and knows the actual status of his knee. Only Telander assumes that Urlacher can just say "knee's fine!" and the Bears won't ask to see his medical records or an MRI or anything that would validate or invalidate what he says.


Would you have the stones for your signature move to be releasing the greatest Bears linebacker of the last quarter-century? Would you be soft enough to keep him if he’s done? While realizing nobody will know if you’re right, either way, for months or years?
 
Or you could just keep him on the roster and find out, since, again, the 7.5 million he's owed has never factored in their plans nor would it. In fact, the floor is now set at 90% of the cap, so the Bears would arguably have to overpay someone else to make up the money from cutting Urlacher. Brilliant!


Imagine No. 54 retiring. Imagine him starring again for the Bears. Imagine him as a Green Bay Packer. Gag at the thought.
 
Where? What? How?


But anything’s possible when your cards are down and nobody knows what’s in the hole.


I'm willing to bet the Bears know what's going on. The only person here who seems to belong in a dark, miserable hole from which no one should ever emerge is you, Rick. Please, stop playing doctor or writing.

Your 2012 SKO Quarterback Rankings: 21-32

21. Josh Freeman: Oh, what a precipitous fall. It turns out people should have looked at how many potential interceptions Freeman had dropped in 2010 (according to Pro Football Focus, at least 10), and how incredibly weak the Buccaneers schedule that year was. Freeman got into the "elite" category on many lists last year because of his inflated 25:6 ratio that year, since the rest of his stats (61.4%, 3451 yds, 215 YPG, 7.3 YPA) ranged from average to slightly-above average. Last year Freeman had the season he probably should have had the year before, making incremental improvements with his accuracy and total yardage while still turning the ball over a ton (16:22 ratio). While the luster has come off, I still wouldn't give up on Freeman. He's still an impressive player, talent-wise, and he was a project coming out of Kansas State to begin with. His aberration of a 2010 season led us to assume he was a year ahead of schedule, but he could still get there.

22. Carson Palmer: This may be overrating Carson Palmer a bit. Do you have ANY IDEA how much it hurts me to say that it's generous to claim Carson Palmer as the 22nd best passer in the NFL? It's painful. Goddamn, I loved Carson Palmer. Remember this, young athletes, at any given moment Kim Von Oelhoefen or a torn rotator cuff can drop you from the top of the world to the Oakland Raiders real quick. Be grateful for your beautiful armcocks while they're still spitting hot fire before your biggest fans refuse to watch your games because it's too damn depressing to see yet another deep ball die hopelessly in midair like a Russian airliner, when you used to do it with such ease.

23. Matt Cassel: Okay, Matt Cassel fans. Do any of you still exist? Is there anyone out there who is still willing to use his Jamaal Charles induced, red-zone TD inflated, weak schedule-boosted 27:7 TD-INT ratio in 2010 to argue that he's anything more than this generation's Scott Mitchell? No? Okay. Carry on then.

24. Mark Sanchez: Oh, how I wanted to rank Mirerez lower. I have hopes that some of the plebeian passers below him on this list will leapfrog him this year. For now, however, Sanchez's 3474 yards and 26 TD passes last year, however hollow, give him a better resume than anyone below him on the list. That said, if there's anyone left who thinks that a guy who has a weak arm, who has never been accurate enough in college or through three seasons in the NFL to compensate for that weak arm, who turns the ball over at an incredibly alarming rate, and who is nothing more than the product of two massive hype machines (USC, the NYC media) will somehow magically transform into a Pro Bowler on a team with less offensive talent than he's had around him in the past, I'd like to meet you so I can punch you in the face.

25. Sam Bradford: I thought Sam Bradford was an average player coming out of college. I railed against those like Ross Tucker who thought his "good" rookie year justified crowning him as a top 15 quarterback last year. His "good" rookie year was actually just a media overreaction to an 18:15 TD:INT ratio and the usual crap about poise and intangibles. Bradford actually just threw an ungodly amount of short passes and didn't turn the ball over that much (for a rookie). Last year was an unmitigated disaster that can't be entirely blamed on Bradford, but a guy who threw for 6 TD passes in ten starts in his second year doesn't inspire much confidence. That was actually the fewest number of TD passes for any QB with 350 or more attempts in a season since Trent Dilfer threw 4 in his second season. That's not good company, Sam.

26. Jake Locker:  Iggins! and I spent some time trying to project Jake Locker's stat line for the season and decided that something around 55-57% completions, 3300 yds, 22 TDs, and 15-17 INTs would make sense. I love Jake Locker's talent, but it's always hard for me to accept that an inaccurate college passer will become a consistent NFL thrower. I'm guessing his ceiling is somewhere around Joe Flacco while his floor is Rex Grossman with speed. A likely middle ground would be Derek Anderson circa 2007.

27. Christian Ponder: Christian Ponder has the skill set of Chad Pennington without the incredible accuracy and with far more turnovers. That's....well. That's not going to end well. I wouldn't worry, though. He's got all the trademarks of a guy destined to have a long NFL career. With a clipboard.

28. Brandon Weeden: This is probably not justifiable either. The idea that a rookie starter for the goddamn Browns could put up better numbers than four other quarterbacks in the NFL is probably not tenable, but I like Weeden's talent and think he's a better pocket passer than Tannehill and maybe even RGIII. It may have been stupid to invest the franchise in a 29 year old, but that doesn't diminish his on field value. I think he might surprise.

29. John Skelton/Kevin Kolb: If Kolb wins the job, he'll probably be game manger-ish enough to move up a few spots on the ranking. I have no doubt that Skelton is just Derek Anderson all over again. He's the classic case of "fan favorite who got lucky in meaningless games" and will no doubt shit all over that goodwill when he gets an extended chance to start. Skelton hasn't even been Average in a single statistical category in 14 career starts. Besides, their line is atrocious and is going to get both of them killed anyway.

30. Russell Wilson: The list of rookie quarterbacks who were first or second round quarterbacks and had immediate success is short. The list of rookie quarterbacks who came from later rounds and had immediate success is much, much shorter. I've been a huge fan of Wilson since his first year at NC State, and I think it's a sad failure of the NFL scouting system that a guy fell so far simply because he's 5'11'' and not 6'', but to expect anything other than typical rookie struggles from the guy is absurd.

31. Ryan Tannehill: Last year an NFL team took a mediocre Big 12 quarterback solely due to his measurables. Most seasoned experts said he needed to sit a year before he started because his glaring flaws needed time for correction and the team around him lacked the talent to do anything but destroy his confidence. The Jaguars started Gabbert anyway and the result was a crime against the very profession of quarterbacking. This year it's the Dolphins who are pissing into the face of conventional wisdom, and they'll get the reward of watching turnover-prone, happy-footed Tannehill throw to what may be the worst receiver corps in the NFL (thanks for trading Brandon Marshall and taking the Bears out of that conversation, guys!) while his "star" runningback stands idly by following his annual week four injury. Sorry, Tannehill. We barely knew ye.

32. Blaine Gabbert: Oh, and here's Blaine Gabbert. Hell, I'm just going to quote directly from the Football Outsiders almanac:

"Watch Blaine Gabbert's tape last year and you will see a boy playing with men. There were a few minor signs of improvement, and a few nice throws down the stretch, but nothing that would lead you to suggest that he had turned a corner. This is a quarterback that made the vast majority of his throws within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. This is a quarterback that showed signs of panic even when his pocket was relatively clean—though he did get a bit better at this as the season wore on. What was most galling about watching him was his footwork. He correctly stepped into maybe one of every nine throws, and that absolutely killed his accuracy."

That's pretty much exactly what the book was on Gabbert coming out of college. The guy failed to get 7.0 YPA in a fucking spread offense in the Big 12, where Jim Abbott could throw for 200 yards a game with his Other arm. He has a great arm but no ability to throw a consistent deep ball. He can run, but doesn't do it effectively. He scrambles when he has a pocket and stands frozen when everything goes to Hell around him. The Jaguars have rightly tried to load up on wide receiver talent (although the whole Not Paying MJD thing is kind of unintentionally ratcheting up the pressure on Gabbert), but few of Gabbert's issues had anything to do with his targets. He's. not. good.

That's everyone. I counted only the starting QBs, but if Tebow takes over for Sanchez you can probably slot him somewhere around Weeden. He's easily the worst passer, but his ability to run at least makes him more of a threat than Blaine Fucking Gabbert. Matt Flynn, meanwhile, would probably belong in Matt Cassel territory even though, long-term, Wilson probably is a better option.

 Phew. That was long. I hope at least one of you made it to the end of all three of these.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Your 2012 SKO Quarterback Rankings 11-20

The rankings continue!

11. Matt Schaub: Matt Schaub is an unlucky bastard. For years he toiled in obscurity to anyone who didn't play fantasy football, putting up great numbers for a Texans team that couldn't keep San Jose State from dropping 30 points. This year, the Texans defense made one of the great turnarounds in history and they were playoff bound when Schaub went down. He was deprived of that first playoff start and potentially much more.

Sadly, that's been Matt's issue his whole career: he's fragile. Since coming to the Texans in 2007, Schaub's missed at least 5 starts in all but two campaigns. This year the Texans are one of the preseason favorites in the AFC and Schaub himself is bidding for an extension. We'll see if he can pull it off.

12. Matthew Stafford: 5,000 yards and 41 TDs just don't buy you what they used to. Stafford is undeniably talented and certainly had an impressive season for a guy who spent most of the previous two seasons at home nursing his various shoulder injuries. That said, can anyone shake the feeling that Stafford, without Calvin Johnson, would be lucky to be Joe Flacco?  Stafford struggled in games against Green Bay, New Orleans, and Chicago when Johnson averaged just 66 yards and scored just 1 TD. Add that into his 1-6 record (including playoffs) against playoff teams this last season (and that 1 playoff opponent they beat was f*&king Tebow) and you have some questions as to how good Matthew Stafford can be when Calvin Johnson can't just run roughshod over non-contending secondaries. That said, Megatron or no, one more season of that kind of production and Stafford belongs well into the top ten. Also, I did say he'd be better than Mark Sanchez, Iggins! champion of the 2009 NFL draft, so, Ha.

13. Matt Ryan: I've been a frequent critic of Matt Ryan, even though I'm fond of the guy. He has definite limitations. Before last year, he was overly conservative, struggled to go deep with any consistency, and had watching his YPA decline every year of his career. The addition of Julio Jones helped greatly, as the Falcons finally opened up the playbook and Ryan responded with a 4,000 yard campaign and a greatly improved 7.5 YPA. Unfortunately, all of that good will went out the door when he failed to muster a single offensive point in his third one-and-done playoff appearance. I hate to say Ryan can never be More than just a very good game-manager, because others have made the leap, but at this point it's safe to say that he should get comfortable in this tier of QBs.

14. Joe Flacco: Flacco and Ryan. Forever linked by their excellent shared rookie campaigns and their never-ending playoff frustrations since. Here's the thing about rookie quarterbacks: not that long ago, and still in some cases, it used to be that rookie QBs were expected to struggle until they broke through in years two and three. If a guy like Dan Marino or Peyton Manning had an outstanding rookie year, well, he was clearly destined for greatness. Nowadays high schools are installing pro style offenses with passing camps and colleges have more preparation then ever. Players enter the NFL better-prepared than ever before. What this has done in the case of guys like Flacco and Ryan (and I'm guessing Andy Dalton) is that it's inflated people's sense of their potential. Ryan and Flacco played so well as rookies that clearly the sky was the limit! Unless, maybe, they were just really NFL-ready and were never actually going to progress that far past said rookie seasons. Flacco, especially, seems to have peaked and hasn't made much measurable progress since his second campaign. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since he's a perfectly acceptable starting QB in the NFL, especially for a defensively minded team like the Ravens, but it leads to undue pressure on a guy who may never really be That guy.

15. Michael Vick: If you look at his numbers since the Vikings upset the Eagles in 2010 by using Antoine Winfield to nickel-blitz the shit out of Vick and gave him one of his many rib injures, Vick's supposed transformation into an elite passer was really just modest improvement into an acceptable one: he has 59% completion % and an 83.6 rating in his last  15 games. Paired with his running ability, that makes him a dangerous player. Unfortunately, that running ability has led to his frequent injures, which limits his value and has him now reducing his rushing attempts (and consequently the value added by his rushing ability). What this means is Vick is now an average passer who can sometimes run and is often injured. Sounds good for #15.

16. Andy Dalton: Damn, has it really been long enough for us to designate someone as "the next Matt Ryan?" Because that's Dalton.

17. Ryan Fitzpatrick: Fitzpatrick is a perfectly adequate passer when he's healthy and his protection holds up. In Buffalo that's worth $59 million. Woof.

18. Andrew Luck: Yeah, I'm doing it. You look at the guys that are coming up and tell my you really think I'm stiffing any of them. Luck may not even have the 18th best passing stats in the NFL this year, but I'd rather have him than anyone left on this list.

19. RGIII: Okay. Maybe I'd rather have him. His rushing ability should make him more of an immediate threat than Luck, and he throws a majestic deep ball. Hopefully the Redskins won't ruin him.

20. Alex Smith: Congratulations, Alex Smith! Top 20! The 49ers will tell you they think he'll take the next step with a geriatric Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, and AJ Jenkins (I'm sorry, I'm an Illini fan who loves AJ Jenkins, but, c'mon). I think a guy who has been in the NFL for nearly a decade now has taken all of his steps, and should just continue to avoid mistakes and hope his defense will carry his ass.

That's it for now. Part 3 to come!

College Previewkakke: B1G Legends Division

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And here we find ourselves on the final leg of our NCAA Preview journey. The B1G Legends division (Jesus that’s grating to type) will be the most entertaining division to watch this season behind the SEC West. Three teams have a legitimate shot at winning the division, two could contend or turn into a dumpster fire, and Minnesota, like every year, has a fanbase that thinks they’ll finally turn it around this season.


Remember when the ACC intentionally put FSU and Miami in different divisions because they were expected to play for the ACC Championship every year and draw huge ratings? No? Maybe that’s because it still hasn’t happened. Remember when the B1G put OSU and Michigan in different divisions, then had a huge debate over whether they were going to move the protected OSU-Michigan game away from the last game of the season because they didn’t want them playing two weeks in a row? No?

Probably because neither OSU or Michigan made it to the inaugural game, and it doesn’t look like either will this year, again (yes, OSU is on probation, but they wouldn’t have made it last year anyway, and I would wager they won’t have a better record than Wiscy this year either). Once again, the Legends division favorite is Sparty, which leads me all the way back to the B1G Leaders division preview. Here we sit, in what is supposedly a “changing” B1G, and the two teams who may play for the B1G Championship two years in a row both run pro style offenses. Certainly, we can have a lengthy discussion about whether we should change the definition of “pro-style”, but we know what it means. Hard running, good blocking, 4-3 defense, acceptable game-managing QB.

It may not be as exciting as the AIR RAID, and it may not be different or new, like a zone read. But there is something comforting in having the pro-style formation live on and win titles in the B1G. So with that, who wins this year? Here are my 100% accurate predictions:

Your SKO 2012 NFL Quarterback Rankings 1-10

Every year various writers and organizations throughout the NFL rank the various starting QBs. You can watch Ron Jaworski doing it all offseason long on ESPN. These lists are done for one reason: to troll your ass. The only thing that gets people as irritated or perhaps more so than meaningless team rankings are QB rankings. In a power poll you look for wherever your team is listed and then ignore the rest, outside of maybe a cursory glance at the top ten or whichever of your rivals is listed ahead of your team. In a QB ranking? Somehow everyone has an opinion on that and it is clearly the greatest affront to humanity to consider ranking Joe Flacco somewhere above Matt Ryan. You bastards!

I say all of this from experience, because I get noticeably irritated when people like Ross Tucker do stupid shit and rank Jay Cutler as the TWENTIETH best quarterback in the NFL. How'd that work out for Ross, by the way? Does anyone acknowledge him as a football sage for proclaiming that luminaries like Matt Cassel, Mark Sanchez, Sam Bradford, Josh Freeman, and Kyle Orton were better quarterbacks than Jay?

My point is that even though I know these lists are a cheap way to fill up space and generate discussion and troll my ass hard, I still read them. I'm betting you will too! So here's my own completely biased, hate-filled rankings that will no doubt look absurd a year from now after Cam Newton has the worst sophomore slump in history or something.:


1. Aaron Rodgers: Every now and then I run into a Bears fan who tries to say something like "Rodgers is so overrated, any QB with those receivers...." just stop. Aaron Rodgers, if he retired today, would have the highest QB rating in NFL history. Granted, that's a flawed stat and it's trended upward on average as the league has become more passer friendly, but it's just a tiny sampling of how fucking good this guy is. He may not be the best passer in the league at the moment, as I'd give that edge to Breesus, but Bears fans especially know how fucking annoying it is those few times when he has no passing options and simply gallops for 20 yards through open space. Anywho, I get that it's cool to hate on the Packers QB and it's frustrating that he's so good, but don't make yourself sound like a moron for the purposes of the rivalry. He's good. Let's be mature and just hope his offensive line gets him killed.

2. Drew Brees: Drew Brees is one of my favorite players ever and has been since his days at Purdue. I remember listening to draftniks as they tore apart his measurables (which were always underrated because he was short. His arm strength was never bad) and hoping against hope he would fall to the Bears in the second round. He did not, and the rest is history. For all of the credit that Peyton Manning got for being the Colts offensive coordinator, Drew Brees deserves just as much. He is in complete and total control of the football field. It's hard to imagine anyone having better anticipation or accuracy, or better touch on the deep and intermediate routes that are the Saints bread and butter. I don't think any QB has gotten as much done downfield with just average NFL arm strength as Drew Brees has. Oh, and he just had the greatest passing season ever. Should probably tack that on there somewhere.

3. Tom Brady: No surprises to this point. Any list that doesn't start off with these three in some order is immediately more irrelevant than the rest of all of the totally irrelevant lists. You don't need me to recap Tom Brady's resume. Early in his career he was the perfect archetype of the game manager, as he did just enough to ride the Pats stellar defense to three Superbowls, where he transformed into the second coming of Joe Montana every time. Then a combination of Brady's experience and their declining defense led them to set him free, and now he's the perfect architect of the NFL's first truly successful spread offense. The only questions are how long he can keep playing and if he'll be able to overcome their awful defense to get his fourth ring.

4. Eli Manning: I know what you're thinking. This feels...wrong. Before the 2007 postseason Eli was a below average quarterback. Just two years ago he threw 25 picks. However, he's averaged 4300 yards and 29 TDs over the last three years and just picked up his second Superbowl ring. With Peyton's return from NeckAIDs clouding his future, Eli has become the better Manning (for now) and makes his way into the top five.

5. Peyton Manning: This spot in the rankings is either too low or too high depending on his return, but it seems like a crime to keep Peyton Manning out of the top five until I see with my own eyes that it's not true anymore. I mean, shit, he's Peyton f*&king Manning. That said, even in 2010 there were some minor signs (17 interceptions, a YPA for the season below 7.0 for the first time since his rookie year) that Peyton was slowing down. I don't expect him to be better than that in a Broncos uniform, but even 85% of Peyton Manning is probably a top ten NFL passer.

6. Ben Roethlisberger: There's really no good place in a QB ranking to put Ben Roethlisberger. Your stomach churns if he's in the top 5, but there's no way to justify putting him below 6, unless you're Iggins! and others who have a raging hate boner for the guy based on the perception that he's still the dude from his first two years who throws it 15 times a game and benefits from a great team. Since his third year Roethlisberger's averaged over 400 attempts a year in every non-suspended campaign and has averaged 245 yards per game, completed nearly 63%, averaged almost 8.0 YPA, and has a QB rating over 90. He's also been to two Superbowls and won one in that time. He's good, even if there are totally valid complaints about him holding the ball too long (statistically the Steelers allow more "long" sacks, or sacks over 2.0 seconds, than any team in the NFL) and him forcing himself on women. Not to make light of rape allegations, but unfortunately you can only rank the guy as a football player. Not a human being.

7. Philip Rivers: If Philip Rivers didn't seem like such a colossal asshole I'd feel bad for him. A player of his ability deserves a front office that doesn't let all of the offensive talent around him disappear year after year. Have you seen their offensive line lately? Fuck, Vincent Jackson was chronically overrated and is still ten times better than the flotsam they've replaced him with. Despite the near constant erosion of star power around him, Rivers has gotten better nearly every year. Last year desperation and a possible injury forced him into plenty of turnovers early on, but it's hard to knock a guy who throws for 4600 yards in a "bad" year. Even if he is a jag.

8. Cam Newton: I fear ranking a one year wonder in the top ten because of the potential for implosion (see, Freeman, Josh), and this is maybe too high for Cam anyway, but I fear this monstrosity and you should too. He had a better rookie season throwing the ball than Peyton Manning and he ran for, I don't know, something like fourteen touchdowns. FOURTEEN. Why do the Bears have to play him this year?

9. Jay Cutler: Statistically, this is probably indefensible unless you're a person willing to look at the stories behind the statistics at times, especially at a position with so many variables. You've all seen what Jay Cutler does, what he's had to deal with, and what the team looked like without him. Sure, 2009 was a disaster, but over time Jay's learn to manage his risk-taking. He's learned to compensate for a god awful offensive line by scrambling around and firing darts that few QBs in this league could even attempt. He's had to eat sacks because his line is a sieve and his wide receivers, until now, couldn't get open in press coverage against a double amputee.

This year we will find out what Jay can really do, assuming the protection is at least average. He'll have real receivers, a scheme designed to match his talents and those of his teammates, and a chance to erase many of the "yeah, but..."'s on his resume. If he falls short I'll have to accept that maybe he's just never going to be anything more than "just" good. But I don't think he will.

10. Tony Romo: I don't know or care what he does in often imaginary "clutch" situations. If I told you a guy had a 96.9 QB rating, averages almost 270 yards passing per game, and has a career YPA of 8.0, you'd think he was a Hall of Famer if he was anybody Other than Tony Romo. I'd feel truly terrible for all of the undeserved shit he got if he wasn't a fucking Dallas Cowboy. This is payback for forty years of having "America's Team" shoved down our throats, Tony. You want to play for the self-titled Gods of the NFL? You'd better expect an entire nation to be laughing at your every fuck up.

That's it for now because I would assume that no one is even still reading at this point because, as usual, I'm extremely long winded.

Most of these rankings count backwards, to build anticipation or something,  but I trust you'll keep reading as I go down the list because isn't bile towards shitty players more of your thing, anyway? You know you want to hear what I have to say about Blaine Gabbert and Rico Mirerez.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bears 20, Giants 17 (Oh Come On You Stopped Watching, Too)

Before I begin, it should be noted that in the last two years the Bears have lost both of their 3rd preseason games, looking horrible offensively in both, and went on to win their openers a combined 50-26 with over 400 yards of offense in both. So if you were worried at all about what this means for the immediate future, I wouldn't worry.

The Bears were, well, sloppy tonight. Not really bad, per se, in that the Giants did very little to make the team look like they were in trouble. The defense bent and only really broke once (not counting the TD following the blocked punt). The offense had some bright spots and yet looked mostly out of sync. All told, they left the game trailing 17-10 and the effort overall was a resounding "meh."

If Lovie holds to form none of them should play next week, so we'll see what they manage to get done in their last few practices before the opener. I know last week was exciting, but both of these games are still preseason and I hope you haven't let either of them drastically change your expectations.

Now the particulars:

THE GOOD:

Brandon Marshall: My God. Is that what  real receiver looks like? He was outstanding tonight, catching a couple of tough short throws and one majestic 21 yard touchdown. God, I can't wait to see him and Cutler together for four full quarters, for 16 (and hopefully more) games. Let this happen, sweet football lovin' Jesus.

Honestly, the most impressive catch Marshall made came in the 3rd quarter and was only for a couple of yards, but it was his technique that was the most impressive. Cutler threw the ball high and inside, in a place where the corner could have jumped in front of it and taken it the other way. Were Johnny Knox standing there it would have been easy to imagine him getting outmaneuvered and watching the corner make the play on the ball. Instead, Marshall made the adjustment and hauled the pass in. That's the kind of stuff that won't show up on the stat sheet that we've been missing...forever.

Alshon Jeffery: I add him just to tack on to what I just said about Marshall. Jeffery had just one catch for nine yards, but it was an impressive play. After the defender made a nice play to deflect Cutler's pass, Jeffery had the composure and control to get the ball while it was still in the air, evade the defender, and gain first down yardage. Real. Receivers.

The Cover 2: I'm sure the usual idiots will complain about Eli Manning completing a shit ton of short passes. It was upsetting to me that the front four failed to get home. That'll need to be corrected. That said, the only points the Giants first team managed came after a couple of questionable calls and a blocked punt deep in Bears territory. Eli barely managed 7.0 ypa, and the Bears nearly escaped the half with just 10 points allowed against a damn good offense. I'll take it.

The Bad:

Jay Cutler and Receivers Not Named Jeffery or Marshall (Okay, Hester's excused as well): Cutler wasn't solely responsible for his 9/21 completion rate. There were no turnovers or forced throws into coverage. Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett both dropped touchdown passes that Jay placed in perfect positions. Matt Forte and Kellen Davis both made some route running mistakes.

That said, he sailed a couple of passes over his receivers heads when there was no reason for him not to step into his throw. One, to a wide open Earl Bennett, was particular glaring. I'm not concerned, since Jay's hardly been a preseason MVP in his days with the Bears and generally starts the season off strong, but he certainly was off tonight.

It's also nice that Brandon Marshall was there to bail Jay out and keep his team in the game even when jay was off.

The run-blocking: the pass protection wasn't bad. Carimi whiffed early in the 1st quarter and allowed Jay to pressured into a bad throw. Williams also got turn-stiled in the 2nd quarter and Jay was forced out of the pocket and made a bad throw. The run-blocking, however, was horrendous. Before his last two carries of the night Forte had 8 carries for 5 yards. Run blocking is always something that takes consistency and reps to get moving, but the first team o-line hasn't blocked well yet this preseason. Again, they get the benefit of the doubt because the same group paved the way for over 2,000 yards last year and the protection schemes are extremely vanilla in the preseason, but it was a negative tonight.

Special teams: It's surreal to see the Bears make special teams mistakes, even in the preseason, just because Dave Toub is so good at his job. The blocked punt is concerning. Hopefully Podlesh recovers soon. Weem's fumble was just bad all over. Guh. Oh well. I doubt that happens again.

The Ugly:

Scab Refs: Holy shit, guys. Read the definition of pass interference. You really suck at officiating, and you're probably terrible in bed. 

That's all for now. I can understand some mild frustration, since we all just want to see  nothing but positive indications that this team is the playoff-bound steamroller we all hope it is, but there was nothing tonight that should concern anyone. They avoided injuries and managed pretty well despite some serious mistakes.

The important thing is that the next time we see Cutler and company, it'll count. I think they'll be ready. I know I am.

Go Bears.




Introducing Apex: Throw it to Devin

Big day here at Start Kyle Orton. Long-time loyal reader Apex (and I mean loyal. None of the rest of you sonsabitches has taken me to a game, now, have you?) has joined the writing staff here at SKO and makes a stellar debut with a rarity here on this website, a pro-Devin Hester wide receiver article. Without further ado, introducing Apex:

Throw It To Devin


@internetapex

The last time Jay Cutler had Brandon Marshall to throw to, the former- Bronco tandem posted a season that would have made history statistically for their current team, the Chicago Bears. Both Cutler’s 4,526 passing yards and Marshall’s 104 receptions in 2008 would have broken the single-season marks for the Bears. With the two poised to obliterate several of the relatively pathetic aerial franchise records it would seem that Chicago’s perpetual woes at these two positions are finally over.

With the addition of second-round draft pick Alshon Jeffery and the return of Cutler-favored Earl Bennett at the receiver position, it would seem to some observers of influence that the Devin Hester Experiment on offense is in denouement .
I believe that’s not true. I believe it’s in sharp ascent, it’s apex still a distant and impressive reality in the offing. Indeed, the NFL’s all-time leader in return touchdowns will face more friendly competition for his quarterback’s attention. But with the other contributors demanding double teams and stretching defenses, Hester should be able to finally draw single coverage and be allowed to settle into zones as an afterthought.

And once he gets the ball in his hands, everybody and his mother knows he’s a threat to go the distance .

We’ve heard flowery assessments of his training camp performance and importance to the team’s offense from coaches literally every season since the Bears converted from a defensive back before the 2007 season. Since then, he’s produced nothing resembling number one receiver statistics in any campaign. His career highs in receptions and yards (57 for 757 in 2009) came in Cutler’s first year in town. The quarterback has yet to develop an on-field rhythm with Hester like his obvious connection Marshall or even former Vanderbilt teammate Bennett who grabbed 24 passes in 11 games last year.

While I expect Bennett to prosper from Marshall’s presence as well, I look for Hester to seize number two receiver status. Rookie Jeffery will have to prove himself against professional defenders to gain the confidence of coaches and Cutler alike. Bennett is a capable slot receiver but lacks the explosiveness of Hester who will pose a deep threat, and I believe Cutler desperately wants to destroy opponents over the top after so much frustration in his first three seasons here.

And I don’t buy the colloquialism that increased activity on the offensive side of the football will somehow diminish Hester’s value or production as a return specialist. These days, with the rule changes on kickoffs reducing the kick return to a historically rare occurrence, it makes no difference who you plan to let watch balls sail into the seats. A return man’s value will be found on punt returns, where Hester has always excelled – so much so that opposing directional punters avoid him like AIDS as often as they’re able.

Former 49er and Jerry Rice sidekick John Taylor’s best statistical season came in 1989 when he caught 60 passes for 1,077 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also returned 44 punts for 556 yards and a pair of scores. Hester’s best season as a punt returner came in 2007 when he took 42 for 651 yards and four touchdowns. Taylor was playing opposite the incomparable Rice and devastating defenses and special teams alike.

This year, after learning the position on the fly for five seasons as a pro I expect Hester to post similar numbers to Taylor’s in 1989. Write it down and stick it on your refrigerator: 60 catches, 1,000 yards, 10 TDs. Or don’t. It’s going to happen either way.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Why Alshon Jeffery Needs to Restore My Faith in Humanity

So far this preseason Bears rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery has given me hope about a great. many. things. He's currently got 7 receptions for 97 yards in his first two games, which, added onto the many excellent reviews he's drawn throughout training camp, give us all a reason to think that maybe, for once, the Bears have drafted a good wide receiver.

Now it's no surprise to anyone that the Bears have had about as many good wide receivers in the last 50 years as they have quarterbacks (yes, I understand that's reciprocal), but even more upsetting is the fact that even the few relatively decent guys they've thrown out there were often free agent pickups or castoffs. The Bears draft history with wide receivers the last 20 years (we'll pick that arbitrary number because why the hell not) is replete with failure. So why not look back at all of them?

1992: John Brown, WR, Houston, 7th rd, 192nd Pick: John Brown, one of the many wide receivers to benefit from the wide open Run N Shoot offense that got Andre Ware and David Klingler drafted, was the Bears seventh round draft choice in 1992. He never made the team, and dolefully predicted Ditka's firing that year by stating that he "saw now that the crimes of this coaching staff cannot be purged away but with blood."

1993: Curtis Conway, WR, USC, 1st Rd, 7th Pick: Curtis Conway is kind of a polarizing figure among Bears fans I know. Lots of people my age (grew up post Ditka-era) latched onto him as one of the few exciting players the 90s Bears had. Others saw him as an underachiever. I'm kind of in both camps. On one hand, when Kramer-to-Curtis was working it was as ballstastic of a connection as any this franchise has had until, well, this year. On the other hand, THEY SHOULD HAVE TAKEN JEROME BETTIS. C-Way suffered from inconsistency and troubles at QB, as he only had two 1,000 yd seasons which were also the only two years where he played all 16 games. Still, he finished with the #5th most receiving yards in Bears history (two of the guys ahead of him are a TE and an RB. Jesus this team sucks at throwing and catching footballs) and must be considered one of the few successes on this list. He's also a cool dude to talk to on Twitter.

1994: Lloyd Hill, WR, Texas Tech, 6th Rd, 170th Pick: Like John Brown, Lloyd never made the team. He did capture Harper's Ferry, though.

1995: Jack Jackson, WR, Florida, 4th Rd, 116th Pick: A highly productive player at Florida (where he caught passes from Danny Wuerffel and Shane Matthews), Jackson made 4 catches for 39 yds in 12 games as a Bear. He also sounds like a character from a Stan Lee comic, where everyone had to have alliterative names.

1996: Bobby Engram, WR, Penn State, 2nd Rd, 52nd Pick: Bobby Engram had a 14 year career as an incredibly successful poster boy for the sure-handed slot receiver. He's easily the most productive receiver the Bears have drafted during the last two decades, so he naturally spent just five of those years in Chicago. Had to make room on the roster for David Terrell, I guess. At least we now have his spiritual descendant, Earl Bennett, the BBE.

1997: Marcus Robinson, WR, South Carolina, 4th Rd, 108th Pick: You want to learn a fun trick? Mention Marcus Robinson around Iggins! and laugh as he bursts into tears, yanks out his own hair, curses Cade McNown's name, and cuts his own wrists. Marcus was the one explosive, big receiver the Bears have had in my lifetime. In 1999 he was unstoppable, going up high to haul in wobbly ducks from Matthews, Miller, and McNown for a franchise record 1400 yds and 9 TDs. Unfortunately, all of the leaping he did to catch McNown's flutterballs left his back exposed to vicious hits from defenders, and he never again started more than 11 games in a season or managed more than 738 yds receiving. He finished his career with 4,699 receiving yards, meaning 30% of his career production came in just 1 of his 9 years in the NFL. Such a waste. But at least there's some precedent for a receiver from South Carolina having a 1400 yard season for the Bears?

1999: D'Wayne Bates, WR, Northwestern, 3rd Rd, 71st Pick: The first of three receivers the Bears took in the 1999 NFL draft (they needed to load up on talent for Gary Crowton's wide open offense. Ha), Bates had 80 catches for 1,061 yds and 6 TDs. Those would be fine totals for a single season. D'Wayne managed those jaw-dropping numbers in four years. Woof.

1999: Marty Booker, WR, Louisiana-Monroe, 3rd Rd, 78th Pick: Man, the Bears really tried hard for a long time to convince us that Marty Booker was an elite receiver, didn't they? He's certainly the most productive receiver on this list, and, like Conway, is one of the few players in Bears history to record back to back 1000 yd seasons. We know better, however. Do you ever think a defense Feared Marty Booker? For chrissake, when he had his first 1,000 yd season in 2001 he averaged 10.7 yards per catch. You can blame John Shoop's conservatism, but Marty was merely the guy most capable of catching 100 eight yard hitches a year. Let's not even discuss his 211 yard comeback tour in 2008. However, by the standards of this list, Marty, the #6 receiver in Bears history, is a huge success.

1999: Sulecio Sanford, WR, Middle Tennesse State, 7th Rd, 221st Pick: Never made the team, despite his awesome name.

2000: Dez White, WR, Georgia Tech, 3rd Rd, 69th Pick: Jesus, did Dez White really start 31 games for this team? And he managed 1667 yards and a whopping 11.3 yards per catch while doing so? Guh. John Shoop.

2000: Frank Murphy, WR, Kansas State, 6th Rd, 170th Pick: No, I don't remember Frank Murphy, but he apparently played five seasons in the NFL had a total of eight catches. He sure sounds like a Bears receiver.

2001: David Terrell, WR, Michigan, 1st Rd, 8th Pick: God damn David Terrell. Never mind that he bitched incessantly about not getting any opportunities when he dropped every single one of the 10 deep balls that found their way to him in his career. Never mind his constant trash talk despite never gaining more than 650 yards in a single season. Never mind that Braylon Edwards was scared to wear #1 at Michigan because it was tainted by David Terrell. The only thing you need to know about David Terrell is that Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne, and Chad Johnson were available in that draft and the Bears took David Terrell. Fuck, TJ Houshmanzadeh was in that draft and He was fucking better than David Terrell. Godddammit.

2002: Jamin Elliott, WR, Delaware, 6th Rd, 203rd Pick: Played in 2 games, had zero career receptions, but was unstoppable in Madden 2003 if you went 5 wide and had him run a slant to the sideline.

2003: Bobby Wade, WR, Arizona, 5th Rd, 139th Pick; & Justin Gage 5th Rd, WR, Missouri, 5th Rd, 143rd Pick: There was a time when some Bears fans tried to argue that Jerry Angelo was great at finding hidden gems late in drafts because he found both Bobby Wade and Justin Gage in the 5th round. Guh. If you don't remember, Justin Gage was the big, tall, slow one and Bobby was the short, quick one who dropped everything, got cut the day after muffing multiple punts in one game, and later stirred up shit as a Viking by claiming that Brian Urlacher called Jay Cutler a pussy. The two of them combined for 5,816 yards in 211 career games. Awesome.

2004: Bernard Berrian, WR, Fresno State, 3rd Rd, 78th Pick: There was totally a time when Bernard Berrian was one of Jerry's hidden gems as well. After averaging a whopping 236 yds a season in his first two injury-plagued years, Berrian seemed to emerge as a great deep threat in 2006 before finishing just shy of 1,000 yds in 2007 while ranking among the league leaders in drops. Berrian demanded an annual salary of 8 million dollars despite no 1,000 yard seasons in his career and fortunately convinced the fucking Vikings to pay that before the Bears lost their minds and did it themselves. He's now out of the NFL after doing literally nothing since 2008.

2005: Mark Bradley, WR, Oklahoma, 2nd Rd, 39th Pick: Has there ever been a better receiver to never gain more than 380 yards receiving in a season? Mark Bradley was always perpetually on the verge of breaking out, or so we thought, but was actually just shitty. He looked great in exactly one career game against the Lions in 2005 where he caught a couple of skinny posts before shredding his knee. He was never the same and ended up in Lovie's doghouse frequently. Despite tons of supposed potential, he managed just 1283 yards in 5 NFL seasons.

2005: Airese Currie, WR, Clemson, 5th Rd, 140th Pick: Despite the God Of War's awesome name, he never caught a single pass in the NFL. He had a 167 yards for the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the CFL in 2009, though.

2008: Earl Bennett, WR, Vanderbilt, 3rd Rd, 70th Pick: Okay, we all know how much I love the BBE. Statistically, however, he's not been very impressive. In 2008 he sat out all year as he learned the playbook. In 2009 he put up respectable numbers (54 receptions, 717 yds) in his first year as a starter. The last two years he's emerged as an excellent 3rd down option and slot receiver, but has been injured often and disappeared following Jay Cutler's injury last year. Hopefully this season will be Earl's most productive yet, with a full year of him and Cutler together and no pressure on him to be anything more than what he is.

2008: Marcus Monk, WR, Arkansas, 7th Rd, 248th Pick: Never made an NFL roster.

2009: Juaquin Iglesias, WR, Oklahoma, 3rd Rd, 99th Pick: the first of three receivers taken by the Bears in the 2009 draft, Juaquin Iglesias was apparently the Spanish translation of Mark Bradley, as he never recorded a single catch for the team.

2009: Johnny Knox, WR, Abilene Christian, 5th Rd, 140th Pick: Now that Marshall and Jeffery are here to make Knox superfluous even if he heals in time to make a contribution to the Bears this year, it's time to breathe easy and admit that Johnny Knox is probably not that good at football. He's definitely a certifiable deep threat (19.2 yards per catch the last two years), but he's also a terrible route runner with bad hands who shirks from big hits and has no ability to go up for a contested ball. I feel terrible about what happened to him but am okay with the fact that he'll never be more than the #3 receiver if he ever takes the field in a Bears uniform again (which I doubt).

2009: Derek Kinder, WR, Pittsburgh, 7th Rd, 251st Pick: The latest in the fine tradition of meaningless 7th round picks wasted on wide receivers, Kinder never took an NFL snap.

So there you have it. In 20 years the Bears have spent 25 draft picks on wide receivers. Of the 24 before Alshon Jeffery, 10 never started a game or even made the roster. 1 (David Terrell) was a colossal first round bust. Others made utterly forgettable minor contributions (Mark Bradley, Bobby Wade, Justin Gage, D'wayne Bates, Dez White).

Boiled down, the Bears have drafted a grand total of seven "productive" receivers in 20 years, and that's stretching the term a bit. They drafted one legitimate yet inconsistent starter in Curtis Conway, 1 reliable and terribly unexciting starter in Marty Booker, two very good slot receivers in Earl Bennett and Bobby Engram (who had all of his best years AFTER he left), 2 soft, mediocre deep threats (Bernard Berrian and Johnny Knox) and 1 one was Marcus Robinson, who is featured in the dictionary under "one year wonder." So let's hope their 25th attempt at finding one, consistent, dynamic starting wide receiver is much more successful than their previous 24. If not, at least they traded for one. Thank God for Phil Emery.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Bears 33, Redskins 31 (Preseason Game 2)

The Bears first team offense came firing on all cylinders tonight. The first drive, an 82 yard beauty marked by the first Cutler-Marshall bomb in a Bears uniform and two more great throws to Marshall and rookie Alshon Jeffery, ended in a TD, as did the third drive following an Israel Idonije strip sack. All told, Cutler and company racked up 17 points before exiting the game with over 6 minutes left in the first half.
On the other side, the first team defense looked equally crisp, with the defensive line getting consistent pressure and RGIII having very little room to do much of anything. They held the Redskins first unit to just 3 points on their first four drives.

That about sums up the relevant (well, as relevant as any preseason game gets) part of the night, so onto the individuals:

The Good:

Jay Cutler: God's it's good to see him again, isn't it? Cutler came out very sharp and completed 5 of his first 6 passes for 99 yds. He threw a beautiful deep ball to Marshall on the first play, but was most impressive with his quick decisions and the darts that he threw in the intermediate game (20 yds to Marshall, 16 yards on a skinny post to Jeffery, an 18 yard laser to Hester after avoiding the rush). He misfired high to Bennett, and had one near-interception, but also had another deep ball to Marshall that could very well have been a TD that Marshall was unable to catch after he stopped his route too soon. Cutler also ran for another first down. All in all a very good night for #6 in his return.

Brandon Marshall: He started with a 41 catch on the first play and followed up with a 20 yard catch and run where he actually muscled over a CB for more yards, becoming the first Bears wideout to do so since, well, ever.

Alshon Jeffery: Confession. I'm totally writing this in the 2nd quarter because there's no way I'll watch this whole game. As I write, however, Jeffery just picked up a 34 yard reception on a beautiful catch and run. He has 3 catches for 62 yards, following his strong performance last week. The sudden surplus of talent at wide receiver for the Bears is startling and glorious.

The rest of the receivers: Earl Bennett and Hester added 3 catches for 41 yards from Cutler. Suddenly this is the most dangerous looking unit on the team.

Michael Bush: 5 rushes for 21 yds and 2 TDs in his role as red zone battering ram. Hopefully he's finally the answer to their #2 runningback woes.

The Defensive Line: Israel Idonije isn't quite ready to give up his starting job to Shea McClellin. The always underrated Izzy had 2.5 sacks and played well against the run. I love how they're rolling him inside to DT with McClellin at end to add more speed to their nickel pass rush.

The rest of the line played very well, though, as well. Toeaina added half a sack. Price and Melton made some nice plays against the run. Peppers recovered a fumble forced by Idonije. McClellin forced RGIII outside the pocket twice.

Updated for the second half:

Robbie Gould: He was 4-4 on field goals, including a 57 yard game winner. I love Robbie.

Eric Weems: Had a couple of nice returns and a great 33 yard catch and run.

Evan Rodriguez: the rookie has some nice moves and great hands. He had 3 catches for 49 yds. 


The Bad: 

Jason Campbell: True, it's only the second quarter but good heavens, that guy holds the ball FOREVER. Cutler was rushed a few times, but got made good decisions and avoided sacks. Campbell's been sacked three times and it's not even halftime. (Update: okay, he finished 9/15, 141 YDs with a 91.3 rating, but those sacks were awful).

Replacement Refs: They called pass interference on Charles Tillman on a ball that was uncatchable. Oh, and the receiver was out of bounds. But yeah, totally pass interference.


The Ugly:

Sam Rosen: Apparently Gabe Carimi is actually named Ben, and Blake Costanzo is named Matt. Oh, and it's Jake Campbell. Somebody get this drunken bore a program.

That's all for now. The Bears got everything they could have hoped for out of their starters tonight. Hopefully that improve the narrative somewhat after the DOOM of Urlacher's minor surgery. At the very least it's only increased my excitement for the opener. Football, folks. It's back.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Man, That Awesome Offseason Was Fun While It Lasted

I don't mean to steal Iggins! thunder when he's passionately writing articles about how the X-Men saved US gymnastics from racism or something, but this is a Bears blog and there's been some Bears news what needs addressin'.

There was a time early in this offseason when we were excited because, hell, the Bears had acquired a ton of talent and looked like they were under the guidance of a competent GM. The offense was supposed to be good! The defense was still good! Forte signed a goddamn contract! Lance Briggs has shut the hell up!

But no. Per usual, there's been some relatively unfortunate news and now everyone needs to freak the fuck out.

Why, you can't whitewash the ugly details of a 31-3 preseason loss. They looked bad in all four phases. This is totally true! Why, if the Bears go into a regular season game without Cutler, Forte, Urlacher, and Peppers, you can bet your ass I'll have something less than a sunny disposition.

Here's what you needed to take from that first preseason game:

-The OMG terrible long first drive where Peyton drove down the field and had all kinds of time in the pocket until he made a mistake to Major Wright:

Let's ignore for a second that that kind of drive is exactly the kind of thing the Bears do to beat good, patient QBs like Manning. The pass rush was off in their first drive of a preseason game without Peppers? I'm going to select a choice razor blade from my collection to cut myself with.

Maybe, just maybe, the Bears run the same damn vanilla offense and defense every offseason. I'm guessing Peyton Manning's more than capable of handling a four man rush and a bland, unchanging Cover 2 or Cover 3 scheme. I know he is, actually, because I watched him get a Super Bowl ring doing it.

 I don't get why NFL fans need a reminder every fucking year that the preseason means absolutely nothing. Since 2001, the Bears have gone 7-10 in the preseason in years in which they've made the playoffs. Those numbers mean nothing. NO

-The terrible offense: I don't think the Bears even attempted a pass past the first down marker. They obviously had other things they were concerned with, and I've never known Lovie to tip his hand on anything in the preseason.

-The terrible defense: The starting defense (if you can call it that, without Urlacher and Peppers and with the others in for a couple series at most) allowed all of three points. If you're going to stay up at night worried over the 28 points they put up against Thaddeus Gibson and Dom DeCicco, well, I can loan you my razor blade collection.

What I took from what little of that game I watched was that McClellin got some solid playing time and looked like a good speed rusher who is somewhat hopelessly lost against the run. That's about what I expected.

I also noticed (and the offseason has consisted of one long rave review) that Alshon Jeffery looks awesome. That alone should get help your flagging Bearrections revive. For those of us that can't remember the last time the Bears had one bonafide star receiver, the idea of two is incomprehensible.

Now for the other big bit of news coming out of Bears camp: yes, Brian Urlacher had knee surgery.

This is concerning, I agree. Anytime a player of his age has any kind of operation it's worth raising an eyebrow. That said, arthroscopic knee surgery is as routine in the NFL as unaddressed steroid use and heavy-handed, misplaced punishment from the commissioners office. We're looking at a worst case scenario in which he'd be back by week three.

I understand he's Brian Urlacher. He's the face of the defense and we're all still scarred from 2009, when the defense fell apart without him. The difference now is that Julius Peppers is there to provide a pass rush and help against the run. They're better off at DT with Henry Melton, Toeiana, Paea, and new addition Price than they were in 2009 with Anthony Adams and post-injury Tommie Harris as the starters. The corners are better, with Charles Tillman healthy and Tim Jennings (or Kelvin Hayden) better than Bowman.

None of this even addresses the improvements on offense they've made since then. I don't doubt for a second that the Bears will miss Urlacher if he's out for an extended time period, but the only reason you're freaking out over a routine, 4-6 week knee operation is because you don't trust the Bears and think they're a bunch of incompetent boobs because of years of frustration and "seeing it too many times." Urlacher will be fine, and so will the Bears.

I've seen nothing yet to break me of my confidence that the Bears are going to be a damn good football team this year, and, per my usual approach to the preseason, I'm not going to worry about a damn thing until the results matter.

Go Bears.

Race, Sports, and Why We All Need to Shut the Fuck Up

As a kid, my favorite comic book series was the X-Men. To be more clear, I didn't actually enjoy the comics much; paying $3 for something that was one tenth the size of a free catalog that came in the mail didn't even make sense to me as a seven year-old. But I watched the animated series and fell in love with the characters and concept. Here was a group of misfits who were potentially the least misfit of us all. They all struggled with being segregated in different ways; Wolverine was irritable, Gambit a ladies-man, Beast devoted himself to his studies. They all had their issues, some normal, others caused by their unfortunate ostracization.

To return to the intention of this article, I pose a question: if there was a point to the X-Men, as in a meaning meant for humanity, what would it be? Wouldn't it have to be, "If this were to happen now, after having seen the reactions humanity had to it in the comics, we would never do this to mutants in real life."?

Recently I watched a movie called "The Wave" which illustrates a similar idea. In the film (it's set in Germany) children in a classroom groan about having to discuss World War 2 again, complaining that it is old hat and that something like the Nazi's taking over could never happen again. In response, the teacher slowly creates an organization of students that resembles Nazis (the students fail to realize what is happening until... well, watch the movie. It's solid.).

The movie aside, the concept is disturbingly real. We, as a people, are still just as blindly ignorant as we were in the twenties, sixties, or 1700s; just in different ways.

Take, for instance, the depressing coverage of Gabby Douglas winning an all-around gold medal in gymnastics. Now calculate how much of the coverage of this event you saw that failed to say "First African-American" once. Your calculation rests at 0%. I know this because my work oftentimes leaves me bored and reading article after article on the same subject. This was one of them.

Why is this wrong? Because winning a gold medal is an incredible achievement for Gabby freaking Douglas. It is not an achievement for "African Americans"*

Monday, August 13, 2012

The NFE: T.O.'s Return

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GOOD EVENING, fans, and welcome to CenturyLink Field in Seattle, WA, where National Football Entertainment has landed for a colossal matchup! BAH GOLLY we've got one helluva show for you folks tonight, August 11, 2012! The matchup tonight may pit the Seahawks against the Titans, but we all know the big news is the return of one of the greatest entertainers in the history of the NFE: Terrell Owens!

Music hits: Music is "Flashing Lights" by Kanye West. Terrell Owens appears to deafening boos, walks down to the field. T.O. grabs a microphone.

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I hear ya boos, I hear ya boos! It's good to be back, people. I've been out of the league for a bit.... BECAUSE I CHOSE TO. You see, the truth is, I hate you people! I CHOSE to go back home. I've been relaxing, loving the ladies... things that STARS do. I've got my money... I've got my fame... so why am I here? I'm back to take that title.

Crowd boos inexplicably, considering T.O. wants to win the title for Seattle... but when have wrestling crowds ever cheered for the right reasons? Crowd boos until the speakers shout "TASTE THE RAINBOW". The crowd erupts into cheers as the Titantron plays a video of Skittles raining on strippers as "Make it Rain" plays. Marshawn Lynch emerges from the tunnel and breaks four tackles en route to the field.

Monday, August 6, 2012

For the Record: Ricky Stanzi Deathmatch Edition

So here's part two, as promised, in which we briefly discuss ESPN bloggers and irrational Cutler-hate, then vault into a verbal deathmatch over Iowa's own Ricky Stanzi. Enjoy.

Iggins!


I read opinion pieces on ESPN solely for the lulz. None of them are good or bad, they just kind of do what you would expect.

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I browbeat the crap out of Seifert one day in 2010 when he wrote an article called “Cutler finally a winner” where he started with an anecdote about Christian Laettner doing the most horribly dickish thing ever. Laettner pointed at his teammates one by one saying “Loser” “Loser” Loser” and then pointed at himself and said “winner.” Seifert said he could picture Cutler doing the same thing and I attacked him and demanded he point out one instance of Cutler ever badmouthing a teammate. When he couldn’t find one he apologized.

Iggins!
There was certainly a lot of irrational and misinformed Cutler hate. Most of which stemmed from Cutler requesting a trade, which is probably the most ridiculous reason to hate somebody on the planet. If I hate the area I live in and want to move, is everybody going to tell me I'm a dick? If the place I'm at has no chance of helping me to achieve the career success I desire, am I a big baby and and a bad co-worker if I apply for a better job? More specific to Cutler; if I find out my boss has been trying to replace me with his old college buddy when my numbers are clearly superior and I clearly have more talent, am I a huge crybaby for requesting a transfer? I THINK NOT.

Friday, August 3, 2012

For the Record: Random Violence, Three-ways, and The Hobbit Edition

Due to what would have been an obscene length, this one has been chopped into two pieces: enjoy piece number one, in which we discuss random gang violence, the Seahawks, and Peter Jackson.



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Good news is, even though McClellin supposedly looks inconsistent and sort of like a defensive end from Boise State playing his first couple of practices against NFL players, Alshon Jeffery looks good. WHO NEEDS A DEFENSE?! Cutler can just fart the ball at this point and send it flying into the hands of a tall, waiting receiver. Supposedly Rodriguez looks real good too. How about a two TE set with Davis and Rodriguez and Jeffery and Marshall on the outside? HEIGHT. FADES. TOUCHDOWN BEARSSS

Iggins!
I am not opposed to an eternal precession of fade routes to Brandon Marshall. I believe a similar strategy won the Giants the Super Bowl a few years ago? Then something about shooting yourself in the leg... anyway. Looks like Montee Ball just got randomly run up on by five guys and curb stomped for a while. My guess? Indiana students.

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Holy crap. Really?

Iggins!
Yeah yesterday morning! He got released from the hospital and they say he's alright. Apparently five people he didn't even know just ran up to him when he left some building, threw him down, and kicked the shit out of him. Very, very strange.

"Hey, bro, you ever just want to go kick a guy for no reason?"

"All the time!"

"Well, me and Chad and Chester and TANK and Swifty were gonna go just, like, camp out in front of Gentry Hall and just beat the shit out of the next guy that comes out!"

"SWEET."

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The weirdest thing is that Tank is Russell Wilson.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

For the Record: Inappropriate death jokes and Joe Flacco factory edition

In a new feature called “For the Record” which attempts to capture the madness of our everyday conversations (and also alleviate work-related boredom) Code Red and Iggins! will discuss recent relevant (and completely irrelevant) sports topics. These conversations are uncensored and reading them may result in a loss of sanity, or even a complete and total descent into madness. You have been warned.




Iggins!







So, on a scale ranging from Gaines Adams to Julius Peppers, how good do you think this Price fella will be?

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Hard to say. Injuries have kept him from being as effective as he can be. He was a 2nd round pick for a reason. Considering the Bears don’t really Need him, but seem to think he’s got major potential, I’d say he’ll probably be somewhere near where Amobi Okoye was last year. A solid rotation guy who is somewhere in between a true 3 technique (like Melton) and a true nose (like Toeiana). Good depth if healthy.

Iggins!







That's a good transition to my opinion on the guy, which is this: if the Bears wanted Amobi Okoye so bad why didn't they keep Amobi Okoye?!

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Because Amobi Okoye played well enough as a role player to convince the Bucs that he could be more than that, and they paid him accordingly. The Bears knew they could probably replace Okoye’s production for less money. Considering I expect Melton and especially Paea to be better this year, this was a smart move. The key is McClellin. I’m not going to be a meatball reactionary who overreacts to the people who gave him mixed reviews on his FIRST DAY OF FUCKING PRACTICE (google it or search on twitter, then facepalm), but he’s got to be a pure speed rushing presence on 3rd down. Izzy’s a workhorse but his pass rushing went into the tank the last half of the season last year. As I said, I could also see the Bears rotating Izzy inside to make room for McClellin on plays where teams try to spread them out. You know that NASCAR package the Giants have where they line up JPP, Tuck, Umenyiora, and Kiwanuka? The Bears could try something similar with Peppers, Wootton, Izzy, and McClelin, or even just Peppers, Melton, Izzy, and Shea since Melton was a DE before last year and is a pure pass rusher. I’d really like to see Wootton take a step up. It’d take a lot of pressure off of McClellin if Wootton develops, and it would also allow them to get Peppers off the field sometimes, which they’ve rarely been able to do the last two years.

Iggins!







How much did Okoye make? I think this "rent a former bust D-Linemen for one good year" strategy works out well in a lot of ways. If he turns out to be amazing, sign him up! If not he outplays his actual ability, let someone else overpay him! If he sucks? Cut him for no cap penalty!

College Previewkakke: B1G Leaders Division Preview


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Finally we have arrived at the B1G (isn’t that easier to digest than “Big 10+2-Penn State and Ohio State kind of”?), and, by default, we have to start in the division with two teams who will not matter at all to anybody ever this season (or, in PSU’s case, for many years into the future).

So what the hell happened to the B1G? Where did the league known for infinitely replaceable, immobile, white quarterbacks go? Didn’t this league used to be the last bastion of pro-style game plans in the entire NCAA? Suddenly 7 of the 12 teams run some form of spread, 2 of the 12 just run (and neither of those two were even here 30 years ago… who was supposed to guard the door?!), and we’re left with only three teams still running some semblance of NFL game plan. Leaving Iowa and MSU for the Legends division, that leads us nicely to Wisconsin, the current dominant B1G team.

It’s still strange to say something like that in a conference featuring Michigan and Ohio State, and I didn’t even grow up during a time in which Michigan was great. Somehow Wisconsin has managed to pull together several great seasons in a row on the strength of… well, the same exact thing Wisconsin always did well with; great offensive lines, better running backs (and at least one offensive lineman PLAYING running back at all times), solid defense, and the same quarterback you could swear has been there since you were born (The Russell Wilson aberration notwithstanding. Lord knows the only reason he transferred to Wiscy is because he didn’t want to change jersey colors).

Their competition in the Leaders has been… removed? Yes, that’s a nice way to put it. Ohio State is still serving time for selling things they earned for other things they wanted (yeah, the bigger deal was that Tressel lied about it, but seriously: if I fucking win something I should be able to sell it all I want), and Penn State is… well, they’re going to be busy with lawsuits and things (AVOIDING OBVIOUS SUBJECT MATTER). So the remaining competition is… oh jesus. Illinois, Purdue, and Indiana? I won’t even have to try with this one. What follows are 100% accurate predictions for the Leaders this season! Wow, they need to change that division name: