Thursday, December 18, 2014

Michigan shows its hand, and it's a good one

Michigan has offered Jim Harbaugh the head coaching job for somewhere between 6 years $48M and $49M. At $8M - $8.2M/yr, that would make Harbaugh the highest paid coach in the NCAA and one of the highest paid in all of sports (there are a couple soccer coaches making $10M+, but there are very few coaches in an sport making at least $8M).  Adam Schefter, who is rarely wrong, doesn't think it likely Harbaugh would go back to coaching college ball, but says he's at least "considering" the offer. In Ann Arbor there was much rejoicing.


Schefter is a Michigan alum, and his rooting interest is for Harbaugh to take the Michigan job (Schefter has openly said this). I get the feeling this is more Schefter's opinion than something he heard from Harbaugh's camp. The argument for Harbaugh taking an NFL job over the Michigan job is supported by the belief that a) an NFL job is more prestigious than any college job, b) there are a number of (presumeably) open NFL jobs that are better situations than Michigan is right now, and c) Harbaugh's family would prefer to stay in the Bay Area. Let me handle these one at a time.

First, an NFL job is OBVIOUSLY more prestigious than any NCAA job, right? Well, I'm not so sure. Yes, the NFL is king, but the largest NFL stadium is in Texas and seats 4,780 fewer people than The Big House (Officially, anyway. Unofficially, Michigan Stadium can cram in about 10,000 more people than the Cowboys can). Despite being in decline over the last decade, Michigan is still considered one of the most prestigious jobs in college football. Of the potential NFL jobs out there, only Washington, the Jets, and possibly Chicago have similar prestige to the Michigan job.

Second, and this is a fair point, but Harbaugh could take a job like the Miami or Atlanta job and be in the playoffs next year. Michigan is pretty talent bereft right now, and top recruits are decommitting like crazy. I'd say Miami, Chicago, and Atlanta are all pretty talented teams, while Michigan needs a lot of work. Here's the thing: a Harbaugh rebuild would take a year, two at most. Stanford was 1-11 the year before Jim Harbaugh took over (it was their 5th straight losing season). His first year they were 4-8, then 5-7, then 8-5, and finally 12-1. Well, Michigan finished 5-7 in 2014. They actually had a decent defense, and outside of OSU and MSU, their division is weak. I expect them to be record-strong in year 1 of a potential Harbaugh reign (say a 8-5 team that would be 6-8 in the SEC). I expect them to beat OSU and be actually strong (make the playoff) by year 4 or 5. Michigan is in a bad way right now, but it's not THAT bad, and Harbaugh would be able to turn this recruiting thing around.

Third, the family thing... I think a good bit of that has been played up by writers in the Bay Area, who haven't exactly been impartial. Sure, San Francisco is nice. But would a pathologically competitive guy like Harbaugh rate it as more than a minor contributing factor? I doubt it. And this brings up the main reason why I think Harbaugh's best move is to take Michigan's offer. He's a little too insane for the NFL. I've always thought this, which is why his success in San Francisco surprised me as much as it did, but Harbaugh is NUTS. Andrew Sharp wrote this yesterday better than I could, but the gist of it is Harbaugh's brand of crazy plays well in the NCAA. It gets wearisome in the NFL, as the 49ers are finding out.

Harbaugh MAY choose the NFL. There are some good jobs that should be opening up on Black Monday, and the NFL is big time. He hasn't won his Super Bowl yet, so that may be bothering him. But Michigan made a REAL offer this time, one that would soothe his ego and would be comparable to anything an NFL team could throw out there. It's not an offer that suggests Michigan is taking him for granted. It's just right, and I believe it was made at just the right time. I think college is a better venue for Harbaugh's style. Whether he takes that into consideration or not is up to him, but there is nothing not to like about the way U of M has conducted their pursuit of Harbaugh so far.

***

The Lions opponent this week is the Bears, who decided to take the "throw stuff at the wall and hope something sticks" strategy by benching QB Jay Cutler for Jimmy Clausen. This is really crazy, considering the fact that Cutler is the same guy he's always been and the team surrounding him isn't playing very well. Not that Cutler's been stellar, but come on. I know he stunk on Monday night, but his season as a whole looks much like his previous 4 seasons.

Jimmy Clausen has thrown exactly 9 passes as a Chicago Bear, completing 3 of them. He's thrown a total of 308 over his 5 year career, and he's facing the #2 defense in football. It has all the feeling of sending a lamb out to fight off the wolves. Incredibly the line on this game didn't move much, either because of the very public scorn held for Cutler or because the Lions offense hasn't looked good in most of their games.

Say it with me: WINNING ON SUNDAY WILL CLINCH A PLAYOFF SPOT.

Monday, December 15, 2014

2014 NFL Season's Sun is Setting

The Lions managed to take care of business at home in the least-convincing way possible. Again, the offense struggled to move the ball against a defense that was better than terrible, and the Lion defense got off to another SLOW start until Teddy Bridgewater sailed a pass to Glover Quinn.



That play led to THIS touchdown, the only one of the game. Minnesota got the ball back, and on Bridgewater's very next pass attempt, this happened:


Despite getting the ball on the opponent's 32, Detroit had to settle for a FG, ending the 1st half. The 2nd half featured 2 more FG's from Detroit (Matt Prater was a busy dude), and a chip-shot Minnesota FG that was blocked by Jason Jones, probably the play of the game. Detroit had the ball, 1:56 left. A first down ends the game. The Lions opted for the ultra conservative approach, which is infuriating but probably fine, given the way the defense was playing.

With no timeouts, Bridgewater managed to get to the 50 with 1 sec on the clock. To my way of thinking, Minnesota had 2 options at this point - throw a hail mary or run some kind of hook & ladder play (I'm a HUGE fan of Boise State's 2007 Fiesta Bowl version of the hook & ladder, don't know why I never see it anymore). Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer chose option C) None of the Above, and had his kicker (who had already missed a 53-yarder & had a 26-yarder blocked) attempt a 68-yard FG, which would have broken the NFL record by 4 yards (held by Lions kicker Matt Prater, no less). The kick landed 10 yards shy, meaning he probably missed by about 15 yards.

The lack of offensive production was disturbing, and this defense has developed a nasty habit of staking the other team to an early lead. Minnesota actually out-gained Detroit, and the Vikes had the edge in every statistical category except turnovers (2-0), sacks (0-4), and points (14-16). The turnovers and the missed/blocked kicks (which really are like turnovers themselves) were the difference. Now the Lions can cement a post-season berth with a win over the Bears in Chicago next week.

***

Speaking of post-season berths, the Packers' loss to Buffalo yesterday opened the door a crack for the Lions. With 1 more Packers loss or 2 wins by Detroit (the last coming vs. Green Bay @ Lambeau, where they haven't won in 23 years), the Lions would secure one of the top 2 spots in the NFC. At the moment they have the #2 spot and own the NFC North due to the head to head tie-breaker with GB. Again, they play the Pack one more time, so all this is moot pending wins in Chicago and in Green Bay.

This link breaks down the playoff picture re: the Lions a bit more, but think of it this way: The MAGIC NUMBER for the Lions to make the playoffs is 1 WIN. The MAGIC NUMBER for a 1st round bye/home field is 2 (either a win by Detroit & a loss by GB or 2 wins by Detroit). To finish as the top seed in the NFC, Detroit needs to win out, Arizona needs to lose out, and Seattle would need to lose to St. Louis in week 17 (that ain't happening).


Detroit's most important game coming up SHOULD be the week 17 game at Lambeau, but it's actually next week at Soldier Field. This team HAS to secure a playoff berth. The #2 seed would be nice, but I don't think they deserve it. The upcoming Bears game has all the marks of a trap game. One thing Caldwell has done well this year is have the team focused on the NEXT GAME, so I feel good about their chances of not getting caught in the trap (for the record, a Jim Schwartz team ABSOLUTELY would fall into the trap game). Green Bay is looming, but the Lions will be scouting the Bears tonight vs. the Saints (who run an offense similar to Detroit's). The Lions will be watching, and hopefully learning the right lessons from that game.

The sun is setting on this season. Will Detroit ride off or sit in the cold?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Don't sleep on the Vikings' Special Teams

The Lions are playing their 3rd of 4 straight games that they SHOULD win. I keep capitalizing "SHOULD" because a) it's the NFL and crazy things happen (like Arizona losing to Atlanta, or Washington beating ANYONE), and b) the Lions don't always beat the teams they SHOULD beat, especially in December. I'm going to continue to not take wins for granted until such time as the Lions string together a Patriots-like dynasty of multiple championships and yearly playoff appearances. I'm not holding my breath.


Anyway, this iteration of an opponent who is overlookable but should NOT be overlooked is Minnesota. The Vikings are on a 2 game winning streak (like Detroit) and at 6-7 aren't TERRIBLE. Their defense is middle of the road (17th in DVOA), slightly better vs. the pass than vs. the run. They do a pretty good job getting after the QB, although that's mainly due to Everson Griffen (12 sacks). The Lions' offensive line is in the best shape it's been since game 1, so hopefully they can keep him in check. On the flip side, Minnesota's O line has given up 40 sacks, which is a lot considering how reliant on the run they are. The last time these 2 teams faced each other, the Lions' D line feasted on Teddy Bridgewater to the tune of 8 sacks and 13 QB hits.

Speaking of Bridgewater, he's had a couple of nice games the past 2 weeks. The last time he saw the Lions, he ate a lot of turf & finished with a 2.5 QBR, 41.3 passer rating. The last 2 games he's had QBRs of 84.1 & 72.4, with passer ratings of 120.7 & 117.7. He was sacked 3 times in each game. The Lions SHOULD put more pressure than that on him, but Suh has missed the last 2 practices with the flu. If he's not good to go, the complexion of this game changes dramatically. Despite having a poor line, Bridgewater is pretty elusive. The Lions have been pretty good at tracking down elusive QBs this year, but if Suh isn't in there blowing up the RG, expect some of this:


I REALLY hope Suh is healthy for Sunday's game. The silver lining to Suh missing the game would be a) Minnesota is bad enough that the Lions should be able to beat them without Suh, and b) we could get a preview of how bad the defense would be without him. Suh may well be gone after next year. He's looking for JJ Watt money, and the Lions aren't well-positioned to give it to him. I think they HAVE to if they want to continue having a good defense, but right now that isn't the concensus opinion. If he misses the game and the defense looks bad, the offseason will feature a bunch of Take My Money memes with with either Martin Mayhew or Martha Ford's face pasted over Fry's.

Detroit's offense looked pretty good the last 2 weeks against some bad defenses, although Tampa's D is only marginally worse than Minnesota's. I'm expecting a lot more Joique Bell. The last 2 weeks he's been pretty good, getting 174 yards & 3 TDs out of 41 carries, plus 66 yds receiving & another TD on 7 catches. Reggie Bush still isn't 100%, and he doesn't look like the type of guy to get yards behind this line. Bell looks like Marshawn "Beast Mode" Lynch right now.

One thing to watch out for - Special Teams. Minnesota had 2 blocked punts vs. Carolina, and they have the #10 ranked Special Teams unit in the NFL. Detroit is ranked 30th out of 32, although much of that is due to their crappy FG kicking situation that looks a lot better now. Still, watch out for this stuff:



And they've got some pretty sweet fake punt sets too. Don't sleep on this. Minnesota is the type of team that likes to go for it. Their offense isn't very good, so they have to find points wherever they can. This isn't to say they go for it on 4th down all the time, however. The Vikes have only attempted 9 4th-down conversions (Detroit is actually one of the least conservative teams, at least numbers-wise, with 15 attempts). Just... watch out.

***

In other news, this is depressing:
 
 
That ain't pretty. The way the big recruits are bailing, this doesn't look to improve any time soon. Much will depend on who Michigan hires as the new HC. If they end up with Harbaugh, I expect a pretty quick turnaround. If they get a guy like Dan Mullens, less quick but still pretty good. If they end up with another whodat, expect a downfall of Ellerbe-ian proportions.
 
On the bright side, can't get worse, right? RIGHT???

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Dombrowski makes his move

I was going to skip posting today and load up tomorrow with a Lions-Vikes preview, but...


Yep, the Tigers just traded Rick Porcello to Boston for LF Yoenis Cespedes and 2 bullpen guys (Alex Wilson has 2 yrs in the Bigs, Gabe Speier is a 19 yr-old lefty still in the minors). Then Dombrowski shored up the rotation by trading Suarez and a minor-leaguer to Cincinnati for Alfredo Simon. Ok.

PROS

Cespedes - Adds another big bat to the lineup, and some better OF defense. He'll play left field, allowing Martinez to shift over to his natural position in right. He's got a great arm, he's got power (winning the 2013 & 2014 HR derbys), and decent speed.
Simon - Represents some cost savings from Porcello without losing prodution ($5.1M projected 2015 salary vs. Porcello's $12.2M). Last year he finished with 196 innings, 15 wins, 127 Ks, a 3.44 ERA,  and a 1.207 WHIP. These numbers are basically identical to Porcello's for $7.1M less.

CONS

Cespedes - His OF arm is great, but he doesn't get the greatest read on the ball and can look a bit like Delmon Young running around. His arm has made up for it from time to time, but he's not winning any Gold Gloves out there. He doesn't hit for average & strikes out a lot, so he doesn't fill that #2 spot in the lineup that we need. He's hit some BOMBS, but his highest HR total for a season was 26. He should be hitting 30+.
Simon - He's 33, so he's 7 years older than Porcello. He's had some legal trouble here and there, some of which he's still dealing with. Most of his career he's been a reliever and a spot starter. Last year was his first season full time in the rotation, so we don't know if he can hold that production up.

THE VERDICT

I'm going to call this one a win. Would I have preferred a trade for Justin Upton instead of Cespedes? Yes, but the Tigers would've had to give up a lot more than Porcello to get him. Cespedes is going to be huge, and Simon should be a solid #4 in this rotation. I don't know who bats 2nd in this lineup (Gose? Iglesias? Castellanos???), but the 3-4-5-6 spots in this lineup are going to have pitchers pooping their pants. I like the bench better now, I like the defense better, and I like the lineup depth. Simon LOOKS like a zero-sum substitution for Porcello, at least production-wise.

The Tigers still need to add bullpen help. The prospective closer/setup guy (Soria & Nathan, in some order) would both need to bounce back from a down year (I don't see that happening with Nathan), Bruce Rondon and Joel Hanrahan would need to bounce back from severe injuries that cost them last year (more than that in Hanrahan's case), and the younger guys (Krol, Hardy, etc.) would need to step up. If only half of those things happen, we're in trouble with the bullpen. I'm not comfortable with that, and I hope Dombrowski isn't either.

RIGHT NOW, this team is better than the 2014 team. Yes, Max Scherzer isn't coming back, and that's a big loss. But the rotation is still really good, especially if Verlander is back to normal. The defense gets MUCH better with Torii Hunter heading out and Gose, Cespedes, and Iglesias coming in. The lineup should be better also, and the bullpen is probably SLIGHTLY better, if Rondon is healthy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Tigers behind White Sox & Indians this offseason

The White Sox & Indians have thrown down the gauntlet. The Tigers aren't going to be the prohibitive favorite to win the AL Central this year. The Royals went to the World Series, but they also lost some people. The Tigers won the division (barely) but they've lost more than they've gained so far. And now the White Sox & Indians are making moves.

Chicago is looking scariest so far, just based on their offseason. Their first move was pretty quiet, adding bullpen lefty Zach Duke (a sneaky-good signing). Then they added Adam LaRoche - incidentally, his top 3 search suggestions are "Adam LaRoche Elk", "Adam LaRoche Kills Giant Elk", and "Adam LaRoche Kills Elk", which is better than the typical athlete's search suggestions of "stats", "salary", and "wife" or "girlfriend" - a 35 yr-old 1B with decent power, not-great average, and negligible defense. He'll most likely be the regular DH and bat 4th or 5th. Then they added pitching, trading for Jeff Samardzija and signing David Robertson to close. Chicago needs another bat, but they've done a great job addressing needs so far.

Cleveland just added Brandon Moss via trade with the A's (who are weirdly selling right now, having dealt their top 3 power guys & their #2 pitcher in the past 5 months, and they're probably losing Lester, Lowrie and Gregerson in FA). Moss follows the Adam LaRoche mold, decent power, mediocre batting average, poor defense. This isn't the WOW signing like Chicago getting Samardzija and Robertson, but it fills in the gap in power at the DH spot caused by Nick Swisher falling off the cliff last season. Swisher was worth -1.0 WAR, Moss was worth 2.6 WAR. Cleveland's lineup improved by 3.6 wins. They finished 5 games behind Detroit for the Division and 3 games from making a Wild Card spot, so as minor as this signing was, it's not nothing.


Detroit's biggest move was re-signing Victor Martinez. The Anthony Gose deal barely moves the needle, the Shane Green deal moves it a little more, but I was waiting for something that could flip the script. Chicago got a CLOSER, something that's been an issue for them nearly as long as it's been an issue for the Tigers. Chicago & Cleveland's out-going talent < their in-coming talent. We can't say that about the Tigers. Scherzer is probably gone. Torii Hunter's bat hasn't been replaced in the lineup. There were talks of acquiring Cespedes for Porcello, but those talks seem to have cooled off. The Braves' Justin Upton is being dangled as trade bait and would be a GREAT fit in the lineup (solid power & average, ok speed & defense), but so far there's been no actual traction to this outside of sheer speculation.

Here's my educated guess/hope: Dombrowski is waiting to have Scherzer NEARLY locked up or else totally locked up before then swinging either a Price/Porcello for Cespedes/Upton trade. Dave Dombrowski has openly said he isn't dealing either Price or Porcello unless he has a replacement locked up. I get the feeling he'd rather trade Price (who struggled down the stretch & appears to be on the downhill side, career-wise) than Porcello (basically the opposite of my aside comment on Price), and that he wants to re-up with Scherzer.

 

Dave (btw, doesn't he look a LOT like Mr. Rogers? Maybe a cross between Mr. Rogers and Chevy Chase? Anyway...) has to know that they need another bat, right? He says he's ready to move forward with the OF as is, but I think that's just a classic GM smokescreen. Some Dombrowski headlines this offseason have been infuriating, like "Dombrowski Satisfied with 'Pen" and "No 'Gaping Hole' in OF," but when you get to his actual quotes, it's more like "We could get better, but we can win with the guys we have." Dombrowski KNOWS he needs another OF bat (preferably a #2 hitter), and he KNOWS he needs another arm in the 'pen. But he can't SAY that, or his guys will feel like he has no faith in them. As of right now, the OF features JD Martinez (who had an All Star-caliber season) in LF or RF and the other 2 spots as basically replacement-level players (Rajai Davis is a bit better than that). They hope Gose is a viable starter at CF, but he looks like a platoon player. This is not a championship level OF.

(This portion previously a bit about Dombrowski inquiring on closer Sergio Romo, mis-reported on mlbtraderumors.com. Barely held myself back from punching mlbtraderumers.com in the face for giving me false hopes. Lester has signed, the top closer on the market has signed, so I expect the rest of the pack to start falling into place.)

***

The Pistons SUCK. If Michael Buffer were introducing them, they would be the Master of Disaster, the Epitome of Incompetence, the Singularity of Sucktitude... basically, the opposite of THIS. You get it, they're bad. Their current record is 3-19 and they're on a 13 game losing streak (you math nerds out there have probably figured out that this means they were 3-6 before going in the tank), with losses to 2-18 Philly, the 4-16 T'wolves, and the 6-16 LA Lakers.

The main problem is shooting. The Pistons are the worst shooting team in the league with .404 FG% (league average is about .456%) and 2nd from the bottom in offensive efficiency. At least they start 3 GREAT rebounders, right? RIGHT? Well, Drummond is averaging just under 12, Monroe is just over 9, and Smith is just over 7 per game, but nobody else on the team averages even 4. Detroit gets out-rebounded by 1.1 per game, which isn't a ton except you expect this team to be on the other side of that equation. On top of that, they look like they're sleep-walking through games a LOT of the time (Greg Monroe ESPECIALLY).



That is the LAZIEST "show" I've ever seen on PNR defense. First, Durant could've blown by Monroe if he wanted, based on how bad his footwork was, but passing was a better option because Monroe was a FULL SECOND late rotating back. When he DID decide to rotate back, he did so with all the urgency of a guy who just heard his coach say, "Okay, everybody line up to run suicides!" He doesn't rotate back to the middle until AFTER Durant has thrown his pass, at which point he's already too late. It then takes him 4 seconds to get back into position, by which point the rest of the defense is flying around trying to cover the extra guy.

This is roughly the urgency Monroe plays on every defensive possession, on transition, when the Pistons are on offense and he doesn't have the ball... He looks like a guy who grew up to be 6'10", someone suggested he could make some money playing ball, so he took it up but never loved the game. I don't know if that's Monroe or not, but that's what he's playing like right now. Some of it might be him sulking over his contract situation, or the fact that this team was built by "Bloody Stupid" Johnson, but MAN has he been terrible.

Monroe isn't eligible to be moved for another week, but I would expect a major trade to occur over the next 2-3 weeks if SVG isn't tanking already. The Nets are reportedly selling, although that would involve taking on a TON of salary. Williams, at the position the Pistons most desperately need to upgrade, is on the decline and is owed an average of $21M thru the end of the 2016-'17 season (one of the worst contracts in the NBA, equal to Josh Smith PLUS Jodie Meeks). Brook Lopez has probably the best deal (still owed a lot at $16M/yr thru next season), but he's only marginally better than Monroe.

The Nets are maybe the only team in the league with a worse position than Detroit, since Boston owns their picks in the 2016 & 2018 drafts and has the option to swap 2017 picks with them. Without draft picks to sweeten a deal, Brooklyn is going to have to take on a LOT of that salary if they want Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, and/or Brook Lopez gone. I'd like to get Deron Williams if the Nets are willing to pay around half of the rest of what he's owed (we'd still be doing them a favor, since he's getting paid about 3 times what he's worth right now). Not sure how that trade works out or even happens, but keep an eye on those trade rumors in the next 2-3 weeks.

***

Actual GOOD NEWS in Detroit Sports: the Wings are SWEET! Pavel Datsyuk has stayed healthy and has been on a tear (22 pts in 17 games), but they also started getting better production from the Weiss-Sheahan-Franzen line (Franzen is a guy who is SO frustrating & has me yelling his name like Kirk yelling, "KHAAAAANNN!)



But Datsyuk has been the MAN, and Tomas Tatar (with 12 goals, tied for the team lead with Datsyuk & Nyquist) have been instrumental in moving the offense. The powerplay has been LOADS better this year, and they're getting more quality chances. Can we get to the playoffs already?


Monday, December 8, 2014

The Good, the Bad, and the Playoff Picture

Going into Sunday's game I was only as worried as any Lions fan might be when going into a game that they should absolutely win. In other words, I was a little worried. The Lions pulled off a scoreboard win at 34-17, but the Lions looked both good and bad at times. Instead of breaking down the whole game, I'm going to just concentrate on those good/bad aspects.

The GOOD

I can't find a video or GIF of this play, which is a shame, so let this picture and my inadequate explanation suffice. Eric Ebron had his best game as a Lion, in my opinion. The numbers look nearly identical to practically every other game in which he's caught a pass, so don't go by those. The difference is in this game he looked the most like the athletic, matchup nightmare he was purported to be. He had 2 "leap over the defender plays," the 2nd of which looked REALLY impressive. I'm not yet convinced he was a better draft pick than an OLB, a DB or Odell Beckham Jr would have been, but I'm starting to believe in Eric Ebron.


Joique Bell had a HELL of a game for the 2nd week in a row. Most of his rushes didn't go very far, but he had a 57-yd run that set this up when Tampa KNEW we were running, and his rushing TD in the 2nd quarter was a classic example of manball.


Dat D Line! Suh had another hit a couple plays earlier just like this that was flagged because he was a step late and went a little high (speculation is he'll be fined for it). This one was a legal hit and it HURT. Suh landed on McCown after the hit, and when McCown got up he looked like Apollo Creed after 1 round with Ivan Drago. Suh ended up with a sack, Levy had  2, and Fluellen, George Johnson & Ansah all had 1. The Lions defense was credited with 14 QB hits and 6 sacks, which is a LOT. McCown had his worst game of the season, not counting the game vs. ATL he wasn't able to finish due to a thumb injury. The QB pressure is back at it against the weak competition, after struggling a bit with some pretty strong competition.


Oh, and Andre Fluellen's Street Fighter "Hadouken" sack dance was pretty sweet, unlike Big Joe Fauria's "pop, lock & drop it" TD dance.

The BAD
The Lions had 9 penalties for 122 years, their worst total of the season. Against competition of this level, there's no excuse for that. Suh had his first roughing penalty of the year, but I wasn't that mad at that. There were a TON of pass interference calls, which is where most of that yardage is coming from. Darius Slay had his worst game in a while, getting called for 2 pass interference penalties for 24 & 38 yards. I had just finished saying "They aren't throwing it to Slay's side" when Vincent Jackson burned him on a drag/square-in route (what 'A' is running in this diagram) for 12 yards, then Slay was called for the PI the next play. The following series he failed to locate an underthrown ball and committed one of the dumber PI penalties you'll see. There were several uncalled pass interferences as well, most notably one by Rasheen Mathis (hard to see, but he took one of Mike Evans' hands away) on Glover Quinn's tip INT.
17 points isn't much to give up, but Detroit's D should've been able to keep it in to 10 or less. The first TD was aided by Ihedigbo fumbling his INT back over to the Bucs. Their 2nd TD was aided by Slay's PI penalty, their 2nd longest play of that drive. This game should've been 45-0.
The Lions' run blocking is HORRIBLE. I don't know how much of it is Lombardi's fault and how much of it is on the line, but Joique Bell averaged 1.5 yards per carry if you take away his 57 yard run. Taking away Reggie Bush's longest run (12 yards), he averaged 2 yards per carry. The Lions regularly get stuffed on 3rd or 4th & short. I expected a LOT better with both Warford & Reiff returning, and facing a team like Tampa.
Checkdowns. Stafford had a REALLY good game, going by the stats. Zero turnovers (even saved one by fielding & chucking Raiola's crappy snap), 300+ yards, 76.5 COMP%. So this is going to sound like nitpicking (because it is), but he settles for checkdown passes a LOT. The RB position had 11 targets vs. 15 to the WR postition. I get some of those were screen passes designed to go to Bell or Bush, but it often seems like Stafford is just dumping it off if CJ isn't open. Again, this is REALLY nitpicky, but I wish Stafford would develop more rapport with Ebron, Tate, and one of the #3 WRs (Fuller/Ross).

The PLAYOFF PICTURE
This could change dramatically if GB loses on MNF (GB is NOT losing on MNF), but currently the Lions are in the 6th spot (last Wild Card) and should remain there at least if they win their next 2 games and Eagles-Cowboys don't tie. They could move up to the #2 in the NFC if GB loses tonight. That's a big shift.

Most likely Detroit will win their next 2 (but don't ever count this team out when it comes to disappointments), Philly will beat Dallas, and the Packers win tonight. This gets interesting if Detroit loses one of their next games or if they happen to be the Packers in Green Bay on week 17. That's probably not going to happen because this team beats bad teams on the road, not good teams, but the NFL can be crazy sometimes. 

Right now the Lions have an 82.52% shot of making the playoffs, which is great, but all year I've said I don't trust this team to get in until that number is at 100%. If feels different this year, but they're still the Lions. So root for Atlanta tonight. If GB loses and Detroit beats MIN next week, they'd be over 93%. Unfortunately there is no scenario in which Detroit can lock anything up until week 16, and most likely they'd be waiting until week 17 for all the chips to fall, even if they take care of their own business.

Please Lions, take care of your own business.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Prospective Michigan HCs you've heard of (maybe) but maybe don't know much about

There are a lot of things I like about the way Michigan is going about this head coach transitional period. Interim AD Jim Hackett's presser announcing the firing of Hoke & subsequent coaching search was on the money. He respected Hoke, stated a legit reason for firing him without throwing him under the bus (he DID throw ex-AD Dave Brandon under the bus a bit, but... NOBODY likes that guy), and he gave the overall impression that this coaching search will be different.

The previous 2 searches were leaky and manically haphazard, like an old boat piloted by THESE GUYS. The 2007 coaching search lowlight (other than the hire of Rich Rodriguez, in retrospect) was the screwed up pursuit of Les Miles. It was leaked that Miles had accepted the Michigan HC job & reported on ESPN, but Michigan had either waited too long to contact Miles or else he was forced to sign an extension with LSU when the rumor was reported & Les still had 2 big games to prep for. The 2011 search was basically Harbaugh or bust, but it seemed pretty unlikely Harbaugh would join up with David Brandon. After Harbaugh moved to the NFL, Michigan reached out to a bunch of other guys who were going to say no (Gruden, Miles) and some also-rans like Hoke. They ended up with Hoke, as the Michigan Man-yest of the also-rans.

Hackett has said they're bringing in a head-hunting firm to help this time. There are a ton of benefits to this, and it's worked in the past (John Beilein was hired with a head-hunter firm as part of the process, and that seems to have worked out). The benefits of having an outside party conduct the search are a) no leaks!, b) no ulterior motives, and c) the ability to reach out to candidates who are currently employed and have games left to coach. These were MAJOR issues in the last 2 coaching searches (especially the ulterior motives thing), and Hackett going with some consultants seems like a pretty good change of method.

There are a number of names that I've heard ad nauseam connected with this job - primarily JIM HARBAUGH!!! (I've heard Harbaugh mentioned 10 times for every other name), but also John Harbaugh, Les Miles, Bob Stoops, Mike Gundy, Gary Patterson, Jimbo Fisher, David Shaw, and Dan Mullen. Harbaugh makes the most sense - big name, we know he can build a program, and he's CLEARLY got Michigan connections. The problems - he's a bit fickle, his family LOVES the Bay Area, has a love-hate relationship with Michigan, and he'll have a number of NFL teams knocking down his door if he wants to leave the 49ers. John Harbaugh is less likely to leave the Raiders, and I consider Les Miles, Bob Stoops and Mike Gundy all longshots to leave the school where they are currently employed.

Dan Mullen is probably the best option of the other 4 guys. He was Urban Meyer's OC for a number of years before taking the Mississippi State job in 2009. Miss. State is the weak sister of the SEC, but Mullen has switched that completely around. This year's team enjoyed 7 weeks ranked in the top 5 (with 4 weeks ranked #1) and finished the regular season at #10, with a 10-2 record. Big Wins: #8 LSU, #6 Texas A&M, #2 Auburn. Big Losses: #4 Alabama, #18 Ole Miss. He's got great credentials as an OC and as a developer of QBs (something Michigan used to be good at), and it's reasonable to expect he'd want to move on to a bigger program than Miss. State. He has no real Michigan connections AND has a connect with OSU HC Urban Meyer, but that shouldn't be considered a negative in this case.

Gary Patterson is the other current college HC who makes the most sense. Since his first full season at TCU in 2001, he's had 9 seasons of 10+ wins (including a 13-0 2010 season). This year's team is pretty good too, at 10-1 and ranked #4 nationally. Big Wins: #4 Oklahoma, #9 Kansas State. Big Loss: #5 Baylor. Patterson is often the subject of coaching rumors because a) he's a good coach, and b) he coaches at a small school. He was a defensive coach who made it big at a small school. This actually may be the biggest reason why he might say no to the Michigan job - he has a bit of a Napoleon Complex about coaching a small school in a big pond, and going over to Michigan would be a bit like going over to the Dark Side. TCU fans are convinced (uneasily convinced, a bit like a sweaty, frazzled dude trying REALLY hard to make a case that there's nothing to worry about) that Patterson isn't about to take that big, awesome job looming around the corner. We'll see.
 
Jimbo Fisher I'm MUCH less crazy about. Yes, he's got the best record in football over the past 3 years. He's also running a CRAZY program over there with all the Jameis Winston stuff (Jim Brandstatter would have a heart attack if that stuff went on here), and he's hardly the only guy with issues under Fisher's reign. David Shaw doesn't really do anything for me. He took over Stanford after Harbaugh left for the NFL, and he's been basically coaching Harbaugh's team until now. His first 3 seasons (all Harbaugh players) he finished with 11, 12, & 11 wins. This year is more Shaw's team than Harbaugh's, and Stanford finished 7-5. Shaw's Bowl record isn't great either at 1-2, losing to MSU and Oklahoma State. He can't be terrible if he managed to have 3 straight 11+ win seasons, but I'm not sure that he's GOOD.
 
Pat Narduzzi is a long shot, but he's another name that has been mentioned more than once in connection with the Michigan job. MSU DC Narduzzi was thought to be a serious candidate for the Nebraska job, but the Huskers went with Oregon State HC Mike Riley, so he's still potentially up for grabs. 97.1 The Ticket's Mike Valenti has stated on numerous occasions that Narduzzi would never be accepted by the Michigan fan base due to his association with MSU. I think this is way off base. First of all, MSU has absolutely handled Michigan for the past 7 or 8 years, in large part due to Narduzzi's defense. Secondly, a Narduzzi hire would allow Michigan fans - by whom I mean the crusty, old, "this is MICHIGAN", "that team in Ohio", "most wins in college football" guys Valenti references - to de-legitimize MSU's recent success. Let me explain. If Michigan hires Narduzzi, they ("they" being the crusty old guys) can explain away all those losses to MSU by saying, "D'Antonio ONLY won because he had Narduzzi and now MICHIGAN has Narduzzi, so... Yeah."
 
I think that's bunk, but it gives people an excuse, which is what they want. Narduzzi does run an AMAZING defense, and since the Michigan of my formative years was founded on a defense like that, it gives me chills to think they might go back to that. On the other hand, Narduzzi and D'Antonio are pretty tight, D'Antonio HATES Michigan, and I think Narduzzi going to Ann Arbor in spite of that is unlikely.
 
Teryl Austin is the other top coordinator that is getting HC buzz. He's done wonders with the Lions, who were expected to be a mediocre defense at best, and now he's getting looked at for open coaching positions. I don't WANT him to leave the Lions (and I'd rather have Harbaugh or Mullen, to be honest), but Austin is going to take a HC job in the near future. If he's going to leave, at least he might stay in the state, right? He was Michigan's DBs/defensive assistant coach from 1999-2002, so he has a connection with the school. It was thought he might get a look at the Florida job (he was a DC there in 2010), but they hired Jim McElwain. The only other job offers that might keep Austin out of Ann Arbor would be from the NFL. He might stick with the Lions for another year or two, or he could get that Atlanta job when it opens up, or he may say yes to Michigan.
 
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I went to the Wings game on Tuesday. My dad got some free tickets, 5th row behind the penalty box. Probably the closest I've ever been to the action at a professional sporting event. The Wings were riding a 4 game winning streak but were unable to continue it, losing 4-3 to the Florida Panthers. The Panthers carried most of the play, seemed to be skating faster, and had more active sticks on the ice. Detroit rarely got off a clean shot, scoring 2 of their 3 goals on rebounds. On the other side, the Wings were too careless with the puck in their own zone. 2 or 3 of Florida's goals came off of giveaways in Detroit's own end.
 
They came back last night and beat Dallas 5-2. The effort & focus just happened to dip a little on the game my dad & I went to. Oh well.
 
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The Tigers just dealt Robbie Ray and minor leaguer Domingo Leyba for RHP Shane Greene as part of a 3 team deal with the Yankees and D'backs. The last time the Tigers, Yankees and D'backs were involved in a 3 team deal, Detroit got Austin Jackson, Scherzer and Coke. This was MUCH less of a blockbuster deal (none of the players involved have more than a couple years big league experience), but it solidifies the rotation somewhat.
 
Greene had a pretty good rookie debut with the Yankees last year. Here's what MLBtraderumors has to say:
 Greene is a candidate to immediately fill the fifth slot in the Tigers’ rotation behind David Price, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello. The 26-year-old had an impressive debut with the Yankees in 2014, making 15 appearances (14 starts) and posting a 3.78 ERA (3.73 FIP, 3.40 xFIP, 3.41 SIERA) with 9.3 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and a 50.2 percent ground-ball rate in 78 2/3 innings. Greene averaged a solid 93.1 mph on his fastball last year and gives the Tigers a piece they can potentially control in the long-term, with Price and Porcello set to hit free agency next winter. Greene is controllable through the 2020 season.
 It seems like a good deal. I know nothing about Leyba, but Robbie Ray didn't look good last year, and he wasn't a solid candidate to anchor a rotation that might take a team into the playoffs. It also opens the door to possibly do the Porcello for Cespedes deal with Boston.
 
The downside of this trade is that it makes Ray the 2nd player traded away of the 3 players acquired in the Doug Fister trade. The Fister trade was one of Dombrowski's biggest mistakes. It seemed like a cost cutting move in a season when Detroit had World Series aspirations. Fister went on to have a great season (16-6, 2.41 ERA, 1.08 WHIP). Steve Lombardozzi, the key piece Detroit acquired, was traded before the season started for Alex Freakin' Gonzalez. Gonzalez appeared in 9 games & batted .167. Robbie Ray, the other main piece Detroit got for Fister, had 2 good starts and then 4 REALLY BAD starts in 2014. He could turn into a pretty good pitcher in the future, but little he did last year hinted at any oncoming onslaught of awesomeness. Ian Krol, Detroit's remaining piece from the Fister trade, didn't exactly light the world on fire either.
 
At this point, it's pretty obvious the Fister trade was a bust. The only thing Detroit might salvage from it is if Shane Greene (the guy we got for one of the guys we got for Fister, along with another guy) turns out to be pretty good and Ian Krol turns into a good lefty specialist (unlikely). I'm hoping for a Porcello for Cespedes deal, then picking up a decent #4 pitcher, some bullpen help, and at least 1 more bat.
 
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I don't want to overlook the Lions-Bucs game, since you can never tell with this team. Detroit should wipe the floor with Tampa, stress on the word SHOULD. Tampa does little, if anything, well. They have the 2nd worst run blocking in football, and their passblocking is worse that Detroit's. I expect McCown's jersey to be pretty dirty by the end of the day, and maybe a defensive TD or so. Tampa's D isn't terrible, but if Stafford is back on the wagon, this should be a runaway.
 
I smell a lot of IF coming off this game (sorry no sweet Jayne Cobb vid or link could be found on short notice), but they should at worst be able to squeak out an ugly one.