Archive for January, 2005

Last Man Standing

Thursday, 27 January, 2005

By Zack Cimini

Donovan McNabb has been glorified for obvious reasons of being the last man standing from the supposable takeover quarterback class of 1999. His endurance is of greatness and he has the ability to learn quickly and run with it. When you can soak in knowledge and bottle it, McNabb is exactly what you get. After being booed on draft day by Eagles fans, he already had more motivation than a weekend warrior would need. He could have been like a Steve Francis and pout on stage and show his true age, but the maturity of this man started at Syracuse University.

Syracuse football has fell off the map since McNabb and company reigned in the mid to late 90?s. In fact, Paul Pasquoloni was finally fired after one of the greatest runs in recent college history. What helped McNabb the most was the ability to play all four seasons as the virtual starter. At the time Syracuse would repeatedly knock off big east foes like the Miami Hurricanes and Virgina Tech. It led to great bowl appearances, but with the BCS system being implemented in the late 90?s it would give McNabb a shot to prove even more in his senior campaign.

That year featured an ESPN Classic for McNabb in which he defied all believers with a fourth down touchdown pass against Virginia Tech as time expired in regulation. Syracuse ended up winning, and the next week demolished Miami 62-7 in the Big East championship. It was all there for the storybook ending for McNabb, as the Orangemen earned the right to take on Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl.

Apparently it wasn?t met for McNabb, as the Orangemen faded in their lone BCS experience. The Orangemen never really got into the game like they would?ve liked to, and lost by a wide margin. No senior likes to end on a losing note, but careers end and careers start fresh every day in life. As McNabb ventured into the NFL and continued losing big time games, it had to irk the man with unconditional extreme passion, deep inside. Doubts about his ability and questions on the Eagles development offensively, were high floating rumors after they lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002.

Early in 2003, it was evident that McNabb finally let the Eagles media get into his head and throw off his concentration. His play in the first month and a half of that season is something that he?d like erased from the history books. But rather looking at it as a downfall, it should be looked at as a maturing process that was needed. Everyone, even high profiled sportscasters in Boomer Esiason and Tom Jackson were badmouthing McNabb?s mechanics and temperament. Then, Rush Limbaugh had to make the idiotic remarks that coincidentally marked the sudden rise of McNabb?s play. All of the sudden the Eagles finished off the season on a roller coaster upswing, that wasn?t about to come down.

Then McNabb endured yet another flashback championship nightmare, as he was picked and tore apart by the Panthers secondary, and made Ricky Manning look like a Larry Brown MVP. Right then and there a veteran quarterback may have imploded with fury, on the simple fact that the Eagles had done nothing to upgrade at wide receiver in those three seasons.

Instead though, McNabb handled the situation in-house behind doors, and the Eagles finally listened by signing Terrell Owens. Owens may be out and limited in the Super Bowl, but the offense is still having after shocks offensively from his presence earlier in the season. Noticing the improvement and the stature of the Eagles passing attack was prevalent in their wins against Minnesota and St. Louis. Owens mastery rubbed off on the rest of his compadres, and is paying dividends for rather average receivers.

Still in all, McNabb has never changed his demeanor and is as laid back off the field as he poses in front of the camera. Each and every off-season, he resides in Phoenix, Arizona, in which he has a house and trains at independently. You may ask why Phoenix? Well back in 1998 when Syracuse was down in Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl, McNabb fell in love with the area and its weather. There he can remain focused in solitude and even recruited Freddie Mitchell and others last year. The surprising thing was last summer, Freddie Mitchell and McNabb were walking in a local valley mall without anybody noticing them. Here is a guy that is a national icon with an afro the size of Pluto, and it seriously took a few kids to spot him for anyone to recognize him.

Athletes need to take notes from McNabb, and stay away from being distracted in the off-season. When an athlete like Clinton Portis says, don?t be surprised if you see me on the news because I?ll be vacationing in Florida to clear my mind, it shows an immaturity that targets athletes to get into unnecessary trouble.

Right now the talk is dynasty, dynasty, and dynasty for the Patriots. Well, the Patriots have proved their mark but could just as easily be broken hearted by two close Super Bowl losses. Everything happens for a reason, and McNabb is ready to step in the forefront.

Diversion Only Possibility

Wednesday, 26 January, 2005

By Zack Cimini

They?re different sports, but Grant Hill would tell Terrell Owens to sit out the Super Bowl, it isn?t worth jeopardizing your future. Who can forget when Grant Hill finally got the Detroit Pistons to the playoffs four or five years ago, and fought through an ankle injury throughout the playoffs? He played phenomenal but the pressure and additional strain he added to his ankle, setback, delayed, and almost ended his career. It took countless efforts to finally get back to the level he is at now.

Just like Hill, Owens was the main reason for their respective teams success in the regular season. When Owens injured his ankle, his doctors and himself knew that there was a slim possibility in being ready for the Super Bowl. He can take all the pain shots before the game, and be on the ultimate adrenaline rush, and still there is no possible way he?ll be ready. You can?t bump up an eight to ten week healing process by three to four weeks. There is a reason why a team doctor sets a recovery period, and that?s because there is no miracle overnight healing program, it?s a process that is called rest.

Let?s say Owens is at around 70 percent. In all honesty that takes away anything he can do. An athlete could play at that percentage in almost every other position except receiver, because they don?t have to cover the entire field. A quarterback could become a pocket passer, and an offensive lineman could utilize their strength over their foot speed. No matter what though, a receiver?s sole goal every snap is to push as hard as possible off the line of scrimmage, and make great cuts down the field. A receiver though needs to be able to run at full speed, or they become an easy guard by any cornerback. Why do you think a receiver is hampered by a hamstring injury for an overly extended period of time?

Even Randy Moss couldn?t shake off a minor ankle injury a few weeks ago. In the wild card round he suffered an ankle injury, and it hurt his play noticeably against the Eagles. His speed wasn?t there to get his big play separation that that the Vikings count on.
There is no doubt that Terrell Owens will play, but the question is how much? It?d be safe to say that Owens will be limited to third downs, and red zone possessions. That would be a great diversion for the Eagles, and would play into the hands of Chad Lewis and Freddie Mitchell.

Using Owens as a starter though would be a huge mistake. He?d be limiting the Eagles offense when Todd Pinkston or Freddie Mitchell could be making plays. Both the Patriots and Eagles have one goal and mind, and that is controlling the clock. With that in mind, the receivers are not going to be the main objective of this game. In fact, the only time we should hear from a receiver is on a big play, from being setup by the run.

Lets hope that Owens ends his season with a prognosis of still being on a correct recovery schedule. His off-season doesn?t need to be a nightmare, and hopefully he?ll let his body be the main factor in his decision and not his mind.

Why Leave Now?

Wednesday, 26 January, 2005

By Zack Cimini

Randy Moss is adamant about leaving the Vikings, after yet another early exit in the playoffs. It?s understandable that Moss is angry at the results year in and year out, but does he honestly think a trade is going to help that? Everybody can?t win, as there is only one Super Bowl champion. So if Moss goes to the next average joe it?s only going to further advance Moss?s latest antic problems. Maybe his rookie season success of coming a field goal away from the Super Bowl, is still burning inside of him. Regardless of what it is, Moss?s best decision would be to stay put.

Besides Peyton Manning, there may not be a better quarterback in the league over Daunte Culpepper. No one possesses the strength, size, and speed he does, and that has paid huge dividends for Randy Moss. In fact, it seemed like Culpepper finally came into his own this year, by ridding the fumbling problems and mistakes that plagued him in the past. The main reason for the Vikings finishing 8-8, was because they couldn?t win close games. They could have easily been a 12-4 team, but that wouldn?t have mattered because they would have been in the same situation in the playoffs. Philadelphia?s defense was just too good for them, and they?ll need to supplement their offense more around the running game next season.

When you don?t even try to run the football, it makes you one-dimensional. The Vikings have great receivers, but they needed to utilize Michael Bennett and Onterrio Smith more. If you think back to the Vikings 1998 season, a lot of their success came with Randy Moss and Cris Carter, but also running back Robert Smith. It got to the point that Randall Cunningham was so at ease, that he started grinning at the line of scrimmage, like a fat kid at the candy store.

Even in years past, a lot of the blame went on the Vikings defense. They were always giving up too many points, and the Vikings offense couldn?t keep up with it. They weren?t the best this year, but showed great signs with Chris Hovan, Claiborne, and an improving secondary. An average defense should be more than enough for a high potent offense, it?s not like they?re the Chiefs defense.

By being in the weak NFC, it wouldn?t be wise to go to any team besides the Eagles, Falcons, or Panthers. Of course the addition of Moss would upgrade any team dramatically, but the offsets aren?t as good as the balance of staying in Minnesota. The NFC North still has two teams trying to find themselves in the Lions and Bears, and the Packers are steadily declining. Clearly, the Vikings have the most upside of the division and perhaps could contend for a bye if they make the right moves in the front office this off-season.

Moss was just overreacting like most players do after an early exit. After he calms down, look for him to become more focused on the next season and put aside any grudges. No other coach in the NFL is going to show Moss as much devotion as Mike Tice does, and if he pulled the shenanigans that he has done with a Shottenheimer or Cowher he?d be subject to more than a petty fine.

Moss is a grown veteran, but surely someone still needs to get through to him. A couple of seasons with Cris Carter just wasn?t enough, and somewhere Carter is shaking his head at the way Moss is maturing. Who knows how one more year with Carter would have helped Moss, instead of Carter ending his career in a Dolphins uniform.

Class Acts

Monday, 24 January, 2005

By Zack Cimini

No discredit to Mike Vick or Ben Roesthlisberger, but the true class act quarterbacks performed on Sunday. The fact is, in the past four years Tom Brady and Donovan McNabb have quietly been performing the best in their conferences. Year in and year out they give off a demeanor of a casual relaxed calm presence, that just keeps them mentally focused and ahead of the next quarterback.

In New England, Tom Brady wanted another shot at Pittsburgh and he got exactly what he wanted. The game was at Pittsburgh in the second coldest playoff game in Steelers history. To add to the drama was the fact that rookie Ben Roethlisberger still hadn?t lost a game. All week Brady was faced with questions, and seemingly could have been judged like he was prepping for a regular season match up. His composure is unmatched, and it was the most evident factor of separation from him and Roethlisberger on Sunday.

Early jitters are common for any quarterback, but Roethlisberger couldn?t shake them throughout the entire game. Sure, he had a few good drives, but sixty percent of his drop backs you could tell he was completely distracted in the lime light. It got to the point that he was thinking run before the pass, and when that happens it gives the defense even more confidence. For instance when the score was 17-3, Roethlisberger used a few runs and a couple of short passes to move them down. New England is the best at noticing tendencies, and Romeo Crennel and the Patriots were quick to point it out.

Almost every time he threw a relaxed pass, it was a short route. The times that he actually took shots deep, he would be dancing in the pocket before chucking the ball. So at the snap of a ball, the secondary could just sit and see what type of comfort Roethlisberger was in. Rodney Harrison is not the type of safety that is known for jumping on the football, but Roethlisberger was in that one frame mode. Earlier in the season, he would have checked off and made the correct read in the end zone to Antwaan Randle El who was wide open. Even Roethlisberger couldn?t believe his mistake, when he went to the sideline and his offensive coordinator was showing his miscue.

On the flipside, every time Pittsburgh made a mistake Tom Brady would come in and throw some unbelievable passes. Brady gets a lot of credit, but there are definitely players not getting the recognition they deserve. David Givens and Deion Branch played phenomenal and caught everything, even in traffic. That?s something Seattle wish they had.

Another big key for New England is the presence of Corey Dillon. Early in the game Pittsburgh was doing a great job in shutting him down. Flashback to a year ago, and New England would have completely gave up on the running game with Kevin Faulk or Antowain Smith. That?s when Tom Brady would have to throw more screens, and slow down the tempo. This year though, they are able to continue to run the ball with Dillon because he is such a great back. His 71 yards is misleading, because he definitely opened up the Patriots offensive ability by taking shots deep. By the second half he was just pounding away at the Steelers defense, and finally broke off a 25 yard touchdown while shredding defenders on his way to the end zone.

Out in Philadelphia it was just their time. Mike Vick learned what Donovan McNabb learned the past three years, the fact that you can?t win in the NFC championship, without a talented supporting crew. Philadelphia may have three Pro Bowlers in the secondary, but the Falcons have serious problems at wide receiver that need to be addressed. In years past the same was for Donovan McNabb and every year was exposed by St. Louis, Tampa Bay, and last year Carolina. The same frustrations of trying to create something with his feet and threw the air was shut down, just like McNabb faced in the past.

Vick will learn from it, and probably quicker if the Falcons go out and do something at wide receiver. Maybe Moss wanting to be traded, will bring the best two combos right back at center stage for these two teams. Imagine Donovan McNabb and TO vs. Mike Vick and Randy Moss?

New England is a master at beating teams especially when they?ve been able to face them previously. The Eagles and Patriots have played in previous years, so there is some experience. But the Eagles have a completely different mold especially on the defensive side that should cause problems for Tom Brady. It?ll be up to Corey Dillon to showcase why the Patriots signed him. New England is in the Super Bowl for the third time in four years now. Shockingly, this could have been the third time in four years these two would have been playing each other in the Super Bowl. It?s been a long time coming for this match up, and should prove to be worthwhile.

A look at the conference championships

Wednesday, 19 January, 2005

The conference championships are here in the NFL and by the looks of it, there could be two good battles going on this Sunday.

The New England Patriots will take their impressive victory over the Colts to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers at Hines Field where they were dominated earlier this season. The Patriots, however, were without Corey Dillon that time around and rushed the ball only five times for six yards. This weekend Dillon will be ready to go, giving the Patriots the rushing attack they need to play their style of game, which is controlling the clock.

On defense, the Patriots will be fired up the way they were against Indianapolis. Bill Belichek and his staff won?t allow the Patriots to lose to the same team twice in a season and will have plenty of schemes to throw at Ben Roethlisberger. They will be prepared to shut down the highly potent Steeler running game and make Roethlisberger beat them through the air. Roethlisberger played terrible in his first playoff game against the Jets. The only reason the Steelers won is because New York literally handed them the game on numerous occasions. Look for the Patriots defense to make Roethlisberger look like the rookie he truly is and make critical mistakes that cost his team a shot at the Super Bowl.

In no way can I see Pittsburgh winning this game. A rookie quarterback, a non-deserving win last week against the Jets and a Patriots team that proves time and time again that they are a dynasty destined to pave way into history as one of the greatest teams ever. That just simply doesn?t look good if you?re Steelers fan. But the Steelers are 16-1 and haven?t come this far to allow the Patriots to take over early. They will be ready to roll as well and should put up a great effort against a great New England team. But in the end, the Patriots will be on their way to Jacksonville to play for their third Super Bowl in four years.

The Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons game should be a very interesting one. You?ve got Donovan McNabb vs. Michael Vick. Which of these quarterbacks will come through and lead their team to the big game.

Last week, both teams dominated their opponents. Those opponents (Minnesota and St Louis), however, didn?t belong in the playoffs and proved so last weekend. Both Atlanta and Philadelphia looked like they were tuning up for the NFC championship game.

The Falcons ran all over St Louis in the divisional round and expect them to attempt to do so in Philadelphia. Atlanta is number one in the NFL in rushing the football and should be able to run the ball well against a solid Eagles defense. The Eagles run defense has always been labeled their weak point but ever since Jeremiah Trotter took over as middle linebacker, they have improved. Still, the speed of Warrick Dunn and Michael Vick and the power of T.J. Duckett should take a toll on the Eagles defense.

Look for this to be a game decided by three points or less. Both teams are fairly evenly matched. This could be an NFC championship game for the ages.

In the end, I see Atlanta winning the game on a couple big runs by Dunn and Vick.

Pats Falling Into Place

Tuesday, 18 January, 2005

By Zack Cimini

New England?s two Super bowl wins in three seasons, could end up being three real quick. If and when it does happen this team has to go down as one of the best all time. Each and every year when it looks like their team will be susceptible, they somehow manage to defy odds and keep the media fun loving. Everyone knows that the media enjoys nothing better than seeing a championship team fall a part. Eventually the Patriots will falter, but this season is a testament to a true team.

Peyton Manning may have been 0-6 at New England going into Sunday?s game, but 80 percent of people thought this would be the time. Throughout the first half the Patriots dominated Manning just like in the past, but the score was only 6-3. We all know that the Colts offense was stronger than that, and expected for them to figure out something at halftime. Shockingly though, the only team that put up any points coming back onto the field were the Patriots for a 20-3 finish. The Patriots offense could have been ineffective for another thirty minutes and it wouldn?t have mattered.

Tedy Bruschi summed it up best when he said this is what a true team is supposed to be. Any other team that was suffering on defense with two key players in Ty Law and Richard Seymour out, would have made excuses. Bill Belicheck and his championship nucleus of coaches would not allow any sympathy for going this far. Rather they sucked it up and battled to put together their best game all around this season.

The Patriots rise to the top has been all because of Bob Kraft?s moves. It all started by bringing in Bill Parcell?s many years ago. He came in and changed this team from a bassment cellar team, to a steady playoff team. The best accomplishment with him was a trip to the Super Bowl in 1997. It paved the way for learning experiences but also brought about a need for change. Parells wanted out, and wanted Curtis Martin with him. So right there went a big part of the Patriots offense to the Jets. On the defensive side though, many of the players have been together for an extended time, including Ty Law, Tedy Bruschi, and Willie McGinest.

No disrespect to Pete Carroll but the experiment with him in New England is a transition that is never remembered. He had a rough time keeping this team together, and Bob Kraft quickly crafted up an idea. He decided to go after Bill Belicheck who has been coaching in the NFL since the 70?s, and was willing to give up a first round draft pick and other picks for him. Many people thought Kraft was silly, but Belicheck was ready to shine. He had been under Parcells in the 80?s with the Giants, than was the Cleveland Browns head coach in the early 90?s, before rejoining Parcells wing. Parcells is considered one of the best coaches of all time, and you can bet Bellicheck learned everything possible in those long years.

With a background like Belicheck?s you?re going to become a disciple of the game, and make many friends around the league. A great head coach is a key to a teams success, but the overlooked keys are the coordinators. Just look at how Jimmy Johnson did without Norv Turner and Dave Wannstedt? Belicheck is going to lose Charlie Weiss and Romeo Crennel this off season, and they may be irreplaceable. The schemes and concepts both have been able to come up with every week, have been the catalyst to this teams success.

With all of the awards handed out each year, it?s unfathomable why there is never a defensive and offensive coordinator of the year handed out. A head coach can only do so much, and a player gets their one on one attention from their coordinators and position coaches. Why do you think a coach like Dennis Green is quick to fire his coordinators? It?s because they?re pivotal to success on the field.