Maza's Musings

Unsolicited sports opinion and insight


January 2011

Maza’s Tuesday Musings: 2011 Red Sox Resolutions

With the new year now upon us and a great deal of hope and even more expectations on the shoulders of the 2011 Boston Red Sox, each player should have resolutions for their games in the upcoming year. Here are some suggestions for the projected Red Sox starters.

Jarrod Saltalamaccia: “Ignore the hype and make it through a full, healthy season.” Salty is no longer a top catching prospect and needs to realize that he is not going to have anything handed to him. He needs to keep himself healthy and produce consistently if he wants to keep Boston from looking elsewhere for help behind the plate.

Adrian Gonzalez: “Just do my thing.” Adrain Gonzalez was tailor-made for Fenway Park with a swing that naturally sends balls the opposite way. His bugaboo had been left-handed pitching to a point, but he certainly figured that out last season with an average of over .300 against lefties. If he just operates the way he normally does, he’ll put up monstrous numbers.

Dustin Pedroia: “Focus on getting healthy and don’t rush anything.” While it looks like Pedroia will be ready for spring training anyway, Pedroia has to remember to be careful with that surgically repaired foot. He’s proven that he’s the kind of guy that wants to compete. While that’s commendable, it’s smarter to let the healing process continue and avoid setbacks.

Marco Scutaro: “Hold onto the starting shortstop job.” Scutaro is going to have to fight for his position this spring with Jed Lowrie returning with resounding success for the Red Sox last season. Across the board, Lowrie’s stats outperform those of Scutaro, who drew some interest from teams at the winter meetings. Scutaro posted a .275/.333/.388 line with 11 homers, acting as a serviceable lead off man for most of the season with Jacoby Elsbury out. But Lowrie’s .287/.381/.526 line with nine homers in just over a quarter of the number of at-bats Scutaro had has earned him at least a shot.

Kevin Youkilis: “Get used to playing third base everyday again.” While he was brought up as a third baseman, the highest number of games Youkilis has played at the position is 65. That was his rookie year. He also played 63 games at that position in 2009, but has been almost exclusively a first baseman thoughout his career. Now he’s got to get used to the physical rigors of being an everyday third baseman again.

Carl Crawford: “Familiarize myself with left field at Fenway.” As a hitter, there’s little Crawford can really improve on. He’s a dynamic playmaker. But there’s a science to playing the wall at Fenway, as well as the slim piece of real estate between the left field line and the stands. It’s also likely Crawford will be asked to move closer to center field, allowing  Jacoby Ellsbury to move further towards right to help J.D. Drew in right.

Jacoby Ellsbury: “Re-establish myself as a member of this team.” Ellsbury did himself no favors last year with his public statements about the team’s treatment of his injury, plus the fact he did not spend time with the team as other players did once injured. Teammates were critical of him and fans were all over his case all season. Ellsbury is still only one season removed from a 70-steal season, so, especially with another player with game changing speed, such as Crawford, he could have another terrific season.

J.D. Drew: “Play like I always do in a contract year.” In his two contract years, Drew has played 145 and 146 games. He averages 118 games a season in non-contract years. In 2004 with Atlanta, he posted his season high in homers with 31. in 2006 with Los Angeles, he had his first and only 100 RBI season. He’s never come close to 100 RBI since and hadn’t had more than 73 before. Playing for maybe his last contract, maybe Drew will put forth a little something extra for the Red Sox this year.

Resolutions for the pitching staff will follow with Wednesday’s Musings.


Weekly poll: Who will be Super Bowl champion?

The field is now set. Who will emerge from the NFL playoffs victorious?

Eyes on the Irish: End of season awards

Notre Dame finished off Brian Kelly’s first season in South Bend in convincing fashion with a win over Miami, bringing the season record to a respectable 8-5 mark. While not nearly where Irish fans want it to be, Kelly’s first season at the helm should be viewed more as a success than anything else.

So who were the guys who made it all possible? Let’s break them down.

Offensive player of the year: Michael Floyd
Floyd, who completed his first full season at Notre Dame after having his freshman and sophomore seasons derailed by injury, was one of the nation’s top receivers. He finished in the top-25 in the nation in receptions (t-20, 79) and touchdowns (t-11, 12), while finishing 26th in total yards. What can also be said for Floyd is something that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. Floyd developed into a terrific blocker on the outside. The big-bodied wide out was probably one of the best blocking wide receivers in football last year and that won’t go unnoticed by teams on draft day should Floyd decide to go that route.

Offensive rookie of the year: Tommy Rees
Rees went through his growing pains this season after taking over for Dayne Crist, who suffered a knee injury for the second season in a row. But despite learning on the fly, Rees led Notre Dame to bowl eligibility. Remember that Kelly’s decision to have Rees, who replaced Crist early in the game, to throw into the end zone, instead of kicking a game-winning field goal cost Notre Dame a victory and had them sitting at 4-5 heading into the home stretch. Rees responded and led Notre Dame to victories over Utah at home, plus Army and USC on the road. Albeit with a lighter workload, he accumulated a better QB rating than Crist, a better completion percentage and sparked what should be a battle for the top quarterback spot on the depth chart come spring practices.

Underrated offensive player of the year: The Notre Dame offensive line
A much-scrutinize part of the Irish game over the past few years has been the offensive line. This season, even without having his prototypical spread offense linemen in place, Brian Kelly got some great production out of his line. In 12 regular-season games, Notre Dame quarterbacks were sacked just 19 times, good for 35th nationally. Last season, Notre Dame ranked 65th in that category. In addition to that, Notre Dame’s top 3 running backs – Armando Allen, Cierre Wood and Robert Hughes averaged 4.6, 4.6 and 4.2 yards per carry, respectively on the season.

Defensive player of the year: Ian Williams
Before getting hurt in the Irish’s loss to Navy, Williams was an absolute beast for the Irish. A disruptive force in the trenches, teams specifically had to game plan for the nose guard, usually with double teams that opened up holes for pass rushers in the Irish’s 3-4 defense.

Defensive rookie of the year: Carlo Calabrese
Calabrese was a terrific run stopper for the Irish when healthy. The sophomore had 61 tackles on the season, good for fifth on the team. If he can learn how to defend the pass better, he could become a very key asset to Notre Dame teams over the course of the next two years.

Underrated defensive player of the year: Harrison Smith
Smith was somewhat of a whipping boy for Irish fans last season as he was shuffled back and forth between linebacker and safety by Charlie Weis’ coaching staff and a lot of times found himself out of position, giving up big plays. This year, Smith was the guy making those plays. He ranked second on the team in tackles and led the team by intercepting seven passes.

Special teams player of the year: David Ruffer
Who else? Ruffer took the starting job from Nick Tausch last season and hasn’t looked back, finally registering the first missed field goal of his career in the Sun Bowl. He has been nothing short of terrific for the Irish, who desperately needed to solidify their kicking game.

Irish coach of the year: Bob Diaco
Notre Dame’s defense went from an absolute joke to a respectable unit in less than one year’s time. In 2009, the Irish were 63rd in scoring defense, and 86th in total defense. This season, Notre Dame was 24th in scoring defense and 53rd in total defense. Down the stretch, Notre Dame’s defense went into shut down mode, holding all three opponents to well under 300 yards of offense, including keeping Utah’s vaunted offense to 265 yards and no touchdowns. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but Diaco has also given reason for fans to hope the Irish defense won’t be a liability anymore.

Maza’s Monday Musings: Patriots the toast of the AFC

If the New England Patriots haven’t proven to you that they are a legitimate Super Bowl contender, it may be time to see a doctor.

With their second straight dominating win over the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots completed a regular-season stretch that set multiple team records, as well as a few individual ones for Mr. Tom Brady.

While many viewed the first meeting a fluke game in which the Patriots were on the positive end of so many unusual plays that it could not be considered a legitimate win, the second go-around was nothing more than a classic beatdown.

I will first argue the point that the first game was less of a fluke. By scoring a touchdown in basically every conceivable way possible, the Patriots played a complete game. They dominated in every facet of the game. How that can be considered a fluke is beyond me.

In a similar respect, Sunday’s game was also a domination that to me more than anything legitimized the first game against these two teams. It was also a game that was controlled in all respects by the Patriots. Offensively, the Patriots stood up against the third-ranked defense in total yards allowed and only managed the following:

  • Picked up 502 total offensive yards, including 122 from backup quarterback Brian Hoyer;
  • Went 11-17 on third down;
  • Dominated time of possession, 36:19 – 23.41;
  • Didn’t allow a sack;
  • Had five different players cross the goal line, including Julian Edelman’s franchise record 94-yard punt return; and
  • Did all of the preceding without their top three receivers.

Defensively, the Patriots, who have been an opportunistic, but far from dominating bunch this season, had one of its best games statistically this season by doing the following:

  • Held Miami to 250 total yards on the day;
  • Allowed an average of just 4.3 yards per play and 2.4 yards per rush attempt;
  • Sacked Miami quarterbacks five times;
  • Forced two turnovers;
  • Allowed just four first downs on 13 third-down situations; and
  • Shut out the Dolphins for 57:49.

Miami clearly has its problems and that is why it is not going to the postseason. But this win for the Patriots was an illustration of how this team has gelled from Week 1 to now.

A defense that was considered at worst a joke and at best a liability at the beginning of the season has contributed an AFC-high 38 takeaways.

With those opportunities, Tom Brady, whose most talented receiver was shipped out of town mid-season, has led the offense to nine straight games of 30 points or more, which ties a record shared by the 2007 Patriots and the 2000 St. Louis Rams. The Patriots turn turnovers into points. They don’t give it up and make you pay when you do.

What’s more, the Patriots have done all this against one of the most difficult schedules in the NFL this season.

While statistically they may not be the best Patriots team ever, you could make the argument that this young squad may be the most complete Patriots team.

And that is why they have to be considered a true Super Bowl favorite.

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