Search

Maza's Musings

Unsolicited sports opinion and insight

Category

Uncategorized

Looking outward

As the Patriots prepare to make some decisions – some tough, some not so much  – on who will stay and who will go in the new league year, other teams are doing the same. Here’s a list of some players expected to hit the market who could be intriguing targets for New England.

Geoff Schawrtz, Guard. Schwartz, who will turn 30 this summer, was released by the New York Giants earlier this month as a cap casualty. His time in New York was marred by injuries, including a broken ankle in Week 12 that ended his 2015 season. The fact that he started just 13 games the past two seasons is a concern, but also makes him a candidate for a “show me” deal. The Newark Star-Ledger reported he was training at full speed now, so he would project to at least be healthy by camp. Known as a more than competent run blocker, he could provide depth and experience on the interior of the offensive line that didn’t do a lot to open up holes for runs up the middle in 2015.

Marvin Jones, Wide Receiver. Certainly not the splash that some Patriots fans would be looking for, Jones, a free agent, would fit the bill as the deep threat some believe New England needs to “stretch the field” and open things up for slot guys Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola underneath. Playing behind A.J. Green, he managed to rack up more than 800 yards and a handful of touchdowns in 2015 and had 10 scores a year ago. What’s more, he dropped just two passes, boasting a 1.9 percent drop ratio, one of the lowest in the league. Amendola was the best of New England’s regular wide outs in that respect at 2.3 (Brandon LaFell was at 8.1 and Julian Edelman came in a shade over 9). The soon-to-be 26-year-old figures to be in for a payday, so it remains to be seen just how much cap room the Patriots would have and what they would be willing to fork over for a position they have not historically valued in free agency.

Jahri Evans, Guard. Another cap casualty, Evans, now 33, has had a tremendous career during which he’s only played in New Orleans, who let him go earlier this month. With a wealth of experience and six Pro Bowls under his belt, he could provide some veteran leadership for what is a pretty young group on the inside of the offensive line. His health makes him a little bit of a liability – he played in just 11 games last season due to injury – but was still an effective blocker when he was healthy. The Patriots spent a fair amount of draft capital on its interior line, so whether they would be willing to put Tre’ Jackson or Shaq Mason in the back seat is tough to call, especially since both flashed potential in 2015, but Evens fits the mold of a veteran nearing the end of his career who might take a shot at competing for a starting job with a Super Bowl contender rather than grabbing a guaranteed spot elsewhere.

Michael Griffin, Free Safety. Griffin was also cut due to his high cap number, saving the Tennessee Titans almost $7 million. Twice a Pro-Bowler and considered earlier in his career to be a ball hawk, Griffin no longer has that kind of elite ability and was really exposed in coverage as an every-down player but he did record more than 100 tackles each of the last two years. He could be viable in a reserve role defensive backfield that is probably going to end up letting Duron Harmon and Tavon Wilson. He’s 31, so he might be looking for one last big payday and the Patriots have bigger priorities than safety, but if the market softens for him, the chance to make a Super Bowl run in lieu of more cash might be alluring.

DeMeco Ryans, Linebacker. Have we caught onto a pattern here? Ryans is expected to become a free agent as a cap cut by the Eagles after the last two seasons have been derailed by injury. Though he is now two full seasons removed from his first really productive year, the former Pro-Bowler is considered to be an extremely hardworking pro. His injury history would probably limit his value on the open market and while the Patriots are pretty set at inside linebacker, he could fill the soon-to-be-vacated role of Jerod Mayo.

Matt Forte, Running Back. Yep, here it is. Forte, who was told he would not be re-signed by the Bears, is one of the most underrated athletes in the NFL. There’s an obvious connection here because the Patriots are one of the most running back-needy teams in the league with LeGarrette Blount likely gone and Dion Lewis coming back from a serious knee injury and because New England values versatility. Here’s the problem – Forte is 30 and automatically becomes the best running back out there on free agency, so the odds he would take a discount are not as high as some might hope. Let’s fact it, while this looks like a dream scenario on paper, this is really the running back’s last chance to cash in big. Given the Patriots’ cap situation and what should be the priority of locking up some key defensive pieces long-term, it doesn’t seem likely that there would be a match.

Dwayne Allen, Tight End. It’s been rumored that the Colts are going to retain just one of their two top tight ends and Andrew Luck’s buddy from Stanford Coby Fleener is the guy who will stay. With it likely the Patriots will part ways with Scott Chandler after things didn’t work out in 2015, the depth behind Rob Gronkowski would be incredibly thin at the position. Allen was said to have been frustrated with his role as second fiddle in the Colts offense, but the Patriots manage to find a way to get guys who produce involved. He’s a effective blocker and has proven to be competent as a pass catcher when given the opportunity. The price would have to be right, but Allen could be a valuable piece in what could be extremely effective two tight end sets.

Arian Foster, Running Back. It’s been some time since Foster has been healthy and the odds that all the injuries have taken away some of his effectiveness are pretty good. With that said, it would make him a perfect candidate as a guy looking to prove something in camp, especially with what could be a significant role in a Tom Brady-led offense at stake. Obviously a lot depends on how his rehabilitation from his torn Achilles progresses. Like Forte, Foster has proven to be an effective option in the passing game in his career. Before getting injured last year, he had 22 catches a pace he wasn’t going to keep up, but given his history, 60 for the year wouldn’t have been outside the range of possibility.  Also like Forte, he’ll be 30 next season. Unlike Forte, he probably won’t command a high salary or much, if any, guaranteed money.

 

Advertisements

Protecting Brady

As Tom Brady’s pass found its way into Rob Gronkowski’s hands in the waning seconds of the AFC Championship game, Tony Burton’s voice was in my head.

I saw you beat that man like I never saw no man get beat before, and the man kept coming after you.

That sentence, uttered by the actor while pleading with Apollo Creed to avoid a rematch with Rocky Balboa in Rocky II epitomized Tom Brady’s day against the Denver Broncos.

Hit 20 times and harassed countless others by the Broncos’ elite pass rushers, the Greatest Of All Time still managed to put together one last drive and had the Patriots within a two-point conversion of forcing overtime. It was an admirable performance and one that proves a level of grit that those outside of New England rarely give Brady credit for. It was also a scenario that can never be allowed to happen again.

Tom Brady dropped back and was hit 16 times, sacked four, hurried somewhere around 20 others. It’s an unacceptable stat line for any quarterback, but especially a 38-year-old.

Yes, injuries had a lot to do with it. A lot.

Entering the season, the Patriots figured to return the majority of its line from a year earlier that had allowed Brady to get hit just 14 times in three games on its way to winning the Super Bowl. Projected to start we (left tackle to right tackle) Nate Solder, Ryan Wendell, Bryan Stork, Tre’ Jackson and Sebastian Vollmer. The unit that started the AFC Championship game? Vollmer, Josh Kline, Stork, Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon.

This was nothing new for the Patriots, who used more starting line combinations than any other team in the league and, in fact, more than any in a couple decades. In the past, the Patriots have had some fluid situations along their line, but the depth of the unit was tested in a way maybe never seen before. Stork was on the short-term injured reserve list with a severe concussion, then Solder tore his biceps in early October and Wendell barely played at all between a mystery illness and a leg injury, putting Brady’s blindside in peril early on and Jackson suffered a significant knee injury in late October.

Eventually the “next man up” way of doing business doesn’t work when you, well, run out of men. By Week 9, Stork, fresh off of IR, had to play four different positions, including tackle. Yes, the center who started for the Super Bowl champions a year ago was playing tackle on the right side. On the left side was Cameron Fleming, a practice squad player protecting Brady’s back because on top of Solder’s injury, Vollmer left the game with a head injury and Cannon was out with a foot issue.

(When you roll it all out in such a manner, it almost seems unfair that offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo lost his job.)

Then let’s not forget about the loss of Julian Edelman in Week 10 and Danny Amendola, who sprained his knee Week 11, missed Week 12 against Denver, then also missed a critical game against the Jets in Week 15. Also, the offense lost both of its top running backs, which left a ragtag bunch that failed to take pressure off the passing game.

As the injuries mounted, so did the hits on Brady. The offensive line needed more than ever Brady’s quick release and the receivers (such as they were) more than ever needed the line to hold on just that second or two longer as they tried to get open.

It was reflective in the numbers. Brady threw for three or more touchdowns in four of his first eight games, for more than 300 yards in six and had just two interceptions. His lowest passer rating in any game was 94.3 and he was over 100 six times. From Week 10 on, he managed three touchdowns twice, the same number of one-touchdown games, passed for more than 300 yards just twice and had five interceptions, including his first multi-pick game in more than a year. He had just two plus-100 passer ratings and four sub-90 ratings.

Now, let’s keep things in perspective. This is an exercise to illustrate a clear difference in ability to execute, and for some of it, it was more probable than not to be a result of Brady’s body breaking down as he was repeatedly pummeled. Still, most of the league’s quarterbacks would have killed to have Brady’s numbers this year and comparative to last year’s, 2015 was a better season overall, at least on paper. Brady threw just one touchdown in five games last season, but four of those were early in the season.

Timing is everything.

And in 2015, by Week 17 against the Dolphins, the Patriots were trying to win a game with a prevent offense – as in prevent Brady from getting hurt. They did that, barely, but it cost them in the long run as it lost them home field advantage through the playoffs.

As good as Brady is at taking care of his body and keeping himself in prime playing condition, he needs help to keep it that way.

Up the middle, the Patriots have spent a fair bit of equity. Stork has proven to be a solid starter at the position in his short time in the league and backup David Andrews performed admirably in his stead in his rookie year. Mason and Jackson project as good young guards picked up in the 2015 draft. The roster also figures to have the benefit of healthy bookends with Solder on the left, which would allow Vollmer – a good right tackle, but iffy on the left side – the ability to move back to his natural position, assuming he isn’t a cap casualty.

It’s a solid starting lineup, but a heap of work needs to be done behind them. Tackle needs a complete overhaul. Cannon and Fleming have played themselves out of jobs most likely and LaAdrian Waddle probably lost his by not playing. The draft is deep at the tackle position, which might figure to be the most cost-effective way for the Patriots to address their need, given their cap situation and probable desire to lock up some impact players on the defensive side of the ball this offseason. On the inside Wendell doesn’t figure to be back and Kline is a reserve at best, so there is need for improvement there as well. Stork’s versatility helps, but his best position is center and it would probably behoove Bill Belichick and Co. to keep him there unless things start going wrong again the way they did this year. Guard is a position where some quality, especially a veteran looking for a shot at a ring, could be had for reasonable dollars on the free agent market.

Whatever the maneuver, while it doesn’t have to be drastic, it does have to be meaningful. Standing pat just won’t do. Too much, namely Tom Brady’s health, rides on it.

 

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.

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.

Weekly Poll: Who’s the NFL MVP?

Tom Brady and Philip Rivers are throwing the ball all over the yard. Maurice Jones-Drew is running through, around and over people. And Troy Polamalu is, well, just doing his thing. So who’s the Most Valuable Player in the league?

Weekly Poll: Who’s going down?

Seven undefeated teams remain in college football and a few of them face tough tests this week. What team is most likely to suffer its first setback of the season?

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑