Monday, October 08, 2007

The Los Angeles Anaheim Orange County...Whatever They're Called, They're Out

"I thought the only lonely place was on the moon."

So the Sox will return to Boston no doubt energized by their total beatdown of the Halos in three games. Sunday's game was dramatic for awhile, but once again, the Sox were able to get to the Angel bullpen, going for seven in the seventh, and effectively ending any chance the Angels had of winning the game and staying in the series (there was even an Eric Gagne sighting, so you know the game was well in hand). The Sox were dominant in Games 1 and 3, carried by tremendous starting pitching performances from Beckett and Schilling. Schilling was rolling today, spreading six hits over seven, with only one of those being of the extra-base variety. Schill was masterful in blending his breaking pitches with his fastball, which he was able to get up to 92-93 on the gun at times. Needing 100 pitches in his outing, Schill threw 76 strikes, which is pretty much right at the spot you want to be if you're a starting pitcher. Throwing about 75% strikes seems to be an unspoken goal for most starters, and Schill accomplished that today.

The offense, while slow at times, definitely shined when they absolutely needed to. Even J.D. Drew somehow got a clutch hit in Game 2, hitting a two-run single in a low-scoring game. However, as said all along, this team goes where its starting pitching goes. Another key was teeing off on the Angel bullpen, who had struggled going into the postseason. This was especially true with Scot Shields, who was considered to be their main set-up guy all year before September, where he seemingly fell apart. The bash brothers also made a huge impact on the series, and without their help, who knows if this series is still going on. Ortiz and Ramirez went back-to-back today, while Ortiz hit an absolute bomb in Game 1 to give the Sox and Beckett some breathing room, and of course, Ramirez with the game-winner in Game 2 (throw in a "the ball hasn't landed yet" line if you need to). These two both experienced a drop in their power numbers from last year, but hey, if they keep this kind of hitting going in the ALCS, who really cares what they did in the regular season?

So now, we wait to see who the Sox will get at Fenway on Friday. Again, the hope is that the Tribe and the Yanks just beat the hell out of each other in five games, and then the winner comes into Boston bruised and battered...that would be ideal. Who would I like to see? Well, personally, it doesn't really matter to me. Both teams present interesting matchups for the Sox. If the Tribe win, they are going to start the series with one of their big guns having to sit until probably Game 3 because they were unable to win on Sunday against the Yanks. So, if Cleveland wins Game 4, you're looking at Carmona and Westbrook starting Games 1 and 2 at Fenway, with Sabathia having to wait until the series shifts to Jacobs Field. Now with the Yankees, you have the lineup that can turn it on at any time, and a bullpen that seems to get stronger the more people criticize them. Do they scare me? A little, but the thing that scares me more than anything is that the only team in the major leagues that can beat the Sox is the Sox. No other team brings what the Sox bring to the table, but, given everything that has happened with the Yankees in the past few games the Sox played them, they have squandered wins due to a lack of clutch hitting, bad coaching decisions, and an imploding bullpen. So, with four days to rest, it would seem like the Sox will use the same rotation in the ALCS that they did in the division series, with either Wake or Lester starting Game 4. Personally, I would like to see Lester go regardless of who they play. Most of the best hitters on both teams are lefty, and I know Wake is terrible against the Yanks as well, so I want to see Lester start. Will Tito (Francona) listen? That I'm not so sure about. In any event, it all starts Friday, and you can't quite worry about Game 4 just yet. The focus needs to be on Friday and nothing else. For now, hopefully we'll see two extra inning games with both teams wear out their 'pens before Game 1.

Another wild week of college football has come and gone, and a lot of history is now in the books. Stanford and Illinois played spoilers, and benefited the two teams I have the most interest in the world in, BC and USC. The Stanford win was an absolute shock. I saw the first half before going home, and was convinced that the Trojans were just toying with Stanford and would come out firing in the second half. Well, that never happened. So now, BC all of a sudden finds itself #4 in the country, able to leap-frog South Florida after they turned in a very unimpressive game against FAU (predicted by this guy). This matches the highest rank this team has ever been, having last been #4 in the '84 season when Flutie won the Heisman. Speaking of Heisman, Matt Ryan again had an impressive performance against Bowling Green, and after Andre Woodson bowed out of the race on Thursday, Ryan likely is in the top two or three in the Heisman race right now. Again, looking in hindsight, BC has been exceptionally fortunate to play some overrated teams and real bad teams, and were also fortunate to survive the ZooMass test. I'm still skeptical about this team. Don't get me wrong, I'm rooting for them, but at the same time, I just feel like if they are given a challenge, they may not be able to handle it. Next week, the Eagles go up to South Bend in a battle of catholic supremacy, which, at the beginning of the year, looked like it would be a big-time matchup. Now, not so much. However, you have to respect the revenge factor that the Irish could have as a program going into this game. What kind of irony would it be if the Irish bumped off BC? Remember 1993? ND went into the game the #1 team in the country, and David Gordon hit a game-winner, capping off a three TD rally to knock of Notre Dame in one of the wildest games of all-time. Now, with BC at its peak, and in search of a national title of their own, Notre Dame now gets to play the hunter. Very interesting.

USC was able to bank their Kentucky win into a #7 ranking, the highest since '84 when they were ranked seventh as well. Behind the arm of Chris Smelley and a suffocating pass defense, the Cocks too find themselves on the brink of doing something huge for this program. However, the tough part of the schedule still looms, with the "Orange Crush" (at Tennessee, Florida, Clemson) and a trip to Arkansas coming up for USC. It's going to be a heck of a ride to the finish, and if they can somehow survive all of those challenges, they will play for the SEC Championship game, as the Cocks now control their own destiny. The game this week against UNC has been publicized for months and months, with both sides taking shots at one another. Despite USC having the more talented team on paper, UNC is not a team to take lightly...just ask the U, who were favored by a TD, and went down Saturday at Chapel Hill. The lines haven't come out yet, but given the events of what happened on Thursday and Saturday, I expect USC to be favored by about 15. This is a major test for (South) Carolina. Going on the road in a hostile environment against an upstart team who is hungry to turn their fortunes around. It's totally bizarre how the BC and USC games are strikingly similar in that the two home teams are coming off big wins and play a re-hatched rivalry game against teams who could very well wind up playing for a BCS bowl bid.

Overall, I have to say I was pretty happy with how I did. There were three "what was I thinking games" in the form of Louisville/Utah, Jacksonville/KC, and GB/Chicago when I look at it and say those three magical words: Stupid, stupid, stupid. In any event, my numbers will go up, so I'm pleased.

Now, as it is my civic duty that has been bestowed on me by the good people of Patriots Insider, I will now recap the Cleveland/Pats game in great detail...much to my absolute pleasure.

Pats Withstand Late Cleveland Push To Remain Unbeaten

"His brain has not only been washed, as they say...It has been dry cleaned." ~The Manchurian Candidate

Cleveland came closer than any team has this season to knocking off the Patriots...and they still got beat by three scores.

A late Randall Gay fumble return for a touchdown got the Pats over the 30-point mark for the fifth straight game, a new team record, as New England dispatched a hungry Cleveland team 34-17 on Sunday. As Gay crossed the goal line, and Stephen Gostkowski added the extra point, the Patriots were once again able to win by 17 or more points, which has only been done four times in NFL history, with the last occurrence happening with the '99 St. Louis Rams.

It’s good to win." coach Bill Belichick stated following the game on Sunday. "It’s always good to win and be 5-0. I don’t think that was either team’s best game out there today, but in the end we were able to make a few more plays."

Despite being without the services of Laurence Maroney for the second straight week, Sammy Morris was once again able to carry the running game in Maroney's absence, rushing for 102 yards, the second consecutive week he cracked the century mark. This marks the first time since '95 that the Patriots have gone three weeks in a row with a 100-yard rusher. Despite serving as a backup for the first three games, and only starting the last two, Morris currently ranks 12th in the league with 370 yards for the season. As a team, New England ran for 146 yards, and moved up to third in the league with a 155 yards/game average for the season.

Tom Brady once again proved to be too much for the opposition, going 22-for-38 for 265 yards. Brady also threw three touchdown passes with no interceptions. The three touchdown passes for Brady ties an NFL record with five games in a row with three or more passing touchdowns. His 16 touchdowns for the season are by far the most in the league, leading Brady's counterpart from Sunday, Derek Anderson, who comes into Monday in second, by five.

What gets lost in Brady's great play is the fact that the offensive line has given him protection and time to throw all year long. The Browns were unable to get to Brady on Sunday, unable to record a sack. Brady has only been sacked three times all season, which is tied with Peyton Manning for the least amount for quarterbacks starting all of their team's games.

The protection was great all day." Brady remarked in his post-game press conference. "We had no sacks and not a whole lot of pressure. It was another good performance – great performance – by the offensive line."

Donte' Stallworth recorded his first touchdown as a Patriot late in the first quarter. Brady found him after being able to stand in the pocket and dissect the defense, stepped up, and found Stallworth crossing over the middle. Stallworth made a move down the left sideline, and found the end zone on the 34-yard reception. While Stallworth was a heralded off-season acquisition for the Pats, he came into the game with the Browns only having eight catches on the year. Against Cleveland, while most of the attention was being paid to Randy Moss and Wes Welker, Stallworth was able to capitalize on the defense not accounting for him, catching four passes for 65 yards.

"You just go out and play and wait on your opportunity." Stallworth said. "Today I got a little more opportunity because they were trying to take Randy out of the game. When that happens, they leave someone in single coverage [and] either me or Wes [are] able to make some plays. When that happens, the other guy has to stand up and make the plays."

Benjamin Watson also made a huge contribution in the passing game, catching six passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns, both career highs. This marks the fifth consecutive week a Patriot had 100 yards receiving, with Moss hitting the mark in the first four games. This is the first time in Patriots history that the team has had five in a row, surpassing the four that was recorded back in 1975.

"It’s great having the opportunity." Watson commented following his career day. "That’s why you always have to be ready. You never know when your time is going to come to help out this team."

The defense had arguably its worst game, and by most standards, it still wasn't all that bad. Derek Anderson was able to throw for 287 yards and two scores, but also tossed three picks. The first two, which wound up in the hands of Junior Seau and Asante Samuel respectfully, were off of tipped balls, and the last interception, which would be Seau's second of the game, came when Mike Vrabel hit Anderson's arm while he was attempting to throw a short pass to Jason Wright.

The defensive play of the game was turned in by the aforementioned Randall Gay. With the score at 27-17, Cleveland started from deep in their own territory with just 52 seconds remaining in the game, trying to just put some points on the board, as the game was basically over at that stage. Anderson completed the first play of the drive, hitting Kellen Winslow, Jr. over the middle. Gay was then able to track Winslow down and strip the ball away from him just as Winslow's second foot hit the turf. Once the ball was out, Gay had the presence of mind to pick up the ball, and race past the Cleveland offense and into the end zone. While the touchdown was inconsequential, it nevertheless showed how much Gay has developed into a playmaking corner with very instinctive abilities.

Reviewing The Keys To Victory:

New England:

1. Running The Ball:
The Pats were once again able to control the clock despite not having their #1 guy for the second week in a row. Morris averaged close to five yards a carry on 21 attempts. Even the receivers got into the act, with both Stallworth and Watson both getting end-arounds for 12 and 11 yards respectfully. Cleveland had no answer to the Pats attack, but did allow less yardage (147) than they had averaged coming into the game (160).

2. Confuse Derek Anderson: New England was able to mix up their coverage schemes and their blitz packages, which had Anderson off-balance for most of the game. Tedy Bruschi recorded two sacks and on both, came in relatively untouched on both occasions. Vince Wilfork also recorded a sack, his first of the season.

3. Turnovers: The Patriots certainly excelled in this aspect of the game, recording three interceptions and recovering a fumble, which led to 21 New England points. Seau recorded two interceptions in a game for the third time in his career, with the last coming while he was a member of the Chargers back in '96 against the Chiefs.


1. Jamal Lewis To Set Up The Passing Game: This ended up being a huge story, as Lewis only got one carry before injuring his foot, forcing him to leave the game. In his absence, Jason Wright was able to make a solid contribution, rushing for 59 yards on 15 attempts. Losing Lewis proved to be one of the differences in the game, and his absence could have been what kept Cleveland from making any serious run at the Patriots' lead all game.

2. No Risk, No Reward: While the Browns did start taking chances going downfield later on in the game, it was when they were losing by three scores and were basically out of the game. Anderson's three interceptions all came on broken-up plays in the first half, so even though they had a lot of turnovers, it wasn't because they were making any kind of deep-ball risks, which is something they should have been doing all along. Remember, this was Rodney Harrison's first game this season, so testing him early would have been the smart move. Despite all the turnovers, Cleveland still was in a position to make a move early on in the third quarter, but could only manage three points heading into the fourth.

3. Using The Past To Help The Present: It was clear that the Pats came in totally prepared to stop what Cleveland wanted to do, and that Crennel's knowledge of the defense can only go so far. The Lewis injury was a killer, as they needed to come up with a new game plan on the fly. They were able to put up some yards and points down the stretch, but it was simply too little, too late, as the Patriots were able to jump out to a 20-point lead before Cleveland knew what hit them.

For New England, they will take their perfect 5-0 record to Dallas next week to take on the Cowboys. This will likely be built up as the game of the year in the NFL so far this season, and now that the Pats were able to get by Cleveland, the focus can now be solely on Dallas. This is a matchup of two of the top teams in the league, and should be a classic. This will be the Patriots' toughest task of the season so far. Fortunately, Dallas will be playing on a short week, which gives the Pats an extra day to prepare for their showdown in Big D.


So this will be kind of a slow week considering there's really nothing going on until Friday. Also, I'm planning on working a crazy amount of hours at the I can go to the bar more. It's all a cycle. In any event, I will try and do my predictions towards the end of the week. Until then, have a great week. Peace.


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