Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Peyton Manning, Politics, and Something else

Likely doing two posts today, so here are my sports thoughts for the day

1. Sportcenter this morning ran a bit with Peyton Manning discussing how he is hoping to score 60 touchdowns this year during the regular season. While I'm sure his words got a bit twisted, I think that a number is his goal for the season is a bit of a microcosm for the way I view the guy. I've always seen him as the kid in class who reminds the teacher she forgot to assign homework for the weekend. He has a ton of talent (and has always been told so), puts up ridiculous numbers, consciously puts out an incredibly clean self-image, and always seems to play his best when it matters the least. Yes, he is the A-Rod of football. He'll always say the right thing to the media, he'll always make some great plays, but he'll never seem to elevate his game (or the game of those around him) when it matters most. When you see him on the field at those tough moments, and there is almost always a look of frustration and child-like body language that suggests a deeper feeling of semi-martyrdom.

Look, I don't necessarily have anything against the guy, beyond the fact that he looks like a horse. In fact, in most of his games against New England (his supposed Sysiphisean boulder), he has actually played pretty well, with the exception of the 2003 season AFC Championship Game. I think a lot of the reason he hasn't enjoyed a lot of post-season success is a function of his style of play more than his character. That is, since his team is built to always be a deep threat, when the deep passes aren't there (or more to the point, the deep plays bring nothing in return) the offense is effectively shut down and relegated to quick possessions. Especially when the offense represents such a large part of the salary cap, thus necessitating the need for a lot of points, this is bad because the defense sees way too much time on the field, gets worn out, and puts more pressure on the O to make quick strikes.

That said, this past season's insistence on running up the score and chasing records actually had two negative results for the team. First, they essentially emptied their playbook all season, giving potential playoff teams a huge resource to gameplan against. Second, it left a lot of opportunities to practice other styles off the field, while the quick-strike nature of their offense actually put more strain on the defense throughout the year (because the defense never got much rest, they would wear down towards the end of games, especially as the season wore on). Also, the Colts particular style of play was very exploitable. Essentially, they would hurry up to the line, get set, Peyton would make his read, change the play accordingly, then snap it. So, the offense wasn't really a hurry-up, just a quick to the line one. Most teams they faced ran vanilla defenses against this, hoping not to be out of position. However, the teams that contained them were the ones that still ran their normal defense, complete with motion and disguise on the defensive front. This made a huge difference in their four losses last season compared to 12 of their 13 wins.

So I guess what I'm saying is that if Peyton wants to make a run at 60, more power to him. However, that this is an achievable goal of the team, and this is what he wants to do, don't be surprised if you see that pained expression of a candyless child in the check-out line in the playoffs.

2. Many people, most notably the Yankees fans that I occasionally vouchsafe the title of "friend" to, have been IMing me about my earlier post where I suggest the Yankees were running around with a giant fork in their collective backs, forgetting entirely my suggestion that they would still be competitive and put a scare into the rest of the AL East a few times this year. Well, go ahead and gloat, if you must. I've come to expect it from you (you are, after all, Yankee fans). However, while I will acknowledge that their is a big weekend series coming up at the Toilet in the Bronx, and we should know a lot more about the relative value of all the AL East teams 10 days hence, there are a few things I would like to point out (as of this morning of May 24th 2005):

a) If the Yanks-Sox series started today, and they swept the Red Sox, the teams would only then have the same number of losses on the year.

b) The Yankees have finally seen their name rise to third in the AL East standings, but only because New York comes before Toronto in the alphabet.

c) That 10 game winning streak still put the team only 2 games over .500.

d) Randy Johnson, the would-be savior, had his first game without a strikeout in four years; it was only the fourth of his career. He has an ERA a shade under 4, he has allowed 3+ runs in two thirds of his starts, and the team has lost four of the six games where he pitched more than 6 innings. Oh, and a left-handed relief pitcher at Shea Stadium started the rally that knocked him out of his last game.

e) Jason Giambi is taking up a roster spot, and is schedule to get $20mm per year next year.

f) Tino Martinez, oh that classy gentleman, is second on the team in slugging. While he has had a good run, does anyone out there actually believe this guy can keep any semblance of this pace up for an entire season?

g) Tony Womack, who historically is 100 OPS points below league average for just about every year of his career, is a starting corner outfielder for this team.

h) You have to root for a guy name "Wang" until Jaret Wright (Jaret Wright?) comes back. And also see Sheffield's mustache on a regular basis. (Quote of the week: "Hey, has anybody noticed that Gary Sheffield looks like Rodney Harrison would if he molested children?"). Kevin Brown is also still prominently involved in the fate of this season.

So, in light of all this information, I would like to calm down my Yankee fan friends who constantly remind me of their recent success. While I realize a similar list could be produced for the Red Sox, who are not without their warts (even if Derek "I was going to wear a condom, but then I thought, 'hey, when's the next time I'll be in Haiti'?" Lowe is pitching in L.A.), I just wanted to remind my faithful reader that the $200 million monstrosity still has to contend with no bench and only one reliable reliever. And I think it is fabulous.

3. Hey, NHL, take the $4 billion buyout. Now. You guys suck, and that money is probably worth more than the value currently of your decrepit franchises. I want to watch hockey next winter, and I'm sick of college games. It isn't the same. I want to see Thorton, Samsonov, Rolston, Boyton, Gonchar, Lapointe, and Gil. I want to watch Raycroft and Bergeron continue to develop. And I'm pissed that all I can do instead is pretend to remotely care about the Celtics in its stead.


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