Saturday, October 10, 2009

Caps @ Red Wings, 7 ET: Time to Right the Ship

Season opener? Check.

Home opener? Check.

Emotionally charged game against a bitter rival from PA? Check.

Yes, it's safe to say the novelty of the 2009-2010 NHL season has worn off and the Caps are settling in for a full 82+ game ride.

The way in which they're settling in, however, has been rather unsettling, losing consecutive winnable games against Atlantic Division rivals Philadelphia and New York.

In two games they let two third period leads vanish due to unacceptable and nearly identical late penalties by Boyd Gordon, suspect goaltending, missed defensive assignments, and a general lack of effort that seems to be the byproduct of a dangerous attitude, "We can get by on talent, and nothing more."

While this may be the case against some of the doormats of the NHL, any team who also boasts extraordinary talent, like the Flyers, or works their collective butts off to adhere to a smart defensive game plan and pounce on the opposition's mistakes, like the Rangers, will have no problem exploiting this mindset.

Coach Brouce Boudreau has not been pleased with the effort dating back to the third period of the Toronto game, and who can blame him? But it all starts with the coach, and he appears to be holding players accountable this year more than ever before, calling out Tom Poti and John Erskine on Tuesday, and extending Friday's film session two-fold to presumably go over the two Alexes' glaring mistakes on the power play in the second period Thursday.

We learned during the game 7 debacle last year that talent is never enough. We've learned through the first four games this year that early season media coddling is never enough. Great teams earn their keep through heard work and perseverance.

So it better start tonight against the defending Western Conference Champs, who will be without Johan Franzen for at least four months. I'd love nothing more than add to insult to injury by taking their building by storm and sending around 20,000 fans home unhappy.

I figure we owe 'em at least that much for that long, long time ago when the Lions effectively ended my Redskins' hopes and dreams...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Week 5 Picks, Is There Hope?

No, not the Skins, we are still hopeless despite the win last week. But I am seeing some signs of life in the Football Outsiders (FO) picking system, which went 9-5 last week to break their string of 3 weeks under .500. FO will still have to pick at about 58% the rest of the way to make it back to 55% of the season (the money making threshold), but that number doesn't seem as crazy for them to reach anymore. As I've said before, the FO system should improve as the season goes on, because it has more actual data upon which to base its picks.

The best part of the FO system maybe finally putting it together.........they LOVE the Skins this week! Okay, maybe LOVE is strong, probably more like go steady, but we are the #2 pick of the week against the spread, which I like to see. The reason I don't say LOVE, is that we are only the #8 straight-up pick, so FO basically sees this game as pretty even, with the Skins as slight favorites. Is it the Shermanator Lewis making a difference? Actually it's the Panthers, who FO has ranked as the worst team in the NFL thusfar. Hey, a wise man once told me, ass is ass, and a win is a win.

The standings:
Sports Guy: 5-9 last week, 39-23 overall (62.9%)
DCLS: 5-9 last week, 32-30 overall (51.6%)
Random monkey throwing shit at a dartboard: 31-31 overall (50.0%)
Football Outsiders: 9-5 last week, 28-34 overall (45.2%)

FO's 'locks of the week' are still 0-2, their 'reasonable' picks are 5-12 and their 'stay away' picks are 23-20, so their most assured picks have actually been their worst.......sounds about right for the Skins.As usual, the FO picks are listed in order of confidence, and I have bolded a team wherever I differ (home teams in CAPS).
  1. Indianapolis -3.5 over TENNESSEE - This is FO's first 'lock of the week' in 3 weeks. I could see the Titans keeping this close, but you have to like Indy here.

  2. Washington +3.5 over CAROLINA - Shermanator!! Jake the Snake will be eating Fat Albert's blubber all day. I hedged my bet slightly here by purchasing, which will eventually have something cool on it, like another picture of the Shermanator.

  3. KANSAS CITY +9 over Dallas - Tony Homo, he of the lukewarm water in his veins, I will not pick your mediocore team until it shows me some consistency. By the way, if KC manages to fall to the pussy of Romo, then the Skins will have opened the season against 6 winless teams when we play the Chiefs next week, wow.

  4. Cleveland +6 over BUFFALO - This is painful, but probably not so painful because I will do everything in my power not to watch this game.

  5. MIAMI +1.5 over New York Jets - Sanchez is not for real, he is doing absolutely nothing behind a superb o-line. FO has him as the 3rd worst QB in the league so far, ahead of only Delhomme and Jamarcus Russell. The only place I want to be ahead of Jamarcus is at the buffet line, zing! Amazing how supposed experts can't get off his johnson, while Jason Campbell has been much better in a much tougher situation and everyone thinks we should bench him. Life isn't fair.

  6. Houston +5.5 over ARIZONA - The Cards have not been great, and Houston probably about the same, so I'll take the points. This is a big game for both teams, who both need to get going soon to have any shot at the playoffs. Where is Jesus for you now Kurt Warner?

  7. ST. LOUIS +10 over Minnesota - Rams? Really? Peterson got a woody when he saw this on the schedule.

  8. New England -3 over DENVER - Ok, we get it, the Broncos' D is good, but they are still not as good as their record indicates. The Pats on the other hand, they just beat one of the top-5 teams in the league. Moss vs. Bailey should be awesome.

  9. DETROIT +10.5 over Pittsburgh - The Steelers have not been impressive, but it's actually been there D that's been down, which I think is some kind of fluke. Matthew Stafford, meet James Harrison.

  10. Tampa Bay +15 over PHILADELPHIA - 15 points is a ton, but a team with a pass rush should make Josh Johnson look like the guy who is rated a 57 in Madden.

  11. Jacksonville pick 'em over SEATTLE - Hasselbeck or no Hasselbeck, I am off the neon green bandwagon..............for now.

  12. Oakland +14.5 over NEW YORK GIANTS - Giants are the #1 straight-up pick, although I can see Oakland's D keeping this somewhat close on the scoreboard, but then I couldn't get Jamarcus Russell under pressure! Jamarcus Russell under pressure! Jamarcus Russell under pressure! Jamarcus Russell under pressure! out of my head.

  13. Atlanta +2.5 over SAN FRANCISCO - I think Vegas saw my Singletary felating article last week, because I think Atlanta is the better team. FO actually has these teams ranked next to each other overall.

  14. Cincinnati +8.5 over BALTIMORE - So I may have been wrong about the Bungles being for real, I think I sprained an ankle jumping on and off that bandwagon. You have to like the Ravens to bounce-back at home and FO has the Ravens as their #4 straight-up pick, but I'll take the 8.5 points for a team with wins over the Steelers and Green Bay, and what should have been a win over Denver.

So for those of you who just skimmed to the end, the moral of the story is go out there and put some dough on the Skins.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Campbell Deserves the Benefit of the Doubt

I meant to post this a few days ago, but exams and mononucleosis decided to join forces and kick my butt. Seriously. It's sore. Anyway, it's not that important, just like most things I post aren't, but still...I need to get this off my chest.

Dan Steinberg wrote a very interesting article the other day on Jason Campbell. The gist of it, for those too lazy or without the balancing skills to read two blog entries simultaneously, is that teammates are fully behind JC17 and are practically begging him to get out of his own head - to 'unleash himself', as Steinz puts it. This came following Sunday's turnover laden 16-13 victory over the woeful Bucs, in which Campbell fumbled on the team's first possession and threw three interceptions to Aqib Talib.

My question, directed at nobody in particular, is how the hell can Campbell get out of his own head when we - fans, media, uninformed idiot bloggers - lock him in there?

The fact is we are never happy with his play.

Could he be putting up better numbers? Absolutely.

Could he be putting up better numbers in this system with this offensive line, with this receiving core, with this uninspiring playcalling? I really don't think so.

Campbell is the fall guy. Let's face it. That's what he is. And nothing he does will ever be good enough for us, at least until the rest of the offense exhibits competence. Sometime in the year 2013 is my guess.

The first three games? Campbell was too conservative, checking down way too often, too afraid to go for the jugular, a la Colt Brennan Brett Favre.

Last game? Campbell took too many risks, trying to make plays that weren't really there which resulted in turnovers.

To his critics: you can't have it both ways!

Is it important for him to find a medium? Of course. But without sufficient help from his teammates and coaches, he is being forced to find this balance on his own, a pretty daunting task. Yea, I know, he makes millions of dollars a year, blah blah blah, but he's also human. It's damn near impossible to exceed already unrealistic expectations in a failing context. And that's exactly what this is - a failing context.

So next time Campbell does something less than perfect, try to give him the benefit of the doubt. He's better than you think he is. No, he's not Peyton Manning, but he ain't Danny Wuerffel.

At least he's got his teammates' support, and hopefully that positivity will breed some success.

From Clinton Portis following the game: "That was the best thing that happened today, seeing Jason throwing the ball around and having turnovers and bouncing back and continuously fighting and everyone kept fighting with him."

Portis' pockets is straight, and we know that. Maybe with some success, Campbell's will be too when it's all said and done.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

How to Be A Hooligan, DC United Barra Brava Style

It only took 14 years, but I finally made it out to a DC United game this past Saturday at RFK, seeing the good guys take on Chivas USA. I had heard that the games were fun if you sit in the Barra Brava section, so that is exactly what I did. I will let the pictures tell my story a bit from here.

The MLS banners are not worthy of this temple.

The Barra Brava in full voice.

More Brava madness.

Flares should be incorporated into more American sporting events.

Unfortunately, the men in black lost, and were generally outplayed. The highlight of the game was probably Ben Olsen getting frustrated by a hard tackle by a Chivas player, and promptly taking the free kick directly into the offending player's back (2:49 into the video), which resulted in a red card.

A big issue for me on the night was I did not enjoy watching the on-field 'performance'. Don't get me wrong, I am a huge soccer fan and an avid follower of Arsenal in the EPL, paying the ridiculous $15/month for Setanta USA so I can watch European games every weekend. I am kind of like a stay-at-home hooligan. My not-so-outrageous theory of why the MLS has not risen to great heights is because the product is not very good. I think there is a huuuuge market of soccer fans in the US, so the MLS has tremendous potential. The problem is that the biggest fans would much rather watch the more enjoyable non-American product. I also believe that as more American soccer fans are exposed to the better product, they will have a tougher time enjoying the MLS. I feel a need to note this because I knew going into the night that the game itself would not particularly entertain me. Hence my decision to sit in the Barra Brava section, which pretty much compensated for a lackluster on-field product.

The Barra Brava is an interesting group of people, to say the least, but despite the constant chanting and beer throwing, I couldn't get over that fact that the fans seemed generally indifferent to United's performance. The fact that the biggest cheer leaders had their back to the field the entire game says enough. United is not having a great season, but is on the fringe of the playoff race, so it's not as if this wasn't a big game.

That said, I did have a decent time. The highlight may have been the regular Lot 8 tailgate before the game, where a few sponsors setup shop and a few groups serve beer to the young professional crowd. The Barra Brava were in full force at the pregame festivitites, so I felt like I was doing something right (the beer was the other clue). I also am still giddy that they had $2 bratwursts in Lot 8, can't beat that. The Barra Brava kept the beer drinking going during the game, partly to drink and mostly to throw their last sips into the air, spraying their section-mates. These supposed hooligans also sit on the famous RFK bouncing seats, which brought back a flood of Redskin memories (of when the team and stadium didn't suck).

Even with the elements of beer drinking and throwing, singing, and bouncing, the in-game energy was not great. The fact that the rest of RFK was pretty empty may have also been a factor in my experience. In the end, I can't help but feel that the Barra Brava have been a bit spoiled by the past success of DC United, and are not appreciating a mediocore team playing in an important game. I had a decent time, and it probably won't be another 14 years before I see a game, but I think one DC United game per year is probably enough for me.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Week 4: Skins 16, Bucs 13 - Knee Jerk Reactions

"A win is a win is a win is a win is a win is a win."
-Some wise philosopher who was probably a Redskins fan

Sure, it wasn't pretty, but winning ugly is an important part of football. It's encouraging to know that your team can win a game without putting forth its best effort (and let's pray that wasn't their best effort), no matter who the opponent is.

The Skins did what they couldn't do last week, what they did the week before that, and what they couldn't do in their season opener - emerge victorious in an excruciatingly boring (but winnable) football game.

I believe it was Descartes, or someone, who said, "You wanna go undefeated at home and win half your away games. That's a successful season." So here we are, 2-0 at Fedex, with a game in Carolina against a rested Panthers team looming. Win that one, and we're halfway to .500 on the road and primed for a successful year. But for now, let's enjoy the victory while taking solace in the fact that we've played worse than anyone could have imagined coming out of training camp, yet find ourselves in the thick of the playoff race due to a relatively weak schedule. Thank you, NFL Gods.

Some thoughts on the game:

  • The field conditions were horrendous. Does that qualify as some form of home field advantage? Perhaps, but it seemed to affect Clinton Portis more than anyone else. Dude was slipping every other carry.
  • Speaking of Portis, 25 carries for 98 yards is pretty fantastic considering the line he was running behind. Is it just me, or is he getting hit in the backfield FAR TOO OFTEN? Actually, don't answer that.
  • Chris Cooley is awesome in every way and nobody will ever change my mind about that.
  • Reed Doughty led the team with 8 solo tackles. I'll be the first to admit that I was skeptical when it was announced he would start over Chris Horton, but he might have been our best defensive player today.
  • Albert Haynesworth had an extremely quiet day: zero tackles and nary an injury!
  • Big ups on Deangelo Hall for his timely interception. Seemed to swing momentum, which I thought didn't even exist after last week's debacle, in our favor.
  • I think Carlos Rogers could put superglue on his hands and he still wouldn't be able to catch a football. Pathetic.
  • That route by Santana Moss on his 59-yard touchdown was a thing of beauty.
  • I really have no idea what to say about Jason Campbell. So i just won't say anything and we'll leave it at that.
  • Screw it, scratch that. That pass to Portis in the first quarter - you know, the one that was actually a lateral - while he was clearly covered and which was predictably fumbled was the single worst decision I've ever seen Campbell make.
I think I just got a little worked up, so I'll repeat, "A win is a win is a win."

Time For Honesty and Winning

For those of you who don't read the newspaper anymore, Mike Wise had a great column in Saturday's WaPo on Ted Leonsis and the Caps rebuilding process.

The basic point of the article is that Leonsis wrote a brutally honest letter 4 years ago to fans stating that the Caps were going to rebuild and that the team was going to get worse before it got better. The result is that Leonsis has become the best-liked owner in DC pro sports.

I don't want to put words in Mike Wise's mouth, but the leap to compare Leonsis to Dan Snyder is a short one. The Redskins are not making the playoffs this year and need to rebuild, and Snyder is maybe the most hated man in DC.

That said, Leonsis' popularity is less because of that honest letter, and more because of the success of the Caps. Answer me this, if Alex Ovechkin didn't exist, would we still love Ted Leonsis? His personality is icing on the cake, but it's all about winning. Even though Snyder is distant, turns large profits at the expense of fans, and has celebrities on the sidelines, no one would care if the Skins were winning 10 games a season and/or had a title on his watch. Although they share the same goal, Snyder and Leonsis are on opposite ends of the fan opinion spectrum. The difference isn't in how they connect with fans, but rather that one team is achieving that goal because their owner understands how to build a winner.

(Image courtesy of

I Could Get Used To This, Baby!