Archive for September, 2010

Monday Morning Quarter Back

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

 It is amusing to me that many of the comments I receive are urging me to post more often. I really would like to accede to their wishes, but unfortunately I have to spend an infinite amount of time filtering through and deleting the plethora of spam artists advertising their cheesy products on my site. Could someone explain why spam artists waste their time hitting on small blogs such as mine?  Seriously, I am contemplating shutting down the comments page, but that would imply the infidels have won.

 Moving on, I was delighted my Falcons proved me wrong in defeating New Orleans, the Super Bowl Champions, in their own backyard. That is the first time Atlanta has won in New Orleans since 2002. It wasn’t pretty but a win is a win. The Saints kicker was given an opportunity to claim victory for his team in overtime but he pulled his kick wide from 27 yards giving the Falcons the opportunity to launch an attack in attempt to win the game.

Utilizing their running backs, Turner and Smelling, the Falcons relentlessly and methodically moved the ball downfield until they were in field goal range. Despite a couple of false starts, Bryant kicked the ball through the middle of the uprights to secure a well deserved win for the Falcons 27-24.

 This game resembled two heavyweight prizefighters going toe to toe with no quarter given or taken. Coach Mike Smith compiled a game plan on the basis of attack is the best form of defense against an imaginative Saints team. He also revealed considerable moral fiber by giving the green light to his team orchestrating several plays on fourth down. A crucial element in Atlanta’s win was the 46 minutes they had possession of the football compared to only 27 minutes for the Saints. Quite simply, if you have possession the other team cannot score.

 However on limited scraps, Drew Brees managed to throw for 365 yards and touch downs. He threw one pass to Lance Moore for an 80 yard touch down which set alarm bells off in my head. But generally speaking the much maligned Falcons defense bent but did not break and executed two sacks on the Saints quarter back. More significantly, Brees threw two interceptions, and statistically a team that has two or more turnovers in a game loses 85% of the time in the NFL.

 Tony Gonzalez played a great game with 8 receptions for 110 yards and scoring a touch down in the process. It was bit of a mystery why the Saints assigned a rookie to cover a 14 year veteran heading for the Hall of Fame. Roddy White added 69 receiving yards with a 22 yard touch down the highlight of a good day’s work for him. Matt Ryan delivered a sound game controlling his offense very effectively. However, his attempts to find Harry Douglas with a deep ball downfield were not very successful and that is an area which the coaches should address if Ryan is to acquire all the weapons that a successful quarter back in this league needs.

 Michael Turner had a solid game  with 114 rushing yards from 30 attempts, but  there is a tendency to use him as a battering ram aimed at the middle of the opposition’s defensive line where invariably very little yardage is gained. Again, the offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey needs to study film, change his mindset and introduce a little more creativity in the rushing game.

 Nevertheless the comparison in rushing yards achieved by the two teams is an eye opener. The Falcons ran the football for 202 yard while the Saints could only achieve 43 yards. Ryan passed for 215 yards which indicates quite rightly that the passing and rushing elements of the offense were well balanced. The offensive line provided reasonable protection for Ryan, but my game ball must go to the defensive line for limiting New Orleans to just 43 yards. Yes, Brees passed for over 350 yards but passing was very often his only option and not necessarily his game plan.

Grid Iron is Back!

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

We are now two weeks into the NFL season and my beloved Atlanta Falcons have won one and lost one. The opening game was away to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the talking heads made the Falcons slight favorites to win a tight game. This prognosis was made on the basis that the Steelers first choice quarter back, big Ben Roethlisburger was suspended for four games for not keeping little Ben in his pants during a night out in a one horse town called Milledgeville in South Georgia.

This is the Falcons’ quarter back Matt Ryan’s third season and big things are expected of him. Several NFL experts expect him to join the elite fraternity comprising Peyton Manning. Drew Brees, Tom Brady. Following the Falcons’ 14-9 overtime loss to the Steelers I am not convinced that he should be mentioned in the same stratosphere as those guys. Yes, he threw for 252 yards, but over 44 attempts which produced an average of 5.7 yards per throw with one interception.  In essence Ryan is most comfortable when making 20 yard throws to his receivers. It no longer appears that he can throw the long ball successfully downfield.

It is difficult to tell how much is Ryan’s timidity, the offensive co-coordinator’s play-calling, or the game plans and offense design. Ryan is looking for Gonzalez and White exclusively and not going through progressions. No downfield throws, no crossing patterns, no patterns and very few fly patterns. Talking about Gonzalez, the first half of the game was dominated by the offense attempting to complete Gonzalez 1000th reception. Finally he caught the damn ball to achieve his goal. He promptly ran off the field to place the game ball in his trophy cabinet and posed for photographs until his coach reminded him he had a game to play.

 The Falcons offense is structured around a running game, but unfortunately we only managed 58 rushing yards against the Steelers’s much vaunted defense. Michael Turner managed only 42 yards from 19 carries. Turner revealed no burst, no breakaway speed, failed to bounce it to the outside, couldn’t run anybody over, went down on first contact, and generally played as if auditioning for a spot on Dancing with the Stars.

 It would help if the receivers could create separation with the defense. I don’t know if it’s the play calling or the route running but every receiver was covered like a blanket and never achieved any significant yardage after the catch. The defense played well generally but one has to take into consideration that the Steelers were fielding a third-string quarter back. It was also disturbing the way the Steelers running back was allowed to make a 50 yard run into the end zone for the winning touch down by scampering around the side of our defensive line which was sucked in by the Steelers offensive line.

 Questions: was the Falcons’ running game anemic or were they up against one of the best defenses in the league? Can the downfield component of the Falcons’ offense be rediscovered?

 The Falcons next opponent in Week 2 was the Arizona Cardinals who experienced significant personnel changes in the off season. Their star quarter back Kurt Warner retired, one of their top receivers, Bolden, signed as a free agent with the Baltimore Ravens and their top receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, had not trained properly for six weeks and was a little ring rusty.

 The Falcons scored an early touch down in this game only to be pulled back by a Tim Hightower score for the Cardinals. He ran 80 yards by evading the defensive line in a similar way to the touch down scored against the Falcons the previous week by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Fortunately, the Cardinals didn’t threaten to score for the remainder of the game and the Falcons ran out comfortable winners 41-7.

 The Falcons running game came alive in this game achieving a grand total of 221 yards (compared to 58 yards the previous week.) Michael “twinkle toes” Turner ran for 75 yards on 9 carries before leaving the field with a groin injury. Jason Snelling picked up the chalice and ran for 129 yards and had a credible 57 yards in receiving; scoring 3 touch downs in the process. While Snelling was performing an improbable imitation of Barry Sanders, the former running back of the Detroit Lions, the Cardinals defensive line and secondary had more holes than my Auntie Beattie’s hair net.

 Ryan’s passing output showed more variation in this game passing for 225 yards. He used a total of 6 receivers at appropriate times in the game: Roddy White, Brian Finneran, Ovie Mughelli, Tony Gonzalez, Jason Snelling and Harry Douglas. Douglas provided some threat downfield and Gonzalez was used mainly as a decoy. Significantly, Ryan’s successful pass attempts, including touch downs were all in the range of 20 yards.

 Question: was Michael Turner just terrible against Steelers and lights out against the Cardinals? To put in perspective, the Steelers shut down the Titans’ running game, restricting them to 46 yards. Chris Johnson, one of the best running backs in the league only managed 34 yards on 16 carries which leads me to the conclusion that the Steelers have one if not the best defense in the league.

 The contrasting results in the first two games send out mixed messages and it is too early to predict where the Falcons stand with regard to the elite teams in the league. In Week 3 the Falcons visit division rivals and Super Bowl Champions New Orleans. The Saints are not quite firing on all cylinders and have lost Reggie Bush for six weeks with a broken leg. The Falcons will have to play the rest of the season without Jerius Norwood or tore his ACL catching the kick off ball. Hopefully Turner is fit enough to play and we can hit them with the Turner/Snelling tandem. Drew Brees struggled a little on the west coast in Monday night’s matchup with San Francisco, but he is a different proposition in a dome.

 I just hope the Falcons give a good account of themselves, but I’m expecting the Saints to win a close encounter. Go Falcons.

The Other Side of the Coin

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

 The first time I saw Tiger Woods playing competitive golf was in the Walker Cup in 1995 at Royal Porthcawl. He was a nineteen year old callow pimply virgin (allegedly) who even then was hitting the ball a country mile. He lost to veteran Gary Wolstenholme in the singles and my lasting memory was of Tiger attempting to land his second shot on the 18th green, but not the first time in the competition over hit and dumped his shot over the sea wall and onto the beach. That had to be the biggest sand trap Tiger has ever encountered.

 A few days ago Cory Pavin selected Tiger as one of his wild cards to complete the American team to play Europe in the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor, a few miles along the M4 from Porthcawl. The other wild card picks are: Stewart Cink, Zach Johnson and Rickie Fowler. Some members of the golf media questioned the validity of Tiger’s selection; citing his dip in form this season and his relatively poor performances in previous Ryder Cups. Admittedly, he is not a great team player and has an ego the size of Stone Mountain, but he had to endure immeasurable pressure on previous teams as the number one player in the world when it was assumed he would pick up the maximum 5 points for his team.

 However he will not be carrying the burden of expectation in this year’s competition and he has nothing to lose. A wounded tiger is a dangerous tiger and Cory Pavin has made an astute selection. I predict Tiger will have an outstanding Ryder Cup and will play a major part in America retaining the Ryder Cup. Stewart Cink is another sensible pick by Pavin with a wealth of experience playing in Ryder cups and on British courses He won The Open last year and this will be his 5th successive appearance in the bi-annual competition. Zach Johnson is a former Masters Champion who has recently run into a rich vein of form. Ricky Fowler is an intriguing pick. He’s only 21 but is a long hitter and had a great record in the Walker Cup, the amateur version of the Ryder Cup.

 No disrespect to Italians, but I would prefer to have Tiger in my corner as opposed to the Molinari brothers any day of the week and twice on Sundays. I’m sure they are fine players and deserving of their selection on the European team, but cream rises to the top and Tiger is due!

 As you sip your second cup of coffee while nibbling on a croissant or bagel on a warm sunny Sunday morning, spare a thought for Sir Terry Matthews, the self-serving millionaire owner of Celtic Manor and instrumental in bring the Ryder Cup to Wales. He has worked tirelessly for several years to produce a layout worthy of the golfing gods only to be left with an eyesore situated between the clubhouse and the 18th green.

 I’m referring to a 16th Century dilapidated stone built farmhouse which is a Grade 2 listed building, and Newport City Council has refused him permission to move it to another site. In terms of planning laws it would not be appropriate to move it from its original setting and as a former town planner it appears to me that Matthews is being economical with the truth. However, as we go to press, both parties have agreed a compromise and the modern extension will be removed and the stone apron  will eventually be restored. In any event, place a screen around the damn thing for the duration of the tournament and let’s move on.

 Continuing the Welsh theme which warms the cockles of my heart, John Toshack recently resigned as coach/manager of the Wales soccer team. He has held the reigns for the past six years and the results have been dismal. As a TV analyst, Toshack heavily criticized the former incumbent, Mark Hughes before accepting the unenviable role of manager, and fared worse than his predecessor. On the plus side, Toshack introduced a number of young players to the Welsh squad, but paradoxically experienced the early retirement of several senior players which a limited Welsh squad could ill afford to lose. Wales hasn’t qualified for the World Cup finals since 1958 and the European Championships are always a bridge too far.

 I digress, so without further ado, Team America for the Ryder Cup looks like this:

  • Phil Mickelson ( 7 Ryder Cups, W10, L14, H6)
  • Hunter Mahan (1RC, W2, L0, H3)
  • Bubba Watson (rookie)
  • Jim Furyk (6RCs, W8, L13, H3)
  • Steve Stricker (1RC, W0, L2, H1)
  • Dustin Johnson (rookie)
  • Jeff Overton (rookie)
  • Matt Kuchar (rookie)
  • Tiger Woods (5RCs, W10, L13, H2)
  • Stewart Cink (4RCs, W4, L7, H4)
  • Zach Johnson (W1,L2, H1)
  • Rickie Fowler (rookie)

Ryder Cup Cymru

Monday, September 6th, 2010

 I was extremely proud and delighted when they announced approximately 10 years ago that the Ryder Cup would be played in Wales, my homeland, for the first time. It is mind boggling when I realized the other day that the biennial fixture is less than a month away and Celtic Manor is bracing itself for three days of compulsive drama to be witnessed by golf fans on either side of the pond.

  However, I am truly disappointed that the European team does not include one Welshman, the captain Colin Montgomerie is pseudo Scottish and the ever growing contingent of vice-captains could not accommodate a Welshman. The obvious choice for captain should have been the Welsh corgi, Ian Woosnam, but he successfully accepted the chalice in 2006 and won the cup at the K Club in Ireland containing three Irishmen.

 Now don’t get me wrong; Monty has a wonderful record as a player in the Ryder Cup, but as a people person and the captain of his contemporaries, he is a powder keg waiting to explode. He has a habit of shooting himself in the foot and will use a bread knife to amputate his bloodied body part rather than take the conventional route of orthopedic surgery. Earlier this week he  announced to the world media that Rhys Davies, a promising Welsh golfer plying his trade on the European tour, would drive the captain’s buggy around the course, run his bath in the morning and shine his shoes before changing into his mascot uniform.

 Furthermore, Montgomerie attempted to placate Welsh fans by announcing to the world that the legendary Gareth Edwards would be riding the fairways during the contest as honorary cheerleader. Don’t be surprised if Colin gives him a cube of sugar and pats him on the head for his troubles.

 Recently he has fought to retain credibility as Ryder Cup captain by attempting to suppress tabloid allegations of marriage infidelities and a budding sex scandal including embarrassing photos of the full Monty. David Feherty once described Monty as “having a face like a bulldog licking the piss off a nettle,” and I for one have no desire to view his wobbly bits across the newspaper on a Sunday morning. I merely address this issue because he sanctimoniously chose to comment on Tiger Woods unfortunate transgressions when tact and diplomacy should have been the order of the day.

 Moving on, golf analysts have suggested that the European team could be the strongest ever selected. It includes the US Open Champion, Graham McDowell and the PGA Champion, Martin Kaymer. Under the selection process, nine of the twelve members of the team are picked on merit. Four are selected from the World rankings and five from the European points list; leaving 3 wildcards to be selected by the captain. This is where the selection process became discombobulated (to throw into a state of confusion.) I’m sorry; I have recently been reading Melvyn Bragg novels.

 Monty was faced with having to choose three from five deserving candidates: Edoardo Molinari, Luke Donald, Padraig Harrington, Paul Casey and Justin Rose. All five golfers were asked to play the Johnnie Walker Classic at Gleneagles which was to be the final tournament for acquiring Ryder Cup points for automatic selection. Only Molinari competed in the tournament while the other mercenaries followed the American dollar available in the FedEx Cup. Molinari duly won at Gleneagles and Monty had no alternative but to pick him.

 Monty chose, for his other two wild cards, Harrington and Donald on the premise that Harrington has won 3 majors but has not won a tournament in two years. He did not win a match in the previous two Ryder Cups and quite frankly his selection is baffling. Luke Donald has a very good record in the Ryder Cup and won the Welsh Open at Celtic Manor in the summer.

  However, Paul Casey omission doesn’t make sense. He’s ranked No.8 in the world, was runner-up in The Open, won the World Matchplay in 2006, and a finalist in the last two WGC-Accenture Championships in Arizona. Justin Rose had a successful Ryder Cup in 2008, forming a winning partnership with Ian Poulter and defeated Phil Mickelson in the singles. At 23rd in the World Rankings, Rose is twelve places higher than Donald, so there is no logical justification to Monty’s picks.

 Furthermore, there are injury doubts concerning Lee Westwood, the top ranked player in the team. He has a nagging calf injury but should be fit to play. However, when he steps on the first tee at Celtic Manor, it will be 74 days since he last completed a tournament which is not the ideal preparation for a competition of this magnitude.

 Without further ado these are the twelve men ready to go into battle with mighty America on 1st October:

Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter, Ross Fisher, Francesco Molinari, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Peter Hanson, Eduardo Molinari, Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington.

 If you intend traveling to Wales for the Ryder Cup, take your clubs with you because there are some beautiful courses around the country that are second to none in England, Scotland and Ireland. Celtic Manor was designed specifically to stage the Ryder Cup and it is not your typical Welsh golf course. To whet your appetite I recommend three courses within relative spitting distance of Celtic Manor that I have played and thoroughly enjoyed: Rolls of Monmouth, Royal Porthcawl and my all time favorite Pennard. Let me know if you want additional information on these and other courses in Wales.