Archive for January, 2013

What On Earth is a Squib Kick?

Saturday, January 19th, 2013

The San Francisco 49ers come into town to play the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game as 4 point favorites. This is consistent with how national media views the prospects of the Falcons. The Falcons are the Number 1 seed in the NFC, but have not convinced the majority of pundits they deserve the status.

There are a number of reasons for doubting their credibility. Arguably they were given a soft schedule, but they did whip the Super Bowl Champions New York Giants 34-0. They won seven of their regular season games by 4 points or less. They cannot stop the running quarter back. Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers twice decimated the Falcons defense with his running and passing prowess.

In their nail biting win over Seattle (30-28 despite trailing with 31 seconds left on the clock) rookie Russell Wilson concentrated on his passing game with great effect, but still managed to rush for 60 yards.

In last week’s decisive win over the Green Bay Packers, Colin Kaepernick accounted for 444 yards and 4 touchdowns. A large portion of his yardage was running the ball for a record breaking 183 yards. He is a bigger, stronger version of Russell Wilson, more in keeping with Cam Newton but faster!

Wilson attempted nine throws to his tight end Zach Miller who accumulated 142 yards including a touchdown. The 49ers tight end Vernon Davis is a better player than Miller, and their running back Frank Gore is just as dangerous as Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch.

Admittedly, the Falcons contained Lynch, their primary objective. But in the second half, Seattle exposed the gap between the linebackers (who were cheating up to defend the run) and the secondary. That, breakdowns and mistackles led to 28 second-half points, including 21 in the fourth quarter. Stark contrast: During the regular season Nolan’s defense allowed an average of only 8.69 points in the second half of games and 5.25 in the fourth quarter.

49ers receiver Michael Crabtree was one of the top draft picks a couple of seasons ago, but had not really fulfilled his potential until hooking up with Kaepernick in mid-season. He has scored 7 touchdowns in his last seven games, and presents another threat to the Atlanta defense.

Further aiding San Francisco’s cause will be the condition of John Abraham who at the age of 34 led Atlanta with 10 sacks. (No other Falcon had more than four.) The defensive right end departed from Sunday’s game in the second quarter after reaggravating a left ankle injury.

With Abraham on the sideline a largely unchallenged Wilson completed his first 10 passes of the second half for 185 yards and two touch downs, and very nearly led the Seahawks to a miraculous comeback from 20-0 down. Abraham has vowed to play on Sunday, but it’s unlikely he will be 100%.

The 49ers have also built a reputation as one of the best defenses in the NFL under Jim Harbaugh, and it has been well-earned. San Francisco’s front seven features a dominating, physical line and speedy, hard-hitting linebackers. Many teams have struggled to figure out how to reach even the second level against their attack.

By now you may be wondering why the Falcons would bother to show up when facing seemingly insurmountable odds. Let’s not forget the 49ers are not invincible; they lost four games in the regular season and the Falcons have their own formidable weapons on the offensive side of the ball.

Roddy White and Julio Jones are arguably the best receiving tandem in the NFL. Tony Gonzalez may be 36 years old, but remains one of the greatest tight ends the game has ever seen. His career stats over 16 years may well confirm he’s the greatest tight end of all time.

Michael Turner and Jacquiz Rodgers proved to be useful foils for each other against Seattle’s defense, and Turner displayed signs of his once domineering role for the Atlanta offense. However it’s unlikely they will be as effective facing the superior 49ers offense and much will depend on Matt Ryan’s ability to find his receivers while avoiding costly interceptions.

The Keys to the game:

  1. Can the Falcons’ offensive line protect Ryan?
  2. Can the Falcons contain Kaepernick within the pocket? A fit Abraham is absolutely essential to achieve this objective.
  3. Can the Falcons restrict Gore, Davis and Crabtree sufficiently? Do you remember who the other 49ers receiver is? None other than Randy Moss. He may be past his prime, but he retains a nuisance value.
  4. Can Atlanta’s secondary raise their game? We have two corner backs, Robinson and Samuel, who can’t tackle, but rely on the immaculate interception. It’s scary to watch.
  5. Atlanta has the edge on field goal kicking.
  6. Turnovers and rescricting penalties.
  7. Crowd noise. We have home field advantage and Kaepernick has had problems in opposing domes with audibles.

Can I pick a winner? Atlanta doesn’t quite have the personnel to prevent San Francisco scoring the points to outgun the Falcons. San Francisco’s defense has the edge over Atlanta’s offense. John Abraham will play, but I believe he is suffering from a high ankle sprain and regrettably won’t be a factor. Judging from regular season games, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has yet to devise a plan to minimize the running quarter back. Consequently my heart and soul picks Atlanta, but my head envisions a comfortable San Francisco win 34-20.



Rise Up Falcon Fans, Rise Up!

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

Rise Up Falcon Fans, Rise Up!

Atlanta Falcons play Seattle Seahawks in a division playoff game to-morrow (Sunday) at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons had the best record of any team (13-1) in the regular season, and ordinarily they should be favorites to win. That they are not is a symptom of their poor playoff record under Head Coach Mike Smith and quarter back Matt Ryan.

Matt Ryan’s first trip to the playoffs was not a pleasant one. The Falcons finished the 2008 regular season with a record of 11–5, and the fifth seed in the playoffs. Atlanta was crushed in the wild-card round by eventual NFC champion Arizona Cardinals, 30–24, in Glendale, Ariz. (2008)

Matt Ryan’s second playoff appearance wasn’t any better than the first. After a regular season in which the Falcons went 13-3 and secured the top overall seed in the NFC playoffs, the Packers sacked Atlanta in the Divisional playoff game scoring a Green Bay playoff record 48 points en route to a Super Bowl winning season. (2010)

Atlanta’s playoff losing streak reached four games with a 24-2 shellacking at the hand of the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in the Wild Card game. The game featured the first safety in NFL postseason history. (2011)

I guess there is consolation in the fact that the last two teams to defeat them in the playoffs were the eventual Super Bowl Champions. It would appear their main obstacle is now a physiological one and not merely their opponents. Seattle is the hot team in the playoffs having won 8 of their last 9 games which included defeating Washington Redskins in the Wild Card Round last Saturday.

Atlanta’s main strength is their triumvirate receiving crew comprising Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. Gonzalez is arguably the best tight end to have played the game, but the future hall of famer has never won a playoff game in his illustrious career with Kansas and more recently The Falcons.

Seattle believes they have the corner backs to take on White and Jones one on one. They’re big enough at 6’ 4’’ and 6’ 3” respectively, but I’m sure Falcons’ receivers will relish the challenge. The Falcons’ running game is a major concern since Michael Turner is not nearly as effective as in previous seasons, but perhaps in tandem with Jacquiz Rodgers they can cause enough problems for the Seattle defense.

In contrast one of Seattle’s strengths lies in the running game. Rookie quarter back Russell Wilson is more than capable of running amok, and tail back Marshain Lynch is one of the top three running backs in the NFL. Atlanta’s defense has problems stopping the run down the middle, and does not relish a running quarterback.

The outcome of the game could rest on the health of two ankles. John Abraham injured his ankle in the last regular game of the season, but hopefully with an extra week’s recovery time he should be good to go. Lynch injured his ankle playing on the cabbage patch that Washington laughingly calls a playing field. The Seattle media has been somewhat evasive in their reporting on Lynch’s ankle, but he will play.

I’m a little nervous about Atlanta’s chances in this game because I’m not confident that we have the defensive tools to stop Seattle’s running game. Seattle’s defense is also ranked one of the best in the NFL, and good defenses usually outlast good offenses. Typically the team that commits the least turn overs usually wins. Reluctantly I’m taking Seattle to win 24-17, but I sincerely hope I’m wrong. Go Falcons!

Postscript: That was a nail-biter if I ever saw one. The Falcons were leading 27-7 entering the 4th quarter and proceeded to surrender 3 touchdowns for Seattle to lead for the first time with 31 seconds remaining on the clock.

Jacquiz Rodgers returned the Seahawks kick off for 27 yards. Ryan threw a 22 yard pass to Harry Douglas. He then threw a 19 yard pass to his favorite receiver Tony Gonzalez who managed to reach Seattle’s 30 yard line leaving kicker Matt Bryant with a 49 yard field goal attempt.

Seattle’s coach called the now customary time out as Bryant was about to attempt the field goal. Bryant went through with his kick to give him a sighter much to the consternation of gum-chewing Pete Carroll.

Bryant steadied himself once more and placed his kick immaculately between the goal posts. It’s over; we’ve won! Not quite! There were 8 seconds remaining, and it appeared the Falcons were determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith called for a grubber kick with a low trajectory from the ensuing kick off, but the punter turned it into a on-side kick which unaccountably gave Seattle an opportunity to win the game.

Rookie Russell Wilson’s first pass moved his team closer to the Atlanta half of the field, but with only 6 seconds left, his second throw had to be a hail Mary into the Atlanta endzone which happily was caught by Atlanta receiver Julio Jones.

Watching and supporting the Falcons is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Bring on the San Francisco 49ers for next week’s NFC Championship decider,and a  prescription for valium wouldn’t go amiss.

New Year’s Eve in Savannah

Monday, January 7th, 2013

I love Christmas, the festivities, celebrating a special birth, the exchange of gifts, buying and cooking the turkey, watching and shedding a tear over “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the whole nine yards. Unfortunately I hate New Year’s Eve with a passion. I just regard it as the passing of another year of my allotted three score and twenty and I don’t appear to have many left. My wife, however, loves New Years Eve and wants to go out and party.

 I would prefer to go to bed around 11.00pm and rise the next morning in the realization that the calendar is indicating a new year. But you want to keep the missus happy and I reluctantly go along for the ride. So this year we decided to park the bus in Savannah and soak up the atmosphere in one of America’s most historic cities.

Memorable Moments:

  1. Reconnecting with the historic squares; dripping in Spanish moss from imposing oak trees; oozing with charm and history.
  2. Bloody Mary in Tubby’s on the Riverfront
  3. Impromptu acapello singing in The Pink House
  4. Watching fireworks across the river from the roof of our hotel on the stroke of midnight.
  5. Live music in the City Market on New Year’s Eve
  6. Good meal, good service, good company at the Boar’s Head on Sunday the day before New Year’s Eve.
  7. Harry O’Donohue performing a raucous version of “Living Next Door to Alice” in Kevin Barry’s Irish Bar.
  8. Spotting an alligator basking in the winter sunshine along the 15th fairway at Crosswinds Golf Club.
  9. Wine tasting in City Market. Meinhardt wines were not my favorite, but the owner who was a dead ringer for Brian Dennehy was entertaining.

Not so memorable Moments:

  1. Paying $32 for a mediocre steak at The Pink House that I could have bought in a Waffle House for $7.99. A diffident waitress didn’t help matters.
  2. Playing golf on a somewhat bland layout at Crosswinds Golf Club that unforgivably allowed a five ball group to play ahead of us.
  3. Some of the seafood on the Riverfront left a lot to be desired.
  4. Leopold’s ice-cream which was completely overrated compared to Joe’s Ice-Cream in Swansea, Wales
  5. Being head-butted (accidently but still painful) by a drunken brunette in the City Market in the early hours of 2013.
  6. Being asked to move tables in an alfresco café by a despicable little character wearing a bandana called Will Jones. He tried to bribe us with two glasses of wine when a bottle would have been the clincher.

Based on a count back, the memorable moments outweigh the not so memorable, so spending New Year’s Eve in Savannah was relatively successful. Without further ado I would like to wish my reader (Freudian slip) a happy and healthy new year.