Friday, October 31, 2008

Lakers lock up Big Man with a 4-year extension

The Los Angeles Lakers have signed Center Andrew Bynum to a multi-year extension reportedly worth $58 million. The deal removes the possibility of the 21 year old center becoming a free agent.

The deal will keep him in a Lakers jersey until 2012-2013 season. Bynum was the 10th overall pick by the Lakers in the 2005 NBA Draft. He will earn $2.8 million this season with the extension kicking in next year.

If the deal wasn’t completed by Friday, the team wouldn’t have been able to negotiate with him until the end of the season when he would be a free agent. The deal cements Bynum’s future with the Lakers.

The deal also means that the Lakers have locked up their two youngest players, Jordan Farmar and Andrew Bynum and cemented their place as Lakers for the foreseeable future.

Bynum, a seven-foot, 285 pounder had already established himself as one of the leagues Up-and-Coming big men before he was injured in a January 13th game and later had season ending knee surgery.

He had averaged 13.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.06 blocks in 35 games. He started 25 of those games. Bynum had to sit on bench and watch the Lakers go to the NBA Finals and he couldn’t be a part of it.

He worked hard in the off-season is healthy now and poised to make an impact on the balanced Lakers.

The contract is now out of the way, both his and his family’s financial futures are set and he can now focus on working hard to continue his development into one of the leagues best. He will be making an impact on the court in an NBA city near you.

The Los Angeles Lakers are off and running

The Lakers have started the 2008-2009 season off with a bang. The team that has gotten off to an excellent start with two impressive wins, is the same one, we saw walk off the court defeated in game six of the NBA Finals.

The difference is that the team that lost the NBA Finals in game six had actually lost the series in game four by allowing the Celtics to come back and win after having a 24 point lead in a must win home game.

This time last year no one expected the young Los Angeles Lakers to make a run to the NBA Finals with all of the off-season turmoil. The thought then was that the Lakers would be the sixth seed in the playoffs at best.

Beyond Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, this is a young team that grew up last year and had a taste of success reaching the NBA Finals and now nothing else except winning it all will suffice.

A motto for this Lakers team could easily be NBA Finals or bust.

The team returns the majority of the same players from last year with a few additions but the changes are as follows; most importantly everyone is healthy, which couldn’t be said last year.

The young players received valuable experience last year, the team learned the hard way that they’re focus needs to be on defense and everyone has bought into it.

The Lakers have a tremendous amount of depth. They’re basically two deep at every position, which offers Coach Phil Jackson great versatility. Phil Jackson and staff made the decision to have the versatile Lamar Odom come off the bench which improves an already potent bench.

This is a scary thought for the opposing team seeing as the Lakers bench averaged 32 points per game last year.

Future starting point guard Jordan Farmar, Trevor Ariza and Andrew Bynum all look poised for breakout seasons for the balanced Lakers. Both Farmar and Bynum development as players has gone well and both received contract extensions.

He will still play the same amount of minutes that he normally has but he should have more of an impact on the game. The starting five really wouldn’t have been good in transition defense with ‘LO’ in the starting unit the team would’ve been slower.

This isn’t a knock on ‘LO’ but having a shooter like Vladimir Radmanovic spread the floor provides proper spacing for the offense. Radmanovic has also displayed a renewed vigor and desire to really work on the defensive end of the floor.

The Lakers talent, depth, versatility and length allow the second unit the opportunity to run and push the ball up the court and basically change the pace of the game and get the team in transition to acquire transition baskets on lay-ups and dunks.

Moving Lamar Odom to the second unit makes the starters a better defensive team as well as places him in a situation where he can come off the bench and be aggressive.

The Lakers emphasis on defense has been a welcome sight, especially with a healthy Andrew Bynum back to being a presence in the paint. Pau Gasol has been able to move to his natural position as a mobile power forward.

The guards and forwards are aggressively challenging ball handlers, closing out on shooters, in the passing lanes and doing an excellent job of switching defenders and forcing everything to the baseline with two seven footers behind initial defenders to clean things up and challenge of block shots.

It is great to see everyone having each others backs, so to speak, meaning if Gasol has to come out to cut off Kobe’s man then in turn Kobe will take his man leaving no one uncovered.

The Lakers are showing excellent player movement and ball movement although the team is forcing the action and getting transition baskets but will still run their customary triangle offense when in the half court set.

Some of the most important numbers coming out of the first two games of the season are two games wins by 58 points and holding the oppositions FG shooting percentage to 36.7 which is what the Clippers shot.

The Lakers are seeking a return trip to the NBA Finals with the home court advantage and winning it this time around, this is the only way to remove the bad taste in the mouths from 131-92.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Raiders lose both of their Forgotten Men

The forgotten men that the Raiders lost are the two players that play the fullback position.
Justin Griffith and Oren O’Neal, both are solid players that were instrumental in the 2007 and current seasons running game.

I wrote an article back in early August speaking of the above mentioned players.

Now both have been lost for the year due to injury.

As a coach, player and fan we want to see a player play his guts out and leave it all on the field every practice and game. I hope others recognize that the versatile players that play fullback for the Raiders have done just that.

Playing a position where your time is split between power running and lead blocking as well as blocking for the quarterback in the passing game.

Oren O’Neal was injured playing on Special Teams in an exhibition game; and Justin Griffith tore his ACL in his right knee scoring the team’s only touchdown against the vaunted Baltimore Ravens defense while taking a serious hit from Ray Lewis.

The only good news in the above mentioned statement regarding the losses is that both players should be back on the field in 2009. The Oren O’Neal injury was once thought to be career-ending and the bright spot is that he will recover from it and resume his career.

It is a known fact that the traditional fullback is a dying breed.

There are two types of fullbacks in the NFL today – the blow-up lead blocker who destroys anything in his way (think of former Charger FB Lorenzo Neal), and the athletic, do-it-all “West Coast” fullback ( think of former 49er and current Raiders running back coach Tom Rathman).

The team has acquired two players in an attempt to fill the void. The roster replacements are Luke Lawton and the newly signed Jason Davis.

Jason Davis (5’ 10” 245lbs.) was signed off of the Bear’s practice squad he is an undrafted player from 2006 that has yet to play an NFL game.

There were only three fullbacks selected in the 2006 draft with the first one being David Kirtman who was drafted by the Seahawks in the fifth round.

In his senior year at Illinois the team, in Ron Zook’s first year, went to a wide-open shotgun attack offense that Davis struggled with. He is however known for having good hands. This has the potential to open up screen passes or a check down route in the flats.

He is a guy getting an opportunity for playing time due to injury and should be highly motivated player, which is always nice to add to a team.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ravens - Raiders Preview

This is a rematch of the two teams that played for the AFC Championship in Oakland eight years ago, a game won by the Ravens 16-3 in route to their Super Bowl championship in 2000.

One team will come out of this game on a two game winning streak.

Both teams have young signal callers as starters in common and offense’s that rank near the bottom in terms of overall rankings and consistent production.

The Ravens have one of the best defenses in the NFL. The Raiders have a lot of talent and are still working on putting it all together and playing the perfect game.

That is what it is going to take to win this game.

The worst thing about this game for the Raiders is that they’ll have to make a cross country trip to play an early game, west coast teams, due to the time change and waking extremely early and essentially playing an early morning game, notoriously have not faired well in these games.

When the Ravens have the ball:

The Ravens offense, lead by rookie QB John Flacco, has been a more successful running then passing. The team has had more success rushing and will run the ball at the Raiders.

As a unit they’re ranking is number 26 in points averaging 17.5 per game, 26th in total yardage at 296 yards per game, 25th in passing yardage at 161.8 yards per game, the team is ranked seventh rushing at 134.2 yards per game.

The passing game ranks very low and the Ravens receivers are a little banged up so it appears that they’ll rely on a run heavy offensive game plan. Joe Flacco has only thrown two touchdown passes but he has amassed seven interceptions.

When the Raiders are on Defense:

The Raiders defense needs to shut down the Ravens rushing game, they’re facing rookie QB Joe Flacco and need to go after him hard to force him and the Ravens offense into turnovers.

As a unit they’re ranked 23rd in points allowed at 23.7 per game, 26th in total yardage at 360.5 per game, 22nd in passing yardage at 224.3 per game, 24th in rushing yards allowed at 136.2 per game.

A high level defensive effort needs to be had from the start of the game to the end of the game. The Raiders defense has gotten seven interceptions so far this season and ironically Joe Flacco has also thrown the same amount.

The Raiders have done a decent job of sacking the quarterback this year and everyone is contributing and that type of effort will be needed against the Ravens.

If the team can shut down the run game, mix up the coverage’s to confuse the young QB put a tremendous amount of pressure in Joe Flacco’s face right up the middle to flush him out of the pocket the Raiders should be able to force a few turnovers which will be huge in this game.

When the Raiders have the ball:

The Raiders are a running team that is moving toward finding their passing game. They’re going up against one of the best defenses and the league’s stingiest against the run.

As a unit the Raiders rank as 28th in points at 16.2 per game, 23rd in total yards at 300.3 per game, 27th in passing yards at 157.3 per game, fifth in rushing at 143 yards per game.

This is strength on strength match up but the Ravens are the leagues best at stopping the run and haven’t allowed a 100 yard rusher in 25 games.

The task will be difficult but the Raiders can not abandon the running game, they need to still run the ball but it needs to be more of a 60/40 mix with them passing the ball about sixty percent of the time while mixing in play action.

The Raiders will need to throw the ball more this week, it is imperative that all of the wide receivers step up their game and contribute as Javon Walker did last week.

It needs to be a concerted effort between the WR’s, TE’s and RB’s on short to medium throws and the occasional long pass attempt to keep the defense honest. The Raiders might have to use their TE’s, FB’s and RB’s in as blockers if the protection doesn’t hold up.

JaMarcus Russell will need to do a good of limiting his mistakes take what the defense gives him and protect the football. It is not a bad decision to throw the ball away if need be.

When the Ravens are on defense:

The Ravens is one of the NFL’s best at shutting down the opposition. The run a base 3-4 defense and the front line of (RE) Haloti Ngata, (NT) Justin Bannan and (LE) Trevor Price do an excellent job of slowing the oppositions running game, occupying blockers and protecting their linebackers so they can make tackles.
It could also be described as clearing the way for first ballot Hall of Famer MLB Ray Lewis.

The Ravens will shut down the Raiders rushing game and get after JaMarcus Russell. He is a young QB and the veteran Raven defense will look to get some hits on him, sack him and create turnovers.

As a unit the Ravens rank fifth in points at 16.7 per games, second in total yardage at 243.8 per game, fourth in passing yards at 176.7, first in stopping the run at 67.2 yards per game.

Key Match Up:

Raiders Defensive Coordinator vs. Ravens Defensive Coordinator; It will be interesting to see this match up and find out what new twist each will bring.

I have a feeling that there is a possibility that both teams might show multiple fronts throughout the game but don’t be surprised to see the vaunted Bear 46 from both teams.

The winner of this game could easily come down to which young QB makes fewer mistakes. The outcome could come down to which team’s running game gets on track.

This will be a low scoring contest with winner of the turnover battle being the winner of this game.


Ravens 16 – Raiders 13

Friday, October 24, 2008

Raiders top Jets in overtime 16-13, A Win to build upon

The Raiders huge 16-13 win over Brett Favre and the Jets allowed them to break both a three game losing streak and a four-game home losing streak.

Kicker Seabastian Janikowski's 57-yard FG in overtime was the difference.

The longest FG to win a game in overtime in NFL history and one yard better than his longest this season. The win was Interim Head Coach Tom Cable’s first NFL win.

It wasn’t the best game that the Raiders have played but the team dug in their heels and fought the Jets for five quarters.

Despite giving up 159 yards rushing to Thomas Jones, the Raiders defense did a good job of getting to Brett Favre, hitting him on more than one occasion and sacking him three times.

The defense caused three turnovers; DeAngelo Hall and Gibril Wilson both had interceptions and as a group came up with the necessary stops to earn the win.

Rookie DE Trevor Scott had a stellar game recording a stat line that included six tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble.

The Raiders have been competitive and hold leads early in previous games only to see it all fall apart in the fourth quarter, unable to seal the deal.

The team showed determination and resolve, allowing just 45 yards in the extra period while forcing the Jets to punt on all three of their drives in overtime.

It was nice to witness a Javon Walker sighting, his five receptions for 75 yards and first touchdown and game as a Raider. It was good to see the team refuse to let up in the fourth quarter and continue to fight for the much needed win.

There is one game during every season that is declared pivotal to a team’s success; this type of win has the potential for being that game for the Raiders.

Oakland has to be able to build upon the successes in the win and eliminate the mistakes. The team continued to run the ball against the Jets who came into the game with the number three ranked run defense in the NFL.

Oakland came away with 153 yards rushing with Justin Fargas carrying the ball 28 times for 74 yards, not spectacular numbers but most importantly not giving up on the running game.

The Raiders need to continue to work on limiting the opposition on defense and establishing the Wide Receivers in the passing attack.

The team finished the game with 14 penalties which is 14 too many and in some cases a team killer which needs to be addressed immediately. A win is a win however it happens and these Raiders will take it and work toward securing another next Sunday.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The NFL needs Full-Time Officials

All of us football fans on game day take to our favorite chair in our living room, entertainment room, den, back room, basement, friend’s house or local sports bar to watch football games.

There are constantly 29 men on the field, three teams if you will, the home team, the away team and the crew of officials, until one of the men wearing a striped shirt warns the players on the sideline that they’re too close to the field of play and that they’ll need to stay back beyond the boundary to avoid a penalty.

Every team has a “get back” guy, a role played by some assistant coaches.
The guy giving the warning usually is the Side Judge; he is one of the striped shirts, the zebras one of the seven other guys on the field or third team tasked with officiating the game.

The crew of officials consist of a Referee, Umpire, Head Linesman, Line Judge, Field Judge, Side Judge and Back Judge. Each are tasked with watching a specific part of the field and sharing said ruling with the Referee.

In the specialized world of the NFL the officials have a tough job to do and the crew is in the city of the upcoming game they’ll be working long before kickoff. The group discusses points of interest, infractions that they’re keying on for the game long before it starts.

The crew of officials put in a lot of time and effort into completing the task of officiating an NFL game every Sunday.
These guys are required to have a deep and thorough understanding of the rules, stay updated on rule changes, and be able to be calm, fair and consistent while handling pressure situations in close contests.

Each member of the crew has had to go through a lot to reach this level of officiating.

Under Mike Pereira, the leagues Vice President of officiating, there is a standardized grading system and the crew is judged on their performance which works towards being selected to officiate playoff games and the Super Bowl.

Every year there are those four to ten missed calls that we as fans will never forget or let the official that missed the call forget.

These guys have to deal with an inordinate amount of verbal abuse from the fans, during and after games. There are websites about how bad the officials are which go into great detail about how a call was blown.

Sometimes we as fans forget that the officials are human and that they’ll make mistakes like anyone else.

Ed Hochuli an NFL official from 1990- present was crucified for his game deciding gaffe in the Denver vs. San Diego game for example and people were calling for his head, so to speak.

He admitted that he made a mistake,owned it and showed the humility to answer e-mails from each and every pissed off Chargers fan.

Several of us can’t say that we would’ve done the same. Some have gone as far as stating that officiating a game is easy which couldn’t be further from the truth.

The real outcry should be for the league to hire full time officials. This isn’t the answer to the problems with officiating but it would be a huge step in the right direction. NFL officials have day jobs and officiating games for them is in a sense a part-time job.

The NFL is a full time job for the players, coaches and front office personnel and should be for officials as well.

The pay scale for league officials ranges from $25,000 to $70, 000 per year. The average NFL official is paid $27,000 per year, a far contrast to the $128,000 a NBA official receives.

Granted the NBA plays far more games than the NFL and the NFL official works less but this disparity is unbelievable and unfair.

NHL officials on average earn $139,000 annually; Major League Baseball officials on average earn $141, 000 annually.

However if you love the game, have a desire to be a part of the best football action that a game can offer you set out to make it happen and become a game official. Despite being paid less than other professional sports leagues.

As a suggestion it would make sense to me that the NFL hire officials on a full time basis, raise their salary commensurate with officials of other leagues, and most importantly make sure the officials are in prime physical shape like the athletes they’re officiating by going through their own OTA’s, mini-camps and training camps.

It might sound strange but it would work, for an official it is all about experience and the year round effort and practice would improve the officiating on game day.

A huge problem the officials face is that the speed of today’s game, at times appears to be too fast for the striped shirts.

Today’s athletes are bigger, stronger and faster than previous years. Which makes the game action faster, some of the faster action is getting by the officials and calls are being missed.

Missed calls unfortunately will always be a part of the game but full-time officials will go a long way to minimize this issue and the officials can go back to not being a factor in deciding if a team wins or loses a game.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

How will Tom Cable’s elevation affect the Raiders?

Tom Cable’s unexpected ascension to the interim head coaching position places him in the unenviable position of being challenged with the task of bringing some order to chaos as well as leading a turnaround.
This is his first NFL head coaching job although he possesses 21 years of coaching experience.

In the locker room he is known as an approachable coach, that players can talk to, who has solidified the offensive line and can do the same with the entire locker room. Al Davis stated in the infamous press conference that he wanted Cable to dominate the players and dominate the locker room.

This is a task that is always tough for first year head coaches but a task that Cable is ready for and should excel in. Usually only time reveals the answer. The players to a man don’t like the constant change of head coaches but will rally around and play hard for Tom Cable.

Despite the strange way he became the Raiders head coach Tom Cable is qualified and well-suited for the position. He is known as a tough competitor, tough on discipline, a tough-minded guy with a take-charge approach that gets it and sees the whole picture.

These are some of the reasons that he was the choice as the next head coach despite other coaches on the roster being more well known commodities in coaching circles.

If you listen to several NFL insiders be it NFL executives, league-wide front office personnel, former players, sports announcers and sports writers; Tom Cable is the newest man not to matter. Seeing as who the owner is and his history with head coaches.

It is something that is impossible to dispute, but this could be that rare occasion where the interim head coach is able to finish what the former coach started despite the obvious obstacles.

Tom Cable has learned what it takes to command the attention of a large group; he is very effective taking the time to reach out to each player getting to know them individually and taking a personal interest in each player, their families, and their well being on and off the field.

Offensive Coordinator Gregg Knapp will now call the plays on offense, it is a position that he has excelled in, and he will take on the chess match of putting together an aggressive game plan attacking opposing defenses.

Tom Cable will have final say, but the feeling is that the offense won’t be as reliant on the running game but I disagree with that thought. This is a running team that will pass and aggressively take their shots down field when available.

Some have speculated that the problem with the offense is that former coach Lane Kiffin kept the wraps on JaMarcus Russell and wouldn’t let him throw deep. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

The biggest change will be getting the wide receivers to become more of a factor. This has to occur for the offense to be more aggressive. Todd Watkins needs to be activated, he has the speed to go deep and can help an unproductive unit.

This unit has a combined 19 receptions that number needs to increase to reach the offensive balance Cable and Knapp desire.

The WR group has to step up their game and make plays to help out the offense and hold onto passes thrown their way, the offense as a whole must convert on third down.

The Raider running game is in need of the return of a healthy Justin Fargas. Having all of their runners healthy makes the running game more diverse.

Rob Ryan will still be in control of the defense with Tom Cable having final say, this unit needs to be aggressive and continue to attack from start to finish. The Outside linebackers need to make more plays in the running game and help the defensive line put pressure on the passer.

The defense needs to stop the opposition and get off the field on third down. The most important thing is the need to finish games. These are a few ways to notice Tom Cable’s affect on the team.

This team is close to putting together a complete game and coming away with more wins.
I’m aware that close is only good in regards to horseshoes and hand grenades.
I know that the NFL isn’t the close business but you have to crawl before you can walk. This team is making progress and moving in the right direction.

Several have asked the question, what is Tom Cable’s style? What is the Tom Cable way? The answer to those questions is simple.

Tom Cable wants the players to not be afraid of making mistakes but make them while playing 100mph. His feeling is that a player can grow from that quicker and that a player will learn quicker. It is unacceptable for players not to play with maximum effort.

Contrary to popular belief, the Raiders still have a chance in the AFC West.

Tom Cable has taken on a daunting task that can only be handled one game at a time. You’ll notice the affect when you see the Raiders play hard, play fast and play smart that is the Cable way.