By Bill Campbell
With the Eagles in a bye week, I would have suggested the Houston-Baltimore game to satisfy your Sunday football urge. The Atlanta Falcons are the NFL’s only unbeaten team but they also were in a bye before meeting the Eagles this Sunday, so this looked like the game to watch. Both the Texans and Ravens were 5 and 1 at the start of the contest, which gave it some added interest. But it was a blow-out, with Houston trouncing Baltimore 43-13, and no other game on the schedule seemed to be all that interesting.
Despite having no game on our calendar, it was anything but a dull week on the Eagles’ front. It featured Andy Reid’s eye-popping dismissal of defensive coordinator, Juan Castillo, a move that shocked almost as many people as had Reid’s conversion of Castillo from offensive coordinator to defensive chief last year. It took Reid almost twenty games, including eleven defeats, to realize his mistake and move Todd Bowles into Castillo’s spot. If recognition of an error in judgment is going to take that long, it hardly speaks well for the Eagles’ future since every other coach on the team remains in place. Reid promised a complete re-evaluation of everything which suggested to some people that other changes might be coming, including a possible switch at quarterback. At this writing, no such changes have been announced – and it should be pointed out that the Eagles do not adapt quickly to change.
While Reid denies that changing defenses in the fourth period against Detroit, particularly in the final five minutes, was the move that cost Castillo his job, it sure looks that way now. You don’t change things with a ten-point lead in the last minutes of a game without good reason. Although Reid said, “It wasn’t we were blitzed more or blitzed poorly, that we played more zone or less zone in the fourth period or didn’t continue to double Number 81 (Calvin Johnson) although he did make a couple of big plays, there wasn’t a significant change,” it’s hard to accept. If these things weren’t the reason for the Castillo dismissal, then what really happened to bring about a decision that dramatically changed the make-up of the coaching staff? Castillo himself, with great class, acknowledged that he hadn’t gotten the job done. Andy should have just said so.
As someone pointed out in the paper last week, Andy Reid has coached the Eagles so long that there are, indeed, grown men who don’t remember when he wasn’t here. But for most of us who do, Coach Reid has become famous – perhaps notorious – for some of his memorable post-game quotes: “It’s my responsibility”, “I’ve got to do a better job”, “I’m going to take a good, hard look at everything”, “I want to make sure that I evaluate everything with a clear head” and “that’s the way I’m looking at it right now as I stand here.” The last guy to whom those lines was applied was Juan Castillo. He doesn’t work here anymore. Andy keeps repeating his lines. The changes the team has to make are easy to identify: look for more consistent blitzing and more zone and a lot of inter-changeable movement in the secondary under Todd Bowles. And look for the same Reid-isms.
The hottest new name on the NFL scene these days is that of the Washington Redskins; Robert Griffin III – although he lost his encounter with Eli Manning in the dying seconds of Sunday’s game against the Giants. Manning and Hector Cruz hooked up on a seventy yard game-winning pass and RG III wasn’t feeling quite as hot by day’s end. He is a rising star, though, and we’re going to hear more of him this season and in the future.
We still have no hockey to watch and may not get any, to listen to the players’ reps and NHL spokesmen. Funny, it appears that the NHL lockout may be partially funded by Comcast, the Flyers’ parent company. The NBC Sports Group is paying the NHL $180 million in rights fees for the season and the league is scheduled to receive all of the money even if there is no season. That’s right: the NHL will receive all of that money even if not one game is played. An NHL spokesman said on Tuesday, “The lockout didn’t catch us by surprise, which is why we have protected the back end of the deal.” That is some protection.
The World Series Begins
Remember when the World Series was the only game that mattered in the waning days of October? Now the Series fights for attention, getting stiff competition from the NFL, the NBA and, if they ever manage to settle this senseless strike, the NHL. But how about the San Francisco Giants who were all but counted out of the World Series, particularly in this corner? Tonight they will face the Detroit Tigers in Game One for the Biggest Baseball Prize of all.
If you’re paying any mind to the baseball finals it’s a good time to ask the question, what has happened to the New York Yankees? They were swept in the post-season play-offs this year for the first time since 1980. The Detroit Tigers’ pitching staff did the sweeping, holding the Yanks to a team batting average of 188 in the post-season and 157 in the LCS. Detroit outhit New York 1602 in the finale and 46-22 in the series. The Tigers’ pitching rotation is 4-1 with a 1.02 ERA in the past-season. These guys should be remembered: Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister. Together they formed a rotation that allowed only two earned runs to the Yankees, shut them out once and yielded a total of just six runs in the series. This is the eleventh American League pennant for Detroit, its first in six years. Owner Mike Ilitch said, “I’ve got a great bunch. We don’t have one hot dog in the bunch. They are something special.” General Manager Dave Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland pilot the team – Leyland was often reported to be in the running for the Phillies GM job in the pre-Charlie Manuel days. The Tigers play in the AL Central Division and there was much excitement when they signed Prince Fielder for $214 million in January but the Tigers opened the season slowly at 26-32. Yet in the final ten days of the regular season they won the division flag and finished 88-74, matching the St. Louis Cardinals for the fewest wins among the ten play-off teams. Let’s see how they do against the San Francisco Giants starting tonight.
So the Yankees finished by scoring just three runs in thirty-nine innings during the play-offs and headed home which a lot of questions about their future. Who will replace Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and others who are showing the wear and tear of injuries and age? And a baseball fan has to ask who would have suspected that the once mighty New York Yankees would be described as a team of awful hitters, former stars and aging veterans?
The Eagles bye week gave us the opportunity to zero in on college football last weekend. I watched the Temple-Rutgers and Penn State-Iowa games pretty closely and was surprised at what I saw in both.
Temple led Rutgers 10-0 at the half, completely dominated the first thirty minutes, only to fall on its collective face after intermission. One of the Rutgers players was quoted as saying post-game, “We knew all we had to do was put it in gear. We were stuck in neutral in the first half. It was just a matter of time.” He was right. The Owls now go to Pittsburgh where they will be a solid favorite but Temple knows it must win three out of its remaining five games to become bowl eligible for the third straight season. The best chances for victory appear to be at Pitt and Syracuse as well as against non-conference opponent, Army. But Temple will be the definite underdog against Big East powers Louisville and Cincinnati. As it faces these upcoming opponents, the Owls can’t afford to repeat that dismal second-half showing against Rutgers.
Conversely, the Penn State/Bill O’Brien story gets better every week. Who would have predicted the Nittany Lions’ thrashing of Iowa, particularly at Iowa? Penn State beat Iowa on first downs, 29-14. The Lions had 52 rushes for 215 yards to Iowa’s 23 for 20 yards and they accumulated 289 passing yards to Iowa’s 189. Iowa also fumbled four times and the time of possession favored the Lions 38 minutes to 21. Penn State had not won at Iowa since 1999. So this Saturday the Lions face Ohio State in what is being called “The Mark Emmert Bowl” – named for the NCAA president who declared these two teams to be post-season ineligible for past- or pre-season sins. Ironically, although there will be no bowl games this year for either of these teams, they both have a shot at the Big Ten title. The Buckeyes narrowly escaped Purdue last week, trailing by 8 with a minute to go.
What if Penn State wins the Big Ten? Is Bill O’Brien in the running for the Coach of the Year – or at least some serious consideration? For a while, Penn State was being mentioned each week but as a nice little story. Then the team started winning in its third game and started getting headlines. In its recent five-game streak, QB Matt McGloin has passed for 1,331 yards and ten touchdowns with only one interception. Penn State is now listed at a season high eighteen votes in the AP Poll of the top twenty-five teams in the land. The nice little story seems to be getting bigger and better. We should look forward to seeing the Lions meet the Buckeyes at Beaver Stadium on Saturday and a planned “white-out” by the fans. Happy Valley is getting happier.
Turnovers of a Different Kind
The pro football season has not yet reached the half-way mark but some people already are losing their jobs. I’ve already noted the departure of the Eagles’ Juan Castillo. The Carolina Panthers fired their general manager, Marty Hurney, after a long conference with club owner, Jerry Richardson, before last Sunday’s game. They agreed that if the Panthers lost to Dallas Hurney’s responsibilities would be over. The Panthers lost to the Cowboys, 19-14, their fourth straight, giving them the worst record in the league at 1-5. Owner and GM let for two hours afterwards and on Monday Hurney’s dismissal was announced. Even the Panthers’ star quarterback, Cam Newton, has expressed his displeasure at the course of a season which started with high expectations for his team. Hurney had been the GM since 2002. Director of football operations, Brandon Beane, and coach Ron Rivera will assume responsibility for the team now.
Meanwhile, Brady Quinn will take over as the Kansas City Chiefs starting QB and Matt Cannel will serve as number one back-up beginning with the upcoming game with Oakland on Sunday. And the latest word from Commissioner Roger Goodell is that the NFL is considering dropping the Pro Bowl if the level of play does not improve. Goodell is quoted as saying, “If we cannot accomplish that kind of standard of high play, I am inclined to not play the Pro Bowl. The league still could select a Pro Bowl team through voting by the players, coaches and fans. It just wouldn’t play the game.” Not that a great deal of attention ever has been paid to this game. Its main point seems to be giving a free trip to Hawaii after a bruising season for all concerned and granting All Star privileges to the selected players and coaches. The players who head to Hawaii to play in January on the Sunday before the Super Bowl keep promising to upgrade their performance. But isn’t it a little jarring to read that Goodell is suggesting there won’t be a Pro Bowl by acknowledging that the NFL isn’t necessarily delivering on its product?
In victory or defeat, there are few dull moments in the NFL even before we hit the half-way mark. So stay tuned.