Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Replacement ref debacle reaches breaking point after MNF disaster

Once NFL fans thought there was already enough wrong with these unqualified replacement officials, the problem reached its peak in primetime on Monday Night Football, as a hail mary pass hauled in by Golden Tate gave the Seattle Seahawks a controversial 14-12 win at home over the Green Bay Packers.

On the final play of the game, Seahawks' quarterback Russell Wilson dropped back, faced some pressure, rolled to his left, and heaved a rainbow up into the Seattle sky.  On the play, receiver Golden Tate shoved Sam Shields to the ground, and as the ball came down, M.D. Jennings jumped up and appeared to intercept the pass.  As he came down with the ball and landed, Tate stuck an arm into the fracas, two officials made opposite calls, the play was ruled a touchdown, and finally was upheld upon further review.  Ten minutes later, both teams had to come back for an extra point, and the Packers lost a game almost everyone felt they won.  Approximately $350 million changed hands on bets as well, according to Las Vegas oddsmakers.

The fact that the officials did not overturn this after watching the replay and the NFL standing by the refs and saying it was the right call today added more fuel to the fire that these replacement refs must go and the regulars must return to work.  The call of a simultaneous catch was ridiculous because Tate barely had his hands on the ball even after Jennings came down with the ball.  Even watching this as a Bears fan, you couldn't help but feeling a little bad for the Packer brethren who got jobbed in a big way by these refs.

I know this hasn't been talked about much, but Jennings has to knock that ball down.  Even though the call on the field was totally wrong, defenders are taught to knock the ball down in that situation.  He still intercepted the pass, but if he had done what he was taught, this whole debacle would never have happened.  A lot of people are also freaking out about the pass interference the league admitted should have been called, but I don't have a huge problem that this wasn't called.  Pushing and shoving like that happens all the time on these last-second plays.  It was an obvious shove by Tate, but I don't think the pass interference issue is the biggest by any means.

I was thinking about what I wanted to say here and decided to break it up into a few different sections.

Business/officiating side
It was brought to my attention today just how much this refs are asking for in their contracts.  They essentially are asking for pension and benefits that not even full-tume NFL employees have.  These refs only work six months of the year, yet they are expecting a lot in return for their work.  It is clear that they are a huge piece to the success of the NFL and keeping things running smoothly, but is it possible that these refs plotted this so they could prove a point of how important they are?  I'm not sure if they are expecting all those benefits, but they sure are making a case for them after what we've seen these last three weeks.

I know the best refs make mistakes too, but they have a much better grasp of the game and they have control over it.  These games have been a joke because the replacements are in awe of the players and don't have a grasp of the rule book.  They are simply unqualified.  One ref reportedly may have been pulling for LeSean McCoy as he was reffing the game.  Another was removed from doing a game just hours before because his Facebook page had him wearing Saints' gear.

 The pace of the game at the highest level is too great for them no matter what kind of "training" they received from the NFL leading up to the season.  The regular refs have been doing this for years and know what it's like to be under the pressure of officiating an NFL guys.  These guys doing the games now are making a lot of calls just for the sake of making calls.

Integrity of the game
We all know the Packers should have won the game, and this is the thing that bugs me the most.  All the analysts and experts agree that the integrity of the great game of football is at stake here.  Games are being decided by poor calls, coaches and players are complaining at unprecedented levels, and the league seems to be indifferent because their product is still making money.  Roger Goodell has not issued an apology, either.  I don't think people are going to stop watching football because of this, but a lot of people may put the games on hold until the legitimate zebras are back patrolling the field.

Even that Sunday Night Football matchup between the Patriots and Ravens had its controversy.  Baltimore's last touchdown was greatly aided by poor calls, but that's not to say that New England didn't benefit from some bad calls in their favor.  It just seems like a total crapshoot when it comes to what the officials are going to call a penalty.  Every game seems to have had issues.  Bad calls happen all the time with regular refs, but they aren't as magnified as with these replacement refs, who are under constant scrutiny.  I actually feel bad for them because they've been told to do a job that they aren't truly capable of doing right.

Closing remarks
While some say this debacle doesn't make a deal any closer to getting done, I'm optimistic that the regular officials will be in uniform come Week 4.  Like many other lockouts, the two sides have to come to an agreement somewhere in the middle and end this nightmare.  Football fans don't deserve the product they are getting right now that is being tainted by wild unpredictability.  The parity in these first three weeks has been great, but that doesn't make it all right that these current referees are in a situation they shouldn't be in.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Kansas City vs. Buffalo: Bold Predictions for Week 2 Matchup

Both teams struggled mightily on the defensive side of the ball in their openers.  Kansas City was missing four of their defensive starters in a 40-24 loss to Atlanta, and the Bills were steamrolled 48-28 by the New York Jets.  Look for the Chiefs to run the ball successfully in this contest with Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis.  C.J. Spiller dazzled in Week 1 for Buffalo, but look for him to struggle a bit in this matchup.

1.       Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis will each scoring a rushing TD

Charles returned from his 2011 injury with 16 carries for 87 yards in Week 1.  This debut looked a little better on paper thanks to a 46-yard run.  I see Charles breaking a big one for a touchdown Sunday.   Charles will also eclipse 100 yards rushing in the contest.

Hillis only accumulated 16 yards on seven carries against Atlanta, but he will punch one in from short for his first of the season.  He will get more than those seven carries as the Chiefs’ coaching staff will go more to their plan to run the ball and use a timeshare.

2.       C.J. Spiller will rush for less than 90 yards

Many experts and fantasy football fans are high on Spiller after his 169 rushing yards and a touchdown in Week 1 against the Jets, but the game was essentially out of hand and the Jets’ defense may have been playing softer.  With Fred Jackson sidelined with a knee injury, it appears to be Spiller’s time to shine just like at the end of 2011.

This will not happen, however, on Sunday.  David Nelson’s season-ending injury weakens a pedestrian receiving corps, so the Chiefs’ defense will be able to pack the box and try to limit Spiller while letting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick try to beat them. 

In his career, Spiller has shown limited ability to run between the tackles.  If the Bills fail to get him the ball in space, the third-year back may struggle.

3.       Despite being underdogs, the Chiefs will win by double digits

I’m not sure who made the line in Las Vegas on this one, but I am not buying the Bills being three-point favorites over the Chiefs.  The Chiefs have more talent on both sides of the ball and are desperate for this game if they are to contend in a tight AFC West.  Kansas City will be able to run the ball well, and Matt Cassel will not turn the ball over in this contest.  The Bills’ defense is supposed to improve with the addition of Mario Williams, but there wasn’t much in the game against the Jets to suggest this will happen. 

Cornerback Brandon Flowers returns to the field Sunday, and he will most likely blanket Stevie Johnson.  The Bills will struggle to pass effectively as Fitzpatrick will have to throw more to Donald Jones and tight end Scott Chandler.  Dwayne Bowe is a matchup nightmare for opposing corners, and he will find success against the Buffalo secondary.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bears rout Colts 41-21

After a rough start on the offensive side of the ball, the Bears dominated the rest of the game on their way to a 41-21 win over the Indianapolis Colts in their season opener at Soldier Field.

I was still on my camping trip and did not see this game other than the highlights, but I was impressed by what I saw and what the box score showed.  It is amazing the difference it makes in having skilled, big receivers who can fight shorter cornerbacks for balls.  Guys like Earl Bennett and Devin Hester in the past occupied these outside starting receiver roles and couldn't excel.  Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery give the Bears two huge threats who have sneaky speed.  Each caught a TD pass from Cutler, and Forte and Bush combined for three rushing TD's in the throttling.

The defense also played pretty well.  Andrew Luck looked good at times, but the Bear defense stepped up and made some nice plays, including two picks by cornerback Tim Jennings.  The defense is certainly aging, but this explosive offense (rarely do we say Bears explosive offense in Chicago) has the potential to be great this year with the balance it has.

Tomorrow is a true test on the road at Lambeau Field as the Bears took on the Packers.  The Packers will most likely be without the services of Greg Jennings, but that doesn't mean they should be take lightly.  They will be angry about the loss at home to the 49ers, which snapped their 13-game home winning streak.  Randall Cobb seems to be emerging for them, and the Bears will have to keep an eye on him or he may make a big play or two.

I think what it comes down to is how well Jay Cutler plays.  Aaron Rodgers hasn't demolished the Bears in recent years because they've actually ran eventually against Chicago, so I think the game will be put in Cutler's hands.  He hasn't won at Lambeau, and I think he and his guys are primed to prove that they are for real and ready to make a statement.  The outlook for the Bears' season will only get brighter with a road win at Green Bay.

Smitty's Forecast: Bears march into Lambeau Field and beat the Packers 24-20.

Clemson pounds Ball State 52-27

The Tigers thumped Ball State 52-27 in a game that wasn't even as close as the score may indicate.  I was in Amish country up in Wilton, Wisconsin this weekend, so I did not have a chance to see this game.  The game was basically over after the first half as Dabo Swinney only played the starters for one half of football.

The offense once again performed very well as Tajh Boyd connected with DeAndre Hopkins for three first-half touchdown passes.  Hopkins is no slouch.  A lot of the buzz is directed towards Sammy Watkins (who was serving the final game of his two-game suspension), but DeAndre Hopkins had legit ability before Watkins after graced the campus of Clemson University.  In past years, Kyle Parker threw to him and it was more difficult for him to shine, but Tajh Boyd has really brought out the best in him.  I think he has a legit shot to be a real player in the NFL, too.  Andre Ellington played sparingly in this one after gashing Auburn for over 200 yards rushing in the 26-19 season-opening win.

The next game at three p.m. on Saturday at home against Furman brings the return of Sammy Watkins and a final tune-up for a huge showdown with powerhouse Florida State.  I think Watkins will get his legs under him and be ready for a big game against the Seminoles.  I still am not worried about this team moving the ball, but the defense is still a bit concerning.  You can have a great defensive coordinator like Brett Venables to call the shots on that side of the ball, but he still needs the players to do what he wants the defense to do.  The problem is that these aren't Venables' guys that he helped recruit.  He has to make the most of what he's got.  There is no doubt that the defense has talent, it's just a matter of fusing that defense into a unit that plays together.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Usain Bolt thoughts

I was hoping to have more time to write a wrap-up on London 2012 Olympics, but I didn't get that chance because I was busy finishing up my internship with the Rockford RiverHawks Professional Baseball Team.  I know some time has past, but I just wanted to take a few moments to reflect on the athletic prowess of the great Usain Bolt.

Usain Bolt was simply a freak at the London Games, winning the 100 and 200 again, and once again anchoring the Jamaican team to another 4x100 relay victory.  In the 100, he fended off training partner Yohan Blake, as well as Americans Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin, in the fastest ever 100m finale.  While he did not shatter any world records, he broke his own Olympic record in the process.  Bolt is even thinking about possibly doing the 400 and long jump in Rio, but I don't know if I'd even want to see him run the 400. I understand he wants a new challenge, but winning the 400 wouldn't really do much for him.  If he was able to three-peat in 100, 200, and 4x100, that would be a remarkable accomplishment.  If he took one of these out for the 400m, it would be pointless in my opinion.

Before these games, Bolt had always been one of my favorite Olympians just based on his sheer dominance. I'm the type of person who usually likes athletes who don't put on a show and just go out and do their business.  Usain Bolt is not that man.  When that man competes, he treats the track as an arena to show off his freakish abilities, and he makes sure everyone is watching him for his celebrations and antics.  In 2008, I didn't really have a problem with him doing this because he was young, fast, and exciting, but something about the way he went about things this time around rubbed me the wrong way.  Declaring himself the greatest athlete of the all-time was probably what rubbed me the wrong way.  In his interviews, he seemed so self-absorbed and not caring about anything but himself.  To call yourself the greatest athlete of all-time is a little ridiculous.  Yes, you may be the fastest man to ever run, but to call yourself the world's greatest athlete is a bit of a stretch.

Guys like Michael Jordan never had to tell people how great they were.  People watched Jordan play and made that proclamation. He didn't have to brag or say how great he was.  It irks me a bit that Bolt seems so selfish.  Running that fast is not an easy thing to do, but I still believe making a fadeaway jumper in with two defenders on you in the NBA Finals takes a tremendous amount of skill.  Hitting a 100 mph fastball is also very difficult.  I just question Bolt's logic in saying he is the best of all-time.  The greats in their respective sports did outstanding things in their arenas that may be more difficult than what Bolt did.  It is like comparing apples to oranges when skill is better than another.

While Bolt is electrifying to watch and it is great to see that he is having fun, I think he needs to handle himself a little more professionally to be respected by the greatest athletes of all-time.  There is no doubt he belongs in the conversation, but he doesn't need to try to convince people.  His accomplishments should be speaking rather than his big ego.  I do not hate Bolt by any means and will still cheer for him in these big races, but it just frustrated me to see his self-serving attitude.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Clemson beats Auburn 26-19 in season opener

The Clemson Tigers shook off any hangover from last year's Orange Bowl beatdown at the hands of West Virginia in January and beat the Auburn Tigers 26-19 at the Georgia Dome in the season opener.

Andre Ellington ran wild for 231 yards, including a big run that set up Clemson's go-ahead score in the fourth quarter.  As impressive as Ellington was, quarterback Tajh Boyd showed incredible poise in the final quarter, avoiding potential sacks and picking up key first downs to keep the drive alive.  He lofted a beautiful four-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins, who had a school-record 13 receptions, for the go-ahead touchdown.

This was a big win over an SEC opponent, especially considering Clemson was without star wideout Sammy Watkins, who was suspended for two games after being arrested in the offseason.  When Watkins returns, this offense will be even better than it already is.

The defense also looked good.  In past years, Auburn may have taken the lead or at least tied the game and sent it to overtime, but new defensive coordinator Brent Venables' philosophies already paid dividends in week one.  After giving up an astounding 70 points to West Virginia in their bowl game in January, the hiring of Venables was in hopes to shore up a defense that, while talented, did not always play like a unit.  They looked great in some games last season as the Tigers won the ACC crown, but in other contests, the dynamic offense had to bail the defense out.

With the defense looking improved and the offense sure to be putting up big numbers, I like Clemson's chances to make noise again.  They have Ball State and Furman at home before the huge test Sept. 22 at Florida State that will go a long way in determining the ACC Crown.  I truly believe the Tigers' offense can do the job against a good FSU defense.  If the Seminoles step up to the challenge, though, it will be really interesting to see if the Tigers' defense can actually stand firm and get enough stops to win a close football game.

It's good to have college football back even though most people are assuming it will be Alabama and USC that meet for the national title.  I believe this is a possibility, but far from a certainty.  There are many other capable teams that will make a run at it should one of those two teams stumble.

Let me know what you think.  Who will meet in the BCS National Championship Game and why?