Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Let's see the rookies

If you watched the Patriots-Dolphins beatdown, you saw a Patriots defense that often looked too slow to stop Miami's athletic running backs, even on the "routine" plays. Once the Fins went to their "wildcat" offense with running backs playing quarterback and quarterbacks at receiver, the Pats looked far from the honed squad that has come up big time and time again through the years.

New England spent most of its past draft stocking up on defensive prospects. Let's see them.

Given, Jerod Mayo, the 10th overall pick, has been in on almost every play. After that, we've seen little of the youth infusion. Shawn Crable (#98, photo) is a 6'5", 243-pound linebacker projected to be the next big pass rusher. Terrence Wheatley, out of Colorado, has big-role potential as a cornerback.

Give them some plays. Let's see if their forecasts are right.

Bye week shows AFC weakness

Even a bye week can offer encouragement.

At 1 p.m. on Sunday, and with the gloom from the Miami massacre still lingering, there was not much reason for excitement for Patriots fans about their team.

By the time Monday transitioned to Tuesday at the conclusion of the final Week 4 game, the Patriots hadn't played a snap, but reasons for optimism abounded, and hopes for a playoff return had reignited.

As Sean Crowe at the Bleacher Report said, this is because no team in the AFC took advantage to make a push for the front of the conference. The Patriots sat at home, while the teams looking to snatch New England's crown exposed themselves.

Denver's defense stinks. Pittsburgh almost let a rookie from Delaware (Delaware???) beat them. The Bills are, until further notice, still the Bills. The Chargers don't know if they're these Chargers or those Chargers. The Colts and Jaguars so far have been enigmas. And for some reason, I'm not really afraid of this guy. Or him.

New England still does have work to do, and the clock is ticking for Cassel to prove himself. But the AFC is more open than its been in years, which bodes well for certain Bradyless teams.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fact-checking websites

And now for something completely different...


There's a lot to like about this site. There's plenty of information, and with seven posted videos in the past three days and 12 in the past seven, it's clear that the site's managers are serious about keeping the website updated and current with news issues. I also like that the site stays true to itself by concerning itself with the election. The videos all revolve around the election, campaigns and candidates, and answer several pressing issues surrounding them. That's what the people want to hear as Nov. 4 nears, and this website is helping out.

That being said, I'm not a fan of the design of the site. It comes off as cluttered; the video/article section dominates half the page, while everything else seems thrown in at the left side in kind of a mix-and-match of "Facts of the Day" and "Today's Question." You can find what you need, but it can be a chore getting there.


This website is balanced, clear and fulfilling. The main plus to this site is its image: It comes off as clearly informative, with information split into sections at the top ranging from articles to the attack file to the chain e-mails. The Flip-O-Meter and Attack File are the highlights of the site, as they give you surprisingly balanced analysis of attacks the candidates have made upon each other with humorous twists to them.

I'm a bigger fan of the layout to this site than to Factcheck. The tabs at the top make for easy searching, and the browse feature on the right-hand side of the page, allowing you to read the Truth-O-Meter for Obama, McCain, Biden and Palin, make it easy for you to get the information you're looking for.

Congress Votes Database (Washingtonpost.com):

This website is just cool. Voting records for all senators? Everything from representatives with perfect records to the Washington Post's opinion on key votes made in the Senate? It's neat, and you can pass the time just sifting through these decisions. You may learn something, too.

Above all, however, is the use this site can provide for information on the election. With both candidates being senators, a lot of the focus and attention has been on McCain's and Obama's voting records, and how consistent their votes are with their stances on key issues. With this site, you can look it up and see it for yourself.

For that reason, there's really not much that can improve this site. It is what it is: Recent votes, the records for congressmen, and key bills. It's a straight database, and when you're looking for straight facts, this is a good place to turn.

Project Vote Smart:

Like the Congress Votes Database, this is a straight reporting and research site, good for finding out, among other things, the politicians from your town and state. There's a lot of good information, including public statements, voting records, registration and internships. And those are just the basic categories.

Still, I'm not quite taken with this site. It just doesn't come off as too accessible, and it feels like getting to even the simplest information would require tunneling around through page after page in the site. But that's the major deal with most of these websites. It's all about preference. Find the site you're comfortable, and work from there.

Farewell to a legend

The second part to the top Patriot front office moves will have to wait. The Patriots saw an era come to an end today.

After 15 seasons, Troy Brown has retired from the Patriots. For the first time since Drew Bledsoe's rookie season, the Patriots will not have Troy Brown on the sidelines, and though his production had been declining, it was always comforting to see him in uniform. He was a constant; whether it be a win or a loss, losing season or Super Bowl year, he was there. It sounds ridiculous, but when you were a fan of the Patriots during his 15 seasons, you felt like things were going to be okay when you saw Troy Brown playing. He was a consummate professional, and a reassuring presence every time he buckled his chin strap.

The reasons for revering him are numerous. Starting off, he's the all-time franchise leader in receptions (557), and is second in receiving yards (6,366). In 2001, Brown helped Tom Brady kick off his own spectacular career with a 101-catch, 1,199-yard season, leading to his only Pro Bowl appearance.

But that's not what made Troy Brown special. Consider the following:

*In 2001, who had a 27-yard punt return in the Snow Game against the Oakland Raiders, putting New England in position to tie the game? Troy Brown.

*One game later, in the 2001 AFC Championship, whose 55-yard punt return for a touchdown put New England on the board, setting the pace for its 24-17 victory? Troy Brown.

*In the 2002 Super Bowl, whose 23-yard reception in the final minute helped put New England in position for the winning field goal? Troy Brown.

*In 2004, with the New England defense suffering major injuries, who stepped up to play on the other side of the ball at cornerback? And who, with three interceptions, actually played it pretty damn well? Troy Brown.

*And in 2006, in the AFC Divisional Playoff game against San Diego, after Tom Brady seemingly ended the Patriots' season with an interception, who caused a fumble and recovered the ball, in one of the more astute plays made in recent years? Troy Brown.

There have been receivers better than Troy Brown in the NFL, but for New England, there's never been one as clutch, poised, well-mannered and, judging by 15 years of servitude, loyal. Troy Brown was a Patriot for 15 years, and for each of those 15 years, the Patriots were Troy Brown. He may not make the Hall of Fame, but if the Patriots don't retire his #80 and put him into the team Hall of Fame as soon as possible, it'll be a crime. It's the least they can do for a man who helped put the Patriots on the map, and once there, got them to heights few have enjoyed.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Celebrating the front office (part 2)

Back by popular demand...it's the second half of the Patriots front office tribute!

So far here at PDP, we've covered the molding of malcontents (Corey Dillon, Randy Moss) into successful teammates, the acquisition of diamonds in the rough (Tyrone Poole, Wes Welker) and the transformation of one castoff (Rodney Harrison) into a New England Patriot icon.

All good moves by Belichick, Pioli and Co. But two other moves stand out above the rest. Without further ado, the cream of the New England front office decision-making crop:

2. The 2003 NFL draft

This is what made "Scott Pioli" a household name, Bill Belichick a gameplan genius and laid the groundwork for the Patriots 2000s dynasty.

The men in the NFL draft war room, led by Pioli and Belichick with New England, are rated on their abilities to get impact players in the late rounds. Anyone can get a good player out of the top overall pick. It takes true scouting and an eye for talent and character that helps mold the third-rounder, on into a Pro Bowler.

And the Patriots went wild in 2003.

In the first round, with the 13th pick, they selected Ty Warren out of Texas A&M. In the second round, with the 36th overall pick, they took Eugene Wilson out of Illinois. Later on in the second round, with the 45th pick, they drew from Texas A&M again, this time selecting fleet-footed wideout Bethel Johnson.

Two picks later, in the fourth round with the 120th overall pick, New England took Central Florida's Asante Samuel. Forty-four picks later, in the fifth round, the Patriots went local and took Boston College's Dan Koppen.

This was an amazingly successful draft for New England. Warren went on to become the Pro-Bowl caliber defensive lineman he is today, Wilson became a starting safety on two Super Bowl teams, and Johnson became a lethal kick returner for the two-time Super Bowl champs. Koppen quickly became the starting center, Tom Brady's good friend and the Pro Bowler he is today.

But the biggest victory in this was Samuel, the fourth-rounder who quickly grew into a Pro Bowl cornerback and shutdown defender. He led the AFC in interceptions in 2006 and made the Pro Bowl in 2007, en route to becoming one of the most dynamic big-play defensive backs in the league.

In one draft, the Patriots turned a soft defense and special teams unit that missed the playoffs in 2002 into units that would be responsible for two Super Bowls, three conference championships and five straight defensive titles. New England would spend the following years adding players to keep the team strong, but smarts and good instincts in the 2003 draft allowed them to build a foundation that lasted through the years.

And who's No. 1? The bigger question is, did you need to ask?

1. Tom Brady

This is the easy answer, the off-the-top-of-the-head answer, and the popular answer. But it's also the right one. When you think about what the Patriots were, what the Patriots are, and how they fared in between, nobody is more important to that success than Thomas Edward Brady, Jr.

Add the fact that he was a then-unknown, the now-famed 199th pick out of Michigan, and you wonder how the Patriots did it. How they saw in a skinny, slow, unathletic kid the ability to become one of the best quarterbacks and leaders the game has ever seen.

There's no need to delve into Brady's accomplishments. Somewhere on the common-sense scale, between the color of the sky and the amount of hours in a day, is Brady's iconic role in the New England sports history. The accomplishments are only part of the genius that was his draft selection. The scouting process was the real magic.

One hundred and ninety-eight selections passed before Brady heard his name called. For each one, the Patriots knew he was their guy, the man to replace the golden-armed Drew Bledsoe. New England had its draft strategy down to two paths - Brady or Louisiana Tech's Tim Rattay, as Pro Football Weekly wrote when Brady had his injury this year:
Rattay has bounced around between a few clubs, with career marks of 31 touchdowns and 23 interceptions mildly besting Simms’ production. The fact that Rattay is on the Pats’ radar screen comes as no big surprise. During the 2000 NFL draft, the Patriots were torn between him and Brady before ultimately selecting the latter who’d go on to lead the team to three Super Bowl titles.
On draft day, the Patriots drooled over those two players, but took advantage of Rattay's and Brady's low stock by selecting Adrian Klemm ... and J.R. Redmond ... and Greg Randall ... and Antwan Harris, all players who would play crucial roles on the Super Bowl winning team the next year.

But not as big a role as the next selection. With Rattay off the board, the Patriots draft crew realized they couldn't wait any longer, and snatched up Brady. The team, and the league, wouldn't be the same.

The great thing about this pick is that it wasn't luck. The Patriots didn't happen to get the best quarterback in the game today. They saw it from the start. They watched him at Michigan, followed him, and kept their eye on him when no other teams knew he existed. The best pick in team history, and the single greatest draft selection ever made.

Celebrating the front office (part 1)

Well, the Matt Millen era is over in Detroit. I know the Lions have had a long run of success lately, with plenty of highlights and glorious moments to remember, but sometimes, you just have to make a change. Especially when you're 0-3 this year and 31-84 since your General Manager took over.

But while Detroit has been the symbol of NFL front-office futility the past few years, the Patriots have arguably been the best. Whether it be in draft day selections, offseason trades or free agent acquisitions, the Pats, specifically the pair of Vice President of Player Personnel Scott Pioli and Head Coach Bill Belichick, have consistently shown their ability to outwit the opposition. So as Detroit makes the transition to becoming a smart, successful football team, we celebrate the accomplishments of one that already has.

I present to you, the top five moves of the Belichick era (2000-present):

5. The Corey Dillon trade

Heading into the 2004 season, the Patriots were defending Super Bowl champions, albeit with one glaring weakness. The running game, led by Antowain Smith's paltry 642 yards and 3.5 yards-per-carry average, was anemic. Something had to be done, and as the Patriots brain trust wondered, three-time Pro Bowl Corey Dillon fumed in Cincinnati, wanting out after being replaced as the starting running back.

On April 19, 2004, the match made in heaven was consummated, as the Patriots shipped a second-round pick to the Bengals for a seemingly aging running back, who was rumored to be a bad teammate. Dillon ended up running for a team-record 1,635 yards and 12 touchdowns, while becoming a model teammate and leading New England to its third Super Bowl title in four years. Cincinnati has made one playoff appearance since then.

4. The 2003 offseason

Just like in 2004, the Patriots headed into the 2003 season with a key area to address. In 2002, New England failed to defend its Super Bowl title by going 9-7 with a defense that ranked 23rd in points allowed and second-to-last against the run. In his first full season, Tom Brady led the league with 28 touchdown passes, but the Patriots were consistently derailed by a flat defense that frequently allowed leads to slip away by letting the opposition run unimpeded.

Belichick recognized the problem immediately, and the Patriots took after free agency with an aggressive approach that beat every team in the league to marquee players. In one swoop, the Patriots signed San Diego castoff Rodney Harrison, Chicago free agent Rosevelt Colvin, former Denver Bronco cornerback Tyrone Poole, and mountainous defensive tackle Ted Washington.

The result? Harrison was second in tackles, won two straight Super Bowls and has since become a defensive captain and spiritual leader for New England, Colvin won a Super Bowl and became New England's best pass rusher in 2005 and 2006, Poole tied for the team lead in interceptions and Washington anchored a defense that led the league in fewest points allowed and was fourth in run defense. Instantly, the team was transformed back into a champion.

3. 2007 offseason

Again, the Patriots had a problem. Again, they fixed it. Despite having a receiving corps of rejects and castoffs from other teams, Tom Brady guided New England to within a few minutes of a fourth Super Bowl in six years.

The Pats rewarded their leader by focusing on the offense in the offseason. They acquired Wes Welker from Miami for second- and seventh-round picks, free agent speedster Donte Stallworth, released by the Eagles, and, in the biggest coup, disgruntled receiver Randy Moss from Oakland for a measly fourth-round draft pick.

The result? The best offense (statistically, anyway) in football history. Wes Welker grabbed a franchise-record 116 receptions, Stallworth became a deadly deep threat, and Randy Moss set a new NFL record with 23 touchdown catches while setting a whole new image for himself. Tom Brady threw for a record 50 touchdown passes en route to the MVP award, and the Patriots were only an incredible combination of luck and mental collapse from capping off a perfect 19-0 season.

Coming next: The top two spots on the list.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Don't let him gather Moss

So imagine you're Matt Cassel. For three years, all you've had to do is hold the clipboard while Tom Brady, football and model extraordinare, went out and did his job better than anyone on the planet, every week of the season. No exceptions, just the same routine from week one to the final snap of the season.

Until now. Now you've had to start your first game since you were picking out a date for the senior prom, and carry a team saddled with the greatest expectations of any team in the league. Furthermore, it's only been two games and one horrible loss since, and people are already counting you out. Again.

But fear not. After all, you have the greatest receiver in the game today on your team, and a sure Hall of Famer, in Randy Moss. Surely he's your safety blanket, right? The man you go to when the chips are down, isn't he?

Apparently not. Since taking over as the interim driver of the Ferrari that is the New England Patriots franchise, Cassel has alienated its engine. Moss has six catches in two games for a grand total of 47 yards. For the record, Moss had five separate games last season where he had single catches over 47 yards, and three others with catches over 40 yards.

Many would chalk this up to Cassel's inexperience, and it can't be forgotten that he's still adjusting to being a starting quarterback in the NFL. Though if anything, it should mean that Cassel is going to Moss too much. Cassel's trying to learn how to play in the NFL, snap by snap, and he has the luxury of one of the greatest deep threats to play the game at his side, a receiver that can boost his stats by turning bad throws into long gains, ill-advised throws into triple coverage into touchdowns and seemingly score if you throw it long enough.

The NFL has seen plenty of quarterbacks step into Cassel's position and succeed, often by using their star receivers as go-to guys. Tony Romo stepped in for the Dallas Cowboys with no experience in 2006, developed a rapport with Terrell Owens and led Dallas to a playoff spot. Philip Rivers took over at the helm for the San Diego Chargers in 2006, went to All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates 71 times for nine touchdowns, and led the team to a franchise-best 14-2 record and the verge of the AFC Championship Game.

Even the man Cassel is replacing began his career by finding the star receiver early and often. When Tom Brady took over the team in September of 2001, with no career starts to his record, the best Patriot receiver was Troy Brown, who was coming off an 83-catch performance the season before. With Brady at the helm, Brown had career highs with 101 catches and 1,199 yards receiving. Both made the Pro Bowl, and eventually, this happened.

Randy Moss is better than all of those receivers, but he's not a short-gamer. He hasn't made a name for himself blocking, or catching short screens, or taking a hit over the middle for an eight-yard catch. He's a vertical threat, one of the greatest deep options in NFL history, and few are more in need of a go-to scoring threat than Matt Cassel. Getting Moss into the game consistently would please him, put points on the board, and give Cassel the confidence that he can throw the ball downfield with success. Moss has done nothing but show support for Cassel, though there are rumors that three catches on short sideline routes aren't what he's looking for. Throwing the deep ball to Moss would keep him happy and take the pressure off Cassel, and the team will be better for it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My three favorite blogs

1. The majority of blogs I read are sports blogs, and the best I've come across so far is the Bleacher Report. Open-source and public, the Bleacher Report contains serious pieces of journalism as well as little humorous bits. Some of the stories come with a straight, reporting point, while others are written with the objective edge of a column. There is plenty of variety, and with a large list of sports covered, something to please any sports fan.

The website is also home to some early-breaking stories, suggesting that the anyone-can-write attitude of the Report can still lead to some writers with connections hopping on board. An example of this was a story that was on the site about the New England Patriots-Randy Moss negotiations. While the entire football world seemed to think resigning Moss was just a matter of time, Bleacher Report Rich Tandler thought differently:

They could have franchised Moss but they chose not to, apparently thinking
that he would give the Patriots a home town discount even though he’d been in
town for less than a year.
Wrong, or at least it appears to be right

It was widely believed that Moss and the Pats had a deal in place
and were just waiting for Friday, the earliest he could sign a new contract, to
finalize it. Well, Friday has come and it’s about to go and Moss is a free
agent. There are reports that Moss is willing to take a free agent tour and
visit other teams.


Moss did re-sign, but the two parties did endure tougher negotiations than expected. The Bleacher Report isn't perfect, but is a solid source for sports news from people who take it seriously.

2. What the Bleacher Report is for articles, FireJoeMorgan.com is for satire and humor. Once dedicated to the firing of an ESPN baseball commentator who has actually done pretty well for himself, FJM has become a site for mocking commentary on Major League Baseball, whether it be ownership decisions, games played or articles written by baseball journalists.

The articles at FJM, unlike those at the Bleacher Report, are mostly short, quick and to the point, and are not concerned with a well-written journalistic basis. The blog's tagline is "Where Bad Sports Journalism Comes To Die, and journalism isn't the only thing the site sets out to destory. The following excerpt was taken from an entry where the first paragraph was from an article praising the Dodgers and General Manager Ned Colletti, and the second was the FJM poster's take:

Torre put financial issues aside, benched Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones, and
stabilized the outfield - for now and years to come - with Ethier and Matt

Somehow, the fact of the existence of Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones on the
payroll and the fact that it required one hundred-some-odd games and the
addition of a Hall of Fame outfielder to compel Torre to bench Messrs. Pierre
and Jones are now points in Colletti's and Torre's favor? This is the equivalent
of two gardeners driving to your house, digging a twenty-foot hole in your front
yard with a backhoe, buying two bags of sand, pouring the bags into the hole,
and then getting lavished with praise for the sand part of the whole

Nice, huh? It's an emobodiment of what makes a blog popular: It's entertaining and opinionated. You just want to read more.

3. Let's leave the stadium and enter the political forum. America Blog is a highly effective source for political commentary, though it is not for the seekers of a middle ground. Instead, it is to the far left and extremely harsh, take for example this excerpt from a John Aravosis post. Like the FJM, the above paragraph is the criticized quote, a John McCain line about the economic crisis in this case, while the below paragraph is the writer's response:
"So, I’d like to tell you that I did anticipate it, but I have to give you straight talk, I did not.”
Yeah, Doug Holtz would be the guy who claimed that McCain miraculously invented the BlackBerry. That's who McCain relies on for economic advice. The tooth fairy's best friend in the land of make-believe.
As you can see, its a site with opinions that many, including my more moderate self, wouldn't necessarily agree with. But that's why I love it. I don't read the blog to educate myself about politics; rather, I look for updates on issues (for example, I first heard about Sarah Palin's email account being hacked into on AB) while looking for attitude at the same time. And AmericaBlog never disappoints. It's not the best blog to read and cite at serious political gatherings, but for a n entertaining spin on news features, I can't think of one I'd rather read.