Why I think Suh appealing suspension is a bad move
What is Nadmukong Suh appealing? That he didn't do it? The evidence is indisputable on the replay. He stomped on Evan Dietrich-Smith's arm. He wasn't being held back by anybody. Also, this another sign of not owning up to what he did - like his comments after the game. From the Lions' standpoint, the appeal is a double-edge sword. On one hand, they need him, and if the suspension is reduced, they would have him for another game. But it seems unlikely. On the other hand, Suh has gone from the nucleus of their vastly improved team to a major distraction, and the Lions need to get this behind them.
Well, it's officially game on now that Ohio State has hired Urban Meyer to be its head coach. Michigan and Michigan State have done extraordinarily well recruiting in Ohio, but that could lessen quickly. The Buckeyes fortunes on the football field will rise immediately. Meyer inherits the perfect quarterback to run his system, Braxton Miller, who just completed his freshman year. After an unimpressive beginning this season, Miller closed strongly. Tattoo-gate is about to go into the rear view mirror and look smaller by the day. Thing about Meyer, is his background. His roots are deep in Ohio. Yet, there is this added bonus of having been through the pressure cooker at Florida and delivering national championships. And like Brady Hoke at Michigan, he will know exactly how to use the tradition and power at Ohio State to full advantage. Hoke has accelerated Michigan's progress this season. But with that rank, comes responsibility. A 10-2 season next year won't have the same satisfying feeling to it if it doesn't involve reaching the Big Ten title game. And given Michigan's more difficult schedule, it'll be a tough to standard to live up to in 2012. As for MSU, this is the test whether the Spartans are, indeed, what I call a limited ceiling program. You know, where they might threaten to win or win the conference title when the Big Ten isn't particularly strong, but don't measure up when it comes to being a legitimate national championship contender. Wisconsin and Iowa would fall under the same category. Strong programs for certain with solid coaches, but not having enough there to become true national powers.
- Even Denard Robinson's detractors must give him credit for what he has done the last two weeks throwing the football. Like night and day compared to how he started out the season. Without question, he will be one of the leading candidates, if not the leading candidate, to win the Heisman Trophy next season. What he must do the rest of this game, though, is avoid mistakes. Still too mistake prone.
- The more effective Robinson is at passing the ball, the better runner he becomes. It makes the play where the Wolverines' empty the backfield and run the QB draw extremely difficult to defend.
- No excuse for botched catch of snap on punt. A killer for the Wolverines and has turned momentum of game back to Buckeyes.
- These are not great football teams this season, but this is a great football game so far. Athletic QBs, hard-hitting, big plays. Fun. Intense. High-scoring.
- Denard Robinson's biggest flaw is not taking care of the football. I would not call him a turnover machine, but he does give it away too much. It's some thing that has to change between this season and next before he can be considered a great player.
- Devier Posey is a terrific talent, but this is the easily the worst game of the season for Michigan's secondary. What is the term. Scorched?
- Braxton Miller is a much better quarterback now than he was at the beginning of the season. Urban Meyer will be inheriting a top QB.
- Denard Robinson's TD run was breathtaking. Great move. Tremendous speed. He was also more animated after the score than I can remember. He is a lot more poised in the pocket as well. He was exceptionally patient on his touchdown pass to Junior Hemingway. He has made marked progress the second half of this seasin.
- Michigan's defensive line is giving Ohio State's offensive line a lot of problems. Just quicker and more physical.
- Other than the first drive, the Buckeyes look decidedly like a team that is being coached by a lame duck.
I have defended Ndamukong Suh continually for his aggressive play. Football is not a game for the meek. Before today, I don't believe he was dirty. And I thought the NFL was overbearing by fining him so much, so often. But Suh stomping on Packers lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith's arm with his cleats Thursday crossed the line. There is no place for that in any sport, even one as rugged as football. It not only cost Suh his reputation with the entire nation watching, but hurt his team mightily. He is arguably the Lions best player and it was a poor example of leadership. I would be surprised if he is not suspended for it, and hopefully Suh learns from it. He is too good a player, and too smart a person, for that moment to take place. No excuse for it. None.
- All the things a team needs to avoid in order to win a football game, the Lions are experiencing. Penalties. Turnovers. Missed FG. Their defense has been good, though.
- I'm surprised this game is as low-scoring as it is, but both offenses are shooting themselves in the foot with penalties.
- Matthew Stafford has better athleticism than he is sometimes given credit for. He's become a better scrambler and more effective throwing on the run. There is no excuse, however, for how careless he is on passes to the flat deep in Lions territory at times.
- The Packers are double-teamming Ndamukong Suh on every pass play. And I mean every pass play. It should open others on the defensive line for sacks. Hasn't so far.
- The Packers are going to be prone to penalties in this game because their offensive line struggles with the quickness of the Lions defensive line.
- Don't know what issues cornerback Eric Wright developed in Cleveland, but there is no way the Browns are a better team without him. Certainly, he's been a huge factor in the improvement of the Lions' secondary. That will be especially true if Chris Houston's injury is significant.
- The Lions have to stop with the penalties. They can't continue with a major penalty or two per series and expect to win this football game. The Packers aren't the Panthers. The wiggle room simply isn't there.
- At least the Lions maintained possession of the football during the first half, keeping Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense off the field. The Lions defense is playing well after adjusting to the Packers no-huddle offense to start the game.
- The Packers are bracketing Calvin Johnson with Charles Woodson and a safety, but the Lions still have to take a shot or two down field. At this point, their playcalling is not aggressive enough.
- Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson is an excellent player. Presents one-one-matchup issues for the Lions, who must roll their coverages to Greg Jennings.
The Lions have made rallying from big deficits an art form this season, but it's unlikely to be the case today. Ideally, they get ahead early and make the Packers even more one-dimensional than usual. The crowd noise could really help out the Lions defense against the Packers passing game then.
- Clay Matthews Jr. get all the attention, but the Packers best linebacker this season has been Desmond Bishop. He is very underrated, a tackling machine with big-play capability.
- Key numbers for the Lions today are 90, as in rushing yards offensively, and four, as in their defense needs to get four sacks.
- Prediction: I see shootout today with the Lions winning 34-31 on a last-second field goal of 37 yards by Jason Hanson.
Time for Denard Robinson to earn the trust of Michigan fans
Michigan fans have struggled with just what to believe about Denard Robinson. On one hand, they acknowledge his brilliance. Who wouldn't? He is the fastest quarterback in the nation. His passing has come under extreme criticism, but there have been times when it wasn't that bad. Last week, in a late November game against Nebraska, Robinson was brilliant in a 45-17 victory. It was the type of win over a ranked opponent and traditional power that had been missing on Robinson's resume. In that game, he had two touchdown passes, ran for two TDs and had a nice balance with a 180 yards passing and 83 rushing. His passing numbers this season have regressed. He had a 18 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions last year; It is 15 and 14 so far in 2011. Also, his completion percentage has dropped by roughly 10 percent. Yet, he's been better down the stretch of the season. You can see where, with another bowl-season, off-season and spring practice under offensive coordinator Al Borges' system, Robinson can be truly special as a senior in 2012. There won't be any debate about it. Yet, it's a matter of first things first. Ohio State. Michigan QBs are defined by their record against the Buckeyes in the minds of many fans. If the Wolverines beat Ohio State Saturday, especially if Robinson has a large hand in it, the trust will surely grow.
Three reasons why I think the Lions will beat the Packers Thursday
1. The Packers have a good offensive line, but it is not particularly athletic. It is the type of offensive line the Lions can exploit, especially if they play some games upfront, which they did last season while beating the Packers at Ford Field and losing a close game in Green Bay. Look for Ndamukong Suh to rack up some stats. This is the type of national stage in which he'll thrive.
2. Green Bay's defense, which has plenty of talented players, allows a lot of points. Kevin Smith has given the Lions another dimension to compliment the passing game. I'd be surprised if Matthew Stafford doesn't have another huge game statistically.
3. The Packers an excellent team, the best in the NFL. Count me among those who expect them to be in the Super Bowl again, and probably win it. But are they 16-0 good? That I don't believe. They were flat Sunday against Tampa Bay. This is admittedly convoluted thinking, but I believe they are going lose a game or two. And this game, when Ford Field is going to be absolutely bonkers, seems like it would be logical game for the Packers to lose.
Getting to the first-ever Big Ten title game has its drawbacks for Michigan State
Michigan State, seemingly, is in a great spot: One game remaining, yet its position in the first-ever Big Ten title game secure. However, there seem to be as many drawbacks as benefits from getting into the conference title game that are working on the collective mind of the Spartans faithful. Michigan is suddenly lurking. The Spartans resounding win over Michigan wasn't that long ago, but it does seem like a distant memory after the Wolverines surprisingly manhandled Nebraska Saturday. Michigan has a good chance of beating Ohio State this week. State has to win at Northwestern, and the Spartans should, but if they don't, and Michigan does down OSU, all of a sudden the Wolverines would jump the Spartans in the polls and undoubtedly in the minds of bowl reps. And, if Michigan beats the Buckeyes, and Michigan State, even if it should win at Northwestern, loses in the Big Ten title game, the Wolverines would benefit. State would have one more loss. The Spartans will play either Wisconsin, which it beat on a miracle play at home, or Penn State, which would, unfortunately, cast a shadow over the game because of recent scandal. Penn State plays at Wisconsin Saturday to determine the other spot in the Big Ten title game.
- Matthew Stafford has made up for his rocky early start in this game. He has made throwing four touchdowns passes or more in a game rather routine. He has warmed up. His accuracy has been very good since the early interceptions.
- The noise level at Ford Field had been quelled by the Lions' early mistakes. Not any more.
- It does help so much when you can mix an effective running play in. In that way, Kevin Smith has helped the Lions immensely today.
- Some consider Jordan Goss, the Panthers left offense tackle, the best in the league. I've been watching closely today. He is not overrated.
- When the Panthers didn't double-team Ndamukong Suh, he got through. Also, that was an athletic interception by DeAndre Levy, who has played well today. He has also been the Lions' leading tackler in this game.
Although the Lions have dug themselves a serious hole, this is still a game they can rally from behind and win. The Panthers have a fragile collective psyche. But so, evidently, do the Lions. As bad as that half was, allowing it to end on a Carolina field goal after scoring a touchdown ranked among its worst parts for the Lions.
- There are certain things bad football teams do. The Lions have done them in the last game and a half. They have turned the ball over at an alarming rate and they have had serious special teams coverage breakdowns. The Lions cannot possibly win consistently like this. It's like a flashback to two and three years ago.
- The defensive line is not playing well today, particularly the ends. Kyle Vanden Bosch seldom makes plays in the running game. And it has nothing to do with contain responsibilty. He just overruns some plays.
- Where is Ndamukong Suh? The Panthers have effectively taken him out of the game so far.
- It's difficult to believe Matthew Stafford's finger isn't a problem. The gloves obviously make a difference. The results the last two games speak for themselves. Stafford has become a turnover machine.
- This game couldn't have started out worse for the Lions. The Panthers are not a very good team, but the Lions are giving them confidence.
- If this were the Packers on Thanksgiving Day, the Lions would be down 21-0 already.
- I'm surprised the running game isn't better for the Lions.
- Kevin Smith looked really good on that pass play. Lions would be wise to get him the ball more often.
- The unnecessary roughness penalty on Stafford was a joke. He was still in bounds. The NFL is becoming laughable when it comes to such plays.
- This is my bold prediction for the week: I believe the Lions will run the ball well today. Gain at least 100 yards nets rushing. Defending the run is the Panthers' biggest weakness, and their best run defender, Dan Connor, is ailing because of injury.
- Matthew Stafford's finger will not be a problem today. I'm projecting he will have a solid, but unspectacular game.
- Cam Newton will have his moments today, but the Lions will contain the Panthers rookie QB.
On the Lions opponent Sunday, Carolina, and the Tigers signing Gerald Laird
I find analyzing the Carolina Panthers to be perplexing. On one hand, they have many talented players on offense. Cam Newton is very good - already. He is an excellent passer and obviously displays exceptional mobility. Steve Smith, and tight ends Greg Olson and Jeremy Shockey, are top-flight receivers. The Panthers have two solid running backs in Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. The Panthers rank in the Top 10 in the NFL in yards gained, but in the bottom third in scoring points. Defensively, the Panthers don't play the run well, but aren't that bad statistically overall. Yet, they rank 30th in points allowed. I mean, they have excellent players, but also a 2-7 record and were just beaten at home by 27 points by Tennessee. It's not only a game the Lions must win Sunday, but they should win. But it's not going to be as simple as just showing up. Another flat effort, and the Panthers are capable of stinging the Lions.
- Gerald Laird is not a horrible player when projected into the role as a backup catcher starting, say, 40 per season. I know that. But I must admit my reaction to the Tigers signing him was the same as many of you. Anybody but Gerald Laird...
On Vanden Bosch fine and Gibby as NL Manager of the Year
Of all the fines that have been levied against the Lions, the one assessed to Kyle Vanden Bosch is the most tolerable. He did hit a player when he was down. It was late. He used his helmet, but it didn't seem intentional as much as overly aggressive. I still don't see why that merits a fine - Vanden Bosch was flagged for it - but that is the way of the NFL this year. But to me, the most disturbing hit in Chicago Sunday, the type the NFL is trying to take out of the game, came from Bears' safety Chris Conte on Lions' running back Maurice Morris. It was a classic helmet-to-helmet blow that is prototypical of the type that is proving to cause brain trauma for NFL players. It's unreal the NFL has turned a blind eye to that particular hit, yet fined Vanden Bosch. We'll see if the league does fine Conte. There figure to be more fines to come from the Lions-Bears game, which was more than a little nasty.
- Kirk Gibson obviously did a great job as manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks. His National League Manager of the Year Award was well-deserved. His team was limited in regard to talent and he got the most out of it with an NL West title and a sound showing in a National League Division Series. I have to admit, I didn't think Gibby would be that good of a manager. His stint as the Tigers bench coach under Alan Trammell was a a disaster. That was a rough clubhouse, and Gibby tried, but wasn't able to control it. He was mocked more than respected. His nickname was "One Swing" among some players because of his famous home run in the '88 World Series for the Dodgers. Now, that said more about the Tigers' clubhouse at that time than Gibby, who was a very solid player, outstanding in the clutch and hard-nosed. In Arizona, he put his foot down from Day 1 and his players responded. He is smart guy who evidently learned a lot from his time as a coach with the Tigers.
A major decision looms for Michigan State fans Saturday
So you are a Michigan State fan at Spartan Stadium Saturday to witness the MSU-Indiana game. It's the early in the third quarter, and the public address announcer comes on and starts giving the scores from the around the country. The first one: Michigan 28, Nebraska 7 or something like that. Won't you cheer - and loudly? So Michigan State people despise Michigan. Nebraska is the real obstacle to reaching the first-ever Big Ten title game. The Spartans beat Michigan. They have the tiebreaker over the Wolverines. They lost to Nebraska. The Cornhuskers have the tiebreaker over the Spartans. Both teams have two losses in conference play and MSU one. The Spartans do have a testy season finale at Northwestern. A Nebraska loss and its over. Nebraska wins, and bad things can still happen to the Spartans. Those Michigan State fans still rooting for Nebraska will be cutting off their nose to spite their face emotionally. The bigger picture has gotten better for the Spartans. They don't need to judge their success any more based on Michigan's failure, but I get this sense they still do.
Justin Verlander has one more frontier to cross - and it isn't MVP
The Tigers Justin Verlander will be named Cy Young Award winner today as the best pitcher in the American League for 2011. The results of the voting will be released, and it will revealed that Verlander won in a landslide. He was substantially better than any pitcher in the American League during the regular season. Verlander led the AL in wins (24), ERA (2.40), WHIP (0.920), strikeouts (250) and innings pitched (251). He was the first American League pitcher to win 24 games in a season since Roger Clemens in 1986. It was a brilliant year. The ballots for the Cy Young, and all of baseball's postseasons awards, are due before the start of the playoffs. And that is where Verlander did not stand out this year, nor previously. Verlander did have a 2-1 record in the postseason, but his ERA in both the American League Division Series against the Yankees and the American League Championship vs. the Rangers was over five. In the ALCS, he averaged less than six innings in his two starts. Coupled with his performance in the 2006 playoffs, Verlander's postseason numbers are decidedly mediocre: 3-3, 5.57 ERA, 1.548 WHIP. I maintained, even before last season to the chagrin of many people who disagreed vehemently with me, that I would take Verlander over any starting pitcher in baseball. I still believe he is the best pitcher in the game. But I freely admit, there is a flaw to that argument. Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Chris Carpenter - they've all done much better than Verlander when put on the big stage of the postseason. Verlander was so dominant during this regular season, he might even be selected AL MVP. I think he deserves it, but he's no Chris Carpenter. Carpenter's 9-2 with a 3.05 ERA in the postseason - and has two World Series rings because of it. Isn't that meaningful?
Bottom line: Elite quarterbacks don't play like Matthew Stafford did Sunday at Chicago
There are plenty of excuses that could be made for Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford's poor performance Sunday in Chicago. His finger injury. Difficult and different playing conditions. Not only does the wind swirl constantly coming off Lake Michigan at Soldier Field, but the track is really slow. The players surrounding Stafford made two big mistakes before the game really started. But none of them fit if Stafford is, indeed, a top-tier NFL QB. The best quarterbacks don't give into the moment that easily. Stafford did. He just fell apart. It was remindful of Scott Mitchell in 19990s. He was fine, as long as everything else around him was OK. The best QBs shake off injuries. Brett Favre was the classic example, but the best also belong in the list with Favre. The top QBs pick everybody else up when they are down. They don't get the deer-in-the-headlights look like Stafford had in the second half Sunday. A harsh judgment? Sure. But I think Stafford can truly be a top NFL QB. To become that, there isn't much wiggle room. It's arguably the toughest position in sports to master, and doing so involves everything from extraordinary patience in the line of football fire to exceptional toughness both physically and mentally. We've seen enough from Stafford already to know he possesses those qualities, but he clearly didn't display them Sunday in Chicago.
- By current NFL standards, Bears safety Chris Conte should be suspended for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Lions running back Maurice Morris. It was a completely unnecessary shot and reckless. It's amazing, and wrong, Conte wasn't penalized for it. Can you imagine if Ndamukong Suh had done that? It'll be interesting to see if Suh will get into any trouble for ripping Jay Cutler's helmet off. He did nothing wrong with that play.
- The Lions defense was playing pretty well until the last drive of the half. That was brutal. They were very fortunate the Bears missed the field goal. The offense has been poor. The special teams have been worse.
- Anybody wish Nick Harris was still the Lions' punter?
- Matthew Stafford has been like a baseball pitcher without consistent command in this game, although he did throw the ball much more accurately late in the half.
- When it comes to Devin Hester, just kick the ball out of bounds. The guy's playing hurt, and the Lions are still helpless to stop him. Big difference between Hester and Stefan Logan, or any other kick/punter returner.
- The turf at Soldier Field is worst than an overused tee at driving range.
I like what the Lions are trying to do offensively. Getting their receivers involved in the running game, getting the ball to Calvin Johnson right away, etc. It's the execution that's the issue. The fumbles speak for themselves, although Nate Burleson was a victim of his own extra effort on his fumble. The Bears have a strong defense. Julius Peppers is an obvious problem for the Lions.
- No excuse for the dropped pass or the blown block or punting the ball to Hester like that. Bite the bullet and kick directionally away from him.
- Why did Kyle Vanden Bosch take that penalty? Made no sense - especially for a veteran player.
- The good news: At least the Lions have been stout so far against Chicago running back Matt Forte.
- Man, the Lions are even losing the replay challenges so far...
Thoughts on MSU's win over Iowa; Halftime Michigan, Illinois
- That is the best I can remember Michigan State's offense looking in a road game against strong opposition. Very solid, and big plays when the Spartans needed them. Iowa has a pretty good defense. It was a classic Michigan State under Mark Dantonio offensive performance in that way.
- The Spartans have an excellent defensive line. It is their great strength. It is the difference between the Spartans and most other Big Ten teams. Marcus Coker averaged less than three yards per carry at home? Didn't think that was possible.
- The difference between Michigan's defense this season and the previous three seasons is a remarkable. It wasn't the players, it was the coaching. Illinois has minus 12 yards rushing.
- Denard Robinson has made some progress as a passer, but is still lacking consistency.
- The first half was one of blown opportunity by Michigan. The Wolverines should have at least 10 more points. Not sure Illinois has what it takes to stage a comeback, but it does point to why the Wolverines have trouble against the better teams.
Why the Lions-Bears Sunday in Chicago has massive implications
The Lions haven't played any truly meaningful football games for awhile. It's been at least since 2007 when they also started out 6-2, and whatever promise that season held faded quickly. Sunday at Chicago is very different. 2007 was a mirage. The suspicion now is that the Lions are serious contenders to not only make the postseason, but possibly do some damage once there. The Lions are listed by Las Vegas oddsmakers as having a 20-to-1 chance of winning the Super Bowl, up from 30-to-1 during the preseason, and an 11-to-1 chance of winning the NFC and reaching the Super Bowl. But to do anything of note this season, they will have to go through the Chicago Bears. The Bears started out sluggishly, but are now 5-3. If they beat the 6-2 Lions Sunday in Chicago, they are all even. It's the Bears, not the Lions, who advanced to the NFC title game last season, remember? Perhaps they have been underestimated. It's key the Lions beat the Bears Sunday because: - It would put them a game ahead of the Bears (and other wild card contenders) in the NFC. - It would give the Lions the first tiebreaker should they end the season with the same record as the Bears. - The Bears remaining schedule is easier than the Lions. They only play two games against teams currently above .500: The Packers and the Raiders. Four of the Lions' seven games after Sunday are against better than .500 teams, two against Green Bay, against Oakland and New Orleans. - The Bears have already played the Packers and Saints and lost. All three of the Bears' losses have been against NFC teams, both Lions defeats have come against NFC teams. It's another tie-breaking factor. This is not a make or break game for the Lions in the sense there is still a lot of season remaining after it but it ultimately could be. Certainly it falls under the category of pivotal.
National respect for Matthew Stafford, Ndamukong Suh and Detroit Lions dropping
ESPN came out with its mid-season rankings of NFL players and it wasn't flattering about the Lions, and in particular, Ndamukong Suh and Matthew Stafford. Suh did make the Top 50 list - at No.50. But if there is a notion he is considered the best defensive tackle in the NFL, ESPN doesn't think so. Baltimore's Haloti Ngata (No.6) and San Francisco's Justin Smith (No.10) are both in the Top 10, and New England's Vince Woolfolk is 28th. The only other Lion in the Top 50 is Calvin Johnson. He is 13th, which seems fair. What doesn't seem right is that Stafford isn't mentioned anywhere. In the Top 50. In the list of up and coming players, in the list of players who just missed making the Top 50. Stafford has 19 touchdown passes and just four interceptions. He is the fourth-ranked passer in the league behind Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. And he has done so with a limited running attack and a mediocre offensive line. Just my opinion, but if Suh and Stafford were playing in New York, they'd be in the Top 25 on this list. They do mention defensive end Cliff Avril at the very bottom of the up and coming players, but not Stafford. Unreal.
Difficult to gauge how time will judge Joe Paterno
As Joe Paterno plays his swan song at Penn State, it wouldn't surprise me, as time moves forward, if he starts to garner sympathy. Especially when he is given an opportunity to speak, and anticipating Paterno being very contrite, which he should. Not saying that's right, but it is human nature. Right now, virtually everybody is just calling for his fall from grace. Me, I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, Paterno essentially turned a blind eye to the alleged transgression of Jerry Sandusky. It was ridiculous, and devastating in scope for aall innocent children that were involved. It does trump any other factors involved here. On the other hand, is that the only thing Paterno should be remembered for? Is all the good that he has down through the years get thrown out the window because of this?
Why it wouldn't surprise me if Kevin Smith has a significant impact for the Lions
It wouldn't surprise me if Kevin Smith plays well for the Lions the second half of the year. His problem wasn't ability, it was durability, a lot of it no fault of his own. At Central Florida, he carried the ball 450 times his last season, and over 900 times in a 3-year career. It wasn't like he didn't take shots. Every defense was geared to stop him. When the Lions got Smith, it wasn't like they got a fresh runner. The concerns about him, when he was taken by the Lions in the draft, that he didn't have enough speed and quickness weren't true. He is not above average in those areas, but not just plodder, either. He did hit the hole quickly, but he got hurt and banged around more than most backs because he was playing on horrible teams. Coupled with the Lions ineptitude at the time, Smith was out quickly. He is young (25). The time away likely healed his body. He is a determined athlete who carries a chip on his shoulder with something to prove. That's been his M.O. since he wasn't recruited by BCS colleges coming out of high school in Miami, Fla. (Rivals had him as just a two-star recruit). It wouldn't surprise me if Smith contributes significantly the second half of the season. He is fresh legs being thrown into the mix right in the middle of the season when the rest of the NFL is licking their wounds. He knows the Lions system. That isn't a problem. And he's been checked out physically by the organization that knows of whatever physical ailments he's had better than other teams.
Obviously, I got to know Matt Millen when he was the Lions team president and had many issues with him that are well-documented. But it's awful seeing him and other of Penn State's faithful twist in the wind as they struggle with the Jerry Sandusky allegations. There were many, many people involved with Sandusky's foundation. It was a massive entity. It's unfair to suggest they all had any hint of what was going on. As for Joe Paterno, it's impossible to not look at the grand jury indictment and come to the conclusion, regardless of what happens on Sandusky's day in court, that Paterno, and Penn State administrators, who knew of these alleged incidents should be held accountable for not reporting them to law enforcement. There is no defense for it. None. At minimum, he should get relieved of his duties, or forced to resign as football, which is going to happen shortly. There is no other option. That was clear from the very second this broke.
Seems likely Michigan State has gone as high as it will go
And so in the latest college football polls, Michigan State is 13th in both major rankings, and 12th in the BCS standings. It should be a reason for elation for the Spartans faithful, whose opportunities to enjoy truly successful seasons had been few and far between. The Spartans have followed 2010 - a very good year - with another solid season. The Spartans sit alone atop the Leaders Division in the Big Ten, the remaining schedule is tricky, but hardly ominous. And the Spartans have beaten Ohio State and Michigan in the same season. The Spartans are very good. Can they move into the next area of becoming a Big Ten power and a elite team nationally? I'm not so sure. I see Michigan State in the same category as Wisconsin and Iowa. That there is only so high the Spartans can go. I don't anticipate them faltering; they just have too much going for them under Mark Dantonio for that to happen. However, if there is going to be a BCS power to emerge from the Big Ten in the next five years it will be Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State or Nebraska. It's just the resources and tradition are deeper at those schools. I know Penn State and Ohio State are riddled by scandal, but once it is cleared up, there will be this re-birth. Neither school is going to have issues drawing a top coach. The recruiting bases are very strong at OSU and PSU. Nebraska has the tradition. It is also in an area of underrated prosperity. During the time of mostly an economic downturn in this country, the farming industry has thrived. The unemployment rate in Nebraska is four percent, and the Cornhuskers are the only game in town. Nebraska already has an expansive recruiting base, but it's even wider now that the Cornhuskers are in the Big Ten. State's Big Ten status is build as much on other conference teams being down as their own stellar play. The Spartans may remain at the same level, but others will likely pass them by in the future. For that perception to change, a good start for MSU would be beating Iowa on the road this week... and/or winning the Big Ten title game...and/or beating top competition in a bowl game. The Spartans last four losses - at Iowa, the bowl rout to Alabama, at Notre Dame, at Nebraska - suggest a plateau for the Spartans. It's relatively elevated plateau, but a plateau nonetheless.
Why the Penn State scandal is worst in college sports history
The Penn State football scandal, in my opinion, is the worst in the history of college sports. Jerry Sandusky wasn't just another assistant coach Penn State. He was Joe Paterno's right-hand man. His defensive coordinator. He was in line to replace him when he suddenly resigned years ago. Now we understand more fully why. It involves a coverup. How could this not get reported more alarmingly up the chain from the athletic director and Paterno himself? It involves a huge fouandation in Pennsylvania to benefit children. And somebody - the founder - allegedly taking advantage of it to become engaged in despicable acts against minors. Penn State must completely clean house or its once sterling reputation will be tarnished for decades. This makes any thing involving breaking NCAA rules pale in comparison.
On where the Detroit Lions Matthew Stafford ranks among NFL QBs
Sports Illustrated recently rated Matthew Stafford as the 10th-best quarterback in the NFL. To me, it's a moot point at this stage of Stafford's career to rank him anywhere. He just hasn't played long enough to get a line on exactly how good he actually is. He has certainly proven he has the ability to some day time rank in the Top 5, right up there with Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger, but any such assumptions are preposterous are at this time. What exactly has Stafford won? Nothing. The Lions are 6-2 and developing into perhaps a championship-caliber team. But they are a million miles away from that right now. The pressure hasn't really been on Stafford yet. We don't know how he is going to react to it. The Lions have yet, in reality, to play a truly meaningful game with Stafford under center. Those will likely arrive, for the first time in Stafford's NFL career, the second half of this season. Until then, it would be inaccurate to even say "The jury is still out on Matthew Stafford." It's more like the evidence is just starting to be presented.
Detroit Tigers Miguel Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta should have won Silver Slugger Awards - this is why
Good for Alex Avila, but Miguel Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta both also deserved Silver Slugger Awards. Last I looked, the Red Sox faded down the stretch and the Tigers won their division convincingly. A main reason: Miguel Cabrera did his best work in 2011 when it mattered most - and Adrian Gonzalez, who won the Silver Slugger at first base, didn't. Cabrera won the batting title, as well. In the second half of the season, Gonzalez had 10 home runs and 40 RBI. His power dropped off dramatically against left-handed pitching. He had just 11 extra base hits in 243 at bats against lefties - including only three home runs - this season. Cabrera is just a better all-around hitter - period. As for Peralta, ultimately, he had a better season offensively than Cleveland shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. He had a much higher batting average and better OPS. Cabrera hit just .244 in the second half of the season as his Indians dropped swiftly from the division race. It's the coaches and managers who vote on this award. Amazing how they didn't get it right.
The Red Wings' five-game losing streak is odd. It has little to do with the usual reasons for such a slide. It hasn't been because of poor defensive play or subpar goaltending. Jimmy Howard is playing very well. It has been because of a lack of goal scoring and not being disciplined, which have long been the Red Wings' strengths. It's been a long time since I can remember the Red Wings taking this many unnecessary penalties. A couple were border line calls, though, and it did look like Mikko Koivu elbowed Red Wings' defenseman Niklas Kronwall to set up Devin Setoguchi on the game-deciding goal in overtime for Minnesota Tuesday. No call was made. I do like the way the Red Wings handle these things. Something had to be said about the final call Tuesday. It was a questionable one. Captain Nicklas Lidstrom was the one to say it, and he didn't point it out in the form of an excuse. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock doesn't whine about officiating the way some other NHL coaches do. And it's wise he took the high road on this one because the bottom line is his team is not paying the price it takes to win games in the NHL. The Red Wings are playing like a team that got off to a 5-0 start, enjoyed an early season schedule with a lot of off days and now have been hit with this reality: They are very hockey team, but not good enough to just throw their sticks out there and win. The played really hard for about 10 minutes Tuesday. After that, the Wild dictated the game. Given Minnesota isn't nearly the same caliber team as the Red Wings, and it was at Joe Louis Arena, how can that be? It needs to change. These early season game are huge when it comes to piling up points and securing a playoff spot. Also, the spot in the standings means a lot. Not having home ice advantage in the second round the last two seasons hurt the Red Wings mightily as they were ousted each time by the San Jose Sharks.
Some off seasons involve difficult decisions. Others play out with relative simplicity. The beginning of the off season for the Tigers, anyway, should be simple. Of their own free agents, the only one the Tigers should strongly consider re-signing is utility infielder Ramon Santiago. Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen have served the Tigers well - and been paid extremely well, too. It's just time to part ways. Joel Zumaya visited the club during the postseason, met with the media and talked about how healthy he is, yet it's the same story we've heard for a long time. The only way he should come back is on a minor league contract. It's doubtful any club will give Zumaya a major league deal at this point. Jim Leyland clearly didn't think much of Wilson Betemit, although he did contribute mightily at a key stage of the season for the Tigers. He didn't respond well to the pressure of the postseason. The Tigers should be able to fill their fifth starter role with a pitcher less expensive and more effective than Brad Penny. The Tigers do need another option at third base to platoon with Brandon Inge. They need a second baseman. Bullpen help should also be on the agenda. The money to acquire players for these positions should come from what the Tigers will save from the free agents departing. Could be as much as $30 million. It seems like an obvious, yet effective plan. Ideally, the Tigers want to make trades to fill their holes, not just sign free agents. The free agent pickings at third and second base are slim (Aaron Hill and Kelly Johnson at second). Really, the only premier player is third baseman Aramis Ramirez. He is a tremendous talent, but a selfish player. He is also going to very expensive, just turning down a $16 million option on his contract with the Cubs for next season. REPLAY OF MY LIVE CHAT:
Pat Caputo is a sports columnist for The Oakland Press. Caputo covered the Tigers from 1986-98, and the Lions from 1998-2002 for The Oakland Press before becoming a columnist. Caputo was raised in Birmingham and played baseball and football at Groves High School. His photograph playing high school sports appeared in The Oakland Press. He has won numerous writing awards, including first place in column writing from the Michigan Associated Press and the Michigan Press Association, and from the Detroit Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He has been named among the Top Ten sports columnists in the nation by the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE), and has won honors in four of the APSE's six national award categories. He has also been honored for his column writing by the Suburban News Association. Caputo, who has resided in Oakland County since he was nine years old, currently lives in Lake Orion. Caputo has a radio show weeknights and weekends on 97.1 FM, The Ticket, which is the flagship station for the Tigers, Lions and Red Wings. He also appears regularly on FOX 2 television on "SportsWorks."