Friday, December 30, 2011

Rocky Top has a new meaning in the case of DeAnthony Arnett - Rock Heads

What was not known about the song Rocky Top is it is really a euphemism for rock head. Rocks for brains? Hmmm.
How else can it be explained Tennessee won't release wide receiver DeAntonhy Arnett from his scholarship so he can be closer to his father, who has turned ill in Saginaw. Oh, Tennessee will, but only to the state's MAC schools. Not Michigan or Michigan State. Not unless he pays his own way.
This is stupidity on Tennessee's part. Not only because it displays insensitivity, but becauseof the negative publicity Tennessee will receive will far outweigh the benefit of standing tough by its policy of not releasing players to schools it competes against on the field or in recruiting. Michigan and Michigan State are not on Tennessee schedule. They go head-to-head for a minimal number of players. Anthony has circumstances that clearly make him an exception. It's not just some disgruntled kid leaving. He played well as a true freshman this past season.
How will Vols head coach Derek Dooley go into a kid's living room ever again and say with total honesty, "We've got your best interests at heart."
Clearly, he doesn't in the case of Arnett, who was a four-star recruit coming out of Saginaw High School.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

What I'd like to see for Michigan, Michigan State and college football

The Michigan-Ohio State game moved to earlier in the season and Michigan playing either Michigan State or Nebraska in the season-finale. Michigan State would make the most sense geographically, but you can't ignore Nebraska's pedigree. I think Michigan-Ohio State should still be a protected game by the Big Ten, but don't think it would work out well if both teams played in the season finale and then had to square off in the Big Ten title game. Ideally, Michigan-Ohio State would open the Big Ten season each year.

- I would like to see both Michigan and Michigan State, with its reported agreement with the Pac 12, play one Pac 12 team and Notre Dame each year. Then I believe their other two non-conference games each season should be against in-state schools, Central Michigan, Western Michigan or Eastern Michigan. Keep the money in-state.

- Seems simple enough. Conference champs go. Seed the tournament. Give byes to the top seeds as necessary. Keep the names of top bowl games together. Just make them part of the tournament. It's time.

For a fresh beginning, the Pistons couldn't be more stale

My column on the Pistons home opener:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

So the Lions are in the playoffs - what now?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Only one Lions player in the Pro Bowl? Really?

What an embarrassment the Pro Bowl selection process is. How can Eli Manning be picked over Matthew Stafford? He has far fewer touchdown passes. His team has a lesser record. If the roles were reversed, and Stafford played in New York, you can't tell me he wouldn't be going to the Pro Bowl, not Manning.
Gosh, the way these things work, I'm surprised Victor Cruz didn't make it over Calvin Johnson. What a joke.

After reading this, it's difficult to dispute Lions QB Matthew Stafford doesn't rank among the truly elite

At 23, Matthew Stafford hasn't only shattered the Lions' record book, but his 2011 season statistically could put him among the NFL's truly elite quarterbacks.
He is averaging 301 yards per game passing and thrown for 4,518 yards so far. If he passes for 282 yards in Sunday's season finale at Green Bay, Stafford will become only the fifth quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,800 yards or more in a season. The others: Drew Brees, Dan Marino, Tom Brady, Kurt Warner and Dan Fouts. It's notable because those are all QBs, who are either in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, or most certainly will be one day. It's also notable by the QBs who haven't thrown for that many yards in a season, Brett Farve, Peyton Manning and John Elway - and so many other truly great QBs. Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning also have legitimate shots of getting into the elite 4,800-yard single-season passing club this season.
As for touchdown passes, if Stafford throws two on Sunday, he will become only the ninth QB in NFL history to throw 38 or more touchdown passes in a season. The others: Brady, Peyton Manning, Marino, Rodgers, Warner, Brees, Farve and Daunte Culpepper. Of that group, only Culpepper doesn't seem likely to be enshrined in Pro Football's Hall of Fame someday.


Monday, December 26, 2011

On Lions' playoff scenarios and Michigan and Michigan State in bowl games

Replay of my online video chat today

Tonight is a huge game for the Lions

It's not necessarily how you play in the NFC playoffs, but often who you play.
The best thing that can happen for the Lions is for New Orleans to beat Atlanta tonight, and the Lions to win their season finale at Green Bay against a Packers squad which will likely give a half-hearted effort because they have clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
It's extremely important the Lions move up to the fifth seed in the NFC. That way they will play either the Giants or Cowboys on wild card weekend, teams they are better than.
It would still be a difficult task on the road, but not nearly to the degree it would be at New Orleans or San Francisco.
Atlanta, which holds the tiebreaker over the Lions because of beating Detroit at Ford Field this season, is going to beat Tampa Bay at home the final week. Tonight at New Orleans is much different.
New Orleans defeated the Falcons in overtime at Atlanta earlier this season. They generally play close games. The Falcons did win at New Orleans last season.

Little noise surrounds start of Pistons season

My column on the Pistons as they open season tonight:

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Finally, a Christmas present for Lions fans

My column on the Lions reaching playoffs for the first time since 1999:

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Thoughts after 3 quarters Lions, Chargers

- The Lions have proven they can play from behind. How about with a lead? It was difficult to watch how the third quarter played out without thinking about the Minnesota game. Suffice to say Phillip Rivers is far more dangerous than Joe Webb.

- The first offensive series of the third quarter was not a good one for the Lions. They needed to not act like they were playing with the lead, but to rather, to use a cliche, "put the pedal to the metal." They didn't. A quick touchdown by the Chargers, an onside kick - all of a sudden a rout is a tight game with momentum shifted.
The Chargers are a desperate team. There is no tomorrow for them, or head coach Norv Turner in San Diego, if they don't win this game. It shouldn't have been a surprise they played like it to start the second half.

- First down running plays are a waste for the Lions at this stage. They need to put the ball in the hands of Matthew Stafford and let him either win or lose this game. Even with a lead that is true. That much is evident about this team. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. The only way running plays are going to work for the Lions is if they are unanticipated.

- Cool happening late in the third quarter: A return of The Wave. Come to think of it, I haven't seen it for awhile at any local venue.

Thoughts at halftime Lions, Chargers

- Matthew Stafford has had some excellent games this season, but this is potentially his best yet. He is extremely sharp today.

_ Lions need not to turtle in the second half. They must stay agressive. Don't give Phillip Rivers a chance to lead a comeback.

- Stafford has been sacked a couple times, but for the most part, the Lions offensive line has given him an incredible amount of time to throw. He has taken full advantage of it, too.

- Who needs a running game? The Lions clearly setup the run with the pass. It's working out well for them so far.

- Brandon Pettigew is holding onto the football today. If he ever gains consistency catching the ball, considering he is playing in an offense with Calvin Johnson on the outside, he is going to be a Pro Bowler. That remains at this stage a big "if," though. But today is a good day for Pettigrew, who had a monster first half.

- Nate Burleson has 10 rushing attempts this season for 76 yards. Considering his yards per carry, it's almost like 10 more receptions to his total. He is only averaging four more yards per reception than he is per carry. He had a lull in the middle of the season where his production was down, but he has come on lately. Burleson is closing in on 70 receptions this year, and his ability to carry the ball on a reverse is good element for the Lions' offense.

Thoughts after 1 quarter, Lions,Chargers

- Great decision by the Lions to come out throwing deep right away. Even if you don't complete that pass to Calvin Johnson, it lets the Chargers know right away you are coming at them. As it went, Lions QB Matthew Stafford did complete the pass. And it set up a TD.

- Idea for a reality TV show. "Preacher Curls with Ed Hochuli." The man has better guns, though, than instincts as a referee.

- Stafford has become much accurate with his shorter passes in the scoring zone. He was decisive on his touchdown strike to Brandon Pettigrew.

- The Lions are picking on Chargers' strong safety Steve Gregory, whose ball skills have been shaky so far.

- Terrific crowd noise today at Ford Field. The fans know what is at stake. The Lions still seem to struggle to sell their club level seats. They are only about half full today. Those are the pricey seats that don't count when it comes to the sellout and TV blackout.

- The Lions were stout against the run on the Chargers first drive. Great sign for them. If Chargers QB Phillip Rivers is able to mix pass and run, he becomes much more dangerous - and it would negate the Lions edge with the crowd noise on the snap count.

Thoughts pregame Lions, Chargers

- This game is on the Lions' defensive line. The Chargers offensive line has been pieced together by tape and glue because of injuries. Their left tackle, Jared Gaither, for example,didn't pass a physical for one team and was cut by another team before landing in San Diego. Conversely, the Lions defensive front is their great strength. Time to live up to its reputation.

- The Lions can't just rush to the outside by crashing their ends. They need to maintain leverage on the outside. Ryan Mathews is a dangerous runner who has come into his own.

- Can you imagine how history would be different if the Lions had taken cornerback Quentin Jammer instead of Joey Harrington with the third overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. He's still a good player for the Chargers, who selected him 5th overall that year. Also, Chargers' safety Eric Weddle has been playing at an All-Pro level this season. San Diego has a good secondary.

- Just a gut feeling, but I see this as a shootout. I have the Lions winning, 37-34.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The pros and cons of the Tigers and Yoenis Cespedes

I love the YouTube element to Yoenis Cespedes, the Cuban outfielder who is on the open market apparently to the highest bidder. If he were an NFL player preparing for the draft, they'd refer to him as a workout warrior. He looks great in his uniform. He has exceptional speed and throws well. He is more the stocky, strong player with speed type (running back) than the fluid lean athlete (wide receiver). He can play center in the major leagues, though. Ideally, he'd be a corner outfielder. If the Tigers sign him, and it's a longshot they'd be able to land him unless they overpaid, it'd be a gamble. They would then likely unload Delmon Young. Austin Jackson is going to be their center fielder, and should be based on his defensive skills, which are among the best in the game for the position.
I have a little doubt Cespedes would be a big upgrade for Young defensively in left field, but can he hit like that? Young's on-base percentage is ridiculously low and he is often a butcher in the field, but put the game on the line, he's a really nice part to have at the plate. Hitting third in that lineup, he's a run-producing machine. He keyed the Tigers' offensive explosion down the stretch last year.
Scouts I've talked to who have seen Cespedes love him athletically, but wonder if he'd be able to handle major league pitching. He did hit .480 in 20-something at bats with a 1.480 OPS during the 2009 World Baseball Classic, but those numbers were exceeded by Ivan Rodriguez in the same tournament - just some perspective on what it means.
There is also the elephant in the room. It's testing for performance enhancing drugs. Very likely more extensive here than it has been in Cuba. It's not the fault of Cespedes, but any major investment in baseball is questioned when it comes to that because of the track record of the game, especially among so-called "workout warriors."

Thursday, December 22, 2011

It's appalling Lions QB Matthew Stafford has turned his back on tradition

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What's Ohio State disappointed about?

Gene Smith, the athletic director at Ohio State, issued a statement Tuesday after the Buckeyes football program was stripped of more scholarships, another year of probation was added and Ohio State was banned from the Big Ten title game and a bowl game for next season by the NCAA.
“We are surprised and disappointed with the NCAA's decision,” Smith said.
Why? Ohio State lost institutional control of its football program under Jim Tressel. The self-sanctions Ohio State imposed were significant, but didn't go far enough.
The NCAA had to make sure punishment was rendered that will linger for OSU in this case.
It would have been wrong for Ohio State to be allowed to just rise from the ruins of one mediocre season, hire a great coach like Urban Meyer - and live happily ever after as if Tattoogate never happened.
The extra year in the college football's version of the doghouse is warranted. Yet, the punishment was not so severe that Ohio State can't overcome it in a reasonable period of time, hopefully learning from its glaring mistakes.
It's also fair justice to Ohio State's rivals in the Big Ten such as Michigan and Michigan State, and it send out a message to other NCAA schools that such blatant disregard to not self-reporting obvious violations will not be tolerated.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why it doesn't necessarily have to be one and done for the Lions in the playoffs

Would the Lions simply be one and done in the playoffs? It looked that way Monday Night watching the 49ers throttle the Steelers.
The Lions' offense doesn't match up well with the 49ers defense because they don't run the ball effectively. It would be tee-off time on Lions QB Matthew Stafford for San Francisco's front seven, led by Justin Smith and Aldon Smith, who both played very effectively when the teams met at Ford Field this season. The 49ers also have an excellent cover corner in Carlos Rogers, who might have been the best free agent signing of the off season. Alex Smith is playing well. I understand that, but I do believe Stafford would give the Lions a big edge at quarterback. Vernon Davis is a great tight end and Frank Gore is one of those running backs just made for the postseason.
The Lions wouldn't benefit from a return trip to New Orleans, either. Not a good place to play a first playoff game in a dozen years. Drew Brees against the Lions is not a good matchup, especially given the health of Detroit's secondary.
The best scenario would be if the Lions were to somehow slip past Atlanta and get Dallas or Eagles in the opening round.
Dallas, the front runner to win the NFC East, has a lot of playoff ghosts from the past, and the Lions already benefited greatly this season from the disaster Cowboys QB Tony Romo become in the clutch.
If the Lions win out and Atlanta loses (the Falcons still have to play at New Orleans), the Lions would move past the Falcons in the fifth seed and draw the NFC East winner (The Falcons have the tiebreaker over the Lions because their win at Ford Field this season).

Monday, December 19, 2011

Replay of my livestream video chat on the Lions

Livestream video chat 12:30 today

Will get into Lions heavy and other issues

Sunday, December 18, 2011

On day the nation was fixated on Tim Tebow, Matthew Stafford made like John Elway and The Drive

Thoughts after 3 quarters, Lions, Raiders

- Big turnover by Justin Durant. Could be the turning point of the game. And that was a made play by the defense.

- I thought Lions coach Jim Schwartz made the right call going for it on fourth down late in the third quarter. If there is such a thing as four-down territory in the NFL, that was it. The play call? I'm not so sure. Seemed too obvious what the Lions were going to do.

- There is so much at stake in the final quarter of this game. If the Lions win today, they are essentially in the playoffs. A two-game lead with three to go. The Lions have been a much better final-quarter team than the Raiders this season. We'll see if that holds true today. It is, without a doubt, the most important quarter of football the Lions have played since 2000 against the Bears at the Silverdome.

- Alphonso Smith has always been a talented player. Now he's a good one. He is much more solid than he was last season when his performance was all over the place.

- The Chris Harris injury is a big concern. The Lions are paper thin at safety. It not only puts John Wendling on the field from scrimmage, which isn't ideal, but he is the Lions' top special teams player. Makes him less fresh for that duty.

- Is it just me, or have there been way more offensive pass interference calls this season than ever? It has become farcical.

Thoughts at halftime, Lions, Raiders

- There were supposed to be a zillion penalties in this game. So far, it's almost been a penalty-free game. Weird.

- The Raiders drive for a field goal to end the second quarter was just too easy.

- The Lions lack of running game has been hurtful all season, but is particularly painful today. It's Matthew Stafford or bust. It's all on him, and Calvin Johnson, to make big plays. The good part is the Raiders don't have much speed at safety, and after being burned by Johnson early, are obviously weary of him. And they should be. Johnson is open on the underneath patterns. He should have a big second half.

- The Lions will not win this game if Brandon Pettigrew does not make first-down catches in the middle of the field. Time for him to step up instead of step down.

- This is the most hop, jump, giddy-up, whatever you want to call it, we've seen from Nate Burleson in awhile.

- It's disappointing how little progress Gosder Cherilus has made. He is not playing well at all today.

- The fact the Bears and Giants both got blown out today hasn't exactly inspired the Lions so far, at least defensively.

Thoughts after 1 quarter Lions, Raiders

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is proving this season that he was anything but a wasted pick first overall. Can you imagine if the Lions had taken offensive tackle Jason Smith first overall that year? Or linebacker Aaron Curry? The Lions' progress would be much less. Reaching 30 TD pass quite an accomplishment. Needs to cutdown on the turnovers, though.

- So much for Ndamukong Suh making that much of a difference today. Well, at least so far. Raiders' offense looking good so far.

- Shane Lachler might be the best punter I've ever seen. Big edge to the Raiders is the punting game.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

It's a sham and a shame Jack Morris and Alan Trammell aren't in the Hall of Fame

Friday, December 16, 2011

Why as Calvin Johnson goes, so do the Lions

Early on, the Lions Calvin Johnson had been on pace to become only the third receiver in NFL history to catch 20 or more touchdown passes in a season, joining Randy Moss and Jerry Rice.
His pace has slowed considerably. He has one touchdown reception in the last five games, and just three in the last eight games. The Lions are 3-5 in those games. When they got out to a 5-0 start, it was keyed by Johnson, who had nine TD receptions in those five games.
This month, Johnson is averaging just 11 yards per reception. In Lions' victories this season, he has 10 TD receptions. In losses, only two.
It's kind of like as Calvin Johnson goes, so do the Lions. The excuse he has been taken out of the games by double coverage is not a valid one. It's not like the Lions don't have weapons around him. Or a capable QB. They do. They need to be more creative getting him the ball.
They have stopped throwing the ball to Johnson deep down the field. There are ways to do that without risking interceptions against double teams. One is to throw toward the sideline where either Johnson or nobody gets the ball. Also, they have to let him make plays. Sometimes that simply is letting him out-jump defenders, one of his great strengths. Last Sunday, against Minnesota, it was like the Lions stopped going to him after getting the lead. Why? Who is their best weapon the scoring zone? And the Lions settled for field goals, which almost came back to haunt them.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Separation of church and football? Not when the subject is Tim Tebow

My column
Oakland Press reader soundoff about Ndamukong Suh

On Suh's return

Look, I didn't have a problem with Ndamukong Suh returning and not having a mea culpa about his stomping incident on the field Thanksgiving Day, and the two-game suspension it brought. Or if he didn't talk about his traffic accident in Portland. If he doesn't want to talk about it, he doesn't have to.
But it must be understood, the questions are coming. Our job is to ask what you'd ask, given the opportunity.
The three most overused words in our society are "I am sorry." They are said so often without being meant just to get out of trouble. If Suh doesn't want to go there, fine. At least he is not being phony about it.
However, Suh is coming across as boorish and self-serving. He has put himself above the team. His attitude Wednesday only added to that attention, and away from the Lions' huge game Sunday at Oakland.
This is where the rub comes in. Suh has benefited a great deal from media coverage. A zillion stories that have helped him and his reputation in the past, including landing numerous endorsement deals.
Now the shoe has turned, it's like he wants it only one way. If he doesn't want to answer the questions about the two incidents, I can respect that. But to act like the media is inflating the issues when they are not, is wrong. They are not the ones who caused them.
The only way Suh is going to win back the considerable support he has lost is to be productive on the field. I think he will be and this storm will blow over eventually, but there will be some lingering damage.
And why? Did the Lions collectively cause this? No? The organization has had to go into damage control. Suh is a huge distraction at the worst possible time for the Lions.
Did the media in this town pick this fight? No. There was respect there for Suh before he went up to the podium in the interview room on Thanksgiving and denied what he did - when it was clear on replay he did. Did the fans want this? No, they want to love the guy because he is a tremendous football player and had been playing with a rugged style that fits this town until crossing the line against Green Bay.
You know who caused this? Ndamukong Suh. If he doesn't want to publicly take accountability for his actions, that's up to him. What he shouldn't be doing is pointing the finger of blame elsewhere.

Pistons should be better because of additions and substractions

My column from Pistons media day:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The reality of Urban Meyer at Ohio State

Urban Meyer has already created a splash by getting Michigan State recruit Se'Von Pittman, a defensive end, to change his commitment to Ohio State. He has also persuaded defensive linemen Tommy Schutt, Penn State's top recruit, to change to Ohio State.
It's quick impact, and has turned heads, but isn't unexpected. Meyer is the perfect fit at Ohio State. He couldn't be more high profile for what he did at Florida, winning two national titles, and he is a native son to Ohio. He is also a terrific coach, who is well-spoken. He is recruiting dynamite.
Michigan and Michigan State fans whining about his presence doesn't do much. Bemoaning the fact he is allowed to recruit without anybody knowing the upcoming NCAA sanctions because of tattoo gate is a moot point. Meyer is going to get top players anyway and it is a matter of time, probably a short period, before Meyer has the Buckeyes threatening to winning the national championship. He already has the ideal quarterback for his offense, Braxton Miller, in place. And he has three years left.
The upside for Michigan and Michigan State is they aren't in the same division as the Buckeyes. Really, all they have to worry about is each other and Nebraska. Iowa may lose Kirk Ferentz, who figures to be a leading candidate for the Kansas City NFL job (He has close ties with Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli and an NFL background). But the Ohio State game is protected on Michigan's schedule because of tradition, and the Spartans face the Buckeyes again next season in their conference opener.
The Spartans and the Wolverines can thump their chest about this season. Michigan State for getting to the Big Ten title game, Michigan for a surprising 10-2 record in the first season for Brady Hoke. Both teams kicked Ohio State when it was down and beat the Buckeyes in 2011.
But Urban Meyer is reality. The Buckeyes won't be down for long.

Keys to the Lions making the playoffs

My latest column:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ben Wallace, Jalen Rose sentence comparisons disturbing

What was the difference between Ben Wallace's sentence for driving under the influence of alcohol Tuesday and Jalen Rose's earlier this year?
Could be as simple as the judges
Even though there were handgun charges also involved with Wallace, he received one year probation, approximately $2,700 in fines and 30 hours of community service. No jail.
Rose got 92 days in jail and a year's probation, but but judge Kimberly Small - criticized for overly harsh sentences for drunk drivers by defense attorneys - suspended 72 days of the sentence. Still, Rose got considerable jail time, nearly three weeks, for what appears to be a lesser incident.
Judge Shalina Kumar presided over the Wallace case. You can debate which sentence is more just, but what is disturbing is the inequity here. Cases of this nature should not be decided strictly on the whim of judges. They need narrower guidelines when it comes to sentences of DUIs in this state.


Monday, December 12, 2011

On the Lions, Wayne State going to Division II title game, Ryan Braun,

Replay of my live video chat. We do this every Monday at 12:30

Why Denard Robinson can be next year's Robert Griffin III

I voted for Robert Griffin III for the Heisman Trophy, who won the award, this year, and while he is a different player than Denard Robinson, Michigan's quarterback, I do see parallels.
Robinson figures to go into next season as a leading candidate for the Heisman.
The similarities are that Robinson and Griffin both have extraordinary speed and do their best work out of the spread, although each do take snaps under center regularly. Robinson runs a lot more - over 1,770 yards as a sophomore and 1,100 going into the bowl game this season. Griffin ran for between 600 and 700 yards his last two seasons at Baylor. He also threw the ball roughly twice as much as Robinson. He is taller and more rangy as a thrower, but it took RG3 awhile to become refined. His passer rating in 2010 was 144.,2, less than Robinson's 149.6 that same year. This season he raised it to the best in the nation at 192.3 It shows you what type of improvement can be made year-to-year. After a slow start, Robinson's passer rating in 2011 was 142.2. In the last two games against Nebraska and Ohio State, though, it was 170.7 and 223.1, respectively.
By the way, I had Alabama running back Trent Richardson second on my ballot, and Stanford QB Andrew Luck third.

Lions more lucky than good in victory over Vikings

My column on the Lions-Vikings game:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Thoughts after 3 quarters, Lions, Vikings

- It doesn't matter if it's Michael Vick, let alone Joe Webb, but there is no excuse for allowing any quarterback to break leverage for a 65-yard touchdown run like that. Webb walked home with it, too. Brutal breakdown by the Lions defense, which looked like it was running in quicksand on the play.

- The Lions strategy against Webb should be very simple. Have try to beat them with his arm, not his legs. Doubt he can do it.

- Like the idea of Titus Young on slant patterns. He is extremely quick and elusive. Great play against Cover 2 defenses rolling their coverage toward Calvin Johnson.

Thoughts at halftime Lions, Vikings

- We'll see how much killer instinct the Lions have in the second half. They should put the Vikings away. Injuries in the Lions' secondary a mounting concern, though. They need Aaron Berry. Redemption for Alphonso Smith?

- I have to admit, I wondered what all the fuss was about Christian Ponder. Saw him play a lot at Florida State. Didn't think he was worthy of a first-round pick, but he is gifted. We've seen that today. We've also seen that he is a rookie. He played the same way last week against Denver. When he stops making those untimely mistakes, watch out.

- You have to like the way Matthew Stafford, for the most part, is managing the Lions offense. The Lions need to more aggressive in the second half. Put the ball in Stafford's hands. It's working. They don't need to force-feed the running game. Could have possibly scored a TD instead of a field goal before halftime. But 31 points in a half? Very good.

Thoughts after 1 quarter, Lions, Vikings

- The Lions are doing exactly what they need to to by trucking the Vikings. They are hitting very hard and definitely have football's version of "jump" today. They have been very well prepared for this game.

- So Jared Allen got a sack. So he did his little bit and was booed. It was poetic justice the Lions scored on the next play considering Allen's pathetic comments that were critical of Detroit this week.

- Cliff Avril is proving he is not just a product of playing with Ndamukong Suh. That was a Pro Bowl-caliber play he made to create the Lions' first touchdown. Avril could reach double digits in sacks this season and he's already forced six fumbles. That's productive play by any standard.

- It's not a coincidence when Brandon Pettigrew plays well the Lions offense tends to perform well, too. With so much attention on Calvin Johnson on the outside, they need to take advantage of the middle of the field. It makes good play by the tight end particularly important.

- Vikings moved the ball too easily on their scoring drive, but that's picking hairs. Lions are playing well so far.

Thoughts pregame, Lions, Vikings

- Toby Gerhart is a solid back, who ran with authority last week against Denver, but he is not Adrian Peterson, who is out with an ankle injury. That will be especially helpful for the Lions defense considering Christian Ponder is a rookie QB. The Lions can load up to come after him.

- The Lions will see the wildcat today. The Vikings run it regularly with backup QB Joe Webb. They might run it more than usual because Ponder is ailing with a hip injury.

- The key to this game is the Lions' defensive line. They need to get pressure on Ponder, who throws a nice football, but is also extremely turnover prone.

- Matthew Stafford is healthy, his receivers are together, the Vikings are a bad team playing for essentially nothing at this point of the season. Time for the Lions QB to shine. If he doesn't today, it will be profoundly disappointing.

End of series with Michigan hurts Oakland

My column on Michigan-Oakland game at The Palace

Friday, December 09, 2011

Tigers fans disappointed they haven't landed any "big names?" They shouldn't be

Guess the Florida Marlins and Los Angeles Angels will meet in the World Series, and they shouldn't even bother playing the 2012 baseball season.
Not trying to be cynical here, but I guess I am.
My point is the off season is to make teams better, not necessarily to make "a splash."
This town understands that more than any other. The Tigers were the Marlins and Angels of the winter meetings in 2007. It's when they made the big deal getting Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis from the Marlins , subsequently were the talk of baseball and sold out most of their first-half home games.
Oh, then the season came. Worst one the Tigers have had in recent memory - by far.
Although that trade eventually worked out well for the Tigers, it was only because of many twists and turns - and because Cabrera was young. Albert Pujols is perhaps the greatest hitter of this generation, but he is also older. C.J. Wilson is a solid starting pitcher, with the benefit of being left-handed. Nothing more. There is a cable television war going on in LA. The Angels have been benefactors of this by getting a local TV deal worth billions, so good for them putting money back into the team, which was already pretty good. It also kicks the Dodgers while they are down.
But it guarantees the Angels nothing.
The Marlins are getting a new stadium. Signage. Luxury boxes. Revenue upgrade. There is a nucleus on that team that isn't bad. Mike Stanton is going to be baseball's next great player. Yet, it's a bad baseball town. They show up when the Marlins win championships. That's it. Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle are terrific additions, but still seems more likely they are behind Philadelphia and Atlanta in every way. And the Marlins spent a fortune to get those players.
Remember, Tampa Bay and Arizona made the postseason in 2010 after getting shedding money. The Giants won the World Series in 2010 with a bunch castoffs from the Tigers in their lineup.
It's not about big names and that feel good press conference clubs often pay for with their blood for years afterward, it's about winning.
The odds are a lot better the Angels and the Marlins won't reach the postseason in 2012 than they will get anywhere close to the World Series.
Yet, they still owe all that money.
I'm not saying teams should never spend. Sometimes it's the wise move, and it does have a chance of paying off for the Angels, who were sorely lacking punch in their lineup and Pujols does provide that.
But it's a gamble. A big one. The Tigers don't need to take that gamble just for gambling's sake.
They have their "big names." The Tigers just have to find the right parts to fit around them.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The NHL's realignment a mixed bag for Red Wings fans

My column on NHL's realignment:

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Gio Gonzalez sounds good for the Tigers, but...

The winter meetings are baseball's version of a trip to the mall at Christmas time. Some teams buy on impulse (this year it is the Marlins), most teams shop around carefully before buying because they have a limited budget and others just window shop because, well, they are the type that have pretty much what they need.
The Tigers are in the latter category. They don't have to purchase any big ticket items this off season, and will still go into next season as the favorite to win the American League Central.
They solidified their starting rotation by acquiring Doug Fister at the trade deadline last season. The core of their team is in the prime years of their careers, 27-to-33 years old, or younger. That includes two potential Hall of Famers, Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera.
The Tigers did dump a lot of salary after last off season, but it''s made up by raises due in current contracts.
There is one prize that admittedly is tough to resist. That's Gio Gonzalez, the Oakland A's left-hander. The A's always look to dump somebody when they become arbitration eligible, even a pitcher as gifted as Gonzalez. He'd fit the Tigers perfectly, although a word of caution here: His ERA was nearly a run higher on the road than at home in a pitcher's park in 2011.
The issue is cost. Do you give up Rick Porcello and Brennan Boesch for him? That would be the starting price, but would undoubtedly rise. Do you dare part with Jacob Turner? Do you throw in their best position player prospect in the minor leagues, third baseman Nick Castellanos, after they traded third baseman Francisco Martinez to acquire Fister?
The Tigers need a lefty, true. But they don't need to shake up the deck to do so. They need wiggle room - seeing where they stand on the field next year and tweaking their roster at the trade deadline. It worked to perfection last year, didn't it? The Tigers don't have that deep of a farm system after already moving top prospects last summer. They should keep a chip or two available for when they need them at trade deadline this summer.


In the end, Michigan and Michigan State got right bowl bids

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

On Ndamukong Suh

Ndamukong Suh's star rose quickly as a rookie in 2010, but it's falling as quickly in 2011.
And who could have seen this coming?
It's not because his production is down on the field, either. He is still an excellent player. It's because of issues where he has put himself ahead of others. The stomping on the arm of Green Bay Packers lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith and then misrepresenting what happened afterward. What was essentially a 2 1-2 game suspension by the NFL the Lions must deal with.
Now it's Suh, reportedly gunning his car at a stop light, losing control and running into a tree, calling 911 and saying nobody was hurt when there were passengers in the car who have come forward to say they were. A passenger reportedly was afraid to say anything out of fear. Another said Suh was concerned more about his image than safety.
Evidently, it's all about Suh and nobody else. Not exactly the good teammate type. More the selfish person type. At least it seems so based on his behavior lately.
Maybe he got too much too fast and can't handle it.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Replay of live chat on Lions, MSU, Michigan, BCS, Tigers and Red Wings (we do this live every Monday at 12:30)

Lions not only lost to Saints, but their self control

My latest column:

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Thoughts after 3 quarters, Lions, Saints

- It's about time some of the Lions other receivers than Calvin Johnson step up and start making plays, although the Titus Young penalty inexcusable.

- Stafford is having a great game, although he is underthrowing some passes, which could have cost the Lions.

- Defense doing a little better, but you get this sense Drew Brees is about to break loose again.

- In the past, the Lions would have been down. But this season is so different. This does have the potential for another comeback. That's not a fluke. That's a sign of competitive character.

Thoughts halftime, Lions, Saints

- The Saints' last touchdown drive was a disgusting example of defensive football by the Lions. It was like a 7-on-nobody drill in minicamp.

- If Ndamukong Suh makes the same type of hit as Shaun Rogers made on Matthew Stafford, he gets fined $20,000 by the NFL. And Rogers didn't even draw a flag.

- For Drew Brees, this is like stealing candy from a baby. It's just too easy.

- The Lions miss Suh. The push up the middle isn't what it would have been, although the sack late in the half was a hopeful sign for the Lions.

- Kevin Smith is running surprisingly well. Didn't think he'd be able to do it considering he has an ankle injury.

- Eric Wright's effort on the Saints' second touchdown was poor. That looked like something from the old Lions.

- The Saints already have rolled up more than 300 yards in offense. Ridiculous.

- The Saints defense isn't that good, either. It is the Lions only hope. It could be worse. Maybe it should be. How did Titus Young get that open? Blocked field goal? Brutal. Guy was offside, though.

Michigan State deserves a BCS bid over Michigan, but do either belong?

One of the many problems with the BCS bowl system is the twisted logic it presents.
I do believe Michigan has a better chance to land a BCS bowl bid than Michigan State, but that doesn't make it just.
Michigan State would essentially be punished for winning its division in the Big Ten, ahead of Michigan, and losing the title game to Wisconsin, a team it beat during the regular season. Also, Michigan did not play Wisconsin this season and had an easier conference schedule because of it.
Michigan State defeated Michigan during the regular season, so any head-to-head tiebreaker that would be presented in a traditional format has been lost in the BCS system.
The Spartans had a more successful season than the Wolverines, and in every way. But the BCS system often doesn't reward achievement.
And while Michigan should be happy with a BCS bowl bid, it wouldn't be like the Wolverines really achieved it, but backed into it.
I don't believe either Michigan or Michigan State would be getting a raw deal if they didn't receive BCS bowl bids.
Yet, the Spartans should be ahead of Michigan on the pecking order, not the other way around, which is the actual case.

If not this year, when for Michigan State

My column on Michigan State's loss to Wisconsin in Big Ten championship game:

Lions have a chance to beat odds and make statement today in New Orleans

My column on Lions-Saints

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Thoughts following Wisconsin's victory over Michigan State in Big Ten title game

Note: Will have a full column posted later

- If Michigan State didn't win this game this year, you have to wonder if they will in the near future. Michigan is upcoming. Nebraska is going to get better, not worse. That's in the division. Overall in the Big Ten, Urban Meyer is coming to Ohio State. Blown opportunity by the Spartans.

- Yeah. I did tout Michigan State's Mark Dantonio over Michigan's Brady Hoke for Big Ten Coach of the Year, but his team did make key mistakes down the stretch, the biggest being the running into the kicker penalty. Not good. The facemask penalty, too.

- State's defense should have shut Wisconsin down. They clearly had the edge in quickness on defense. Just didn't play well.

- It was a good season for Michigan State, but just remaining on the same plateau. The Spartans had to win this game in order to take a true step forward. The Spartans didn't, and it was there for the taking. A disappointment.

Thoughts after 3 quarters, MSU, Wisconsin

- This is a great game. It's going to be on the quarterbacks in the last quarter. I do believe Russell Wilson is a better player than Kirk Cousins, but I'd give Cousins the edge in the fourth quarter because his receivers are so much better. The Badgers don't have a B.J. Cunningham. Ultimately he might be the difference in this game.

- Excellent game management by Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio to call for a punt in Wisconsin territory, even though though this is a high-scoring game. The Badgers are particularly prone pinned against their goal line. Their receivers just don't get separation. Also, the Badgers punting game is mediocre, although they get a good punt away.

- Where has Montee Ball gone? Looked like he was going to run for 400 yards early in this game. Amazing how MSU has contained him the last two quarters. Key has been the Spartans able to drop an extra defender in the box because their corners can defend Wisconsin single coverage, man-to-man.

Thoughts after 2 quarter, MSU, Wisconsin

- Boy, does this game have the same feel as the first meeting between the teams. Early Wisconsin domination. Big MSU comeback. That's a good sign for the Spartans.

- You have to like Mark Dantonio's game management against Bret Bielema in a close game.

- Kirk Cousins is throwing the ball very accurately. Problem is, the one throw he missed, was an interception. No harm. No foul. But it's not his personality to try to fit a ball into a key hole like that. He needs to stay within himself.

- Michigan State's defense has figured out that Montee Ball is THE Wisconsin offense. The Spartans are playing much more aggressively against the run. They can't let Ball take over this game. I know Russell Wilson is the highest-rated passer in the nation, but the Badgers receivers are far less ominous to a defense than Ball.

- Wisconsin's secondary really struggle MSU's receivers. Big edge for MSU.

Thoughts after 1 quarter, MSU, Wisconsin

The Spartans cannot afford to turn the ball over. What a killer. But this game isn't over. State has proven, particularly against Wisconsin, it can comeback. The first meeting, remember, started out in a similar way.

- The Spartans' offense needs a long drive or two in order to rest their defense. The danger here, especially with Wisconsin's size, is MSU's defense being worn down.

- The Big Ten's reputation for boring, grind-it-out-football doesn't fit in this game. Both teams look explosive offensively. It was a high-scoring game the first time Michigan State and Wisconsin met. It looks like it will be again. Great playcalling by both offensive coordinators.

- The two best players on the field, in my opinion, are Wisconsin running back Montee Ball and MSU defensive tackle Jerel Worthy. Worthy has to start getting home on plays, though. The Badgers have trouble matching the quickness of MSU's defensive line, but have come up with plays that are actually using that quickness against them.

- Wisconsin brought out a gadget play already on the throwback pass from Ball to QB Russell Wilson. Watch, MSU coach Mark Dantonio will have a couple tricks up his sleeve, too.

Friday, December 02, 2011

On Ndamukong Suh suspension appeal being denied by NFL

There is no surprise Lions' defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh's suspension was upheld upon appeal. I would have been shocked had it been reduced.
The league came down with the initial ruling, and there were no circumstances presented afterward that would have changed that decision. A little more contrition on the part of Suh (a Facebook posting and a call to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell) was about the only factor, and it wasn't much in lieu of his unfortunate statements following the incident that denied culpability for his actions.
The good part for the Lions is they know where they stand. The good part for Suh is that he is being presented with more than a week that will allow for reflection on what he did and, as importantly, how he reacted in the aftermath.
This isn't so much about what he did anymore. It's about he reacts to it. Ditto for the Lions. They were going to be a heavy underdog against the Saints with or without Suh this Sunday, and will be a relatively heavy favorite at home against the Vikings the following week. They need to come out of these two games at least 8-5. If the Lions do that, their playoff hopes will still very much be alive when Suh returns.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Why Mark Dantonio, not Brady Hoke, should have been Big Ten Coach of the Year

Brady Hoke did a terrific job at Michigan this season. The 10-2 record, the late-season victories over Nebraska and Ohio State which may land the Wolverines into a BCS bowl game, the three-game improvement from last regular season when Michigan was coached by Rich Rodriguez.
He deserves all the credit in the world short of one thing: Big Ten Coach of the Year.
Michigan State's Mark Dantonio should have received the award. When the two teams met in October, his team was clearly better prepared, not only in regard to schematics and game management, but also emotional pitch. The Spartans were better coached for that game in every way.
It was the biggest game of the season. Had Michigan won it, they would going to the Big Ten championship game, not the Spartans.
Dantonio's team won the Leader's Division outright. The Spartans lost one fewer game than Michigan, and played a tougher in-conference schedule because the Wolverines didn't have to play Wisconsin in a crossover game. The Badgers were in the Top 5 in one of the major polls at the time MSU beat them.
Dantonio lost his two best linebackers from his 2010 team and was working with a rebuilt offensive line. He also had to replace his offensive coordinator.
This idea Hoke won with Rich Rodriguez's players and they were somehow awful and Hoke "split the fish and divided the loaves" is ridiculous. Michigan did have talent, particularly on the front seven defensively. The Wolverines just needed a coach to take advantage of it. In other words, just because Rodriguez was such a bad fit at Michigan doesn't mean the next coach is working miracles by replacing him and winning more football games.
And there is nothing about the award that states, "It goes to the coach that exceeded expectations." Or that it can't go to a coach two years in a row (Dantonio won it last year).
It's supposed to go to the "coach of the year," and based on the nonprejudicial evidence, that's Dantonio, not Hoke.