Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My only issue with the Ndamukong Suh media tour...

...He was tied for 333rd in the NFL tackles during the 2011 season with 36. He was tied for 90th in the NFL in sacks with four. Suh did not force a fumble nor recover a fumble, although he did block an important field goal attempt at Oakland.
He did not have a productive season in correlation to his reputation as a dominating defensive lineman.
It was less than half the production of his rookie year. And that is not factoring in he got suspended for two games for stomping on an opposing player's arm, and that the penalty itself, hurt the Lions mightily during their Thanksgiving Day game vs. Green Bay.
Yet, Suh is on a network halftime show during the playoffs. He appeared with Jimmy Fallon. He is on the cover of the NFL's new magazine. He is the subject of much-hyped ESPN interview with Hannah Storm tonight.
In the trailer for the ESPN interview, Suh explains how he wanted to prove that he could do the same things in the NFL he did in college. And he did - his rookie year. He didn't last season, and it's odd how there seems to be this national perception he did.
Suh raised a lot of eyebrows when he didn't show up for any of the lockout workouts with his teammates until the very last one when the NFL Network was there to do a feature on him. The local media got its collective nose out of joint that day because he didn't talk to them. I defended Suh on the issue. He doesn't have to talk to anybody.
Yet, if it benefits him, it's all he does is talk - in hand-selected situations which are self-enhancing. And honestly, it isn't that enlightening. When he spoke after the Thanksgiving Day incident, he was downright disingenuous.
I guess this is an attempt to reshape his image after what transpired this past season, but the biggest factor isn't a publicity tour like he is promoting a new book.
It's about production on the field. Wouldn't that do more than anything else to restore Suh's image?
Suh is certainly capable of repeating or even surpassing his rookie season. And if he does, not only will a media tour be in order, so might a Super Bowl parade in Detroit.
But right now, honestly, it does seem inappropriate.


Eli Manning has turned from enigma to elite

Monday, January 30, 2012

Shouldn't be a question whether the Lions take a running back in the draft, but how early

It's not like the Lions haven't tried to fill their need at running back. Four times within the last eight years, and in each of the last two drafts, they have traded up in the early rounds to select a running back. It was into the first round for Kevin Jones in 2004, up two selections to take Kevin Smith with the first pick of the third round in 2008, into the first round for Jahvid Best in 2010 and into the second round in 2011 for Mikel Lashoure.
Yet, because of injuries, and even with three of those four players still with the organization, running back is a huge question mark entering this draft.
Best, a spectacular talent, has a history of concussions. He didn't play after mid-October last season. There were multiple reports this weekend there are concerns by the Lions he won't play again. Yet, he was still the Lions' leading rusher in 2011. Lashoure tore an Achilles tendon early in training camp last year. Studies have shown it's not an injury NFL players generally comeback strong from (see link)
Smith was released by the Lions after getting knocked around badly, returned in the middle of last season refreshed and played reasonably well, although he eventually was playing hurt again. He is a good, tough player, but it's difficult to envision him as even the short-term solution for a team without virtually no running attack, except surprise plays, late last season.
The Lions are drafting in the bottom third of each round now. They aren't going to get a premier back like Alabama's Trent Richardson. Their best option if they were going to go running back in the first round would Lamar Miller from Miami. He has the best speed of the backs that might be there. Virginia Tech's David Wilson is solid. Vick Ballard from Mississippi State might have value a little later in the draft. I've talked to fans already clamoring for LaMichael James from Oregon, but he may overvalued because he is a big name. He is a Jahvid Best clone, but without that type of extraordinary speed. He is expected to be a third-round pick. Doug Martin from Boise State is solid.
The Lions have had it backwards on running backs by trading up in the draft to acquire them. In the pass-happy NFL, the position is undervalued. The better backs tend to fall.
And can the Lions win in the postseason with a poor running attack? It would be difficult, but it would probably more difficult to advance in the postseason without a better secondary. Also, their depth on the offensive line is a concern. The Lions were fortunate last season they didn't sustain any injuries on their offensive front. That needs to be a priority in this draft.

Replay of my livechat Monday at theoaklandpress.com. Got heavily into Tigers talk in aftermath of Prince Fielder signing.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

In order to stay on top, the Red Wings must do this...

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Dream Team? Time will tell if it is a reality for Prince Fielder and the Tigers

Recruiting triumphs over MSU hasn't translated to wins on the field for Michigan in recent years

Questions still remain following Prince Fielder news conference

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why the Tigers need to extend Jim Leyland's contract

Last summer, unexpectedly, and long before the Tigers took control of the American League Central race, they extended the contract of team president and general manager Dave Dombrowski for five years, but manager Jim Leyland for only one.
At the time, I didn't think it was a good move, at least with Leyland, that he was at a point where he had to deliver the goods by winning the division title, which was just sitting there for the Tigers, who had faded consistently during the second half starting in 2007.
It turned out to be a moot point when the Tigers rolled to the division title, won their ALDS series against the Yankees and pushed the Rangers hard in the ALCS.
Ultimately, Leyland earned that extra year. I think he should get another extension beyond this season, but the reason is more than the success the Tigers had in 2011.
Leyland enters this season as essentially a lame duck manager, who has been put in a position where he is going to have handle some big stars with big contracts and big egos.
Maybe there will be no turmoil with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder playing the same position, first base, but only one spot. Perhaps it will be as simple as Cabrera moving to third, playing like Michael Jack Schmidt, and the Tigers living happily ever after. I doubt Cabrera will be good at third based on 2008 when he was awful there, but it could happen.
But what if it doesn't? What if Leyland has to call the shots on a daily basis about who is the DH or at first base. What if noses get out of joint because of his decisions? What if, after what figures to be extraordinary hype, the Tigers get off to a slow start? What if this leads to some difficulties in the clubhouse?
Leyland, who is not afraid to do so, will put his foot down. But what is his leverage with the players? None if he is just on a one-year contract.
His authority in the clubhouse would be far greater if the players know he is going to be the Tigers manager for awhile.

Fielder high-risk, high-reward for Tigers

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Keeping Jimmy Howard's season in proper perspective

The Red Wings have surged lately, winning seven games in a row and vaulting into the top spot in the Western Conference. Goalie Jimmy Howard has been spectacular. He deserves his place in the All-Star game, may very well be the first-team All-Star goalie at the end of the season and win the Veznia Trophy. He leads the NHL in wins and has improved his numbers remarkably in most major goaltending categories to rank among the NHL leaders.
His goals against average (GAA) is down nearly a goal from 2.79 to 1.95 compared to last season. His save percentage is up to .926 from .908.
But Howard's improvement to this point has been at home. Last season, he was 18-12-3 with a 2.88 GAA at home. This season, he is 20-2-1 with a sparkling 1.59 GAA at Joe Louis Arena.
On the road, Howard hasn't made the same improvement. He is 10-8-2 with a 2.42 GAA. Last season, he was 19-5-2 away with a 2.67 GAA.
Since getting drilled at the end of long trip by the New York Islanders, 5-1, the Red Wings have won their seven in a row. Five of those wins were at home. The two road victories were won in a shootout, one with Ty Conklin in net.
A test for Howard to just the degree of brilliance he is displaying this season, will come in the next five games. They are on the road, mostly against struggling teams - Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton and Phoenix (only Vancouver would make the playoffs if the season ended today). Howard should do well in that span, correcting the current statistical imbalance of his season. If he doesn't, maybe his season isn't as brilliant as is currently being advertised.

Time to re-examine the agony of defeat

Monday, January 23, 2012

Why Johnny Damon would make perfect sense for the Tigers

I was critical of the Tigers when they signed Johnny Damon before the start of the 2010 season. Earlier that off season, they had unloaded Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco to save money. Then, at the last minute, here comes Johnny Damon for a year and $8 million, seemingly because his boot-licking about loving Greektown and Steve Yzerman worked, and because, from what I was told, owner Mike Ilitch has always admired Damon as a player and simply wanted him on his team.
Circumstances are completely different now. Damon is in his late 30s and his skills have eroded typically, but he still remains a reasonably productive player. He is a free agent late in January and subsequently his price tag is going to be reduced.
The Tigers just had a probable season-ending injury to their premier DH, Victor Martinez. They aren't going to replace him with a clone of VMart. They just don't exist. They must mix and match around the injury. The other options, which are along the lines of trading top prospects for Houston slugger Carlos Lee, aren't particularly viable. The Tigers need to hold their prospect chips until after the season starts, and react to the developments from there.
Damon is used to DH now. It was his full-time position last season. He hit second mostly for Tampa Bay, but did get 166 at bats in the leadoff spot and had a .343 on-base percentage and a .294 batting average. If Austin Jackson doesn't improve, he gives the Tigers another option there. He also displayed some power last season.
It doesn't solve the Tigers the "who will hit behind Miggy" question, but what player is? Signing Damon would augment the Tigers' lineup relatively inexpensively with a veteran player who has played consistently with winning teams, and generally done well in pressure situations.
There are other options. Juan Pierre sounds good in theory, until it is noted how he doesn't have any power, was thrown out 17 times last season attempting to steal in 44 attempts and had just a .328 on-base percentage as a lead off hitter. He would an upgrade from Delmon Young defensively in left field.
Raul Ibanez is actually older than Damon, and tools seem to have eroded more.
My video chat today. We talk about Joe Paterno's passing, Tigers, Red Wings, Super Bowl matchup and Mark Dantonio situation at high school football meetings in Kalamazoo:


Sunday, January 22, 2012

On Joe Paterno's death...

Even with his greatness as a football coach, and all the good his life otherwise entailed, it's impossible to move past the part about Joe Paterno that became one of the epicenters of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
It involved children abused. Paterno was one of the checkpoints - perhaps the most important along the way - that could have prevented it. He didn't do nearly enough.
However, those who are grieving with heavy hearts at the passing of Paterno today should not be scorned. Nor should those who deeply loved or who believed strongly - still - that he is a great man be shunned or dismissed.
Of all the tragedies I can recall that topped the news cycle for an extended period, this is perhaps the most complex. And heart-wrenching from every different angle.
That includes the part about Joe Paterno's fall and rapid decline into death.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

It's a myth the Pistons can win by losing

NFL conference title games more proof Lions have the most important piece - Matthew Stafford

Friday, January 20, 2012

You've got to love Twitter, but it doesn't always love athletes

Twitter is a great invention. For a member of the media, it's a terrific outlet to have conversations with readers or listeners. I truly enjoy that aspect of Twitter.
It's short, sweet and to the point. It's a great place to post links., and retweet profound or humorous comments.
Following the news cycle incredibly fast and simple on Twitter. And access is easy and non-stop.
There are some gnarly aspects to Twitter. You have cyber bullies, hackers, Twitter stalkers. It's not a perfect medium. Nothing ever is - or will be.
Like many other aspects of the digital world, it has some annoyances, but they are far outweighed by the good.
One of the glitches is a downside for athletes. For the most part they prosper on Twitter - it's the perfect place to get their point across and connect directly with fans. No need to answer questions they don't want to. No person contact, but direct contact regardless.
And I don't begrudge athletes this. If I were advising them, I'd by all means suggest connecting with fans on Twitter.
But with fair warning. What you "tweet" on Twitter becomes etched in stone. It's like sending out a written statement - and signing it.
We saw it locally after Aaron Berry, a Lions' cornerback, tweeted about how critical fans following a playoff loss at New Orleans "...can go back to being Broke & Miserable..." He deleted the Tweet relatively quickly, but it was too late. It had already been retweeted and was subsequently widely reported. Was it an unfortunate emotional reaction, a heat in the moment type of thing? Likely. But it won't easily be forgotten.
Yuri Wright, a legitimate Top 50 recruit nationally and widely-regarded among the Top 5 cornerbacks in the country, was expelled from high school football power Don Bosco Prep in New Jersey recently because of string of tweets reportedly that were sexually and racially insensitive, and graphic. Reportedly, this had been going on since July. Michigan is one of the schools that reportedly stopped recruiting Wright.
Is this case of a kid being a kid? Despite the reportedly shocking nature of the tweets, probably. Have players done far worse and still been recruited, or been allowed to remain in school and on various college football teams after doing worse? Yes.
I still think Wright will play college football. If he plays it well, and stays out of trouble, the programs that didn't take him because of his conduct on Twitter might regret it.
The sad part is it didn't have to happen. Coaches, administrators, teachers, society must do a better job of warning people, especially our youth, about the consequences of posts on social media sites. That's especially true of Twitter because of the rapidness it disperses its 140 characters or less. That includes reacting to the rouge aspect of the medium.
Twitter is kind of like the angry man e-mails at the office. Here's a suggestion to anybody thinking about sending one of those out: Don't.
They live forever. And so do Tweets.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

With the all the talk about Victor Martinez's injury, did the Tigers miss the boat on Joe Saunders

Joe Saunders got one-year and $6 million to re-sign, essentially with his tail between his legs, with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Should the Tigers, who need a fifth starter, taken a run at Saunders under the circumstances?
He was 12-13 last season with a 3.69 ERA. With the exception of one brilliant season in 2008 when he was with the Angels, Saunders has given up a lot more hits than innings pitched and doesn't miss many bats.
He is a 90 mph lefty with guile. He is consistent, though. He is good for 180 to 210 innings. Saunders pitched 212 innings last season, hasn't been hurt been hurt and is left-handed, and the Tigers rotation, as solid as it figures to be, doesn't have a left-hander.
He posted his numbers in the National League last season, but is used the American League from his time with the Angels.
Initially, I didn't really think the Tigers would take a run at Saunders. He is just 30, looking for a long-term deal and figured to be relatively expense.
But a year at $6 million?

The best choice to replace Victor Martinez as the Tigers' No. 5...is already on the team

My column: http: http://bit.ly/y7LmzQ

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Third straight victory means tide had turned for Michigan against Michigan State

My column and video report from Ann Arbor: http://bit.ly/zgcyDx

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Thoughts halftime MSU, Michigan

Michigan outplayed MSU for much of the first half, but missed too many easy shots inside. The issue is far from decided. If a couple bunnies had dropped, the Wolverines would be very much in control.

- One of the best things about Trey Burke is he doesn't feel the need to force the action. He plays to the pace of the game. He has savvy far beyond that of even the most mature freshmen. He picked his spot to take over this game with it closing in with 5 minutes remaining in the half. Great feed. Great steal and basket, despite excellent defense from the Spartans' Draymond Green.

- The Spartans gave Zack Novak a couple easy looks at the basket. Too easy. They have tightened up on him since. He's at a stage of his career where he isn't going to miss open looks in a big game at home like this.

- The Spartans are so focused on the perimeter they haven't necessary done a good job of protecting the rim.

- The best part about Evan Smotrycz is he is not afraid. He has no fear to shoot nor go the basket. Just plays his game. Agressive offensively.

- Great to see Crisler Arena without an empty seat and pretty much everybody in maize. Great basketball tradition at Michigan has been revived. Renovations are very nice. Big upgrade.


What to do about Victor Martinez injury

Honestly, I didn't think the Tigers would benefit much from signing Yoenis Cespedes. I didn't see the need to replace Delmon Young in left field, despite a groundswell of cries from some media and fans about his low on-base percentage.
But Young would fit in better at DH than left field where he struggles with the glove. Cespedes has the tools to be an above-average defender, regardless of the concerns about his ability to hit major league pitching. He is a superior athlete.
The problem is Victor Martinez. who will miss this season with a knee injury, was the perfect 5th-hole to bat behind Miguel Cabrera. Doesn't matter what the free agent list says - he's irreplaceable in that sense. Does Jim Leyland move Young to third in the order and Young to fifth? How about moving Jhonny Peralta to third?
Vladimir Guerrero sounds good in theory, but he and Young in the middle or the order surrounding Cabrera is a recipe for disaster. Cespedes reputedly is the same type of free swinger.
The goal here should be a hitter that compliments the Cabrera/Young combination better, not a free swinger with power, but rather just a good, all-around hitter with a decent on-base percentage. You know, kind of a poor man's Victor Martinez.
Carlos Lee of the Astros is the best veteran player who might be available in trade that would fit the Tigers' needs. He's in his mid-30s - the Astros are looking to unload him. But at what cost? Certainly the Martinez injury puts the Tigers in a bind, but it's not cause for panic. I've maintained from the beginning the wise course of action by the Tigers is a patient one. They don't have to do anything. They can see what happens on the field before reacting and dealing a top prospect. They still have the best team in the American League Central.

On Michigan State at Michigan tonight...

It should be the most intriguing matchup between the schools in a number of years. The first couple editions of the Wolverines under John Beilein seemed intimidated by the Spartans. Last season changed that. The Spartans just weren't as tough as they normally are, physically or in regard to competitive character. They have reverted back to usual form this season. The Spartans have presented much more consistent effort and are way better defensively. It was an odd last season. There were several players, who had taken the Spartans to the Final Four on multiple occasions, who just didn't play well, or were hurt. This season, the fresh legs of youth have greatly benefited the Spartans. Tom Izzo's usual messages didn't get through last season. They are again. Izzo is a truly great coach. That can't be underscored enough. Michigan won both meetings last season. Undoubtedly the Spartans won't come out flat tonight. They will be ready.
I underestimated Beilein. Initially, I didn't think he was a good fit at Michigan. Too much perimeter game at a place where they can recruit premium athletes. To his credit, Beilein has adjusted. He also understands the emotional pitch for this particular game. His team was decidedly ready for it last season, and I fully expected the Wolverines to be tonight, too.
The best matchup will be Michigan freshman point guard Trey Burke against MSU sophomore PG Keith Appling. I hope they are guarding each other night.
I can't even begin to tell you how impressed I am with Burke. He is, in my opinion, the best college player in this state - and that says a lot when it's considered there is his teammate Tim Hardaway Jr., Ray McCallum at Detroit, Draymond Green and Appling at MSU and Oakland's Reggie Hamilton.
The improvement Appling has made can't underestimated, however. I would hardly be shocked if he has a big game tonight and takes it to Burke.


Monday, January 16, 2012

An argument the Lions aren't that far behind - even defensively

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Could be the Tigers have fallen behind the Yankees

I know the Rangers remain formidable, and the Angels have certainly upgraded, but I thought the Tigers chances of winning the pennant were the best of any American League team. I'm not so sure anymore because the Yankees acquired Michael Pineda from Seattle. I know Pineda struggled the second half of last season, and the Yankees gave up excellent prospects in Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi in the deal, but Pineda's upside is extremely high. And he will likely make a big improvement this season. Coupled with signing of Hiroki Kuroda, it gives the Yankees a starting rotation that could be very strong. Pineda is capable of becoming baseball's next great pitcher.
It gives added importance to the Tigers signing a capable fifth starter to begin the season, add bullpen depth and pull the right trigger on a major deal, if not during the remainder of the off-season, at some point before the trade deadline.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Why I won't vote for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens or Sammy Sosa for the Hall of Fame

Friday, January 13, 2012

On Yoenis Cespedes...

When I hear the name Yoenis Cespedes, I am not sure whether to think about Sidd Finch, the fictional character in George Plimpton article from Sports Illustrated long ago that has to rank as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, April Fool's Day joke of all time, or Roy Hobbs, the Robert Redford character in "The Natural."
Hey, we all know Cespedes is a workout warrior, but this isn't the NFL Draft. You have to hit. The former Cuban national star made his debut in the Dominican Winter League Thursday and whiffed three times. He was also hit by a pitch. Not exactly the stuff of "Wonder Boy."
I am surprised his representatives have him playing in this league. It can only hurt him if he doesn't start driving the ball. Scouts I've talked from organizations other than the Tigers (they are reportedly interested) have told me there are real concerns about Cespedes making consistent contact with major league pitching.
And he's not a developmental project. He is 26. He is also asking for a zillion dollars. So he's got a 45-inch vertical leap. It's not going to help him hit.
Cespedes could pan out. I'd say at this point, however, the odds are against it.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Schwartz, Johnson have earned contract extensions this off season

In three seasons, Lions head coach Jim Schwartz has taken an 0-16 team to the playoffs with a 10-6 record and a nucleus of young players being developed. It's a no-brainer for the Lions to extend his contract before the start of next season. I fully expect them to do so.
Same with wide receiver Calvin Johnson. They need to spread out the salary cap hit on his contract sooner instead of later. Nobody wants to get to the franchise tag point, especially since it would be so costly for just one season (reportedly $26 million).
Trading Johnson makes no sense. What would the Lions be hoping to get - another Calvin Johnson? People who focused on getting draft picks for Johnson don't understand the league is based on truly great players. Get a couple of them on a team - and it is much easier to build.
Don't see a trade happening. This is not Roy Williams. Johnson is that special of a player. And why would he want to leave? His chances for success have gone up immensely because of Matthew Stafford.
The only potential fly in the ointment would be an agent who is unreasonable. I don't see the Lions being hardliners here. They'll pay Johnson and Schwartz very well.
The decision isn't going to be that difficult on Cliff Avril, either. He is an excellent player - the Lions defensive MVP this season. But unlike Johnson, he is not an irreplaceable player. Offer him fair market value, maybe a little more, but if some team overpays for Avril, then the Lions would be wise to let him go as a free agent.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Morris finally starting to get his due in Hall of Fame voting - what about Tram?

It has long seemed preposterous Jack Morris, who won more games than any pitcher during the 1980s, is not in baseball's Hall of Fame. Every decade prior to that, the pitcher who won the most games, is in the Hall.
Morris' ERA should not be the issue many people are making of it because he pitched in the era of extensive steroid use, and subsequently huge offensive numbers. It was only only slightly better than the ERA of the time period he pitched, but that was the case with many Hall of Fame pitchers.
So Morris is up to 66-something percent of the vote, and it takes being named on 75 percent of the ballots to get in. That's momentum toward getting voted in by the writers, which would be his just due. He has two years left on the ballot.
Another thing: I haven't heard enough about Morris' postseason accomplishments. Not only did he win 254 regular season games and have excellent numbers across the board, but he had two complete-game victories for the Tigers in the 1984 World Series. And his 10-inning, 1-0 shutout for the Twins in 1991 in Game 7 of the World Series was perhaps the greatest clutch pitching performance of all-time.
As for Alan Trammell. His continual lack of support is a joke. That especially true now that Barry Larkin got in. I had issue with Larkin in getting - I voted for him - but that Trammell was named on only 37 percent of the ballots is odd. How can Larkin be a second-year Hall of Fame inductee, while Trammell doesn't even get a sniff after a dozen years? It's splitting hairs comparing the two in every way.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Replay of my live chat today on Lions, BCS title game and baseball Hall of Fame announcement

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Ultimately, the brilliance of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson was trumped by the Lions' awful defense

My column on Lions' loss to the Saints Saturday in the playoffs: http://bit.ly/wvyHT6

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Thoughts after 3 quarters Lions, Saints

- I am not so sure Calvin Johnson isn't the best wide receiver I have ever seen not named Jerry Rice. He is a truly great player. The Lions' TD drive in the third quarter was because of his sheer brilliance.

- Third down spot by the officials deep in Saints territory was garbage. He clearly didn't have the first down. Brutal. Key play in the game. Complexion of it changed when Saints marched down the field for a touchdown.

- Gutsy play by Drew Brees extending the football on fourth down for the first down on the Saints second scoring drive of the fourth quarter. Certainly not your typical QB sneak. The danger there is the ball will be punched out. But give him credit. Brees is savvy. He pulled that ball back in quickly. Well-planned.

- There is little wiggle room against the Saints. The Lions holding penalty on their first drive of second half ensured their offense wouldn't be on the field for a long time.

- The Saints superior running game is a major factor in setting up their deep passing game on play-action passes. It's much more difficult for the Lions to throw deep because opposing defenses don't bite on play fakes. Still, Johnson somehow get it done.

Thoughts halftime Lions, Saints

- So far, this game is living up to its advance billing. Has the makings of a classic. Lions have anything but the deer-in-headlights look. Forcing turnovers huge. Lions in really good shape heading into the second half. Holding Saints to field goal on the final drive of the second quarter huge.

- What was with the whistle on the fumble? It's ridiculous the Lions weren't able to advance that ball. Bad officiating. No excuse for it in a playoff game.

- Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is doing an excellent job of play-calling. Gregg Williams is not the easiest D-coordinator to match wits against. Lions haven't denied Calvin Johnson the ball, but they have looked to the receivers who are open because of the double-teaming. Of course, Linehan's job is made a lot easier by having a QB capable of executing like Matthew Stafford.

- RB Kevin Smith is running hard. It's not exactly a pleasant thought to think of where the Lions' running game would be without him. He's playing well. Nice bonus for Lions.

- Stafford has become the master of the back shoulder throw. Perhaps only Aaron Rodgers makes it as well or better.

- Honestly, tell how the Saints defense is any better than the Lions? Their secondary is awful. Stafford might throw for 500 yards against these guys by the time this game is done.

- The over-and-under in Las Vegas on combined passing yards by these two teams is 653. I'd bet over. Should be big passing numbers in the second half. The track meet has just begun.

Thoughts after 1 quarter Lions, Saints

- What shootout? 7-0 after 1 quarter. Come on. Just kidding. Looks like it will be a shootout, for sure.

- Great first drive for the Lions. Terrific use of Titus Young, who could be huge in this game. End around good play. Gives balance.

- Lions QB Matthew Stafford typically sharp. Right on target. Blitzing him doesn't make sense. Not any more than it would the Lions blitzing Saints QB Drew Brees.

- Notice the three-man front by the Lions? Interesting. Gunther Cunningham mixing it up. Ah, not really working, though.

- LB Justin Durant's hustle down the field came through for the Lions again. The play he made in the first quarter was similar to the key fumble he forced in the game at Oakland. He has had some injury issues during his career, but is quite productive when he does stay on the field.

- John Wendling is a tremendous special teams player. Extremely underrated.

- Keep throwing to Calvin Johnson deep. Doesn't matter if it isn't complete. Lets Saints know the Lions will throw deep. And he does make some of his biggest play when the ball is thrown up for grabs.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Hall of Fame support for Trammell coming a little late, don't you think?

I was watching the MLB Network the last couple nights, a show called "Clubhouse Confidential," and they came out with statistical comparisons that bode favorably for Alan Trammell as a Hall of Fame candidate.
The host, Brian Kenney, is excellent on the show. I watch it regularly, so I'm not bagging on him. I just had to laugh, though, at this sudden discovery he made that Trammell's numbers compared favorably to Barry Larkin, who is expected to get in the Hall this year, and if not, in the not- too-distant future. Or even with Cal Ripken, who was arguably the most prolific power-hitting shortstop of all time (It depends on whether you want to put Ernie Banks and Alex Rodriguez in the equation, because they switched positions mid-career).
He used both conventional statistics and Sabermetrics, the later which has some good elements and others, such as WAR (wins above replacement), that can be a stretch.
I vote for Trammell every year. I saw him play every day as a beat writer. He was the type of player if you saw one game, you might not be that impressed. If you witnessed him for an entire series, you'd start to see his true value. If you observed him for an entire season, you understood he was one of baseball's top players. If watched his entire career, it was obvious Trammell belongs in the Hall of Fame.
There does seem to be a groundswell of support for Tram lately - and that's good. It's probably because of Larkin and the numbers comparison being so close. It is splitting hairs. But come on, Trammell's been on the ballot 11 years. He only received 24.3 percent of the vote last year (75 percent is needed for election).
This much deserved support is coming a little late, isn't it?


Do you believe in Miracles? No, it won't take one for the Lions to win at New Orleans

My column on the Lions-Saints: http://bit.ly/wh9FiA

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Thoughts on Jacob Turner, Matt Garza and a possible trade between the Tigers and Cubs

The Tigers won 95 games last season, an ALDS series against the Yankees and pushed the Rangers in the ALCS. They have the best pitcher in baseball, Justin Verlander, and arguably the best hitter, Miguel Cabrera. Their lineup is solid throughout. So is their bullpen.
They need another veteran pitcher to fill out the starting rotation, but the first four components are solid with Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello.
They also have a highly-regarded pitching prospect in Jacob Turner, who did pitch at Double-A and Triple-A last season and make his major league debut with a couple spot starts.
Matt Garza lurks. For all the up and down of his performance, he is in his prime and would unquestionably help the Tigers immediately. Do the Tigers trade Turner to acquire Garza from the Cubs? There are reports. My understanding valid ones.
The Tigers are one of those rare teams in strong enough position where dealing prospects for veterans makes complete sense. They are going to have a contending club deep into the future with Verlander and Cabrera. Every year their goal should be to win the World Series.
Turner has been, frankly, overhyped, but he did OK one of his major league starts, not-so-well in the other. He posted decent numbers in Double-A and Triple-A ball last season, but he didn't display for certain he is a future No. 1 or No. 2 starter, either. Or that he will be a full-time major league pitcher any time soon. He was 4-5 with a 3.44 ERA and decent numbers otherwise between Toledo and Erie, albeit it while being young for those levels.
A couple things: If the Tigers deal Turner, they won't know if he has improved since last season, and to what degree. It is a reasonable expectation given his talent (low-to-mid 90s fastball with late movement, very good feel with his breaking ball, still needs to work on his changeup). His makeup is good. If he comes along as a pitcher, he won't flinch at the pressure of the major leagues. Why trade somebody if he can help you at some point of the coming season?
As for Garza, love his arm. What I can't get over about him is how he pitched for the Twins, one of the more solid organizations in baseball, and how they quickly unloaded him. Then he was with Tampa Bay, another very good organization at evaluating talent - and they unloaded him relatively quickly.
Now the Cubs have a front office change. Theo Epstein is the new GM. His track record speaks for itself. What's he reportedly looking to do? Unload Garza.
Makes you wonder, doesn't it?
The Tigers might be wise to keep Turner. Not only because he has an upside as a pitcher that is just starting to develop, but also because he is bargaining chip for future trades.
Would it really be worth it to use that chip on Matt Garza?
Tempting, but I'd probably pass.

"Ugly" victory couldn't be more pretty for Michigan when it adds up to 11-2

My column on Michigan's Sugar Bowl victory: http://bit.ly/z4YKJp

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Thoughts after 3 quarters Michigan, Virginia Tech

- The notion Michigan is more lucky than good tonight isn't totally true. The Wolverines have held Virginia Tech to three field goals in the red zone, and made another fourth-down stop deep in their own territory. That's not luck. It's good defense.

- Jake Ryan is a player. Has a bright future.

- Virginia Tech has been very mistake prone. One mistake after another. It has helped Michigan mightily.

- Michigan holding a lead in the fourth quarter is scary thought because the Wolverines have not been able to sustain any long drives.

Thoughts at halftime Michigan, Virginia Tech

- Michigan played poorly in the first half, especially offensively. To be in the lead under the circumstances is amazing. The Wolverines are living a charmed life.

- Linebacker Kenny Demens is the most underrated player on Michigan's team. Period. He was a four-star recruit out of Country Day and is an example of how Rich Rodriguez didn't get the most out of some pretty good players, while Brady Hoke does.

- Live by aggressive special teams play, die by aggressive special teams play. Well. Sometimes. Example: The roughing the kicker penalty on Virginia Tech that was the key play of the first half. Turned the tide of the game. Special teams, the Hokies' alleged strength, have been their biggest weakness so far tonight.

- Virginia Tech's defense is the fastest Michigan has played against this season. Not even close.

- Fitzgerald Toussaint is a terrific player. More creative ways to get him the ball would benefit the Wolverines greatly the second half.

- Yeah. Sometimes it does seem like Denard Robinson's best plays are the ones when he simply "throws it up for grabs." Same with Drew Dileo. LOL.

Thoughts after 1 quarter, Michigan, Virginia Tech

- This has been a very sloppy in the first quarter. Bad football, honestly. But this game will open up. There is too much firepower on both sides of the ball for it not to, despite Michigan and Virginia Tech both ranking seventh nationally in points per game allowed during the regular season.

- It's disappointing the way Denard Robinson has played so far. It seems like he has regressed from the progress he made late in the season. The happy feet are back. At his best Robinson is patient and lets plays develop in front of him before reacting. He has not been patient today. He looks uncomfortable in the pocket. Thought he was over it.

- David Wilson is really good running back, but Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas is impressive. Big. Strong. Crafty.

- The Wolverines defense must do better at getting off the field on third down, or they have no chance of winning. Especially third and long.

More impressive? Matthew Stafford's 5,000 yards passing or Barry Sanders 2,000 yards rushing?

When Barry Sanders topped the 2,000-yard rushing mark in 1997 at the Silverdome during a late-season game vs. the New York Jets, it was the cause of a big celebration. Sanders was carried off the field on the shoulders of his linemen, who loved him. It had been much-anticipated.
When Matthew Stafford topped 5,000 yards passing in Green Bay Sunday, it didn't get nearly as much fanfare.
Yet, the accomplishment can be looked upon as even more impressive.
Only four quarterbacks in the history of the NFL have thrown for 5,000 yards or more - Stafford, Drew Brees (twice), Tom Brady and Dan Marino. Six running backs have rushed for 2,000 or more yards in a season- Sanders, Eric Dickerson, O.J. Simpson, Terrell Davis, Jamal Lewis and Chris Johnson.
Era does have something to do with it. The season Sanders rushed for 2,000 yards (2,053 to be exact), no NFL QB threw for as many as 4,000 yards. This season there were 10 quarterbacks who threw for more than 4,000 yards. Sanders' easily won the rushing title in 1997 (Davis was second at 1,750 yards). Brees and Brady both threw for more yards than Stafford this season.
The argument that the NFL is now just a passing league and there won't be another 2,000 yard rusher for many years doesn't necessarily hold water, however. Johnson did it as recently as 2009 and Lewis in 2003.
Me? I think the 2,000 yards rushing by Sanders was a little more of an achievement under the circumstances, but it is splitting hairs. It is amazing what Stafford has accomplished this season.
And it was unexpected. When he was struggling with a finger injury such sparkling final numbers seemed like a pipe dream.
Like Sanders in '97, these weren't insignificant numbers. Stafford put them up as his team was striving to - and made - the playoffs.


Monday, January 02, 2012

Bowl victory more validation for MSU

Thoughts after 3 quarters Michigan State, Georgia

- Michigan State has done a very good job of rallying. Darqueze Dennard made a huge play. MSU's defense is swarming in this game. Clearly playing well enough to win. Offense is coming to life.

- Spartans have come up with nice running plays that take advantage of Georgia's over-pursuing.

- More than anything else, MSU needs B.J. Cunningham to step up and make a big play.

- Jerel Worthy is causing all kinds of problems for Georgia. Been a constant headache for the Bulldogs. State's defense had 11 tackles for loss through three quarters. Amazing.

Replay of my video chat today (heavy into Lions talk)

Thoughts at halftime Michigan State, Georgia

- Awful first half by the Spartans. In a very important game for their program, they have not been prepared well for this game. That's on MSU coach Mark Dantonio. The play calling has lacked imagination. Defensively and on special teams, Spartans are allowing big plays.

- Another example why the Spartans aren't ready for prime time? Sure seems like it. These SEC schools are just rolling them. This isn't that much different than Alabama in the last bowl game.

- The Spartans were fortunate they were only down 9-0 late in the first half when all you-know-what broke loose on Brandon Boykin's 92-yard punt return for a touchdown.

- How can a prepared football team begin the game with a safety like that?

- The Spartans did some good things defensively, but the two big pass plays from Aaron Murray to Tavarres King were alarming, particularly the 80-yard one that went for a touchdown.

- Little mistakes. Penalties. Dropped pass. Those things are hindering the offense. The biggest thing, though, has been the blocking. Georgia's defensive line owned MSU's offensive line in the first half.

- This is a good test for Kirk Cousins. The Spartans can only win this game if they open up and start throwing the ball on first down. That puts the game on Cousins' shoulders. MSU's offensive play-calling to this point has been far too conservative.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Lions defense truly offensive

My column on Lions loss to the Packers: http://bit.ly/uQCxyS


Thoughts after 3 quarters Lions, Packers

- All you need to know is that Matthew Stafford is only the seventh QB in NFL history to complete 40 touchdown passes in a season. All the others are either in the Pro Football Hall of Fame or will be. Brilliant season. This game is more proof of what he is capable of doing. Just the beginning.

- As good as Stafford has been, Calvin Johnson has been just as good today. The two go hand-to-hand.

- Can the Lions defense stop this offense. Not sure Aaron Rodgers would be doing any better than Matt Flynn.

- Finally, a big play by Ndamukong Suh. They have been too few and far between lately. But very timely sack.

Thoughts at halftime Lions, Packers

- I thought the Lions would win this game today easily, that they would play with much more sense of urgency, and the Packers would be apathetic. I was wrong. The Packers are very much into this game. Says a lot about their championship pedigree. And the effectiveness of their offensive scheme. This is a far more interesting than I anticipated. It's a terrific game, actually - to watch. It isn't being particularly well played, though, by either defense.

- The last two times the Lions threatened in the first half, they got only three points. They will not win today if that pattern continues during the second half. Jason Hanson FG miss painful.

- Seldom do I remember the Lions having a player who was more up and down than cornerback Alphonso Smith. He is either great or awful it seems. There is no in-between. He has been scorched today for the most part, but his interception was big. It's maddening.

- Yep. The referees missed the play. Titus Young should have had a touchdown.

- Matthew Stafford is playing very well today - again. He has made some big-time throws most other QBs just can't make. The Lions are doing well on offense, although the running game is typically disappointing. Defensively, the Packers are moving the ball far too easily. It's pitch and catch for Packers QB Matt Flynn. Lions aren't making his life miserable at all. To the contrary, they are making it easy for him.

- Stephen Tulloch has made some plays today. Where is the rest of the Lions' defense.

- You can't win allowing Ryan Grant to make like he is Barry Sanders in the open field on a screen pass. Shoddy play. Period. The Lions playmakers on defense simply aren't making plays. That has been the bottom line, at least so far.

Thoughts after 1 quarter Lions, Packers

- Who would have thought the biggest absence for today's game would be kick returner Randall Cobb, not QB Aaron Rodgers for Green Bay. Pat Lee as kick returner? That's awful. That's handing the game to the Lions. Too bad for Lions fans they aren't taking it.

- Kevin Smith's fumble was a backbreaker. But that was a nice play by Desmond Bishop, an underrated linebacker.

- Jordy Nelson is the most-underrated wide receiver in the NFL. He is having a great season. He has too much size and speed for Alphonsio Smith. They are picking on Smith. Lions need to get Smith help on Nelson.

- Green Bay QB Matt Flynn has been solid other than the fumble. Green Bay's offensive line has been surprising effective against the Lions' defensive line. The Packers are running the ball surprisingly well. Ryan Grant is running hard.

- The Packers still have a lot of threatening receivers in this game. They will make this game much easier for Flynn if he can use play-action passes continually.


Bowl game pressure much greater on Michigan State than Michigan