Monday, September 29, 2014

How did we get here? Kyle Orton Now Bills Starting QB

Here's a timeline of the key events that have led to today's decision by the Bills to bench EJ Manuel in favor of Kyle Orton.
  • April 2011: Bills draft cornerback (now a safety) Aaron Williams one pick ahead of Andy Dalton and two picks ahead of Colin Kapaernick 
  • October 2011: Bills sign Ryan Fitzpatrick to a big contract - $24M in guaranteed money 
  • Nov. 2011: Fitzpatrick starts sucking
  • Sept. 2012: Bills trade for Tavaris Jackson
  • June 2103: Bills cut Tavaris Jackson
  • March 2013: Bills cut Fitzpatrick
  • Early April 2013:  Bills sign QB Kevin Kolb who has a history of concussion problems 
  • April 2013: Bills trade down in draft and then shock everyone by drafting E.J. Manuel from Florida State with the 16th pick in the draft.
  • Early Aug 2013: Kolb slips on a rubber mat while switching fields on during a training camp session  and misses time - enabling Manuel to get a leg up in starting QB competition
  • Late Aug 2013: Surprise! Kolb suffers a concussion and is eventually placed on IR, missing the whole season without ever playing a regular season snap for the Bills. 
  • Late Aug. 2013: Bills sign Matt Leinart who lasts five days and one preseason game before being released. 
  • Late Aug. 2013: Bills trade for Browns back-up Thad Lewis
  • Sept. 2013: By default, Manuel is made the Bills starter. Undrafted rookie FA Jeff Tuel is the back-up. (Yes, somebody apparently thought this was a good plan. For the record, I, for one, did not.)
  • Oct. 2013: With the Bills at 2-2 and beating the Cleveland Browns in a Thursday night game, Manuel gets injured and Tuel basically gives away the game. 
  • Oct. 2013: Thad Lewis is named the Bills starter and they go 1-2 over the next three weeks.
  • Oct. 2013: Bills sign Dennis Dixon 
  • Oct. 2013: Lewis is injured. Tuel gets a start and predictably is terrible as the Bills lose to the Chiefs despite outgaining them 470-210 yards.
  • Nov. 2013: Manuel starts 5 more games and isn't bad, except for a disastrous outing in Tampa Bay where he throws 4 interceptions and no TDs. 
  • Dec. 2013: Thad Lewis closes out the season to allow Manuel's knee to rest
  • July 2014: Bills enter camp with pecking order of Manuel, Lewis, Tuel, and Dixon.
  • July 2014: After appearing in four games in two years for the Cowboys, Kyle Orton is cut. Apparently, Orton had planned on retiring but then realized he would have had to give back some of his signing bonus money. Note: Because he was planning to retire Orton did not participate in Cowboys offseason workouts.
  • Aug. 2014: In an eerily familiar replay of the Lienart debacle, the Bills sign and release Jordon Palmer after a week, including an awful preseason outing, in which he threw three interceptions.
  • Aug. 2014: Bills sign Orton to league's largest back-up contract, release Tuel, and then re-sign Tuel to practice squad
  • Sept. 2014: Manuel gets off to shaky start; Bills at 2-2 name Orton the starter.

Royals, A's Pitching Match-Up: Who's the Big Game Pitcher?

Even though the Yankees aren't in the playoffs, I'm pretty stoked heading into the baseball postseason. I think, I've watched enough ball this year to be at least somewhat familiar with most of the teams that made it, and I think they are 10 very good teams. Indicative of this are a pair of intriguing pitching match-ups with the upcoming wild card games. On Tuesday, you have the A's and Royals squaring off, with Jon Lester for the A's opposing James Shields for the Royals. On Wed., it's Pirates vs. Giants with Edison Volquez for Bucs facing Madison Bumgarner for Giants.

Today let's focus on the Lester Shields match-up. Let's get this out of the way up front: For some reason, James Shields has earned the nickname "Big Game" James, obviously a homage to the great Laker forward James Worthy - who helped his team win like five championships. James Shields' teams have won zero championships, and his postseason numbers aren't even good. He's 2-4 with an ERA near 5 in 5 post season series.

In contrast, Lester, who the A's traded for midway through this year, at least in part for his stellar postseason work with the Red Soft last year, is 6-4 with a 2.11 ERA in 8 series over the course of four years. Okay, so who's the big game pitcher here? Plus, Lester beat cancer.

Both pitchers had very solid, good regular seasons, but based on post-season histories, you'd have to go with Lester heading into tomorrow night's game-at least as far as the pitching match-up goes. But, there's also a lot of other stuff going on. Neither the A's or the Royals finished particularly strong. Especially so for the A's who had like the best record in baseball until they made the trade for Lester, which everyone thought was great - except for the wheels came off their offense, which despite what the stat heads will tell you almost certainly had something to do with giving up force-of-nature Cuban star Yoenis Cespedes. in the trade.

Plus, we've got got A's general manager Billy Beane's famous "My shit don't work in the playoffs" history going against him, although this team in particular seems to have been constructed strictly for a postseason run.

So, here's my prediction: Beane's shit continues to not work in the playoffs and the A's are one and done. I'm not saying Lester is going to pitch bad, but here's the twist I think we'll see - James Shields will actually pitch himself up to his nickname - and thus earn it after-the-fact of it being given to him. Does that make sense? Probably not, but either does baseball half the time.

Good luck to everyone involved in the postseason!

J.J. Watt Wrecks Bills

There's a reason this guy is like one of the highest paid defensive players ever. He murdered the Bills yesterday. He was in the backfield all day, and I think he read he had something like nine quarterback hits. So, Manuel was on his ass a lot yesterday, but not sure that is an excuse for how badly he played. He did of course, throw the 80-yard pick-six to Watt the turned the game around and pretty must cost the Bills the win. That was a great play by Watt, but we all know he does those things, and Manuel kind of lofted it right to him. Of course, Manuel pretty much lofts everything - his lack of a fastball is killing us.

Yesterday, Manuel was 21-of-44 with two costly interceptions. Ex-Bill Ryan Fitzpatrick was any better on the other side, but he didn't need to be, as the Texans defense was pretty much able to secure the win. Then there was that play late in the fourth quarter when the Bills defensive player, linebacker Keith Rivers got the blame from the TV announcers, didn't jump on the Texans WR and it cost the Bills probably two minutes of clock time because the Texans guy was able to roll for a first down. What was that?

That said, did it really matter? Bills were putting together a nice drive near end, until Manuel threw a jump ball in the wrong spot and it was game over. I said earlier in the season, we kind of know what Manuel is. He's a big guy who can throw long floaters - and seems like a good dude. Question remains, is that enough to win in the NFL? Didn't look like it yesterday. Maybe he will get better - or maybe he doesn't have the tools. Marrone seems to have faith in him.

Next week we are at the Lions. Don't know a lot about the Lions, except that they have strong defensive line. This should be enough to stop the Bills run game and send us to our third loss in a row.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Finally, Bills-Chargers Review and Jeter

Sorry, got caught up on a road trip for work, to Birmingham, AL, and then some work-related writing and never got around to updating the blog with my weekly Bills review and update. Well, here it is: Bills sucked. Chargers tromped (yes, that's a word) them. I'll skip the details, but it was pretty much exactly how I projected it to play out. Bills secondary was overmatched by Rivers, and Manuel, well was just overmatched.

Coming out of the game, however, there is one question I'd like to see answered: Are the Bills that bad (the game was not as close as the 22-10 final indicated)? Or are the Chargers that good (they were after all coming off a victory over the World Champion Seahawks.) From the Bills' perspective I expect a lot to be answered this Sunday in Houston. Like the Bills, the Texans are 2-1 and coming off a bad loss. Of course the Texans are playing at home and have J.J. Watt. Then again, they also have Ryan Fitzpatrick.

I was really hoping this was going to be the week in which the Bills got some measure of revenge on Fitz for taking all that money from us and then mostly proceeding to stink - while actually playing pretty good before the contract. But that plan has been foiled I think by Fitzpatrick stinking up the joint last week vs. the Giants. Now the Texans truly know how bad he can be and will certainly take the game out of his hands. As a result, I think the Texans will win. And yes, I still think the Bills are headed for 5-11. Maybe a win this week will change my mind, but I've made my prediction and fully expect to go 4-0 on the season.

As for Jeter last night, that was remarkable. The way it ended reminded me of a Broadway play and the fact that the game was staged in New York made it seem all the more surreal. Congrats on a great career Mr. Jeter.

Oh yes, and how about ESPN suspending one of my favorite writers Bill Simmons for calling Roger Goodell a liar? What's up with that? Sounds like ESPN is pandering to, and being intimidated by the NFL - which is of course what Goodell wants it to. He's nothing but a bully and now ESPN has fallen prey to his tactics. I hope Simmons quits and starts his own gig.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ray Rice vs. Adrian Peterson

The fundamental difference in the two cases (as I see it):

If a year ago, you asked Ray Rice if knocking out his fiancee in an elevator was wrong, he would say, yes, it would be. If you asked A.P. if giving his kid a (albeit severer) "whuppin'" was wrong, he would have likely said "no."

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Legend and Legacy of Cookie Gilchrist

 Goes something like this - Cookie was an oversized personality. According to his obit (he died in 2011), "When he was playing in the Canadian Football League in the 1950s, Gilchrist owned a company that installed industrial lighting and trumpeted it with trucks emblazoned “Lookie, Lookie, Here Comes Cookie.”

Cookie also:
  • Was listed at 6'3", 250 lbs, and barely wore any pads when he played
  • Played fullback and kicker in this rookie season for the Bills and reportedly wanted to be paid two players' salaries because of this.
  • Also played on defense (as well as his two aforementioned positions) while playing in Canada. 
  • Was the first 1,000-yard rusher in AFL history and ran for more than 950 yards four years in a row
  • Reportedly took tons of speed when he played
  • Showered during halftime of games
  • In a division clinching win over the Patriots in 1964, he ran over a Patriots safety, then walked up to a defensive end and said "You're next." Every Bill in a 1964 highlight video I saw seems to recount this story.
Did Gilchrist like playing in Buffalo? I'm not sure. He reportedly compared it to slavery. He had been very happily playing for Toronto in the CFL, in a city he loved (apparently for its lack of racial prejudice), when the Bills purchased his contract. He clashed with Bills coach Lou Saban and was even kicked off the team once for insubordination (refusing to enter a game) but the players begged, and he apologized, and Cookie was let back on the team. However, at the end of 1964, the Bills traded him to the Broncos. It didn't help that he was known to bellyache about his salary, which turns out to have been pretty prophetic, seeing how the Bills were recently sold for $1.4B dollars - so Cookie in retrospect, was probably worth significantly more (in the long run) than he was being paid at the time. After all, he was one of the pillars on which the AFL was built.

Think about it. AFL owners each invested a  $25,000 franchise fee, plus expenses, to create teams that are now (some 50-plus years later) all apparently worth well over $1B. That's a great ROI.. And yes, television helped, but the players still had to put on a show, and Cookie was instrumental in that show.

I mean, how many leagues have since tried to emulate what the AFL did and force a merger with a more established league to gain all the benefits (including television contracts) associated with it? I think the AFL was by far the most successful at this - although the ABA and WHL certainly had some success - but football is football and I don't think any of the AFL franchises folded, like they did in those other rival leagues. There have even been two failed football leagues, the WFL and the USFL since the AFL-NFL merger.

Yes, Wilson took some risks and ponied up significant cash - he even loaned money to help keep other franchises afloat, so he deserves his returns, I guess. But, remember, guys like Cookie helped establish the AFL as a viable competitor to the NFL, which eventually forced the merger. According to one retrospective, "Cornerback Booker Edgerson, a former Bills teammate, said Gilchrist was 'just as good and maybe even better' than Jim Brown. 'He and Jim had the same outstanding abilities to play the game.’"

And Cookie had no easy row to hoe. After starring in high school in the Pittsburgh area, Cookie was reportedly told by Paul Brown to skip college and try out for the Browns. Unfortunately, 18-year-olds were not allowed to play in the NFL at the time (apparently this fact had escaped Brown) so Cookie was sent away with his college eligibility burned. That is how he ended up in Canada for several years prior to his being "bought"  by the Bills.

Gilchrist is somewhat notorious for being excluded from the Bills' Wall of Fame, apparently over his frequent contract disputes. But, based on the recent sale price of the Bills, I'm here to say Cookie was right! He clearly deserved more money, and now that the team has been sold from the ownership which had the dispute with him, please give the man his due honor! Ring him up!


Monday, September 15, 2014

Bills Win -Prognostications on Target

First of all I want to apologize to Dr. D, all Vikings fan, and perhaps to anyone associated with the Minnesota professional football club for my comment/prediction related to the Vikings stomping the Rams in Week 1. I merely said, "Of course, it is the Vikings, so I am sure you are holding your breath until some sort of disaster strikes. " Which was promptly followed by Adrian Peterson being suspended for child abuse and the Vikings getting stomped by the Patriots - who, in the Vikings defense I guess, were coming off a loss and apparently rarely lose immediately again after such an outcome. Either way, it was a bad day for the Vikes, and I feel I may have knowingly jinxed them in the same way I jinxed the Yankees last night by repeatedly saying how bad Kelly Johnson was, while at the same time telling my kids he would certainly turn around and do something to help the Orioles - which he indeed did with a walk-off double.

To further enhance my prognostic credibility, I will remind you that I correctly called the Dolphins a good match-up for the Bills, which they certainly seemed to be in an easy 29-10 win for the Buffaloes yesterday. We seem to have the 'Fins number and have now posted three wins in a row over them, including two relatively dominant home performances - and we really don't dominate games that often.

The one revelation yesterday for me was the sparkling play of Sammy Watkins. Don't get me wrong, I knew Watkins had the potential to be good - which is why I wasn't totally against the Bills seemingly ridiculous decision to pay a king's ransom to move up and draft him this year. From my standpoint, he was only one of a handful of for-sure impact players available, and the Bills weren't going to get one at number 9 - where they sat before maneuvering with the Browns to get to number 4, giving up next year's first round choice in the process. The only misgiving I had was that Watkins would be wasted because of QB E.J. Manuel's inability to throw.

Manuel didn't look great throwing the ball yesterday, and clearly missed an open Watkins on what should have been a TD in the first half, but Manuel was good enough, and he managed to connect with Watkins 8 times for 118 yards and a TD. And Watkins looked like he was open on almost every play as the game went along. He made it look easy - and that kind of stuff helps.

True test of how good the Bills are will be coming up at home Sunday vs. Philip Rivers and the Chargers, who are coming off a win over the World Champion Seahawks. Bills have the advantage of being in the Eastern time zone vs. a West Coast team, but I don't like a veteran heady QB like Rivers against the Bills relatively inexperienced secondary - although Corey Graham was great (he's not inexperienced) for the second week in a row vs. Miami. And although Bills did mostly shutdown Dolphins TE Charles Clay (7 catches, for a mere 31 yards), which was a nice change -maybe having LB Nigel Bradham back after 1 game suspension helped with that -  I'm a little wary (to say the least) about Kellen Winslow - I mean Antonio Gates - who burned the Seahawks for the 3 TDs yesterday.

So, Bills are playing at home, but as the weather should be nice, I'm not sure how much that will help. I'm not saying I know a whole lot about the Chargers, but have seen them play at least a couple times in last few years, and unfortunately, I like them to knock the Bills from the ranks of the unbeaten next Sunday. But, I'll still be cheering for Bills and hoping I get this prognostication wrong!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What 1973 Was Like

So, one of the running themes for this blog (at least a little while back) was my affinity for the year 1973, which is when my memory pretty much dates back to. I turned six that year and I remember O.J. rushing for 2,000 yards, the A's winning the World Series, Watergate, Secretariat winning the Triple Crown, and probably more. I really enjoyed the U.S. version of the TV series, Life on Mars, for example, which involved the main character being transported back to some version of 1973 - when he was also a little kid, but in this version he is also an adult.

Anyhow, something I wonder about is how my vision of the world and life has been shaped by coming of age in that seminal (for me at least) year. Well, here's an honest-to-God quote I came across in a book I am reading about the early-to-mid 1970s Texas Rangers baseball team. "The so-called hippie attitude was reaching its zenith in 1973 and, although the lens on my retrospective processes might be a trifle blurred, it seemed then tat almost everyone tended to agree that life was too short and therefore should be enjoyed to the maximum extent." (The author goes on to contrast that to the 90's attitude of fear and today says wellness is considered on par with godliness.)

I'm not sure, but I think that might say a lot about why I live life like I do.



Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Vikings Knock Off Rams, 34-6

The Minnesota Vikings got off to a good start on Sunday, defeating the St. Louis Rams by a score of 34-6. Head coach Mike Zimmer racked up his first win and Matt Cassel turned in a solid performance, going 17 of 25 for 170 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. Cassel completed 68 percent of his passes for a near 7-yard average per attempt. He had a 113.8 quarterback rating. Former Packer wide-out Greg Jennings had six catches for 58 yards and a touchdown. Cordarrelle Patterson continues to look good for the Vikes. He lined up in the backfield and ran 67 yards for a touchdown. He led the team with 102 rushing yards. The Vikings totalled 186 rushing yards, with Adrian Peterson running for 75 yards. On defense, the Vikings had two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown and another that led directly to their first touchdown. Minnesota also had five sacks. Everson Griffen, Harrison Smith, Linval Joseph, and Tom Johnson all played well on defense. Next up for the Vikes: New England.

Ray Rice, Donald Sterling & The Power of Video

I was at a conference last week where one of the topics was auto-understanding of video - and how we can use info captured from video to help complete transactions. For example, let's say you have something wrong with your car and instead of taking it to the mechanic, you are able to open up your hood, take a video of everything running, and have some sort of auto-analysis done that can determine what you need to do. You are then directed to Web sites where you can order the parts....This may be somewhat far fetched - but actual real world use cases include automatically analyzing face taken on video at airports for matches against dangerous persons databases.

The reason that transaction part of the equation is important is because I was at a document management conference, which mainly discusses better handling the documents used in transactions. It's my view that as smartphones and their cameras continue to improve, we will begin to rely more on their abilities, instead of documents, to complete transactions. Typing text into an app is one thing, but being able to take a picture or video and submit that is even easier and more powerful.

Why is that? Video is more powerful than words in today's society. Let's take the cases of Ray Rice and Donald Sterling. From this ESPN story on the Rice incident: "The source said that Rice admitted to the Ravens from the start that he was guilty of striking Janay and, for the most part, accurately described what they eventually saw on the video. But the brutality of the assault when seen on the security video made a different impression."

So, here's the deal:
  • Story comes out about Rice beating up girlfriend/fiancee. 
  • Rice gets suspended for two games.
  • People get up in arms and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stiffens NFL's domestic abuse policy
  • But nothing more happens to Rice
  • Video comes out showing what Rice admitted to
  • Rice's team (Baltimore Ravens) terminate his contract and league suspends him indefinitely
In my opinion this is very similar to what happened with Clippers owner Donald Sterling, when the tape came out with him making all those racist comments to his ex-girlfriend. As far back as 2006, Bomani Jones wrote this article for ESPN's now defunct Page 2, entitled "Sterling's Racism Should be News." Yet, in spite of this, big name athletes and Coach Doc Rivers signed with the Clippers. Then, they acted all surprised when the audio recording (sorry, no one uses tape anymore, do they?) came out this spring. Apparently, nobody in the mass market pays attention to print anymore!

Which brings me back to my point about multi-media being so much more powerful than text. Armed with today's and tomorrow smartphone and other computing equipment, I fully expect the upcoming generation to marginalize textual communication in favor of multi-media stuff. Although, quick quips and meta data will keep text alive as a complementary form of communication!

Monday, September 08, 2014

Bills Take Down Bears in OT

The Buffalo Bills pulled off what, to most experts at least, seemed like an improbably win yesterday in Chicago - on the opening Sunday of the NFL season. The Buffalo squad won 23-20 in OT, with the highlight of the game being this wonderful Fred Jackson stiff arm of overwhelmed Bears' white safety dude. That play set up the game winning field goal.

Otherwise, the Bills primarily took advantage of Bears mistakes - three turnovers to be specific, and a solid running attack - as well as some timely EJ Manuel completions to stay close. Defense wasn't bad, but it clearly missed The Legend in the middle of the field - especially on shorter pass plays. Manuel's accuracy seemed like a problem again, although he did complete 16-of-22 passes. To their credit - his receivers, in particular Mike Williams and Robert Woods that I can remember, made a couple of key leaping catches to keep drives alive. Manuel is a big dude and has decent pocket presence, but he seems to float the ball out there too much. I think he might not have confidence in his accuracy, so he is trying to aim the ball a bit too much. Luckily, it seems his receivers seem to have adjusted to high floaters, although Sammy Watkins was disturbingly quiet.

I don't know what this win means for the rest of the season. My first instinct says that the Bills will still go 5-11 and this was an early desperate win by a desperate team. I mean they had to be motivated by all the bad press they have been getting about the preseason and then, of course, you had the shouting match and the f-bombs exchanged between Head Coach Doug Marrone and some members of the Bills front office in practice last week leading up to the game. This kind of turmoil/tension can sometimes be a good thing and if used correctly can lead to an "us against the world/nobody believes in us" mentality that is great for fueling the fire of a football team.

Of course, I'm not sure how long using this type of motivation can last, especially, when you consider how little depth the Bills have. So, while it was a nice start, I'm not sure that level of play is sustainable. Plus, the Bears were a good match-up, with their suspect run defense, and Cutler's reputation for making untimely (Fitzpartick-esque) mistakes - which were both on display Sunday. (That, and the Bears didn't seem to be taking the Bills too seriously, as evidenced by Brandon Marshall's laughing after his early fumble.)

That said, next Sunday at home vs. the Dolphins doesn't seem like such a bad mach up either. My buddy Mike, who is a huge Dolphins fan, stopped by later in the afternoon to get a scouting report on the Bills. He said the Dolphins pass rush and running game dominated in their win over the Pats. For whatever reason, I'm not overly worried about the pass rush, although reportedly (even aside from Mike's opinion), it's pretty good. For some reason, I think Manual's size and calmness in the pocket will neutralize it's advantage. And I think our D-line backed up by Brandon Spikes is solid enough that we will hold up okay vs. the run. And if we can pressure Tannehill close to how we did last year...Also, our secondary, led by a solid game from free agent pick-up Corey Graham, looked pretty solid on Sunday.

So, maybe we can pick-up a second win, as long as we can run the ball with our trio of strong backs - Jackson, CJ Spiller, and new guy  Dennis Dixon. And that would put the Bills at 2-0, which would be a nice start and maybe bring me some more optimism. But, we will see.