Monday, December 21, 2015

Requiem for Another Lost Bills Season

So, for all intents and purposes that Bills 2016 season is over, and sadly, it has ended mostly as we expected it to - with a disappointing mediocre record and not trip to the playoffs for the 16th straight year. There were definitely some ups and downs in the season, including a scintillating season-opening day win over the Colts that had us all talking Super  Bowl, because we didn't realize at the time that the Colts actually sucked. There were also a couple wins over Miami and a win over the Jets.

But, there were tons of disappointments as well. Going 0-3 so far against the not-to-mighty NFC East and two losses to the Patriots foremost in mind at the moment. Oh, then there was the London experience.

Curiously enough, the Bills biggest question mark coming into this season was quarterback, and Tyrod Taylor ended up playing very well. Our running game, anchored by the amazing LeSean McCoy, was also strong. Basically, the offense, under coordinator Greg Roman delivered what we asked for.

Our defense, on the other hand, has really let us down. This is a unit that ranked near the top of the league in several statistical categories last year, including sacks, which are supposed to be our new coach, Buddy Ryan's specialty. Well, this year, under Ryan's direction, we've gone from near first in the league in sacks to near las,t and our defense has been decidedly mediocre. Thus, a team that was built on being able to run the football and play good defense, was unable to achieve the second part of that equation, and viola, that result has been a 6-8 record so far and no playoff birth.

What happened? On a detailed level, that's for the analysts to debate. On a macro-level, I'll go back to what I said almost a year ago, when the Bills announced they'd hired Rex (and signed him to an expensive, long-term contract, meaning he's not going anywhere for awhile): Rex Snowed the Bills.

I wish it wasn't so, because by all accounts Rex seems like a great guy, but he really was not the right man for the job. I know he is promising a lot of changes for next year, but I'm not sure that's what we want. We were on the cusp of being a good team, and now it sounds like we're going back to the rebuilding stage. Not sure, now much more of this Bills fans can take, or what the solution is.

I don't think we have the personnel to play Rex's defense. However, somehow, with basically this same personnel, Rex's former assistant, Mike Pettine and last year's defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, were able to produce very strong seasons. So, Rex's comes in and now it looks like we have to rebuild.

If Rex is really all he's cracked himself up to be, he should give the Pegulas their money back, offer to coach next season for free, or offer to quit if the Bills don't make the playoffs next year - or something along those lines. Yes, Rex has won before in the NFL, but I'm not as confident as he is that he can do it again. Let's home I'm wrong, but as a Bills fan, I doubt that I am.

Monday, October 26, 2015

BIlls-Jags Yahoo! Experience

Read a lot about the Bills-Jags being streamed by Yahoo!, the first time any game was carried exclusively like that live to an international audience. Our regular Bills crew (three families) watched it at our house. Biggest complaint by the masses, at least according to Peter King in his always excellent Monday Morning Quarterback column, was that people were complaining they couldn't watch it on their big screens.

After some serious tinkering, I was able to get the game to stream on both my flat screens. On one I used my Chromecast - although I had to download a Chrome plug-in first, and into the other I plugged an HDMI cable. Somehow though, late in the first half, the larger screen, which was running the Chromecast, started stalling out-  there may have been too many people on the network - then it got behind, and we were never able to catch up. We ended up watching the second half on the smaller TV perched on the kitchen counter, checking the larger screen in the living room for instant replays. So, my only  complaint would be lack of a fast-forward button that would have enabled our larger screen to catch up.

It was fun, however (at least to me), setting the whole thing up and then being able to serve and eat breakfast during the game. This left the rest of the day, which turned out to be beautiful, free to do things like play whiffle ball and rake leaves.

As for the game, yeah, the Bills lost to the miserable Jaguars. And, yes, EJ gave the game way early before contributing to/leading (sort of) a comeback in the second half that briefly gave us the lead, before the defense collapsed again. But, it was an entertaining game, and since I wasn't betting on it, what am I really trying to get out of pro football anyhow?



Monday, October 12, 2015

Lucky vs. Titans; Outlook Questionable

Well, this guy sums it up pretty good. Basically what is he saying is "same old Bills." And in a lot of ways, I think this is true. Yes, I know Tyrod Taylor is getting all sorts of praise for his early play and according to my nine-year-old son he had the second most fantasy points of any quarterback in the league yesterday, but what I saw vs. the Titans on offense was unsustainable. Taylor threw for 109 yards on the day, with 46 of them coming on one play. You're not going to win too many games in the NFL with this type of offense. We scored 14 points!

Luckily, the Titans were equally incompetent on offense, even though they outgained the Bills 276-209, piling up an especially large edge in the first half. The problem was that Tennessee failed to convert several trips into our side of the field into many points, while the Bills were 2-for-2, scoring TDs on both legitimate drives that I recall. Neither Bills TD was particularly impressive from a planned-and-executed play perspective - Tyrod scored on a great scrambling run on what was basically a broken play a called QB draw, and Hogan bobbled but hung on to a low thrown two-yard pass on 3rd and goal to provide the winning points. To me, these types of plays are somewhat lucky and could have gone either way - and we're kinda lucky the Titans didn't pull off similar plays.

Yes, the defense was good, especially in the second half, but we've known we have a good defense for three years now. Stephon Gilmore was especially impressive, including on the game-clinching interception. And he has clearly taken strides forward this year in Ryan's defensive scheme, so let's give Rex some credit for that - Revis emerged as an All-Pro under Ryan as well, but let's also remember both players were fairly high draft picks, so it's not like Ryan uncovered diamonds in the rough. Otherwise the defense has been, at best, as good as last year, and definitely weaker against the run.

The "same old" part of my analysis applies largely to the QB play. Remember in 2008, when the Bills got off to a 4-0 start and SI's Peter King named Trent Edwards his quarter-season MVP? Or, in 2011, when the Bills got off to a 4-2 start and signed Ryan Fitzpatrick to a huge contract extension? Now, I hate to say Taylor is going to end up like these two flameouts, but unfortunately, all the signs seem to be pointing that way. To me, Taylor appears to have a limited skill set - he can run the ball and throw deep fairly effectively, but is maddeningly inconsistent on shorter and middle-range throws. Some of this may have to do with his receivers, and missing a stud like Sammy Watkins is certainly affecting him, but Taylor's aim looked pretty bad yesterday. I just don't think you can win consistently in today's NFL without some semblance of a decent short-to-mid-range passing game and the Bills showed up without one yesterday.

I worry that after getting film on Taylor, NFL defenses will adjust and take away his limited strengths and that eventually his reckless running (while exciting) will lead to injury. This would, of course, lead to EJ, who on paper would appear to have a broader skill set, but we've seen EJ in games, and paper has not necessarily translated to performance. So, yeah, I'm worried about the Bills season.

Could LeSean come back and take some of the burden off the QB and enable us to win mainly through "ground-and-pound" offense and good D? That was the plan I thought, but through five games, I certainly haven't seen anything resembling a dominant running attack, with Karlos Williams appearing to be our best back and Williams now out with a concussion before he proved he could handle a full-game load. Take out Taylor and yesterday's rushing numbers were 50 yards on 21 carries. That's not going to get it done. And McCoy is out for at least a few more weeks with Williams status uncertain as far as I know.

Do we have a plan B? I guess let Taylor scramble and throw deep and hope Watkins' return (imminent?) opens up the field more for underneath throws that hopefully Taylor can connect on like he did vs. Miami, as compared to yesterday's struggles.

Good luck Bills. I know we have the talent to beat Cincy next week, but if we can't execute any better on offense, I don't know that it is possible. That said, Dalton is known to be susceptible to pressure and as yesterday's second half proved, the Bills are still capable of that. Once again, go Bills!

As a side note, I think my friend Matt deserves his share of credit for the Bills win yesterday. We enjoyed the game at his house, complete with a wonderful spread featuring grilled chicken wings and pulled pork. Absolutely delicious. Unfortunately for Matt, he had to be barred from watching the game from his captain's seat in the living room, as we noticed in the second half that every time he left the room good things would happen for the Bills and when he returned, our luck was reversed. I won't give specific examples, but the evidence was undeniable. So, Matt had to watch most of the 4th quarter craning his neck from the living room threshold to see the TV, a sacrifice he willingly made to ensure victory. If someone who knows Rex Ryan is reading this, please pass it on as another example of how great Bills fans can be - something he continually seems to be expressing his admiration for, in what is at least a great PR move on his part.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Bills off to Strong Start

The Rex Ryan era is only three games old, but the Buffalo Bills are certainly off the to a strong start. Their 41-14 beatdown of Miami in Miami was certainly impressive. This followed a strong opening win vs. the Colts, and then an interesting loss vs. New England, in which the Bills looked miserable for the majority of the game, but never quit and came back to make it interesting in the fourth quarter. And, of course, New England is pretty good.

So, we sit at 2-1, with two dominating defensive performances and an offense that has been pretty good - spearheaded by quarterback Tyrod Taylor, a former Ravens back-up making his first NFL starts and rookie running back Karlos Williams, who is averaging almost eight yards per carry. [Of course, this brings back into question the logic behind signing Shady McCoy to that expensive contract extension, which I've called into question before. Then again, I also called into question (at least once) the signing of Percy Harvin (which I thought my have contributed to Freddie getting cut), but he has looked great, and he and Tyrod really seem to be on the same page.]

Let's remember through that Ryan was able to take the Jets to the Conference Championship game in his first two years with the Jets, so I'm not really surprised by his early success with the Bills. It's the long-term consequences of moves like the McCoy contract that have me concerned. Plus, it's very early in the season, but the Bills have looked good.

Let's start with the defense. Ryan has been quoted as saying he wanted to "build a bully" in Buffalo, and he certainly seems to have done that. In addition to playing good defense, the Bills seem to be playing really physical defense. I don't know if there is a stat that can track hard hits and intimidation, but, as I've said before, this is the hardest hitting Bills defense since the Wade Philips days, and those were some killer defensive units.

I'm hoping the Patriots game was an anomaly, as, for whatever reason, the blitz-happy Ryan only dialed up 15 blitzes in more than 60 passing plays run by the Patriots after blitzing 27 times vs. the Colts the week previous. What I'm hoping is that Ryan realizes it's a long season and that he didn't want to tip his hand to the Patriots too early. In 2010, his Jets lost 45-3 to the Patriots before turning around and beating them in the playoffs. So, maybe Ryan is playing his cards close to the vest vs. the Patriots in anticipation of a higher stakes game against them in January. Does that seem far fetched?

As I mentioned, Tyrod has been fairly good on offense, completing more than 70% of his passes and hitting on seven TD passes vs. three interceptions. His biggest drawbacks - those three INTs came vs. the Pats in a game where he also took seven or eight sacks. Against, New England, Taylor clearly seemed to be holding the ball too long as he went through his reads, but to his credit, Taylor never appeared to panic and did make enough plays to earn a 93 QB rating for the game - for what that is worth.

Against Miami yesterday, Buffalo and offensive coordinator Greg Roman, went to more moving pockets and kept Taylor off the ground, while also appearing to give him lanes to throw - he's only 6' 0", so this is kind of a big deal. I think Colin Kaepernick's dismal performance yesterday also underscored somewhat Roman's ability as an OC. Kaepernick became a star under Roman's guidance - granted Roman was let go in San Francisco after the offense struggled somewhat last year - but he seems to have transferred some of that Kaepernick magic over to Taylor, at least for now. Taylor gets great reviews for his work ethic, so maybe he will continue to evolve and develop in Roman's offense, where Kaepernick seemed to stagnate after a while, and with Roman now gone, Kaepernick "rock bottom" yesterday.

To touch on Williams, he's a big back, a real downhill, north-south runner, who hits the hole quickly (or the line if a hole is not there) and has been much more effective than the elusive McCoy so far in Roman's offense. McCoy is averaging 3.4 yards per carry. Yes, it's early, but so far Taylor, Williams, and Harvin have been the three most impressive pieces of the Bills offense. (Richie Incognito is getting rave reviews too.)

Harvin had seven catches in eight targets yesterday, several for first downs. After a very promising start to his career in Minnesota, Harvin really struggled the past three years, bouncing around from the Vikings to the Seahawks, to the Jets, to finally Buffalo, but so far appears to be a good fit in Roman's offense and with Taylor at QB. Kudos to Ryan for choosing to pursue Harvin in the offseason even if his tenure with the Jets last year was not great (he scored one TD in eight games.)

Next week is home vs. the Giants. Let's hope there is no letdown following a big emotional win on the road over a division rivals. Giants don't seem that great, but they do have Eli Manning, which could make them dangerous. I heard a radio analyst the other day say that the Bills were destined for 8-8 due to the emotional nature of Ryan's coaching. The analysis was that you can't sustain a high level of emotion throughout a 16-game NFL season and that Ryan's team were susceptible to peaks and valleys that prevented them from being truly great - like say teams coached by emotionally level-headed guys like Bill Belichick (who always appears to be a dick). I'm hoping that analyst is wrong.

Go Bills.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Bills vs. Colts 2016 Opening Day

Yes, we are ready to get started with another Buffalo Bills season. I have been a Bills fan now for more than 40 years and the season has ended in disappointment probably 37 of those years. Lately, for at least the last 10 years, I've gone things with a fairly pessimistic attitude, so I was actually kind of happy with last year's 9-7 record, although we certainly had a chance to do better.

This year, for the first time in awhile, I'm going in with no idea what to expect. We have a new coach, Rex Ryan, who has certainly enjoyed some success in the past, but some failure as well. We have a quarterback who has been in the league for four years as a back-up, but has only thrown 35 regular season passes. He's also relatively short for an NFL signal caller and even though he completed almost 60% of his passes his senior year in college, has the reputation of really not being very accurate. We are definitely going to learn a lot about Tyrod Taylor in the upcoming weeks.

Ideally, his impact should be somewhat minimized by the presence of our great defense and a running game that the Bills have invested heavily in, not necessarily through the trade of Kiko Alonso for LeSean McCoy, but by ludicrously signing McCoy (who many feel may already be past his prime) to a hefty five-year contract extension. Whatever. It should have little affect on the team this year unless of course the insane cutting of Fred Jackson has something to do with Shady's contract.

Offensive questions aside, the Bills return almost all their starters from a defense that last year was fairly highly regarded by almost all measures. Fourth in points allowed, only 16 TD passes given up, second in net yards allowed passing - all good stuff. And none of the key players are really old, although Kyle Williams is on the wrong side of 30. We did, of course, change defensive coaches, as D is Rex Ryan's specialty and there wasn't any more room in town for Jim Schwartz, who by all accounts did an excellent job. But this should not prove to be a downgrade. We also lost Brandon Spikes, who was a key run stopper, so we'll see how that affects us. Biggest worry, however, is that Leodis McKelvin, who we were counting on to start at cornerback is out for at least the first six weeks of the season after taking a longer than expected to recover from an ankle injury suffered late last year. Ryan's defensive schemes reportedly put a lot of pressure on cornerbacks (Darrell Revis earned his initial NFL bones under Ryan's tutelage) and now we're stuck with rookie second-round pick Ronald Darby starting. Darby has been very up-and-down during the preseason.

All this leads to a very mysterious match-up (at least from my vantage point) today vs. the Colts. On the plus side, the game is at home, but aside from that I really don't know what to expect. Will our vaunted pass defense hold up against last year's number one passing attack? Will we be able to move the ball vs. a defense that was fairly mediocre last year before shutting down the Broncos in the playoffs. (Funny side note: I was reading an article on Peyton Manning the other day that blamed a "physical game" against the Bills in Week 14 for starting his downfall last year with culminated with that Colts' win. So, maybe the Colts owe us one in a karmatic sense.)

The pick: All that aside, going by the paper (which is really all I got except for one visit to the Bills training camp and seeing maybe a couple/three quarters worth of pre-season Bills play) I've got to go Colts 24, Bills 19. From a fan's standpoint, hopefully I'm wrong.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Nostalgia, the NFL, and One Hundred Years of Solitude

Just finished re-reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez's masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude. It tells the story of the Buendia family and the rise and fall of Macondo the town founded by the patriarch and matriarch of the family. It goes through several generations and ends pretty much with the last generation being wiped out by their affection for sex and nostalgia - two of my favorite vices by the way.

There is some fascinating stuff in the there about time and how it is not linear, but how everything happens at once - but I want to focus on the nostalgia part a bit. As I mentioned previously, I recently started thinking a lot about the 1970s NFL and even did some rudimentary research into the success rates of the six teams that really dominated the era. Why is the 1970s NFL so important to me? The more I think about it, it has to be nostalgia.

The 1970s were when I was coming of age as a child and the NFL seemed so great, so exciting. Really, all sports did to me, but the NFL was probably the most accessible and the most exciting. I realize a lot of bad things came of that time, like injuries to underpaid players who now can't afford proper medical care or who have died due to complications from the era. That said, I can't help but remembering the games with fondness. (This is also mentioned by Kevin Cook in his excellent book The Last Headbangers, which is about football in that era.)

So, here's a quote from One Hundred Years of Solitude, which I think sums up the power of nostalgia and why I can't help but think of the 1970s NFL as a great thing, when a lot of evidence points to the contrary. Aureliano, the last surviving Buendia, is deciphering parchments which foretell the destruction of the town. "Then the wind began, warm, incipient, full of voices from the past, the murmurs of ancient geraniums, sighs of disenchantment that proceeded the most tenacious nostalgia."

Yes, there are certainly "sighs of disenchantment" around the 1970s NFL, but the tenacity of the nostalgia is so great, that I can't resist it. More on this later.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Freddie B and the 1970s Raiders

I recently started doing some research on the NFL in the 1970s - when I first became of fan of the league. For a point of reference (and I've probably mentioned it before), the first Super Bowl I ever watched was Super Bowl VII, when the Dolphins completed their undefeated season by beating the favored Redskins - yes, there apparently was still a bias for the NFC over the AFC in those days. Coincidentally, my younger son, Andrew, who is 8, recorded a recent airing of an NFL Films replay of a Dolphins-Raiders playoff game from 1974 - a classic known as the "Sea of Hands" game. I remember watching this game with my grandfather and I remember the classic last play for which the game is named (watch the video in the link).

The NFL Films replay is part of its "Greatest Games ever Played" series and was apparently made only a few years ago, as footage of the game was inadvertently lost for several years. The production includes a great piece on Erie native and Hall of Fame wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff. Biletnikoff had a great game including a TD catch that Ken Stabler called the greatest catch he saw in 15 years of playing. The segment on Biletnikoff includes a discussion Freddie's personality. Stabler said Fred was so high strung that if you walked up behind him and yelled, he'd jump up on the ceiling  like cat on all fours, or something like that. Raiders linebacker Phil Villapiano said that Fred "didn't take care of himself," or something along those lines and talked about Fred throwing up before games.

I found Villapiano's comments somewhat ironic, based on something I had read recently about Villpiano. Check out this excerpt from Kevin Cook's The Last Headbangers:  NFL Football in the Rowdy, Reckless '70's. Yes, that's Villapiano, banging he head against the wall so it swells up and fits better in his "piece of junk" plastic helmet. There is also a play in that Sea of Hands game where Stabler goes back to pass with his chinstrap undone. Cook does a good job (and I've only read part of the free sample of the book from Amazon so far) saying he does not promote the behavior that led to head injuries and lawsuits later on involving NFL players, but is merely reporting on the play that helped make the NFL the multi-billion dollar conglomerate that it is today. I just thought that it was ironic the Villapiano (who apparently came out okay as he is some sort of logistics executive) was talking about what a bad job Freddie did taking care of himself, when, well, you know, he was purposely giving himself concussions. They really don't make them like that anymore.

By the way, from what I've heard, Fred, who is 72, is doing great.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Summer in Erie...

is way different than winter (Thanks, Captain Obvious).

Scenes from last night:

  • A mid-afternoon thunderstorm
  • that when it lifts, leaves a hazy humidity that makes that first beer go down so quickly.
  • That beer is drank during a lazy bocce game in a league that I play in where everyone else is drinking and people are having cigarettes "to keep the bugs away."
  • A puddle in the batter's box that makes our Little League game unplayable, 
  • forcing us to reschedule for another night when rain will also likely make it unplayable.
  • A hopeful backlog of make-up games that will clearly never be able to be completed,
  • compounded by a shooting death of a boy who is related to one of the coaches in our league (very sad).
  • Driving my son across town to his practice for another team he plays on, when realizing on the way that I can now play in the bocce match I thought I'd miss, because I don't have to coach the practice.
  • My wife grumbling as she drops me off at bocce, thinking we were going to have beers on a patio or walk on the beach while my son practiced.
  • Her heading out for ice cream with her sister and my son after practice,
  • while I pick up my daughter and head up to my bocce teammate's house for a dip in his pool following our match - celebrating our first win of the season!
  • First saying hi to the neighbors who are sitting in a driveway drinking and playing with kids.
  • Diving under the water for a refreshing swim and taking a swig of my beer after I come up.
  • Sitting around a fire after our swim telling stories and roasting hot dogs.
  • Realizing it's 11:30 and we all need to get up the next morning!

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Objects of Fate

I am not a big believer in free will. I am of the belief that free will basically consists of having the choice to follow the path fate has chosen for your or trying to avoid it. There might be a small amount of wiggle room in their somewhere for your own decisions, but it seems to me that the forces of the earth (I won't even get into the universe) are so powerful that you have to wonder how much one person's decisions can affect anything. 

Okay, that's the general, here's the specific: Last night, we went to the Seawolves game. In the words of Joe Tait, it was "A beautiful night for baseball." Seawolves won 3-2 in a fairly tightly played contest that was over in a couple hours. This was great because the place was packed with a lot of people more interested in the postgame fireworks than the baseball. 

After the game and before the fireworks, they have this thing called launch-a-ball. The Seawolves sell a bunch of numbered tennis balls for $1 apiece. The numbers correspond to a ticket they give you (or something along these lines). They then set up some hula hoops in the infield that, when they give the cue, you throw the tennis balls at - trying to get them to stop inside a hoops to win prizes. It's stuff like $25 gift cards to local restaurants and shops. 

I'm not a huge fan of games of chance, but I've participated in launch-a-ball a few times over the years - last year I think we won a bunch of free chances - but have never won anything. Last night, I didn't buy any, and we were watching as everyone was throwing theirs and one of the tennis ball hits my sister in the the head. It rolls a few feet down and my mother-in-law picks it up and has no idea what it is.

My daughter and I spend a few minutes explaining to her what launch-a-ball is, and she finally gives the ball to my daughter who passes it on to me. Without really thinking, I fling it towards the hoops on the field. It bounces a few times and then rolls right into the Pulakos hoop for a winner. Cool, we thought, we just won someone a prize.

Well, they give out the prizes and we are sitting there waiting for the fireworks to start. This older lady and this little girl come up to my sister (they must have seen the ball hit her) and ask how it ended up in the hoop. She told them I threw it and they proceed to thank me. "She was so upset, she was crying and her father...." I didn't hear the rest of the what she said, but the whole thing kind of stunned me. I just waved, gave a brief smile and turned back toward the field. 

I was thinking, "Here I am being thanked for something that I just kind of got swept into. It was nothing I planned and it was really only a semi-conscious choice to throw the ball. The whole thing just kind of happened and I was part of it. I mean, as I said, I've actually tried to get the ball in these hoops before and was never able to. This time, I was surely guided by fate, which was looking out for this little girl. And while I am proud and happy to have been a part of the chain of events that helped make her happy, can I really take any credit? I guess I can for accepting my fate.


Happy Independence Day!


Saturday, June 27, 2015

Phillies Win in Great Comeback

Just to clarify, the Phillies are the team of primarily 8-9 year olds that I have the privilege of coaching this year. They are off to a great start with something like a 7-1-1 record, although, I try not to track that stuff too closely at this age. But last night, they pulled off a stunning comeback win. Down 12-8 heading into the bottom of the fifth, the Phillies scored 5 runs while making only one out, for a walk-off 13-12 win. And you know who had the game-winning hit? Yup, I kid who I don't think had hit the ball once all season up til that point. And that type of thing is what can make Little League so special.

I have mentioned it here a few times I think, but I've been coaching youth baseball for nine years, since my older son was seven. I have been a manager (the head coach) for at least seven seasons (there is some overlap when I have been a manager for both older and younger sons' teams) and I think I have learned a few things. In fact, I think I have developed a bit of a system, which leads to wins like the one we had last night.

Here are some of my basic principals:

  1. Teach Fundamentals: Hitting, fielding, baserunning pitching - there are correct techniques for all this stuff. Let me stress, I was never a great baseball player and really never received proper coaching in a lot of these things. At 48, or however old I am, I am now probably as good a baseball player as I ever have been, because I have re-taught myself how to throw, hit, field and all that stuff, based on the fundamentals I teach. Where did I learn these fundamentals? Well, thanks to Google, as there is a ton of stuff available online. I also went to a great clinic given my Marc Schonfelt - and picked up his book and CD. Basically, there are a lot of great resources and materials out there for learning the basics--take advantage of them

  2. Repetition: This is fairly obvious when dealing with the younger kids, but it even applies to older ones as well. The goal, as explained beautifully by Dr. Bob Rotella in his book Golf is not a Game of Perfect, is to work on your technique at practice, so that when the games come the fundamentals are second nature. That frees the athlete up to focus on the game and all the unique stuff that happens in competition.
  3.  Never Sweat: This is another way of saying "stay positive." Last night, the team we were playing scored six runs in the top of the fifth to take a four-run lead. We were at the top of our order and I told the kids, not problem, now we just need to score five runs - or something like that. Surprisingly (at least it surprises me sometimes), if you believe in your team, they will believe in themselves. I guess they are kids and fairly easy to fool with a smile and some words of encouragement.
  4.  No Child Left Behind: One of the biggest mistakes I see other coaches make is that they focus too much on their best players and ignore the ones who aren't as good. Big mistake. In Little League baseball, like in any team sport, depth can be a huge factor. Who did I say had the winning hit for us last night? Your best players are going to miss games and/or have off nights. Plus, it's just better to have more, at least decent, players. Try and spread out your practice efforts evenly among all you players!

  5. Trust the process: I know the Sixers are getting made fun of in the wake of the NBA draft due to a quote from their GM to this effect, but as far as Little League baseball, I believe it to be true. Case in point: Last night my son caught the first four innings. It was the first time he has caught multiple innings and he really needed to come out as he was getting beat up. Only problem was, I was short our main catcher, and our second catcher was pitching--and aside from my son, I didn't have any other pitchers I really trust. But I wasn't going to pitch my son after he caught four innings - I thought it would be too much, so I went with another kid and he gave up six runs. I made it seem like it was no big deal, told him he did a good job and congratulated the fielders for getting three outs. Then we batted. 

I guess my point is that I try and put all these things together and viola - it has produced a lot more wins than losses for my teams - plus, I think we have help develop some pretty good players. And probably more importantly, I think the kids like playing in this type of system. One of the most important statistics to me in Little League is participation. My teams have consistently returned a high percentage of the kids from the year before, and even during the season, I take great pride in never being short kids for a game. Sometimes this means having "too many" which means kids have to sit, but it also gives you more depth and creates comradery.

Anyhow, we're going to keep working at it, and congrats once again to the Phillies on their great performance last night!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Bills in Danger of Alienating Fans

First they trade Kiko Alonso, then rumors pop up that Fred Jackson could be following him out of town? Are you  kidding me? These are probably Bills' fans two favorite players. Running them out of town smacks of hubris. Sure, Rex wants to bring his own people, but at what cost to fan loyalty? I supposed if the Bills win, everyone will forget, but we've always thought Kiko and Freddie were the type of guys you win with!

I hate to say it, but the Bills recent slew of transactions is reminding me of when Pegula took over the Sabres a few years back and immediately starting "upgrading" things. We all know how this turned out - and if you don't, suffice to say the Sabres have the worst record in the NHL right now (and did last year) and are currently the leaders in the Connor McDavid derby. So, there's that. 

I'm not a big fan of the new McCoy contract - too much money for a running back, and now that Mike Iupati has reportedly signed with the Cardinals, it seems questionable that we're going to get the offensive line help that we need for Shady to be truly effective. Yes, I like the Hughes re-signing, and don't disagree with the decision to let Searcy leave. But, I really didn't quite understand the interest in Bilal Powell, who has apparently decided to stay with the Jets. Powell is a running back and special teams player - a roll I thought was filled by Boobie Dixon quite well last year, and with McCoy just brought in and Jackson already on the roster (not to mention Bryce Brown - who I thought was pretty good when he played last year, which admittedly wasn't much), it seems we were focusing way to much on the RB position, while the OL needs desperately to be addressed. Plus, it seemed to be squeezing out Freddie, which you would think would be a big no-no for anyone familiar with the Bills and how much he has done for the team over the past five-plus years.

Then, there is a visit by Percy Harvin? Could you imagine of the Bills let Freddie leave and replaced him on roster with Harvin? Could that possibly be good from a karma/morale standpoint?

I think the Bills are messing with fire here and these moves could end up extending our playoff drought another 5 years, as we still need some talent on OL, long-tern contracts are loading up, and we're messin with chemistry/team make-up stuff. Hopefully Ryan doesn't end up leaving behind a steaming pile like what they have in New York right now, and Pegula doesn't end up cleaning up another mess.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Bills Building a 1970's-Style Powerhouse; Can it Work in Today's NFL?

Where to start here. Remember the '70s, especially the early part of the decade? Well, unless you are as old as me you probably don't. But, let's me put it this way:

  • In 1973, the Bills threw 4 touchdown passes all year -and finished 9-5.
  • The 1974, Steelers started three different quarterbacks, who combined to throw 12 TDs, and they won the Super Bowl, a game in which the Steelers threw for less than 100 yards. 
  • The 1970 and 1971 Vikings went a combined 23-5 and didn't have a quarterback throw more than 7 TDs in a single season. 
  • Pat Haden started a number of games for a very successful Rams team. 
  • Deiter Brock went 11-4 as a starter for the 1985 Rams, who were a bit of a throwback even then. 
  • Did you know that in the Super Bowl following the 1973 season, Hall of Fame QB Bob Griese threw 7 passes in a winning effort -and he had a Hall of Fame receiver in Paul Warfield?

What did all these teams have in common? They had good defense and could run the ball. Some of them, like the Steelers, Vikings, and Rams, had great defenses. Some of them, like '73 Bills and '85 Rams had prolific running games - with starting tailbacks, O.J. Simpson and Eric Dickerson each going for over 2,000 yards and breaking the league rushing record at the time. Some, like the Dolphins, had great running games and a great defense. But, the bottom line is that this seems to the the model the 2015 Bills are going for. Can it work in the modern NFL, when 9 QBs threw for 30 TDs or more last year? Compare that to 1972 when Billy Kilmer and Joe Namath led the league with 19 TD passes each.

Rex Ryan thinks it can. His first year with the Jets, when the team went to the AFC Championship game, they led the league in rushing and defense, while finishing near the bottom in passing with rookie Mark Sanchez throwing an anemic 12 TD passes. The next, when they also went to the championship game (and nearly came back to surprise the Steelers) they had a similar spread, although not quite as drastic. After that the running game slipped a little, the defense slipped and little, and culminating with last year's disaster, the Jets passing game slipped a lot, and Ryan was gone.

Coming into Buffalo, Ryan inherits a good-to-great defense and is being counted on to at least maintain it. On offense, we have no QB to speak of and a pretty bad O-Line. The receivers and the running backs seemed to okay to me, but a lot of people thought we were short on backs too. So, Ryan brings in Greg Roman, a purported running game guru to guide the offense. First thing we do is trade for the guy who was the number one fantasy football pick in most drafts last year. And he disappointed, but still gained 1,300 yards. Does he have anything left in the tank? Who knows, but with the success an aging Frank Gore had in Roman's system, maybe it can work.

Then we trade for Matt Cassel. People like to cite Matt Cassel's one great year with Patriots and call him a lucky stiff cuz he was in a good system with Randy Moss and Wes Welker as his receivers. But, in 2010 he led the Chiefs to a 10-5 record and threw 27 TD passes - 15 of them to Dwayne Bowe. His second leading receiver was Tony Moeaki. Also, the Chiefs led the league in rushing.

So, it comes down to this, to be successful in 2015 the Bills are obviously planning to run the ball. The only thing missing now is an offensive line - probably not a minor detail. Well, we already signed Richie Incognito, who I think has a reputation as a pretty fair run blocker. Next domino to fall into place almost has to Mike Iupati, former All-Pro guard under Roman in SF. Then, we might start to have something Rex likes to say "Ground and Pound," with McCoy and Freddie mixed in with some play-action fakes and deep to Watkins, all complemented by a stellar D that lets our offense be patient and grind it out.

If you don't believe this 1970's style of play can work in today's NFL, just check out the stats for the 2011 San Francisco 49ers: top 5 defense, ground control offense, 13-3, narrow loss in NFC championship game.

Oh yeah, but let's wait until we sign Iupati or make some other upgrade to the O-Line before we get too excited. But, it least I can see some light....

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Lure of Everest - Doing What Needs to be Done

I'm currently reading Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, which is kind of the follow-up to one of the previous books I've read, called Into the Wild, by the same author. Not that the stories have anything to do with each another - but they are both written by the same author, an avid mountain climber and both began as pieces for Outdoor Magazine.

I've already discussed some of what Into The Wild is about. Into this Air occurs a few years later, when Krakauer joins a commercial expedition to climb Everest that culminates in several deaths. Like he does in Into The Wild, the author does a great job framing the story and studying it from all angles - weaving in personal stories and researched anecdotes to make his points.

One of the anecdotes in Into Thin Air is about a failed Everest expedition when a poor and inexperienced, but strong willed climber talks two sherpas (local residents) into joining him on his journey. Following is a revealing quote from one of the sherpas:

"Denman (the climber) had neither the money to pay us well nor to guarantee a decent sum to our dependents in case something happened to us....Any man in is right mind would have said no. But I couldn't say no. For in my heart I needed to go, and the pull of Everest was stronger for me than any force on earth."

That's just a nugget - but it gives you some insight into one of the larger themes that Krakauer attempts to explore - maybe for his own personal understanding as well as reader's. That is, why do people climb  mountains and take on other recreational adventures through which they are risking their health and life.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Padres Sign Shields: Is this a good thing?

You always here analysts talking who "won the offseason" or who improved their teams the most. Is seems to me that this mostly turns out to be bunk and that teams typically have to play together and gel before you can really see how improved they are. That said, the Padres have picked up quite a few players this offseason:  Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, and Will Middlebrooks, to name four (actually it's starting to remind me of the late 1970s-early 1980s era when Ray Kroc was throwing his McDonald's money around: Steve Garvey, Rich Gossage, Graig Nettles, Rollie Fingers, Gene Tenace..) and we're starting to hear talk that the Padres may have made themselves contenders - even though they have to content with the Giants and Dodgers in the powerful N.L. West.

Their latest signing appears to be James Shields, the erstwhile Kansas City and Tampa ace, who helped lead both his former teams to World Series appearances. There is no doubt Shields has been a good pitcher, winning 114 Major League games over the past nine years. But, the thing that worries me (and may very well have worried other major league teams) is that he has been a workhorse, and has been touted as thus. In the ESPN article announcing he's come to terms with the Padres (4-year, $75M range), it says, "Shields ranks first among MLB pitchers with 1,785 2/3 innings pitched since 2007," like that's a good thing. (That doesn't include 59 postseason innings either.) I would think it means that the big righthander is getting close to his expiration date, but we'll see. He is going to be pitching in a very pitcher friendly home park....Anyhow, good luck San Diego, it would be nice to see you challenge the Dodgers and Giants.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Super Bowl XLIX - Belichick's Bluff

A very exciting game and interesting way to end the 2014-2015 football season. Two thoughts on the game (and the Patriots somewhat surprising victory, even though following the championship games, I immediately thought they were the better team. However, as the game grew closer, I think the Deflategate stuff certainly distracted the Pats and really brought the Seahawks back into the picture. But, it was not to be.)
  • I thought Julian Edelman should have been MVP. He had a great game, including 100 yards receiving, a number of solid punt returns, and a great tackle on one of Brady's interceptions. Speaking of which, Brady played a great game, but I thought his pick on the goal line in the first half was enough of a negative that Edelman could have won MVP. Not that it really matters.
  • I think Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick had a figurative staredown at the end of the game and Carroll.blinked. Here's how I see it:

    1. First, I that ridiculous catch by Jermaine Kearse caught everyone off guard. Seattle immediately called a timeout, but I think that catch kind of threw everything out of kilter. Shit like that just ain't supposed to happen. It was almost like aliens intervened and it threw the game into another dimension. 
    2. Seattle than slammed the ball ahead easily for four yards with Beastmode Lynch to get the ball to the one. But then things got really weird. We were all kind of waiting for New England to call time out, but Belichick doesn't. Which to me is kind of a show of support for his defense - like saying you guys got this, even though the Seahawks have Lynch, the momentum, and the ball on the one. All of a sudden, Carrol has to be thinking, wait, does he know something I don't? And instead of taking his time - maybe he too was expecting a Pats timeout and when he didn't get it, it threw him off - he rushes to make a play call (well, his offensive coordinator does, but Carroll approves), and they end up with the fucked up pass that gets intercepted. Belichick, in my opinion though, was probably bluffing and Carroll bit. - Anyhow, that's how I saw it - in retrospect of course, because I certainly, like Carroll, was having a hard time processing what was going on in real time.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Rocking the Cradle

Great picture (thanks Dinette) of my son Andrew putting in his first-ever cradle in a match at recent Great Lakes Elementary Wrestling League outing at Mercer (where we rode from Erie Saturday in an unheated bus. Temp on board had to be close to 0 F. Oh well, it ended up being a good time despite.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Ego: God vs. the Devil

This is from a novel I'm reading A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, which is a fictional account of events surrounding the attempted murder of Bob Marley in 1976. It's a good read so far. Published in 2014, it is written from the perspective of several characters, with each chapter in an alternating character's voice.

This quote is from some "white bwoi" visiting Marley's house before the shooting, as told by Papa-Lo, a Jamaican gangster. "The thing about God is that he needs the fame, you know? Fine, the attention, the notice, the recognition. He said it himself, in all your ways acknowledge me. If you stop paying attention or call his name out he kinda cease to exist.

"Now the devil, he doesn't need acknowledgement, in fact, the more hush-hush the better.

"Meaning he doesn't need to be name-checked, identified, or even remembered. The way I see it, the devil could be anyone around you."

Worth thinking about.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Rex Snowed the Bills

"He was very impressive during the interview process, as were many of the candidates to which we spoke, and we feel Rex is the best fit for our team," [Bills owner Terry] Pegula said. There it is. There is the quote (from this ESPN story) I have been waiting to see to explain why the Bills hired Rex Ryan to coach the football team.
From the logical standpoint, the move makes little sense. First, I'll go over some positives:
1. Rex had proven he can win in the AFC East, especially against the Patriots.
2. He's a good defensive coach.
3. His ex-players love him.
4. Mike Pettine, a former Ryan disciple, really turned our defense around in 2013.
5. The hiring of embattled former 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who favors a ground and pound run game is supposed to complement Rex's coaching style.

Now from a negative standpoint:
1. The Jets went 4-12 this year and haven't finished above .500 in four years.
2. The Bills absolutely spanked the Jets twice this year.
3. Rex is defensive coach and the Bills already have a great defense, and a solid defensive coordinator (Jim Schwartz) that, from my perspective, was somewhat similar to Rex as a head coach.
4. Also, Schwartz and Rex employ different defensive schemes (and quite frankly, Shwartz's worked pretty well this year.)
5. Bills don't have a starting QB and Rex has shown no ability to develop starting QBs.
6. I'm not sure Greg Roman is a good coach, as the 49ers offense, in the past four years when he's been OC, has ranked (going backward from 2014) 20, 24, 11, and 26 in yardage in the NFL.

My view is that Terry Pegula is new to the NFL and took on too much responsibility in participating in the head coach interviews and was dazzled by Ryan during the interview - which is typical Rex. Heck, New York writers loved the guy and that's no easy task. No doubt, Rex will be a fun head coach to have around, but as far as building a winning football team. Well (and hats off to the Pegulas for investing in Western NY, but) when the Pegulas bought the Sabres during the 2010-2011 season, they were a playoff team. They have not made the playoffs since and are currently the second-worst (to Edmonton probably, which is incidentally suing our OHL Junior team) team in the NHL. Not that the Pegulas don't have good intentions... but the Polian thing kind of neutered Doug Whaley and now it seems that the owner has been snowed by a fast talking ex-New Yorker....I don't expect this to end well for football fans in Western New York (and parts of PA for that matter.)

Monday, January 05, 2015

One Point in Favor of Doug Marrone

Although, he did preside over the Bills first winning season in a long time, I have not been too shy about my criticism of Doug Marrone. Not that he reads my blog, but it seems the poor guy doesn't take media criticism very well. That is his prerogative of course, but it is also one of the reasons I think he'll have a tough time lasting as a head coach in the NFL. I think media criticism is part of the gig and you have to either learn to ignore it (Belichick) or embrace it (Rex Ryan).

Anyhow, if I'm going to criticize Marrone for stuff like being way to conservative on fourth down, I should probably praise him when he does something I agree with. And his apparent stance on the Sammy Watkins trade is certainly something I agree with. Once again, I want to point out that I think Watkins is a great player and in a bubble could certainly be worth giving up two first round picks (this year's and last) for. But, the Bills don't exist in a bubble. The problem from the start was that we didn't have a QB that I felt would be able to take full advantage of Watkins' skills.

Well, apparently Marrone felt similarly. From ESPN, "Marrone was not in favor of Buffalo surrendering a future first-round pick to the Cleveland Browns in a trade that did not involve a quarterback, sources said." If this is accurate, it would seem GM Doug Whaley is to be blamed for the misplaced faith in EJ Manuel heading into this year, which seriously retarded (and I don't mean mentally disabled) our development. This excellent article by the Buffalo News' Jerry Sullivan will give you some idea of the sorry shape the Bills' front office is currently in following the rift between Marrone and Whaley, with the new owners, the Pegulas, left holding the bag (which unfortunately is kind of like the flaming bag of shit you leave on someone's doorstep as a joke).

The Bills certainly have their work cut out for them and are reportedly interviewing almost a dozen head coaching candidates, which seems like way too many. Hopefully, something works out here and somewhat quickly.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Marrone, Orton Gone; Things Looking Up

As you may have heard (I initially missed the news as I was busy with New Year's Eve Party prep), Doug Marrone has resigned as coach of the Bills. This came a couple days after stating QB Kyle Orton retired. You might think I'd be bothered, as we just had our first winning season  in awhile and have seemingly lost two key pieces of our organization. Well, bully on that. I think those two guys are the primary reason we only went 9-7, and not at least 10-6.

Marrone seems to have made a smart decision, as, due to a unique change-of-ownership clause in his contract, he gets his $4M 2015 salary whether he coaches the team or not. Rumors have him going to the Jets, where we will theoretically be paying him to try and beat us. And this year espeically, we played great against the Jets so I can see why they would be interested, but in the long run I think they will be disappointed.

Bills could promote Jim Schwartz, whose D was awesome this year, but I think he already proved to be a disastrous head coach with Lions and I wouldn't be in any hurry to change things up on the defensive side anyhow. No, we need help on offense, so let's bring in ex-Bills back QB par excellent Frank Reich, who was OC for Chargers last year. Rumors are Polian is coming back as advisor/czar, so it would be reunion of sorts.

Happy New Year and things already looking up for Bills in 2015!