Monthly Archives: January 2012

2011-12 Green Bay Packers Season – What Could’ve Been…

For those readers under the age of 18 – earmuffs: ARE YOU F***ING KIDDING ME PACK!! THAT WAS EMBARRASSING! F************KKKKKKK!

I feel better. Now that that’s out the way, on to the assessment of what went from being one of the best seasons ever to a season leaving you more frustrated than a Jewish Tebow fan. The 2011 Packers had the best offense in franchise history, a solid special teams, and one of the worst defenses in franchise history. Yet, despite overcoming some crucial injuries throughout the season, the team finished 15-1 and looked unstoppable – so long as they didn’t stop themselves. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened in their first playoff game. The Packers simply picked the wrong time to play their worst game in over a calendar year.

In what became an annoying trend as the season wore on, became a plague during the most important game of the season: dropped passes. It’s as if Troy Williamson all of a sudden was coaching the WR core. The “official” count from the ESPN is 6, but I think we can all agree that number is generously low. The worst part was the dropped passes came from every single player – Jennings, Finley (obv.), Jordy, Cobb, Starks, Crabtree…

Wait, there’s more unfortunately. Dropped passes were just one of the problems. During the season, the Packers turned the ball over only 14 times… that’s one less turnover than games won. Again, let me repeat that: the Packers had one more win that total turnovers all season long. That’s absurd! To put it into perspective even more, those 14 turnovers are only six more than the Pack (read: Brent Favre) had in the 2002 playoff game against the Rams. So, it only makes sense that the Packers would commit 4 turnovers in the most important game of the year.

Now, I know I haven’t mentioned our anemic defense yet. But, I firmly believe the defense played on par with how it played all season. To put it another way, the defense did enough to allow our offense to win this game. That was the same strategy used to go 15-1. Remember, our defense prevented the NYG from getting a 1st down in the second half until the beginning of the 4th Quarter. That means, the most dangerous offense in the league had a full quarter to erase a ten-point deficit. The offense simply failed to take advantage of the defense’s strong play and seize control of the game. It was during this stretch that McCarthy fell into a nasty habit where he gets stubborn with his play calling. The Packers spent the 3rd Quarter trying to establish the run, to little effectiveness. Too often, the Pack found themselves in third-and-long situations. Rodgers often bailed them out with his legs. But, the law of averages takes over and the NYG were able to hold the Pack on a few of those third downs, forcing the Packers to kick a FG, punt, and go for it early in the 4th Quarter. I thought McCarthy needed to go hurry up, instead of slowing the game down. The Pack started with the hurry up at the beginning of the game and proceeded to march down the field until JMike dropped a critical pass and Rodgers missed the wide open Jennings. But, the offense was clicking and moving the chains. Why we went away from that is unknown, but just another one of the “what ifs” that makes this loss all the more frustrating.

In sum, 2011 was a great calendar year for the Green Bay Packers. Winning 19 games in a row, including Super Bowl XLV, was likely a once in a lifetime streak. Finishing 15-1 was the best season ever by a Packers team. But, the season ended in heartbreaking fashion. The team is still primed for future Super Bowl runs, and the window of opportunity was just cracked open last season. I expect this loss will fuel the team this off-season. TT has done a helluva job getting this team to become a year-in and year-out Super Bowl contender. It’s up to him to make the necessary moves to fix some of the obvious problems on the defensive side of the ball. Future posts will address this job and more during this gloomy off-season.

Blockading The I94 and I35 Corridors

Three years from now, Gophers fans may look back on the incoming draft class of the 2012 mens’ football team as the beginning of the end of what has been a frustratingly consistent exodus of Minnesota’s most talented prep football stars.

McDonald is bringing his talents back to the West Bank.

Reports are circulating that Hopkins’ Andre McDonald has decided that he is going to bring his considerable pass-catching skills back to the University of Minnesota.  Calling his commitment a roller coaster might be the understatement of the year.  He originally committed to the Gophers in the summer of 2011, then, abruptly de-committed and committed to Vanderbilt.  With all the indecision and drama, locals felt like extras in an episode of Jersey Shore (minus the tanning and hair gel). When the coach who recruited McDonald took a job elsewhere, McDonald de-committed from Vanderbilt and eventually elected to return to the Gophers.

When asked why he decided to return to the maroon and gold, McDonald insisted that it was the perseverance and persistence of the Gophers’ coaching staff that kept him from taking the I94 or I35 out of town this summer.  McDonald’s recruitment is a great example of a shift that has slowly taken place with prep athletes in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.  That shift, a renewed desire to play for and attend the University of Minnesota, can be attributed to Coach Jerry Kill, that leader of young men who is entering his second year as head coach.

For the past ten years, the prep football scene in Minnesota has been an untapped talent pool for charismatic coaches from around the country.  The Jim Tressels and Pete Carrolls of the world supplemented great teams with the top talent from Minnesota.  Perhaps the worst offenders were our cheddar loving neighbors to the East.  The Badgers’ coaches were annually making their trip on I94 to pirate the spoils of Minnesota’s prep scene.  Taking, not only some of Minnesota’s top recruits, but, also sniping the middle tier recruits that are the difference between a losing season and the Dippin Dots Chocolate Sundae Bowl.  And, make no mistake, for the Gophers, that Chocolate Sundae Bowl would be a significant improvement on the efforts of Coach Kill’s predecessor, the “Recruiter” Brew.

Ever the politician, Floridians and Texans took to the Recruiter like Kris Humphries at a Feminists for Life meeting.

A side-by-side comparison of The Recruiter’s “genius” with Coach Kill’s “aw-shucks” approach clearly exemplifies why closing the borders in-state is the foundation of any successful program.  When The Recruiter was hired, he was cast as just that, a recruiting guru from the national champion University of Texas.  This was the recruiter architect that helped build that team.  And, he promised the masses that he would persuade top, prep talent to brave Minnesota’s winters to play for the Gophers.  Unfortunately, while The Recruiter’s focus was in Florida and Texas, places where the University of Minnesota has less pull than Kris Humphries at a Feminists For Life meeting, the Badgers and other Big Ten schools were supplementing their rosters with the spoils that Minnesota had to offer.

When Coach Kill was hired, his first order of business, aside from moving Marquis Grey back to quarterback, was making a month-long trip around the State of Minnesota to meet with the local high school coaches that he no doubt hopes will feed his program for years to come.  Time and again, those high school coaches left luncheons and other coordinated, elbow-bumping shin-digs with the impression that Coach Kill meant business.  He was reshaping the way the Gophers were viewed in the Minnesota prep community.

His efforts took almost immediately and the results have been almost instantaneous.  According to most talent evaluators, Coach Kill has managed to lock down six of the top eight prep recruits in Minnesota, including the top three prep athletes.  If Coach Kill can continue to build on this success, it will not be long until the Gophers field a squad that can compete in the Big Ten’s Legends, or is it Leaders, Division.  Who knows, after Coach Kill has restored order to the border in Minnesota, maybe he can make his way out of state and do his best Recruiter impression in Florida and Texas.  This Gopher fan is just glad the homegrown talent is staying home.

Well, He Is Signed, But What Is Next

"Think of how many ice fishing shacks I can buy with my new deal!!"

In the summer of 1998, many Wolves fans applauded management’s decision to extend the contract for franchise player Kevin Garnett, signing him to a six year, $126 million dollar deal.  It was one of the richest contracts of all time.  However, this deal HAD to get done.  KG was a burgeoning star who was reaching the prime of, what would become, a Hall of Fame career.

The years to follow were a frustrating time in the lives of many Wolves fans.  We watched as a comical parade of failed draft picks, Doodoo Eebee (sp), and free agent signings, Michael “The Candy Man” Olowokandi, masqueraded as a supporting cast for KG.  Oh sure, there were some decent players sprinkled in (think Tom Gugliotta and Tom Gugliotta 2.0: Wally Szcerbiak), but, we never seemed to put that solid supporting cast together.

Fast forward to today.  More than twenty years have gone by and the Wolves were faced with a similar conundrum: potential, superstar forward, Kevin Love, on the brink of his prime, was about to be a restricted free agent.  Again, the Wolves HAD to sign him.  They appeased the mob and Love has reportedly signed a four year, $62 million deal.  Though, the cynic in me (thanks Joe Smith) is already thinking, great, we signed him, but what is next?

Because only perfectly balanced individuals who are great teammates get face tattoos.

I know what you are thinking, “Yeah, but Love’s situation is different.  He has El Pistola.”  True enough.  Love has Ricky Rubio.  Rubio is the transcendent, point guard KG never had.  And yes, I am purposely ignoring the existence of Starbury and his face tattoo.  Rubio is the Stockton to Love’s Malone.  But, Rubio’s circumstances bring the important clause of Love’s deal into sharp relief.

Love’s deal has a player opt-out clause after three years.  That coincides EXACTLY with the expiration of Rubio’s rookie contract.  Trust me, when I realized this, I got that feeling you get, at night, when you are driving (okay, speeding), and you think you see those oh-so-recognizable headlights of a cop in the rearview. At first you rationalize, “I was only going 10 MPH over” and then the panic sets in “Are those flashers or a bike rack??”

Now that the ink has dried on Love’s contract, as a life-long Wolves fan, I am beyond rationalizing and fear.  That opt out clause is nothing but trouble.  I am at full on paranoia.  Here is hoping that the Wolves continue to improve this promising young roster and that it is only one of those annoying, retired patrol cars behind us.

Fresh Prince of Comerica!

As I’m sure you know by now, the offseason of a certain Prince has finally come to an end. Paying a king’s ransom, the Detroit Tigers landed a Prince. In what can only be described as a reactionary move to the loss of Victor Martinez, the Tigers signed Prince Fielder to a 9-year, $214M deal.

What it means for the Tigers -

The loss of Victor Martinez is nothing more than a blip in the record book for the 2012 Detroit Tigers. Sporting the most dangerous 3-4 combo in baseball, the Tigers should have no problem defending its division title. But, after 2012, the Tigers’ outlook is more confusing than trying to convince yourself that Prince is actually vegan. The Tigers will have approximately $57M tied up into three players that play 1B/DH – Prince, Cabrera, and V-Mart. It is going to be very interesting to see how Leyland will handle the logjam. More interesting will be to see if Detroit maintains this level of spending in future years. Verlander is scheduled to make $20M through 2014. His future status with the Tigers is more imperative to their future success than the splashy signings for the offense. Tough decisions will have to be made in the future.

As for the actual baseball aspects of this signing, reports have already surfaced that Prince will play 1st and Cabrera will be 3rd. I think it’s safe to say that both will simply man the position rather than actually playing defense. Unlike football, defense does not win championships – or at least that is what Detroit is hoping. This move is driven exclusively by his bat. As Brewers fans can attest, Prince defines Beast Mode. Something worth monitoring, though, as he moves into a more cavernous ballpark: Prince batted a full .050 points higher at home than on the road last season, and belted 10 more home runs too. In 6 career games at Comerica, he’s batting .174 with one home run. Admittedly, this is a very small sample size, but it’s something worth monitoring.

What it means for the Brewers -

Immediately, and most importantly, Ryan Braun (and his immense levels of testosterone) will not be protected by Prince. Braun will feel the impact of Prince’s loss the most. Undoubtedly, Braun is a stud hitter and will be able to produce without Prince. But, without that protection, Braun is likely to see fewer balls to turn on and drive. It will be important for the Brewers’ success for Braun to adapt quickly (once he’s back from the 50-game suspension that is inevitably coming).

Otherwise, the loss of Fielder may not be as significant as some may think. The Brewers success will be tied to how far Yovan, Greinke, and Marcum (the non-playoffs version) can carry them.  The core of Braun, Hart, Weeks, T-Plush, and the new addition in Aramis Ramirez (assuming he doesn’t continue using his mug as his glove) should still make for a potent offense. As for who mans 1st, rumor has it Hart will supplant Fielder at 1B once Braun returns. The catalyst of Beast Mode will undoubtedly be missed, but the Brewers have anticipated this day for a few seasons and positioned themselves well to remain competitive.

What it means for the Twins -

Those with season tickets in the right field bleachers should be rejoicing at the prospects of finally seeing a few balls come there way. After all, Morneau and Mauer have combined to swat just 5 home runs in two seasons at Target Field (the same number of home runs Jose Bautista has hit in 3 career games). As the saying goes, a bad workman blames his tools. Even though Prince has had a nondescript three career games at Target Field, I’m sure he will make his presence felt against Baker, Blacky, F-Bomb, etc.

The bigger discussion, in my mind, is the stark difference in approach between the Tigers and Twins. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Detroit economy is not exactly thriving. Yet, the Tigers have made big splashes in each of the past several off-seasons, all in efforts to put the most competitive team on the field. Comerica Park opened in 2000, and it hosted the All-Star game in 2005. Ownership is clearly putting its profits back into the team. On the other end of the spectrum, Target Field opened in 2010, and is likely going to host an All-Star game in the next few seasons. The team has two stars (albeit injury-riddled stars) to build around. But, the team has not, and gives no indication that it will, make that splashy move to help put this team over the top. But, at least the Twins got Jamey Carroll!

Interesting food for thought… Prince is averaging $23.78M per year for the nine years on his contract. Mauer is scheduled to make $23M over the next 7 seasons.

One final note -

I think one of the most surprising aspects of this deal is that Prince Fielder chose, on his own volition presumably, to sign with the Detroit Tigers – you know, the same team his father, Cecil, played for from 1990-1996. And the significance of that is that Prince has made no bones about it – he does not have a strong relationship with Cecil and wants to avoid all comparisons to him. By signing with the Tigers, Prince is undoubtedly subjecting himself to continual comparisons to Cecil. How he handles the constant comparisons and questions about his relationship with Cecil will be one of the several interesting stories to follow this season.

Unguardable!!!

Kevin Love’s growth as a scoring threat has elevated him to the ‘elite’ tier of NBA power forwards.  He can step out and shoot the three, while bringing a vast array of interior post moves.  But, what makes Love so difficult to stop is his relentless attitude.  He never stops. Like his Viking counterpart Ten Gallon Allen, he has only one speed.  It is that combination of skill and dogged determination, along with a little Spanish flair, that has made Love and the Wolves the hottest ticket in town.