Of course, that's what it is supposed to be; everyone who has seen even clips of the Pro Bowl know that everything just listed is absolutely untrue. Instead, the game is treated as a joke, a mere distraction in the week before the Super Bowl. And despite what the NFL says, it encourages this - the rules of the game are watered down to maximize safety (understandably), football strategy is discouraged because many defensive schemes and offensive tricks are banned, no player takes it seriously, and so many players reject the invitation it might as well be called the "Replacement-Levels Bowl." That got me thinking...while nobody considers the MLB or NBA All-Star Games to be serious affairs, they are exciting to watch, which the Pro Bowl, frankly, is not; so how can we revolutionize the game to make it exciting once again. After some thinking, I came up with a very bold idea.
A 7-on-7 Flag Football Tournament.
Before you laugh at the idea, think about it for a moment. The Pro Bowl is as absurd as it is because the league wants to minimize the chance of injuries; so instead of pretending it is a real game of football, embrace the absurdity, and do something completely unlike every other sport, something that can quite literally be seen only once a year.
So how would this sort of tournament be structured? Well, for starters, you would need sixteen team captains, eight from each league, with half voted by the fans and half by the players. These players would then be given a list of 250 players (generated by fan vote, players, coaches, and sports writers), and they would hold a draft, where they would each select six players of their choosing, giving you 16 teams of 7 players, all of whom must play both offense and defense. This adds some strategy - picking Peyton Manning, for example, would give you a great QB but a liability on defense, while another player last QBed in high school but still throws a good spiral - while also creating a game that is engaging for fans. Flag football is relatively safe compared to the NFL game, and since it does not require helmets and heavy padding, the game is brought closer to the fans as well; encouraging twitter use and miking up players would also help bring the fans into the games more.
Obviously, to accommodate this 7-on-7 format, some rules would have to be changed. There are only three offensive linemen (one C and two Ts), and the two tackles become eligible receivers after the play has been ongoing for five seconds; a defender lining up over the center must also wait for the center to rise before engaging him, and hard blocks (e.g., pancakes) are unnecessary roughness penalties. The field also should be shrunk to accommodate the number of players, should be only 60 yards to score a touchdown, and the play clock is reduced to 20 seconds. Additionally, a QB cannot run the ball himself except as a read option or draw play, and there must be another player lined up in the backfield with him; a rather arbitrary rule, I know, but it is to designed to prevent QB runs from dominating the game
The most important thing, not surprisingly, is declaring a champion. After the draft, sports analysts create a double-elimination bracket based on how they seed the teams. On tournament day, the games (the length of which vary based on the round, with the championship lasting a full 60 minutes) are played, until two teams are left - an undefeated team, and the winner of the losers' bracket, who then face off the following day in a standard-length game (or two if necessary) to determine the champion. The players would receive a cash prize, as well as a sizable donation to the charity of the team captain's choice.So, this is my proposal to bring some excitement back to the Pro Bowl; what's yours?
Baseball may be America's pastime, but more and more in recent years it has lost fans to football, basketball, and even soccer. They claim that the game is not exciting, that it moves too slowly, that it's too long, that it takes no athletic ability. And while everyone who actually played baseball knows that the last one is a complete lie, they do have a valid point - games in recent years have become increasingly and unnecessarily longer, with the pace of the game slowing to a crawl, and the lengthy season does have its lulls, and it was not until recently that Major League Baseball expressed much of a desire to "get with the times" by implementing instant replay and managerial challenges. Not surprisingly, especially given Bud Selig's retirement and Robert Manfred taking over as the new commissioner of MLB, many people - including many of my fellow SportsBloggers - have thrown around suggestions as to how the league can continue to "modernize."
Judging from that first paragraph, you might think that this is yet another one of those articles asking for radical changes, such as NBA-style realignment, 116-game seasons, or the DH in the National League. But it's not - while I am all for modernizing the sport and taking advantage of new technology, I think baseball needs to avoid becoming too much like other sports, and instead build upon what makes it so unique and so great in the first place. With that in mind, here is my list on how to make the wonderful game of baseball even better:1. Streamline the process for foreign-born players to enter the league. One of baseball's greatest things is that people play it throughout the world, and is especially prominent in Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and Latin America. Right now, it's a real chore for players to enter the league - the posting system makes it near-impossible for the fans to keep track of Japanese and Taiwanese players entering the league - and the international spending pool for Latin American amateurs is, to be honest, too punishing for larger-market teams; yes, the Yankees and Red Sox spent a lot more money than their allotted amount, but they cannot sign any of the even remotely good players next year. And we never hear anything about players from other parts of the world. What I propose is threefold - one posting system with the Far Eastern leagues (which keep the fans in the loop throughout the process), one amateur draft that includes both American and foreign amateurs, and programs designed to spread the game of baseball throughout the world. The idea behind the combined amateur draft is to promote competitive balance among teams by bringing an international draft while also removing the distinction between American and foreign amateurs, instead placing all under the same system.
2. Keep the DH rules as they are. Now this one will be controversial, but hear me out first. The NFL and NBA are split into two difference Conferences, subdivisions of one large league; baseball, on the other hand, has two leagues - the American and National Leagues - which compete together in one league. Two leagues, two different games, symbolized by the DH rule. This one rule difference creates two very different styles in each league - AL games tend to emphasize offense and utilizing matchups with backups and relievers to create the most favorable conditions possible to win, while the NL relies on figuring out the most effective way to minimize how often the pitcher hits; the NL is more pitcher-friendly than the AL; pinch-hitting is more important in the NL, while managing the bullpen is more important in the AL. Two different games - and it is this difference that makes interleague play and the World Series so exciting, because then you have teams having to play a different style than they are built for; the NL teams tend to lack good DHs, AL teams enough quality players off the bench.
3. Punish managers who stall for time to decide whether or not to challenge. One of the most frustratingly time-consuming things in the league this year was when managers would go out to discuss the call, look back to the dugout, and receive a signal from the bench coach regarding the challenge. This is, to be honest, a ridiculous waste of time and is, in my opinion, not in the spirit of the game. If the manager wants to check the replay before challenging, he should have access to it in the dugout and it should be his decision to make; today's technology should easily get him the footage he needs practically as the play unfolds - he should be able to watch it on an iPad or something in the dugout and then throw the challenge flag (or whatever they do) from the dugout, thus eliminating the "let me walk out and chat and wait never mind my team said you were right, good job guys" delays. To enforce it, simply revoke the offending team's challenge and fine the manager. In addition to saving time, the rule would also help separate managers who are good at challenging from those who have better people in a booth upstairs.
4. Make Opening Day something special - maybe a World Series rematch? The NFL makes the first game of every season must-watch television; every other leagues do similar jobs, although to not nearly as popular an extent. But MLB...not really, not at all. Opening Day is either a weekday afternoon, when everybody is either at work or in school, or a Sunday night when Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, and other popular TV shows steal viewers. Let's be honest - the massive amount of games in the season makes it very hard for any non-playoff game to be "must-watch TV," but the league could certainly try, and I personally think the best answer would be to make Opening Day a Saturday-night game between the two teams who played in the World Series - and then never have them play at all the rest of the year, even if they usually do, like the Yankees and Mets. Fewer things could be hyped as much as the ultimate rematch game.
5. Hold annual "oddity games" during Spring Training. Sixty-one years ago, the New York Yankees, New York Giants, and Brooklyn Dodgers played a three-way exhibition game to help support the war effort. Why not have a similar type of game today, except with the Yankees and Mets fielding one roster in a game against the Dodgers and Giants - the showdown of New York teams. While no team would ever have a midseason exhibition game that is not the All-Star Game for fear of injury, doing this in Spring Training would provide a memorable and fun way for teams to spice up typical Spring Training games; since teams would be all but required not to play minor leaguers during the game due to its high profile, the double rosters would allow starters to play the standard half-game and still field an entire team of quality Major Leaguers (or, at least, as quality as the teams playing would be). Is it silly? Absolutely. But so are the Pro Bowl and Slam-Dunk Contests.
6. Allow people to watch other games throughout the country easier. One of football's most awesome features is that it is easy to catch games on TV where your local team is not involved, even if you only have the basic cable channels. But baseball games? Unless you have the right cable package, you might not get any games at all, except for the few that are nationally televised (Saturday afternoon, Sunday/Monday/Wednesday nights). Make MLB Network more readily available, and cheaper too, and televise as many games as possible. And while we're on the subject of watching games, try to play games during the day on holidays during the school year; the holiday doesn't have to be anything big, even just a religious holiday where only some schools have off, but they provide great ways for kids to watch games, both in person and on TV.
I could go on for ages, but in the end this is the core of my proposal - make the game engaging and fun for the fans, by embracing the things about baseball that make it unique among sports, speeding up the pace of the game by limiting unnecessary delays, and most of all, bringing the game to as many people as possible.
Giants fans will be eager to welcome - or rather, welcome back - their new defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, who spent two years as Defensive Coordinator for the Giants during the 2007-2008 seasons.
alisEver since the Perry Fewell was fired last week, many speculated that the Baltimore Ravens defensive back coach was the leading candidate for the position, as his previous Giants years saw two of the top defenses in the league, leading the team to the Super Bowl victory in 2007 and an 11-1 start in 2008 (in fact, many consider 2008 to have been the best Giants team in history, and favorites to repeat as Super Bowl champions if Plaxico Burress had not shot himself in the leg, but that's not an issue for today). Since leaving Big Blue, however, for a Head Coach job with the St. Louis Rams, Spags has seen his career take a nosedive; he was fired after three unsuccessful seasons, then spent 2012 overseeing the mess that was New Orleans during Bountygate, including a defense which gave up the most yards in the history of the game. The last two years, he has served in the Baltimore Ravens organization as a Secondary specialist
Spagnuolo looks to improve on a lackluster Giants defense which was among the league's worst in almost every category last season except for sacks, a statistic which is bloated by a three-game stretch where the Mathias Kiwanuka-less line feasted upon weak offensive lines to sack the QB over 20 times. In contrast to Perry Fewell's "oft and soft" approach, he plays an aggressive defense, making extensive use of cornerback and safety blitzes, and indeed was the inventor of the now-popular pass-rushing NASCAR formation. Unlike Fewell, additionally, he adapts well during games; a little-known fact is that he scrapped his gameplan during Super Bowl XLII after just one drive, recognizing that Tom Brady recognized his blitz packages - as we all know, this worked, as the Giants sacked Brady five times that game and pressured him almost every play. This is the sort of rejuvenation Big Blue's defense needs. Combining his aggressiveness and creativity with the team's depth at cornerback (DRC, Amukamara) should, the plan goes, help bring this once-great D back to its former glory.
The NCAA Football Bowl Games and Playoffs are behind us, the NFL Conference Championship Games and Super Bowl are close upon us, and the height of football games - and game-watching parties - are upon us. What I have noticed recently, however, is that there are a large number of people, including college students, who don't know much of the game of football beyond the names of a few players on their favorite team, what the positions are, and that Peyton Manning is on Papa Johns and Nationwide commercials.
And so we're going to begin today a brief miniseries covering the ins and outs of football strategy in relatively broad strokes. I would like to note now that if you have absolutely zero knowledge of football to the point where words like "linebacker," "line of scrimmage," and "touchdown" have little to no meaning for you, I would like you first to tell me who your high school gym teacher was so they can yelled at, and then head on over to Wikipedia; once you've done that, you should be able to come back here and read; but for the purposes of this article you need at least a working knowledge of the game.
To begin, let's take a look at the most basic unit of football - the men on the field. We'll start with the offense.
The Quarterback (QB): There is probably nobody more important on the team than the QB; originally nothing but a passer, the position has evolved in the last 20-25 years to become the mastermind of the offense, required to read defenses, call audibles, and put the offense in the best position to march down the field and score. Developments at the high school and college levels in recent years have seeped into the pros, leading to an increased number of QBs who are threats in the running game as well, such as Russell Wilson.
Halfbacks (HB) and Fullbacks (FB): Together known as the Running Backs (RB), these are the guys primarily responsible for running the football, as their name might suggest. Generally speaking, the Halfbacks tend to be the primary ballcarriers while the Fullbacks serve as the lead blockers, although in short yardage situations the FB often gets some carries; on passing plays, both may either go out for a pass or serve as a blocker, depending on the particular play and whether or not the defense calls a blitz. Generally speaking, FB are larger and more physical than HB, and thus better blockers; Halfbacks on the other hand come in a variety of sizes and shapes, from large and imposing power backs to small and nimble speed backs.
Wide Receivers (WR): When playing pickup games with friends, just about everybody played WR, because that's just what people did, so I'm not going to go into too much detail here. Like HB, receivers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but they can generally be categorized into three types - Outside Receives, Slot Receivers, and Red-Zone Receivers, and come in two varieties - big-play and possession receivers. Generally speaking, Outside Receivers tend to be taller and faster than Slot Receivers, while the shorter Slot Receivers play on mismatches across the middle; Red-Zone Receivers require height and large hands to catch jump balls on Fade routes in the end zone. Big-play receivers are guys like Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant, guys who need to be double-covered all the time because of their skill, while possession receivers are the guys who are not normally the QB's first read on a play but whose talent are needed to move the chains, advance down the field, and score points.
The Offensive Line (OL): Arguably the least famous every-down guys on the football team but also among the most important, the OL consists of five guys, who are (from left to right) the Left Tackle (LT), Left Guard (LG), Center (C), Right Guard (RG), and Right Tackle (RT). Symmetrical - pretty convenient to remember. And for the most part, just remember to give the unit some credit when the RB has wide open lanes to run through and the QB has all the time in the world to throw; beyond that, nobody expects you to know the ins and outs of their job, and indeed not even many hardcore fans know the names of the linemen on their team, or even what it means when a guard pulls, or things like that. It's not a glamorous job, but someone's got to do it, and these guys do it well.
Tight End (TE): These big fellas are a cross between a Possession Receiver and an Offensive Lineman. Blockers on run plays and some pass plays, these guys are more and more becoming key playmakers in the passing game as major threats across the middle. Big enough to block linemen and hard for defensive backs to take down, Tight Ends are quickly becoming the favorite targets of many QBs across the league, and are especially prominent in West Coast-style offenses (to be covered in a later article).
And with that, we have finished with the offense and now move onto defense. Due to the various defensive schemes and the wildly different personnel used in each, we are going to discuss the defensive players (especially linemen and linebackers) in very broad strokes, as we will expand upon them when we discuss defensive fronts.
Defensive Linemen (DL): Standing opposite the OL, these guys are big and are responsible, along with the linebackers, to stop the run and rush the passer. It looks extremely straightforward to us, but anyone who has played football knows the speed and agility required by these huge men. Line the OL, they come in multiple varieties - Defensive Ends (DE) and Defensive Tackles (DT), the latter of which has a subgroup, the Nose Tackle (NT), used in 3-4 sets.
Linebackers (LB): Just like RB and TE, Linebackers are the jack-of-all-trades on defense. They stop the run; they rush the passer; they drop back in coverage. There's a reason the Middle Linebacker (MLB) is often the "Quarterback" of the Defense, responsible for adjusting the play at the line based on what the offense sends out there. They are typically smaller than DL but larger than cornerbacks and safeties, and are the backbone of the 3-4 defense. Again, these guys who be covered in more detail when we discuss defensive fronts.
Cornerbacks (CB) and Safeties (S): These defensive backs are often some of the smallest guys on the team and whose primary job is to defend the receivers by dropping back in coverage. Oftentimes, these guys will be small but fast, able to keep up with receivers; safeties, as the last line of defense, are also among the best tacklers on the teams. Not much to say about these guys to be honest...And there we have it, that's the general layout of the football team. Next time, we're going to move on to Offensive Philosophies and Defensive Fronts; as of now I'm not sure if that will be one article or two, but in any case, you'll find it right here on River Ave U.
As always happens following the baseball Hall of Fame announcement, there was an uproar of sorts. Not to take away from the accomplishments of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Craig Biggio, all of whom more than deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, but there are many out there who believe Mike Piazza ought to have been voted it (yes, yes he did), or Mike Mussina, or even such controversial players as Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. In response, there are many alternatives ideas out there to reform the balloting, including a binary vote on every eligible player and the use of sabermetrics to make the decision.
While I agree that the ballot system needs reform, I think these proposals are, in short, ridiculous. The fact that you do not vote on every player forces the voters to rank players, at least in their minds. Some might say that this does not matter, and that whether or not a player deserves to be enshrined is a question isolated to that player; but it's not. Players in the Hall of Fame are supposed to be the greatest players of their time, the people who dominated the field when the played; they are supposed to be compared to each other, it is the nature of the Hall! Stats that were amazing years ago are considered league-average today, and vice versa; the vote should be against the players of their era, not those of the past. On the topic of using sabermetrics to make the decision...well, sabermetrics is a useful tool, and should be considered, but it's not perfect. Some of the players it says ought to be in the Hall, in truth, don't deserve it, such as Craig Nettles or Don Mattingly - and coming from a Yankees fan, my saying they don't deserve it reallly means something.
Since I cannot argue against any plans without giving my own, here is the official River Ave U Proposal for the Hall of Fame Ballot Reform:
1. Every Voter can vote for 12 players, ranking each one from 1 to 12; the player ranked at #1 receives 12 points, #2 receives 11, and so on to #12, who receives 1 point. In order to be elected into the Hall, a player must receive 75% of this weighted vote.
2. Every vote must come with a detailed explanation for why the person deserves to be in the Hall, and the voter has the option to also write explanations for why certain people do not receive votes. These explanations do not mean anything official, but rather force the voter to articulate reasons for their votes.
3. After a certain number of players (for example, perhaps four) are elected to the Hall for whom the voter did not cast any votes for, the voter will have his or her right to vote revoked and given to somebody else; this is to prevent people from saying things along the lines of "I will not vote for anybody not named Player X until Player X is voted into the Hall." Nobody likes people like that, they are the reason the system is backlogged.
Such is my plan for reforming the HoF balloting.
Trading the backup catcher for a 27-year-old lefty reliever. Trading a 26-year-old starting pitcher for a 25-year-old shortstop. Resigning Chase Headley. Signing Andrew Miller and letting David Robertson walk, receiving a draft pick. Trading the starting second baseman and a swing starter for a 24-year-old hard-throwing starter, opening up space for two top prospects to battle it out for the 2B job in spring training. Trading a middle reliever for a relief prospect who hasn't yet reached AAA.
That's the Yankees offseason to date, for the most part. But what this means for the team is rather complicated.
For starters, it means the Yankees plan on building this roster as if Alex Rodriguez does not exist, as nobody can be sure how much he can contribute after serving a year suspension and with two bad hips; to the front office, any contribution from him is a bonus. This makes a lot of sense, and if they did not do this, then you would have to seriously question the competence of the Yankees front office.
Most significantly, however, although the Yankees are attempting to compete in the AL East this season, the team is constructed with an eye towards the future. Trading Prado gives the Yankees two youngsters up the middle - third-year Gregorius at short, and either Robert Refsnyder or Jose Pirela (both rookies) at second. The rotation is headed by Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda - two electric youngsters, albeit injury risks. Nathan Eovaldi is a young strikeout machine, and his development will be greatly helped by catcher Brian McCann. Numerous minor leaguer relievers, such as Jacob Lindgren "The Strikeout Factory," wait to break into a bullpen headed by All Star Dellin Betances. Many of these players look to be big parts of the 2015 season, but more importantly, they look to form the team's backbone for years to come.
Scherzer is going to cost a lot of years, and a lot of money - too much for most of baseball, and now that the Yankees have seemingly learned their lesson from too many large contracts over the years, likely even too much for the Yankees. All of which adds to why the Yankees need the right-hander.
The Yankees have holes - a lot of them, in fact. As of now, they're planning on going with a rookie 2B, a 24-year-old SS who can't hit lefties, fragile 1B and RF, and an old DH with two bad hips who hasn't played in over a year. The rotation is filled with a combination of major injury risks and inexperienced back-of-the-rotation starters, and the 'pen, while still strong, is not likely to pick up all the slack it needs to for this team to be a contender. Adding a top-of-the-rotation starter like Scherzer suddenly gives the Yankees a rotation headed by the three-headed-monster of Scherzer, Tanaka, and Pineda, with Ivan Nova returning in May; while injury risks abound here, you cannot build a team based on injuries, you build a team for when it is healthy and stockpile depth for when injuries inevitably take their toll. A strong front three would take the pressure off of guys like David Phelps and Bryan Mitchell, as they would be expected to be #5-type guys, not the backbone of the staff, while also give additional time for possible replacements in the minors to make their presence known (e.g., Luis Severino). Furthermore, the team's strong bullpen should take some of the pressure off of the rotation and hopefully help keep them relatively healthy and fresh as the season drags on.
Right now, the Bronx Bombers project to have one of the worst offenses in the league, barring Comeback Player of the Year seasons from Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira; this is a team built on pitching and defense, at least for the time being. Out of all the players left on the market, Max Scherzer is the only one - and this includes position players - who could have a real impact on this team right now. Simply put, this team is much better with him on it, and it is indeed the only likely scenario where this Yankees team has a shot at playoff contention.For those concerned with another long-term deal handcuffing the team down the road, keep this in mind - by 2017, Mark Teixeira's $22M and Carlos Beltran's $15M will be off the books, and, depending on his left shoulder's health, also Sabathia's $25M, with Brian McCann the following year. Within two years, Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout might be on the market, both likely entering their prime. So long-term, right now at least, this team is in a position to add superstar-level talent down the road, and time between now and then to develop homegrown talent to build around.
This winter has been brutal for Yankees fans. First, the fanbase had to come to grips with the fact that Derek Jeter was no longer a baseball player. To kickoff the winter, Cashman traded popular backup catcher Francisco Cervelli for left-handed reliever Justin Wilson. Then, three of the time's most important players in 2014 - David Robertson, Brandon McCarthy, and Shane Greene - all found themselves in different uniforms within a week. While Shane Greene was traded for a new shortstop, the young Sir Didi Gregarious (yes, he was knighted), Robertson and McCarthy were two fan favorites who followed Robinson Cano's example and departed the Bronx.
Jon Lester, whom many fans wanted the team to pursue, signed with the Cubs. Yankees officials insist they do not intend to sign Max Scherzer, although many sources are skeptical. The only positive news of late, besides that the team has not been quiet on the International free agent market, is that the team is in a strong position to sign Chase Headley. Strong position, not yet signed. Yes, that is the best the team has right now.
So, where do they stand right now? Last year's team went 84-78, good enough for second place in the weak AL East. That, however, is where the closest thing to good news ends. For starters, the team, according to run differential, should have gone 77-85, and both the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox have overhauled their teams and look ready to contend in 2015, the former adding Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin and the latter adding Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, and others. The rest of the division is locked and loaded for the season, with no indications of slowing down; meanwhile, the Yankees have not improved in the slightest.
It looks like the plan for the Yankees is to put Headley at third if possible and use Prado as a superutilityman, although primarily at second; if Headley does not return, Prado will play third and Jose Pirela and top prospect Rob Refsnyder will battle it out for playing time at second. Aging and fragile veterans Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira are expected not only to remain healthy, but also improve on their (relatively disastrous) 2014 campaigns. All this comes in addition to a pitching staff headlined by injury risks Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, and Ivan Nova; should they all remain healthy, this could be one of the best rotations in baseball, especially if Sabathia learns to adapt to his slower fastball than he did the last two seasons. But if there is one thing you cannot count on in baseball, it is health.The 2013 Yankees were a bad team. The 2014 Yankees, despite half a million dollars in investments, did worse. As of now, 2015 is shaping up to be the team's first losing season in many, many years.