Grading The Rookie Quarterbacks*

*Disclaimer: Only the QBs that have started, so that excludes Colin Kaepernick and Jake Locker; I’m also excluding Christian Ponder since he only has one start*

The NFL season has gotten off to a fantastic start, and now that we’re getting to the bye weeks, I thought I’d take the time to look at the performances of the starting rookie quarterbacks so far this season and give them a grade, so without much further ado, here we go:

Andy Dalton: Record: 4-2,  118-189 passing, 62.4 completion percentage, 1,311 yds passing, 7 TDs – 5 INTs, 1 rushing TD, 84.3 QB Rating: Surprise, surprise, the Cincinnati Bengals are 4-2, who would have thought?  Granted, those 4 wins came against Cleveland, Buffalo, Jacksonville, and Indianapolis, but a win is a win.  Averaging 218.5 yards per game, he’s made the transition from college to the pros well, taking full advantage of wide receivers A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson.  Dalton really isn’t going to face his first big test until week 10 when the Bengals host Pittsburgh, until then Cincinnati enjoys a bye week this week and then go on the road to Seattle and Tennessee (so many double consonants).  I’ve yet to see Andy massively implode, and by looking at his stats I’m going to grade Dalton’s performance so far as an A.

 

Blaine Gabbert: Record: 1-4, 64-137 passing, 46.7 completion percentage, 758 yds passing, 4 TDs – 2 INTs, 67.7 QB Rating**:  **Note: stats are based only on games started, and because of that the QB Rating was calculated by hand** So, Blaine Gabbert.  He’s been pretty unimpressive so far this season.  The play calling has kept him on a short leash with him only attempting 23.8 passes per game, as compared to Andy Dalton’s 31.5 attempts per game, and Cam Newton’s 36.0 attempts per game.  Not only are his attempts per game low, his completions per game is also at the bottom of the rookie class at 12.8 completions per game.  The one win that he has this season came from an absolutely dreadful game in which both offenses and quarterbacks were subpar.  Gabbert only completed 9 of 20 passes for 93 yards, while Joe Flacco completed 21 of 38 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown on Monday Night, and after a game like that there’s only room to go upward.  To grade Blaine on his season so far I’d give him a solid C, with room to improve.

 

Cam Newton: Record: 2-5, 152-252 passing, 60.3 completion percentage, 2,103 yds passing, 8 TDs – 9 INTs, 7 Rushing TDs, 82.8 QB Rating:  I believe Cam Newton represents the new wave of quarterbacks that are making their way from the college game to the pros in this day and age.  He has the ability to stand in the pocket in the face of pressure to complete passes, and he also has the ability to leave the pocket and lower his head and gain yards with his feet.  He  made his presence known in Week 1 against the Cardinals in Arizona when he set the air on fire by throwing for 422 yards, and then followed that up with a 432 yard performance at home against Green Bay.  Despite the impressive passing stats, it has seemed that the wins just haven’t been in the cards for Newton.  In the Panthers’ 5 losses this season, they’ve been by an average of 7.2 points, so he’s doing his best, but so far just can’t get quite over the hump.  Besides the passing numbers, Newton has also tied the rookie record for rushing TDs in a season with 7, and has Steve Grogan’s overall season record of 12 rushing TDs in his sights.  There was much talk about whether or not Cam would be successful in the NFL, and I think that he has proven his case.  Newton gets an A.

 

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NLCS Outlook

Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals, it’s a Central Division affair for a spot in the World Series.  I expect great baseball from this series, two teams that know each other very well, and both winning fantastic game five series to punch their ticket forward.  The Cardinals surprised me winning their series against Philadelphia, but the thing that got them through was great pitching and situation hitting.  The Brewers won their series by a little home cooking, cementing their status as the league’s best team at home by winning their three home games to advance against Arizona.  The key for Milwaukee to make their first WS appearance since 1982 is to limit the damage done by Albert Pujols, but to also remember it’s not just about stopping him; batting behind Pujols is Lance Berkman, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, and David Freese in that order, all of which are dangerous.  For the Cardinals, it’s going to be crucial for them to steal a win in Milwaukee, and pitch smartly around this lineup as each batter knows how to hit in crucial situations.  My pick: Milwaukee wins in 7.

Division Series Recap and ALCS Overview

Last week was a fantastic week of baseball, culminating with 3 game fives in the Divisional Series between the Tigers and Yankees, the Diamondbacks and Brewers and the Cardinals and Phillies.  No matter how exciting the Divisional Series were, I still highly dislike best-of-five series because they’re just too short in my opinion (as a fan of an eliminated team).  Last week, I attempted to predict the four series, and before I go into my Championship Series picks, I’ll recap the NLDS and ALDS series.  Read more of this post

Where’d My Shooting Boots Go?!?

Why prolific Championship strikers often fail to step up to the Premier League

Flashback to late 2007: The “David Nugent for England” bandwagon was in full swing. Signing for Portsmouth that summer for six million pounds, he scored in a pair of pre-season matches and suddenly the media was talking him up to be the next big England striker. How ironic, then, that Nugent did receive one call-up to the national team and scored in the match. So what followed this stunning rise? 6 goals in 45 appearances for Portsmouth over the next 3 seasons. He’s back in the Championship, struggling to play regularly for Leicester City.

Let’s look at the stats for a few more “prolific” strikers from the second division.

Jason Scotland (Wigan): Making his name in Scotland (no pun intended) before a move to Swansea City saw him manage a goal every two games, hopes were high that Scotland would help Wigan Athletic become more than perennial relegation candidates. In his one season in the Premier League, he managed just one goal in 32 appearances, and as usual, Wigan narrowly avoided relegation. Now back in the Championship playing for Ipswich Town.

Diomansy Kamara (Portsmouth/West Brom/Fulham): Kamara’s first stint in the EPL came with Portsmouth, where he managed 6 goals in 29 appearances. Followed that up with 2 in 29 for West Brom and 18 in 59 appearances for Fulham. He’s now playing for Celtic in the SPL, which is nearly the equivalent of the Championship these days.

Jermaine Beckford (Everton): Was prolific in League One for Leeds United and announced himself to the world by scoring the only goal in a stunning F.A. Cup upset against Manchester United. Everton took a punt on him last season, and he managed 10 goals in 40 appearances, which doesn’t seem terrible, but most of those goals came at the end of the season. Now in the Championship at Leicester City, where he hasn’t managed a goal yet.

Starting to see the pattern here?

The question is, why is it that strikers who can score for fun in the 2nd division are suddenly out of their depth in the Premier League? After all, many defenders and midfielders make the step up quite nicely (Scott Dann, Adam Johnson, Keith Andrews, and Charlie Adam just to name a few).

1.  The Media. Fans and pundits alike are always quickest to jump on the bandwagon when a striker is doing particularly well. Let’s face it: the sport is about goals, so strikers’ performances are the easiest to judge and when someone stands out, they are thrust into the spotlight. And with the media obsessed with every aspect of footballers’ lives in England, many players who spent their careers in the lower divisions struggle to adjust to the drastic changes. Each game without a goal brings a bit more uncertainty, but guarantees a lot more talk.

2.  Dependency. The majority of Championship strikers who make the step up are usually brought in by either teams who were just promoted or lower mid-table teams in the EPL. These teams often believe they can’t compete with the big boys by playing the standard 4-4-2 formation, choosing instead to go with 4-5-1. With the emphasis on defending, the pressure is turned up even more on the striker, who is on his own up front and is expected to score from the one or two chances he may get in the match (prime example: Jozy Altidore at Hull City). Even the best strikers would struggle with those odds, so a striker not used to the EPL and playing with lesser quality around him can only do so much.

So what are the results of teams often using 4-5-1 with these strikers?

Kamara: Relegated with West Brom.

Altidore: Relegated with Hull City.

Cameron Jerome: Relegated with Birmingham City.

Beckford: Everton’s worst season in years.

Scotland: Nearly relegated with Wigan.

Nugent: Relegated with Portsmouth.

There are exceptions of course, with Kevin Doyle and Steven Fletcher both performing admirably for Wolves. West Brom’s Shane Long has already scored against Manchester United and Chelsea this season, playing on his own up front both times. But these plans are only successful with a quality midfield backing up your striker.

Moral of the story for managers who use 4-5-1: either give your under-pressure striker a partner, or splash a bit more cash on some better quality in the midfield. Swansea City are reaping the benefits of the former, while Norwich City’s midfielders are providing quality service for Steve Morison up front.

Let’s hope the likes of Morison and Jay Bothroyd (QPR) can defy the odds and have successful seasons.

The (Not So) Spectacular Fall of Carlos Tevez

If ever there was a footballer who represents the word “enigma,” it is Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez.  Apparently not content with only one half of Manchester hating him, he has ripped apart the remaining threads of his bond with the City fans who saw him as the club’s talisman (not to mention their captain).

This man’s idiocy, greed, and selfishness know absolutely no bounds. After Sir Alex Ferguson decided to forgo the option of turning Tevez’s loan deal at Manchester United into a permanent one, Tevez immediately crossed over to the Blue side of the city. Sure, United fans were pissed off, but largely they understood he just wanted to play regularly, and since he gave his all for the club, the fans wished him well. The beautiful harmony lasted for all of one week, until Tevez repeatedly used media interviews to take needless verbal shots at Ferguson, who never responded. Ferguson’s reasoning as to why he didn’t sign Tevez? He wasn’t worth the money. How correct you were, Fergie.

After more than a year of failing to get along with Roberto Mancini, whining about too many training sessions, continuously getting pay raises, and voicing his desire to play in Argentina, it still didn’t seem that Tevez was an outcast at City. That is, until this week, when City went to Germany to play their second Champions League group match against powerhouse Bayern Munich.

Tevez, who started on the substitutes’ bench, was told to warm up by Mancini. He did so, but when Mancini took off forward Edin Dzeko, it was defensive midfielder Nigel De Jong who went in instead. A baffling change, to be sure. But just a few minutes later, Mancini told Tevez to warm up again, as he was ready to send him on. Tevez simply refused and remained sitting on the bench for the rest of the match. Four days later:

It is quite incredible how a man (I use the term “man” loosely here) who has been so unhappy managed to do so well last season (he was the EPL’s joint top scorer along with Dimitar Berbatov). He gets paid more money in a week than many people do in five years, and yet he still can’t get his head down and just play? Not to mention, it is hard to understand why he has failed to get along with Mancini. The manager had made Tevez his captain, allowed him time off to visit his family in Argentina, gave him an extended holiday over the summer, and has looked past multiple public displays of dissent, all to try and keep the man happy.

I’ve got the utmost respect for Mancini for the way he has handled Tevez; unfortunately, the selfish take advantage of those who treat them well.

So how should the club handle what is surely the final act of rebellion? Most City fans (hell, most football fans) would love to see Tevez forced to see out the rest of his contract by rotting in the reserves. Mancini’s patience has run out, saying Tevez will never play for the club again. Personally, I think City should (if FIFA allows it) just cancel the rest of his contract and be rid of him. He is like a virus, and viruses must be gotten rid of, otherwise they continue to cause trouble. While I would like to see Tevez rot in the reserves, I would like it even more if he just got the hell out of England. He represents everything that is wrong with the modern footballer; pampered, overpaid, selfish and greedy. Mancini has done everything he could for Tevez. His future has been sealed by the fans, who at this morning’s match were singing songs praising their manager. You are a terrific striker, Carlos Tevez, but you are not worth the hassle.

NL Divisional Series Outlook

As you may or may not remember, there are two leagues in the MLB: The American League which has taken the forefront and has garnered most of the media attention over the past few days, and the National League which begins it’s two divisional series this afternoon.  The NL has four hard hitting teams representing them this year, and I’m going to look into the NLDS and pick the two teams I think will advance.

 

-Arizona Diamondbacks (94-68, NL West Champions) vs. Milwaukee Brewers (96-66, NL Central Champions)

It’s hard to believe that it was ten years ago that a team made a World Series appearance within 5 years of being established as an expansion team, and defeated one of the most well established teams in the league.  That fledgling team was the Arizona Diamondbacks who defeated the Yankees in an emotional and thrilling seven game series.  This year, you can bet that the D-Backs are hoping to make their first WS appearance since that year, but to do that they’re going to have to defeat the Milwaukee Brewers at least once at home, a tough task seeing that the Brewers had a league best 57-24 record at home.  Milwaukee is sending Yovani Gallardo this afternoon, and the Diamondbacks will retaliate with Ian Kennedy, two pitchers who expect to be backed up solidly by their lineups.  The key to this series for both teams is to keep the ball in the yard, as both of these lineups hit the ball hard.  The D-Backs hit Justin Upton, Miguel Montero, and Chris Young 3-4-5 who hit 31, 18, and 20 home runs this year respectively.  The Brewers will hit Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, and Rickie Weeks 3-4-5 who hit 33, 38, and 20 home runs this year; and as an added bonus have Corey Hart leading off , who hit 26 homers.

My pick: This series is going to be a score fest, and I’m picking Milwaukee to outslug the D-Backs in 4.  Bonus: both teams have retractable roofs, so no rain delays in this series.

 

-St. Louis Cardinals (90-72, Wild Card) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (102-60, NL East Champions)

The Phillies have a lot of expectations riding on them in this series, as they look to make their fourth consecutive NL Championship Series appearance in their last five playoff trips.  Going into this season, many people saw them as the team to beat with their “R2C2” pitching rotation (Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels) and that pitching staff certainly did not disappoint.  Philadelphia led the league in pitching with a 3.02 team ERA, and a team 1.17 WHIP.  The Cardinals were a team that struggled to find their stride this season, but picked it up where it counted to make their way into the playoffs on the last day of the season and will hope to carry that momentum with them and make their first NLCS appearance since 2006, the same year they defeated the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.  The Cardinals are going to need for their lineup to keep up the pace that landed them with the 6th best team batting average of .264 against Philadelphia’s rotation to win this series.

My pick: This will be an interesting series to watch, and I’m picking Philadelphia to win this series in 4, if not 3.