Life of a Sportsaholic

This blog is intended to be insight into my life as an irrational, stats-driven, obsessive sports fan in Boston. I am a fan of all types of sports with an emphasis on Boston teams and am a proud UConn alum.

Month: September 2016 (page 1 of 2)

Who Deserves the Most Credit for the 3-0 Patriots?

AP Photo

AP Photo

After what can only be described as an ass-kicking on Thursday night against the Houston Texans, the New England Patriots are 3-0 on the young season. They were without their QB1 and franchise guy Tom Brady and their QB2 and heir-apparent (maybe) Jimmy Garoppolo, so they relied on QB3 and rookie Jacoby Brissett. Even obsessive Pats fans would give the team some leeway if things didn’t go perfectly on a short week, but instead, the Patriots showed the NFL who’s really boss with a 27-0 victory. After 3 weeks, who deserves the most credit for this team’s success? Let’s explore.

First things first, let’s put aside the F U Roger Goodell revenge element of this 3-0 run. It’s absolutely a factor and if you think it’s not, you’re an idiot. Nothing drives Bill Belichick more than being slighted or insulted, so that certainly plays a role, but this argument is about performance, regardless of motivation. Let’s look at and grade the performance of key people on the Patriots roster/coaching staff and perhaps come to a conclusion around who is most responsible for the 3-0 start.

Bill Belichick – A

The buck begins and ends with Bill. He is responsible for all aspects of the play on the field and personnel decisions, so he’s the easiest person to give credit. He has obviously worked hard to build a winning culture in Foxboro and created the “Patriot Way” and “next man up” which is clearly a factor this season. I’m sure he has had a role in both the offensive and defensive gameplans, which is where it gets hard to distinguish how much of the credit is this versus Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia. I have a feeling he gave some direction on an overall feel/approach, but some of the creativity around specific plays and reads is a credit to McDaniels and Patricia.

Josh McDaniels – A

Gameplanning, gameplanning, gameplanning. Adjust to the players on the field and play to their strengths. In that regard, Josh McDaniels has been outstanding in 2016. With Jimmy Garoppolo he adjusted the playbook down a bit from Tom Brady and simplified some of the reads, making it easier for Jimmy G to make the right throws and get the ball out quickly. With Jacoby Brissett, McDaniels cut the playbook back even further, but didn’t get dull and predictable. He was still able to add in some new twists (wildcat, Julian Edelman lining up in the backfield) to keep the defense honest and protect his young QB. He put his offense in a position to succeed, which is the key element of a good gameplan.

Matt Patricia – B

The Patriots defense was good in weeks 1 and 2, but stellar in week 3, bringing Matt Patricia up to a B. The Texans game was a perfect example of adjusting to what the other team is doing. Early on the Patriots secondary was strong and Brock Osweiler kept opting to throw to his check-down options and not deep, so the defense adjusted covering the short throws knowing Osweiler was keen to check down to the short route. Now to be honest, I think it’s as much of a terrible offensive gameplan for the Texans as a good plan for the Patriots (which is why he’s only a B), but give Patricia credit for understanding the situation and putting his guys in the right places to make big plays.

Jimmy Garoppolo/Jacoby Brissett – A-

If you had told me before the season that the combination of Jimmy G and Jacoby B would be 59 for 87 for 691 yards with 4 TDs and 0 interceptions through 3 weeks I would have been more than happy. Well guess what…I’m more than happy. The 2-headed QB monster for the Pats has performed better than even expected. Not because their stats are off the charts, but rather because their stats aren’t off the charts. They have both been great game managers, making smart decisions (for the most part) and not taking too many unnecessary risks. For young QBs, that’s usually the hardest thing to learn. Jimmy G put up better numbers and is clearly closer to being ready to start in the NFL, but the combination of both of them has been excellent.

LeGarrette Blount – A

Who expected LeGarrette Blount to be on this list in the pre-season? Not me. Blount has been more than just a stable force, he has been a strong contributor to the Pats success. By having a balanced offense that is a bit more run-heavy than in the past, it has opened up the passing game and taken significant pressure off the young QBs. For that reason, he belongs on this list and in the conversation for most impactful person. He has carried the ball 75 times for a 298 yards (league leader in both categories) so far in 2016, averaging 4 yards per carry. Those numbers surely won’t continue all season, but for now, he’s an incredibly powerful offensive weapon.

Jamie Collins/Rest of the Defense – B

I think Jamie Collins is actually the best of the defensive group so far. He has 2 interceptions already this year and has been a force all over the field. Collins has just 1 sack, which I was hoping would be a touch higher by this point (nit-picky, I know), but has collected 23 tackles (17 solo) to lead the team. As a team, the defensive line hasn’t gotten a tremendous amount of pressure on opposing QBs, just 5 sacks, but have been good enough to hold opponents down. They have been very good, but could be better, especially with their pass-rush.

Conclusion

It’s a cop-out, but I think it’s a three-way tie. The obvious answers are Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels and their masterful gameplans, emphasis on their gameplans. The reason I can’t separate them on this list is that I have no idea how much say Bill has in the gameplan details on a weekly basis. If he is mostly hands off, then McDaniels has had the biggest impact and is alone atop this analysis, but if Bill is involved more heavily as I suspect he is, than it’s a shared accomplishment.

The third person in this mix is the under-appreciated LeGarrette Blount. He has been the best running back in football through 3 weeks. Let me repeat that: LeGarrette Blount has been statistically the best running back in the NFL through 3 weeks. That statement may be the most shocking of all and one of the best storylines to this point. McDaniels and Belichick can create the most amazing gameplan, but ultimately the players need to execute. If it weren’t for Blount and a strong running game (with some offensive line help as well), the passing game would significantly suffer and we likely would be talking about more mistakes at the QB position and less offensive productivity overall. For that, Blount deserves more credit than he has been given.

Ultimately, I think the duo of Bill and Josh is a special match that doesn’t come around often in football. McDaniels is expected to take another stab at head coaching next year, but I suspect will struggle once again. He thrives in Belichick’s system and calling offensive plays, but when it comes to managing the entire team, I’m not sure the 2nd time around will go any better than his first in Denver (3-9 before being fired in 2010). My wish would be to have McDaniels stick around under Belichick under Brady retires to try and capture the remaining magic of the Belichick/Brady tenure. That would certainly give the Pats a great chance at another super bowl title or two.

A shout-out to my father-in-law Michael for prompting me to think about this. I gave him a gut reaction of Belichick, but then thought a lot more about it and changed my thinking a little.

The Fall Sports Overlap and Overload

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s about this time every year that my head begins to fill will a jumble of sports craziness. Ok, maybe that’s unfair, my head is filled with sports craziness all year long, but this time of year it kicks into overdrive. With professional football beginning to pick up in week 4, professional baseball in the stretch run, and college football in full swing, life is crazy. Then you add the beginning of professional hockey now and professional/college basketball in the next few weeks and my eyes don’t know where to focus. It’s hard enough to keep up with 2 sports running simultaneously, forget 4 or 5. Here’s how I prioritize my limited sports viewing time in order to get the most bang for my buck during a nutty fall of sports.

Baseball

Since the Red Sox are very much in contention, they become the priority viewing experience, weekdays or weekends. Baseball is my true love and with just days left in the regular season and a potential championship contender in town, it has to be the focus. Once the Sox clinch the AL East (magic number is 1) and hopefully lock up the best record in baseball, I’ll have a small breather until the playoffs. Obviously, playoff baseball takes precedent over all else in October.

Also, since this week is the Fantasy Baseball championship for me, that will shift more of my focus away from other sports.

Pro Football/College Football

I limit my football focus to the weekends (unless UConn or the Patriots are playing another day) for now. Saturdays are for college football and Sundays are for pro football. It seems pretty logical, but can be surprisingly difficult to limit myself when both pro and college football are full-time viewing and following experiences. Between injury reports and match-up information, it’s an easy rabbit-hole to get sucked down on weekdays, but I must be strong!

Once the Red Sox season is over (hopefully not for another month+), I will shift the major focus of my attention to football. Since my Fantasy Football teams are terrible (combined 1-5), I may not have to worry too much about the fantasy aspect once baseball is over.

Pro Basketball/Pro Hockey

I know it’s blasphemy to say in Boston, but I’m just not a big NBA fan. I consider myself a periphery Celtics fan and enjoy watching an occasional game and following an interesting storyline, but can’t bring myself to watch on a consistent basis during the regular season. My wife would say that’s a good thing, because I love college basketball and pro hockey, which significantly overlap in seasons (not to mention the serious overlap with football), so I don’t know if I would have the time to avidly follow the Cs even if I wanted to.

The Boston Bruins are a newer passion for me. I grew up outside of Hartford, CT and was a big Whalers fan growing up. When they left Hartford in 1997, I denounced hockey for about a decade in protest. In 2007 when I moved to Boston, I began watching the Bruins and got the hockey itch back. Ever since then, for about 9 years now, I have been an avid hockey fan and a strong Bruins follower. On days when football is not being played and there isn’t a big UConn game (basketball or football), hockey is my major focus.

College Basketball

Being an obsessive UConn sports fan, college basketball season is often a joyous time. I follow the early season games as much as I can, but really start to watch obsessively after the turn of the year. January-April is prime college basketball watching season, with a special focus in early March and into April. Thankfully there are only a handful of earlier season games that are must-watch TV, allowing me to focus on other fall/winter sports until things really pick up. Regardless of what UConn does, the NCAA Tournament is the greatest sports viewing experience of any sport at any time hands down.

There are a smattering of other sports I follow casually during the fall/winter timeline, but everything else is secondary (or thirdary, or fourthdary, or fifthdary).  For right now, discipline and focus are the keys to successfully managing the sports nuttiness that is the fall. Happy watching everybody!

From Fringe Playoff Team to World Series Contender

Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports

Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports

It’s been nothing short of an unreal stretch for the Boston Red Sox over the past few weeks. They are winners of 8 straight, two consecutive 4-game series sweeps against AL East foes the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, and owners of the MLB leading 15-5 record in September. They sit 5.5 games ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays in the division and 7 games up on the Orioles just a few weeks after a 3-way tie for the division was very much in the conversation. How have the Red Sox gone from a fringe team to a legitimate contender? Pitching and a will.

Thus far in September, the Red Sox pitching staff is having their best month of the season. The staff has a ratio of 4 Ks per BB, a .209 opponent batting average and a .598 OPS in September, all significantly better than any other month. Most notably, Red Sox relievers have allowed just a .186 opponent batting average this month, which is excellent. The improvement in the pitching staff has allowed the Red Sox offense to feel less pressure to score in huge bunches and just have smart at-bats. They have now scored exactly 5 runs in 5 consecutive games for the first time in history.

Although the pitching has significantly improved, the offense has also still performed at a very high level. The Red Sox batters are hitting .289 in September with 31 HRs and 119 RBIs thanks to an incredible tear from Hanley Ramirez and the continually impressive hitting of David Ortiz and Mookie Betts. It’s more than just the offensive firepower however, there is a certain intangible quality that all great teams have: a will to win.

Until September, the will to win appeared only on occasion and in spurts, but now it feels like this team will have a chance to win every game, every day. Teammates support each other and lift each other after a bad inning or a bad defensive play and celebrate together after a big win. They have each others backs and appear to believe in their ability to make a serious postseason run now, something that was missing just a short month or so ago. A streaking team is often even more dangerous that the consistently great team.

Don’t look now, but the Red Sox seem to be peaking at just the right time.

Somewhere Goodell is Crying in a Corner

roger-goodell

No Brady, No Garoppolo, No problem. Despite every effort from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to screw the Patriots in 2016, they sit at 3-0 on the season after an absolute shellacking of the Houston Texans last night 27-0. With his QB1 (Tom Brady) suspended and QB2 (Jimmy Garoppolo) out with an AC sprain,  Bill Belichick handed the ball to his QB3 on a short week, rookie Jacoby Brissett for his first career start. It’s only logical to think that with Brissett as your starter and a short week to prepare against the likes of Vince Wilfork and J.J. Watt, it could be a rough game, but the F.U. Roger Goodell tour continued.

The Patriots defense was phenomenal on Thursday night and absolutely shut down the 2-headed receiving monster of the Texans in DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. They stuffed the run and finally looked like the shutdown defense we had been hearing all about during training camp. Not to take away from the defensive performance, but Andover, MA native and Texans Head Coach Bill O’Brien‘s gameplan was bad. His play-calling was conservative (running on 3rd and long) and his game management was odd at times (taking timeouts before the half when the Patriots had the ball), almost as if the spot-light was too bright for him.

Now there is just 1 more game before Brady gets his chance to wave 2 giant middle-fingers at Goodell from the field and not his couch. You know he’s at home hoping for a 4-0 start so he can come back week 5 in search of a perfect season and a chance to take the handoff of the Lombardi Trophy from Goodell. Now that would be the ultimate nightmare for the commissioner and the greatest F.U. the NFL has ever seen.

Red Sox Put Yankees on Life Support

AP/Michael Dwyer

AP/Michael Dwyer

Heading into the 4-game weekend set with the New York Yankees, the Red Sox were hanging on to a 1 game lead in the AL East. Toronto was just another game further back and the surging Yankees were 4 back in the division and just 2 back in the wild card. Just 4 games later, the Yankees chance of making the postseason has dropped to 1.7% and the Yankees are 8 games back in the division (4 in the wild card) thanks to a hugely important sweep at the hands of the Red Sox.

There are few things I enjoy more than watching the Red Sox put another nail in the Yankees coffin (actually 4 nails). Even though the rivalry has gotten quite stale and boring over the past few years, the hate is still there for at least some portion of fans and a late season series that has a serious impact on the postseason is always fun. Watching the Red Sox comeback on multiple occasions in the series, including an epic 5-run 9th inning surge on Thursday night, made me a bit more confident in this team’s future.

There are 13 games to play in the regular season, including a crucial 4-game set with the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards starting tonight. A 3-game division lead is a nice cushion, but can be erased easily with so many head-to-head matchups. Momentum is on the Red Sox side thanks to their biggest rival…now what can the Red Sox do with it?

The Rollercoaster Ride of Hanley Ramirez

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

If you watched zero Red Sox baseball in 2016 and just looked at the stat line for Hanley Ramirez you would think he has had a very strong campaign, and he has. He’s hitting .286 with 26 HRs and 102 RBIs and as of late, has been a big contributor in the middle of the Red Sox lineup. The piece you would be missing are the stretches of time when Hanley is basically non-existent. His rollercoaster season has seen him go through massive power droughts followed by impressive and unreal spans filled with game-changing hits. Thankfully for the Red Sox, he’s hot when they need him the most.

In 14 games in September, Hanley has 7 HRs, 18 RBIs and is hitting .308. He has been a catalyst for the offense and  is looking like a younger version of himself at times. His strength and power is impressive to watch when he is feeling good and there are very few players in baseball that give the ball a ride like Hanley. It’s as if his bat explodes on the ball when he makes contact, leading to some of the sharpest line-drives you’ll see anywhere. When he is fully engaged and gets hot, it’s fun to watch, even at 1st base.

On the flip side, when he gets into funks or his attitude shifts, it can be painful to watch. It’s been more contained this year, but like Mike Napoli in his Red Sox days, when it’s going good, it’s must watch TV, but when it’s bad, it’s ugly. He Ks significantly less than Napoli, but is equally forgettable when not feeling it. Way too many swings and misses and balls hit with not much mustard.

Given his history, this stretch is likely not terribly long-lived, but if it helps the Red Sox secure a playoff spot, then fans in Boston will have nothing to complain about. Compared to last season’s mess, Hanley has made an unreal comeback in 2016. If the streak turns out to be more sustainable for the final few weeks and into October, watch out for the Red Sox this postseason.

GAME DAY

uconn-football-game-day-vs-virginia

UConn vs. Virginia
1:30pm ET on SN

Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field, East Hartford, Connecticut

Crazy Series Finale Grows Red Sox AL East Lead

Peter Power/The Canadian Press via AP

Peter Power/The Canadian Press via AP

As a football fan it’s easy to get caught up in the early season rush and in many years past, with the Red Sox virtually eliminated by now, the attention shift was easy. Not this year. This weekend was even more important for the Red Sox than the Patriots (and college football) given the outrageously close playoff race in the AL. Entering the weekend series against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Red Sox were 1 game ahead of the Jays in the standings, 2 games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles and just 4 games ahead of the surging New York Yankees. After Sunday’s crazy, but huge 11-8 victory over the Jays, the Red Sox have built a 2 game lead in the AL East, their largest division lead since May 31st (3 games ahead). With 20 games to go, it’s still a 4-way divisional race.

Sunday’s finale was a must win for both the Jays and the Red Sox. The Jays were 1 game back of the Red Sox and a W would have tied them atop the league. The game played like each team was desperate, once one team scored, the other would come back with a rally of their own. The game was 1-1 after 1, then Jackie Bradley Jr. hit a 3-run bomb in the 2nd inning to give the Red Sox a 4-1 lead. The bottom of the 3rd was Toronto’s chance to respond, getting 5 runs off of Clay Buchholz (how many times have I typed that line?) to take a 6-4 lead. The Red Sox tied it up in the top of the 4th, only to lose the lead again in the bottom of the inning on Edwin Encarnacion‘s 2nd HR of the game.

After grabbing a run back in the 5th inning, Brock Holt inexplicably tried to steal home with 2 outs in a 1 run game and gets caught leaving the game 8-7. File that in the head-scratcher category. Never fear Red Sox fans, David Ortiz is here for the rescue, hitting a 3-run HR to give the Red Sox the lead for good. They tacked on 1 more in the 7th to make it an incredibly important 11-8 wild win. That was a precursor to a day of close, but important wins in New England!

According to the ESPN calculation, the Red Sox now have an 93.4% chance of making the playoffs, which was hard to imagine a few weeks ago. The Jays have dropped to 74.5%, the Orioles at 56.7% and the Yankees still hanging in at 13.5%. All 4 teams are still within 4 games of the division lead and the Jays and Orioles are currently 2 games ahead of the Detroit Tigers and Yankees for the 2 wild card spots. There is a real chance 3 AL East teams make the postseason in 2016, but with dozens of divisional games remaining, who knows.

Huge Patriots W in Jimmy Garoppolo’s Debut

David Kadlubowski/AZ Central Sports

David Kadlubowski/AZ Central Sports

Going into Sunday night’s season opener for the New England Patriots my mind was racing with excitement and preparing for disappointment. Football season is here, but the Cards (get it?) were certainly stacked against the Pats in week 1. We all know the situation: the Pats are without Tom Brady until week 5, so this is Jimmy Garoppolo‘s team. Frankly though, that was the least of my concerns entering Sunday. The inactive status of offensive lineman Nate Soldier and TE Rob Gronkowski finally pushed me to expect a sizable loss to the Arizona Cardinals. You can’t expect a young QB making his first start to be successful without a very important veteran offensive lineman and arguably the best pass catching target in the league (forget all the other suspensions and injuries), right?

Overall, this was a massive W for the New England Patriots. This has the potential to be a very special team when everyone is healthy/no longer suspended. To win on the road against one of the best teams in football week 1 without countless important players is a testament to Bill Belichick and the heart of this team. I was excited for football before Sunday night, but after that performance (and a little help from the football gods) I’m pumped for the remaining 15+ games.

Performance Rating 

Every week I’ll pull out a few individuals and rate their performance.

Jimmy Garoppolo – A

In his first NFL start he went 24-33 with 264 yards and 1 TD. It wasn’t perfect and there were moments that scared me a little, but how can you fault Jimmy G for that performance overall. He set the bar high, now can he continue to shine?

LeGarrette Blount – B+

It wasn’t an amazing performance from Blount, but just what the Patriots needed. He carried the ball 22 times and racked up 70 yards and a TD. It was just enough to keep the defense honest and opened up the passing game a little for Jimmy G. Solid performance from the big man.

Julian Edelman – B

After being involved in almost every play in the first half, Edelman disappeared a bit for stretches of the game. Overall, 3 rushes for 16 yards and 7 catches for 66 yards clearly showed his chemistry with Jimmy G early, which allowed the offense to settle in and just play football.

Devin McCourty – A-

Leading the team with 8 solo tackles and 1 assisted, McCourty made is presence felt on defense. All of last season he had just 1 game with 9 tackles, making his opening night performance even more impressive. He looked like the stable veteran in the secondary and is continuing to develop into a great safety.

Chris Jones – B+

In his Patriots debut, Jones got his first sack and 3 tackles. He frequently got pressure on QB Carson Palmer and looked like a force on the defensive line. The new #95 fit in nicely week 1.

Next up

Home Opener

Patriots vs. Dolphins – 1:00pm, Sunday, Sept. 18th at Gillette Stadium

Clock Mismanagement Overshadows Great Performance for UConn

Tommy Gilligan/USA Today Sports

Tommy Gilligan/USA Today Sports

Everyone will remember the final drive from Saturday’s UConn vs. Navy football game as a blown opportunity. In a game that seemed like a sure-fire loss for UConn, on the road against a very good Navy team, UConn had a chance to win with seconds left on the clock. Down 4 points with 3 minutes to go, UConn went on an impressive 10 play, 79-yard drive and put themselves in a situation to win the game. The only problem? They needed 80 yards, not 79. When the clock turned to 0s, the scoreboard showed a 28-24 loss for UConn, but it was truly a game of inches (and clock mismanagement).

The late game clock mismanagement is on Bob Diaco and he has to improve if this program is going to take the next step in development, but you can read more about that elsewhere. As frustrating as it was to lose when the W was so close, I want to focus on the players and their incredible performance to even be in the game down the stretch. Down 21-0 in the 2nd quarter, this game could have easily been a 2+ touchdown loss like we have seen a lot of in past years, but the UConn Huskies showed heart and passion and roared back. Their 10 play, 80-yard drive late in the 2nd quarter that ended with a 34-yard TD throw to Noel Thomas began to swing momentum.

Early in the 3rd quarter RB Ron Johnson finished a 10 play, 60-yard drive with a punishing 3-yard run and in the blink of an eye, UConn was within 1 score. Just when it looked like Navy was going to score and maybe swing back the momentum on a big drive late in the 3rd quarter, there was a massive turn of events when DT Mikal Myers forced the ball loose from Navy RB Chris High and CB Jamar Summers scooped the ball and ran 86-yards for the game-tying TD. Everyone, Navy and UConn fans alike, were in shock after that play and couldn’t believe the game was tied going into the 4th quarter.

UConn took the lead on a Bobby Puyol 38-yard field goal, before Navy ultimately scored the game-winning TD with 3:08 to play. QB Bryant Shirreffs played well on Saturday, completing 23 of his 26 passes with a TD and rushing for 45 yards in 13 attempts (not including the 13-yard loss on a sack). The defensive struggled with the option run game in the first half, but locked-in during the 2nd half, allowing just 1 score to keep the game within reach at the end. Overall, a commendable performance and a huge improvement over week 1’s squeaker win over Maine.

Play of the Game

Diaco dialed up some trickery in the 3rd quarter when TE and former QB Tyler Davis had a massive 25-yard throw on his 1 attempt to fellow TE Alec Bloom on a 4th and 4. It kept the drive alive and led to the Huskies’ 2nd TD.

Next up

UConn (1-1) vs. Virginia (0-2) – 1:30pm on Saturday, Sept. 17th

Virginia has losses at home against Richmond (37-20) and at Oregon (44-26) so far in this early season.

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