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: October 2016 (page 1 of 3)

Weekend Sports Recap: Pats, Bruins, UConn, and Revs

weekend-recap-10-24-16

This was a busy weekend for New England sports teams, especially those I am particularly interested in following. Let’s take a look at each game from this weekend.

NFL

Final
New England Patriots 27
Pittsburgh Steelers 16

The New England Patriots overcame some early mistakes to beat Pittsburgh on the road. The Steelers were without Ben Roethlisberger, so resorted to starting Landry Jones. Jones wasn’t terrible for the Steelers and took another step in his development, but didn’t have enough in the 4th quarter to hang with New England and even make an attempt at a comeback. The Steelers defense looked good at times, but Brady found ways to use his plethora of weapons throughout the evening. LeGarrette Blount ran for 127 yards and 2 TDs (74 yards after halftime) against his former team and Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for Gronk’s 68th TD. It was all smiles after the game for Gronk who pointed out to those assembled that his next TD will be his 69th. “One more and I got 69 touchdowns. You know what I mean.”

NHL

Final
Montreal Canadiens 4
Boston Bruins 2

After a 3-1 start for the Bruins and a 3-0-1 start for the Canadiens, the two bitter rivals matched up for the first time this season. Unfortunately for the Bruins, the Canadiens looked like the better team throughout. The Bruins again allowed the first goal and found themselves playing from behind the entire night, down 2-0 and 3-1 in the 2nd and 3rd periods. The Bruins made a lot of mistakes and had some sloppy play throughout the game, which tends to happen when teams have younger talent developing under the bright lights. It’s early, but the Canadiens look strong after a blockbuster off-season trade sending PK Subban to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber. The Canadiens have now won 9 straight in Boston against the Bruins.

College Football

Final
UCF Knights 24
UConn Huskies 16

It was homecoming for UConn on Saturday as they hosted the UCF Knights. The Huskies came into the game at 3-4 and needed a W against the Knights, but looked flat and couldn’t muster anything in the 2nd half leading to their 5th loss of the season. UCF moves above .500 to 4-3 with the win, rebounding from a 1-pt loss to Temple a week prior. UConn travels to Greenville, NC for a matchup with East Carolina next week desperately needing a W to keep bowl hopes alive. The 2-5 East Carolina Pirates are coming off a 12-pt loss to Cincinnati on the road this past weekend.

MLS

Final
New England Revolution 3
Montreal Impact 0

Despite a disappointing season overall (11-14-9), the New England Revolution finished it off with a strong 3-0 win over the Impact at Gillette Stadium. The Revs made a late push for the playoffs, but knew prior to Sunday’s match that their season would be over finishing in 7th place, 1 spot out of the playoffs. With nothing to lose, the Revs played a strong match and got goals from Diego Fagundez, Juan Agudelo, and Kei Kamara. Coach Jay Heaps summed up the season after the game. “It’s disappointing that we waited too long to really find ourselves and express ourselves throughout the last part of the season. Five (wins) out of seven is really good, but we just didn’t do enough.”

Where Has Julian Edelman Gone?

Getty Images

Getty Images

The Patriots picked up their 6th win of the season on Sunday in Pittsburgh and with a Buffalo Bills loss, are in complete control of the AFC East. Despite tremendous success in 2016, one piece of the Pats offense, arguably one of the most important pieces of the last several years, has seen a sharp decline in production. Julian Edelman was previously the #1 target in the passing game, but has been almost invisible during large swaths of games this year and has made only minor contributions. The drop-off in his numbers are significant.

Through 7 games last season, Edelman was the #1 option for Tom Brady and was lighting up defenses across the league. This year, he is a complementary player. Why the drop-off? I have a few thoughts.

Julian Edelman (through 7 games)
2015 2016 Drop-off
Targets 75 54 21
Receptions 52 37 15
Yards 584 321 263
Yards/reception 11.23 8.68 2.55
TD 6 0 6
Catch % 69.3% 68.5% 0.8%

1. Missing his best friend

For the first 4 games of 2016, Edelman was without his best friend, big brother, and idol under center. Edelman is completely and utterly head-over-heals obsessed with Tom Brady, so without him, he is lost. Although it’s somewhat of a joke, there is some serious truth to it as well. In the first 4 games of the season, Edelman was targeted 27 times and in the 3 games since Brady’s return he has been targeted 27 times, a nice increase for JE11. What this doesn’t explain is Edelman’s drop in catch percentage with Brady under center (70.4% with Jacoby Brissett and Jimmy Garoppolo throwing the passes and 66.7% with Brady).

2. Added firepower

The addition of offensive weapons this year has taken opportunities away from Edelman. Any other year, the loss of Rob Gronkowski to injury for any period of time would afford Edelman even more touches, but not in 2016. Martellus Bennett stepped in this year and had 2 100-yard receiving games in the first 4 weeks of the year. Bennett has a 77.1% catch percentage this year and 367 yards and 4 TDs through 7 games. Add the production of James White in the red zone the last few weeks (3 TDs) and that spells trouble for JE11’s stats.

3. Foot injury

Edelman’s foot injury may be hampering his quickness and ability to separate from defenders. Even when he completes the catch, he’s not getting the same type of separation from defenders. Sunday’s game against the Steelers was a great example. Edelman caught 9 of 10 passes, but averaged just 6.67 yards per reception. He would make the catch and then couldn’t create any space to pick up chunks of yards after the catch. He would catch, turn, and go down, rather than make a move and gain at least a few extra yards like he has in the past. If his foot is 100% healthy, then I worry about a loss of quickness, his greatest asset, at age 30.

4. Opposing defenses keying on him

Given how important the quick slant is to the Patriots, many defenses are treating Edelman like a #1 WR hoping to stunt the offense by slowing him down. They are playing more physical with him at the line knowing that the quick patterns are all about timing. Brady loves to get the ball out fast (under 2 seconds as we hear about on every game broadcast) so defenders are keying in on Edelman. That tends to open up opportunities for others, but certainly doesn’t help Edelman break out.


There is a long way to go in the 2016 season and I predict Edelman’s numbers will begin to tick upward after the bye week (week 9). He’ll have a chance for some extra rest and can come into the Pats week 10 matchup with the Seattle Seahawks refreshed. The best news of all for Pats fans: Even with a less-than-ideal Edelman, the team is 6-1 and not showing signs of struggling on offense.

UConn Celebrate Homecoming in Need of a W

Today’s UConn Football game vs USF is important for many reasons. Here are three quick reasons to watch today’s game:
1. It’s UConn’s homecoming, which is an enjoyable time for the UConn community to come and celebrate. Alumni will travel from around the country (CT) to tailgate and drink away some of the bad losses earlier this year. In all seriousness, homecoming adds an extra layer of energy in the stadium and hopefully will help UConn put up a big W. 

2. At 3-4, this is a must win game against a beatable conference opponent. UCF is 3-3 on the season and the Huskies need to win 3 of their last 5 games to be bowl eligible. If they lose today, that task gets much harder and more improbable. 

3. It’s another installment of the UConn created conFLiCT rivalry between the two schools. Nothing better than a 1-sided rivalry artificially created to get your juices flowing! 

UCF at UConn, Noon ET

Don’t Poke The Bear (i.e. Patriots)

AP/Elise Amendola

AP/Elise Amendola

Earlier this week, the Pittsburgh Steelers Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler spoke to the media in advance of their matchup with the Patriots this Sunday. These press conferences happen every week and not much is usually said and not many headlines are made, but this week was a little different. Butler said the Pats do things “on the edge of being legal” and the offense doesn’t “do anything special”. That’s bulletin board material for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Either the comments were a mistake and taken out of context or Butler is an idiot. If you are an opponent of the Patriots, why the hell would you poke the bear?

If there is one thing we know about the Patriots, it is that Belichick and Brady are supremely motivated and passionate people (inwardly in Bill’s case). They are driven each week in the impossible pursuit of perfection and are tough to beat, even with major pieces not on their field. The last thing an opponent of the Patriots can afford is a mad and motivated Belichick and Brady. By making stupid comments about the Pats offense and the way the team plays the game not only won’t unnerve the Pats, it will give them extra motivation to beat the living crap out of the Steelers. Why hand the Pats an extra layer of motivation? It just makes no sense at all.

I don’t know anything about Butler except what I have read this week, so can’t speak to the man’s character, but his tactics are idiotic. If we give him the benefit of the doubt and assume his comments were strategic, I imagine he was trying to call the refs attention to the Pats play with the first comment and their play being on the edge, maybe trying to grab an extra call or two Sunday. The second comment, I assume he thinks it will force Belichick and Josh McDaniels to react by changing up their offensive plan and getting them to play outside their comfort zone. If that’s the strategy, then he is completely oblivious to how the Patriots organization works. All the comments did were encourage the Pats to run up the score and show no mercy if the situation arises.

Despite having a great roster of very talented players, the Steelers are in trouble without QB Ben Roethlisberger. They have enough weapons to keep the game close, but a W would likely mean the Pats made some critical mistakes and gave the Steelers some key opportunities. With these comments Butler made the likelihood of a Steelers upset even more difficult and unlikely. When will people learn not to poke the bear?

Get Buckled in for an Exciting UConn Basketball Season

AP Photo

AP Photo

Last Friday was First Night (formerly midnight madness) on the UConn campus in Storrs, CT. It’s the first day college basketball teams can practice together and begins a month-long stretch of preparation leading to the home opener at Gampel Pavilion on November 11th against Wagner. The Huskies are without Daniel Hamilton (left early for NBA), Shonn Miller, and Sterling Gibbs from last year’s AAC Tournament Championship team, but are poised for great success once again. By my estimation, Kevin Ollie has the best team in the AAC going into this 2016-2017 season.

With Gibbs gone, sophomore Jalen Adams (Roxbury, MA native) will be the starting point guard for the Huskies. He is a smart player who looked more mature than a freshman last season (he also had his share of freshman mistakes). He made some big shots throughout the year (beyond half-court shot in the AAC tourney against Cincinnati to send the game into a 4th OT and eventually to a UConn W) and has shown leadership abilities. He has a much higher ceiling than Gibbs last season and is more of a true point guard who can distribute the ball. If there is one thing UConn is known for (besides championships), it’s producing great guards.

Alongside Adams in the backcourt is freshman Alterique Gilbert. Gilbert is a point guard, but will likely play some shooting guard in this year’s squad with time spent at the point when Adams gets a breather. Having two 6’+ ball handlers playing at the same time, both with quickness to spare, will prove difficult for opponents on both ends of the floor. Both can create their own shots in the lane and will create mismatches on smaller guards defensively. Gilbert was given an ESPN scouting grade of 89 (4-star rating) and was ranked as the 30th best prospect in the class of 2016.

UConn returns senior shot-blocker extraordinaire C Amida Brimah to lock down the paint and can now move senior Rodney Purvis to the small forward slot where his skill set fits the best. The biggest question mark is at the power forward spot. Kentan Facey was solid last year when he could stay out of foul trouble and is returning for his senior season. It will likely be his spot to lose, but with several young, athletic big men sitting on the bench, he will certainly be pushed. The main competition will likely be a pair of freshman Juwan Durham and Mamadou Diarra. They both likely see solid playing time, especially if Facey continues to hack everyone in sight.

Another major roster piece is VCU transfer big man Terry Larrier. At 6’8″ and 192 lbs, he is athletic and can stretch the floor, opening up the lane for Adams and Gilbert. As a sophomore transfer, Larrier has a little more experience than Durham and Diarra, which could prove to be useful in late game situations or if foul trouble becomes an issue. He played in 36 games for VCU his freshman year, sat out last year because of the transfer, but was able to practice with the team. He should have a knowledge advantage on the others and could be a critical piece down the stretch.

Overall, this UConn team appears to be as talented, if not more talented, than last year’s squad. There is a higher ceiling, but more uncertainty given the reliance on young players in the guard spots. If Adams can effectively run the offense and Gilbert is as good as advertised, a deep run in the NCAA tournament is not out of the question. I predict that UConn wins the AAC title this year and makes some noise in the tournament come March.

Vontaze Burfict Will Never Learn

Getty Images

Getty Images

At age 26, the reputation of Cincinnati Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict precedes him. By every definition of the word, he is a dirty player and has been his entire career. Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots is just another example of why Burfict should not be allowed to play in the NFL, especially if player safety is actually a concern for the NFL front office. On two occasions Sunday, Burfict took a shot at a Patriots player that had no impact on the play and with clear intent to harm.

Burfict’s list of on-field NFL transgressions is growing by the day. In 2015, he was fined 4 separate times for violating safety-related rules and began 2016 with a 3 game suspension thanks to a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit on Steelers WR Antonio Brown in last year’s wild card game. Brown was knocked out and didn’t return. That hit and a previous history of ugly hits led to his suspension. Since 2012, Burfict has been fined $204,329 total for issues connected to player safety. His issues run much deeper than just in the NFL. In college at Arizona State Burfict had a rough junior season thanks to countless personal foul penalties and several rumors that he attacked a teammate. There was a good reason his draft stock fell from top 10 to undrafted. He is a talented player, but doesn’t understand the words control or restraint.

On Sunday, Burfict went low and took the legs out from Martellus Bennett away from the play. The pass was downfield to Danny Amendola, not near Bennett, yet he felt compelled to lunge at Bennett’s lower body. Regardless of whether he intended to harm or not, these are the hits the NFL is trying to remove from the game. After review of the tape however, that wasn’t even the worst transgression of the afternoon. During the 4th quarter, LeGarrette Blount plowed through the pile for a 1-yard TD. In the pile up, you can clearly see Burfict intentionally stomp on his legs. There is no question in my mind it was an intentional act.

Every year the NFL changes rules of the game to “protect player safety”. They have continued to increase penalties and restrictions around hits on QBs, limited contact with receivers downfield, and made attempts to limit kickoff returns all in an effort (supposedly) to protect the players. If the intention of the league is to focus on player safety, then something needs to be done about players who repeatedly disregard these rules like Vontaze Burfict. Clearly a 3-game suspension did not change the behavior of Burfict, so stricter penalties need to be enforced before someone gets seriously hurt.

The Silver Lining of No Big XII Expansion

big-12

It was announced yesterday that after months of will-they, won’t-they, the Big XII will not enter a period of expansion. This decision leaves UConn and others out in the cold and stuck in their current conferences. For those who have been following this closely and were excited about the possibility of a conference move, this may seem like a negative for UConn athletics. For me, the longer the process wore on, the more I felt a Big XII move would be better than the AAC, but still not a great fit.

Let’s start with the most obviously reason: football competition. Through 7 games this year, UConn football is 3-4 (1-3 in the AAC). If this UConn team was in the Big XII, there is a real chance they would be a 1-win or no win team at this point in the season. With 1 or no wins, fan support would be at rock bottom and TV ratings would be even lower. They would get a recruiting bump from moving to a more prominent conference, but that impact wouldn’t be visible for at least 3 years after the move. That means another at least 3+ years of terrible football with no bowl appearances and no success. Yes the matchups would be more interesting, but success drives fans and viewership, not matchups.

The second is the obvious challenge from the beginning: travel. Of the 10 teams currently making up the Big XII, 4 are in Texas, 2 are in Kansas, 2 are in Oklahoma, 1 is in Iowa, and 1 is in West Virginia. The closest to UConn, West Virginia, is 524 miles from the Storrs campus and the furthest is Texas Tech at nearly 2,000 miles away. With away games being such great distances from home, the travelling fan base (what limited one there already is) would take a significant hit (especially if the team isn’t going to win many games on the road). Like the competition, this isn’t a deal breaker, but makes the Big XII less than ideal for UConn.

Regardless of whether you loved this potential move or were unsure, it’s now off the table. The AAC appears to be the home for UConn athletics for the near future. If another opportunity arises, I’m sure UConn will be front and center making a case, but so long as football is the main money driver in college athletics, a big move will be relatively hard to come by unless something turns around quickly. Below .500 in a mediocre conference doesn’t do anyone any favors.

Young Talent Showing Early Promise for Bruins

david-pastrnak

Coming into the 2016-2017 season for the Boston Bruins the expectations were mixed with many believing the team did not improve enough this offseason, especially on defense. To make things worse, just before the season started the team announced Patrice Bergeron would miss the beginning part of the season with a lower-body injury. Without Bergeron, it’s realistic to think this team doesn’t have much of a chance to contend, but through 3 games, some young bucks have stepped up and played well leading the Bruins to a 2-1-0 record.

The biggest young star is RW David Pastrnak. In his first 2 years in Boston he showed flashes of great play and offensive ability, but hasn’t been able to consistently produce and stay on the ice for a full NHL schedule. At age 20, this is the year you hope for a breakout and thus far, he is showing his incredible offensive prowess. In just 3 games, he has 4 goals (1st in the league), 2 assists, and is a +7 (1st in the league). It has helped Pastrnak to play on a line with veterans LW Brad Marchand and newly acquired C David Backes. The three on that line have 8 of the Bruins 11 goals and 8 assists total. Not too shabby.

Another important young player for the Bruins is D Brandon Carlo. He was a 2nd round draft pick of the Bruins in 2015 and seemed to be a perfect fit for the organization: a 6’5″ 203lb hard-nosed, physically gifted player with solid puck control and finish. He’s not afraid to get in the dirty areas and as we saw on Monday night, can put the puck in the back of the net. Carlo is at the bottom end of the roster, but his poise and talent early on shows me that he belongs in the NHL. If he continues to grow and develop, it will go a long way in helping to sure up the d-core, which is critical if the Bruins want to contend. Through 3 games, Carlo has 1 goal and 1 assist (+7) and he has seen his ice time steadily increase each game.

Overall, the first road trip of the year was a success. The Bruins took 4 of a possible 6 points and the team was able to produce 11 goals over that span. The Marchand, Backes, Pastrnak line is lighting the world on fire and will lead to some interesting decisions when Bergeron is back (hopefully soon). I know it’s early, but I’m starting to think this Bruins team is better than I thought and at least has the potential to be quite good this year.

UConn Football Comes Up Short in Tampa

Photo from UConnHuskies.com

Photo from UConnHuskies.com

After a slow first half with a solid defensive showing, UConn looked to take back the game in the 3rd quarter against USF on Saturday night in Tampa. In the course of a 2+ minute span, UConn had an interception (Obi Melifonwu) leading to a 70-yard Arkeel Newsome receiving TD and then forced a fumble leading to another Newsome score, this time on the ground. Just like that, in a game that UConn looked flat, they were leading 17-14 in the 2nd half. Unfortunately for Husky fans, that was where the joy and momentum ended.

Despite 4 forced turnovers for UConn, the South Florida Bulls flexed their muscles and re-took the lead on an 8-yard QB run for Quinton Flowers, who was too much to handle for the Huskies. On the day, the South Florida QB was 23 for 37 through the air for 213 yards, 2 TDs and 2 interceptions, which was ok, but it’s what he did on the ground that killed UConn (16 carries for 157 yards and 3 TDs). Historically, mobile and athletic QBs pick apart the UConn defense and Saturday was no exception.

The high-scoring Bulls kept pouring it on and eventually won 42-27, marking the 11th straight game with at least 35 points, 11th straight game with 440+ yards of offense, and the 12th straight game with 200+ rushing yards. They moved to 6-1 on the season, with their only loss coming to powerhouse Florida State. USF looks like a legitimate top-tier team in FBS and they had a real shot at finishing the year with just 1 loss.

On the flip side, there were some positive things for UConn. The defense forced 4 turnovers after having forced just 3 in the first 6 games of the season, a trend they need to see continue in order to get 3 more wins and become bowl eligible. On the offensive side of the ball, Bryant Shirreffs was 22 for 39 passing with 306 yards, 2 TDs and no interceptions. A very strong night for the junior who helped UConn put up 27 points, their highest output of the season. He was looking to pass first most of the night, rather than just tuck and run every single down. When he takes the time and has the blocking, he can find receivers down field for big gains.

In the end, very few people had UConn winning this game on the road against a very powerful offensive team. The final line was -20 for USF, so in that sense, UConn did better than expected and frankly held on longer than I would have thought. There were some encouraging signs going forward for this squad. UConn comes home to play UCF (3-3) next weekend as they look to climb back to .500 on the year.

Repercussions for Red Sox with Mike Hazen’s Departure

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Less than 2 weeks after the quick end to the Red Sox season, there have been a few major headlines regarding management. The first was president Dave Dombrowski announcing manager John Farrell and his entire staff will be welcomed back for the 2017 season just hours after the season ended so abruptly. The 2nd big piece of news involved a departure on Sunday. Red Sox GM Mike Hazen agreed to become the Arizona Diamondbacks GM yesterday, leaving the organization after 11 years. The move makes sense for Hazen and could be great for Arizona, but could leave the Red Sox in a bit of a bind.

After spending years in various scouting and development roles, Hazen spent 4 years as the Red Sox assistant GM before becoming the GM following Ben Cherington’s departure last off-season. After president Dave Dombrowski was hired, it was clear that Hazen was #2 in command despite dropping the assistant off of his title. The move to Arizona gives him a better title (Executive Vice President and GM) and gives the 40-year old more authority than he had in Boston with a basically clean slate. His departure alone isn’t a major issue, but who he might take with him to Arizona may be.

With a vacancy at manager and other front office positions to fill, Hazen will likely be taking a closer look at the people he knows well from his time in Boston. One name that continues to surface is Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo, who Hazen reportedly has a good relationship with. Lovullo made a managerial name for himself after stepping in for John Farrell following a lymphoma diagnosis in August of 2015. He led a bad and struggling team to a 28-20 record to finish the season and seemed to have a great ability to bring the team together and help the younger players develop. For many, he is seen as the heir apparent for Farrell if things go south to begin next season. Many, myself included, believed he would be the manager going into the 2017 season.

Hazen will likely at least interview Lovullo for the Arizona job. It’s certainly not the end of the world if Lovullo leaves for Arizona, but it removes a stable and knowledgeable voice from the dugout, which Farrell desperately needs. Lovullo and Farrell are good friends and having a sounding board for big decisions in Lovullo has been critical to limiting Farrell’s odd in-game mistakes. Also, without Lovullo it will be much harder to cut ties with Farrell in the event of a slow start to 2017, because there isn’t a clear next-in-line to take over.

Whether it is Arizona with Mike Hazen or another team who comes calling, Lovullo will likely have an opportunity to manage in 2017, making the decision to keep Farrell even more costly if he isn’t successful.

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