Tag Archives: Carolina Panthers

Wine at the Super Bowl and other thoughts on the game

28 Feb

In the lead up to Super Bowl 50 there were a number of articles about all of the great wines that you would find at Super Bowl 50 http://tinyurl.com/jququku  http://tinyurl.com/gvbk6cl .  As part of my dedication to making this the best blog that covers both wine & football.  I figured that I had better check it out.  A friend of mine who works for the NFL was able to hook me up with a ticket to the game & to the tailgate party.  He also arranged for me to ride to Santa Clara from the Hilton Union Square on the NFL friends & family bus.  Here are my random thoughts on the game & the game day experience.

Ready to start the big day, I got up at 5 AM to head to San Francisco.  I was really worried that traffic would be crazy on the Bay Bridge.  It turns out that even on Super Bowl Sunday, Sunday morning traffic is pretty light.  I was able to park at the parking garage with plenty of time to spare.

I met my friend at the Hilton Union Square just before he went to work at the game.  Then an hour or so later, his wife & her uncle & I hopped on the NFL friends & family bus to the stadium.  That is definitely the waIMG_3212y to get to the game.  It beat the heck out of driving to Santa Clara & paying $250 to park at the stadium. rings

At the stadium we milled around for a bit & looked at the stadium & the huge images of all of the Super Bowl championship rings.  Then they opened up the Tailgate party.

 

tailgateThe great wine that they were talking about was not at the NFL’s Official Tailgate party.  The tailgate was a huge event in a large building at the site that was divided into 3 rooms.  There were 50 different food sections serving mostly cold or lukewarm food.  There were also a number of bars that had beer & wine & a few that had spirits or one specific mixed drink.  There were only 2 wines available.  The first was a generic California Chardonnay.  I looked at my pictures from the event & can’t identify the label.  It was everything negative about California Chardonnay.  It had plenty of buttery diacetyl, layered with oak and tropical fruit.  I made it through about half the glass & then ditched it.  The red wine was a Freemark Abbey Super Bowl 50 red blend.  It was a decent red, but nothing special.  I noticed that it is available now for $99.  There are probably worse Super Bowl souvenirs that you could spend your money on, but I wouldn’t buy it thinking it was $100 worth of Napa juice.  I switched over to Jameson’s, which didn’t have a special Super Bowl package, but still tasted great.

sam hunt 2 sam huntThere was music in all three rooms.  In the center room for the tailgate party there was a large stage.  Two different acts played on that stage.  The stages at the end of each of the other rooms had cover bands (although at one point they had a dance group of young cheerleaders up there).  The center stage was for bigger acts.  The first person up was Sam Hunt.  For those who aren’t familiar with him, he is a country singer who played football in college.  He signed with MCA Nashville when pro-football didn’t work out for him.  Since then he has been nominated for CMA awards & Grammys, so I guess it worked out well for him.  Despite my love of country music, I’m not a fan of his work.  I did kind of like his cover of Love the Way You Lie by Rhianna & Eminem.  There wasn’t much of a crowd for his performance.  It was relatively early in the day, so that probably explained it.  The good news for fans was that you could pretty much walk up to the stage.

The second act to perform on the large stage was Seal.  Seaseall has been around quite a while & has sold over 30 million albums.  He had a larger crowd.  Part of that was because he is probably a bigger star & part of it was because the place was filling up by that point.  Seal did some covers & did some of his own songs & the reaction seemed to be pretty good.

The tailgate wrapped up about an hour before the game was set to start.  I headed off to find my seat.  That also gave me time to check out some of the things at the stadium.  They had some interactive games to play.  They also had tons of concession stands with food & souvenirs.  Since this was California, they even had vegan hot dogs.vegan dogs  The lines were long.  If you wanted something to drink though, you could just order it from your phone & have it delivered to your seat.  That was pretty cool, although $7 for a coke & $13 for a Bud Light was kind of crazy.  I passed on all of it though since I had enough at the tailgate party.

I watched the introduction of the former Super Bowl MVPs.  It was actually pretty hard to see them since I was pretty high up & they didn’t have them really in a featured location.  It was cool though.  I know that there were people who booed Tom Brady, but the section I was in had mostly Panther fans & a few Patriot fans, so we all cheered wildly for Brady.  I know that the boos were a story for a couple of days, but I think it was just some of the Broncos fans.

I was really impressed by the Broncos first drive.  Even though it ended with just a field goal, it looked like their offense was on track.  It turned out that was completely wrong.  Denver put up some of the worst numbers for an offense in Super Bowl history…especially for a winning team.first drive

The defenses for both teams were impressive, although poor quarterback play & some unimaginative play calling for the Panthers made them look even better than they actually were.

I should talk more about the game, but anyone who cares about it already knows what happened.  The Panthers had special teams issues & gave up weird fluke plays & Denver made enough out of them to win by 10.  I did have a few more thoughts on the first half.

Wow!  That punt return was weird.  I thought that Carolina might get a penalty for not allowing the returner room to make the catch.  Instead, Jordan Norwood ran the ball back 61 yards.  It looked like Carolina pulled up & didn’t go for the tackle at the point he caught it.  If they had tried, perhaps they would have gotten a penalty, but a 15 yarder would have been worth it.  Instead, it took a bit for them to really pursue.  They caught him, but it was still a record punt return.  That was the second worst example of the game of freezing in the moment instead of playing instinctively.

I was actually surprised that 61 yards was the record.  You would have thought that in 50 years someone would have taken one to the house from the end zone.

Owen Daniels had a solid game considering the quality of the quarterback play.  I always liked him with the Texans & following Gary Kubiak from job to job has turned ohalftimeut well for him.  I think that both the Texans & Ravens could have used him last year.  Instead, he gets a championship ring.

The end of the half was indicative of the way the game went in general.  The Panthers squandered multiple opportunities to put points on the board.  The Broncos made great plays on defense & special teams & put points on the board despite their pathetic offense.

Thoughts on half-time.

It was kind of funny watching the groups of women (& a few men) released to run out to be the crowd for halftime.  They did 4 groups.  Each group sprinted for their corner to get the best view.

Those of us at the stadium watched part of the half time show through a slit in the cards we held up.  I think we did an excellent job of holding up our cards.  They talked to us at every commercial break about being in our seats for the half time performance & coached us on how to hold up a card with one color on one side & another color on the other.  I guess they figured that we were really stupid or really drunk.  There was probably some truth to that for some of the crowd.

I think Coldplay really blew their opportunity.  Instead of taking the opportunity of the half time show & running with it, they turned over most of the performance to Beyonce & Bruno Mars, so they ended up as a supporting act in what should have been their big performance.  Usually after the game there are people talking about the half time performance for better or worse.  This time, people talked about Beyonce & Bruno Mars, but Coldplay vanished into the background.  They probably should have talked to Katy Perry or Prince in advance.

Second half thoughts

Ron Rivera & his coaching staff didn’t seem to make many adjustments to the offense at half time.  I was really expecting them to bring in another back to chip the pass rush & be available for screens.  At least I thought that they would stop the dive up the middle on 1st down.  I was wrong there.  A guy in the row behind me said something along the lines of “If they run into the middle for 1 yard again on first down I’m god damn leaving!”  They did & he didn’t.  I felt his pain though.

Up until Newton’s fumble in the 4th quarter, I felt like the Panthers were a play away from winning the game.  I kept expecting a broken play with Newton getting away & running for a score.  Once he fumbled, it was over.  Even the Broncos offense was going to be able to get 4 yards & make it a 2 score game with not much time left.fumble

There has been a lot said & written about whether or not Newton should have dived on the fumble.   Watching the replay, you can sort of see why he didn’t go for it.  At the time though, it really looked like he stepped back from it instead of trying to save their chance at winning.  In real time, it took so long that all of the Panthers fans were yelling at him to fall on it.  It just seemed to take forever.

I headed for the bus after that.  I have rooted against Manning for too long to watch him hoist the Lombardi trophy as if he had done much to win it.  Trent Dilfer has always been held up as the example of a quarterback who got a ring despite playing badly in the Super Bowl.  In Super Bowl XXXV, Dilfer only completed 12 of 25 for 153 yards and 1 touchdown, with no interceptions.  Manning was 14 of 23 for 141 yards, no touchdowns, 2 fumbles, & an interceptions.  He was lucky that he only threw 1 interception.

Post game

The staff was awesome throughout the event.  They were helpful in getting back to the bus.  Everyone I passed thanked me for coming to the game & wished me a good evening.  It was really impressive.

I passed the set up outside the stadium where Steve Mariucci & Kurt Warner were doing the post-game show.  I was surprised it was as far outside as it was, but I guess they had to get it up & running right away.postgame

The bus back to the hotel was great.  It saved a bunch of time & I was happy someone else was driving through the traffic.

I picked up my car from the parking garage.  Their posted sign said $28 for all day parking, but in the spirit of the Super Bowl, they charged me $45 anyway.

The drive home was easy.  I don’t think I have ever had such an easy time getting out of San Francisco.  Apparently the best time to get to the Bay Bridge is right after a Super Bowl is held in Santa Clara.  It isn’t a situation that comes up too frequently, but now I know.

There was a lot of talk before & after the game about whether race played a role in the perception of Cam Newton.  I thought his widely quoted comment “I’m an African-American quarterback that may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing that they can compare me to.”  was full of crap.  Newton may have some abilities that make him different from other quarterbacks, but to pretend that people are racist because they have never seen an African-American quarterback in the Super Bowl, or haven’t seen an athletic quarterback is ludicrous.  The previous 2 Super Bowls featured Russell Wilson, who is an athletic African -American quarterback.  The first African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl was Doug Williams back in 1988.  There is plenty of racism out there.  There is no need to make it up.  In fact, if you are looking for racism, it is probably easier to find it in the post game coverage of the Broncos.  Von Miller was named the MVP, which made sense.  He was a dominant player on the field. He & Malik Jackson essentially won the game for the Broncos.  Unfortunately most of the post-game coverage  seemed to go to Peyton Manning.  I know it was mostly because he will probably retire & he is going out a winner, but in the immediate aftermath of the game, it seemed like way too much of the coverage was about the guy who did the least to help the team win. Miller got some TV appearances later & he & Jackson will both get huge paychecks, so that probably makes up for it.

Overall, I had a good time going to the Super Bowl.  It is definitely something that I wish every football fan could do at some point.

 

 

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Three questions for the wine industry & three questions for each NFL team for the new season

4 Sep

harvest  We are heading into fall!  That means the grape harvest is beginning & football is back!  The new seasons are full of opportunity.  They  are also full of questions.  I have put together three questions about the wine industry going into the fall.  I have also come up with 3 questions for each NFL team as we begin the season.

Three wine questions

  • How long will the drought last in California & will it necessitate permanent changes?

The USDA now says that 60% of California is in “exceptional drought”, while the rest of the state is either classified as being in “drought” or “extreme drought.”  Wines & Vines reported that the University of California at Davis found the current drought is “responsible for the greatest loss of water for agriculture in history.”  They found that the total economic impact to the state was $2.2 billion so far.  Nearly 430,000 acres of the state’s irrigated cropland is going out of production.  If things don’t change, that will be disastrous for America’s food supply & for the wine industry.

Some people in the Central Valley are pulling out 50 year old avocado & citrus trees because of the drought & are planting grapes instead because they use less water.  It is a weird story to watch unfold.

  • What will China’s impact on the wine industry be over the next few years? The working theory for the last few years has been that the Chinese marketing is going to become a behemoth, especially for high end reds. More recently the Chinese government has cracked down on ostentatious displays of wealth, which has tamped down the sale of wine significantly.  In the long term, there are plans to plant so many vineyards in China that they should pass the United States in vineyard acreage.
  • Will the combination of big brands & big retailers doom the industry? Over the last decade the big wine companies have gotten much bigger.  At the same time, the bigger retailer shave gotten much bigger & more influential.  As a result, a very small number of people now determine an inordinate amount of the shelf space at retailers across the country.  I can think of at least one example where someone who doesn’t drink wine at all buys wine for a chain of over 50 stores.  Is that someone who will find you the next cool wine to try?   There will always be innovative wineries making great wine.  The question is how much of it will we see on the shelves & at restaurants?  I sometimes get depressed when I go to a restaurant or a grocery store & see the available wines.  Of course I get excited when I go to a winery I haven’t visited & discover an amazing new wine.  I just hope that the guys making innovative wine will be able to get it in front of an audience.

3 General things I hope for this year in the NFL

  • I would love to go a year without a key player being lost for the season because the opponent goes for his knees instead of a form tackle. It is a cheap shot & anyone who thinks that you can’t make legal tackles without going low is just wrong & probably a little scared of trying.
  • It would be nice to go a year without hearing a commentator say a variation of the phrase “when you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one.” It is a common saying.  I did a Google search & got 62,000,000 matches for it.  We will probably hear it a lot this year about teams like the Browns, Vikings, Jaguars, Raiders etc.  The reality is that the Packers weren’t hampered by having Brett Favre & Aaron Rodgers.  The 49ers were all right having Joe Montana & Steve Young.  Danny White was no Roger Staubach, but it sure was good having him as the back-up & successor for Staubach.  Having Tom Brady on the bench when Drew Bledsoe went down may have been the best thing to ever happen to the New England Patriots.  Having 1 great quarterback & no one behind him leads to problems like Green Bay had last year without Aaron Rodgers, or the debacle in Indianapolis when Manning was hurt, or the Dolphins have had since Dan Marino retired.  Smart teams need a really good back-up quarterback and a plan for the future.
  • I would like to go through the rest of the year & have All of the news be football related & not have 1 player get arrested for drunken driving or spousal abuse or any of the myriad other crimes that have seemingly flooded the NFL this off season. Take out your aggressions on the field in a legal manner & use some of the millions of dollars you get paid to call for a limo service.

3 Questions for every NFL team this year

Arizona Cardinals

  • Can they maintain their momentum from last year?

They won 7 of their last 9 games  last year & just missed the playoffs.  They have had a number of changes during the offseason & it will be interesting to see if they can pick up where they left off.

  • Will the defense be as good as it has been the last two years?

Over the last two years the team has changed defensive coordinators and a number of key players, but has been consistently excellent.  This year they are missing at least 3 key starters from last year’s team.    Can they put together a third year of excellence?

  • Will we see the Carson Palmer we saw last year?

Palmer’s career seemed to bottom out in 2012 in Oakland.  When he was traded to the Cardinals, expectations were low.  He confounded expectations with easily his best season since 2005.  He passed for the most yards in his career & completed 63.3% of his passes.  He still threw too many interceptions (22), but he gave the team the first hope they have had at quarterback since Kurt Warner retired.  His performance this year will go a long way to determining the answer to the first Cardinals question.

Atlanta Falcons

  • Who will run the football? Steven Jackson is having hamstring problems again.

He has said he will be ready to start the first game, but hamstring injuries can hang on past expectations.

  • Will the defense be able to stop anyone?

They were 29th in sacks last year & their main rushing threats are another year older.

  • Is Julio Jones fully recovered?

He has looked great in limited action during pre-season, but pre-season isn’t the same as the real thing.

Baltimore Ravens

  • Will the running game improve?

Last year Ray Rice had a 3.1 yard per carry average after never dropping below 4 yards per carry in his career.  They have brought in more help this year, but probably the biggest addition is Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator.  He has brought with him the zone blocking system that consistently produced great running attacks in Houston & Denver.

  • Will Joe Flacco play up to his contract?

Flacco got paid like an elite quarterback after his Super Bowl MVP performance.  Despite that, Flacco has never performed like an elite quarterback for an entire season.  He hasn’t completed 60% of his passes in any of the last 3 seasons.  He threw 19 touchdowns with 22 interceptions last year.  If he were another quarterback he would be facing competition, but he isn’t…at least this year.

  • Will Steve Smith help the offense enough to make a real difference?

At 35, & with a reputation as a bit of a jackass, the Carolina Panthers decided to cut Smith despite not having a solid replacement on board.  The Ravens immediately picked him up.  Can his intense work ethic enable him to perform at a high level with a new team at an age when most wide receivers are in decline?

Buffalo Bills

  • Will Kyle Orton start before week 9?

Normally you would think that a high draft pick like E.J. Manuel would get a couple of years to prove himself.  With the pending sale of the team though, everyone is in win now or lose your job mode.  Manuel hasn’t impressed yet & I can see them turning to Kyle Orton sooner rather than later.  Week 9 is their bye week, but if things are going south, I could see a switch before then

  • Is there any way that Sammy Watkins was worth it?

The Bills gave up two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick to move up to draft Sammy Watkins.  It may turn out to be a great deal, but even if he turns out to be a good to great receiver, the move reeks of desperation.

  • Can the defense carry the team?

Last year the team was able to really pressure the quarterback, but had trouble against the run.  Bringing in Brandon Spikes should help with run defense & they arguably have the best defense in the AFC East, but the Bills have been underachievers for years.  Will this be the year they turn it around?

Carolina Panthers

  • Does Dave Gettleman really have a plan at wide receiver?

Very few G.M.s would be comfortable going into a season with no wide receiver on the roster who had caught a pass from the quarterback the previous year.  If you knew the quarterback was going to miss most of training camp, you might be even more unlikely to do it wouldn’t you?  Not Dave Gettleman.  We’ll see what happens.  They weren’t exactly the most impressive receiving corps in the world last year, so maybe it will work out.

  • Will Cam Newton be 100% for most of the year?

Newton missed most of training camp & the he suffered a rib injury in the third preseason game.  Will he be able to develop timing with his new receivers?  Will he be able to run like he has in the past?

  • Will the secondary hold up?

The secondary features a number of solid players, but many are either new to the team, or on the backside of their career, or both (Roman Harper).  How will they look 10 or 12 games into the season?

Chicago Bears

  • Does Chicago have the best wide receiving corps in the NFL?

It isn’t difficult to make a case that Brandon Marshall & Alshon Jeffery are the best pair of receivers on a team.  They combined for over 2,700 yards & 189 catches last year.  Individually they are difficult to defend & together, almost impossible.  The question is whether the rest of the receiving crew can take advantage of single coverage to help the team win more games.

  • Can the new defensive parts come together in time?

The biggest concern for the Bears in the off season was to fix a broken defense.  They brought in high profile free agents like Jared Allen & Lamarr Houston.  They also used their first round pick on a safety & drafted two defensive ends,  Due to injury & personal issues, the entire projected starting defense has not taken a snap together during the preseason.  Will they come together?

  • Can Jay Cutler stay healthy all year?

It’s a perennial question with him & if he can’t, will Jimmy Clausen be able to fill in as well as Josh McCown did last year?

Cincinnati Bengals

  • How will the team respond to the loss of both coordinators? The good news is that the Bengals have been successful enough that both Mike Zimmer & Jay Gruden became head coaches this offseason.  That is unprecedented for the Bengals!  Now the question is how will they move on?  It looks like they have capable replacements, but it can’t be seamless can it?
  • Can Andy Dalton play in the playoffs as if it were a regular season game? I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but Dalton has obviously not been as good in the playoffs as he has in the regular season & that is a huge part of the reason why they have made the playoffs 3 years in a row, but lost in the 1st round each year.
  • If they don’t move beyond the first round in the playoffs, is Marvin Lewis in danger of being fired? Lewis is at an even 500 for his career at Cincinnati.  He has had some success & an equal amount of failure.  He is signed for one year after this.  If things go wrong this year, will he be back?

Cleveland Browns

  • How short will the leash be on Brian Hoyer & how will that impact his performance?

Competition is a great thing, but when a quarterback feels like any bad play could get him benched, it can cause problems.  Brian Hoyer looked pretty good last year and I think he deserved a shot at the starting job in Cleveland.  The problem is that if he doesn’t look great, there will immediately be calls for him to be benched for Johnny Manziel.  That can lead to trying to make every play perfect & every throw perfect & that usually leads something far from perfection.

  • Do the Browns have a secret plan to replace Josh Gordon?

They knew during the draft that he would probably be suspended for most or all of the season.  They didn’t make any major moves to replace him.  Miles Austin has a lot of potential, but he also has a lot of hamstring issues.  I truly don’t see what their plan is.

  • Will Ben Tate succeed as a starting running back?

Tate put up great numbers in relief of Arian Foster in Houston.  He also showed real toughness playing through injuries.  The difference for him this year isn’t just that he is the starting running back; it is that he won’t be playing in a zone blocking system.  There are probably some players who have been successful running behind zone blocking & then were successful with a team running more traditional blocking patterns, but I can’t think of any.  That’s part of how the Denver Broncos used to be able to seemingly plug in anyone at running back & have them rush for 1,000 yards.

Dallas Cowboys

  • Will Tony Romo be able to play at the top of his game?

Jerry Jones keeps saying that Romo is fully recovered from back surgery.  I’m not sure that I trust him as a qualified doctor (or general manager really).  As bad as the team’s defense was last year, they still finished 8-8 in large part because Romo figuratively carried the team on his back.  His back may literally be too weak to do it again this year.

  • The defense can’t be any worse can it?

Normally I would say that regression to the mean would get the Cowboys defense back to just bad, rather than historically bad.  The signs are not good though.  Salary cap problems led to the cowboys parting ways with DeMarcus Ware & Jason Hatcher. Then Sean Lee had his seemingly annual season ending injury.  That is a lot to replace.  The defense hasn’t impressed in the pre-season.  If they can just be mediocre, the Cowboys could make the playoffs.  I just don’t know if they can move up to mediocre.

  • Is this Jason Garrett’s last year as coach?

Despite Jerry Jones giving him consistent support, it feels like Garrett has been on the hot seat for years.  If he can’t hit 9-7 or better this year, I can’t see him coming back for another year.

Denver Broncos

  • Should Wes Welker walk away?

Welker will miss the first 4 games of the year due to a suspension for taking MDMA that was spiked with amphetamines.   This is of course why you should always buy name brand MDMA instead of the generic knockoffs.  I’m hoping I can get my blog sponsored by Johnson & Johnson’s Ecstasy.  “With a name like Ecstasy, it has to be good!”

Welker has had 3 concussions in his last 10 games.  All professional football is dangerous & professional football players knowingly take those risks.  On the other hand, when you are a receiver with a history of concussions and a job that depends on you catching passes across the middle in traffic, you might want to think about having a long happy life with your beautiful wife & being able to be coherent at your kid’s graduation (if he has kids down the line).  Welker has made over 25 million dollars during his career & seems to have a flair for betting on horses.  Maybe he should think about walking away relatively healthy.

  • Can Peyton Manning equal last year?

The offense looks like it could potentially be better than last year.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Manning had another phenomenal year.  The counterargument of course is that Father Time is undefeated & Manning will be no exception.  In 2001 & 2002 Rich Gannon was the MVP of the Pro Bowl, something that had never been done in consecutive seasons.  In 2002, he was the league MVP. Then he was injured in 2003 and was never the same.  I don’t think Manning will go that route, but it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise ever.

  • Will the defense be dominant?

John Elway added big free agent pickups like Aquib Talib & DeMarcus Ware to the defense & Von Miller is healthy this year.  On paper, they should be one of the best defenses in the league.  Of course plenty of things look good on paper. As the philosopher Mike Tyson poetically put it, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Detroit Lions

  • Is Jim Caldwell a legitimate NFL head coach?

I think Caldwell will bring needed discipline to the Lions, but there is definitely some doubt about his credentials.  In 8 years as a college coach, he compiled a record of 26-63.  At the NFL level he & Peyton Manning led the Colts to the Super Bowl.  Of course without Peyton Manning in 2011 the team went 2-14.  I think that part of that was on the GM for not trying to bring in a better quarterback than Curtis Painter.  The question remains, can he really win without a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback?

  • Can the team play with discipline?

If this team could have avoided stupid penalties & Matt Stafford throwing stupid interceptions, they would have made the playoffs.  An argument could be made that they have a Super Bowl quality team (except at cornerback), but I don’t think many people outside of Detroit expect much from this team because they have had so many self-inflicted wounds over the years.

  • Can Joe Lombardi bring balance & creativity to the Lions offense?

It is hard to blame a team for building its offense around the best wide receiver in football.  That being said, it hasn’t worked so far and the team has been incredibly predictable.  Lombardi was previously the quarterbacks in New Orleans and has spent the last 4 years learning from Sean Payton, who is one of the more brilliant offensive minds in the NFL.

Green Bay Packers

  • Will the defense be improved?

The defense was the weak link for the Packers last year.  In the offseason they added Julius Peppers, who might still be able to help, but they lost B.J. Raji for the year due to injury.  If they can improve the defense, they could be Super Bowl contenders.

  • Can the team achieve a balance between pass & run?

Eddie Lacy had a breakout year at running back for the Packers last year, but I don’t think he would have done it without the injury to Aaron Rodgers.  Once Rodgers was out, the team turned to Lacy & he responded.  Will they balance their run/pass distribution, or will they go back to their pass heavy offense of the last few years.

  • Will Corey Linsley rise to the occasion?

Who is Corey Linsley?  He’s the rookie starting center for the Packers.  Last year’s starter is gone to Tampa Bay & the projected starter, JC Letter was injured in the 3rd pre-season game.  That doesn’t give Linsley much time to work with the starters & learn the no-huddle signals.

Houston Texans

  • Do they really think that Ryan Fitzpatrick is their best choice at quarterback?

I was kind of excited about Fitzpatrick when he first started for the Bills.  I thought he was a smart player with a good arm & mediocre receivers.  After watching him over the years I saw a guy who could be good for a few quarters & absolutely horrible for a few more.  I really don’t see how he is a better option than Matt Schaub…except that he isn’t Matt Schaub.  Maybe Ryan Mallett will do something.

  • Can Arian Foster return to his previous form or is he done?

Just a few years ago, you could make an argument that Arian Foster was the best complete running back in football.  He was a threat to take it to the house any time he touched the ball.  He picked up blocks in passing situations when he wasn’t slipping out of the back field to make spectacular catches.  As a result, he carried the ball more than just about anyone else in the league.  Over the last couple of years he has been constantly injured.  Every so often though he flashes the kind of brilliance that shows what he is capable of when he is healthy.  Will he stay healthy, & if he does, can he be the same player again?

  • Will Jadeveon Clowney fulfill expectations?

He has looked good at moments this preseason & when he dropped back in coverage he has looked pretty bad.  In theory, he should have huge numbers by virtue of playing with J.J. Watt.  In his last collegiate year Clowney didn’t have impressive numbers.  The reason given by many commentators was that he was double & triple teamed.  This year he won’t see many double teams since Watt commands a lot of attention.  If he is the real deal, Clowney should have double digit sacks.  I don’t know how he will do in coverage.

Indianapolis Colts

  • Will Reggie Wayne be as effective as 2 years ago?

Wayne makes a profound difference to this team.  He is a leader & a playmaker.  He is also a 35 year old coming back from an ACL injury.

  • How well will Bjoern Werner play the first 4 weeks?

He didn’t look great as a rookie last year.  This year he will start at least the first 4 games while Robert Mathis is suspended.  If he can’t bring a solid pass rush, the secondary will have a hard time.  Peyton Manning will be the opposing quarterback week one, so it could be a rough start.

  • How strong will play be this year?

Speaking of playing against good quarterbacks, how much will they miss Antoine Bethea?  Right now it looks like they will rotate players based on the situation, but no one really stood out in preseason.

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • After this preseason, will they really sit Blake Bortles for his rookie season? Normally I think it is a good idea for rookie quarterbacks to redshirt a year if it won’t cost anyone their jobs.  After seeing Bortles in preseason & then looking at their schedule, I think they might as well start him now.  I don’t think they face an elite defense until week 7, & that’s the Browns, so it probably won’t be a high scoring game.
  • Will Toby Gerhardt be effective as a lead back? He has looked great in relief of Adrian Peterson, but he never has had to carry a team.  This will be a real test.
  • Whoever plays quarterback, does he have weapons to throw to now?

Kansas City Chiefs

  • Will Jamaal Charles ever get the credit her deserves?

Last week I was reading an article about breakout rookies & the writer mentioned that one new Chief could be the most dynamic play-maker for the Chiefs since Dante Hall.  That’s about par for the course for the coverage that Jamaal Charles gets these days.  Today’s season preview on NFL Network had pundits talking about how Marshawn Lynch was the only challenger to Adrian Peterson & LeSean McCoy for best running back in the NFL.  Here are the average all-purpose yards per season for the running backs: Peterson 1,748,  McCoy 1,520, Charles 1,507, Lynch1,274.  Of course that is based on dividing annually & including the year where Charles only played 2 games.  Taking that out, his average yardage per year is 1,790 yards per year.  In his first year he was a backup & only rushed 67 times.  There are only 8 running backs in the history of the NFL to average 5 yards or more per carry for their career (minimum of 750 attempts).  Adrian Peterson is #8 with a 5.0 average.  Charles is #1, with 5.79 yards per carry, ahead of Hall of Famers Marion Motley, Jim Brown, Gayle Sayers, & Barry Sanders.  He personally generated 35% of the Chief’s offense last year.  What does he need to do…besides play in a bigger market?

  • Can the Chiefs play up to the competition?

Last year the team made it to the playoffs by beating up on losing teams.  This year they will have a much harder schedule.

  • Can the offensive line perform?

The line was a strength last year.  Now their previous left tackle has left in free agency.  They are hoping that Eric Fisher, who was underwhelming at right tackle last year will be able to slide to left tackle.  They are playing a guard (Jeff Allen) at right tackle to start the season.  That doesn’t sound like a formula for success.

Miami Dolphins

  • Will Mike Wallace become a real #1 receiver?

When Wallace was signed as a free agent after his years in Pittsburgh, he was expected to become the #1 receiver & the team’s deep threat.  Instead, he had an average year.  Technically he had his most receptions, but only by 1 catch.  He also posted his lowest average yards per catch.  This may have been a chicken & egg thing where the quality of the quarterback made the difference & Ryan Tannehill just wasn’t able to get the ball to him the way Ben Roethlisberger did even though Wallace wasn’t his #1 receiver or maybe Wallace just tops out around 73 catches per year.

  • Is Ryan Tannehill the franchise quarterback the Dolphins have wanted since Dan Marino?

His numbers so far have been just on the edge of what you expect for a franchise quarterback.  He is just under 60% in completions (59.4%).  His passer rating is 79.1 & that is too low to succeed long term.  I think he has the tools, but if he doesn’t perform this year, he may be looking for a job next year.

  • The offensive line has to be better right?

Just bringing in Brandon Albert at left tackle should make a huge difference & the team was historically bad last year.  On the other hand, their starting center will miss half of the season & that hurts.  It is hard for Tannehill to be the best that he can be & Wallace to be the best he can be, if the offensive line doesn’t improve dramatically.

Minnesota Vikings

  • Is there any chance Matt Cassel can play during the regular season the way that he did in the preseason?

A recent Onion article claimed that his real skill was his “growing ability to get the F*ck out of running back Adrian Peterson’s way.”   There is something to that for any Viking quarterback, but it isn’t enough.  After decent play last year, Cassel has looked sharp in the preseason.  He completed 26 of 39 passes (66.6 percent) for 367 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.  If he can play like that, he might keep Teddy Bridgewater on the bench & they might surprise some people this year.

  • Can Peterson continue to carry the load?

Peterson will turn 29 this year & he has a ton of carries.  The Vikings let his back-up walk in free agency this year.  Will he be able to carry the team again?

  • Will the change to an outdoor stadium help them or hurt them?

The Vikings will play home games at least the next 2 years at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium I think that the outdoor setting could really benefit the team.  Teams with a great running game can be dangerous in snowy weather.  The Vikings haven’t really been a team that has taken advantage of the fast turf of an indoor stadium the way the Saints have, so I on’t think they will lose much there.

New England Patriots

  • Can Gronkowski stay healthy?

With Rob Gronkowsky healthy at tight end, the Patriots are a legitimate contender for the Super Bowl.  Without him, they have questions in the red zone & at the tight end position.  You don’t want to make one player more important than the rest, but his various health issues over the last few years have made a huge difference.  I think that if he had been 100% healthy during Super Bowl XLVI  that the Patriots would have won.  Basically, he was worth more than the 4 point difference in that game.

  • Can most of the other key players stay healthy?

Injuries are always a worry for every team.  The Patriots this year are counting on a number of recently injured people to be key contributors.  Vince Wilfork, Danny Amendola, Sebastian Vollmer, Aaron Dobson, Alfonzo Dennard, Dominique Easley and others are all expected to play an important roll this year & I don’t know if any of them will be able to perform as advertised this year.

  • Will the offensive line hold up? This year marks the first time since 1999 that there will be a new offensive line coach.  Dante Scarnecchia retired at the end of the season last year after working for the Patriots for 30 years (with a 2 year hiatus).  Tom Brady has benefited from a comfort level with the offensive line for his entire career.   Dave DeGuglielmo replaces him.  There is a camp battle to determine the starting center & Sebastian Vollmer hasn’t been able to practice.  That being said, the starting offensive line has looked good in pre-season.  The backup quarterbacks have been running for their lives though!  The line still needs work.

I originally wrote this before they traded Logan Mankins to the Bucs.  Now it is a huge question.

New Orleans Saints

  • Will they miss Darren Sproles?

Sproles was especially good at the screen game.  Will Pierre Thomas make up the difference?

  • Will the defense be better than last year?

Rob Ryan worked miracles with the defense last year & they added Jairus Byrd at safety & should be better.  Of course now the other teams in the division will have a year of tape & may make adjustments.

  • Can they win on the road?

The Saints have been almost unbeatable over the last few years at home.  On the road they have been very beatable.  If they can win a couple of extra road games during the regular season, they might be able to play at home in the playoffs.

New York Giants

  • Will fans be nostalgic for Kevin Gilbride?

I know the fan base loved to hate former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.  When things went well, Eli Manning got the credit.  When they didn’t Gilbride got the blame.  This year Manning may have to stand on his own.  He hasn’t looked good.  Even after 4 preseason games, Manning has only looked good in 1 2 minute drill.

  • Will the offensive line be better?

Last year’s line didn’t do a good job of protecting Manning.  Because of that, 2 free agents were brought in to be starters.  Now one of them, Geoff Schwartz, is already injured.

  • Will Jason Pierre-Paul play to his potential?

A few years back, he was considered a breakout star & one of the best defensive players in the game.  Recently, he really looks like just another guy.  If he can get close to his old form, the defense will be improved.

New York Jets

  • Will Chris Johnson have a great season?

Chris Johnson was deemed expendable by the Titans mainly because of his huge contract, but also because of his declining yards per carry (3.9 last year).  One thing I think people forget is that Johnson’s best years came when he had a mobile quarterback.  The defense had to account for Vince Young on every play.  That tiny bit of extra time helped Johnson break some extraordinarily long runs. I don’t think he would have hit 2,000 yards without Young & his yards per carry have dropped without a running quarterback threat.  That could change this year with either Geno Smith or Michael Vick at quarterback.

  • Will it be Smith or Vick handing off to Johnson by midseason?

Rex Ryan may be coaching for his job this year and he may not be able to give Geno Smith as much time to develop as he gave Mark Sanchez.  The Jets don’t have their bye week until the 11th week, which may help Geno.  If they had a 4th or 5th week bye, I think there would be pressure to make a change if things weren’t going well.  Either way, Smith has to throw fewer interceptions to keep his starting position.

  • Rex Ryan always manages to field a tough defense.  He will do it again this year right?

He has done some amazing jobs in the past, but if he can turn his current defensive backfield into some semblance of NFL quality, I will be impressed.  I think he is going to rely on pressuring the quarterback & hoping that they don’t have time to find the open man.  That will be tough with the Murderers Row of quarterbacks they will face this year including Brady (twice), Rivers, Rodgers, Cutler, Stafford, & Peyton Manning.  That would be a tough assignment for any defensive backfield, much less what the Jets will field this year.

Oakland Raiders

  • Can Matt Schaub get his mojo back? (The Raiders don’t think so.  They are going with Carr)

I was expecting Matt Schaub to bounce back to something like his previous years’ performance.  That isn’t what we have seen so far this preseason.  He hasn’t looked good & the Raider’s receiving corps has looked worse.  I’m still holding out hope though.

  • Will all of the new parts jell in time to save jobs in the front office?

On paper, this year’s team is much improved from last year’s.  The combination of veteran players & highly touted rookies is actually pretty impressive (even if some of the players are on the back slope of their careers).  The biggest problem to me though is that it is hard to get that many new players to work together quickly.  It may take a half dozen games to get everyone on the same page & by that point, Schaub may be benched & the coach could be on even more of a hot seat.

  • Where will the team play next year?

It is amazing that with the lease expiring this year, so little is getting done on the stadium front for the Raiders.  I generally am annoyed when NFL clubs want to upgrade or replace their stadium every few years in a constant pursuit of more money.  It is certainly frustrating to see public money used to support billionaire owners.  On the other hand, I don’t think it is too much to ask the toilets to work.  Last year during baseball season it rained & the sewers backed up.  In fact it happened at least 3 times.  Ryan Cook, the Oakland A’s reliever, described the scene to reporters as “a sewage volcano.”   Additionally, because the A’s & Raiders share a stadium with a grass field, there is a baseball diamond shaped patch of dirt in the field for much of the season.  It really is a mess.  Mark Davis has visited San Antonio as a possible spot to move the team.  I don’t believe that this will happen, but a move back to Los Angeles might make sense.  I think the only thing standing in the way might be that the NFL owners like using the threat of moving a team to L.A. more than they actually like the idea of having a team there.  For some reason they also keep talking about putting two teams there instead of one, which seems like a stupid idea.

Philadelphia Eagles

  • Will the team miss DeSean Jackson this year or will Darren Sproles make Eagles fans forget him?

DeSean Jackson caught 82 passes last year for 1,332 yards but the Eagles let him go apparently due to a personality conflict.  They didn’t add a dynamic wide receiver to replace him, but they did add a running back who caught 71 pases for 604 yards last year from Drew Brees.  Darren Sproles rushed for 220 yards last year, but he was most dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield.  He didn’t average as much per catch, but he was a nice change of pace.  How coach Chip Kelly will use him with LeSean McCoy also in the backfield is a question, but Kelly is nothing if not inventive.

  • Can the secondary keep up?

One advantage of the Eagles offense is that it can wear out a defense.  One disadvantage is that when things don’t work, it can put the Eagles defense back on the field quickly.  Their secondary doesn’t scare anyone.  I’m not sure if division quarterbacks like Tony Romo, Robert Griffin III, & Eli Manning will be at their best, but each of them has shown they can terrorize a good secondary & I don’t know if the Eagles have even that.

  • Nick Foles can’t be that consistent again can he?

Last year he had an insane 27/2 touchdown to interception ratio.  I don’t think anyone expects him to duplicate that this year.  In pre-season, for what that’s worth (not much), he has 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.  Now that opposing defenses have a season of film watching him in Kelly’s offense, will he be able to adjust?

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Have the Steelers fixed their depth problem?

Last year Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola wrote that Pittsburgh’s depth was so thin that the team was doing the NFL equivalent of walking a tightrope with no net. That blew up on them.  They have made moves this off season, but sometimes it is hard to tell if depth has improved until we get a few games into the season.

  • Mike Tomlin’s job is safe right?

The Steelers do not change coaches like the Browns.  Heck, they don’t change coaches as often as the rest of the division put together.   Of course they also don’t go 3 years without a winning record.  If things don’t improve this year, will they make a change?

  • Is this Troy Polamalu’s last year?

There were a lot of people who thought that maybe last year would be his last in Pittsburgh because of age & salary issues.  Instead he is back, & is a team captain for the first time in his career.  He has definitely lost some speed, but he has a great feel for the game in crucial situations & that is hard to teach.

Saint Louis Rams

  • Can they win with Shaun Hill? He is a 12 year veteran & that is a good thing in a backup.  I don’t know how well he will perform as a starter.  He has never started more than 11 games.  In 2010 when he started 11 games filling in for Matthew Stafford, the team went 6-10.
  • Will the receiving corps be strength? The Rams have been drafting receivers for years.  They have 5 receivers on the roster that have been drafted in the first 4 rounds since 2011.  They also picked up Kenny Britt this off season.  Shouldn’t the receiving corps be pretty good this year?
  • Are the Rams just doomed because of the strength of their division? That might be too on the nose, but I think it is really the biggest worry.  The Rams should have a strong defense.  They will probably have a competent offense.  There are divisions where that would make you a contender.  Unfortunately for the Rams, the NFC West is not one of those divisions.

San Diego Chargers

  • Can Dwight Freeney help the defense? After spending his entire career with the Colts, they decided that he was done in 2013.  He signed with the Chargers, but was hurt early in the season.  If he can be 80% of what he was, he should help the defense.  You know he would love to sack Peyton Manning a time or two.
  • Can the defense stop the run? In 2012, the Chargers defense was ranked #13 in run defense.  That isn’t great, but it is much better than their 31st place ranking last year.  They have three rookies & a couple of second year players that will need to step up.
  • How critical will the loss of Jeromey Clarey be for the offensive line? Clarey had hip surgery last week and could miss the entire season. Right guard may not be the crucial line spot, but Clarey is the longest tenured player on the line & his leadership will be missed.

San Francisco 49ers

  • Can they team get its players to act like responsible citizens?

I know that the vast majority of their players are probably good guys, but they do seem to have a problem.   There have been 10 arrests of 49er players since 2012, which means they lead the league in something, but not something that you want to brag about.

  • Is this Jim Harbaugh’s last year as coach?

I expect that they will reach an agreement on a new contract for the head coach, but there have been growing signs of tension between the G.M. & the coach.  It is unusual for a coach who has won as often as Harbaugh to go into a lame duck year without an extension.  If he were to become a free agent next year, I have to feel that someone (Jerry Jones/whoever buys the Bills) would throw crazy money at him to bring him to town.

  • Will Colin Kaepernick play better than he has in the preseason?

On paper, this is the best receiving corps for San Francisco since Jerry Rice & Terrell Owens were on the team.  In three preseason games, he completed 12 of 22 passes (54.5%) for 115 yards & no touchdowns.  He looked like the 1 read & tuck the ball guy that we saw at times last year when the receiving corps was depleted by injury.  I expect he will get better, but it will need to be a lot better & it will need to happen quickly if they want to keep pace in their division.

Seattle Seahawks

  • Can they repeat?

Seattle is in an enviable position compared to other teams.  Their biggest question is whether they can be the first team to win back to back Super Bowls since New England in 2003/2004.  It is hard to repeat.

  • Will the offensive line be a weakness?

They don’t have many areas of concern, but offensive line could be one early.  Their left tackle missed most of the pre-season & their right tackle is a rookie.

  • Will Marshawn Lynch wear down?

Lynch is 28 & the wheels tend to come off for running backs at 30 or so.  That should mean he has a couple more good years left at least.  On the other hand, he has averaged over 325 touches over the last three years & that is a lot for anyone.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • How much improvement can fans expect this year? There is real hope in Tampa Bay this year after several years of constantly lowering expectations.  Over the last few years a team has managed to move from worst to first in their division.  That would be extremely difficult in the NFC South.  I expect the team to be much better this year.
  • Can Josh McCown excel as a starter? He was very good last year subbing for Jay Cutler in Chicago, but can he really make it as a full time starter?  There is a reason that his career has included stops at Arizona, Detroit, Oakland, Miami, Charlotte, Hartford (The Colonials in the UFL), San Francisco, & finally Chicago.
  • How much will the defense improve? Lovie Smith has been known as a defensive guru & the Bears leaned on defense (sometimes to the detriment of the offense).  The talent seems to be there & you know the coaching will be there.  The question is how much improvement we can expect in one year.

Tennessee Titans

  • Will Bishop Sankey or Shonn Greene be an improvement on Chris Johnson at running back?

Sankey looks like he may develop into a feature back.  Greene has had success in the past.  They are definitely cheaper than Johnson, but will they deliver as many yards?

  • Is Jake Locker the quarterback of the future?

Locker has shown some real ability…when he has been on the field.  The problem has been that he has been injured frequently.  If he can’t put it tgether this year, the Titans may have to move on.

  • Ken Whisenhunt was terrible at evaluating quarterbacks in Arizona. Will he do a better job in Tennessee?

Whisenhunt resisted staring Kurt Warner in Arizona, but eventually benefitted from the decision.  Other than that, the Cardinals quarterback position was a hot mess during his tenure.  Will he do better this time?

Washington Redskins

  • How good will Robert Griffin III be this year?

If he can perform closer to his rookie season than to last year, Washington has an outside shot at the playoffs.  If he plays closer to his level last year at least next year they will get to actually use the high draft pick they earn.

  • Will DeSean Jackson ignite the Washington offense?

Jackson managed to work himself out of a job in Philadelphia apparently more because of his attitude than his ball skills.  If he can mesh with his new team, he should be a huge addition to the team.

  • How will Jay Gruden handle the transition as a first time head coach in the NFL?

I think that he is better prepared to be an NFL coach than most.  His time in the Arena League gave him experience as a head coach, general manager, & general promoter for the game.  He won more than one Arena League Championship during those years.  Working as an assistant coach for his brother Jon, he won a Super Bowl.  As offensive coordinator he was part of the team getting the Bengals to the playoffs three straight years for the first time in franchise history.  He should be prepared.  Of course he has never worked for someone like Dan Snyder, but I think he is ready for the football aspects of the job.

N.F.L. free agency so far & reviews of some Bogle wines Ron Rivera might want to drink to drown his sorrows over free agency

22 Mar
Dusk at Bogle Vineyards

Dusk at Bogle Vineyards

Last year I explained why free agency is a crap-shoot & you can’t predict which teams really did the best.  Obviously this year I have to completely forget about that & make some predictions about which teams have done the best & worst in free agency, even though it is still going on as I type.

I still believe that it is true that no one wins the Super Bowl in March, but this year it looks like you can guarantee that you won’t even be in the hunt.  Here are the teams that I think have helped or hurt themselves the most so far.  I didn’t write about every team, just the ones who have made significant moves.   I haven’t included Oakland because I can’t really figure them out yet.

Teams that helped themselves

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals haven’t made a lot of moves, but the moves they have made look good.  They signed Antonio Cromartie to a 1 year contract.  He didn’t have a great year last year, but he has been a solid cornerback.  The best thing for him & for the Cardinals is that he will handle the #2 receiver for the opposing team.  Pairing him with Patrick Peterson & Tyrann Mathieu creates a great defensive backfield for the Cardinals.  They also signed Jared Veldheer to a 5 year contract.  He might not be the left tackle of your dreams, but adding him & Ted Larsen to the line should keep Carson Palmer from having so many nightmares.

Denver Broncos

With the exception of losing Eric Decker to the Jets, everything seems to be going right for the Broncos this year.   The Super Bowl showed them how much improvement their defense needed to make this year.  John Elway is working on it with a vengeance.  They signed DeMarcus Ware, who should be amazing paired with Von Miller.  They replaced Champ Bailey with Aqib Talib, which not only upgraded their secondary, but also looked like it would hurt the Patriots.  It didn’t, but it was a great move either way.  On offense they replaced Eric Decker with Emmanuel Sanders, who should be able to stretch the field & open up some crossing routes for Wes Welker.

Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions have made a few key moves.  Adding Golden Tate at wide receiver looks like a smart choice.  He should see single coverage every game and has the opportunity to have a great year.  I think Jed Collins at fullback will be a good move as well.  If Jim Caldwell can get any discipline into this team in his first year, they should be a threat to make the playoffs.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers don’t usually do much in free agency, but signing Julius Peppers was a big deal.  I think that he has a couple more good years in him & that might be enough to get the Packers deeper into the playoffs.  Despite having the 8th best scoring offense in the NFL last year, the Packers were still outscored overall by their opponents (by 11 points).  Signing Peppers might close that gap.

Indianapolis Colts

Hakeem Nicks had a bad season in a contract year, but his quarterback had a terrible year.  Now Nicks is on a 1 year prove it deal & will have Andrew Luck throwing to him, who should give him a chance to shine.  Signing D’Qwell Jackson looks like a good move.  At the moment, the Colts look likely to repeat their AFC South championship.

Jacksonville Jaguars

They haven’t made any splashy moves, but they have signed some solid players who should help.  Toby Gerhart has looked very good in limited duty for the Vikings.  Chris Clemons, Ziggy Hood, & especially Red Bryant should help Gus Bradley continue to improve the defense.  I could see this team winning somewhere between 7-9 games next year.  They only play 5 playoff teams from 2013.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins always seem to be the champions of March & then can’t do much in the fall.  I do think that they have improved this year.  Their line last year was not only the worst in the league, but they also were involved in a bullying scandal that led to the firing of their line coach.  Of course I thought he should be fired for performance even before the report on bullying.  When you are the line coach for a team that gives up 58 sacks in one season, you probably know better than to take out a new mortgage on the house.  58 sacks are more than the Lions & Broncos allowed combined last year!  This year they have signed Brandon Albert who should be much better at left tackle.  Shelly Smith may not be a big name at guard, but he is solid & probably won’t go crazy & smash his own car with a baseball bat.  Cortland Finegan might turn out to be a decent signing at cornerback, although Jeff Fisher giving up on him isn’t a good sign.

New England Patriots

The Patriots have had some high profile busts in recent years with veteran players like Albert Haynesworth & Chad Johnson.  I don’t think that’s the case this year.  Losing Aqib Talib made it look like a secondary that was improving last year was going to regress.  Instead, the Patriots signed Darrelle Revis & Brandon Browner.  Browner can’t play until week 5, but after that they might have the best secondary in the NFL.  The key will be finding someone to stuff the run.  I think that the pass rushers will automatically get better this year because opposing quarterbacks are going to hold the ball longer trying to find an open receiver.  On offense I thought that Julian Edelman was a priority to re-sign so that Tom Brady wouldn’t lose his #1 receiver two off seasons in a row.  It took a while, but it happened.  I don’t know if Brandon Lafell will be a difference maker at wide receiver, but he has potential.  He dropped too many balls last year, but he is a big fast receiver & Brady is a more accurate quarterback than Cam Newton, so maybe the balls will be easier to catch.  If they can keep Legarrette Blount & find a way to make Vince Wilfork happy, this will be a great off season for the Patriots.  Even if they lose Blount, I think that the team has significantly improved.

Teams that hurt themselves

Carolina Panthers

They have signed Jerricho Cotchery to a 2 year contract & franchised defensive end Greg Hardy.  Otherwise this seems to be a nightmare offseason for Carolina fans.  For whatever reason, they really wanted to get rid of leading receiver Steve Smith.  Cutting him means that he will still count $4 million this year against their salary cap.  He signed with the Ravens for an average of 3.8 million a year.  Basically it cost more to cut him than to keep him.  Carolina’s receiving corps wasn’t spectacular last year, but it wasn’t terrible.  The other starting wide receivers were Ted Ginn Jr., who signed with Arizona, & Brandon Lafell, who signed with New England.  I’m sure that they will sign someone else & maybe they will trade for Desean Jackson which would really help.  At the moment though, the 5 wide receivers on their roster have caught 4 passes combined in the NFL.  So anyone reading this is at least tied for NFL catches with a starting wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers.  Congratulations!  Beginning the season with all new starting wide receivers is incredibly difficult.  You just have to look at how Tom Brady struggled last year to get on the same page with his new receivers.  Luckily for him, he had some experience with Julian Edelman & that helped while he got comfortable with all of the new guys.  Even with those problems, he at least had the offseason to work with them.  Cam Newton had surgery this week & won’t be able to work with his new receivers until the beginning of training camp at the earliest.

Right now I think Carolina is the most likely playoff team from last year to drop down to a losing season.  I feel bad for Coach Ron Rivera.  I think he has really been building something there & this year is going to be tough.  He has a great defense, but you won’t win many games scoring under 20 points against the Saints or Falcons in the NFC South.

Dallas Cowboys

I doubt even Jerry Jones thinks that his team is better today than it was a month ago.  I know that Jeremy Mincey was signed for depth rather than to replace Demarcus War, but any way you look at it, they aren’t as strong at that position.  Signing first round bust Brandon Weeden to be the 3rd string quarterback was probably a good idea.  Of course if Kyle Orton retires & Weeden is the backup quarterback, the Cowboys better hope that Tony Romo stays healthy.

Houston Texans

The Houston Texans have basically sat out free agency.  Considering that they finished with the worst record in the league last year, you might think that they would be looking for help.  They did sign Jerrell Powell at nose tackle.  They released Owen Daniels, which I think was a mistake.  He was injured for 11 games last year, but has been relatively healthy otherwise.  He is only 31 & is a 2 time Pro Bowl player.  I always considered him a poor man’s Jason Witten & I mean that as a compliment.

New York Jets

I think that the Jets will be better on offense this year.  That’s partially because they couldn’t get worse, but also because they signed Eric Decker & while he wouldn’t be a number one receiver on most teams, he is a huge improvement for the Jets.  The problem is at cornerback.  The team released Antonio Cromartie because his contract was too rich.  I understand that, but they haven’t signed anyone nearly as good to replace him.  If you watch Jets games, you have probably seen Coach Rex Ryan spike his headphones into the ground in anger at some point.  I’ll bet that the look he has on his face when he does that is the exact look he had on his face when Darrelle Revis signed with the Patriots.  In 2014, the Jets will face Tom Brady twice plus Peyton Manning Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler, Ben Roethlisberger, & Matthew Stafford once each.  That’s half of their games against quarterbacks with Pro Bowl credentials & as many as 5 games against future Hall of Fame quarterbacks.  An elite cornerback would make a real difference there.  I’m sure that they will draft a cornerback or two & Rex is a great defensive coach, but that is still going to be a harsh introduction to the NFL for the rookie(s).

After typing this portion I found out that they have signed Mike Vick & might sign Desean Jackson.  That would help a lot.  It wouldn’t fix the defensive backfield though.

Revis signed with the Patriots??!!!

Seattle Seahawks

By the time this is posted they may have signed Jared Allen.  Even with that possibility, the Seahawks are learning just how hard it is to repeat as NFL champion.  There is a reason that no one has done it since the Patriots in 2004-2005.  After a Super Bowl victory, every player on the team wants to be paid like a Super Bowl champion & there is usually another team out there that will pay them that way.  With the salary cap & free agency, it is difficult to keep a team together.  The Seahawks have a big advantage in that they don’t have to pay Russell Wilson much.  He is still on his rookie contract & won’t be making Joe Flacco money for a while yet.  They have lost a lot of players though including Golden Tate, Red Bryant, Brandon Browner, Chris Clemons, & Walter Thurmond.  Those are all solid contributors.  I don’t think that they are going to fall out of the playoffs or anything  like that.  I just think that the team isn’t as good now as it was a couple of weeks ago.

The Broncos & the Patriots may not be breaking the Champagne out just yet, but I can definitely see how Rex Ryan & Ron Rivera might be ready for a few glasses of wine.  Here are some wine reviews to help choose a tasty distraction.

Bogle Vineyards

At the recent Unified Wine & Grape Symposium Bogle Vineyards was named Winery of the Year.  That is a pretty big accomplishment for a Clarksburg California winery.  Over the years they have experienced rapid growth & are now the 13th largest winery in the U.S.  Most of their wines are under $15 & occasionally my local grocery store has them for under $10.  A few of these wines are winery only, but most of them are in mass distribution.

I visited a few weeks ago & had a great time.  The tasting room is a pretty building with vineyards on the ground.  It is very close to the delta & the roads were covered with fog as we drove along.  If I didn’t have GPS I might not have found it.

I was with a business associate & we spent some time talking with other people tasting their wine.  On some wines I have more notes than others.

Blanc de Blanc 2011 sparkling

This is a Chardonnay based sparkling wine made in the Methode Champenoise (traditional Champagne method).  That means that it does its secondary fermentation in the bottle from which you are pouring.

This has very small bubbles & a light clean nose.  I smelled some butter & a yeasty note.  On the palate I also tasted a little green apple & some lemon or lemon curd.  This is a nice example of a Californian sparkling wine.

Sauvignon Blanc 2012

This was a crisp Sauvignon Blanc.  It had intense grass & grapefruit flavors.  This is a solid summer wine.  It might make a nice wine to sip on the porch after cutting the grass.

Chardonnay 2012

Half of this wine is oaked and half of it is not.  The half in oak goes through sur lie aging, which means that the dead yeast cells are left in the wine as it ages.  The barrels have to be turned on a regular basis or the barrels have to be opened up & the wine stirred.  If you don’t stir the lees, you have reduction & some nasty tastes in your wine like rotten eggs & burnt match sticks.  If you do it right though, you have a wine with more mouth feel & a nice baked bread component. I didn’t need to look on their web site to know that this was American oak.  This wine almost has a mesquite flavor to it.  It was actually kind of weird, but in a good way.  I bought a bottle to take home.  The traditional Chardonnay flavors are there as well.  There is spiced vanilla, pear, and apple to compliment the baked bread.

I actually had this wine again last night & didn’t get the mesquite flavor, so that may have been an aberration.  The creamy butter flavors were more at the fore front.  It is still a very well made Chardonnay for the price.

Chenin Blanc 2012

Here’s another crisp white.  There are minimal oak and malolactic fermentation notes, but the wine still has nice acid.  The primary flavors are green apple & melon.

Riesling 2010

There is a small amount of the classic diesel nose to this wine.  It is still a sweet Riesling though, which is kind of an odd mix.  I usually expect Riesling with the pronounced diesel notes to be on the dry side.  It has good mouth feel & is actually a fairly nice Riesling.  It has a blend of apple, pear, & honey flavors.

Petite Sirah Nouveau 2010

Here’s a fun small production wine.  I don’t think I had ever tried a Petite Sirah made using carbonic maceration.  It has the classic bubble gum & banana nose associated with Nouveau Beaujolais.  The wine is actually softer on the palate as well, which I didn’t expect from Petite Sirah.  I has a light color, more pink than purple.  The wine has moderate tannins.  It would be nice with smoked ribs or spicy Mexican food.

Pinot Noir 2012

This wine sees a blend of French & American oak.  It has a clean nose of moderate intensity.  It is actually fairly big on the palate for a Pinot.  The tannins are soft.  I tasted plum with a little cinnamon & all spice.  It’s a fruit forward Pinot Noir & a textbook example of the New World fruity style.

Reserve Barbera 2010

This is another winery exclusive that is produced in small amounts.  If you remember Barbera as a thin acidic & tannic wine, that is understandable.  For years that’s what came out of Italy.  Over the last 20 years or so there have been many more fruit forward & food friendly Italian Barberas produced.  In the Sierra Foothills of California from which these grapes are sourced, there is the ability to really focus on the fruit.  The result is a fruit forward wine with blackberry, fig, & prune.  I also tasted some tobacco & herb, but really this wine is all about the fruitiness.

Petite Sirah 2011

I was surprised at how pink the Nouveau version was.  That isn’t the case here as this is the classic purple that you expect.  It has an intense nose & medium acidity.  There is plenty of dark fruit including blackberry.  I also tasted menthol & sage.  This is a very good Petite Sirah for the price.

Reserve Petite Sirah 2010

This wine is somewhere between purple & black.  It has jammy black fruit.  The overall impression is of dark rich fruit.  The wine has huge tannins, but they are well integrated.  This is a big, over the top wine, but in a good way.

Reserve Zinfandel 2010

This has a clean nose with red fruit.  It is soft on the mid palate.  It was probably harder to try this after the Reserve Petite Sirah since that was so tannic & overpowering.  This is a much more reserved wine with a velvety finish.  It has high tannins & high acidity.  My guess is that this wine will age very well.

Petite Sirah Port 2008

On the nose I smelled alcohol, raspberry, plum, & brown sugar.  On the palate I tasted raspberry, cherry, & plum.  The color of the wine is dark, but a little orange around the edges.  This is a well-rounded, easy to drink Port style wine.

Vines at Bogle

Vines at Bogle

Bad Week for the referees, but always a good week to try new wines

21 Nov

Holding defense

Week 11 was a bad week for the officials

After a couple of bad weeks, the NFL needed a quite week from the officials.  They didn’t get it.  There were 2 incidents that may have caused the wrong team to win a game & an official apparently cursed a player.

On the final play of the Patriots /Jaguars game, Tom Brady threw into the end zone.  The pass was short & was intercepted.  One official threw a yellow flag.  After consulting with another official, he picked up the flag.  He announced that there was no flag on the play & the game was over & that was it.  Later after the teams were in their locker rooms and the fans were heading home, the league announced that the flag had been for defensive pass interference and that they had picked up the flag because in their view, the pass was uncatchable.

Leaving aside the idea that what is uncatchable to Rob Gronkowski isn’t the same as to a normal human, and also leaving aside the idea that if it was uncatchable, it was because Luke Kuechly had illegally pulled Gronkowski several yards from where he wanted to be, it was still a bad call.  While there may have been some question as to whether this was defensive pass interference, there is no question that it was defensive holding.

The NFL rule book is online like everything else these days.  Here is what it says…

DEFENSIVE HOLDING

Article 6

A defensive player may not: (a) tackle or hold an opponent other than a runner. Otherwise, he may use his hands, arms or body only to defend or protect himself against an obstructing opponent in an attempt to reach a runner. After a loose ball has touched the ground, a defensive player may legally block or otherwise use his hands or arms to push or pull an opponent out of the way in a personal attempt to recover the ball.

Penalty: For illegal contact or holding by the defense: Loss of five yards and automatic first down.

Kuechly was clearly guilty of defensive holding.  By rule, the ball should have been placed at the 13 yard line & the Patriots should have been given one untimed down to attempt a touchdown.  If they succeeded, they would have won.  If they failed and there was not another defensive penalty, then the Panthers would have won.  One shot from the 13 yard line isn’t an automatic touchdown by any means, but the Patriots deserved that final chance.  Frankly I would have bet on them either succeeding or getting a pass interference call (which would have given them a shot from the 1 yard line).

Mike Pereira, the former NFL vice-president in charge of officiating, who is now an analyst announced on November 19th that he believes that it was pass interference.  At his Tuesday press conference, Coach Jeff Fisher, who has been on the NFL Competition Committee forever said “I personally feel like the flag went down for a reason, and it looked like a foul to me.”

Drew Brees got a call in the Saints/49ers game that most quarterbacks wouldn’t have gotten & it probably changed the outcome of the game.  I don’t think this was as egregious as the non-call in the Patriots game, but I do think that it’s a call that Drew Brees (or Tom Brady, or Aaron Rogers or Peyton Manning) would get, but Matt Schaub or Geno Smith or another 20 or so quarterbacks would not have gotten.

With San Francisco leading 20-17 with 3:18 left in the game, the Saints were driving.  They had a third in 2 on the 49ers 35 yard line.  When Brees dropped back to pass, Ahmad Brooks beat his man (Zach Strief) and sacked Brees.  He knocked the ball out of his hands and it was recovered by San Francisco’s Patrick Willis.

The referees threw a flag & said that Brooks had roughed the passer by hitting him in the head or neck.  If you watch the video, you see that he hits Brees in the chest, which is kind of hard considering that he is 6 foot 3 inches & 259 pounds & Brees is probably 5 foot 11 inches.  Brees starts to fall/slide down (as you might expect when hit by 259 pounds at full speed.  To check this for yourself, you can strap skates to a refrigerator & have someone roll it down hill on top of you.  When Brees slides down, that puts Brooks’ arm around his neck.  It is a quick thing and obviously wasn’t intended, but I can see how it might be called.  The truth is that if that were Josh McCown at quarterback, there would be no call and the 49ers would be able to burn some time off the clock and maybe win the game.  Instead, the Saints got the ball back, eventually kicked a field goal to tie the game and then later kicked another to win it.  Perhaps the Niners would have been incompetent with the ball.  They certainly looked terrible out there for much of the game.  Perhaps everything would have played out the same except that the Saints would have had to go for a touchdown at the end and they might have gotten that.  Various things could have happened, but the bottom line is that the referee’s call on such a borderline hit changed the course of the game dramatically.

The referees also missed an incident in the Colts/Titans game.  Colts linebacker Erik Walden tore the helmet off Titans tight end Delanie Walker & then used his own helmet to head butt Walker in the face.  That isn’t just unnecessary roughness.  It is unnecessary roughness with a side order of assault.  After the league reviewed the film, Walden was suspended for his week 12 game, but he should have been kicked out of the game on Sunday & the Titans should have gotten 15 yards and a first down.

Maybe the worst referee issue for the week was something that was only brought to light after the game.  After the Washington/Philadelphia game, Washington player Trent Williams claimed that umpire Roy Ellison called him a “garbage a*** disrespectful motherf*****” during Washington’s loss, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Other players backed him up on this claim after initially telling him to shut up so that he wouldn’t be fined for criticizing the official.  That certainly calls into question whether Ellison was objective in calling the game.

I’m certain that there are referees who dislike particular players.  There are probably referees who have a rooting interest in games.  I hope that there aren’t any referees who have a bet on a game.  The referees are an important part of the game.  It is unfortunate when the integrity of the game is called into question because of their actions on the field.

Recently there was a fund raiser that benefited the school system my daughters attend.  At the event they had around 35 wineries, primarily from the El Dorado area, pouring their wines.  Here are a few I tasted.  I was making my notes on my phone, so these aren’t the most detailed notes ever.  I had to leave a couple off because I couldn’t figure out after the fact which winery was the correct one.  I wasn’t familiar with the region, so it was a nice opportunity to learn and taste.

El Dorado was one of the three largest wine producers in the early years of California wineries.  They ranked behind Los Angeles and Sonoma County.  After prohibition, they mostly disappeared.  Since being designated as an AVA in 1983, the area has grown to about 2,000 acres and 50 wineries.  The wineries range from 1,200-3,500 feet in elevation. They tend to be planted on slopes rather than on flat land.  It seems like they should have a long growing season with highs in the 50’s in December & January and in the low 90’s in July & August.

Sierra Vista Vineyards El Dorado Viognier 2011

This has a nice varietally correct nose.  You get white peach & floral notes.  Unfortunately it disappoints on the palate. It manages to be thin & a little hot at the same time.  It smells great though.
Miraflores 2007 Syrah

Very solid Syrah black pepper & dark fruit are the primary components.  I think there is some French oak as well. This is solid, but not exceptional.

Nevada City Winery Zinfandel 2011

Sweet candied fruit, probably too candied for me. Some drier herbal notes on the nose. That herbal component comes across as medicinal on the palate. I also get some cherry here, which is probably atypical for Zinfandel.
Cedarville Vineyards Zinfandel 2011

There is a lot of oak on the nose.  That gives it a nice coffee smell or maybe chicory.  Deep red fruit flavors mingle with tobacco & nutty oak.  This is a great example of this style.  The oak may be too much for some, but others will love it.

Busby Cellars Barbera 2010

Here’s a fruit forward wine. This had a nice combination of juicy red fruit, leather, & maybe a hint of brettanomyces. On second taste, more than a hint. This would be nice with an herbed roast or a pizza with sausage & caramelized onions.

Ciotti Old Vine Zinfandel Placer County 2011

This is a nice chocolaty Zinfandel with a backbone of earthiness. It has moderate tannins.  Raspberry is the primary fruit.

1374259135_1.Amour_Prive_Logo_hi_re   Amour Prive’ Hommage Rive Gauche 2010

This winery is in the Sierra Foothills, but brings their fruit in at night from Napa.  As you might expect from the name, this is a homage to a left bank Bordeaux style wine.  It is a muscular wine with good tannins & earthiness. It reminds me of raspberry dipped in cocoa. Basically, it is a big Bordeaux  style wine.  At $84 a bottle, it probably isn’t for everyone, but it is worth drinking.

Sierra Vista Roussanne 2011

Apricot is the primary fruit, but there isn’t much here.  After it opened up I got some toasted spiced pear, which was nice. This is better than I first thought. It isn’t a favorite, but it is a solid wine.

Moniz Family Wine Cuvee Olivia 2010

67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc.  The fruit comes from Chalk Hill, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek and Sonoma Valleys.  It’s a classic Bordeaux blend, but doesn’t taste like Bordeaux .  The first impression I got was all new world fruit. It does have some dust to it that is nice.  This is a pretty tasty wine, but there isn’t much on the nose.  At $16 a bottle, it is worth buying a bottle & decanting it to see if the nose will open up with time.