Archive for September, 2008

Pity The Ex-patriot Sports Fan

September 30, 2008

No, this post has nothing to do with our buddies up in chowder-land. Today, I hope to give you all a bit of a look into what’s it’s like to be a huge sports fan, but live outside the good ol’ USA. I’ve mentioned from time to time some of the things that I do to stay connected to the world of balls and bats while living in South America. Paying a little extra for DirecTV and making sure that I have the highest speed internet available have helped me keep me more up to date than a lot of people stateside.

Right now, however, I’m staying with friends while we arrange for permanent housing here in Argentina. This means that I’m forced to live ‘down’ to the level of most sports fans who live overseas. What is it like? Well…

Most US sports fans abroad are probably lucky enough to live in a country that likes at least one of the big three sports. Europe loves basketball; Asia and the Caribbean love baseball. That helps. You might pick up a local telecast of a game, but at least can depend on ESPN’s international wing to bring you a game or two week on basic cable. That’s not bad, but unless you are a Yankees or Lakers fan, you aren’t ever going to see your favorite team but once or twice a season. Me? I live in Argentina which means I get some Spurs games, but no baseball or NFL.

If you don’t spring for 1 MB or better internet (which can be pricey), even watching highlight clips on NFL.com or ESPN is a chore. Fast internet also means streaming events. The NFL now streams some games for free (though often content is blocked if they detect you are outside the States), and the $15 for MLBs audio package is money well spent. If you have friends and family back home, you can always set up a Slingbox. This is a nifty device that plugs into your friend’s cable and internet and allows you to watch their TV from anywhere in the world. I have a buddy who has given me access to his, but this doesn’t do me much good on a 256K connection. I watched some NFL on it last Sunday, and at this speed…it’s rough. The audio works though, so it’s better than nothing.

If you don’t have good highspeed internet or a great cable system, you are probably reduced to just getting scores and reading your local paper from back home online once in a while. Maybe you find a blog that covers your team well, but largely you are reduced to following local sports. For most of us who live overseas, that means Football (which means Soccer).

Here’s the thing to realize about soccer if you don’t live in the USA: it’s pretty freaking cool. In the States there are two kinds of soccer snobs; the first consists of people who hate soccer and say it sucks and mock everyone who likes it. I used to be this kind of soccer snob, so I understand the mentality. Most soccer that exisits in the USA does suck. MLS is impossible to watch. Team USA is ok, but really is a third tier power right now. The second kind of soccer snob is scarf wearing elitest guy who looks down on the great unwashed who don’t take off work to watch every UEFA match. This guy probably studied abroad in France for 6 months, and now thinks he’s better than you becuase he follows some obscure Dutch team like Ajax (or if he’s really a poser…Man U). I get how annoying that guy is, and don’t blame you for hating him.

The thing you have to understand about most of us who become soccer fans is that it starts out as a necessity. If you want to have friends and fit in, in most countries you’d best follow soccer. And when played at full speed by experts…it really is a beautiful game. Most everyone in the States sort of gets that now, which is why the Euro Cup and the World Cup get huge ratings. Soccer, when played by men who know what they are doing, is amazing. If you don’t dig it, that’s fine. I’m not going to go all Soccer Snob #2 on you. Just understand, that it helps the ex-pat sports fan survive. Remember to pity those of us who grew up playing baseball and now have to play pick-up soccer. It isn’t pretty. I pretty much head to the goal keeper spot right away. It’s basically the right field of pick up soccer.

So pity the ex-pat sports fan. When he comes home, he’s often ill-informed and ignorant of the ‘big issues’ going on in the sporting world. Some friends in Africa used to love to get video tapes of the Super Bowl (one month late). It’s tough to be that guy. He used to hold his own at the barber shop, but now is on par with slightly effiminate guy who listens to too much Belle and Sebastian.

On the other hand, if he goes the distance and stays connected to US sports, he’ll always have a wealth of information he can’t bring up in any conversation he’ll ever have with friends in his new country. That guy might just exhaust his poor wife by constantly talking about sports anecdotes and observations that she cares nothing for. He’ll wear out his other US friends in country (who don’t follow sports nearly as closely) with endless descriptions of games he watched or listened to on line. He might get so desperate to talk about sports that he does the absolutely unthinkable…

He’ll start a blog.

Pity the expatriate sports fan.

Links:
This is what passes as a positive review for Pacers fans these days.

Does anyone know what’s going on around here?

September 29, 2008
One of the chief reasons for optimism for Colts fans is that it’s pretty difficult to figure out who in the AFC is actually any good. Yesterday was a prime example. Buffalo and Tennessee both won moving to 4-0. We all know enough to take the Titans sort of seriously, although you have to wonder how things will shake out when Vince Young gets ‘healthy’ (whatever that completely entails). I’m willing to say that this team is legit(ish). They obviously have had an excellent defense for some time, and the offense is just trying to stay out of the way. It can’t believe what terrible luck it was for the rest of the NFL that he got hurt. If Young could only have stayed healthy, the Titans could have been counted on to be a second tier team.

After the Titans though, it’s anyone’s guess. San Diego and Jacksonville both sucked out yesterday and came away with wins. Denver wandered into their own house of horrors. I suppose if Baltimore beats the Steelers tonight, we can assume they are good. I’m still not sold on Buffalo, though I freely admit that I can’t articulate why off the top of my head.

If the Chargers or New England had bolted out of the gate, I think we’d all feel pretty sick right now. As it stands, the Colts are still right in the thick of things, although it’s basically imperitive to win 3 of the next four games (including at the Titans) if they hope to keep their division hopes alive. Three of those games are on the road, although whether Green Bay is any good is anyone’s guess (MMTTB will be fun this week!).

Links:
It’s from last week, but I avoided the media last week. Whitlock gently wonders about Dungy’s coaching schedule. It’s a fair question, but I think that there are enough other things that have clearly gone wrong. Unless the rest of the NFL is practicing on Friday nights, I doubt this is the culprit.

This Star piece on Irsay’s daughter was great yesterday.

Peter King claims he isn’t shocked over the state of the NFL. His nonsensical intro (in which he claims that the topsy turvy-ness of this NFL season is to be expected) actually helps me articulate why I don’t trust the Buffalos of the world. Because it’s a long season, and a chunk of the league hasn’t even played 4 games yet, it’s just silly to talk about the NFL like there has been some sea change. I can buy Tennessee because we’ve seen this coming from them for some time. All it took was removing VY from the equation. As for other pretenders like Buffalo, it takes a lot more than 4 games to convince me that they’ve arrived. King would be better served telling people not to overreact to four (three!) games worth of data and just calm down a little. Instead he acts like the way the standings look now is the way they’ll finish up.

Cool Hand, Luke

September 28, 2008

Good bye, Paul. The screen, the salad, and the track will miss you. Thanks for 83 years of being awesome.

Moving Forward

September 27, 2008
It’s been a great time for me ‘to get away’ and clear my head of football. Though I grant you that not blogging much this week has been a bit of a shock to my system, the events of real life have made that necessary. And so now, I come back reenergized and ready to state my presuppositions about this season going forward. In as few words as possible: I’m not worried. Not even a little.

Here’s a list of controversial statements that I hold to be true:

1. Peyton Manning’s best game was week 1. Peyton did what was necessary to win the game. The WRs failed miserable (along with the line), and it cost the Colts a win.

2. The Colts were lucky to win in week 2, and unlucky in week 3. They were vastly superior to the Jags, and blown calls on both picks by Peyton swung that game. If either call is made, Indy wins by double digits.

3. The problem with the run defense is not the D-line, but rather the linebackers. The D-line is holding its own, but it is the linebackers who must make tackles. The gap control has been poor, leading 2006-like rushing performances by opposing backs.

4. The Colts third down failures are in large part due to Tim Jennings being on the field. He gives too big a cusion to almost every type of receiver and this leads to easy completions.

5. There is nothing wrong with the Colts offense that can’t be solved by Manning making better decisions. Three of his four picks the last two games have been terrible decisions (I give him a pass on the return for a TD against the Jags, because the interference was so obvious). The return of Saturday and Clark proved the Colts can move and run the ball, and I expect Manning to be much more controlled after the bye. The Colts offense will once again be in the top 5. I expect Manning to throw no more than 6 picks the rest of the year, to go with 27 more TDs. Other than a couple of bad decisions, I’ve seen no evidence that his play or skill has slipped.

6. There is nothing truly wrong with the Colts defense. In three games, the most points they allowed was 20. In fact, they have allowed three touchdowns in three games (and one of those TD drives started on the Indy half of the field). That ought to be good enough to win three games. The problem is that people like to place blame. Why did the Colts lose? TOO MANY RUSHING YARDS! Um, no. They lost week one because Harrison fumbled and it was run back for a score. They lost week three because both Manning picks eventually resulted in TDs. The defense played well enough to win both games. Did it fail from time to time, yes of course. It’s easy to blame the D for the loss last Sunday because it folded so badly in the fourth quarter. To do so, however, minimizes the culpability of the offense in letting the D stay on the field so long. No defense will perform well when forced to be on the field for 25 minutes a half.

7. I still expect the Colts to win 11-12 games and win the South fairly easily. None of the ‘new power’ teams in the AFC are very scary, and I have a feeling that in 6 or 7 weeks everyone will laugh at people who considered San Diego and Indy to be slipping in favor of the Buffalos and Denvers of the world. The Colts still have 5 games left with Cincinnati, Cleveland, Houston and Detroit who are a combined 0-11.

Let’s just say…I woudn’t want to be Houston next week. It’s always tough to win at Houston for reasons that I’ve never quite understood, but I sense that a beat down is coming for the Texans.

A Good Omen

September 24, 2008

As I prepare to board a flight for DC (and then on to Buenos Aires) with my wife, two kids, and everything I own, I was stunned to see a large bearded figure standing at the service counter for United. There, preparing to board my flight was the unmistakable Jeff Saturday. As I passed him on my way back to my seat, I debated saying something subtle like, “I love Penn Station.” or, “My, you are exquisitely groomed”, or just “Go ‘Heels” but instead, I thanked him for playing a great game on Sunday and told him we are all proud to have him. He laughed and was appreciative. It was brief exchange largely becuase I didn’t want to be “hassle the celebrity guy”. Still, I was decked out in Colts gear, and figured if I didn’t say anything as I passed, it might be deflating for him. If a Colts fan can’t recognize you as an O-lineman, you really must be a second class citizen. Anyway, it was a great start to what was a long trip with four and two year olds.

I’m not fully back up on my feet here, but there were a couple of things I wanted to comment on that came up in the comments:

1. It’s awesome to see so many people saying that they rewatched the game or studied the highlight tapes. This is the key to being an informed fan. Watch the game once for enjoyment, and then rewatch it for knowledge. Just doing that raises your level of understanding beyond say, Bob Kravitz who watches it once live and then basically forgets what he sees.

2. I haven’t had time to hit the tape of this game yet, but I have zero trouble believing what Westside Rob wrote about the linebackers. This is consistent with what always tends to be the problem with the Colts run D. Columnists say dumb things like, “We need more DTs”, when it’s usually the backers fault that plays aren’t made. Hagler being out has hurt this D. The good news is…he’s coming back (eventually). I’m willing to be that when I do watch the tape, I’ll see what Rob saw. Sessions and Jennings failing miserably.

3. Seriously, lay off the “why didn’t we run on 1st down at the 2” talk. Saying that is a coaching mistake ignores one key fact:

WHEN WE RAN, WE SCORED.

If the Colts had run the ball on first down, they probably would have scored. The Jags didn’t stop the run once all day. Unless you advocate Indy taking a knee down 6 points, don’t beg for a run play to kill the clock. A run play on first down would most likely have resulted in a TD on first down. You could argue that the two pass plays wasted more time than a first down run would have. The Jags likely would have tried the “Green Bay” defense of letting the runner score so as to preserve time. At the time, I was begging for a run too, but mostly because I knew it would result in a TD. Which it did.

4. Blaming the coaches for a loss like this isn’t appropriate, especially for the failed offensive drives. Manning calls the plays. It’s always worked before. Did he screw up by throwing deep in third quarter when the D needed to stay off the field? YES. Was that anyone’s fault but his? No, although Mathis certainly helped by yanking Harrison’s shoulder pads. That’s the way the Colts offense has always worked. It’s all on Peyton. We were a 51 yard FG away from that working again. Peyton threw two picks, both of which were at least partially the result of blown pass interference calls. The second pick shouldn’t have been thrown anyway. He almost won that game on one of the sickest drives I’ve ever seen. Instead, he lost it in the third quarter with a dumbass pick. It happens. It’s not the coaches fault, unless you want to question the entire foundation for the Colts offense under Peyton. It’s almost always his call. I can live with that.

5. I’m glad it’s the bye week. It gives me a chance to adjust to live down here, and the team a chance to heal. I’m not worried about this season (yet), but the game at Houston is beyond a must win.

Demond Sanders: I agree it is difficult to criticize any drive that ends in a touchdown. The Colts had one mission in the final two minutes: score 7 points. Mission accomplished. Criticizing how they scored those points is very picky. Still, I think the Colts should have run on first down. They probably do score, in which case this argument is moot. But maybe they don’t score. The Colts lost because the Jags had three timeouts. They needed to force them to use at least one, if not two.

JDR isn’t smart enough to let the Colts score ala Green Bay. Those three timeouts ensured that the only way the Jags wouldn’t get the field goal was for the D to force a turnover on downs. Which they nearly did. In summation, I am always in favor of running the clock on potentially game-ending drives, but the Colts were trying to score a touchdown and clock strategy was a distant second priority at that moment. Were we complaining when the Colts scored so amazingly quick (leaving a full minute on the clock) against New England in the AFC Championship game? No, we were just really glad they found a way to score. The same should apply here.

Links:

Peyton answers questions

Stomach Punch

September 22, 2008
Jags 23 – Colts 21

My last post for awhile

September 22, 2008

Here’s a couple of quick thoughts about the game in no order:

The $3 parking is gone. They charge $10 now, and it was all filled by tailgaters. That sucks.

Tim Jennings got abused on every third down completion. He made a great special teams play, but was horrible in coverage.

The tipped pass that Jacksonville caught was crazy.

Jack Del Rio tried hard to give that game away, but his team just wouldn’t let him. The field goal he passed on, the give up drive to end the first half, and the gutless decision to run on 3rd and goal late all should have sunk his club.

The Stadium wasn’t loud until the final series by Jacksonville. The crowd was in a daze the whole time. There was no energy from the start.

We sure did miss Bob Sanders.

The defense was just a step slow on the last drive. That was the result of being on the field for 40 minutes.

It was nice to see the stretch play again.

After watching the two picks, I can’t believe the irony that we lost on a pass interference call. The TV guys documented the blown call on the pick 6, which was clearly interference. They missed the obvious hold on Marvin on the awful second pick as well. If you watch closely, Mathis grabs Marvin’s jersey about the 20 yard line and pulls it off the shoulder pads. This screwed the timing of the play up. It was a clear hold that everyone on our side of the stadium saw. It was a terrible throw by Peyton, but it should have resulted in a 5 yard gain for Indy. I’m sick about these two calls.

There may be talk about Marvin being done, but he abused Mathis all day. He didn’t make all the plays, but Mathis interfered with him twice on picks. Manning was still keying on Marvin all day. Maybe too much.

Charlie Johnson was solid in run blocking. He is still getting schooled on too many pass rushes.

This isn’t a crushing loss, but it sure did rob of us of what would have been a HUGE win. The Jags did some things very well; but in the end, they got the breaks that swung the game.

I’ll see you all in the Southern Hemisphere. Remember, there is no podcast this week, but I will post the 18 Plays with some commentary later this week.

Jags Pregame

September 21, 2008

As DZ mentioned I’ll (Westside Rob) once again be blogging the home game for today. Some surprising games so far around the league.

  • The Brady injury finally catching up with NE, though even without Brady they shouldn’t be giving up those kinds of points.
  • The Bengals hanging with the Giants.
  • ATL and Matt Ryan looking like a really decent team, against a hapless Chiefs team.
  • Buffalo down to the once hapless Raiders (I have the Bills in my Suicide pool so I’m sweating it bad right now)
  • The Titans looking pretty scary and all over the Texans once again.

For those few of you who tuned into my blogging of the Bears game, I am not going to do quite the moment by moment blogging this time. I’ll probably take the Demond approach and blog at the end of each drive, and maybe when there is a really big play. I’ll try to follow and respond to the comments better this time.

I’m looking for the Colts to break out today. I know the Jags are desperate but I tend to think that will make them sloppy and push them to make mistakes. Saturday being back should help settle the line down. If the Colts can get up early, the Jags lack of mental toughness should lead them to collapse early. Let’s go Colts!!!

First Quarter:

1st Drive: GREAT DRIVE! Great catch by Clark for a big game, and the stretch play is BACK and you gotta love Marvin catching the TD.

Good special teams coverage, and great 3 and out by the defense. Great start by the Horse!

Not a horrible series on the second drive. A couple O-line breakdowns but we got the running game going again and some good pass plays before coming up short on a long 3rd down. Bad field position for the Jags to start their 2nd drive.

Too many missed tackles by the whole defense. Players generally be seeming to hold their gaps and coverage, but just aren’t making tackles. Nice stand at the goal though. Jags can’t win scoring FGs. You have to score TDs to beat the Colts. Min proved that last week.

Sorry had to step away for a bit for some family stuff, so I might be behind for a while, as I catch up on the DVR. Bad offensive series by the Colts and the defense follows up soft as well, but get tough at the goal line again. 4 and out!

Huge throw to Wayne, followed by a huge pick by Peyton that Mathis return for a touchdown. Mathis had seriously illegal contact… Colts get ball back and start running the ball. Peyton still doesn’t look fully himself, but a great long throw to AG helps! Another HORRIBLE no call, Cross is wrong. Finally they make the call on interference, about time. Dumb jokes by Enberg. BIG delay/draw stretch to Rhodes, that’s a play I’d like to see more of. TOUCHDOWN J.Addai Master!

Halftime Thoughts: Offense is running the ball well. If not for that bad pick this game is already half way to put away. I like what I’m seeing from the offense, but I’d like to see the defense get a little more stout. The rookie Guards are doing better this week with Saturday back in but they need to stop the false starts. Other then that much better play from the O-line.

3rd Qtr: Defense playing more stout even though they are giving some ground (bending but not breaking). Getting the Jags into 3rd downs (some longish). Need to get a stop but looking better. AND THERE IT IS. Hayden makes a great jump and takes it the other way

Offense has to capitalize on the TO with a TD. Instead Peyton turns it over in the endzone. Poorly underthrown ball by Peyton. My wife is daring me to type that Peyton sucks…of course he doesn’t but that was a totally sucky throw. She doesn’t really think that Peyton sucks but just thinks that the lack of Bob Sanders on the field is affecting Peyton’s mind.

Run defense was looking better until that big play, HORRIBLE tacking. Defense is collapsing. Offense needs to get a drive going and put TD on the board.

So my Dad wants to know what happened to the rhythym of the first half on offense? It’s not looking good right now. We need to get the momentum back.

Jennings has been huge on Special Teams this year. Nice shoestring tackle on the punt return.

We really need to hold them to a FG here, the defense is play about 3/4ths of the plays really good and the other 1/4th really bad. Giving up an 18 yd gain on 2 and 17 is a good way to make sure you lose. Note to the Colts coaches. Del Rio is going to RUN no matter what.

This game is a mirror image of last week’s game. Problem is your much better off surging in the 2nd half then the 1st. In response to the question of which is worse the Colts D o O??? I’d vote Offense in the 2nd half because they were totally inept. Defense at least held them to a FG.

Well if the Colts can’t get this 1st down then they definitely wear the title of more “incompetent” for this game at least. Their 2nd half performance has been just about as horrible as you can imagine.

Amazing throw 18 to 88!!! First down!

I think people can start to shut up about Marvin being done. He might be on the downside of his career but I think he still has a good deal to offer.

Great play to Wayne, Colts inside the 5!!!!

TOUCHDOWN COLTS!!!!!!!!! J.Addai Master nice run up the middle. I wish they’d run earlier in that position since if they didn’t get in Jax has to take timeouts…

What a kickoff by AV. Let’s go D, we need to be TOUGH! Nice tackle by Jackson

One play guys, just one play. We need it!

HORRIBLE CALL!!! This is not looking good. Comes down to a 51yard kick. Though the game was over and the Refs bailed Jax out on that absolutely horrible pass interference call.

Colts Lose… we got screwed but didn’t really deserve to win it anyway. This team really needs to dig deep and figure out what’s going on. No intensity, no consistency.

Thanks DZ and DS for the chance to help out again.

Watching the Jags

September 20, 2008

Eyes in the Backfield this week focuses heavily on the offensive lines. Here’s a taste:

With a miracle win under their belt, the Colts look to get this season going in the right direction by taking down the struggling Jaguars. Both teams have to view this game as a must win, as the Jags have stumbled out of the gate and are in serious danger of falling permanently out of playoff contention. Here’s what to watch for on Sunday:

1. Watch for the MASH units. Both teams have had their offensive lines decimated by injury, and it’s seriously affecting their ability to run the football. The back-ups that do a better job in run blocking should come out with a win.

2. Watch for the two givens in any game against the Jags. Josh Scobee will miss a short field goal and Jack Del Rio will make a major coaching gaffe. It happens almost every time these two teams play.

3. Watch the slot. Especially if Dallas Clark comes back, it may be a game of Russian roulette for the Jags in the slot. The only problem is that every chamber has a bullet. It doesn’t matter who the Colts play there, Wayne, Gonzalez and Clark will take turns carving up the Jags over the middle.

Keep reading…there’s 15 more things to watch for!

Also, just one programming note:
Westside Rob will be doing the live game blog again tomorrow, as Demond and I will be at the game. In addition, win or lose there won’t be any 18 Plays Podcast this week. I will be occupied with the move back to Argentina, and can’t be sure that I’ll have time to watch the game tape until much much later in the week.

18to88 on FO

September 18, 2008

Hey for those who haven’t seen it yet, check out our contribution to Mike Tanier’s Walkthrough piece. We contribute a recap of the Luke as of the Bears game. For those who want even a more thorough look at other aspects of the dome, check out our buddy Paul’s review.

Thanks to Mike Tanier for giving us the chance to contribute.

Links:
Sorry about no new posts today. I am leaving for Buenos Aires on Monday, so you won’t be hear much from me for a few days. We are working up Eyes in the Backfield, and that should be up late tonight or tomorrow.

Simmons says something nice about Peyton, then picks the Jags.

The AFC South blog has a couple of good piece including an interview with Gary Brackett and a piece on who the Titans are rooting for this weekend.

Jim Caple names IMS the 7th most important sporting venue in the USA. The NCAA headquarters downtown make 26th. Hinkle is 62nd and Conseco is 66th. Armstrong at IU and Assembly Hall come in at 94 and 95. Throw in Notre Dame Stadium at 18th, and you get 7 of the 100 most important sports venues located in Indiana. Sure, it’s just one man’s opinion, but it’s still pretty cool.