The Freak Of Nature J.J. Watt

In spite of the fact that Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt stands at 6’6″ tall and he tips the scales at 290 lbs., he is a kid at heart as he is playing a child’s game. But make no mistake about the fact that Watt is all business when he steps onto the football field every Sunday afternoon. Watt’s road to NFL stardom is a very interesting one. Watt originally attended Central Michigan University where he played tight end. After one year Watt would transfer to Wisconsin where he would discover the defensive side of the football. But between his time at Central Michigan and Wisconsin, Watt delivered pizzas. In 2010, Watt was a second-team All-American as he helped Wisconsin win the Big Ten Championship. The Texans would make Watt the 11th overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft and it would not take him that long to make an impact.

As a rookie Watt would have 5.5 sacks in helping the Texans win the AFC South for the first time in franchise history. In 2012, Watt would become only the eighth player in NFL history to record at least 20 sacks in a season when he finished with 20.5. Watt’s incredible season would see him be named as the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. In spite of the Texans 2-14 record in 2013, Watt was still a terror as he finished the year with 10.5 sacks and he earned his second consecutive Pro Bowl selection.

J.J. Watt

This past summer the Texans rewarded Watt’s efforts with a six-year, $100 million extension. Where some players would rest on their laurels after being paid handsomely, Watt is out prove that he is still underpaid. Through four games this season Watt only has a pair of sacks but he is making an immense impact.¬†In the Texans Week 2 victory over the Oakland Raiders, Watt reverted to his a days as a tight end at Central Michigan by catching a one-yard touchdown pass from Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Yesterday the Texans found themselves trailing the Buffalo Bills 10-7 in the third quarter. The Bills were driving for a touchdown when the Texans defense forced Bills quarterback EJ Manuel to hurry his pass which comfortably landed in the big mitts of Watt who scampered 80 yards for a touchdown. The touchdown by Watt ignited his teammates and the fans at NRG Stadium in Houston as the Texans would get the 23-17 victory.

Watt makes life easy for Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and his fellow defensive teammates while making life extremely tough for opponents that are attempting to game plan for him. Watt is a defensive end by trade, but he has the ability to line up anywhere in the defensive front seven for the Texans. By being able to line up in multiple positions it makes things tougher for offenses to get a fix as far as where Watt is coming from while also minimizing their ability to double or triple team him. Even when Watt is doubled he still makes an impact. Watt has a wing span of nearly 7-feet and when he cannot get to the quarterback he will swat the ball as if he was Dikembe Mutombo.

Under first-year head coach Bill O’Brien, the Texans have already surpassed their win total from a season ago as they are 3-1 and sitting atop the AFC South with Watt being a big part in that. In just three-plus seasons Watt already has 38.5 sacks while forcing 8 fumbles. Defensive players such as Watt are the kind of impact guys that you will see once in a generation. Watt is only 25-years old, but he is already drawing comparisons to Hall of Fame defensive players such as Deacon Jones, Lawrence Taylor, and Reggie White for the way that he impacts a game and simply disrupts the game plan of an opposing offense. And like Jones, Taylor, and White, Watt simply makes the players around him better.

As rugged as Watt is on the field he is just that gentle off of it. Watt does a ton of charitable work in the Houston area and is the kind of man that will give you the shirt off of his back. But on Sundays he is looking to rip the shirt off of the back of quarterbacks in the effort to help the Texans will football games. Barring a severe injury Watt will continue to get better and when it is all said and done he will be one of the greatest players to ever step onto the gridiron in the National Football League.


The Nine Lives Of Ruben Amaro Jr.

After eight years as a Major League Baseball player, Ruben Amaro Jr. shifted to the front office in 1998 when he was appointed as the assistant general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. From 2006-2008, Amaro learned at the feet of Hall of Fame general manager Pat Gillick who was the architect of the Phillies World Series Championship team in 2008. Gillick decided to hang it up after the Phillies World Series triumph and Amaro was promoted to fill his void in Philadelphia.

Ruben Amaro Jr.

At first Amaro kept the Phillies machine rolling along as the team had their core players in shortstop Jimmy Rollins, second baseman Chase Utley, first baseman Ryan Howard, and starting pitcher Cole Hamels. In 2009, Amaro acquired starting pitcher Cliff Lee from the Cleveland Indians. The Phillies made it back to the World Series in 2009, but they were stopped there by the New York Yankees in six games. In 2010, the Phillies traded Lee to the Seattle Mariners, but they acquired starting pitcher Roy Hallady from the Toronto Blue Jays and starting pitcher Roy Oswalt from the Houston Astros. The Phillies would win 97 games in the regular season, but they ran into a San Francisco Giants team in the National League Championship Series that was able to match them as far as dominant starting pitching. Lee would rejoin the Phillies in 2011 and they ran roughshod over every team in the NL as they would win 102 games. But the Phillies would lose to the eventual World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series.

Since 2011, the Phillies have seen a steep decline in their production. Last year the Phillies had their first losing campaign since 2002 and this season hasn’t been that kind to Philadelphia either as they will finish 2014 in the basement of the NL East.

When Amaro made the moves to acquire players such as Halladay, Oswalt, and Lee, they were win-now deals due to the fact the he parted with the top young talent in the Phillies minor league system. With the Phillies not being close to contending in the past few seasons, Amaro has had chances to part with aging players such as Hamels, Utley, and relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon, but he has opted to keep holding on to an aging team. In 2010, Howard had two years left on his contract with the Phillies when Amaro signed him to a five-year extension worth $125 million. Howard made the final out of the 2011 NLDS and in the process he ruptured his Achilles. Howard has not been the same player since the injury and the Phillies are on the hook to pay him $78 million over the next three seasons.

Amaro has been so desperate to keep the Phillies together with spit and glue that he fired manager Charlie Manuel last season. 2013 was the only season the Manuel has a losing record with the Phillies and he led the team to the World Series Championship in 2008. Now Phillies assistant general manager/ scouting director Marti Wolever was fired this past Friday in what smells of another desperate act by Amaro. Wolever had been with the Phillies since 2001 and he was the man responsible for bringing Howard and Hamels to Philadelphia.

The fans in Philadelphia are out for blood because the changes that they want with their beloved Phillies starts with the team parting ways with Amaro. Amaro’s success as the Phillies general manager was on the back of Gillick’s work. Including the Phillies, Gillick was the man that guided four MLB teams to the postseason from his front office perch including winning a pair of World Series Championships with the Blue Jays in the early 1990′s. All Amaro has done recently has hurt this franchise by giving back loaded contracts to aging players while making it tough for the person after him to clean up. The Phillies team payroll this season of $169 million is the sixth highest in Major League Baseball. Of the five teams ahead of the Phillies on that list, four of them are postseason bound while the Yankees were also in contention for a playoff berth until recently.

The Phillies are not going to get better anytime soon as long as Amaro is still running the show there because he does not believe in making his baseball team in Philadelphia any younger. In the National League East, the Washington Nationals are the king of the mountain as they are what the Phillies were a few seasons ago. The New York Mets and Miami Marlins and two young teams that are improving while the Atlanta Braves will look to bounce back in 2015 from a disappointing 2014 season which spells trouble for the Phillies who are taking a turn for the worse. Amaro continues to somehow survive, but at some point the Phillies ownership group led by David Montgomery has to see enough and Amaro will be shown the door in Philadelphia which could warrant a parade on Broad Street.


Same Ol’ Redskins

The Washington Redskins have been a National Football League franchise since 1932 and their glory days are in the rear view mirror. Since Joe Gibbs retired for the second time as Redskins head coach in 2007, Washington has only had one winning season which was in 2012 when they won the NFC East for the first time since 1999. Jay Gruden is in his first season as the Redskins head coach and he is the eighth head coach in Washington since Dan Snyder purchased the team in 1999. Gruden was hired to maximize the ability of Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III who is the face of the franchise. But that will not be the case in 2014 as Griffin will miss the majority of the 2014 NFL season as he is recovering from a dislocated ankle that he suffered during the Redskins 41-10 victory in Week 2 over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Regardless of Griffin’s situation, the Redskins are a team that is searching for answers in the early part of this season.

After being throttled 45-14 this past Thursday night at the hands of the New York Giants, the ‘Skins are 1-3 and they are looking up in the NFC East. Aside from being 1-3, Washington is also 0-2 within the division.

With Griffin in the lineup the Redskins offense was non-existent in their 17-6, Week 1 loss to the Houston Texans. Griffin was of course injured during the Redskins 41-10 dismantling of the Jaguars in Week 2. But in their last two games, the Redskins have allowed a combined 82 points to the Philadelphia Eagles and Giants. Now it is back to the drawing board for Gruden and his crew as Washington’s Week 5 opponent is none other than the Seattle Seahawks who are the defending Super Bowl Champions which will be followed by a road game against the Arizona¬†Cardinals in Week 6. This season could be getting away from the Redskins before it really starts.

Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins was called upon in relief of Griffin against the Jaguars and in that game he was 22-of-33 passing for 250 yards and a pair of touchdowns with no interceptions. Last Sunday in Philadelphia, Cousins picked apart the Eagles defense to the tune of 427 yards and three touchdowns. But this past Thursday night versus the Giants, Cousins wasn’t the same quarterback as he was picked off four times. Cousins appeared to be rattled as he was forcing the football. The Giants converted six Washington turnovers into 24 points. But the Redskins defense didn’t fare that much better against the Giants as New York was 11-of-16 on third down.

In their past two games Washington’s defense was torched by Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and Giants quarterback Eli Manning respectively. Both Foles and Manning passed for at least 300 yards while the Redskins defense only combined to force one interception and one sack in those two games. The Redskins defense does have 11 sacks on the season, but that number is skewed due to the fact that 10 of those sacks were against the Jaguars.

Dan Snyder

In his time as the owner of the Redskins, Snyder has hired Super Bowl winning head coaches along with relative unknowns to lead his team. Over the years Snyder has also attempted to spend heavily on free agents and when that didn’t work he tried to build his team through the draft. With all of this the results simply have not been there and the blame has to fall squarely at the feet of Snyder. Since the Redskins last Super Bowl Championship, every other team in the NFC East has made at least one appearance in the NFL’s Title Game. Aside from their struggles on the field, the Redskins also have to deal with the controversy surrounding their team name as it has been deemed to be offensive by some Native American groups. The call for the Redskins to change their team nickname continues to grow, but Snyder is not willing to budge; for now.

More than ever the Redskins need to find an identity. This is something that Washington has not had since Gibbs retired for the first time in 1992. In Gibbs’ first run with the Redskins, they only had one losing season and they won three Super Bowl Championships with three different starting quarterbacks. Gibbs did it because he had a system that worked. But under Snyder whoever the Redskins bring in to lead this team seems to fail and that appears to be the case for Gruden in 2014 at least as Washington is on a path for their fifth season with at least 10 losses in the past six campaigns. The football fans in the Nation’s Capitol should buckle up for a very long season as the Redskins appear to be second-class citizens to the Eagles, Giants, and Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East.


The End Of The Line For The Braves

Three of the last four Major League Baseball seasons have seen the Atlanta Braves qualify for the postseason. The Braves were once again expected to contend for a postseason spot in 2014. At the MLB All-Star break the Braves were 52-43 and they were in the thick of things in the National League East. By the end of August, the Braves had dropped ground to the Washington Nationals within the division, but they were still the mix for a wild card spot in the NL. When the month of September began the Braves were 72-65. But now with just four games left in the season, the Braves are only 5-16 this month as they are staring at their first losing season since 2008. The Braves collapse down the stretch has already cost their general manager Frank Wren his job as he was fired earlier in the week and you can expect more changes to come.

This week former Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers general manager John Hart was named as the Braves interim general manager. Already Hart has been offered the job on a full-time basis and he will more than likely accept it which means that he will begin evaluating things in Atlanta. Since 2011, Fredi Gonzalez has been the manager of the Braves and this season is the second year under his watch that the Braves collapsed down the stretch.

The Braves were hit hard with the injury bug this season as starting pitchers Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen both required Tommy John surgeries. In spite of this the Braves pitching staff has still managed to have the third lowest earned run average in the National League this season at 3.35. The Braves starting rotation has been kept together with spit and glue with the likes of Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana while relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel is one of the best in the business as he has 45 saves.

Freddie Freeman

But the Braves main problems this season have come on offense as they are near the bottom of the NL in most statistical categories. All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman has been the Braves best player all season long as he leads the club in hits (171), batting average (.288), and on-base percentage (.387) while outfielder Justin Upton leads the club in home runs (28), and runs batted in (99). Freeman and Upton cannot do it by themselves in the Braves lineup as this team has lacked a quality lead-off hitter all season long.

Last year Wren signed Justin’s older brother B.J. Upton to a five-year, $75 million deal to be the Braves lead-off guy. But Upton has failed to live up to those expectations. This season Upton is batting .207 with a .284 on-base percentage and he has struck out a career-high 171 times. Wren should have seen it coming from the elder Upton due to the fact that he mailed it in during his time as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays are a small-market team and players there tend to showcase themselves for bigger contracts from other clubs, but Upton never did that. Upton continuously has mental lapses in the field as well as at the plate. In a game this past Sunday against the New York Mets, Upton was attempting to throw a runner out at the plate when he completely “air mailed” the ball as hit the netting behind the plate. The throw by Upton drew the ire of the fans at Turner Field in Atlanta as they began to serenade him with boos. What made matters worse for Wren was that he passed on a proven lead-off hitter in outfielder Michael Bourn in favor of B.J. Upton. Bourn spent nearly two seasons with the Braves and in his last season there he had 42 stolen bases along with a .348 on-base percentage. In spite of this Wren allowed Bourn to leave via free agency as he joined the Indians on a four-year, $48 million deal and he would have been the more logical candidate for the Braves. The Braves lack of explosion at the top of their lineup has been evident this month as in 21 games they have only managed to score 48 runs.

John Hart

If Hart is going to become the Braves full-time general manager for 2015 then there are some serious questions that he must answer. Will he retain Gonzalez as his manager? As I previously stated Gonzalez’s teams in Atlanta have had a penchant to falter down the stretch. Gonzalez is a good manager, but would Hart shake up his coaching staff? The Braves already have roughly $65 million committed to payroll for next season and their still must be upgrades to their roster. Santana and Harang have combined to win 25 games for the Braves this season and neither man is under contract for next season. Will the Braves want to bring either player back or will they be in the running for starting pitchers Max Scherzer and Jon Lester who are both expected to command a hefty salary on the free agent market? The Braves will also need to shore up their lead-off position and find a player that will get on base ahead of Justin Upton and Freeman.

Right now the Nationals are the class of the NL East while the Miami Marlins and Mets are young teams that should be improved in 2015. Therefore the Braves cannot afford to get lost in the shuffle within the division. If these issues are not addressed by the Braves front office this winter, then 2015 will be a very long season.


2014 Key Games For Week 5 In College Football

Steve Spurrier

Will Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina defense be up for the challenge against Missouri this Saturday?

It’s Not A Good Time To Be Brady Hoke

Brady Hoke

From 1997-2002, Brady Hoke was an assistant coach for the University of Michigan Wolverines football program and during his first year there he saw the school win the national championship. After going 15-22 in three seasons under head football coach Rich Rodriguez, Michigan hired Hoke in 2011 to restore pride to the maize and blue. In Hoke’s first season in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines went 11-2 and they were able to knock off their key rival Ohio State. But since then the magic has faded for Hoke at Michigan. In the past two seasons under Hoke, the Wolverines are just 13-11. Michigan began this season unranked and they currently find themselves with a record of 2-2. Michigan’s annual rivalry game with the Norte Dame Fighting Irish features the two winningest programs in college football history. But the Irish have decided to put the brakes on the rivalry with Michigan which made this year’s showdown the last contest between the schools for awhile. And on September 6, the Irish took the Wolverines behind the woodshed as they knocked them off 31-0. Things went from bad to worse this past Saturday when the Wolverines lost at home to Utah 26-10. Now the Wolverines must get set for Big Ten Conference play and being that Hoke has not instilled a ton of confidence in the Ann Arbor faithful this year, they are looking for blood.

Under Rodriguez, Michigan only had one winning season. Hoke was supposed to be the guy that would restore Michigan’s winning ways being that he was former assistant there and he understood the school’s proud football tradition. But Hoke had his best season at Michigan in 2011 with Rodriguez’s guys. Hoke now has three recruiting classes under his belt and the results have simply not been there.

This season Michigan is 8th in the nation in total defense, but they are only 81st in total offense. When Hoke first arrived at Michigan he made adjustments to his pro-style offense in favor of variations of the spread offense that would favor former quarterback Denard Robinson. Since 2013 senior quarterback Devin Gardner has been running the show under center for the Wolverines in Hoke’s pro-style offense, but as a whole the offense has been stagnant. Former Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges was seen as the problem and after three years he was let go and replaced this year by Doug Nussmeier. But the problems are still there on offense as in Michigan’s two losses this season they have only managed to score 10 points.

It isn’t helping Hoke situation in Ann Arbor either that under him Michigan is a combined 2-4 against Michigan State and Ohio State. Last season saw Michigan State and Ohio State meet for the Big Ten Championship with Michigan State advancing to and winning the Rose Bowl. Under Hoke, Michigan has struggled against Michigan State and Ohio State and now in the expanded Big Ten Conference, the Wolverines are in the same division as their two fiercest rivals which will make it even tougher for the Wolverines to win the conference. What has made matters worse is that Michigan State has taken Michigan’s place at the top of the Big Ten as far as being the fiercest competition for Ohio State as the Wolverines are simply becoming an afterthought. Now entering Big Ten play, Hoke will be coaching for his job at Michigan. The Wolverines were not expected to win the Big Ten this season and once you factor in their offensive struggles, the conference schedule looks real tough.

Michigan will begin conference play this Saturday against an improved Minnesota squad. Michigan’s game against Minnesota is just the beginning of a stretch in Big Ten play that includes games against Rutgers, Penn State, Michigan State, and Ohio State. Sandwiched in between those games for Michigan is a contest against Indiana who just picked up a huge road win last Saturday against Missouri out of the Southeastern Conference. This Saturday the fans at Michigan Stadium will be on pins and needles and if the Wolverines get off to a slow start you can expect to hear the boo birds around the Big House for Hoke. Three years ago Hoke was the best thing since sliced bread in Ann Arbor. But being the head football coach at Michigan is all about producing winning results. Michigan’s facilities in Ann Arbor are second to none in the nation so there shouldn’t be a struggle for Hoke to get the top high school players in the nation to put on the maize and blue. But if the non-conference season is any reflection of what Michigan’s season will be 2014, then Hoke might as well call Mayflower Transit to get him out of town before the fans in Ann Arbor break out the torches and pitchforks.


Jacob deGrom Has Been Delightful For The Mets

The New York Mets became a Major League Baseball franchise in 1962 and they have had their fair share of good starting pitchers. The Mets minor league system has developed starting pitchers such as Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Dwight Gooden. The Mets also had starting pitchers such as David Cone, Pedro Martinez, and Frank Viola give the people at Shea Stadium plenty of excitement over the years. The Mets bid farewell to Shea Stadium in 2008 in favor of Citi Field and the dominant starting pitching is in the process of returning for the Metropolitans. In 2012, starting pitcher Matt Harvey made his MLB debut with the Mets. Harvey would go 3-5 that season with a 2.73 earned run average. Last season Harvey was 9-5 with a 2.27 earned run average as he finished fourth in the National League’s Cy Young Award balloting and in the process he was the starting pitcher for the NL at the 2013 MLB All-Star Game. Harvey is sitting out this season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, but he is expected to be ready for 2015. Mets starting pitcher Zack Wheeler is only 24-years old and he is 11-10 this season with a 3.49 earned run average as he appears ready to turn the corner and become a big time MLB starting pitcher. Then there is Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom.

Jacob deGrom

DeGrom is a 26-year old rookie this season for the Mets. But unlike Harvey and Wheeler, deGrom didn’t come to the Mets with tremendous fan fare. While Harvey was a first round pick of the Mets in 2010 and Wheeler was the centerpiece of the trade that sent outfielder Carlos Beltran to the San Francisco Giants in 2011, deGrom has simply flown under the radar since being drafted by the Mets in 2010. After being looked upon as a spot starter, deGrom emerged this season when the Mets were dealing with injuries in their starting rotation.

On May 15, deGrom made his Major League debut against the New York Yankees. In that game deGrom threw seven innings of one-run baseball and he took the loss as the Mets fell 1-0, but he served notice that he was here to stay. DeGrom didn’t earn his first Major League win until June 21 against the Miami Marlins when he went seven innings and did not surrender a run. This season deGrom is 9-6 with a 2.63 earned run average. But aside from the good ERA, deGrom has become a strikeout machine. In just 140.1 innings pitched this season, deGrom has also struck out 144 batters. DeGron has had four starts during his brief time with the Mets in which he has struck out at least 10 batters, including his last two starts. On September 15, deGrom struck out 13 batters as he received a no-decision against the Marlins. Yesterday against the Atlanta Braves, deGrom fanned 10 batters in what was more than likely his final start of the season.

DeGrom is near his innings limit for the season as the Mets are set to shut him down, but he has made a tremendous impact for an organization that desperately needs it. DeGrom’s season has also put him in the running to become the first Met since Dwight Gooden in 1984 to be named as the NL’s Rookie of the Year.DeGrom has contributed to a Mets pitching staff that has struck out 1,253 batters which is third in the National League. The Mets also have 97 quality starts which is sixth on the Senior Circuit and on every fifth day deGrom has been more than ready to give his club a chance to win.

For an organization such as the Mets that is looking to become a playoff contender in 2015, deGrom gives them more depth in the starting rotation. Along with Harvey and Wheeler, deGrom gives the Mets another front line starter as pitching appears to once again be ready to carry them into contention.


2014 Week 3 NFL Picks

Will it be the legs of DeMarco Murray that carry the Dallas Cowboys to victory?