In Bill We Trust??

Jamie Collins is gone.

Chandler Jones has been gone for a while.

Jabaal Sheard, Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan have regressed from last year.  To the point of Sheard now getting benched for some reason.  Perhaps regression can describe Malcom Brown and Patrick Chung as well?

Chris Long has been pretty invisible.

As has Rob Ninkovich.  But I guess that’s what happens when you can’t juice anymore.

Throw in the fact they gave away Dominique Easley for nothing if you wish.  I’m ok with even saying they let Akiem Hicks get away over short money.  Hicks played pretty well after being acquired from the Saints last year.

Etc.

And that’s just the defense.

Should we be worried?  In the whole scheme of things, probably not.  There are a bunch of cream puffs on the schedule going forward and the offense alone should beat all of them.  But in reality, the whole thing is concerning.

Throw all the departures and regression from above and add in the high draft picks in recent years that have contributed very little on defense (Cyrus Jones, Jordan Richards, Geneo Grissom, Vincent Valentine, and probably still including Trey Flowers).  Not to mention in-season acquisitions that have added zero (Barkevious Mingo, Kyle Van Noy and Eric Rowe…contributing negatively in Rowe’s case actually).  So where is the talent now…and the depth?

Good question.

The positive I suppose is that the Pats are actually 6th in NFL in points allowed with 163, only 11 behind league leading Minnesota’s 152.  But this is kind of a bogus positive.  The schedule has had plenty of cream puffs on it already.

The Patriots should once again cruise to the division title and still actually host the AFC Championship Game.  But that is more of an indictment on the rest of the AFC really.  The East is putrid and the South ain’t much better.  The West has some teams with good records, but is anyone really afraid of Oakland or Kansas City?  Denver, maybe.  But their offense has taken several steps back.  And I don’t know what is wrong with Pittsburgh at this point.

But it just doesn’t feel right.  I don’t know what the game plan was against Seattle.  That game was all lined up for a win.  Seattle was on a short week.  Travelling across the country.  Their defense had spent a ton of time on the field in recent weeks and were missing Michael Bennett.  Russell Wilson is a little banged up and doesn’t run as much now.  The Seahawks running game was lacking.  The Patriots were coming off a bye and were at home.  And on and on.  Seattle will always play everyone tough despite whatever odds.  But it still should have been a win.

For years a lot of us have questioned the Patriots’ defensive methods.  Defensive backs never turn their heads in coverage.  They don’t blitz often.  Years of “bend, but don’t break” mentality.  Par for the course this year, but seemingly worse.  How ’bout for once we try something different?  Unleash Mingo or something…tell him to just make a beeline for the QB on every snap?  Maybe play a little more man and not have opponents’ wide receivers running free all through the secondary?  Stop carrying 85 special teamers and have some of those guys actually play a position capably.  Stop giving away talent.  Yeah, not likely.  I’m not a defensive coordinator.  But there has to be a better way.  Very rarely should anyone question Belichick.  But again, things just don’t feel right.  Even if they are 7-2.

Sadly, I am a little worried about Colin Kaepernick looking like Joe Montana later today…

We’ve focused on the defense, but the offense isn’t necessarily as stout as it can be either.  Sure, the first 4 games were helmed by backup quarterbacks.  But that side of the ball doesn’t feel right now either.

Julian Edelman isn’t the same.  They don’t seem to play Danny Amendola a whole lot for reasons unknown.  Maybe they are managing an injury there too.  Now Chris Hogan is banged up.  Malcolm Mitchell has been hurt some as well.

Now Gronk is out…and who knows for how long?  Martellus Bennett has been pretty good.  But he isn’t 100%.  I don’t know if AJ Derby can play in the NFL.  But Denver thinks he can.  And they gave him away to the Broncos.

The running game?  LeGarrette Blount has been better than expected.  But he is still…LeGarrette Blount.  Dion Lewis is back.  But let’s hold up on going crazy on that for now.  Still not a fan of James White.  And the offensive line doesn’t exactly open up a lot of holes…or give Brady a ton of time for that matter.

Tons of negativity here, I know.  But 7-2 never felt so bad.  This season was supposed to be a cakewalk to at least a Super Bowl appearance.  And it may very well be still.  After all, the NFL as a whole kinda stinks this year.  But the decisions of the team and the head coach appear to be making it hard to see that now.  It’s hard for me to see how the team gets better down the stretch, even if guys get healthy.  The competition should be weak, so what kind of test will any of the games be for the team?  Actually, with all of the above, maybe the games WILL be tests.  And that is pretty scary.  Because they shouldn’t be.

So watch Kaepernick be…Kaepernick later today and the Pats win something like 45-7.  After posting this, I’m pretty much counting on it now.  This is pretty much the first time in the Belichick era that I have had some doubts.  Prove me wrong Bill…as always…

Boston Celtics Season Preview?

So, similar to the Boston Bruins season preview posted a long time ago, it’s not really a “season preview” if you write it after the regular season starts.  Especially when they are 7 games into said season.  But also similar to the Bruins, I did not watch a lick of the Celtics preseason games.  Not because I tuned them out, like I did the Bruins.  But because I didn’t feel like the preseason would tell me all that much.  I mean, how many people were riveted on the battle for the 15th roster spot between R.J. Hunter and James Young?  Maybe it would have given me a little bit of insight into what Jaylen Brown is or could be or on how Al Horford looked in a Boston uniform initially or something along those lines, who knows?  But I’m pretty sure I watched the MLB playoffs instead.

Anyway, in hindsight, I wish I had watched some of the preseason action.  Maybe it would have made me feel a little better about things long-term.  The 7 regular season games sure haven’t helped me much on that matter.

There are much higher expectations for this Celtics team in 2016-17.  Even though they essentially added only Horford and Brown…Gerald Green too, if you so desire.  They also didn’t really lose a whole ton besides perhaps Evan Turner…and I suppose Jared Sullinger.  As a result, people all of a sudden expect the C’s to march into the Eastern Conference Finals with 50-55 or so wins without much competition.  Probably feeling like Horford alone would help them do that.  Feel like that’s a little aggressive considering they haven’t won a playoff series under Brad Stevens yet.

Personally, the Horford acquisition didn’t really fire me up too much.  Way too much money for him.  I did accept it though, because the Celtics certainly had to spend money on someone.  And maybe Al could help bring some other free agents to Boston to help the cause.  Either way, the trajectory seemed to still be pointing up, so it is what it is.  I think we have already been through all that though.

The fact is, Horford alone was not all of a sudden going to make this Celtics team a championship contender.  MAYBE 2nd in the East behind Cleveland.  But could we guarantee that?  After all, other teams did things to improve themselves as well.  I think people locally felt 2nd in the East was a foregone conclusion.  Now we are seeing that this will clearly not be the case.  That it will at least be a dogfight.

Why?  A lot of reasons actually.  Of course, it’s never really just one reason.  But here is one man’s opinion of some of the reasons, in no particular order:

*Press clippings.  Full disclosure:  I haven’t seen every minute of every game.  But I’ve seen enough to know that it appears the defensive intensity isn’t quite the same as last year.  This team won fans over last year by giving max effort every game all year long.  Doesn’t seem the same this year.  Oh, it appears Avery Bradley has upped his offensive game.  Defensively though?  The team is giving up like 112 points per game.  And that’s a silly amount in today’s game.  Maybe the players have let last year’s praise go to their head?

*Injuries.  Horford, Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder and Kelly Olynyk have missed time already this year.  Olynyk still stinks, but the Celts don’t think so.  In any event, any time you take 4 of your rotation guys out, there is bound to be some struggles.

*Rebounding.  Wow.  This has been horrific.  I really do not have to tell you that though.  Bradley is averaging almost 8 boards a game and that is awesome.  But what’s not so awesome is that he leads the team.  All 6’2″ of him.  Atrocious.  Whoda thought they may miss Sullinger here, even a little bit?  And why can’t we see more of Jordan Mickey here?  I have no idea if Mickey can even play in the NBA.  And I know he is listed at 6’8″.  But he got boards in college.  Let’s see if he can do it in the pros.  Olynyk is 7 feet, but he isn’t going near the basket.  Ditto Jonas Jerebko and his 6’10”  Tyler Zeller is 7 feet and Amir Johnson is 6’9″, but rebounding machines they are not.  Horford really isn’t either anymore either.  Give the kid more minutes and just see, I beg of you Brad.  And yes, I confirmed all those heights.  Fact checking, gotta do it!

*Free throw shooting.  Ok, somewhat minor.  But have you caught a glimpse of some of the percentages being thrown up there?  Frightening.

*Coaching.  Yup.  It’s the 4th year of the Brad Stevens regime.  Time to start producing.  I know it can be a slow build even back to respectability.  Kids taken with all the draft picks can take time to grow.  Blah blah blah.  But then again, outside of Smart and a smidge of Terry Rozier, none of those picks are playing all that much.  Too many of the mediocre veterans are.  Johnson, Jerebko and Zeller in particular.  Even Gerald Green.  Outside of Amir burying 4 threes in one quarter earlier this season, I’m not sure he’s been very recognizable on the court.  I have no idea what Jerebko does at all.  Seems to be completely useless to me.  Both of their options were exercised for this year (12 mil for Amir and 5 mil for Jonas).  I would have taken that 17 mil and spent it elsewhere.  Zeller’s 2 years, 16 mil is slightly more palatable, but I may have spent that elsewhere as well.  Maybe instead of Zeller giving you some offense at backup center, how about a backup center who plays defense, blocks shots and gets rebounds?  Seems more sensible to me.  Green’s signing has never made sense to me at all.  Less than a million, but…why?  I have no idea if James Young can play in the NBA either.  But he is 21 years old.  I’d rather give him the minutes to see if he pans out.

I don’t love the way Stevens has seemed to yo-yo Brown around as well.  The 2nd game of the year he’s playing key minutes down the stretch against Chicago and then in Game 6 and 7 against Denver and Washington he’s getting pretty much glued to the bench?  Even with Crowder out?  Sure, he’s a kid and will make mistakes.  Huge mistake in the last minute against Chicago in that aforementioned game.  But he’s the #3 pick in the draft.  With all the injuries early on, I’d be throwing him out there a ton and see what he’s got.  Except in their 2nd game against Chicago where he had 4 fouls in 8 minutes.  Kind of tough for him to play a lot more in that one with that “production”.

There was the Opening Game against Brooklyn, where Brad pulled his starters too early and it almost cost them. Thought they would cruise against Brooklyn with the bench, they weren’t any good, everyone seemed to stop playing, etc.  Brooklyn did hit some good shots, but still.

The C’s also take too many threes, many of them ill-advised.  But that’s enough Stevens bashing.  I actually like the guy.  A lot of the above can actually be pointed in another direction.  Brad can only go with the players he has.  Ssssoooo…

*GM:  …it’s time to pull the trigger Danny.  Of course, I’ve been saying this for quite some time.  And maybe 7 games into the current season isn’t actually the right time.  Especially with some players hurt.  But when everyone is healthy, Stevens is going to try to find minutes for like 12 guys.  And that’s at least too many, maybe 4.  Kind of reminds me of the 2006-7 season.  When Doc Rivers was trying to play 12 guys.  Playing a guy like Tony Allen 5 minutes one night, 30 the next, 13 the next, etc.  Playing too many guys and jerking around their minutes at the same time.  Trying to find good combinations sure, but really not developing any of the young guys and all that.  Coincidentally, Gerald Green was also on that team.  Anyway, Ainge helped Doc the next year by getting Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and getting rid of the excess.

No one is going to give Ainge those types of players on the cheap again.  Especially when stories have been out that Danny tries to “win” every deal.  But he needs to find a way to clear some guys to shorten the rotation.  But more importantly, “clear” those guys and get something significant in return.  It’ll be tough, because again, no one is going to be like old friend Kevin McHale and do Ainge a solid.  And it’ll also be tough because it appears that the C’s young players aren’t as good as Danny may think they are.  Young is playing himself off the team, as the C’s did not pick up his option for next year.  Hunter is already gone…though it looks like he hasn’t even suited up for the Bulls yet.  Ben Bentil was supposedly a steal at the end of the 2nd round, but he is gone as well.  Then again, he also got waived by Indiana shortly after they claimed him.  I actually would have kept him.  Why not?  He got some boards in college, maybe he could have helped there, who knows?

The point is that Ainge may have already missed the boat on dealing the younger guys.  And there is a couple more 1st rounders stashed overseas that will be here eventually.  More draft picks as well.  Abdel Nader, a late second rounder this year, agreed to go to the D-League.  And this is all after they traded 2 of their picks last year for a 2019 first rounder.  One of those 2 picks taken by Memphis 31st overall, was used on Deyonta Davis.  Who?  Yeah, I don’t know if he can play either.  But he was supposed to be a mid-first rounder.  Supposedly can rebound and block shots at a minimum.  Sounds like someone the Celts could use as a backup big man.  Maybe he’s stinks too, though it’s probably too early to tell.  Can’t wait for that 2019 first rounder though.

There are 75 games left, so there is probably no need to panic.  This season just feels different from last year…so far.  Maybe it’s the injuries.  Maybe it’s a combination of all of the above and the ship will get straightened out soon.  I just feel like this is the year that the team needs to take a step up and I don’t see it.  I’m not sure I see it with everyone healthy.  Still waiting for moves to be made.  I think everyone is.  But I’m not sure anything will happen, certainly not any time soon.  So I ask…how much longer can we wait?

Editor’s note:  The majority of this was written before Friday night’s demolishing of the Knicks.  I can unequivocally say that this game does not change my overall view.  By my count, the Knicks have only 3 players (Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis and Derrick Rose) and maybe 3 other guys that can be useful (Courtney Lee, Joakim Noah and Brandon Jennings) and that’s about it.  Rose is not the same guy as the superstar that came into the league like 8 years ago and ‘Melo got tossed in the 2nd quarter.  They actually gave minutes to that white dude from Wichita State with the bad hair.  Nice win, but I’m not getting worked up over it.

 

Boston Bruins Season Preview?

Not quite.  For one, the season is three games old.  For two, I was pretty disgusted with their offseason and kind of tuned them out until Opening Day.  So there you have it…

Fear not!  The above will certainly not stop me from commenting on the roster/coaches/management/first three games…or anything else.  What’s better than listening to (reading) someone’s at least partially uninformed opinions?  Not much!

I’m not sure we need to rehash my extreme disappointment in the retention of Claude Julien after last season.  Again, Claude has had a good run here.  One Stanley Cup win and another appearance in the final.  Mostly competitive teams all the way through.  But missing the playoffs 2 years in a row should be unacceptable in Boston.  Especially the way they fell apart at the end of both seasons.  Not to mention that the brass has said they want to transition the style of play to…something that Claude has historically not favored.  Sometimes things just run their course and it’s time to go.

I am entirely convinced that Claude is still here simply because they handed him a 3 year contract extension in the middle of the 2014-2015 season.  This is Year 2, still a bit early to eat the dough if he was fired.  I guess we will see how the year goes, to see if Jeremy Jacobs is comfortable eating one year on the contract.  Then again, watch him win enough this year…

As for the players, looking back at the end of last year’s roster, I was surprised to see how much turnover there actually has been.  Sure, they re-signed Kevan Miller to a ridiculous contact.  They re-signed Torey Krug to a fat contract as well, but I can stomach that more than Miller’s.

But look at some other names that are gone:  Loui Eriksson is the big one of course.  I’m not upset at all he is gone.  I am extremely pissed off that he walked with the B’s getting zero in return.  Easily could have dealt him at last year’s trade deadline.  Or at least possibly traded his rights before free agency started.  Whatever.  The other names that are gone that I want to reference are the likes of Chris Kelly, Max Talbot, Joonas Kemppainen, Dennis Seidenberg, Lee Stempniak, Landon Ferraro and Brett Connolly.  Zac Rinaldo is still here, but he is in the minors.

Focusing on the forwards above, outside of Eriksson, they are largely 3rd/4th liners at best.  But Claude loved to play them.  Now that they are gone, this HAS to be a promising development, right?!  They have been replaced by the likes of Austin Czarnik, Danton Heinen and Noel Acciari…with David Pastrnak presumably playing more and Frank Vatrano another viable option when he returns to full health.  Unproven NHLers and young, for sure.  But you’d have to think that they’d have bigger upside than the veterans above, led by Claude’s seemingly all-time favorite in Chris Kelly.  Sure, Riley Nash and Dominic Moore I suppose are a couple of those “old reliable’s” that Claude can fall back on.  Maybe Tim Schaller too.  But my point is there don’t seem to be as many of them around this year.

Defense?  Slightly different story.  Right now, kids like Colin Miller, Brandon Carlo and Rob O’Gara are playing.  But Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid are hurt.  You know once they are not, they will take 2 of those jobs.  K. Miller, McQuaid, Krug, Zdeno Chara, Seidenberg…and then a combination of John-Michael Liles, Joe Morrow, C. Miller and Zach Trotman filled out the D crew last year.  A pretty horrific crew, to be kind.  But Chara, Krug, McQuaid & K. Miller will go back to being the “core” very soon.  They HAVE to, since they are the ones being paid handsomely.  Liles will be the 5th in line…since he is a vet.  Leaves one spot for the kids.

How does that help the D in this current season?  Bringing back the guys that mostly stunk last year?  Burying the kids again?  I don’t see it.  I say burying kids “again”, because that’s what Claude did last year.  I have no idea if C. Miller, Trotman or Morrow can actually play.  But with the state of the D/team last year, they should have used all of last year to find out.  Well, I guess they decided that Trotman couldn’t play, since they let him walk after last season.  But they seem to be on the same course defensively this year as last.

Add in Tuukka Rask’s struggles last year, in part because he didn’t receive much help from his D, and we could be looking at a long season this year as well.  At least a mediocre one.  Another reason to keep playing ALL the kids.  On both D and O.

I’m simply not convinced that Julien will do it.  I think he has ALREADY changed course a little bit.  Take Czarnik, for example.  I thought he was the most impressive newcomer on Opening Night.  He centered the 3rd line and played on both the power play and penalty kill units.  I thought he looked pretty good.  Apparently, he didn’t play as well in Game 2 and found himself on the bench in Game 3, in favor of Schaller…with Moore taking his spot on the 3rd line.  The whole team laid an egg in Game 2 and apparently Czarnik was to blame.  Heinen hasn’t done much in my eyes, especially since he has played on the second line.  And Jimmy Hayes also still appears to be useless.  But Czarnik is the first guy out.

Carlo is playing heavy minutes and seems to be acquitting himself quite well.  O’Gara too.  Even C. Miller.  So we shall see when Claude starts jerking them around.  And for the love of God, can someone please tell me why Chara is playing over 25 minutes in a game in THE THIRD GAME OF THE SEASON??!!  39 years old.  Moves with a piano on his back.  Has broken down late in the season a few years running now.  But Julien already is upping the minutes.  Insane.  Stupid, actually.  One of my favorite parts of the pregame on Opening Night was that Julien told the interviewer that Z worked all summer on skating and side to side drills in the effort to increase his speed.  Ummmmm…that ain’t happening.

Some other brief observations from 3 games:

*Not excited about Patrice Bergeron missing the first 3 games due to injury.  Glad he got in the World Cup of Hockey in full though.

*Like what I see from David Backes thus far.  The contract ain’t pretty.  But at least for now I hope that he can replace Heinen and make the David Krejci line with Ryan Spooner more productive than it has started out as.

*That being said, it would appear Backes, Krejci and Spooner are best used at center.  In addition to Bergy, that’s a full house.  But none of them are playing 4th line.  Interesting to see how this all pans out.

*Krejci looks terrible so far.  Hip?

*Tuuks played well in the last game.  But that softie to start his season still angers me.

*Listening to Jack Edwards call a game is still insufferable.

*Pastrnak looks ready to make a “leap”.  Let’s hope Claude doesn’t bury him the next time he fails to backcheck.

*Brad Marchand was fantastic in the first game.  Should’ve even had one more goal if he didn’t try to get fancy with an open net.  But I hope people aren’t expecting 40-50 goals from him this year.

*I know that it’s tough to look at guys that have sort of blossomed after leaving the Bruins, such as Blake Wheeler.  But in that trade they received Rich Peverley.  Peverley was a pretty big piece of bringing the Stanley Cup back to Boston the end of that season.  Maybe we let this one slide?

*The whole team was awful against the Maple Leafs.  So did the B’s need to go out and get Anton Khudobin back?  Not saying Malcolm Subban was ready, especially after his scary injury to end last season.  But Subban supposedly looked good in camp.  So maybe just re-sign a Jeremy Smith or something until Subban or Zane McIntyre can contribute?  Or just give 1 year instead of 2 to Anton?

*Seth Griffith supposedly looked pretty good in camp too.  He put up huge numbers in Providence last year.  I have no idea if he can actually play in the NHL.  But I do hate losing young players that seem to have potential for absolutely zero…which is what happened when the B’s tried to sneak Griffith through waivers at the end of camp.

In any event, the returns are good thus far, but it’s early.  I’m not convinced this is a Cup contender.  Let’s see if the young kids pan out and better yet, if Claude sticks with them through all the ups and downs.  Hopefully the infusion of at least a little bit of youth keeps us watching for a spell anyway…

 

 

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