Friday, October 2, 2015

The Best I Ever Saw

By Travis Stahl

Sometimes I think things to myself but I don't say them out loud because I'm not entirely sure just how crazy these thoughts are.  I could be I'm just really biased in my thinking so my opinions don't hold much weight.  When somebody else thought lets me know, without me bringing it up, they have the same opinion I do it is very validating.  We are all entitled to our own opinions so it's nice when we realize other people think the same way we do.  It's Friday so tonight is there are high school football games across the state of Indiana.  For my money, the best high school football player I ever saw was right here in Columbia City.

I was sitting at a soccer game the other night and a good friend of mine says "You know what, Chris Judd is still the best high school football player I've ever seen."  I was so relieved.  I have thought the same thing for a long time and I have been to so many high school football games I could never count them all.  In all those games with all those players I still believe Judd is the best high school football player I have ever seen on the field with my own eyes.  I don't care about the kid from Homestead who went to play at Illinois or even the defensive backs South Side sent to play at Purdue.  None of them compare.

For those of you too young to remember Judd was the tailback at Columbia City in the early 90's and graduated in 1992.  In the old CC offense the team used the I-formation and Judd was the key running back.  There was such a fluid motion when Judd would carry the ball you never could really tell just how fast he was moving.  I remember one particular play against Carroll in the 1991 season Judd had the ball and was running around the right side with a couple of blockers in front of him.  The Carroll defense had him pinned in against the sideline and it looked like he might just step out of bounds.  Instead he made one cut back to the middle of the field and went untouched for another 10 yards.

I couldn't tell you how many career rushing yards Judd had or how many touchdowns he scored.  Those are just numbers and numbers come and go.  Players like Judd don't come along often.  And maybe my friend and I are biased.  But we saw the guy everyday on the practice field.  We remember those days playing with him at Marshall Middle School and even then it was pretty obvious.  If Judd got in the open field you weren't catching him and he was big enough to withstand the punishment of carrying the ball 25 times a game.  Go watch a high school game now and try to find a player like that.

At the end of the 91-92 season I remember standing in the locker room at Plymouth High School after a sectional loss.  It was Judd's last high school game.  Everyone was pretty emotional and I remember telling Judd then I thought he was the best football player I'd ever seen.  That was 25 years ago and it's still true.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

NFL Power Rankings

By Travis Stahl

Whoa doggy, things at the top of the NFL standings are competitive.  I'm not sure there is an accurate way just based on the eye test to say which team is better than another.  Obviously when two teams face each other we get that answer but for the purposes of ranking the NFL teams for this week it's not an easy task.  There is a pretty clear separation at the top that's for sure.  Here are the power rankings through three games.

1. Green Bay Packers
2. New England Patriots
3. Arizona Cardinals
4. Seattle Seahawks
5. Atlanta Falcons
6. Denver Broncos
7. Cincinnati Benglas
8. Carolina Panthers
9. Buffalo Bills
10. Pittsburgh Steelers
11. Minnesota Vikings
12. Dallas Cowboys
13. Oakland Raiders
14. New York Jets
15. Indianapolis Colts
16. San Diego Chargers
17. New York Giants
18. Philadelphia Eagles
19. St. Louis Rams
20. Kansas City Chiefs
21. Houston Texans
22. Washington Redskins
23. Miami Dolphins
24. Baltimore Ravens
25. Tennessee Titans
26. Detroit Lions
27. Cleveland Browns
28. San Francisco 49ers
29. Jacksonville Jaguars
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
31. Chicago Bears
32. New Orleans Saints

With the Saints and Bears at the bottom I can't help but think they would be a little higher on this list if they each had their starting quarterbacks on the field.  But with Drew Brees and Jay Cutler out neither team stands much of a chance.  With Tampa, Jacksonville and Cleveland it feels like the arrow is pointing up and these three teams have signs of optimism.  With the Saints, Bears and 49ers they seem to be trending in the other direction and it might be time to add a fresh coat of fire and just burn everything to the ground.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Checking Out the League

By Travis Stahl

Well, there's no hiding it now.  Either you're good or you're bad.  Or even worse, you are a middle of the road NFL team neither on the rise or rebuilding.  It's been three weeks now of evidence to show us who is for real and who needs to pack it in.  We can already see which teams are starting to seperate themselves from the rest of the pack.  Here is what we learned this weekend.

Steamrolled - The Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots are putting it on people.  Both teams are playing each game as though it were the Super Bowl and they have something to prove.  Arizona hasn't lost a game that Carson Palmer started at quarterback since December 29, 2013.  Now with Chris Johnson and rookie David Johnson in the backfield the Cardinals have a running attack too.  It hardly seems fair.  We all know what New England's motivation is.  There are starting to be lots of people talk about the possibility of a 16-0 season.  It's crazy how well Tom Brady can still play.  You know darn well New England would love to rub everyone's nose in it if they win another Super Bowl.

D it Up - There are a couple teams in the NFL who are still relying on a lights out defense to get the job done.  The Denver Broncos right now can stop just about anybody.  Denver has a scary pass rush, fast linebackers, shut down corners and physical safeties over the top.  Heck, the Broncos defense has won two games already this year.  The Packers defense in two games has looked just as good.  We will see just how good they are tonight against the Chiefs but Green Bay has a lot of guys that can fly around the ball and BJ Raji clogging up the middle.  Winning in the NFL isn't about shutting out opponents it's about getting stops when you need them.

Start Scouting for the Draft - Yep, it's over already for some teams.  At 0-3 the Saints and Bears are locked in a heated battle for the No. 1 pick in next year's draft.  They will likely be pushed by Tampa Bay and San Francisco.  Right now though the Saints and Bears are clearly done for the season with little hope of rebounding into a winning season.  That's OK.  When you bottom out you might as well go all the way and be really bad, even if it is unintentionally.  The early guess is that whichever team gets the top pick in the draft they will be looking for a quarterback.  There doesn't seem to be any way the Saints for Bears moves forward with Drew Brees and Jay Cutler respectively.

Has anybody noticed yet that Carolina and Atlanta are 3-0?  Does anybody care the Ravens are 0-3?  Important questions we may never know the answers to.  Let's not forget either the Raiders are 2-1 and look very good.  I know, I was surprised too.  It's been one heck of a season so far, very entertaining.  We've got 13 more weeks to look forward to.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Projecting the Playoff Teams

By Travis Stahl

If there's one thing you can count on, the college football season never turns out the way we think it's going to.  No matter how dominant we think a team will be or how sure we are of who will play for a national championship there are always surprises along the way.  This year is no exception.  We've already seen some some crazy stuff.  In three more weeks the selection committee will give us it's first four playoff team.  Why wait, here is who should be in the playoffs right now.

LSU - Have you seen running back Leonard Fornette play yet?  He is a man.  Yeah, the Tigers don't throw the ball real well but they've got a typical LSU defense and with Fornette carrying the ball 25 to 30 times per game you almost can't go wrong.  Of course anything can happen in the SEC West so if LSU makes it through it will be truly deserving.

Ohio State - The Buckeyes are still the No. 1 team in the nation even though they haven't played that way as of late.  It's probably time for Urban Meyer to pick a quarterback and go with him just to stabilize the offense.  Ohio State only has one real test in front of it on the way to the playoffs and that's a very legitimate Michigan State team.

Ole Miss - Yes, I know, we probably won't see two SEC teams in the playoffs.  But the Rebels have a signature win over Alabama on their resume and what could be the best defense in college football.  It won't get any easier for Ole Miss as the season goes along.  Like LSU, if the Rebels get through the SEC they will deserve to be in the playoffs.

Michigan State - The Spartans have the second best win on the season after putting it on Oregon.  For Michigan State to make it to the playoffs though it will have to beat Ohio State and win the Big Ten championship game.  That may or may not happen.  But it's the only shot they got because there's no way to get to the playoffs without winning your conference.

Remember, this is just the four best teams in college football right now who deserve to be in the playoffs.  Logistically there's no way these four will make it.  Probably fifth on this list right now would be Notre Dame even though the Irish are about as decimated as a team can be by injuries.  And we may see a PAC 10 team get to the playoffs as strong as the conference is from top to bottom.  Stay tuned, it's all going to be constantly changing as the season progresses.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

High School Football Needs Help

By Travis Stahl

Friends, I have come to a conclusion.  Some of you won't like what I have to say but after almost 15 years of observations I think I can now safely declare with some certainty something I have noticed in high school football.  The read-option and spread offense have ruined high school football.  There, the band-aid is off and it stings a little bit.  But trust me on this, I'm right.  The read-option and spread offense are all the rave in high school and college football but the truth of the matter is they don't work at the lower level.

For those of you who don't know the read-option and the spread offense are similar.  Both feature the quarterback in the shotgun to receive the snap of the football.  Then the quarterback has several running options based on what the defense gives him.  He can hand the ball to the running back who is in the backfield with him, he can keep the ball himself and run it or he may even pitch the ball to another back on an option route.  But these offenses also feature a fare amount of passing.  That's the whole point.  You spread out opposing defenses to create running and passing lanes for the quarterback who then can read where the ball should go.  Sounds great right?

In high school though quarterbacks aren't good enough to do it.  I've seen it time and time again.  High school quarterbacks either aren't good enough runners to be an effective threat or can't throw the ball to save their lives.  Rare is the signal caller who can do both at a high level yet nearly every high school program runs some form of the offense.  Why?  Just to say you run it I guess.  I don't know.  But what we have now are a bunch of teams in the area who can't score more than 20 points a game because the quarterback can't effectively run the offense.

Don't misread what I just said.  I am not claiming there are high school quarterbacks with no talent.  What I'm saying is that their talents don't lie in running this offense.  I watched a kid last weekend put the ball in the air about 20 times running this offense.  He had one completion.  As I was watching that game last weekend I realized that if some high school team decided to just line up with a fullback and tailback and pound it at the opponent on the ground 50 times per game they would probably win the majority of their games.  But that leads us back around to the first problem, having the appropriate talent.

I have yet to see a football game this year with a player who could truly take over a game and win it on their own.  I can hear the sighs now, "but football is a team sport."  True.  But it wasn't that long ago that EVERY team in the area had one or two guys who were just special and could take over a game if a defense didn't stop them.  Those players aren't playing football anymore.  So now you have a quarterback who is asked to run an offense that he likely doesn't have the talent to do playing along side players who don't have the ability to successfully support the quarterback.  Anybody see a problem there?  The read-option and spread offenses required speed players who are fast.  I have yet to see a truly fast player this year.

So what's the solution?  Exactly what I said before, you play to your talent level.  Stop being fancy and trendy.  Line up and play basic football out of the I-formation with two running backs, two receivers and a tight-end.  If you want to be elaborate and run the wing-T that's fine too.  But you can't and shouldn't try to use a high-powered offense unless you have the players to pull it off.  In college those players exist.  In high school, it just doesn't work.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Now You Can Worry Colts Fans

By Travis Stahl

Let's take a quick but brief history tour.  The Indianapolis Colts started last season 0-2.  They bounced back, won their division, defeated the Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos in the playoffs and then lost in the AFC title game to the New England Patriots.  When Indy started 0-2 last year nobody seemed to mind.  There was still a bit of faith in the team that everything would work out.  This year's 0-2 Colts have filled fans with a sense of dread and now the sky is falling.  We're going to play a new game here at T and T to see if we can make sense of the Colts win less beginning to the season.

Point - The Colts will be fine they still play in the AFC South:  There's a heck of a lot of truth to this statement.  It's not like Jacksonville, Tennessee and Houston have shown an ability so far this season to dethrone the Colts.  Indy has feasted on its divisional rivals and should do so again this year.  It would be very surprising if the Colts didn't find a way to still win the South and make it to the playoffs.  Once you're in the playoffs anything goes.

Counterpoint - The Colts can't beat any other quality teams:  Yep, also true.  Indy is now 17-15 against non-division teams in the Chuck Pagano/Andrew Luck era.  That's not good.  Until the Colts beat Denver last year in the postseason the team had a reputation of not being able to beat other good teams.  Now, Indy isn't even beating the bad teams outside of its division.  I know Buffalo and the Jets are better than they were last year but it's not like either team is a powerhouse.  You can't lose to those kind of teams if you expect to win a Super Bowl.

Point - Indy opened the purse and paid for free agents:  We all thought bringing in Frank Gore and Andre Johnson would spark the team and get them over the hump.  Neither player has contributed anything.  Although it would be unfair to pin the struggles of Johnson and Gore just on them.  See below.

Counterpoint - The Colts didn't spend on the right free agents:  General manager Ryan Grigson has continually ignored the offensive line.  Grigson did so again this off season when he elected to bring in Gore and Johnson instead of any of the quality blockers on the market.  Now Luck is running for his life on every play, Gore can't find a hole to run through and Johnson is an after thought because Luck can't even get the ball out of his hands.  You can't win in the NFL will a poor offensive line.

Point - It's still early so the Colts will get it together:  When you factor in the Colts still have all their divisional games and some time to correct some problems there is reason to be optimistic.  Pagano and the staff need to simplify the game plan and get back to basics.  Once this team gains a small measure of confidence that can grow in a hurry.  And when a team is confident they are difficult to beat.

Counterpoint - There's a lot of injuries on this roster:  Robert Mathis is hurt and the secondary is all gone.  What can the Colts possibly hope to do defensively at this point?  They can't stop the run, they have no pass rush and teams are now going to have the ability to pick them apart with the passing game.  Oh, and guess what?  In three games Tom Brady and the pissed off Patriots are on the schedule.  Good luck with that.

It would seem there was no panicking last year from Indy because they lost to two very good teams in Denver and Indianapolis.   That's understandable.  But you can't get manhandled by the Jets and Bills and feel good about the direction of your team.  The Colts will still make the playoffs by default since somebody from that division has to.  But think about this Colts fans, since 2012 Luck has more interceptions than Jay Cutler.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Recapping the NFL Weekend

By Travis Stahl

Another crazy Sunday in the NFL!  Whew, let's catch our breath and then overreact.  That's what we do right?  It's only one game but we still sit around at work Monday and talk as if the sky is falling.  For some teams it is.  You can't start 0-2 and expect anything good to come of your season.  It doesn't work that way in the NFL.  And, if you are 0-2 there are good reasons for it.  The same can be said for teams that are 2-0, it's not accidental.  Here are some things that jumped out from the week two schedule.

Dallas vs. Philadelphia - When Tony Romo went down with a broken collarbone I of course reacted as if I had just been gut shot.  Not the Ginger Cringer (Brandon Weeden) I screamed.  Then Weeden went 7-for-7 with a touchdown pass.  Huh?  The good news is even without Romo and Dez Bryant for the next 10 weeks Dallas already has a two-game lead over Philly and the Giants.  Realistically nine games could win the NFC East.  That seems a little out of reach for the hapless Eagles right now.  We all thought this would be the make or break season for Chip Kelly.  Right now it's leaning towards break.  Philly can't run the ball AT ALL!  They're horrible.  It would help if Sam Bradford were the quarterback Kelly thought he was.  He isn't.

New England vs. Buffalo - Can Rex Ryan stop mouthing off now please?  You can't continue to hold any credibility when you keep calling out New England and then get your butt handed to you.  It becomes a running joke.  I'm fine with coaches and players feeling confident in their abilities and believing they have a realistic shot at victory.  Until you prove on the field you are capable of actually doing that though just shut up.  On the other side of the ball with the Patriots I remember telling somebody before the year started it would not suprise me one bit to see NE come out this year and just put it to everyone and run the table so they could thumb their nose at Roger Goodell (You broke the roos!).  So far so good.

Green Bay vs. Seattle - You think the Packers were thinking about that NFC title game loss to the Seahawks as motivation for last night?  Yep.  There was no way Green Bay was losing at home to the Seahawks.  Not a chance.  And now the Packers have a two-game lead over Detroit and Chicago with only the Vikings left as a credible threat to the division crown.  Remember what we said at the top about starting 0-2?  Welcome to next season Seattle.  The Seahawks are two games back of the Cardinals who are just rolling people right now and in last place in the NFC West.  Reread that last part there.  Last place.  The NFC is such a hot mess right now if there was one team that could potentially come back from 0-2 to earn a wild card spot I would say it is Seattle.  But the defense is a shell of what it used to be and Kam Chancellor isn't walking through that door anytime soon.

Miami vs. Washington - It wasn't surprising that the Redskins found a way to beat Miami.  That was always a possibility.  But how it happened was downright shocking.  Washington just lined up and pounded it straight at the Dolphins.  Ndomakong Suh did nothing.  No, I mean it, he literally did nothing.  The Miami coaching staff has a whole kettle of problems to figure out.  Like why did Cameron Wake only play 15 snaps?  And why is Suh allowed to "improvise" instead of running the defense that's called?  Smells fishy.  Washington found yet another way to win a football game without a viable throwing option.  Rookie Matt Jones went over 100 yards on the ground and now teams with Alfred Morris to give Washington quite the duel threat.

Think about this for a second.  The Giants, Eagles, Seahawks and Lions were all considered playoff contenders and are now 0-2 and on the road to trouble.  We won't throw the Saints in that mix because nobody thought they were going to be good anyway.  That's a lot of good teams yet to win a game.  As I said, there are some analyst who insist it's too early to hit the panic button.  I disagree.  After week one you can regroup and fix what's broken.  But starting out 0-2 means you've got a dumpster fire on your hands and you need some serious help.