Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Defending Dirty Ndamukong Suh

Mammoth Detroit Lions' defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, notorious for his dirty play, is usually the one who is stepping on people. This time he got stepped on, by the mighty NFL. Incensed, he cried foul.

Suh is usually in the wrong, but not this time. He'd gotten a raw deal. But justice eventually prevailed.
Here's what happened:

On Sunday, in the Lions' 30-20 loss to the Packers in Green Bay, Suh twice stepped on the leg of prone Packers' QB Aaron Rodgers after a fourth-quarter play. He was on the ground behind Suh, who stepped back twice to move out of the way of a crowd. Suh's movements could have been interpreted as accidental but, because it was Suh, they were deemed intentional. Rodgers, who took an angry swipe at him, definitely thought Suh had evil intentions. NFL official Merton Hanks, who judges such matters, agreed. So Suh was suspended for the next game, a playoff contest against Dallas.

A horrible decision. Suh is a crucial cog in the Lions' battering-ram defense. There's not a better defensive tackle in the NFL. Without him, the Detroit D slips a notch, maybe even two.

The Hanks' punishment far outweighed the crime. Watching the tape of the offense over and over, it's not totally clear that it was intentional. Even if it was, it's not the kind of violation that warrants forcing a player to miss something as important as a playoff game. Suh's behavior was borderline dirty but definitely not vicious enough to merit a one-game suspension.

Fortunately, hearings officer Ted Cotrell, after examining the appeal, overturned Hanks' decision, revoking the one-game suspension and replacing it with a $70,000 fine.

What's blatantly unfair is that, clearly, if another player had stepped on Rodgers, it would not have resulted in such a severe punishment. But because of Suh's reputation as a dirty player, the penalty was magnified. Over the years Suh has paid over $420,000 in dirty-play penalties. The NFL's policy is simple--if it's a Suh violation, it has to be dripping with malicious intent. No question, the league loves penalizing Suh.

Another element of the punishment is that it happened against Rodgers, one of the league's golden boys. If Suh had done the exact same thing to a third-string nobody QB, there's no way it would have resulted in a one-game suspension. The whole incident, in fact, would hardly have been noticed.

I'm not an advocate of dirty play. Suh is often in the wrong, crossing the line from tough play to dirty play. But nobody should be punished unfairly--even a perennial violator like Suh.

Glad the NFL got it right this time.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Lakers' Upset of Warriors Means Nothing

Whoa Laker fans, Whoa!

You're reading a lot into their 115-105 upset of the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday. Yes it was the shocker of the NBA season. How often do you see one of the worst teams clobbering the best? But the Lakers didn't suddenly morph into the San Antonio Spurs. They're still a crummy team boasting a lone star--Kobe Bryant.

Few are looking at what really happened. This, for the Warriors, was the ultimate trap game. For them, the big game is the Christmas night national TV game, the NBA's showcase event, against their hated rivals, the rugged Clippers, in LA's Staples Center. The Tuesday Lakers game? A mere afterthought. Normally, the Lakers couldn't even seriously challenge the Warriors' second unit. As a road team, Golden State was a whopping 11-point favorite.

The big story of the game was that Lakers' coach Byron Scott had finally decided to rest Kobe who, lately, seemed to be suffering from fatigue. So the Warriors didn't even have to contend with the Lakers' best player. Minus Kobe, the consensus was that the Lakers were dead meat in that game. The Warriors shared that attitude despite, according to several sources, Warrior coach Steve Kerr's relentless efforts to convince his players that they couldn't relax, that they were walking into a buzz saw.

Kerr was on the money.

Treating it like an exhibition game, the Warriors' players had their heads in the clouds, bringing only their C game. They weren't mentally ready to play. They thought a casual effort was enough. It wasn't. Any coach will tell you that shifting gears during a game, from lackadaisical to intense, is nearly impossible. Once you go in mentally unprepared you're stuck with that attitude.

What the Warriors didn't count on was that the Lakers were sky high, determined to make a statement that they could be very competitive without Bryant. Usually he hogs the ball, forcing his teammates to stand around and watch him work for shots, which he usually doesn't make. So the first time this season he sits out a game they were anxious to show how they could play without him. The Lakers turned into a textbook team-game unit, passing constantly and sharply and waiting for the best open shot. Playing Spurs-style ball, they were able to bury a lazy Warrior team that was looking ahead to the Clippers.

But that's something that works just once. When Kobe returns, his teammates will, no doubt, retreat into their shell and passively defer to him. Once again, they will stand around and watch him work, watch him be his old selfish self. Also, opposing coaches, from scouring film of this game, will know what to expect when Kobe sits out games and how to combat the Kobe-less Lakers. They won't surprise any team again.

In other words, Laker fans, Expect your team to slink, rather quickly, back into mediocrity.
Tough, new, winning Lakers? No way.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Why 49er QB Colin Kaepernick Has Spiraled Down the Drain

In one of the most shocking events of the NFL season, 49ers' QB Colin Kaepernick has spiraled down the drain, taking his team with him.

A super scrambler and supposedly an elite QB, he was recently overwhelmed by the awful Raiders and bested by their so-so QB David Carr. One of the preseason Super Bowl favorites, the Niners won't even make the playoffs. While they have a top-notch defense, thanks to Kaepernick, they have a putrid offense, which stunk, once again, in their loss in Seattle. Their offense is so bad, lately, they can't even score more than one TD per game. That's largely on Kaepernick.

The golden boy is severely tarnished. What happened? It can be narrowed down to five problems.

First of all, his confidence is shot. Second, he has two killer performance flaws--holding the ball too long and reading defenses too slowly. Third, he's playing behind a deteriorating offense line. Fourth, he's getting lousy coaching and is the victim of rotten play calling. Fifth, there may be substance abuse issues.

First of all, based on insiders reports, Kaepernick is clearly a mess of self-doubt. This is the same guy who used to ooze confidence. But he's lost his swagger. He's traded that I'm-the-greatest, can-do-anything attitude for a deer-in-the-headlights look. He used to be able to dance and dodge and skillfully elude blitzers. But now defenders know he's rattled and uncertain and have turned him into a tackling dummy, the most sacked QB in the league. No longer a skilled scrambler, he's just running scared.

Once a wizard behind the line, he has become maddeningly indecisive. These days, when he drops back to pass, he looks lost and confused. It's taking him a second or two too long to figure out how to attack a defense--even a mediocre unit like the Raiders.'  Instead of throwing the ball away, too often he'll take a sack. Sometimes he has time to find a receiver but he'll squander much of that time and.wind up throwing an errant pass.

Kaepernick's descent to the NFL QB basement isn't all his fault. Some of the blame belongs to his offensive line. Once one of the NFL's best, one that gave him all kinds of time to dissect defenses, it's declined drastically, partly due to injuries that have caused extensive reshuffling.  The middle, now manned by inexperienced centers, is particularly vulnerable. It doesn't help Kaepernick that the formerly fearsome running game, which used to be a staple, is now wildly inconsistent and more of a liability.

Given all the Niners' offensive talent, the coaches should be able to come up with creative adjustments, in formations and play-calling. But that hasn't happened. That's partly why head coach Jim Harbaugh and much of the offensive staff will be job-hunting in a few weeks.

Finally, the substance abuse rumors, which began as whispers early this year, have become a loud buzz. According to several sources, Kaepernick has been dabbling in assorted drugs, resulting in a slacker's mentality, which has clouded his game preparation. His work ethic, report the sources, isn't what it used to be. So part of his decline may be due to lack of hard work and focus.

One of the big questions in the NFL is who, next season, will be coaching the Niners, one of the league's premier franchises. Whoever it is, his No.1 project will be halting Kaepernick's skid and heading him back down a positive path.

 Is it too late to resurrect Kaepernick? That's another big question.