All right, weather has calmed down a bit, roads are relatively clear, and work is mostly caught up. That means we should be back on track for the blog. Fingers crossed, right?
So, as promised, the Colts game. That was pretty crazy, right? I know I had given up on that game multiple times as Luck seemed to be turning into his 2012, turnover prone self and Alex Smith was busy showing everybody why he was the number one pick once upon a time.* I mean, how often do you see a team come back from 38-10? The answer is not very often. But, clearly, not never, either.
*As much as I didn’t like seeing the Colts losing, I actually really didn’t mind seeing Alex Smith work some magic. I’ve always been a pretty big believer in him and thought that he never really got a fair shake in San Francisco. I’m still not entirely convinced that Colin Kaepernick was really the better choice for the 49ers, but clearly they didn’t ask me.
Andy Reid has gotten quite a bit of criticism for his second half game plan, saying it was too pass heavy and that going away from the run gave the Colts all the time they needed. There is some truth to that, but it totally takes away from the context of the game. The Chiefs, as you surely read coming into this game,* were a run-heavy team all year and got some flak for still not running enough. You’ll have that when you’ve got Jamaal Charles in your backfield.
*Honestly, you can probably make the argument this has always been true in Kansas City. They are notoriously bad at developing quarterbacks, the last “home grown” one being Boilermaker Len Dawson. And even that claim is arguable. Dawson spent time with Steelers and Browns before signing on to the AFL. As bad as they are at quarterbacks, they are amazing at running back. It seems the Chiefs have an almost unbroken line of impressive running backs from their inception to today.
Here’s the rub that maybe has been a bit forgotten thanks to all the points the Chiefs put up: Jamaal Charles essentially didn’t play in this game. On the sixth play or so* he was knocked out of the game with a concussion. Knile Davis, while he did play pretty well, is no Jamaal Charles. Do you really want to put the game into the hands of a largely untested, injury-and-fumble-prone back? I mean, look at this lead story from the first time the Colts beat the Chiefs year. Those aren’t the kind of stories that are going to inspire confidence in anybody. And, besides, Davis went down himself in the second half with a knee injury. Do you really want to put the game in your third-stringer’s hands?
*Going off of memory here.
Besides that, it was pretty clear that the Colts had the Chiefs defense figured out by the second half. They had identified who was truly healthy and who was not, which meant they knew how to adjust their blocking and routes. The Chiefs were clearly still hampered, even with the extra rest from playing their JV against the Chargers. I don’t know what more they really could have mustered on defense in that second half once the adrenaline wore off. KC still needed points, and if you don’t have Jamaal Charles, it seems your best bet easily becomes Alex Smith and Dwayne Bowe. And, well, clearly the Chiefs had some success. They put up a franchise (playoff) best 44 points. 44 points is going to win you a lot of games, even in this new era of offense. And don’t forget that the Chiefs came to about half the width of Bowe’s foot* to putting that game away.
*Or possibly not losing Donnie Avery to a concussion as well. Avery was perfectly serviceable as a Colt, and I’m sure would have been a help to Bowe if he had stayed in the game.
I know Reid became a bit of a punching bag in Philly towards the end, and his clock management has been consistently atrocious. It’s popular to blame Reid no matter what happens. He seems to be one of those always-acceptable targets. I’m not saying he deserves no blame. But I do truly think this was more of a case of the Colts winning this one more than the Chiefs blowing it. If the Chiefs blew it, it was only because they came into the game pretty banged up and only got worse as the game progressed. I know I said before the Colts can’t win playoff games just playing the second half, as they were wont to do during the season. But you also can’t win playoff games with your JV, and unfortunately, that was essentially what the Chiefs had to work with in this game.
Looking ahead, the Colts get to try again in Foxborough on Saturday night. As far as I know, the Patriots aren’t any worse off, injury-wise, than they were for most of the season. Granted, they were generally short handed all year and much was made of the fact that Tom Brady has been generally throwing to receivers the Patriots picked up off the street. The Colts know something like that with the injuries they’ve had this year, too, but they thankfully had a guy like TY Hilton who could somewhat step into that role. I don’t know that I truly believe the Patriots have that guy.
That said, this is still going to be an awfully tough game for the Colts. The home teams in this round have historically been fairly overwhelming favorites with the extra bye week. And it does seem to be the bye week, not the home field advantage, because the home teams don’t do nearly so well in the conference championship games. I do think the Patriots will win that game, but I do think it will be close. Certainly closer than the last time Andrew Luck went to New England. And, truth be told, I will not be surprised if the Colts manage to pull this game out. This team has started to show flashes of the team they were before Reggie Wayne went down. There is certainly hope.
But, at the end of the day, you can’t expect to beat the Patriots on their turf if you don’t play a complete game. And the Colts have shown an alarming inability to actually put a complete game together all year. But, there’s no time like the present to start, right?
Today was mostly a snow day (I did have my computer to work from home, but thankfully nothing came in thanks to Alcoa having some sense and cancelling first shift), so you would think that would give plenty of time to write. As it turns out, though, it meant finally taking down the Christmas stuff, vacuuming and dusting downstairs, and doing a little bit of work on the upstairs of the house.
Tomorrow it looks like things will be back to usual, though, and there are some things to talk about. Like how the Colts did this weekend. It's already been talked to death, but I know all my loyal readers are just dying to hear what I have to think about it.
It’s not really news that the NFL, despite it’s immense popularity, is really broken. This has been documented many places, but the problems facing “the shield” are nearly everywhere you look outside their pocketbooks. Attendance is falling, the shameful treatment of former players has come to light, the true dangers of the game are just now truly being understood, the rule changes that result from admitting this information, the “mo’ money, mo’ problems” labor dispute from a couple years ago. People are still watching, and football still has immeasurably more pull in today’s society than other professional sports leagues, don’t get me wrong.* But the game is sick. And you don’t have to look much further than coming within two generous grocery chains** from three quarters of the opening playoff weekend being blacked out to understand that.
*I wish it weren’t so, but facts are facts.
**Although, seriously, kudos to Meijer and Kroger for stepping up.
I mean, seriously, when three out of four of your playoff sites are seriously flirting with a blackout, there is a huge issue. Now, I do firmly believe that the blackout is outdated and should be eliminated, and I’ve written about it here before. It no longer protects the teams in the same way, and besides, with all the friendly tax breaks and the like, it seems distasteful (if not downright illegal) to withhold a televised broadcast from the same taxpayers that make your building and operation possible. That said, there really should not be a question about whether or not you can sell out a playoff game in Indianapolis or, my goodness, Green freaking Bay given the immense popularity of the NFL.
There are some excuses to be made here, but most of them come back to a broken system. The weather is not one of those excuses, though one I’m sure plays a part. Things have gotten bitterly cold in the midwest, accompanied with around a foot of snow in some places. The forecast is calling for another round of deep snow this weekend, bringing solidly subzero temperatures with it. And that’s not accounting for windchill. Would you like to be sitting out in those conditions for four hours? Probably not. Now, that part isn’t really a concern in Indianapolis thanks to the roof, but still, do you want to drive in that if you can help it? Probably not. In the Packers’ case, there is also an issue of not knowing if you were even going to be in the playoffs until the eleventh hour, coupled with only having a winning record by virtue of a tie and a fairly overwhelming opponent. That means nobody has a chance to plan to make the trip to the game, and you’re likely going to be a little reticent to drop the kind of money it takes to buy playoff tickets when most are fairly certain you are going to lose.
Although, that starts to bring us back to the systemic problems here.
For one, prices to attend NFL games are flat outrageous. I can tell you that the face value for one of my dad’s Colts season tickets is $88. Those are for 400 level, endzone seats. Not a bad view, but certainly not primo seating. For a “gold” game at Wrigley Field, I can pay $96 for a ticket and sit almost directly behind home plate. For a weekday game for the Pacers, you can spend $90 and get a nice club seat. For a “gold” game for the Blues, you can spend less than $100 and still get 100-level seats for a single game. And, yes, those prices are all for single game tickets, which are higher than the rate you would get a for a season ticket.
And these are playoff tickets, so of course, they’re going to be more expensive. After checking the website, the cheapest seats available (so presumably way up in the nosebleeds of the 600 level) are $63. If you’re looking to break out of the five or six hundred level, though, you’re going to be spending almost double that. The cheapest seat I could find in at least a 400 level was $112. You’re looking at over $300 if you want to get to 300 or better. And how many people just buy one ticket? The big part about going to a game is going with somebody, and if that somebody happens to be your kid or significant other, they probably aren’t paying their own way. So take whatever it is you’re looking at and at least double it. If not quadruple it.
Watching your big-ass HD TV from your comfy couch starts sounding much more appealing when you’re talking about those prices.
Then there’s how these tickets get sold in the first place. You have to make your decision early on if you’re a season ticket holder about whether you’re putting down your deposit for playoff tickets or not. That makes it awfully tough to plan, since you don’t know what that game will be. Saturday or Sunday? What time? Will we have a prayer? Will we even have a home one? If you’re a Chiefs fan, you probably feel pretty good about snagging a home playoff game at 9-0. That didn’t really work out, did it? And not only are you on the road, but now you’re facing a team that just beat you two weeks ago fairly soundly? I hope you didn’t bank too hard on getting those tickets.*
*This isn’t to say the Chiefs can’t beat the Colts. They certainly can. But Kansas City probably doesn’t feel as good about that now as they did after week nine.
And that’s just talking about getting a seat. That makes no mention of what happens if you want a souvenir, something to eat or drink, or what to do about parking your car (assuming you don’t live within walking distance of the stadium or are taking public transit). A trip to an NFL game is just outrageously expensive. And when you do get to the stadium, frankly, the in-house product simply isn’t as good as watching at home. Big, HDTVs are pretty common these days. If you don’t own one yourself, you probably know somebody who does. The technology that comes along with watching the games at home (first down line, an actual line of scrimmage, etc.) along with a crystal clear, close-up view of the game just beats what any stadium can really offer once you get beyond the first few rows. Not to mention you have much greater freedom of movement and comfort at home. And, if the particular game you’re watching gets out of hand, it’s no big deal to flip over to another game or just decide to do something else. When you’ve got as much skin in the game as you typically do going to an NFL game, it is much harder to cut your losses and walk away.
I don’t know if there’s much that can be done to fix this particular problem for the NFL. The HD cat is out of the bag. There’s no putting that back in. With attendance routinely falling, it seems owners will have no choice but to drop ticket prices, at least somewhat. That won’t be as big a deal to owners, either, I wouldn’t think. Given how TV revenues keep climbing, it seems more important for teams to do whatever they can do to ensure they keep that money coming in, as opposed to pricing out many fans. This is already in the works to some degree. The blackout rules seem to be coming to an end. Owners are looking into variable ticket prices, though admittedly that means you’re going to be paying a lot more to see the Broncos or Seahawks than you are the Jaguars or Raiders. Still, it’s a step that certainly seems to say that ticket sales aren’t the lifeblood of an NFL team the way they used to be. At least the NFL can admit that much when faced with scenes like what we saw in Washington this year.
Changes are coming to a football team near you. There is no denying this, and they aren’t all necessarily coming from head trauma. Though, admittedly, the NFL has been a bit behind there, too.
It’s 2014, which means it’s probably about time I end the blog hiatus. A lot has happened while I’ve been off noveling. For one, I did get a novel written. I haven’t reread it yet (I’ll explain that in a bit), but if you want an unedited edition, it’s available here. Or here. I get more royalties from the first link, but I can’t blame anybody for wanting to save three dollars. In any case, I haven’t read it through again now that it’s on paper, but I felt pretty good writing it. Hopefully it will translate just as well reading it.
I haven’t gone through reading it because I have a bit of a backlog when it comes to reading. For Christmas, I received both the Hyperbole and a Half book and League of Denial. I also have some catching up to do with my reading of Kurt Vonnegut novels. I had been a bit stubborn on not picking up books unless I could find them in the “V cover” edition. A couple years ago, new editions of Vonnegut rolled out with covers more like this. Those are all fine and good, but I wanted my library to match. Sadly, this has proven to be much more difficult than imagined. So I have caved and now need to pick back up at Deadeye Dick.
So, yes, editing has not happened just yet, but I’m working my way through. I finished Allie Brosh’s book over the course of a day. It was every bit as good as I imagined and I would certainly recommend it to anybody, whether or not you’ve read her blog. I’m almost finished with League of Denial now. I was pretty upset with myself that I missed the accompanying Frontline documentary on PBS when it originally aired. I haven’t been able to catch it on rerun. It appears you can watch it online at the link provided. I don’t know if I will do that now that I have the book, but I would certainly encourage you to watch it. I will probably have more to say once I’ve finished the book, but even after reading as far as I have, I will say that the stories going into that documentary are totally in line with what the book proposes.
If you recall, just before the documentary aired, the story went that the NFL had pressured ESPN into pulling out of the project at the last minute. The NFL and ESPN deny this happened, of course, but I think you would be hard pressed to find anybody who actually believes them. After reading how methodically and thoroughly the NFL has battling the notion that professional football players suffer brain trauma at all, pressuring one of the biggest media outlets to drop out of this documentary (and then saying they didn’t do that) seems completely in-character for the league as a whole. This latest incident, along with how “protecting the shield” has gone as a whole, has gone a long way to showing that Roger Goodell is not the commissioner most hoped he would be at best, and downright incompetent at worst. His saving grace is he holds a job that, at the current moment, is literally impossible to screw up.* I’m just now getting to “The Reckoning” section of the book, though, so I’ll hold my extended thoughts until I actually finish the book.
*Not that he hasn’t tried, between the ongoing concussion crisis and the last labor dispute. Football is simply too popular to fail no matter what it bungles at this time, though.
What else has happened while I’ve been away? The Pacers continue to dominate (last night’s loss to Toronto excepted). The Blackhawks similarly have looked awfully good. Purdue continues to be maddeningly inconsistent. Actually, let me talk a bit about this year’s Purdue squad.
This, I truly believe, might be the most athletic Purdue team I have ever watched. If not the best, certainly in the top two or three. I have no doubt about that and will not back off of that point. The problem is I don’t know how many actual basketball players they have. The only player that seems to have a wealth of basketball skills beyond “very athletic” is AJ Hammons, who will likely be gone after this year.
Now, this is certainly not to say that these guys can’t develop their basketball skills into a team that could be very scary down the road. Maybe even later this year. This, after the clearing of the decks from last year’s disappointment, is a very young team. Ronnie Johnson is only a sophomore, and yet he’s certainly a veteran on this team. Freshmen (either true or redshirt) are playing major minutes and starting on this team, including Bryson Scott, Kendall Stephens, Basil Smotherman, and Jay Simpson. That’s leaning on four freshman players when a lot of teams don’t really go more than seven deep, eight max. That’s in addition to Purdue still seeing a lot of minutes out of both Johnsons,* Hammons, and senior transfers Sterling Carter and Errick Peck. That’s nine players deep and not counting Travis Carroll, who played significant minutes during the non-conference schedule,** or Rapheal Davis who seems to be having some trouble figuring out his role on this team.
*Anthony Johnson was part of the house cleaning over the off-season.
**I don’t see him getting a lot of time now that B1G play has started, and I think by the midway point of last season (if not before) he was widely considered an unfortunate bust. He had a lot of hype coming into Purdue and showed some promise as a freshman and sophomore. But his development (both skill and body) just kind of stopped.
As you would expect from a young team, this team has shown some just brilliant flashes. They honestly outplayed Oklahoma State for most of their game in Orlando. They gave Ohio State all they could handle in Mackey. They thoroughly dominated West Virginia in Morgantown.* They have looked generally pretty good against lower competition. But they also have stretches where they either seem to let off the gas or just spiral out of control, and it comes down to the single biggest problem with this team, and what will probably cost it a bid to the big dance at the end of the year.
*The score might not have shown it, but it is true. There was no way WVU was winning that game, home or not. That is part of the “basketball-skill” problem with this team. See below.
This team really struggles to score, and that’s what bit them in the butt against Ohio State. And probably Oklahoma State, too, for that matter. Their only real shooters are Stephens, who is the definition of streaky (at this point), and Carter (who I’m told was quite the shooter at Seattle, but I haven’t seen that yet). The Johnsons and Scott are good at cutting into the lane, but Terone is only one I would count on doing it consistently at this point. Scott I think will get there, he is just still a pretty raw talent. Other than that, this team needs to be playing through the post, and through Hammons in particular. But, for some reason, they seem reluctant to do that.
Without finding a truly reliable source of points, this team is going to struggle in another deep year for the Big Ten. Iowa is much improved. I’m told Nebraska should be much better. Michigan State and Ohio State are very good again, and Wisconsin might have their best team since I’ve been watching college basketball. I’ve not watched them, but I think Michigan and Minnesota are still supposed to be good. That probably leaves Purdue in a bit of a tangle with Illinois, Indiana, and possibly Northwestern and Penn State. Nebraska probably still belongs in that mess, too, though I will admit they looked pretty good against Miami. Purdue is still playing defense at an elite level, and I don’t really see that changing under Matt Painter. But the teams that win in March are the teams that score, and that just isn’t Purdue this year. During the Hummel-era, they had so many options they could turn to. That really hasn’t been the case since the E’Twaun Moore and JuJuan Johnson were at Purdue, and it’s shown. Defense does indeed live at Mackey Arena, but until they can pair it with any sort of real offense, titles are not coming to town. You can out-athlete teams in high school and win, which I’m sure is how the Johnson brothers won a state title. It doesn’t work that way in college. Not at the Division I level, anyway.
But, like I mentioned earlier, that’s at this point in the year. This team is young. By the time the Big Ten Tournament rolls around (Which really should have its permanent home in Indianapolis. Sorry, Chicago, but it’s the truth. We do it better.), maybe Stephens finds a more reliable shot, maybe Scott has polished his game to the point you can solidly depend on his slashing ability. Maybe the Johnsons finally find a jump shot. Who knows? With this many freshmen, the sky could be the limit. But, for this season, the limit is probably a game or two in March, and very likely in the NIT.