Five Questions for Sunday
1. Is a brand new offensive line ready for prime time?
The Chiefs offensive line is one of the youngest in the NFL. Despite their age, there is some experience because Rodney Hudson, Eric Fisher and Jeff Allen have all gotten significant playing time early in their careers. Early questions remain though with the suspension of Donald Stephenson and how that will effect things for the first 4 games of the season as the Chiefs shuffle the line to get by. The answer to this question really comes down to the play if Eric Fisher. If he can take strides and stay healthy the line could be ok. If not, long year. Also something to keep an eye on is if rookie guard Zach Fulton is ready to step up to the speed and power of the NFL. If there is good news it’s that the Chiefs rely on the running game and in general run blocking is easier for young players than pass protection.
2. Can Jamaal Charles repeat last years performance?
There is no doubt the Chiefs offense begins and ends with Number 25. Charles was asked to shoulder 40 percent of the offense last year…and all signs point to another busy season this campaign. Andy Reid will do a nice job of finding different ways to use Charles and if he stays healthy he should live up to the top fantasy pick he was in most drafts.
3. How does Alex Smith handle the new contract?
Alex Smith and the Chiefs agreed to a new deal on the eve of the season and now we find out if he makes the Chiefs look good or puts them in a bind for years to come. Signing Smith was almost a necessity…not because of how good he is…but because of how bad it could be if the Chiefs had to find a replacement. Smith will make smart plays and finds ways to get the job done but he isn’t the type of quarterback to win a game on its own. He needs playmakers around him. We know about Charles, but can Bowe and the tight ends step up and take Smith’s smart, quick decisions and turn them into big plays? That’s what this offense will need to be great.
4. The secondary?
There is no specific question here…just the position group in general. Eric Berry hasn’t been around much in the preseason and the Chiefs need him to be a playmaker to rescue this unit. The Chiefs are going to as their corners to cover man to man and jam receivers…neither of which they have shown to be particularly good at. This spot may really hurt the Chiefs this year…especially with games against Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Tom Brady looming.
5. Can Bob Sutton find a way to unleash his pass rushers?
If there is something that can mask the secondary it’s a good, and fast pass rush. Sutton has tools here…Tamba, Justin Houston and rookie first round pick Dee Ford. Can he find a away to get them…along with Derrick Johnson and Eric Berry…to the quarterback fast enough to protect a suspect secondary? This unit is expensive and talented and needs to carry a defense with holes in other areas.
Tougher schedules and simple math point to a regression for AFC West teams this year. Last season 3 teams made the playoffs from the division…a rarity in the NFL. What about this year? Here are predictions for each team from a reporter that covers the team day in and day out.
Broncos (13-3, Lost to Seattle in Super Bowl 43-8)
Mike Rice, Broncos Studio Host
Key offensive player
“It all starts with Peyton Manning, but beyond number 18 I look at a guy like Montee Ball and wonder how much he can improve and what impact he can have. If Montee Ball can give the Broncos a more powerful running game, a more consistent running game, a more effective running game especially in short yardage I just think that makes this offense that much more explosive that much more dangerous. It helps the cause late in the year when the weather is potentially bad.”
Key defensive player
“The way he can change the game from the cornerback spot can’t be understated. He’s one of the best cornerbacks in the league. He’s tough, physical and he has that nasty streak to him. My perception of him is if you’re an offensive guy you don’t want to go up against him. The Broncos needed that kind of player specifically in the secondary if you look at last year. “
Prediction for the team
12-4 (1st Place)
“I don’t see why they can’t get back to the Super Bowl. They’ve got the guy at quarterback to be able to get it done. I think they’ve upgraded in a lot of areas that they needed to upgrade in. Chemistry since Peyton has been here has not been an issue. It’s been very good. I don’t see why they can’t get back to the Super Bowl. I don’t see why they can’t win it.”
Chargers (9-7, lost to Denver in the Divisional Round 24-17)
Judson Richards, Chargers Post Game Host
Key offensive player
“I was sure if he would return after the injury he sustained versus the Eagles. He missed the entire year…is 33 years old. Wide Receiver corps isn’t a strength for the Chargers. Keenan Allen needs some help. If Maclolm Floyd has a big year he is my X factor for the chargers.”
Key defensive player
“The Chargers secondary defending the pass were 29th in the league last year…just downright atrocious. Brandon Flowers needs to not only help that secondary but the secondary needs to get better to help the pass rush. Being a Pro Bowler he’s got the best statistics in that secondary and he’s going to need to show that’s still the kind of ball player he is.”
Prediction for the team
10-6 (2nd Place)
“They need to get off to a really good start with the final five games on their schedule. I do believe the way they finished last year was not a fluke. I think they got healthy…(Head Coach) Mike McCoy figured some things out. That’s more what they’ll look like than the team that found themselves at 5-7 at one point last year.”
Damon Bruce, Afternoon Host on Raiders Flagship Station
Key offensive player
“Like with every other NFL team isn’t the answer quarterback…and I think that holds true with the Raiders. This can’t be the second offseason in a row where they go out of their way to trade for and acquire a high priced veteran quarterback that has absolutely no impact on the upcoming season. If Matt Schaub is Matt Flynn 2.0 all the compliments that (GM) Reggie McKenzie got this offseason are going to look pretty foolish.”
Key defensive player
“Are the right people in place to build a winner? The answers are easily seen through free agent and draft choices. There’s been huge buzz about Kahlil Mack. The players are getting him very positive early reviews calling him a physical specimen and a beast. But let’s see how he looks when the lights go on for real. Mack is not only going to be an important player on if the season will improve, but he’s a very important player in the arc of Reggie McKenzie’s career.”
Prediction for the team
“I think the Raiders are an improved football product but you’ll have to interpret that...you won’t be able to necessarily see it just in the record. Their schedule is brutal…the hardest in the NFL according to last year’s winning percentages.”
Soccer fever gripped the U.S. over the past few weeks as a dash of nationalism mixed with a pinch of hope to give hard core and casual soccer fans a reason to watch the World Cup. In the end though we got a taste of just how far the U.S. still has to go to compete on the biggest stage.
Watch parties raged at Kansas City’s Power and Light district, Chicago’s Soldier Field and countless other large venues and small living rooms as people got together to root for the Red, White and Blue. The show of support and interest is a good sign for soccer moving forward in the U.S. More parents with encourage their kids to play the sport and more kids now know they can play soccer and get as many cheers as if they played baseball or football. That’s another good step for the sport in this country.
It’s just a step though and the final few matches show U.S. soccer needs to take a big leap to compete. The Men’s National Team looked like is belonged in group play against Ghana and even Portugal. When they matched up against the higher ranked teams of Germany and Belgium though they looked far from being a threat.
The U.S. team has some great athletes no doubt. It also has some very skilled players. It didn’t look like they had the combination of those that matched up against the men from Germany and Belgium though. Belgium players were crossing over on our players like Michael Jordan in his prime. If looked like our players were having to try so hard to get in front of them that Blegium was simply able to change directions and be in open space. Their passes were on the foot and easily controlled and moved forward. The communication was silent but outstanding. The U.S. did not look the same offensively.
When the USMNT tried to move the ball forward passes too often were just out of reach or too hard to be controlled. Several miscommunications led to potential chances falling apart in the middle third. Until pressed and behind a goal, the U.S. was able to muster little offense. Only Tim Howards brilliance and the steady play of the defense kept the U.S. in the game.
Watching yesterday reminded me of watching the Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics. Sure other countries had some tall guys, some guys who could handle the ball and some guys who could shoot. But none had guys who could do it all like we did. The U.S. had 12 guys with amazing athleticism and skill…other countries were lucky to have a few guys with one or the other. That’s what it looked like to me for the U.S. going against Germany and Belgium.
It’s hard to say what can close that gap. Kids in other countries dribble a soccer ball as they walk to school. Our kids dribble a basketball. Kids in other countries play soccer every day. Our kids play when they have practice or a game a few times a week if they don’t have a conflict with dance, piano or baseball practices. Soccer, though gaining, remains low on the totem poll in the U.S. It may take several decades for that to change.
World Cup Fever…Well Sniffles
The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT for cool twitter people) starts its World Cup journey Monday afternoon. Has the US caught soccer fever…I say no. It’s more of the case of the sniffles.
Let’s start with the fact that a large portion of the country isn’t sports fans and don’t care about anything with a ball. Then add in the soccer haters…sports fans that refuse to acknowledge soccer is growing in popularity…or has any value whatsoever. That makes a large group of people who will refuse to look at ESPN over the next few weeks.
I’m no soccer hater. I will stay up to date with the US team and watch other World Cup matches when I can. Whenever there is a worldwide competition our country is involved in I’ll pay attention. At least until we are eliminated. I think many are in my boat.
Then there is the 3rd spectrum. The growing number of soccer enthusiasts. They are the ones that will fill the P and L on Monday for the watch party, they own Sporting scarves, and they accuse you of just not understanding the sport. They will be on your local news this week, they will talk about how tough the US group is, they will chant. They will be in your face.
Because they will be so visible this week many will claim soccer is taking over the US sports landscape. The popularity of soccer will be overblown. The demise of other sports like hockey, basketball and baseball will be prematurely predicted. Soccer is a growing sport in America…no doubt. Soccer has passionate fans…what it lacks is secondary interest.
Secondary fans really make the NFL the beast that it is. There are many people that have a fantasy team but couldn’t tell you who won last year’s Super Bowl. There is still a generation of baseball fans that watch the sport simply because their dad and granddad did. Soccer is without these fans right now.
There are enough to fill the P and L for a watch party. There are enough to fill Sporting Park. But there aren’t many more paying attention outside of that. Take this from a recent article on Sportingnews.com
“Still, MLS lags badly behind its American competition in television numbers. For example, the National Hockey League – easily the closest of the so-called “big four” U.S. professional sports to MLS in terms of ratings - averaged 392,000 viewers per game on NBC Sports Network in 2013, more than tripling the MLS audience.”
Soccer is here and is growing in popularity. The World Cup will bring awareness to more fans and may convert a few. However, it’s going to take more than just being in the World Cup to really grab the attention of America. The USMNT needs to win.
The record of the US in the World Cup is 7-16-5.
They’ve only made the semi-finals once…in 1930…the first year.
They didn’t even qualify for nearly 40 straight years.
Winning…and winning big is what needs to happen to really capture the American sports fans heart. And unfortunately even their coach doesn’t think that is likely.
The Royals made a nice PR move Thursday that will have little to no effect on the field. The Royals reassigned coaches making Dale Sveum the new hitting coach and moving Pedro Grifol to catching instructor…a new position.
The offense has been lifeless for what now adds up to a third of the season so fans were demanding change. The Royals gave them change, but it probably won’t make any difference in the results. This makes six hitting coaches in the last 2 years for the Royals. SIX!! It’s hard to believe yet another approach and message to struggling kids fragile psyches will help.
Dale Sveum was the Brewers hitting coach from 2009-2011. In those three years the Brewers 6 times had a player hit 30 or more home runs. Let’s be honest…that’s what everyone wants to see…more home runs. Those 6 seasons all came from Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and Corey Hart. Last I checked, the Royals did not trade for any of those three guys while moving Sveum to hitting coach.
Sveum called hitting coach the hardest job in baseball. Makes sense. Dealing with 12 different swings and personalities must be a challenge. What makes it easier is having talented hitters like Fielder, Braun and Hart. Until Royals hitters show they have the talent to consistently hit the ball with power and find ways to get on base moves like this will likely do nothing.
The other reason I think this move will produce little fruit is because the Royals have simply rearranged the cards in their hand but have gotten no new cards. That doesn’t make for a better hand. Having the same guys in different spots brings up two major questions to me.
One. What do the players that liked working with Grifol do? Will the guys who feel he has helped them (which admittedly looks like a short list) sneak around to get advice from Grifol? It seems dangerous to leave the guy around. If Sveum tries to crack the whip and make changes Grifol followers are likely to run to him for counsel and a pat on the back.
Two. If Sveum had ideas on how to fix the hitters hasn’t he already shared them? I would like to think if he had some ideas to get more power from the Royals hitters he would have shared them with Grifol or at the very least with his good buddy Ned Yost. I’m not saying Sveum should’ve been sneaking around Grifol’s back and undermining him, but if this coaching staff hasn’t ALL been trying to work together to fix this offense that’s concerning. I assume they have…which means it’s hard to fathom Sveum having any “new” ideas to get things going.
Sometimes change can light a fire on those who remain. But in this case, no one left…so those who remain don’t have any fear or wake up call. The move may quiet fans for a bit…but it will likely do little else.
Royals Quick Hits (Yost would prefer I bunt)
Mike Moustakascontinues to be the major Royals story. After hints from Manager Ned Yost that the team was considering a demotion, General Manager Dayton Moore was peppered with questions about this 3rd baseman. Moore appeared agitated with the line of questioning verbally wondering why there were no questions about the good things on the team.
Hello. McFly?!? That’s what happens when you allow a former top prospect to struggle this long. He becomes the story that overshadows all others. This is why teams send struggling players down. Not only so they can find success, but also so the daily narrative isn’t about their 0-4 or a roll call or all the other players fans want to see as a replacement.
Moose hit a 3 run double in Wednesday’s game and that will probably be enough to keep him around through another lengthy struggle. Don’t be surprised if we are in exactly the same situation in 2 weeks…looking back fondly on the one game Moose produced like a pimply nerd remember the one smile he got from the head cheerleader. One big hit every month just isn’t enough.
Of course Moose is part of a bigger problem…a lack of offense. He is tied for 3rd on the team in RBI behind only Omar Infante and Eric Hosmer. 3rd. 3rd!! Yes, the guy everyone wants out of town…the guy with historically laughable splits…the guy making Joe Randa look like Mike Schmidt…is 3rd in RBI. If the Royals other hitters were able to pick up the slack, Moose might be able to get away with being a field only 3rd baseman. Unfortunately that’s not the case.
Boy it would be nice to keep James Shields around. Great player, great competitor, great teammate. The Royals could find the money…let Butler walk, end the affair with Luke Hochevar and don’t resign Aoki. That would almost take care of what it would cost to keep Shields. But who would fill those spots. Therein lies the real failure of the Royals system. Maybe we can’t expect stars to develop at every position, but where is the replacement level players for league minimum to step in and fill some holes if you want to dive into the free agent market. They are missing as well.