Posted by & filed under NFL.

5 quick thoughts on the Packers as we get into the long and painful offseason of football –

1. The organization’s initial public responses to the defensive issues exposed by the 49ers seem to indicate that Dom Capers will be back. Mike Mccarthy and Kevin Greene pooh-poohed the questions related to Dom Capers’ job status and there have been no reports of the Packers interviewing others for the job. While on the face of it these look like bad decisions, I am not so sure . Yes Capers was outcoached and exposed a few times these past few years. But if the goal was to figure out how to defend spread and zone read offenses, do we know who would be a better coordinator and is that person available? I don’t fault the Packers too much here and my hope is they have done their due diligence and figured out better ways to prepare and execute on defense. Otherwise another year of Aaron Rodgers’ prime may just be wasted.

Capers

2. The Packers have made the playoffs four consecutive years. This is a shining example and one as good as any of the unique coaching and drafting the organization has done. But it gets harder. ZERO NFC teams have made the playoffs five years in a row since the league went to 32 teams and eight divisions in 2002. ZERO. Only three teams have done it in the AFC – The Patriots (2003-2007), Ravens (2008-2012) and the incredible Peyton Manning Colts (2002-2010).

Let that sink in. This is how hard it is to make the playoffs five years in a row. It takes a lot of skill, coaching, injury-luck and good overall fortune to achieve something like this. The Packers have the quarterback, GM and coach to make a run like those above but let’s not be surprised if they do not because the odds are against them from making the playoffs in 2013.

3. With all the coaching and GM vacancies filled, the nature of the Packers’ 2013 opponents is a lot clearer. Within the division the Packers will be taking on a brand new look Chicago Bears. They will have a very different look on both sides of the ball now that they are coached by a former West coast offense Guru and recent CFL head coach.

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The two games versus them will require every different preparation to what the Packers have done so far versus them. The out-of-conference games are versus the AFC North. The Packers will have to contend at home with a new look Cleveland Browns now coached by Rob Chudzinski the mastermind behind the big play Cam Newton led Carolina offense. I am sure he is salivating over some of the footage from last Saturday. The Packers also have to defend at home against Robert Griffin III and the new look Philadelphia Eagles and whatever funky offense
Mr. Chip Kelly decides to implement. Lastly they also have a road tilt versus Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kaepernick. *Gulp*. So that’s at least six games where their opponents have offensive schemes and game plans designed to take advantage of something the Packers have been exposed of. That’s also four games versus teams that the Packers are likely to not have a lot of film on. If the schedule shapes up where the Packers start off with games versus Philly, Cleveland and Chicago, BEWARE.

4. Player interviews are usually boring. They are full of clichés and painstakingly intended to offend no one. Aaron Rodgers has surprised me a lot over the years being more candid and direct than most athletes of his stature. His most recent conversation on 1/15/13 with Jason Wilde on his weekly radio show was compelling radio. He speaks in detail about some of the game situations that fans like me have had qualms about and also talks about his progression of reads and why the thought that the Packers can make 3rd down decisions based on what they would do on a hypothetical fourth down are wrong. Rodgers also talks about how the team would cope with losses of key players next season. The whole interview was very educational and credit to the host Jason Wilde for letting Rodgers talk and for also asking so many of the right questions. Please do give it a listen.

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5. Lastly the Packers have a lot more change coming to them this offseason than the past couple. It is almost a given that Greg Jennings will move on as a free agent and Donald Driver will be cut. It is also likely that Charles Woodson, AJ Hawk and Jermichael Finley won’t be back. One or more of Clay Matthews, BJ Raji and Aaron Rodgers will be extended on a record/league-best contract. James Jones, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson will suddenly all see their touches increased. I trust Aaron Rodgers and Mike Mccarthy to overcome all of this but it will not be remotely easy.

Enjoy the offseason everybody and Go Pack, Go

Posted by & filed under NFL.

Here are some pictures I shot on my iPhone during my trip to Candlestick Park for the Packers vs. 49ers divisional playoff game. Please click on each image to view in full size/part of a slideshow.

Here is how loud it got on a Packers 3’rd down. Pretty loud but nothing compared to the noise at the Packers – Seahawks game I was at in September.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_TySfYEhsw&w=560&h=315]

Posted by & filed under NFL.

Mike McCarthy, Jim Harbaugh

I never ever say “this movie’s gonna stink” and then attend its premiere. I never say “this show is gonna stink” and watch it on pay per view. It’s only sport that makes me do things that are cognitively dissonant while also making sense in my head. For two weeks I had predicted the 49ers would win. For two weeks I had preached the genius of Harbaugh to anyone who would listen. For two weeks I had said the Packers were done when they couldn’t stop Adrian Peterson in Week 17. In spite of all this, there I was ten rows from the end zone on a cold, clear night at Candlestick park. Draped in Green and Gold I was yelling “Go Pack, Go” over the stunned silence of hundreds of kindred 49ers fans when Sam Shields returned Colin Kaepernick’s second throw for a touchdown. temp130112-49ers-biever-2--nfl_mezz_1280_1024

On the heels of an even more stunning upset in Denver, I told myself anything can happen. The pressures of the playoffs could get to a virtual rookie and the Packers can win this…….

Add that to #famouslastwords.

Kaepvspack

Of all the sports I have followed and watched, the NFL is where coaching makes the most tangible difference. Coaches have to go way beyond making sure the players are physically fit and mentally motivated to perform at their best. Coaches have to strategize on a per-game, per-play basis. Coaches have to figure out how to use very finite resources while competing against teams with almost identical resources. And on Saturday, Jim Harbaugh unleashed yet another clinic in coaching that challenges Mike Mccarthy and the Packers to really raise their game this offseason. No more can Mccarthy count on utilizing innovative formations and the arm of an elite quarterback to mask gaping deficiencies in the team’s defensive preparation and use of timeouts and challenges.

For seemingly the 18’th time this season, Mccarthy went into half time with all three timeouts intact. Really, there were no spots when he could have used these in a tight first half? The defense that spent 70% of the half on the field could not have used some rest? The offense that was struggling to move down the field smoothly could not have used some extra time to execute better?

There was a fourth and four at midfield call that Mccarthy had to make in the waning stages of the fourth quarter. The Packers had a two possession deficit at that point and a defense that had failed to stop the 49ers all day. Could they not have called a timeout and gone for it? Do you not back Aaron Rodgers in the prime of his career to gain four yards at midfield? To rub salt into the wounds even more, Harbaugh had his offense go for it on fourth and one a few minutes later when a field goal was a much safer call.

Jeremy Ross was assigned to return kickoffs and punts in spite of muffing some pre-game (fans who went to the game would tell you). I don’t know who made the call but if ever there was one that deserved to be fair-caught that was it. The Packers were up 14-7 and had forced what would be the only 49ers 3-and-out of the day. Was using Randall Cobb in these situations during several lower profile games thru the season and then resting him from the same role in the playoffs the right way to do it? The electrifying second year player could have saved the Packers seven crucial points and a turnover.

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Coaches like to say that players win games and the execution of a lot of the Packers including Aaron Rodgers deserves to be held under scrutiny. This is still a talented roster and an excellent coach that will win much more than it loses for a long while to come. But you don’t win against Jim Harbaugh when you don’t prepare, plan and execute at your very best and Mike Mccarthy did not on Saturday. Jim Harbaugh has gone to successive NFC championship games with Alex Smith and a second year second round QB at the helm. The road to the Superbowl for the next ten years will go thru San Francisco and Seattle as two exceptional coaches have raised the league’s intelligence and performance. Mike Mccarthy was 0-3 against them this season. His defense was also 0-4 against teams that started rookie quarterbacks. A program-wide post-mortem and a change in approach to using timeouts and challenges is needed for Mccarthy and the organization to ensure they don’t become stagnant a sa team that makes the playoffs only to always lose to a certain kind of team.

One note on my Candlestick experience – This is the third NFL stadium I have been to so I do not have a large sample size to compare my experience against. I have however been to three NBA arenas, two baseball stadiums and four cricket stadiums. I have rooted for the home team and for the road team. But this was by far the scariest and worst experience I’ve had as a sports fan. The 49ers fans I encountered all the way from the roads near the stadium to the parking lot to my seat were largely obnoxious, threatening and offensive. I was called a faggot on at least one occasion and every play that went against the 49ers was followed by a set of fans behind me asking the refs and the Packers to shove it up their butt. The smell of weed hung around our stands for a long time while some fans behind me had passed out by the third quarter. On my trip to the restrooms at halftime two 49ers fans asked me if they could poop on my jersey instead. As I was leaving the game with Arun, someone ran to the cops complaining they had been pissed on! There a million signs everywhere on what to do if a fan misbehaved or got violent, way more than I have seen at any other sporting venue.

I don’t expect to be greeted when I root for the rival team. I don’t even expect to be acknowledged. I want fans to root for their team with passion, pride and a powerful voice. But I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect to not be hurt verbally or physically. While no one injured me thru the game, I felt very unsafe for large parts of it. I didn’t go beyond high-fiving a few neighboring Packer souls on the rare Packer scores. I had the sense to not yell “Go Pack, Go” after the expressions and gay slurs I heard on the Sam Shields touchdown.

I hate to stereotype an entire stadium or fan base based on my personal experience in one corner of the stadium during one game but news reports and other people’s experiences (read comments below the link I linked to) suggest that I was not alone.

It’s going to be a long time before I can recommend attending a Candlestick park game to anyone. Even many 49ers fans I know will be put off by the language around them

NINERSARRESTS

Best of luck to Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers who don’t need much. There will be seasons when 49ers rosters are more injured and the players make more mental mistakes. There will be seasons when the 49ers are not rescued from mediocrity by their mediocre quarterback suffering a concussion. But for years to come Jim Harbaugh has set the standard in the NFC and it is up to others to step up and compete.

As I made my 80 minute drive back home on a frigid freezing night, I couldn’t help wonder what the future held. The Packers will most likely be without Greg Jennings, Donald driver, Dom Capers and maybe even Jermichael Finley next season. The 49ers will only get better. Can the Packers be nimble, can the Packers be quick? As long as Jim Harbaugh is the 49ers coach, the Packers will have to jump over the Candlestick………….

P.S : Credit to the use of the candlestick rhyme with the Pack goes to Brian Carriveau who used it on Twitter last week.

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Mark Gray was born in England, grew up in Northern California and now lives in Seattle. He is one of the hardcore 49ers fans that I put up with on a daily basis. We exchange emails any time the Packers and 49ers play in a big game. Here is our exchange 3 days ahead of the divisional playoff matchup in San Francisco. Our earlier exchanges can be found here, here, here and here.

1/11/13
3:00 PM

Mark,

Our trash talking is done. It’s been a fun week. Thank you for churning out content five times this week! It was a pleasure and I hope the 49ers fans that I will encounter at Candlestick tomorrow are as gracious and smart as you after their beloved team loses.

I just have two final summary thoughts:

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1) In many ways this game is about Aaron Rodgers. He’s played like one of the two best quarterbacks in the league for three full seasons now. But I do not know if he’s faced the sort of test he faces Saturday. He has no excuses on his side of the ball as they are as healthy as they have been all year. The Packers defense has played much better this season than last and he is up against a truly challenging megamind of a coach and a killer defense of its own. A lot of people who’re picking the Packers are simply doing so because of him. They don’t see how he with his history of overcoming adversity and challenges will fail this. I feel that way a lot of the time too. I feel that way now….

But look – there’s Harbaugh and the guy who made Alex Smith look competent and never loses off a week when he has more time to prepare than his rival. Time to flip pick.

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Seriously it’s been a coin toss every time I try to predict how this one turns out.

2) We have both wavered between picking the teams we root for and lamenting about every possible way they will lose. We both will not be surprised by any result tomorrow. This is sport at its best. Two evenly matched teams playing in a win-or-get out game in one of the NFL’s oldest stadiums on primetime on a Saturday. I doubt there’s going to be a better playoff game this year. The Packers have the better quarterback but the 49ers have home field, rest and the best coach in the league. Ever since Adrian Peterson ensured the Packers won’t get a bye, I have felt very strongly that the 49ers will win. Again, nothing will surprise me but here’s my final pick – 49ers 34 – Packers 31 in OT…..

I so hope I am wrong….

Here’s the Aaron Rodgers video that Bill Simmons pointed to multiple times in his wonderful piece today. It’s the image and video I will be praying to over the next 26 hours.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6Kn7YRpws0?feature=player_embedded&w=640&h=360]

Enjoy the game. Watch for me on TV and for one last time this week

gopackgo

1/11/13
8:00 PM

Shyam,

It’s been fun. I started out the week holding back while you talked up all the reasons why the 49ers would win, then I encouraged you to talk up the Packers, but then I used your own arguments against you. I guess that makes me a maestro. 🙂

This should be an annual tradition, and thankfully our teams are actually well-positioned to make that so. That’s definitely my hope.

Some final thoughts:
1. Wow, Alex looks young in that picture. And innocent. Pretty sure he never thought his future would be full of dropped-trou.
2. Even Football Outsiders couldn’t make a prediction about the winner; they think it will be that close. Really enjoying their analysis, though.
3. I’ll take the under on combined point total. Something tells me this game will be lucky to have even one of the teams score over 30 points.
4. The winner of this game will host the Seahawks next week; even with the Seahawks being as good as they have been recently, you’ve got to like the chances for the host team. Let’s hope this game doesn’t come down to a field goal kicking contest though, or else it will never end.

This weekend’s winners will be the 49ers, Seahawks, Broncos and Patriots. I’d really like to pick a visiting team in the AFC, but the odds are definitely not in their favor. (I’ll be secretly rooting for them, though, as per usual when I have no other vested interest.)

With that, I’ll worriedly and excitedly conclude my half of this discussion. Thanks for inviting me.

Go Kaep, Go

Posted by & filed under cricket, Media.

Bill Simmons is American sport’s most influential voice today. He is ESPN’s single most indispensable property. He has over a million Twitter followers and is read by more people weekly than any other American sports columnist, reporter or writer. He is so popular that his milquetoast conversations with childhood friends (which sound like they could be from any pub in America) are the most listened-to podcasts on iTunes. Only 13 years ago he was but a fan who wrote about Boston sports for an audience smaller than Fenway Park. Identified and nurtured by ESPN he lapped established media, columnists and reporters. He did this by speaking as a fan to fans. He did this by challenging the status quo of journalism from media boxes. He did this by challenging the benefit of having sports covered only by those who were close to the athletes and interacted with them on a daily basis. He let his biases seep thru his work. He captured the emotional mood swings that fans experience and questioned the old-established model of neutrality from those who cover sports for a living.

Simmons as  a fan

Simmons as a fan

Bill Simmons is by no means perfect but he gave a voice to fans across the country. But Indian cricket badly needs its Bill Simmons or at least a Bill Simmons moment. Too many cricket journalists are getting too distant from the fans. Too many mainstream voices are not looking outside the ‘ivory towers’ that house fellow mainstream journalists. The latest case-in-point : Ramachandra Guha.

ram guha

Mr. Guha is a widely published and renowned historian and writer who holds a tier 1 stature among writers in India. His latest piece in Cricinfo tackles the all-important question that no fan was smart enough to think of – What trophy should India and Pakistan play for? Cricinfo does yeoman work for the sport and fans everywhere but there is a reason we have Cricinfo and no Kabadiinfo or Handballinfo websites yet. The extraordinary passion of the Indian cricket fan and the ensuing demand for scorecards, articles and content keeps the cricket media industrial complex busy and employed. Too many writers forget this and Ram Guha demonstrates his enormous distance from the median fan at several junctures in his piece. Here below are eight instances from his piece that demonstrate the vast gap between his perception of a situation and those of a fan –

1) “Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, Zaka Ashraf, suggested that the two countries play each other regularly, for what might be called the Jinnah-Gandhi Trophy.” – First of all, the nation of Pakistan and its very existence as a place where people can live safely is under worldwide debate. The nation has not proven itself to be capable of hosting a cricket match in nearly four years. The recently completed five match limited overs series was hastily put together by the two boards with no other bilateral competition scheduled in the future. With so much doubt about one of the protagonists, is the name of the trophy really worth spending time on?

2) “Through the 1980s and 1990s, whenever India played Pakistan, the fans of both sides would display their jingoism in abundant measure. I carry a painful memory of standing to applaud Javed Miandad in Bangalore, after he had played his last innings in international cricket. I was the only man to do so in my stand. The feelings of the others summed up by a fellow who said: “Thank God I shall never see the bastard again.”
I am sorry but hasn’t sport existed for centuries on the pretexts of rivalry and an enemy to root against? Yankees-Red Sox, Australia-England, Barcelona-Real Madrid and USA-USSR. Whether it is between clubs or countries, jingoism and a feeling of us vs. them makes sports the compelling theater it is for millions. Without jingoism and a rival, sports would be just another reality show on TV. For Ram Guha to frown on an Indian fan for calling Javed Miandad (the man who handed Indian cricket its worst moment in 50+ years) a bastard is for Ram Guha to move away from the sports page on to the literary review page of a Sunday newspaper. It takes a special level of fandom, passion and knowledge to recognize and acknowledge Javed Miandad for the bastard he was:). At least if this fan had expressed the same feelings at a Rashid Latif or Ataur Rahman I could see some reason for frustration. But for Miandad :).

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3) “In recent years, however, Indians fans have become more mature, focusing on the cricket rather than seeing it as a substitute for politics (or war). When Pakistan won a Test in Bangalore in 2005, those in the Chinnaswamy Stadium were quite happy to cheer Inzamam and his men.” – So he has chosen one anecdote from one day of one test match seven+ years ago to make a generic all-encompassing point about cricket fans from a country of 1 billion+. Well done Sir! Stereotypers worldwide would be proud of you.

After praising Sanjay Manjrekar for thinking like Ramachandra Guha, Guha writes,

4) “That this time, too, Indian fans and crowds took defeat at the hands of Pakistan so calmly spoke of a new, and very welcome, ability to separate sport from national pride.” – I am sorry but I have watched cricket for 28 years and not once has the GDP/rate of inflation popped up in my mind when Sachin scores a 50. Equating success or failure in cricket to national mood is an easy, lazy thing to do that insults the complexity of the world. If I had to guess the Indian fan was a little more mellow in the 2000s because he saw the team win a lot more especially against Pakistan. In the 1990s, the same Indian fan was probably beaten to an angry frustration because of the frequency and margin of defeats at the hands of Waqar, Wasim and Aaqib.

5) “In this changed climate, we may indeed push for regular tours between the two sides.” – Really Mr. Guha? You haven’t read the newspapers recently? There is nothing about the political climate in Pakistan that suggests there can be any determinism in the cricket calendar. And yet there seems to be a consensus in your mind that the time is right for frequent tours?

6) “I think we should follow the latter model and promote a Sachin Tendulkar Trophy. No man has defined India-Pakistan cricket in the way that he has.” – Really? Have you asked Pakistan fans what they think of this? What are their thoughts on Aaqib Javed’s bunny being the person after whom a trophy is named? Until today they thought Wasim Akram was the player who defined the rivalry. Are they wrong?

7) “For 22 years, in all forms of the game and at all venues, how much Sachin scored and when he got out often decided which way the match would go.” – This statement obliterates the last decade of Indian cricket and does gross injustice to the several series that India won against Pakistan courtesy Sehwag, Dravid, Laxman and Kumble. It also completely minimizes the records of Inzamam, Anwar and Pakistan’s pace bowlers who have often made the difference between evenly matched sides.

8) “I think many Pakistanis will be content with a trophy named for Tendulkar alone. For their fans and cricketers venerate the man and his game. I remember the late Raj Singh Dungarpur telling me how, at a reception at Buckingham Palace during the 1999 World Cup, the young Pakistani players merely wanted to be in the presence of Sachin, to touch his blazer and be photographed with him.” – One of the glaring offshoots of when media members only talk among themselves is lines like the ones here. Anecdotes from events media members attend are passed around as evidence and data points for sweeping conclusions.

A passionate and intelligent fan base needs to have its passion and intelligence voiced by representatives of the fourth estate. Picking on Guha gives mo no special pleasure. It is but one of the most glaring examples of where desire to write for the cricket fan diverges far from the fan him/herself. The time is ripe for someone to rise and represent the Indian cricket fan. Someone who writes with the same angst, passion, excitement and intelligence as the median fan. The median fan deserves that.

Posted by & filed under NFL.

Mark Gray was born in England, grew up in Northern California and now lives in Seattle. He is one of the hardcore 49ers fans that I put up with on a daily basis. We exchange emails any time the Packers and 49ers play in a big game. Here is our exchange 3 days ahead of the divisional playoff matchup in San Francisco. Our earlier exchanges can be found here, here and here.

1/10/2013
3:00 PM

Mark,

You want me to bring it? Here –

bring-it-thumb

The best case scenario for the Packers is that Aaron Rodgers turns into Aaron Rodgers from this playoff game two years ago. It’s the sort of game only two-three quarterbacks in the league are capable of having. Rodgers himself talks about that game as one where he was in a very unique zone he has never been in otherwise. I remember watching that game and thinking that there is no way any team could keep with the Packers that night. The point you guys made about elite QBs will hold true. No amount of rest or home field advantage can keep up with Mr. Discount Double check if that stays. This is every Packer fan’s wet dream and basically the reason why anyone who has doubt about their pick goes with the Packers. They assume that this Rodgers is capable of showing up. I also think it is possible that this will happen which is why I put down some good money yesterday for Stubhub tickets to the game:). But I don’t think it is probable or likely which makes me cautiously optimistic.

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But yeah if Rodgers shows up as the best he can be, I wish you a long night of wailing and weeping into your Alex Smith jersey as your massive Kaep-erection shrinks and shrivels down to the size of an Akers-ection (see what I did there?).

So yeah in spite of my gut feel that your team will win Saturday, I have gone ahead and bought tickets to the game. This may not be a very wise investment. Candlestick park at 8:30 PM on a Saturday night will be a very scary place for a brown-skinned cheesehead/Rodgers jersey wearing male. If I clear the post game crowds on the concourses and aisles, I will still have to drive my Packers license plate bearing car to the safety of Hwy 580/280 :). Wish me luck on making it thru the night safely. Apart from all that is how poor my return on sporting Investment has been for me recently. I was in the process of losing my hearing in Seattle where the refs robbed my team of a win and I was in Mumbai for the worst home loss of the year for Indian cricket. Recent history almost makes me dread an ugly 24-3 49ers win making me impose a five-year ban on myself from live events.

But I also worry that this maybe the one time I get to see Aaron Rodgers in a playoff game. Who knows when next he will get to play a playoff game in California and in the off-chance that he turns into Superman I will curse myself for the rest of my life on having botched the one chance to watch him live. So I am going to the game. Stay tuned for many pictures from the game and 12 tweets or taunts per Packer touchdown …….

Worst of luck and Go Pack, Go
Shyam

P.S: The best preview I have seen of the game is here. The preview points out how important takeaways for the Packers and does the hard work of crunching the numbers related to that. Here’s hoping Colin Kaepernick obliges.

1/10/2013
6:45 PM

Now this is more like the Shyam I expected, only I’m getting to the point of overload talking about this. Bring on Saturday already.

The only flaw in your “Rodgers? More like GODgers!” rant is that the game you referenced was against the Falcons. The same Falcons who, though they are supposed to be better now, really are considered one of the worst #1 seeds… possibly ever. The same “better” Falcons that most people agree have no chance against the visiting Seahawks on Sunday… mostly because of games like this.

Unfortunately, red and black (and white?) is not the same and red and gold; as long as Justin Smith’s arm stays on (firmly attached to an offensive lineman), the 49ers defense is pretty close to elite. Not quite lucky like last year, but they match up well with any team because they’re so good at stuffing the run without extra help, which in turn allows them to play strong coverage and make life difficult for opposing QBs. (Think first half @ Patriots, before the prevent defense kicked in to make Brady look more like… Brady.) In fact, if the game plan versus the Discount Double-Checks is greatly different than the (first-half) game plan against the Bradys, I would be surprised.

Now that I’ve finally coaxed you into showing some confidence, I’ll just remind you that the 49ers will have extra rest and preparation, and when Harbs has that extra time, he usually comes out on top – even when the haters (Shyam) are hatin’ (see: Saints @ Niners, 2012 playoffs). Plus, I don’t really think this “Alex was careful with the football and Kaep was not” nonsense. Statistically, the difference between the two was very slight, and we’re talking about a second-year player who had never started a football game before. (Get your Kaeperection ready.) Sure, the game will be close, but I like the Niners’ chances quite a bit. There are just too many things going in their favor, and the general malaise during the season will give way to some post-season intensity. [See that, I turned what I termed a negative (the lack of more than a 2-game winning streak) into a positive.] Let’s face it, when the Niners got themselves up for a game, they were pretty unbeatable. Just think about the Chicago game, when everyone was talking about how great the Bears were. Then they got a Kaep in their collective ass.

Let’s remember: Harbs is one intense mo-fo. After the lockout lifted (remember that?), he had this team at maximum effort all last season, through the playoffs. They lost a close and easily winnable NFC championship game. This year, it seems that the team is a little less affected by Harbs’ intensity – it’s just plain hard to maintain that over the most part of two years – but I think they’re in prime position and they’ve got enough left to make a good run for the SB. Yes, I liked last year’s team better for that intensity, but I believe this team will be ready.

Sorry, the Packers won’t be going home happy.

Posted by & filed under cricket.

The two Ashes series are deservedly the marquee competitions in cricket this year. Pakistan’s tour of South Africa and Australia’s tour of India offer compelling subplots and the expected eventual retirement of a certain #4 batsman may end up being what the year is remembered for. With all of these events in the pipeline, the ODI series that starts Friday between India and England is destined to be discarded into a nondescript chapter in the history books right between successive India vs. Sri Lanka chapters. But the series does offer one unique angle that makes it interesting to follow.

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English cricket will trot out its grand new experiment with Ashley Giles taking over the reins as the head coach and lead man for the ODI series. Test match head honcho Andy Flower will use the time to rest up and relax with his family before receiving the coaching baton in time for a test tour of New Zealand. While the two formats have existed for four decades, this is the first time a nation has gone ahead with the two coach, coaches for courses approach. All of the reports from India carry tons of optimism with the protagonists singing kumbaya and preaching unity. Ashley Giles and Andy Flower are supposed to be in this altogether and are working on this without ego or selfishness. I don’t expect anything different during the honeymoon phase of this grand new experiment but here below are my thoughts on possible ways this could turn out.

Scenarios:

Scenario 1:England retain the Ashes thru 2014: The English Cricket Board (ECB) has clearly prioritized test match cricket over limited overs cricket. This dual coach approach ensures that the coach who has led them to so much test match success (Andy Flower) is rested and refreshed through the year. An Andy Flower who is happy with his work-life balance is an Andy Flower who will coach England to the best of his ability. If England retain the Ashes thru 2014 and identify a core for their 2015 World Cup squad, mission accomplished! If Ashley Giles ends up being a successful coach as England win ODIs under his stewardship that is a clear bonus. Retaining the Ashes while finding some sort of ODI core is the ECB’s wet dream. This here is the best case scenario and one that ensures the dual coach strategy will become the blueprint of most test nations post 2015.

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scenario 2: Australia win an Ashes series: Australia winning one of the Ashes series in the next 12 months ensures England’s test goals have taken a hit. This will lead to a lot of second guessing on whether or not intangible factors like team camaraderie, morale and roster understanding were compromised by the two coach model. Selectors and media do not flinch from identifying causes and correlations where none exist. A reduced level of success especially in the home Ashes could cause a lot of second guessing. Imagine if an Ashley Giles coached side won the ODI series in India and the Champions’ trophy while Andy Flower watched Michael Clarke hoist the Ashes at the Oval? Will there really be cool heads then that parse thru the real reasons why the test side lost? All of the rest and work-life balance may still end up making Andy a dull boy.

Scenario 3: Australia win both the Ashes series: This here becomes the ultimate nightmare and is likely to put the 2-coach approach into deep slumber. In this case it doesn’t even matter how the ODI team does because the primary goal will have not been achieved. A myriad of reasons may explain the discrepancy in test performance but I wouldn’t be surprised to read pieces that contain phrases like ‘lost the dressing room’ or ‘Double trouble’. England will have to do an honest post-mortem if this were to transpire. Hard to see how Flower survives this in spite of current assurances that he will be the coach for the next 2+ years.

English cricket is trying something very unique, innovative and risky. Sometimes outcomes don’t do justice to the thought and processes behind the results. That may very well be how this approach is judged. While it is inspiring to see innovation in resource management, egoless coaches working for the betterment of English cricket and an ODI series with an actual back story, the future of the move may very well lie in the hands of Michael Clarke and James Pattinson.

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Mark Gray was born in England, grew up in Northern California and now lives in Seattle. He is one of the hardcore 49ers fans that I put up with on a daily basis. We exchange emails any time the Packers and 49ers play in a big game. Here is our exchange 3 days ahead of the divisional playoff matchup in San Francisco. Our earlier exchanges can be found here and here.

1/9/13
8:31 AM

Mark,

So what happened yesterday? Ho hum day in Northern California. Trash talked at by two Niners fans who said that my team will be crushed and one Niner fan who asked me if I would root for the Niners after the divisional round because of me being local and all. *Sucker*.

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Midway thru the week and I haven’t really seen anything that will change my pick so far. Looks like Mr. York is up to some sleazy old tricks that rich NFL owners like him and Snyder are always up to and is having the game played on a terrible field like the Redskins game last week. Score 1 to you and here’s hoping QB # 1 gets thru the game without tearing any ligaments. The bad turf, the cold & windy weather all point to helping your cavalcade of straight-line runners much more than my team’s group of nimble speedy receivers. Justin Smith is going to be well rested. I am shocked the line hasn’t moved further in your favor.

Also, did you know Colin Kaepernick was born in Milwaukee and Rodgers spent his schooling and college in Northern California? I think this story line will be beat to a merciless death by the time Saturday rolls around. I also guess Harbaugh will bring Alex Smith in for a couple of plays just so the 2005 draft storyline can be propped up a fair amount too. Another friend was telling me about how awesome the TV ratings would be if the Packers played the Seahawks and Manning played Brady in the conference championship games. So I started thinking how the refs would sway this week’s games just to make that happen. LOL. The things we think of as sports fan!

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But really Saturday cannot come here fast enough. I expect this will be the best of the four games. I even predict it will go to OT. The one thing the Packers have going for them is that they are as healthy and deep as they have been all season. They can now put their top five pass catchers on the field and also throw in an actual functional NFL caliber running back (DuJuan Harris) in every now and then. Their defense will be manhandled for a bit by your well rested linemen and backs but at least it has all of its parts intact and out there.

Football Outsiders has the 49ers as a small favorite too. The difference in overall DVOA is miniscule but they rate your team’s chances of winning at 64%. They tend to be the most accurate of websites I follow and they see a definitive advantage to the 49ers defense, home field and the bye week. They however have the Seahawks as the best team in the NFC and as the one most likely to make it to the Superbowl.

The coaches and quarterbacks speak to the media today in great detail, so we may have more tidbits and trash talking to chew on. But from a cold, grey Northern California morning, all I can say is Go Pack, go even as a realistic assessment of their chances makes me think that this run is done Saturday.

Thank You,
Shyam

1/9/13
6:35 PM

Dear confused Shyam,

Our “trash talk” mostly revolved around the fact that you’re underselling your team’s chances (some sort of reverse-jinx, we concluded) and overselling Harbaugh’s abilities as a former QB. You know, the kind that isn’t allowed on the field. Chad rightly pointed out that having an elite current QB, like Mr. Rodgers, is a much better predictor of success than a “great” coach and scrub QB. (Not sure what Kaep is going to be yet.)

Even worse, you mention the DVOA playoff odds to bemoan the 49ers’ chances of winning at home versus GB:

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But you failed to mention that the Packers have been given the best chance to win of any of the road teams not called the Seahawks. That’s about as non-disrespectful as you can get. Houston and Baltimore are given little-to-no chance by comparison; how would you feel to be a fan of either of those teams?

Sure the 49ers are the better team (by consensus) and at home, but this game is by no means a slam-dunk. No way would I trash talk before this game because it’s too close to call before they actually play – and I don’t want to look like an overconfident jerk (see: Shyam, 2012 – LOL). I’d much rather trash-talk the Ravens and Texans (maybe it will motivate them!) because, wow, the odds of them winning are crazy low.

FO has the Packers as the #5 team right now. Advanced NFL Stats has them at #4 of the remaining teams. If the Pack weren’t playing one of the teams above them on the lists (like the Falcons), or even if they were at home (after a week’s rest), you’ve got to think they’d have a trip at least to the conference championship and shot at the Superbowl. So thank you again for that bye. Best. Playoffs. Present. Ever.

As for the whole “Rodgers back in Cali” and “Kaep from Milwaukee” story lines – meh. Chaff and newspaper-filler. No relevance to the statistics, unless you are tallying the number of ticket requests Rodgers received versus the number of tickets he was able to procure.

BTW, where’s all the trash talk? Seems like you’re setting yourself up by expecting a loss so you can be surprised if they win. But, more importantly, you’ll be less affected if they lose. That’s pretty boring; you need to start bringing it, buddy.

BTW2, don’t forget: http://img.gawkerassets.com/img/1874zezcsj1xigif/original.gif (from Deadspin)

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Mark Gray was born in England, grew up in Northern California and now lives in Seattle. He is one of the hardcore 49ers fans that I put up with on a daily basis. We exchange emails any time the Packers and 49ers play in a big game. Here is our exchange 5 days ahead of the divisional playoff matchup in San Francisco. The Monday exchange can be found here

1/7/2013
5:30 PM

Mark,

Weak Mark, very weak. You say you are concerned about your team and think things are different this year than last but all you can point to is a bad kicker :). You’re fooling no one. Your cocky confidence and arrogance in your support of and belief in the 49ers is evident. No reason to sugar coat and play it mild and humble. Your team is loaded. You love them and you really don’t see any way they can lose. Let’s just say it like it is, shall we ???? Should the game even be played ???

(Editor’s note: This was enough to get Mark riled up. Mission Accomplished)

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So what happened on Monday? I read a gazillion early preview pieces. The best one I read is understandably by a Packer fan on a Packer blog here. I tuned in to talk radio from San Francisco on my drive to work. Bay area sports talk radio was giddy about playing the Packers. I do not think anyone believed the 49ers would lose. I think such confidence is very logical after seeing Harbaugh’s body of work. The host was particularly giddy about the fact that the Packers had a worse kicker than the 49ers did :). Can’t argue with that.

Jim Harbaugh and Mike Mccarthy spoke today. Hidden in their yarns of otherwise predictable and boring coach-spiel were two interesting statements. Harbaugh said Kaepernick is ‘savant like’. That’s got to mean something right? It can’t just be used to motivate Colin himself and the other players. It has got to be grounded in some firm belief? He could have used many other words but he chose savant. What do you think Harbaugh’s motive is? Also, what do you think he calls Alex Smith in this situation :)? I’d wager 20 bucks on it not being ‘savant like’. I think it’s interesting that this was the word used especially when he is going to go up against a quarterback far more befitting that term, don’t you think?

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Mike Mccarthy on the other hand said he likes it better when his team is disrespected like he think they are this week. I think most times in sport, disrespect is a bunch of bullshit wrapped in dung wrapped in more bullshit. athletes and coaches love to have a chip on their shoulder. I don’t think normal people like you and I go thru work every day pumping ourselves up on slights imagined and partially deserved. I think that is exactly what Mccarthy is doing here. The Packers are basically being treated as on-par on the road with the conference’s #2 seed coming off a bye. If this was disrespect, I want to be disrespected for the rest of my life.

If the disrespect were real (like how the Boston media is treating the Texans right now) I can see how it can make a marginal difference in the motivation and energy levels of highly paid athletes in an uber-physical sport. But I think and hope the Packers players are smart enough to not build up some false hate and anger against some imaginary disrespect.

But if it helps them win, then I take back everything I just said…….

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Go Pack, Go

Shyam

1/8/2013
12:42 AM

Yo Shyam,

I’m feeling totally disrespected right now. You clobbered all the perfect links in my first message, and now I’m going to bring the pain. This is going up on the bulletin board.

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Meh. That doesn’t really work for me. This is a trap game on Saturday, no question, but probably more so for the fans than the team. I’m just not arrogant enough to think it’s going to be #LOLpackers come this time next week. Do I think the Niners will win? Of course. Do I hope they embarrass the Packers? Sure, why not. But why would I think of anything else? A 49er win on Saturday puts them one step closer; if hard-fought, they will start looking good for that inevitable matchup against the Seagulls. If they trounce the Packers, you have to think they’re the favorites to go all the way. But that’s there, and we’re still here. Every minute of Saturday will be excruciating, win or lose, and I’ll be a nervous wreck by the end of that game. That’s what it means to be a fan – that thing my wife will never understand – we essentially live vicariously through the teams we support. They are us, and we are them.

Aside: My wife tells me a friend of hers invited us over for a Superbowl party. My response: “I’ll only watch if the Niners are in it.” So she says something to the effect of, “they’re Seahawks fans and season-ticket holders; you can’t support the 49ers when the Seahawks are playing.” I just rolled my eyes as I explained that they can’t both be in the Superbowl. (Apparently her friends are already getting a little over-confident about their team’s chances, although I can see why.)

But I’m not fool enough to talk that much smack about this game… well, not until after the 49ers win. 

The real point is that it’s all about perception – for the fans and the players. Calling it disrespect is an exaggeration, but feeling like you’ve got nothing to lose is a pretty powerful weapon. You’re telling me you’ve never felt that way in your life or job? “I’ve got nothing to lose, so it’s time to do something radical”? In my experience, it meant being me-first for a change. In sports, it’s the survival instinct, and for athletes that are already so elite at what they do, the mental aspect becomes that extra edge. It’s always 110%-this and 110%-that, and I think that extra motivation has to come from somewhere. Maybe it’s fiction, but if you believe, it becomes a tangible thing you can use. That, plus luck, makes for parity in the NFL.

I admit, I haven’t read a single word about this game (beyond Shyam’s); I don’t want to get burned out too soon, so it will be a slow build to Saturday for me. In fact, over the course of this season, I think I’ve actually paid less attention to the nonsense streaming out of Harbaugh’s mouth. It never amounts to much, and the media’s interpretation and analysis (and tweets!) is what I seek out on a daily basis. So you can guess where I’m going here: Calling Kaep a savant, or anything for that matter, leaves me still disinterested. This from the guy who used “mighty men” ad nauseum.

As mentioned previously, there’s something about this year’s 49ers that make me hesitant to be gung ho about their abilities, and I’m going to tell you why. But first, two questions: Of the eight remaining teams, which had the longest winning streak? Which had the shortest? The answer, in table form:

nfl win streaks 2012

Granted, winning streaks are not the only sign of dominance since it depends on schedule and strength of opponent, but look at the team at the bottom and you’ll know why I’m not totally pumped this year. The 49ers have had the following pattern: win two games, followed by a letdown (loss or tie) in the third. There’s been no sustained dominance like some of the other teams, so it’s hard to feel real confident. Sure, I think they’ll beat the Packers, but then maybe the 49ers will complete the pattern by losing to the Seahawks (ugh).

I wish I knew how to look up the last 20 Superbowl winners to see their longest winning streaks…. Twenty bucks says none of them only won two in a row during the season.

Aside: I’d be pretty psyched if I was a fan of the Broncos right now – their streak ended the season and will likely be at 12 after this weekend.

Oh yeah, I brought the tables. Are you feeling disrespected yet?

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Mark Gray was born in England, grew up in Northern California and now lives in Seattle. He is one of the hardcore 49ers fans that I put up with on a daily basis. We exchange emails any time the Packers and 49ers play in a big game. Here is our exchange 5 days ahead of the divisional playoff matchup in San Francisco.

1/6/2013
10:00PM

Mark,

Happy New Year and Worst of luck for this week to you! I do believe that me wishing you those two things doesn’t make me hypocritical. It is not incongruent to wish you a happy 2013 while wishing for a flailing pathetic performance on Saturday by that football team you root for at that unsafe dump of a stadium your team calls home.

McCarthy-Harbaugh

Last year we both liked our respective teams a lot going into divisional playoffs weekend and did this in anticipation of a conference championship matchup. My beloved Packers didn’t keep up their end of the bargain then while Alex Smith turned in to Superman for one Saturday to take you closer to the Superbowl than you had been in ages. Since our over 10,000 word conversation last year (for a mythical matchup that never even materialized) attracted over 500 unique readers, I thought we should do it again. Especially when they are actually playing each other……

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To my eyes, the Packers have looked a very fun and good but flawed team all year. Their offensive performance has been eerily similar to 2011 except they had a harder schedule this season. Four of their losses were to playoff teams and a fifth loss was to the Giants who were a good team coming off a bye. The defense and special teams have been a lot better and more consistent giving me hope that they are a more well-rounded team than last year. The thing that strikes me most about this team week-to-week is their consistency and predictability. Week after week I know that they will struggle to run the ball and will also struggle to protect Rodgers over four quarters. Most weeks this won’t matter. Week after week I also know that Rodgers and an insanely gifted group of pass catchers will make beautiful music keeping the team afloat and usually winning. The defense will bend but not break and Mason Crosby (the worst kicker (21/33 attempts) in the league by far) will somehow magically stay on the team in spite of a million screwups. He’s got to have some sleazy Mccarthy pictures. There’s no other reason plausible…

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In Vegas’ eyes your guys are favored by 3 which I think is underselling your team a bit. Home field advantage is worth three points in the bookmakers’ eyes and I think this 49ers team is better than just a marginal home favorite. I’d have guessed the line to be 4 or 4.5 even. It’s because I have the utmost respect (and hatred) for Jim Harbaugh. Earlier in the season I wrote this piece calling him the Steve Jobs of the league. Since then I have watched a half-dozen 49ers games and my respect for him has only grown. His playcalling is innovative and functional. His use of timeouts and challenges is enviable and optimal. He does enough to get under the opposition’s nerves while also inspiring his roster to perform to their fullest. He has coddled and handled a Randy Moss incredibly well while demoting and demeaning a sulking Brandon Jacobs. On top of all this he has lucked into starting a playmaker quarterback thus eliminating the one factor that may have been beyond Harbaugh-ization in the playoffs – Alex Smith!

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I respect Mccarthy and Rodgers a lot and am glad I root for an organization that employs them. But I just don’t think even they on their best days can keep up with Jim Harbaugh at home on two weeks’ rest. That’s my early week first thought. I so hope I am wrong.

How do you feel? How do you sleep at night knowing you’re rooting for evil and how many good defensive backs does your team have?

Go Pack, Go

Shyam

1/6/2013
11:39 PM

Shyam,

It’s not as much fun to pick apart your Rodgers-love-blinded-words if you don’t actually send me the emails, but I’ll do my best.

I have to go back one year, of course, to the matchup that never was. Shyam was cocksure and thought the Packers were invincible, looking ahead to the NFC championship matchup with the 49ers in Lambeau. Oh, the smack talk. Funny thing was that Rodgers and co. didn’t live up to Shyam’s perception. The Giants got in the way, beating the Packers and 49ers on their way to another Superbowl.

On the other hand, I was confident in Harbaugh’s boys as they matched up against the Saints (in SF) and looked forward to that matchup in Green Bay. But again, those pesky Giants. After they took down the Packers, I was worried. It’s so rare for two teams to match up twice in the same season and for there to be a sweep – not with the level of parity and the week-to-week variation that makes football so difficult to analyze objectively. (Did anyone mention the turf in FedEx field as a major factor in the Hawks-Skins game?) I would probably have been happier if the Niners lost to the Giants earlier in the season, but alas my team bobbled that golden opportunity for another Superbowl after such a long and painful drought. (And if Alex Smith won a Superbowl, would Harbs really have courted Peyton and had such an itchy trigger finger for Kaep?)

Although I wasn’t surprise the Niners lost that game, I was sure bummed about it. Especially it went down, with only one or two plays making such a huge difference (not to mention Roman’s election to go into Extreme Offensive Conservativeness when aggression was sorely needed). I will forever think that last postseason was Harb’s best chance to win it all….

So let’s fast-forward to this year, with a disgusted feeling after watching the Sea-thugs beat up the Redskins. [I remember now why I don’t like the Hawks: they always strike me as a bunch of thugs. Yeah, the NFL is a sport for thugs, but at least most of them respect each other Suh. Plus, I’m deep in Seahawks territory, and I’m no turncoat no matter how many times my wife insists that our kids and I should support the Seahawks because we live in WA. (She just doesn’t get it.)] Anyway, after that first quarter, I’m thinking something like #LOLseahawks, but the rest of the game was #LOLme for thinking the Redskins had a chance at home. (Because I’m now trained to think in hashtags.) So the Hawks are going to Atlanta, and does anyone have the Falcons winning that game? #LOLfalcons

Kaep

With that reflection aside, we can get back to what really matters. That Thing we discussed this time last year is finally coming to pass. Well, not really. That thing actually happened in September, and it didn’t turn out so well for the Shyam’s beloved. Reviewing that game’s box score and recap, it sure looked like a great performance by Alex Smith and the 49ers in a hostile environment, with the D dominating until the 4th quarter (I wish the “prevent” defense was removed from their playbook – Brady abused it the same way a couple of weeks ago to turn another dominating performance into a nail-biter and almost a historic upset). Here we are almost eighteen weeks later, and we’re about to dance again. The venue is different, and the stakes are much higher (who wants to face the Sea-thugs for the NFC title?), but not too much else has changed. Okay, yes, a lot has changed as Rodgers best buddy, Mr. Manager (first name, Game) is now #2 and Kaeptain Excitement is now QB for the San Francisco 49ers. Only, funny thing: Kaep’s stats aren’t really that much different from Alex Smith’s. So, I dunno, it seems like a wash.

Akers

What really worries me these days, besides David Akers’ crotch, is that the 49ers seem to be down to Crabs and a few old barnacles as a WR group – just like last year. Although last year around this time was VD’s coming-out party – as if Roman purposely ignored Vernon all season to set him up for that game against the Saints, maybe he’s doing the same again this year. Davis’ stats sure seem to back that up. Much like the Packers, the 49ers seem a lot like they did last year, only a little bit worse. And not quite as lucky with the turnovers, as one would expect. I haven’t been hugely confident in this year’s team because they haven’t really dominated like they did last year. Sure, they had a tougher schedule and they surprised no one this year, but something makes me hesitant about this 49ers team. Something just doesn’t seem right, starting with their lack of a real winning streak….

I’m definitely not (over) confident to the extent of my own dance partner in this discussion, but maybe that’s still the bad taste of sucking for seven years weighing on my mind. This Saturday’s game will be a good one, better than all of these wildcard games combined, I suspect. Maybe a game to match Saints-49ers last year…?

P.S. Congrats to the Packers for putting the Vikes in their place. They didn’t let AP break one out, and their second-string QB had no chance to make the Packers D pay for stacking the box. Well executed, and now the real fun begins.

P.P.S. Thanks for the bye! Justin Smith will personally thank you on Saturday! Special delivery by way of Aldon Smith.