Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Monday Night Football Quick Hits

Darren Sproles did his best LaDainian Tomlinson imitation, rushing 13 times for 102 yards and one touchdown as San Diego edged Seattle 18-17 in the Monday Night Football preseason finale. Here are some quick hits about the game/telecast:

1) Before he became a TV celebrity, Tony Kornheiser was one of my favorite sportswriters. He used to craft in depth, insightful articles for a variety of publications, including Inside Sports, a now-defunct magazine that at one time featured a lot of very high quality writing. Kornheiser was not in the MNF booth this week due to his recent hernia surgery and, while I wish him a speedy and full recovery, it must be said that I did not miss him during this telecast. Kornheiser's MNF role--whether by his own choosing or the decisions of the director and producer--consists of making pop culture references and allegedly supplying historical context but in reality simply narrating over a montage of pop culture images at the beginning of the telecast. I much prefer to hear Ron Jaworski explaining exactly what is happening during the game; Jaworski is a true student--and teacher--of the game. If I wanted pop culture references or one liners then I would tune in to Comedy Central. Kornheiser is smart, funny and talented, just like Dennis Miller--but I don't want to see or hear either of them in the MNF announcers' booth.

2) Stat of the night: Most yards from scrimmage per game, NFL history (min. 100 games played): LaDainian Tomlinson, 126.4 ypg; Jim Brown, 125.5 ypg; Barry Sanders, 118.9 ypg.

3) When Michele Tafoya asked San Diego defensive end Luis Castillo about the possibility that Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman might miss the entire season, Castillo's response hit the perfect note: Castillo clearly stated that Merriman is a great player who will be sorely missed but Castillo also expressed confidence that Merriman's substitute, Jyles Tucker, will perform well. I immediately thought back to the 2004 season when then-Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens suffered a devastating injury--a sprained ankle combined with a broken fibula--less than two months before the Super Bowl. When Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was asked how the Eagles would do without Owens, he blithely replied that the Eagles had already made it to three straight NFC Championship Games without Owens. Even though that was an accurate statement, it was the wrong thing to say and the wrong way to say it; unlike Castillo, McNabb failed to find the delicate balance between praising the injured star's importance while also displaying confidence in the abilities of his backup. McNabb's flub understandably rubbed the sensitive Owens the wrong way and set the stage for the deterioration of the McNabb-Owens relationship.

4) Jaworski noted several times that Seattle quarterback Charlie Frye (19-29, 219 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions) made "stick" (i.e., accurate delivery into a tight space) throws and manipulated the defensive coverage with his eyes. Last season in Cleveland, Frye became the first NFL quarterback since the NFL-AFL merger to start week one and then get traded prior to week two. Seattle Coach Mike Holmgren is a noted quarterback guru, so it will be interesting to see how Frye develops in Seattle. Maybe this was just a one game, preseason fluke, but Frye was not converting lucky plays: the abilities to read coverages and make "stick" throws are things that should stand him in good stead for the rest of his career. I wonder how much of Frye's growth is just a result of a natural maturation process and how much of it has been accelerated by the coaching that he is receiving. Granted, Derek Anderson became a Pro Bowl quarterback in Cleveland after Frye's departure, but Anderson's success was based more on arm strength and derring-do than "stick" throws or manipulating coverages; in fact, touch and reading defenses seem to be Anderson's weaknesses, as evidenced by his completion percentage and interception rate. Did Frye fail in Cleveland because he was simply thrown into the fire too soon or because he never received the proper coaching to develop his talent?

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