A letter to the NHL: do away with the shootout

After the 2005-2006 NHL season, which was cancelled due to a labor dispute between the Players Association and the NHL, the NHL adopted the shootout. On July 22nd, 2005 in New York, as part of the new NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement, the League instituted the shootout. Based on the rulebook, the shootout is to begin if two teams are tied after regulation and the five minute overtime period.

Regardless of a shootout loss, the losing shootout team still earns one point, affecting their points within the conference standings. The rule hasn’t changed since then.

In the 11 and a half years since then, the shootout still exists, a strange way to end a hockey game. It’s almost as bad as former Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig making the MLB All-Star Game determining home-field advantage in the World Series (which has since been abolished.” A lot of people may be opposed to the NHL ending a game in a tie, but can it be much worse, or equal, to a shootout ending a game?

If 100 random die-hard hockey fans were polled on their opinion of the shootout, perhaps more than half would be against it.

According to current commissioner Gary Bettman, hockey fans “love the shootout.” Is his claim pure fiction, based on a small sample size, or possibly truthful? Bettman’s been the NHL commissioner since 1993, and has taken some hits from fans, for all the lockouts that cancelled games, as well as for his different approach for the game.

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Flyers’ defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere beating Bruins’ goalie Tuukka Rask in a shootout win on November 29th vs. Boston. AP Photo/Matt Slocum

It’s worth to note, more recently the NHL has created a category in each Conference’s standings (East and West), called ROW, which is a combination of the amount of regulation plus overtime wins a team has. Thus, the stat eliminates any shootout win a team may have. It basically serves as an incentive for teams to win the game as fast as possible.

So far this year, through 75 games, Washington leads the NHL in that category, with a ROW mark of 48, slightly above second-place Columbus (47). In addition to that, perhaps the stat is an indication of how fast some teams are- i.e. slower teams may have fewer ROW wins, due to a slower lineup, who’s aiming to get at least one point from each game.

Is the NHL shootout rule the equivalent, or worse than, to the NFL postseason rule that says teams can win any playoff game, including the Super Bowl (which occurred this past season), on a touchdown, without the opponent having the ball? It brings up a strong debate about odd rules in each sport, and how fair or unfair they are.

Every off-season NHL players are working hard, improving their strength and conditioning, aiming to be a better player, to contribute to their team’s success. Hockey, like any other pro sport, is a team sport above all else. So if I were a hockey player, GM or head coach, I would be furious at the idea that after 65 minutes my players weren’t playing 5×5, but rather leaving a goalie vulnerable. Defenseless is the best way to put it.

For debate’s sake, let’s say Hall of Fame goalie, and perhaps the greatest one in NHL history, Dominik Hasek played this season. Back when he was between the pipes (1990-2008), the game was different, more physical, and fun to watch, because it was less controlled by referees and not written as a possible shootout game. While he did play briefly during the shootout era (2005-2008), if he were unsuccessful during 1×1, it would perhaps prove even more so that the shootout was extremely flawed.

While we all love playing one on one in a practice rink or growing up in a school hockey league, it’s different when it’s at the pro level; in other words, when meaningful games are at stake.

As for the Flyers, through midway October of 2014, they were statistically the worst team ever in the history of the shootout era. Also within that timespan, out of 260 opponent shootout attempts, Flyers’ goalies only had a 57.3 save percentage. Despite that, out of those nine seasons (from the start of the shootout era till after the 2014 season), they made the playoffs on seven occasions.

They had the talent on paper to have success within the shootout, but for whatever reason they didn’t.

During the shootout, a goalie is the most vulnerable and, if I had to guess, I’m sure at least a fair amount would be opposed to it. Perhaps the shootout will occur less and less now that, thankfully, the NHL board of governors approved a rule for the overtime period to be 3 on 3, opening up the overtime more and creating odd-man rushes. This rule was signed almost two years ago, on June 24th of 2015.

Above all else, the shootout is more of a skills competition than a team sport, with one offensive player versus the net-minder, and nothing more. It’s reminiscent of past NHL All-Star Games. Midway through this season the NHL announced that from now on, the All-Star Game skills competition will no longer include the Breakaway Challenge- which was essentially the same concept as shootouts.

For the NHL, it doesn’t make sense to get rid of the All-Star Game breakaway scenario, yet keep shootouts in each game. All-Star Games are no bearing within the standings, unlike games that end in a shootout. Thus, it’s time to abolish it and stick to the 3 on 3, five minute, overtime period.

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Falcons/Packers Preview

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Date/Start Time- Sunday, January 22nd- 3:05 PM EST
Channel- Fox
Line/Point Spread-
Atlanta by 4.5
Over/Under-
61

In the NFC Divisional round this past weekend, number two seed Atlanta dismantled Seattle 36-20 in only their second playoff meeting in franchise history. Meanwhile, in Arlington the next day, number one seed (13-3) Dallas took on the red-hot Packers.

Packers

In that game, which ended up with a Packers’ 34-31 victory, the Packers’ offense early on looked unstoppable, even without two Pro Bowlers — running back Eddie Lacy (IR) and receiver Jordy Nelson (ribs).

Cowboys’ fans were shocked by the huge deficit early. Green Bay took a commanding 21-3 lead up until the 6:03 mark in the second quarter. The Packers’ first three drives all led to touchdowns, two of which were by Ty Montgomery rushing attempts. After that 21-3 lead, Dallas was able to shake off the dust from their previous week; a bye week.

Dallas’ next drive, Dak Prescott went 3-3, with 66 passing yards and a touchdown pass. Wide-out, Pro Bowler, Dez Bryant torched the Packers’ secondary, namely rookie strong safety Kentrell Brice. Bryant took a 40-yard pass all the way to the house.

On the next Green Bay drive, after going three and out, which included two Rodgers’ incompletions, Dallas was able to feed off of the Bryant touchdown and their defense. After punting on their first two drives, Dallas scored points on the next two, the fourth drive culminated in a 33-yard kick by Dan Bailey, as they cut Green Bay’s lead to 8.

At the start of the second half, Green Bay scored on a 3:35 minute drive, on a 3-yard Jared Cook pass, perhaps leaning the momentum back in Green Bay’s favor. After the two teams consecutively threw interceptions, Dallas scored on their final three drives. They had the Packers backed up and Dallas was on the verge of winning and making their first conference championship game since 1995. Green Bay’s offensive line held up, Rodgers and Cook were in unison and Green Bay somehow made it through a tough ending.

On the day, Prescott was impressive during blitz packages, going 2-2, with two touchdown passes and a perfect 158.3 passer rating. Prescott’s athleticism and strong tendency to run the play action pass a lot gives opposing defensive lines nightmares.

When he’s missing throws, namely screen passes (one of which was intercepted by corner Micah Hyde), he’s making plays with his legs. He’s definitely in the running for the NFL’s Rookie of The Year Award, as is his teammate, Pro Bowler, Ezekiel Elliott. In his playoff debut, Elliott racked up over 100 rushing yards (125, 5.7 yards per carry), including 80 yards after contact. The trio of Prescott, Elliott and Bryant are a scary match-up for any opposing defensive lines and defensive backs.

Despite bad coverage and comfort outside the pocket for Aaron Rodgers, Cowboys’ defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli started to slowly dial up the pressure, creating blitz packages from outside and towards the middle. The change in philosophy worked. Rodgers started to feel the heat, which led to an interception in the third quarter by free safety Jeff Heath, which was good enough for 27 yards and, most importantly for Dallas, a stalled Packers’ drive.

Despite the success for Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in their playoff debuts, without a doubt the highlight of the game was the incredible 35-yard Rodgers’ bomb to tight end Jared Cook. It’s perhaps the most significant career play for Cook, and one of Rodgers’ finest moments.

Prior to the catch, the Packers were reeling after a 21-3 lead wasted, as the game was deadlocked 31-31 with 12 seconds left. The previous play, which was also targeted towards Cook, led to an incomplete pass on a drag route. Green Bay was only on it’s 32 yard line, with only one timeout left and the clock ticking away.

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Newsday

The throw and the elusiveness by Rodgers was incredible. Even greater was the Cook catch, which took incredible patience and the awareness of staying in bounds. After the catch, he retained possession of the ball and somehow kept both feet in bounds. Due to the incredible catch, Green Bay was now in field-goal range. Kicker Mason Crosby had a solid year- a 93.3 field goal completion percentage (he’s 24/25 since Week 11 at Washington) and a perfect 9/9 in two playoff games.

After a Cowboys’ timeout to ice the kicker, Crosby nailed a 51-yarder to send the Packers to Atlanta. At first glance, the second field goal attempt looked as if it was going to miss, as it approached the left goal post, but somehow it swung back around like a Doc Gooden curveball.

In their last five seasons (prior to this postseason) Green Bay’s 1-3 in road playoff games. Their only road playoff win in the past five seasons came last postseason at Washington (35-18).

Falcons

With the match-up this weekend, Green Bay will face Atlanta for the fourth time (Green Bay’s 1-2 in those meetings), and the first since January of 2011 at the Georgia Dome. Ironically, after that 48-21 Packers’ divisional round win, they went on to win the Super Bowl almost a month later. Atlanta’s only playoff win vs. Green Bay was in January of 2003.

All-Pro quarterback Matt Ryan not only arguably had the best season for a Falcons’ QB but one for any quarterback in NFL history. Ryan threw for 38 touchdown passes, a career high, second best only to — ironically — Aaron Rodgers’ 40. Ryan led the league in net yards per pass attempt (9.3), yards per completion (13.3), quarterback rating (117.1) and approximate value (21).

Ryan’s 117.1 passer rating not only led the league but it ranks as the fifth best all-time in NFL single-season statistics. Only Rodgers (122.5 in 2011), Peyton Manning (121.1 in 2004), Nick Foles (119.2 in 2013), and Tom Brady (117.2 in 2007) were better. To summarize, Ryan couldn’t of been better.

His pinpoint accuracy, consistency and constant adjustments is only part of what made him so great this season.

To compliment Matt Ryan, in developing the chemistry between the two, All-Pro receiver Julio Jones also was phenomenal throughout the season. Despite only six touchdown catches, he accumulated 1409 receiving yards, good enough for second best in the league (behind only T.Y. Hilton’s 1448). After being drafted sixth overall in 2011, Jones has certainly lived up to his hype and potential (from his days at Alabama), as he made his fourth Pro Bowl appearance.

Despite their lack of success on defense (see below), outside linebacker Vic Beasley had a remarkable, standout, season- leading the league in sacks (15.5). He was also the NFC defensive player of the week in week 14.

This season, no Falcons’ defender had more than 75 tackles and Beasley was the only member on the defensive line to make a significant contribution (no other player had more than five sacks). Despite their defensive struggles this season, their offensive is unstoppable and has yet to be challenged.

In that Seattle game, Atlanta put up 422 total yards on what’s arguably a top 2 defensive unit in the league. The big problem/x’s and o’s factor is the fact that All-Pro defensive back Earl Thomas suffered a season-ending broken tibia injury that sidelined him for the remaining six games of the season. To add fuel to the fire, Sherman, another fine defensive back, getting injured left Seattle’s secondary depleted and unable to handle a receiver like Julio Jones.

On a seven-yard pass from Matt Ryan, Jones scored at the end of the second quarter to tie the game at 7-7. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson made crucial mistakes within impactful drives and scenarios. Atlanta was able to run out the clock, run the ball with ease, and come out with a victory vs. a tough and respectable, yet depleted, Seattle team. Prior to his two interceptions, Russell Wilson hadn’t thrown an interception in three straight games and 107 snaps. Atlanta had five players that had at least three or more catches in that game.

Wilson struggled mightily under pressure, going 4/13, with an interception and two sacks. Meanwhile, against the Falcons’ defensive line’s blitzes, he went only 2/5 and 21 yards.

Matt Ryan was not only strong against the blitz but when under no pressure. Against Seattle’s blitzes, he was 9/13 with 11.3 yards per attempt. When under no pressure, he went 22/30, throwing for three touchdowns. Can he have a bad game this season eventually? We’ll see.

News and Notes

-In Aaron Rodgers’ last five postseason games (3-2), he has a 90.6 quarterback rating, a, touchdown-interception ratio of 11-4 and 6.9 yards per attempt. In that 48-21 playoff win at Atlanta, Rodgers threw for 366 yards, four touchdowns (three passing) and 10.2 yards per attempt. Fortunately for Rodgers, Atlanta’s defense this year ranked as one of the worst in the league.

-Atlanta’s defense this year ranked fifth among the worst opposing quarterback’s passing yards (4267), rushing yards per attempt (4.5), and they allowed over 406 points (406).

Key Match-up 

Micah Hyde vs. Julio Jones

Jones’ 40-yard dash time is 4.39. Hyde’s is 4.52.

Despite Hyde arguably being the faster of the two, Jones has 23 pounds on Hyde (220-1997) and has four inches in height measurements (6-4 vs. 6-0). In week four this season vs. Carolina, which culminated in a 48-33 win, Jones had a whopping 300 receiving yards and 12 catches. His 300 yards ranks sixth best all-time in single-season receiving yards and the most all-time for a Falcons’ player.

As for Hyde, while he’s made more plays this year, he remains to be nothing more than an inconsistent, on-and-off defensive back. He struggled especially in a week 10 47-25 loss at Tennessee. Titans’ tight end Delanie Walker had nine catches and 124 yards that game. In a week nine 31-26 loss to Indianapolis, Hyde suffered a shoulder injury- perhaps that plays a tiny part of his recent play.

Hyde’s a free agent this off-season, so perhaps Green Bay cuts him loose, having Ha-Ha Clinton Dix, without a doubt the better of the two, around at least two-more years.

Injury Report

Jordy Nelson is doubtful for the game, having suffered bruised ribs vs. the Giants. He missed the match against the Cowboys, and according to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, Nelson is a long shot to play against Atlanta.

Prediction

Although Atlanta’s offense is arguably the best in the league this year, Green Bay is on fire, having won eight straight. Atlanta had the upper hand this past weekend vs. Seattle, since the Seahawks’ All-Pro corner Richard Sherman wasn’t 100 percent healthy. According to Seattle head coach Pete Carroll, Sherman suffered an MCL injury in the second half of that game.

Green Bay has remained poised, confident and solid with the ball during their winning streak.

Player of the Game Prediction- Aaron Rodgers
Game Prediction- Green Bay- 41-38

Eagles-Cowboys Recap

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This afternoon the Eagles capped off their 2016-2017 season with a 27-13 home victory over division-rival Dallas. Realistically, today Dallas had nothing to play for. They already had not only clinched the NFC East division title but the number-one seed in the conference (13-3). Had they won today they would’ve set a team record for single-season wins.

Dallas Pro-Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott, who has a 23-4 touchdown-interception ratio this season, played just 11 snaps and only the first quarter. On the day, Prescott went 4/8, averaged 4.6 yards-per-attempt and neither threw a touchdown pass or an interception.

He was replaced by former All-Pro Tony Romo, who hadn’t played since November of 2015 vs. Carolina. Today he went 3/4, including a 15-yard strike to Terrance Williams, who scored his fourth touchdown of the season.

Eagles

Despite their playoff hopes being crushed a few-weeks ago, the Eagles came out to at least give the home crowd a good game and a respectable performance.

Rookie quarterback Carson Wentz played solid, throwing two touchdown passes to zero interceptions. With his zero interceptions in 43 pass attempts, he didn’t get picked off for the first time in the previous seven games.

Despite the win and the protection of the ball, Wentz — as a huge tendency of his this season — made more than a few erratic throws, not planting his feet and throwing the ball high over wide-open receivers. A strong example of that was an overthrown ball while on Dallas’ three-yard line to tight end Zach Ertz, which would’ve culminated in a touchdown catch.

Speaking of Ertz, he had one of the best performances for an Eagles’ tight end in recent memory. He caught 13 passes, gained 109 receiving yards and caught two touchdown passes. Ironically Ertz holds the Eagles’ single-game record for receptions, with 15 catches at Washington in 2014. With his 13 receptions today, in 61 career games, Ertz had his second career multi-touchdown game.

During the game, Wentz went on to set the NFL rookie completions record (379). Former Eagle and current Minnesota Viking Sam Bradford set the record in 2010 with St. Louis (370). This season, up until today’s game, since Wentz and the Eagles’ hot start (3-0), they went just 3-9.

On the left side Wentz was solid, completing 61 percent (8/13) of his passes and not turning it over. Despite his erratic throws on the day and his failure to thread the needle to wide-open receivers, it was a solid season finale for him. He has a lot to work to do and film to analyze within the off-season, including overthrown pass attempts and accuracy, but his future is certainly promising.

With right tackle Lane Johnson back, perhaps Wentz will have even more space and opportunities to maneuver around the field.

Player of The Game

Brandon Graham

Eagles’ defensive end Brandon Graham arguably should’ve made the NFC Pro Bowl this season, but regardless of that he played solid this game and season. During the game he was all over the field, continuously pressuring backup Mark Sanchez.

Graham pressured Dallas quarterbacks on five occasions, four of which were pressures. This season Graham had five or more pressures in a game on nine occasions.

News and Notes

-Eagles’ season-ticket holder and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim MVP Mike Trout, who grew up 45 minutes from Philadelphia, was seen in the first row behind the end-zone.

-The last five seasons the Eagles are 4-6 against Dallas, including only 1-4 at home. The last time the Eagles have swept the Cowboys in a season occurred in 2011. The last time that they’ve swept Dallas in a winning season was 2006.

During that 2006 season Cowboys’ head coach Jason Garrett was the Dolphins’ quarterbacks’ coach under Nick Saban. Meanwhile, Doug Pederson was a Louisiana high-school head coach.

-Pederson is 6-4 in successful challenges this season. Jason Garrett is a career 18-13 in the same scenario.

Team Stats

Matchup
1st Downs 15 24
Passing 1st downs 9 14
Rushing 1st downs 4 8
1st downs from penalties 2 2
3rd down efficiency 5-12 6-14
4th down efficiency 0-0 0-1
Total Plays 53 75
Total Yards 195 346
Total Drives 12 11
Yards per Play 3.7 4.6
Passing 126 232
Comp-Att 16-29 27-43
Yards per pass 3.9 5.2
Interceptions thrown 2 0
Sacks-Yards Lost 3-25 2-13
Rushing 69 114
Rushing Attempts 21 30
Yards per rush 3.3 3.8
Red Zone (Made-Att) 1-2 2-4
Penalties 5-35 4-61
Turnovers 2 0
Fumbles lost 0 0
Interceptions thrown 2 0
Defensive / Special Teams TDs 0 0
Possession 24:18 35:42

The Great Debate: Cunningham vs. Moon

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Here I’ll discuss two of the greatest African American quarterbacks ever.

Along the way I’ll compare each of the two’s accomplishments, awards, comparisons and their statistical breakdowns. Keep in mind, I’m not listing each of the two as the two greatest African American quarterbacks ever, I’m simply pointing out what each of the two accomplished, had to offer, and who was the all-around better player.

Other African American quarterbacks have had respectable careers, some of which won Pro Bowls and Super Bowls. Doug Williams, Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, Daunte Culpepper, and Steve “Air” McNair come to mind.

Ironically, during different periods of time, Moon and Cunningham shared a locker room with the same coach; the late Buddy Ryan. Ryan was Cunningham’s head coach from 1986-1990 and Moon’s Oilers’ defensive coordinator in 1993.

Randall Cunningham

As I began my Eagles’ fandom around 2001-02, I obviously and unfortunately didn’t get the chance to watch Cunningham as an Eagle, the flashy player he was, or arguably in his prime as a Minnesota Viking a few-years prior to 2001.

Although he played for 16 seasons for four different teams (Philadelphia, Minnesota, Dallas and Baltimore), his Eagles’ career ended in 1995. In 1995, Eagles’ head coach Ray Rhodes benched Cunningham for the remaining 12 games of the season, due to completing only half of his pass attempts that year. His replacement was Rodney Peete, who was also African American. After the ’95 season, a free agent, Cunningham didn’t receive any offers and so he retired.

Cunningham had the rare ability as a quarterback of using both his legs and arm as a weapon; hence his nickname “the ultimate weapon (courtesy of Sports Illustrated).” After the 1990 season, the Pro Football Writers Association awarded him the NFL MVP trophy, after making the NFC Pro Bowl team that season and throwing for 30 touchdown passes.

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Although he had a respectable career in Philadelphia, perhaps Cunningham’s signature season occurred a few seasons later, after reuniting with wide-out Cris Carter in Minnesota. Minnesota’s offense was stacked with talent- Pro Bowler Cris Carter, a young stud by the name of Randy Moss, and 1,000 yard rusher Robert Smith. All four of them made the 1999 NFC Pro Bowl roster, in addition to three of their offensive lineman.

For the second time in his career, after the 1998 season Cunningham won NFL MVP honors, after he went 13-1 with Minnesota, threw 34 touchdown passes, and led the league in passer rating (106).

With the two deep threats of Moss and Carter, who combined for 29 touchdown passes, Cunningham also made NFC first-team All-Pro honors and he ranked second in the NFC in touchdown passes. Motivated by the struggles in 1995 and his brief retirement in 1996, Cunningham took advantage of the talent around him and flourished.

Warren Moon

In the early to mid ’90s Moon shined under the Oilers’ utilization of the run-and-shoot offense. The run and shoot scheme puts emphasis on wide receivers adjusting their routes and responding to different opposing defensive schemes. While the scheme was very flawed, as receivers could easily get jammed up at the line of scrimmage, it worked well enough for Moon. In Houston, Moon’s offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride brought the scheme with him after specializing in it in the Canadian Football League (as a quarterbacks and wide receivers coach there).

On three occasions Moon led the league in completions (1990-91 and 1995), he twice led the league in passing yards (1990-91) and threw for over 30 touchdown passes on two occasions (1990 and 1995). Although Moon had a rocket for an arm, stayed healthy for an extensive period of his career, and made the postseason seven times, he was often erratic.

Moon had longevity, unlike Daunte Culpepper, a better arm, and a longer period of consistent play. Moon’s football story is fascinating, he was a total dark-horse player. He played for the Huskies from 1975-77 and succeeded there, winning the Rose Bowl in his final season, he went undrafted in the 1978 NFL Draft.

After that May’s draft, he decided to take a crack at the Canadian Football League, playing for the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos from 1978-1983. His last two seasons there, he combined for 67 touchdown passes, including 36 of them in 1982, and won the CFL’s Grey Cup Most Valuable Player.

Cunningham was more explosive than Moon, although Moon had a bigger arm and was slightly more accurate. Cunningham’s health was a huge liability, mostly due to being outside the pocket and on the run.

Compared to the talent that Cunningham had around him with Minnesota (see above), Moon had a decent cast, too. Wide-out Ernest Givins was the standout of them all, catching 10 touchdown passes in 1995 and making the AFC Pro Bowl roster twice (1990 and 1992). Like Cunningham, Moon briefly excelled in Minnesota, too, during the 1995 season. Although the Vikings went 8-8 that year, Moon had a 91.5 quarterback rating and 33 touchdown passes. Carter caught 17 of them.

In both quarterbacks’ successful seasons in Minnesota (1995 and 1998), future Ravens’ Super-Bowl winning coach Brian Billick was their offensive coordinator.

Pros and Cons

Cunningham:

Cunningham was a freakish athlete, a respectable player for arguably five-six seasons, had a cannon for an arm (he once threw a 95-yard touchdown pass to Fred Barnett in December of 1990 against Buffalo), and was versatile. He could pass, he could run and stretch the field, and he even once punted the ball for 91 yards in a December 1989 win at Giants Stadium. Side note: on a comedic yet serious note, he was also a great Tecmo Bowl player. Like Michael Vick (both of which played in Philadelphia), opposing defenses struggled to contain him outside of the pocket. He was very elusive.

Cunningham was known as a dual-threat quarterback; one who could both successfully run and pass the ball.

On the flip side, many football writers and/or analysts view Cunningham as a running back, who, because of his out-of-pocket play, had the propensity to get injured.

In week one of the 1991 season at Green Bay, after a hit by Packers’ linebacker Bryce Paup, Cunningham suffered a knee injury and missed the remainder of the season. Perhaps the hit limited his mobility, as the next season his carries decreased by over 26 percent and he averaged two fewer yards per carry.

In a 2001 ESPN The Magazine article by journalist David Fleming, NFL coaches and quarterbacks discussed the comparison of a running quarterback vs. a pocket-passing one. In the article, Cunningham’s former offensive coordinator Brian Billick went with the pocket passer over the scrambling one. While a scrambling quarterback like Cunningham can certainly flourish, those types of quarterbacks can incur major flaws; perhaps they don’t know what they’re doing, and they can sometimes break down their offense than help it.

Moon:

Moon had a more consistent career, partially due to staying healthy (which, at times, Cunningham was unable to do). In six seasons in the CFL, Moon won five consecutive Grey Cups, he threw for almost 50,000 NFL passing yards (4,9325), and is the only player in football history to make both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

Despite his accomplishments and Hall of Fame inductions, Moon was definitely a gunslinger. That can be viewed as both a good and a bad thing. In this argument, it has major flaws. Twice he led the league in interceptions (in 1986 and 1991), on three occasions he threw 20 or more of them, and he ranks second worse in career fumbles (161, only behind Brett Favre’s 166). Moon’s run-and-shoot offense was also less effective in the red zone, as he had less room to maneuver around and a less chance to spread the ball around.

For example, during the 1997 season, in scenarios inside the 10-yard line, Moon completed only 28.6 percent of his passes (6/21) and only 41.1 percent of his passes within the 20 (23/56). Although he led the league that year in passing yards per game (245.2), he was ineffective within short-yardage attempts.

To prove that point, that season Moon was impressive on downs that were 7-10 yards or more to go, completing 71.8 percent of those attempts, while on pass attempts that required 0-6 yards to complete a first down, he completed only 10.6 percent of those 15 short-yardage attempts.

Point being, while Moon had six seasons with a pass completion of 80 or more yards, including an 87-yarder to Pro Bowler Haywood Jeffires in 1990, he struggled in short yardage. Although in 1995 with Minnesota, which Moon finished with 33 touchdown passes, he was way more effective in the red zone, as he completed 56.3 percent of his pass attempts and ranked second best in the league.

Accomplishments and Awards

Cunningham- two-time MVP (1990, 1998), two-time first-team All-Pro, two-time second team All-Pro, three-time Bert Bell Award winner, four-time Pro Bowler, NFL Comeback Player of The Year Award (1992), Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame

Moon- enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (2006), Canadian Football Hall of Fame (2001), NFL MVP Award winner (1990), first-team All-Pro (1990), two-time NFL passing yards leader (1990-91), Tennessee Titans # 1 jersey retired (2006), nine-time Pro Bowler

Statistical Comparison

Cunningham- 

207 touchdown passes
134 interceptions
29,979 passing yards
81.5 passer rating
82 career wins (61.2 winning percentage)
56.6 completion percentage
7 yards per pass attempt
21 fourth-quarter comebacks
26 game-winning drives
134 approximate value
4,928 rushing yards
3-6 playoff record
161 career games

Moon- 

291 touchdown passes
233 interceptions
49,325 passing yards
80.9 passer rating
102 career wins (50.2 winning percentage)
58.4 completion percentage
7.2 yards per pass attempt
26 fourth-quarter comebacks
37 game-winning drives
166 approximate value
1,736 rushing yards
3-7 playoff record
208 career games

Hall of Fame

In 2001, Moon was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and was inducted into Canton, the site of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, in 2006. Despite winning the 1990 NFL MVP award, making four career Pro-Bowl trips and throwing for over 200 career touchdown passes, Cunningham has yet to be enshrined there. He’s been on the Hall of Fame ballot for a decade now.

Who was better?

Due to a longer and healthier career than Cunningham, Moon had the advantage of accumulating more quarterback statistics- such as yards and touchdown passes. Moon was more accurate, and due to way more pass attempts, he always racked up a ton of passing yards. Based on stats, Cunningham clearly was the faster, and the dual-threat of the two.

Unlike Moon, Cunningham had a huge disadvantage in that he never truly had a great offensive coordinator in Philadelphia- which he spent the bulk of his career in. Cunningham’s coordinators in Philly, mainly Ted Plumb and Rich Kotite, were extremely ineffective. Although not known as a great football mind, Kevin Gilbride, Moon’s offensive coordinator from 1989-1993, was way more practical of a play-caller.

Verdict:

Better Career

Warren Moon

Better player

Randall Cunningham

Let the debate begin.

 

Phillies continue towards rebuild mode after another tough season

For any diehard Phillies’ fan, last season was extremely tough to watch.

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The Phillies only won 71 games, finished fourth out of fifth in the National League East division and they ended up 24 games back of division-leader Washington. For the fifth consecutive year they finished a season without a winning record, over the past two seasons they’ve averaged only 67 wins.

After being hired as the team’s newest general manager on October 26th of last year, Matt Klentak has been steadily trying to put the pieces back together after his predecessor Ruben Amaro, Jr. shook things up.

This past season the Phillies’ starting pitching came to be their worse rotation the team has put together in quite some time, as their five starters had an earned-run average of 3.95 and a 43.8 winning percentage. 26-year-old Adam Morgan has struggled mightily since his 2015 mid-season call-up. This past season he lost 11 out of his 13 starts, had a very high ERA (6.04) and was a poor fielder (with four errors, he ranked second in the league among pitchers). Only Milwaukee’s Jimmy Nelson had more (five).

From his minor-league debut in 2011 until his 2015 mid-season call-up Morgan wasn’t any better during his various stints within the Phillies’ minor-league teams. In 2013, between the Gulf Coast League Phillies and triple-a Lehigh Valley, he went 2-8 and allowed over 10 hits (10.3) per game.

As for this season, only a couple bright spots occurred. Centerfielder Odubel Herrera made the National League All-Star team (going 0-1), was consistent all-year long — and a good fielder, too. Among centerfielders, Herrera ranked first in putouts (372), covering a lot of ground, and stole 25 bases. Among the team’s nine position players, only second baseman Cesar Hernandez at least .280 (Hernandez hit .294, while Herrera hit .286).

The team lacks power and plate discipline. And now with slugger Ryan Howard gone and off the books, it remains to be seen as to whether or not they’ll improve in that area (Howard hit 25 home runs last season); most likely it won’t. They ranked dead last in the National League (out of 15 teams) in walks (424). In 2015 they were even worse, with 387.

Although skipper Pete Mackanin isn’t even close to being a shell of Charlie Manuel, Mackanin is faced with a tough task to turn this ship around. For starters, there’s the inconsistent starting rotation, the over-the-hill bullpen, the hollowed-out lineup, and the lack of experience (mostly due to veterans like Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins departing). After playing second base for the Phillies from 1978-79, on April 3rd at Cincinnati Mackanin will continue into his third season as manager.

Contending

The big-picture question here is when will the team contend for a division title again? They haven’t made the playoffs/won the NL East since 2011, when they set the team record for wins (102). Over the past three to four years, the team’s gone through drastic changes.

Almost three-years ago (on December 9th), then-ace Roy Halladay announced his retirement after winning 40 total games (and winning a Cy Young Award in 2010) from 2010 till 2011. From 2012 till 2013, Halladay struggled to stay healthy, making 38 total starts- including 13 in his last season. On July 31st of 2014, fellow ace Cliff Lee made his last career appearance, pitching 2.2 innings in a 10-4 win at Washington. Losing both aces (who won a combined three career Cy Young Awards) within a year was crushing.

The team went from 102 wins in 2011 to 81 the next season, over a 20 percent drop. During the 2011 off-season, on November 14th they signed all-star, controversial closer Jonathan Papelbon. Ruben Amaro must have deduced that after losing closer Brad Lidge the team needed to continue to contend by replacing Lidge with another talented closer. Papelbon ended up clashing with management and the media, and ended up being suspended during the season.

Since 2011 and 2012 the team has spiraled way out of control. Since then, albeit most were aging veterans, they’ve lost three aces, two all-star closers, five all-star infielders, three all-star outfielders and a respectable middle reliever (in Ryan Madson).

Rebuilding

From 2012 until this past season Howard hit only .226 and averaged 189 strikeouts a year. He was a lot more than a shell of his former self, since he hit .313 and drove in 149 runs in his 2006 MVP season. This year, he split time at first base with catcher/first baseman Tommy Joseph, who hit 21 home runs. Considering Howard’s age (36), former Achilles’ Heal injury in 2011, poor fielding and strikeout rate, it’s to no surprise Mackinin benched him throughout the season. Howard only hit .196  this season, the worst of his pro career.

Almost exactly a year ago (on December 15th), the Phillies acquired Houston starting pitcher Vince Velasquez, who was a 2010 second-round pick. Along with Velasquez, the Phillies also acquired former number-one-overall pick Mark Appel, who’s struggled so far throughout his minor-league career (19-14, 5.08 ERA). This season, Velasquez had a promising season, as he struck out 10.4 batters per game and fanned 16 Padres’ hitters in a April 14th 2-0 win.

Overall, he had 10 or more punch-outs in three of his 24 starts. Although he got off to a promising start (he went 2-0 and struck out 25 in his first-two starts), his final 22 starts were less-than mediocre. From April 19th until September 3rd, he went 6-6, had a 4.66 ERA and opposing batters hit .280 off of him. Despite his early struggles, his strikeout ratio, effective fastball, strong changeup and curveball prove that he could be an all-star-caliber pitcher down the line.

The Phillies’ 2015 team only won 63 games, after winning their season finale to avoid a 100-loss season. The 63 wins became the first time that the team won 63 or fewer games in a season since the infamous 1972 team (which won only 59 games). Unlike the ’72 team, which had  future-Hall-of-Famer Steve Carlton, the Phillies are without an ace.

Draft Picks

The past-three years the team has drafted a player number 10 overall or higher, including the drafting of number-one-overall pick Mickey Moniak last season. This past season with the Gulf Coast League Phillies, despite limited playing time, Moniak had a solid season, hitting .284 and fielding a .986 fielding percentage at centerfield.

2014 seventh-overall pick Aaron Nola, who began his professional career in 2015, had a respectable rookie year, going 6-2 and striking out 68 batters in 77.2 innings. Fast forward to this past season, perhaps due to more playing time, he had a huge setback, with a 4.78 ERA and almost 9.5 hits allowed per game. His inning total from 2015 till this year increased by 30 percent (77.2 to 111). If he can become a solid number one or two starter, perhaps paired atop the rotation with Velasquez, the team will be in great shape moving forward.

2015 10th-overall pick Cornelius Randolph has been a little-used left-fielder during his only two minor-league seasons. In a solid 2015 season with the Gulf League Phillies, in 172 at-bats he hit .302 and was on base for 42.5 percent of the time, a huge debut and eye opener.

If Nola, Velasquez, Randolph, 2013 first-rounder J.P. Crawford, minor-league centerfielder Nick Williams, starting pitcher Jake Thompson, and 23-year-old catcher Jorge Alfaro can continue to improve and play out their potential, the team will be set for the future. Maybe their success won’t be attained within the next-few years, but it’s eminent that they won’t continue to struggle for too much longer.

On June 15th Bleacher Report featured columnist Joel Reuter, in ranking baseball teams with the best farm system to the worse, ranked the Phillies’ prospects as the fifth best, above where they were last year (eighth overall).

Will they contend for the division within the next five seasons? Who knows. The great thing, despite all of the losing, is that they field one of the best minor-league systems in the entire league. The message here: stay tuned folks.

Flyers-Stars Recap

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AP Photo

This afternoon the Flyers capped off their three-game home stand with a 4-2 win over Dallas.

After a 2-1 deficit halfway through the third period, Philadelphia scored three unanswered goals and won their eighth-consecutive game. Six of those eight wins were at home. Today’s win marks the first time that they’ve won eight or more consecutive games in a season since 2001-02, when they won eight straight from January 6th-19th.

In today’s game, second-line center Brayden Schenn recorded a hat trick, his second career one and his first one since February 29th of this year vs. Calgary. First-line winger Jakub Voracek recorded four points (1 goal and 3 assists), his second four-point game in the span of three days (after a Flyers’ 6-5 win over Edmonton on December 8th).

After a rocky start to the season, starting goalie Steve Mason has rebounded very strongly. Last week he was the NHL’s first star of the week (with a 1.71 goals against average). He lost his first three starts of the season and since Michal Neuvirth’s left knee injury on November 12th (which has him placed on the team’s long-term injury-reserved list) Mason’s gone 9-3-1 and has a 0.921 save percentage.

All-time, the Flyers are 74-42-32 against Dallas, and 3-4 over the past five seasons. Philadelphia’s now 10-3-4 this season vs. the Western Conference.

The scoring started 07:30 into the first period, when the Stars started a strong forecheck and center Devin Shore chipped the puck past Flyers’ defenseman Mark Streit and backhanded it short side past Steve Mason. Almost 10 minutes later, after Stars’ left-winger Curtis McKenzie boarded Nick Cousins and was penalized, Brayden Schenn scored on the power play.

After the penalty, Claude Giroux won a offensive-zone face-off against Radek Faksa, Shayne Gostisbehere threw it on net, leading to a double deflection and a Schenn redirection. Despite being tied after the first period, the Flyers have been a poor first-period team this year, having been outscored 29-20.

The scoring didn’t resume until midway through the third period, when Shore was wide open and scored again, flipping it to the left of Mason. Three Flyers were posted to the middle and center of Mason, and completely forgot about Shore, who scored his third and fourth goals of the season. Schenn led the charge again for the Flyers, tipping it in and tying the score with only 3 and a half minutes left.

After the second Schenn goal, a minute and thirty three seconds later Schenn netted his third goal — and third power-play goal — on a Wayne Simmonds’ slap shot from right near the right face-off circle. On the rebound, Schenn wristed it past Dallas’ goalie Kari Lehtonen’s right side. A minute and six-seconds later, Voracek backhanded a neutral-zone shot into the Stars’ empty net, sealing the game.

Remarkably, in the last 3:48 of the game, the Flyers scored three goals, after having only scored one goal in the previous 56:12 minutes of play. In the last 3:48 minutes of play, Dallas had only one shot on net and zero of them in the last 3:20 minutes. Shore and center Tyler Seguin combined for eight shots and eight blocked shots, while Schenn won 88 percent of his face-off attempts (7/8) and had four shots on net.

Flyers’ defenseman Michael Del Zotto sat out his second-consecutive game, with Radko Gudas back in the lineup. Center Boyd Gordon returned to the lineup, he was a healthy scratch on Thursday night vs. Edmonton, while 22-year-old winger Taylor Leier was also a healthy scratch, having been called up from Lehigh Valley last week. For Dallas, center Jiri Hudler and defenseman Patrik Nemeth were healthy scratches.

The Flyers went 3-4 on the man advantage, they’re ranked second best in the league this year in power-play efficiency (23.6 percent). They’ve scored on the power play in four-straight games (7/18, 39 percent). With his assist on Brayden Schenn’s final goal, Wayne Simmonds has had five points in his last four games. Schenn had his first multi-point game since November 22nd at Florida.

With the Flyers currently occupying the Eastern Conference’s first wild-card spot and riding a recent hot streak, the big question is will they continue to improve and end up making the playoffs? Last season, under rookie head coach Dave Hakstol, they made some improvements defensively, while still standing as a respectable offensive-minded team.

Philadelphia’s recent string of injuries could hamper the team long term, with star center Sean Couturier being out four to six weeks with a sprained MCL. Couturier’s injury is a huge loss. Meanwhile, goalie Michal Neuvirth (as mentioned) is out four to six weeks with a groin injury. The team’s also without improved right-winger Matt Read, who’s out four weeks with an oblique pull.

The East is arguably stronger than the West, with the Metropolitan Division leading the way. The division is occupying five out of the eight total playoff spots (the Rangers, Penguins, Blue Jackets, Flyers and Capitals). With 52 games to go, it remains to be seen what will happen come mid April.

Does Doug Pederson need to be fired?

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After a hot start to the season the Eagles have looked like a punching bag ever since. I know it’s only 11 games into his coaching career but head coach Doug Pederson, an understudy under former Eagles’ coach Andy Reid, perhaps needs to be let go. And here’s why.

01. Decision making during games

I get that Pederson is inexperienced and doesn’t know the whole spectrum of being an NFL head coach, but there’s certain decisions as a coach that are pretty obvious and cut and dry.

First off, during the Eagles’ 28-23 loss vs. the Giants at the Meadowlands on November 6th, Pederson’s in-game decisions were extremely poor, head scratching and questionable. Many fans didn’t understand, fundamentally speaking, why Pederson was making certain decisions.

The biggest factor, and mistake by Pederson, in that loss was Pederson’s decisions to go for it on fourth down. This occurred not once but twice. What’s significant about it, when Pederson made the decision to go for it on both downs the Eagles were in field goal range. Attempting and making both field goal attempts could’ve swung the game in their favor, but they, once again, left points on the table. Any point is better than none.

The risks were strongly criticized by the media as well as Eagles’ fans, myself included. On the first fourth-down attempt, which occurred with 3:55 left in the first half, the Eagles were on New York’s six-yard line. Six yard line. A 23 yard field-goal attempt; it would’ve been a chip shot for Caleb Sturgis. Sturgis had been having a solid season up to that point, too, and a 23 yard make was beyond perfectly capable for him to make. Up until that point, in seven games this season Sturgis was 17/18 (94.4%) on field-goal attempts.

Out of those 17, he made one from 55 against Dallas and one from 53 against Chicago.

On the first fourth-down try, the Eagles went with a half-back sweep, handing the ball off to backup running back Darren Sproles, who needed only one yard to convert and ended up gaining zero. The Giants and their defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo (a former Eagles’ coach) of course realized what the Eagles were preparing to do and thus blitzed heavily towards the center and left side of Sproles. Giants’ defensive tackle Damon Harrison and middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard made the stop.

Instead of a field goal try, which would’ve cut the Eagles’ deficit down to eight points, they screwed up the fundamentals and left points on the board. After turning it over on downs, the Giants’ failed to take advantage of the Eagles’ mistake and instead went three and out. Making a point out of that, the Eagles, had they went with the field-goal try and the fact that New York went three and out on the next drive, that could’ve switched the momentum in their favor.

On the second and final fourth-down try, which could’ve resulted in a field goal to win the game (since they were on the Giants’ 17 yard line), Carson Wentz sailed a throw deep down the field to Jordan Matthews, which ended the game for the Eagles.

According to Pederson, who was asked afterwards why he decided to go for it twice on fourth, he responded by saying “he was trying to be aggressive.”

02. Clock Management

Dating back to last January when Pederson was the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator under Andy Reid,  Pederson was questioned after the Chiefs’ 27-20 divisional-round loss to New England about his clock management.

Take a look at how much time the Chiefs wasted from after the previous play occurred up until their next snap. On average (see below), they wasted over 29 seconds between each play, which is unheard of for a team during a playoff game. In the game, surprisingly Kansas City had more total yards than the Patriots (381-340), controlled the ball over 41% more than New England, even though New England averaged more yards per play (8.01-6.25).

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Starting from when Chiefs’ quarterback Alex Smith scrambled for six yards onto the Patriots’ 26-yard-line, they compiled four plays and yet they wasted over two minutes of the clock. A former Eagles’ coach who wasted too much time in a crucial game. Sound familiar?

Pederson defended the Chiefs’ poor clock management by rationalizing that by doing so, they didn’t want to hand the ball back over to Tom Brady. As well as that, he also clarified that he knew for sure that the Chiefs would score on that drive and still had their timeouts just in case. Mind you, they were down by two touchdowns, not one. So the best course of action there could’ve been; keep as much time on the clock, run no huddles, and conserve the timeouts and the clock. Had they had more than 2:30 minutes left, they wouldn’t of needed to call for an onside kick. They still had timeouts and the two-minute warning left.

Time was burned, and so were the Chiefs’ hopes of advancing to the AFC Championship Game. I doubt any of these type of scenarios will end as Pederson continues his coaching stint here.

03. Lack of coaching experience

In January 30th of 2009, 12 days after the Eagles lost to Arizona in the Championship Game, the team released a press release deciding to bump offensive assistant James Urban to quarterbacks coach, after Pat Shurmur left for the Rams, and Pederson took Urban’s spot as the team’s quality control coach. It was his first ever NFL coaching job.

From 2009-10, he was the team’s quality control coach, then was promoted to be their quarterback’s coach for the next two seasons. After Andy Reid was fired and was succeeded by Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, Kelly dismissed Pederson and Virginia’s offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Bill Lazor took his place.

Reid took Pederson with him to Kansas City, making him their newest offensive coordinator, which lasted for three seasons. Before his first NFL coaching gig in 2009, Pederson only had coached high school football, at Calvary Baptist School in Lansdale, PA. Before beginning his foray into coaching, he was an NFL quarterback,  and not a very good one, for a decade. As most Eagles’ fans will remember, he was second-overall pick Donovan McNabb’s mentor (and eventually backup) in 1999.

It seems that Pederson’s clock management struggles still haven’t changed and thus, unfortunately, have spilled over into this year.

The lack of coaching experience made his hiring last offseason a questionable one. Most fans and reporters believed that CEO Jeffrey Lurie made the call to hire him based off being a likable guy as an Eagle (during his playing and coaching career) and an Andy Reid guy, instead of hiring an experienced and successful coach like Tom Coughlin. Giants’ head coach Ben McAdoo was in the running for the vacancy as well, before landing in New York.

Perhaps the break from between the team’s 3-0 start and the start of their poor play since then can be attributed to the recent amount of losses. Most teams when they get hot and push together consecutive after consecutive win need not a bye to break their chemistry and success up until then. Had the Eagles had their bye week later on in the season, perhaps we’re looking at a totally-different team. But Pederson has been a huge factor in the team’s recent struggles.

03. Penalties 

Although the players are the ones called for the penalties, Pederson has been unsuccessful so far in controlling the team’s crucial mistakes, such as the string of penalties called against them this year. In early October against Detroit, they were flagged for 14 penalties, which is unacceptable. Three other games this year they accumulated 10 or more penalties, including 13 a week later at Washington. It was no coincidence that they ended up 0-2 in those games. This season, they rank tied for third worst in the league in penalties (90). Pederson needs to take control and emphasize to the team the importance of not shooting themselves in their own foot.

It’s more-than fair to allow Pederson more time to learn from his mistakes, correct them, and improve the team and it’s clock management, but so far, after the hire, he’s making the Eagles look bad for it.

So far, I’m more than unimpressed with his decision making, clock management, leadership skills, and the fact that the team almost every game kicks themselves in the foot. If he continues this streak, perhaps it’s time for the team to cut their losses and move on. Only time will tell.