Tuesday, December 26, 2006

I just might not hate football anymore

I've killed Andy Reid on this blog before, so in the interest of fairness, I'll give him credit when it's due.

In McNabb's 10 starts, the Eagles called pass plays 59% of the time. They had an explosive offense, but it was often inconsistent. They often had short drives of less than two minutes, and as a result the defense was on the field for most of the game.

Since McNabb's injury, Andy Reid has seemingly got religion. He's actually calling (or allowing Marty Morningwheg to call) a football game. The run/pass ratio in Garcia's 6 starts: 50/50.

Suddenly, the Eagles offense has developed consistency. They are able to grind out the clock in the fourth quarter when they have the lead. They had three drives of 7:00 or more in the Cowboys game (as opposed to three scoring drives of 2:00 or less in the first meeting.) The defense, playing 50 snaps instead of 70, suddenly looks dominating again - they held Dallas to their lowest offensive output of the season. Garcia is getting sacked at 1/3 the pace of McNabb. This isn't coincidence - this is the natural result of a balanced offense - something that eluded Andy Reid since John Gruden went to Tampa.

The coaches have really found a groove - their playcalling has been almost perfect. The TE delay called against Dallas' all-out blitz was an ideal play that resulted in a 65-yard gain (it's a TD if Baskett can block that last defender.) The outside safety blitz on 4th-and-1, as well as the CB/safety combo zone blitz on 4th-and-8, were both timely calls that contributed to the big Eagles' win.

Does this mean Andy Reid has learned his lesson? I'm not convinced. I want to see Andy run the ball when Donovan gets back next season. I want to see him run the ball when the Eagles fall behind by 10 points in the 2nd quarter (not this week, hopefully.) But for now, he's making all the right moves, and he gave me the Christmas present I wanted most - beating the Cowboys and earning a playoff berth.

Maybe, just maybe, I don't hate football anymore.

Until next week.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Insert bowling pun here

As you are no doubt aware, the Horned Frogs of Texas Christian University routed the Huskies of Northern Illinois 37-7 in the Poinsettia Bowl last night. This college football extravaganza, which you raptly watched instead of House, was attended by a less-than-rabid crowd of 29,000 fans and 41,000 empty seats. It matched the 25th-best team in college football against a barely mediocre 7-5 team out of the MAC.

Surely, when opponents of a college football playoff cite decreased interest in non-playoff bowl games as a reason to maintain the current system, they can't be thinking of the Poinsettia Bowl. This game couldn't possibly generate less interest.

I'm sure that someone must be making money off the bowl system - someone who would make less money off a playoff system - but I just can't figure out who that is. It would be so, so easy to have an eight-team playoff that incorporated the current bowls, and lined everyone's pocket with additional revenue. I stare slack-jawed at this glaring market inefficiency, as the suppliers simply refuse to meet demand, and as a result lose money every year. Can someone please explain why this happens?

Look, it's so easy. Here's what you do:
1) Pick eight teams for the playoff. Take the winners of the 6 major conferences (Big 12, Big 10, Big East, ACC, PAC, SEC) assuming those winners are ranked in the top 15 in the country. Round out the field with at-large teams, giving preference to independents and other conference winners in the Top 15.
2) Have them play in existing bowls, like the Fiesta, Orange, etc.
3) Let the other non-playoff bowls operate normally.

Here's what the playoff schedule would look like this year:

Sunday, Dec 24
Sugar Bowl: Ohio State vs. Wake Forest
Gator Bowl: Florida vs. Notre Dame
Capital One Bowl: Louisville vs. Boise State
Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma vs. USC

Monday, Jan 1
Rose Bowl: OSU/WF vs. Okla/USC
Orange Bowl: Fla/ND vs. Lou/BSU

Monday, Jan 8
Fiesta Bowl: Championship game

And there you go. The GMAC Bowl, Meineke Car Care Bowl, Insight.com Bowl, and all the others could continue to feature meaningless games between mediocre teams. No one cares about those games anyway, unless you're a parent of one the players, an alum, or a rabid fan starved for any sort of college football. And those three types of people would still watch the bowl games. In the meantime, you'd have the most over-hyped and over-exposed playoff bracket outside of March Madness. You'd generate more money for universities, more money for the big conferences, more money for the TV stations, more money for the mafia, and you'd actually get to crown a champion that is decided on the field...so who loses? Why hasn't this already happened?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Movie Review: Casino Royale (no spoilers)

This re-invention of the James Bond franchise is exactly what the series needed. A good movie in its own right, and for a James Bond movie it was perfect.

There seems to be a consensus among critics that this is the best Bond movie since the 60s, and that Craig is the best Bond since Connery. The consensus is too nostalgic...this is clearly the highest that the Bond franchise has ever reached. This movie was cleverly written, well-acted, and provided the most in-depth characterization of 007 ever.

This is a Bond who makes mistakes, who is outwitted by his enemies (and his female foil), who screams in pains and bleeds. He is pushed to his limits in order to triumph, and doesn't always remain calm and composed enough to deliver a one-liner in concert with the killing blow. He is sometimes thoughtful, and sometimes rash...sometimes detached, and sometimes emotional. In other words, James Bond is human. Despite this humanization of his character, he has not become the androgenous PC sissy-boy of the new millenium, but instead is even more masculine, dark, and all-around badass than Bond's ever been.

The technology was scaled way back as well. Bond is forced to rely on his wits, his brawn, and good fortune to escape the bad guys, instead of explosive chewing gum or cufflink darts. The famous 1964 Aston Martin does not transform into a helicopter, hovercraft, or a submarine. It is not equipped with machine guns or rockets - it instead comes with a defibrillator.

Also, I was impressed by every nod to the original Bond series - I laughed out loud when he assigned his female partner an undercover name of "Stephanie Broadchest" - as they showed both respect for their roots and at the same time reminded the viewer that this is no longer your father's James Bond.

Were there some problems? Yes, but I'm willing to forgive all of them (aside from the embarrassing opening "song" by Chris Cornell.) The poker scenes relied on mathematically improbable card combinations instead of skilled poker play (this should have been easy to correct.) In the two biggest swing hands - one which Bond loses, and one which Le Chiffre loses - the losing hand is a full house, and there are very few cases where it is wrong to go broke with a full house (good poker players understand that the odds that your opponent will have quads or a straight flush are remote. You simply must pay off those rare hands, in order to win the 95% of the time you are ahead.) It would have been much more interesting to see the psychology of bluffing have a bigger impact - for instance, Le Chiffre making a bold bluff with K-high, while Bond makes a heroic call with A-high - but, alas, the writers did not agree.

Also, there were two under-developed plot lines. First, the romance between Bond and Vesper...with one clothes-on shower and a little torture, they went from sarcastic playmates to deeply in love (granted, torture can do strange things to a person.) Second, the mysterious Mr. White makes three appearances in the movie, with a total of two minutes of screen time, and yet he's the criminal mastermind behind the scenes. Both plot lines seemed totally rushed and probably edited out during post-production. However, with a running time already pushing 2:30, I certainly understand why they didn't get full treatment.

Overall, this is a must-see flick. If you were a fan of the original James Bond series, then you'll find that this re-invention is exactly the breath of fresh air that the franchise needed. If you weren't a Bond fan before, you should give yourself a chance to become one. I look forward to see if future installments can live up to the promise of Casino Royale.