Monday, December 15, 2014

Chistmas Book for Discerning Readers: Pillars of the NFL

Pillars of the NFL
When we selected Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships, we were not writing for the casual fan.  It's not that Pillars has a lot of archaic coverage, it's more a question of whether fans want to know about the key coaches in NFL history.  

Just how much time did we want to spend digging up all the research and writing this book? 

Baseball fans are big on history. But how many football are interested?

When my author, Patrick McCaskey,  was well underway, ESPN picked up the idea of creating a kind of web page feature that offered a lot of sports giving their thoughts on the exact basis of our book--they called it the Greatest Coaches in NFL history.  ESPN featured lot of great features for their site and there are few NFL fans who have not seen it.  So we know the idea is sound. 

So if you are looking for something a football fan would appreciate and keep, well we'd suggest Pillars of the NFL. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Pillars of the NFL Tells the Story of NFL Coaches

Pillars of the NFL is a book that tells the stories of the greatest coaches in professional football history in a way that is interesting and meaningful to fans.  How did these coaches make up their teams?  Who were they looking for to lead the way? Were there key players who helped lead the way? Who were the coaches who created teams during the wars and The Depression? 

As you read the stories you understand the differences between them--and the likenesses too.  Here's a book that allows you to understand and appreciate the history of the game.  The book is written by Patrick McCaskey who is a director of the Chicago Bears and a fan of game.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Chicago Bears Patrick McCaskey Makes Friends in Nebraska

Senior Chicago Bears Director Patrick McCaskey was a long way from home this weekend--in Beatrice, Nebraska, at Aunt Mary's Sunday night to speak about his latest book:  "Pillars of the NFL."  The grandson of Chicago Bears legendary coach George Halas, the senior director of the Chicago Bears, and the Bears' historian, was talking football history to one group of America's football favorite fans. Beatrice is an manageable ride from Lincoln and the University of Nebraska.  Anyone who has ever driven through the area will tell you that football runs deep in that part of the country--it's in the soil--and perhaps the state's greatest football coach and player was the reason for McCaskey's presence that night.

His Pillars of the NFL takes a look at interesting and important coaches who have won three or more championships. Among the coaches is Blue Springs, Nebraska's Guy Chamberlin whom the author spoke about that night.  Chamberlin graduated from Blue Springs High School in 1911 and immediately went to Nebraska Wesleyan to play football and then transferred to the University of Nebraska.  One of the country's best football player's of the era, Chamberlin will be remembered for among other things his tremendous play against Notre Dame that net his team a 20-19 victory in 1915.  When Chamberlin went on to the pros,  he became a player-coach in the NFL's first decade,  Chamberlin played for the Decatur/Chicago Staleys, the Canton Bulldogs, the Cleveland Bulldogs, the Frankford Yellowjackets and the Chicago Cardinals. He won one championship as a player and four as a player-coach.

When Chamberlin retired from football, he returned to his roots in Nebraska.  He was inducted into the  Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965 and he passed away in 1971.  A monument to the great coach was recently put up in Blue Springs.  His memory is also kept alive at the University  of its Chamberlin Award. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Some Thoughts On How to Make Sports Programs Kid Friendly

Parents can make sports programs work for kids, rather than create programs for parents. Here are some ideas:

Parents need to let lose!  Let kids have fun, enjoy themselves, understands that realistically even the best athletes are not going to be pros!

Parents need to control their emotions!  Let the game end at the final tick on the clock.  Kids can hang out after the game and think about other  things. 

Everyone needs to play and even the best players need time out. Even though your kids are playing a team sport, each kid must focus on his or her own play after a game.  Kids can get better when they think about what  they can improve and let the other kids do the same.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Bears Take It On the Chin Against Dolphins

If you watched the Miami Dolphins-Green Bay Packers game on October 12, you knew the Bears would be challenged yesterday.  With a couple minutes left to play, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers were down by 4 points and they had 60 yards to go for a score.  On the Miami 47-yard line with a 1:44 remaining, Rodgers was sacked and fumbled.  Luckily for the Packers, offensive tackle  T. J. Lang recovered the ball to give Green Bay an extra opportunity.  Rodgers prevailed and 6 completions later, the Packers regained the lead with just 6 seconds remaining.  Game over. Packers won, 27-24.

On September 28, in Soldier Field, the Packers dominated the Bears in the second half and won easily, 38-17.  And although the Bears played tough on October 12 to beat the Atlanta Falcons, 27-13, it was apparent that the Bears could have a tough game on their hands against Miami.  

On the Bears first possession, Cutler tossed two short passes to Alshon Jefferey and the Bears had a third and one.  Rather than attempt a short run, the Bears tried to fool the Dolphins with a long pass to Jefferey, but it failed and they had to punt.  It is easy enough to suggest that the Bears should have run for the first, but if you have watched the Bears play this season, often it seems like the opposition has the Bears playbook and know the game plan--they seem to know exactly what the Bears are going to do.  I can't blame the Bears for the long pass attempt.  

Ryan Tannehill had 49 yards rushing against the Packers and he must have seen the same opportunity against the Bears because he was running again.  On Miami's second possession, Tannehill's 14- yard run ignited an 81-yard touchdown drive.  The Dolphins were up 7-0.

Whatever defense the Dolphins were throwing at the Bears, initially they were covering the wide receivers well and Cutler was going heavily to Matt Forte on short passes. But when Cutler fumbled  (recovered by the Bears) and a few plays later he was sacked, it was time to punt the ball back to the Dolphins.  When the Dolphins had the ball, they moved it close enough for a long field goal attempt, but they missed--two Jay Ratliff sacks helped the Bears cause during that drive.  

On the next Bears possession, Cutler was sacked and then he tossed an interception to Reshad Jones who ran through the Bears offense that was in disarray.  When Brandon Marshall responded amidst of falling Bears players to catch Jones and make the tackle after a 50 yard scamper, it was really a fine moment in the midst of misery.  Marshall showed something of the old time Bears in that play.  Trestman might show that clip about a hundred times this week.  

Tannehill only had 23 yards to go for a touchdown and that's what he did with a couple passes.  It was Dolphins 14-0 with less than 6 minutes in the half.  The Bears went three and out, which was followed by a stalled Dolphins drive just before half.  

On the Bears first possession of the second half, Cutler featured hand offs to Forte and passes to Marshall to move the ball to the 10 yard line.  He tossed a TD pass to Forte from there and after the extra point, the Dolphins' lead was cut, 14-7.  On the drive, the Bears had used up 7 minutes. 

On the Dolphins' possession, Tannehill himself had a 30 yard run in the  midst of several Lamar Miller runs and receptions that gave the Dolphins another touchdown.  As the fourth quarter was about to start, the Dolphins had a 21-7 lead.  Both teams essentially had just one possession for the entire quarter.

At that point, the Bears could still come back, but Cutler had taken a beating and Forte was paying dearly for every yard.  The Dolphins were doing a good job defensing Marshall with some exceptions, but you have to wonder who was going to step up for the Bears.  

A Culver sack and fumble gave the ball back to the Dolphins on the Bears 16 yard line. Tannehill had another short drive for a touchdown, but the Bears defense held. The Dolphins settled for a field goal and the score was 24-7.  

Two plays from scrimmage later, Cutler hit Dante Rosario who fumbled the ball back to the Dolphins who took over at the  Bears 35-yard line.  The Bears defense held again and the Dolphins tried a 37-yard field goal that failed.  

On the Bears next drive, a 24-yard pass play to Forte and pass interference call on a pass to Jefferey helped move the ball down the field to the 5-yard line.  On three runs, Forte ramrodded the ball in for the score.  The score was 24-14, but there was only 7:31 left on the clock and the Dolphins had the ball. 

Tannehill was able to execute a slow drive that ate up over 5 minutes and a Bears timeout.  With 2:16 remaining, Miami kicked a field goal and took a 27-14 lead.    Chris Williams of the Bears was able to return the Dolphins kick 50 yards into good field position for the Bears possession, but the Bears drive stalled at the 15 yard line.  The Dolphins won, 27-14. 

At this point in the season, the Bears are demonstrating some talent, but they are not playing as well as several other teams.  After the game, Bear players found it difficult to describe what they need to do to improve other than suggest that they need to play more consistently.  It was another tough, yet uninspiring loss that seemed to suggest that the Bears are talented, but have not played up to their potential.  

The Dolphins pass coverage at once inhibited the Bears' passing game and their pressure forced some errors on the part of Cutlet and his receivers.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Watt and Houston Come Up Short in Epic Battle against Indianapolis

Football is the most beloved drama of our times.  Whether in front of our TV sets/devices or watching in the stands, football has it all.  Nothing compares to its drama and spectacle.  

Last night, you didn't need an emotional tie to the Texans-Colts battle to get reeled in hook, line, and sinker.  There was J. J. Watt, the Texans defensive end, who gives his best every second and seemingly exhausts himself in the first ten minutes of the game and then calls on superhuman energy to keep going.  You had to keep watching even though the game looked like it was over in the first quarter.  What could Watt do?  

And there was Andrew Luck, who is looking more and more like one of the best quarterbacks in the league.  

The game featured several notable contributions: T. Y. Hilton's 9 receptions for 223 yards,  Pat McAffee's onside kick, Ahmad Bradshaw's rushes for extra yards and Arian Foster's smooth runs for 141 yards including 2 touchdowns.  Watt's play throughout the game and his fumble recovery and touchdown were fan-pleasing.  Ryan Fitzpatrick looked capable, but he was often rushed. The highlight reel for this game runs long and deep into both lineups. 

After the Texans went three and out on their first series,  the Colts Griff Whalen returned their punt for 17 yards to the 36-yard line.  The Colts had mixed success on offense, but Luck connected with Dwayne Allen for 15 yards and T.Y. Hilton for 40 yards. Trent Richardson runs kept the Houston defense honest, but the drive stalled and Adam Vinatieri kicked a 27 yard field goal to put the Colts ahead, 3-0. As fans were wondering how Houston would respond, Pat McAfee surprised everyone with an onside kickoff that he recovered.  Before the Texans defense could swallow their Gatorade, they were back on the field.  Immediately, Andrew Luck went to Hilton again, this time for 49 yard and Trent Richardson took it in from the 5-yard line.  After the extra point, Indianapolis was ahead, 10-0.

You have to give the Houston fans credit, because it didn't seem like the stadium quieted down much.  It's one of the benefits when you have a great defensive star, a big part of the drama comes from matching up to adversity.  

Another Texans three and out was followed by another good punt return by Griff Whalen--this one for 14 yards to Colts 44.  A couple runs set up a third and short for Luck who hit Dwayne Allen for 18 yards to the Texans 31-yard line. Luck hit Hilton for 14 yards and a pass interference call came a few players later.  Ahmad Bradshaw took it in from 5 yards. Bradshaw would prove to be difficult for the Texans to bring down most of the night. 

When the Texans had the ball, Ryan Fitzpatrick was sacked twice on their series and once again the Texas offense went three and out.  The Texas defense buckled down, but Luck was able connect with Hilton on a third down pass that yields 37 yards to the 30-yard line. Mercifully, the Colts took some time to march down the field where Luck tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Coby Fleener.  As the first quarter closed, Indianapolis leads, 24-0.  Still the Houston crowd is not quiet.

Houston quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is able to put together a touchdown drive that features a 28-yard pass play to Arian Foster. Fitzpatrick hits Andre Johnson from 4-yards out for the score.  Colts lead 24-7.  Whalen returns the kickoff to the Indianapolis 24.  On first down, Luck  is intercepted by Justin Tuggle who returns it to the Colts 24-yard line. Two plays later, Arian Foster rushes in from 12 yards out for the touchdown. The Colts lead is cut to 24-14. 

Luck puts together another long deliberate drive that ends with an Adam Vinatieri field goal.  Ahmad Bradshaw is featured in this drive as a receiver and rusher.  Houston continues to have trouble tackling Bradshaw. At the half, the  Colts lead, 27-14. 
The first three possessions of the second half yield no points. When Houston takes over on their own 30-yard line, Fitzpatrick calls Foster's number and he responds with an 8-yard and 34-yard run.  A pass to Andre Johnson gains 26 yards and Foster finishes the drive with a 2-yard scoring run. The Colts are still ahead, but only, 27-21.  

Luck goes back to Hilton on the next possession on a pass for  18-yards.  After a  short gain by Richardson, Luck hits Hilton for 33-yards and a score.  The Colts try for a 2-point conversion and fail. Colts lead, 33-21. After Arian Foster softens up on the Colts defense on a couple runs, Fitzpatrick hits Damaris Johnson for 40 yards, but the drive stalls.  The Texans miss a field goal attempt early in the fourth quarter and the Colts take over.  Luck moves the Colts up to midfield and fumbles when he is sacked--Watt picks up the lose ball and runs in for a 45-yard score.  The Colts lead is cut to 33-28 after the extra point.  

The Colts next drive stalls and when the Texans take over, they move the ball towards midfield, but when Fitzpatrick hits Andre Johnson, he fumbles and the Colts Mike Adams recovers at the Colts 40-yard line .  Luck takes over, but the Houston defense spearheaded by Watt is able to hold the Colts one last time.  The ball is punted back to the Texans with 2:21 remaining.  

An exhausted J.J. Watt and his defensive teammates watch as Fitzpatrick and the Texans offense have one last shot at redemption, but they are standing at their own 9-yard line.  It proves too much for Fitzpatrick, who has been rushed all day long.  On the second play of the series, he is sacked and fumbles.   D'Qwell Jackson recovers. Game over. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Bears versus Falcons: Receivers, Rushers, and Quarterbacks

Both the Falcons and the Bears have excellent receiving and rushing corps, and talented quarterbacks. Here's a look at some stats as they head into Sunday's match in Atlanta at the Georgia Dome. 

Falcon wide receiver Julio Jones is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds.  He has 40 receptions this year for 552 yards and 3 touchdowns.  Receiver Roddy White has 16 receptions for 213 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Tight end Levine Toilolo is 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds has 8 receptions for 69 yards and 1 touchdown.  Former Bears star, Devin Hester, has 14 receptions for 212 yards and 1 touchdown.  Quarterback Matt Ryan has completed 130 passes on 197 attempts for a 66% completion rate with 11 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. His QB rating is 96.4. Ryan has 9 rushes for 47 yards and no touchdowns.  Running back Steven Jackson has 63 rushes for 238 yards and 2 touchdowns plus 9 receptions for 57 yards.  Rookie Devonta Freeman has 19 rushes for 73 yards and 12 receptions for 103 yards.  Jacquizz Rodgers has 19 rushes for 75 yards and 1 touchdown and 7 receptions for 44 yards.  Running back Antone Smith has 11 rushes for 121 yards and 2 touchdowns and also has 6 receptions for 156 yards and 2 touchdowns. The bottom line for the Falcons is that they have a lot of offensive talent in the skill positions and they need to involve a lot of players. 

Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall is 6-foot-4 and 229 pounds. He has 19 receptions for 188 yards and 5 touchdowns.  Receiver Alshon Jeffery, at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, has 26 receptions for 359 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Martellus Bennett, the Bears tight end, is 6-foot-7 and 248 pounds.  Bennett has 32 receptions for 312 yards and 4 touchdowns.  Both Marshall and Jeffrey have been hobbled.  Jay Cutler has completed 130 passes on 191 attempts for a 68.1 completion rate with 12 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. His QB rating is 94.9. Cutler has 16 rushes for 90 yards and 1 touchdown.  Bears running back Matt Forte has 82 rushes for 319 yards and 1 touchdown.  Rookie running back Ka'Deem Carey has 18 rushes for 78 yards.

The Bears are often mentioned as the one of the top receiving teams in the NFL, but injuries have slowed their performance although not markedly.  Like a number of other teams, the Bears have struggled with the idea of keeping a fullback because they often struggle on runs in the red zone.  Short passes to Martellus Bennett has been a good option close in.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships.