Monday, January 16, 2012

Monday Mailbag

Introducing our inaugural Monday Mailbag, where you guys, the readers, get to ask the questions. And since we're dealing with a relatively small pool of readers, I can more or less guarantee that if you send in a question, I'll answer it. Just shoot an email with your question to So without further ado:

Did the 49ers, Giants, and Ravens prove that "defense wins championships" and will one of them show the Patriots that there is truth to that cliche as well? - Ben K., Slidell, LA
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I think what we saw this weekend was that if you turn the ball over a lot at this point in the season, you're going to lose. Check out the turnover lines from this weekend.

Every team that turned the ball over more than twice lost and New England was the only team to lose the turnover battle and still win. None of the three remaining teams are looking to get into a shootout with the Patriots. If New England's going to lose, their opponents are going to have to force turnovers and then capitalize on them.

When is an appropriate time frame to start getting hyped up for badminton, swimming, gymnastics, etc for the summer games? Also, am I only allowed to like gymnastics once every four years, and is it ok to refer to male gymnasts as "awesome" because of their muscles? - Ben K., Slidell, LA

You mean to tell me you're not hyped up about badminton all the time? Things are going to start heating up here pretty quick. I know women's soccer has it's pre-Olympic qualifying tournament kicking off this week, but the U.S. swimming trials aren't until June. Until you really know who's going, it's hard to really get amped up. But we're definitely at the point where you're going to start hearing more about the games in London.

As for gymnastics, we don't really have a professional gymnastics league during the off years to keep tabs on. So if you're looking for more of an opportunity to follow, I recommend checking out the USA Gymnastics website here.

As for the male gymnasts and their awesomeness, I dunno would you try to tell this guy he's not awesome?
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I don't know about this guy though. Although without the male gymnast, the guys in Old School would've been screwed.
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Was this the worst week ever for Louisiana football? LSU and the Saints lose, but they also lost the #1 LA high school prospect to Alabama. Chris Paul didn't want to be here either! Why don't athletes wnat to play in New Orleans? Haven't they read Drew Brees's book?!?!? - Ben K., Slidell, LA
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Simply put, yes. This was the worst week ever for Louisiana football. A big Neaux Geaux if you will. In the span of a week, dreams of two different championships were completely shattered. First LSU decided not to show up for the National Championship Game and got waxed 21-0 by their SEC rival Alabama. Then the Saints were surprised 36-32 by the 49ers in the NFC Divisional Round thanks to 5 turnovers. Add in the fact that earlier this month safety Landon Collins, the state's top high school prospect, verbally committed to play college football at Alabama and 2012 has just been brutal to the Pelican Staters. I certainly can't think of a worse stretch for them.

As far as keeping their star athletes, I don't think the issue is Louisiana. Players want to win. And the Hornets never really did a good job building a winner around Chris Paul. If Paul was winning championships, I doubt he'd have been exploring his options elsewhere. Just look at the Saints: Drew Brees (2006), Pierre Thomas (2007), Marques Colston (2006), Devery Henderson (2005), Lance Moore (2006), Roman Harper (2006), Will Smith (2004)... They haven't been dealing with people trying to get out of town because they're WINNING. Who would the Hornets second best player have been this year if Paul had stayed? Emeka Okafor? Marco Belinelli? Carl Landry? Trevor Ariza? Compare that to playing with Blake Griffin, Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups in L.A., and it's not hard to see the allure.

Lately there have been a lot of Americans getting called up to play overseas (especially in England), many of whom have 0 caps for the USMNT. What kind of effect is this going to have on Jurgen Klinsmann’s selections in the future and what does this say about the level of talent we seem to be producing? - Cory L., Raceland, LA
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Klinsmann made it clear that he wants his guys to pursue opportunities overseas during the offseason.

"If you have a seven-, eight-month season, that's not competitive with the rest of the world. If there's a national team player, he has to do extra work," he said. "He has to do extra weeks, and he can't go on vacation even if he says, 'Well, but I'm supposed now to have six weeks off.' If he comes and says that, then I give him a hug and say, 'Have fun the six weeks, but don't come back here.'" 

And he's right. Lionel Messi (Argentina) appeared in 55 games for Barcelona last year. Nani (Portugal) appeared in 49 games for Manchester United. Phillip Lahm (Germany) played in 47 games for Bayern Munich. And the list goes on. Compare that to some MLS players with U.S. National Team experience: Tim Ream (32), Brek Shea (44), Landon Donovan (32), Robbie Rogers (30), Juan Agudelo (29)... That's a huge difference, and the reality is that we can't overcome the talent differential between the Spains and Argentinas and Brazils, etc. if they are playing more than we are. 

Now, will it affect Klinsmann's future selections? Yes and no. There's more to the equation than just playing overseas. You really want to see guys going over there and excelling. Robbie Findley has 2 goals in 17 games for 18th place Nottingham Forest in England's 2nd Tier League. Those numbers aren't going to get him noticed. Conversely, you're starting to hear more of a buzz about guys like Sacha Kljestan (starting midfielder for the top team in Belgium), Maurice Edu (starting center mid for Rangers in Scotland) and Zak Whitbread (starting center back for 9th place Norwich City in the Premier League).

Klinsmann has already shown a willingness to bring in people with no National Team Experience, or people who had previously fallen out of favor with former coach Bob Bradley. My read on Klinsmann, is that he's going to bring in guys who he thinks can step in and make the team better regardless of their National Team resumes. Anyone who shows promise will get an opportunity.

AFC: Pats vs. Ravens.  Pats defense really stepped it up this past week and showed what they are capable of doing, albeit against a less than stellar offense.  And their Offense picked apart a good solid defense to finish off the Broncos, and Tebow Mania.  I don't even want to comment on the Ravens play.  If I were a Ravens fan I would be concerned about next weekend.  I think the Patriots by about 10 - 14 points.  What do you think about the match up and why? - The Dude, Portsmouth, VA

At first glance it's easy to say that the Ravens underperformend, but people are quick to forget just how good Houston's defense is. The Texans ranked 2nd in the NFL during the regular season in yards per game allowed, and 4th in the NFL in points per game allowed. I acknowledge that the Ravens weren't especially sharp and Jacoby Jones' miscue certainly helped them out, but I don't think you could say the Ravens didn't deserve to win and I don't think it's worth reading into too much that they only won by seven. 
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As far as next week goes, I think it'll be closer than you're suggesting (predicated on the assumption that Ed Reed is healthy enough to be his normal self). The Patriots defense looked really good against Tim Tebow and the Broncos, but you had to expect that Coach Belichik was going to have a plan for how to deal with it, especially after seeing it once already during the season. I don't see them looking as formidable against the Ravens this weekend. Additionally the Ravens offense is far more dynamic and multi-faceted than the Broncos was. It's definitely a tough matchup.

What this game comes down to for me, is the performance of New England's tight ends. If the Ravens are able to contain Gronkowksi and Hernandez, it's going to be difficult for the Patriots to win. Obviously though, that's a lot easier said than done.

NFC: Giants vs. 49ers.  Two very solid defenses, two offenses who handle their own very well.  I think the Giants have a little more fire power, but the 49ers have a little more stopping power.  I personally think the Giants by 7-12 points.  You? - The Dude, Portsmouth, VA
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Giants by 12 points? No way. The 49ers have one double digit loss this season and that was to the Ravens, 16-6. Plus, they beat the Giants 27-20 when they met during the regular season. I get it that this isn't the same Giants team, but it's not the same 49ers team either. And while New York's offense was rolling on Sunday, keep in mind the Packers defense ranked dead last in the NFL in yards allowed per game. As you saw time and time again yesterday, they weren't able to stop the Giants in any facet of the game including 8 times on third down. Conversely, San Francisco was the toughest team to score on during the regular season, had the best turnover margin in the league (+28) and was the hardest team to run on (77.3 ypg). AND, they just beat an offense far more dynamic than New York's that doesn't have a Darren Sproles or Jimmy Graham to create mismatches. New York certainly has playmakers at wide receiver, but enough to overwhelm the 49ers? I'm not sure about that. This game is going to come down to turnovers. Whoever protects the football the best will win.

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