Bryan Joiner

Why then I

The Wildcat: The Patriots’ Kryptonite

The Patriots aren’t Supermen anymore, but they still have their Kryptonite, and it’s still the Dolphins. Miami has always given New England fits, but at first because they were just better and then because their home field, combined with Jason Taylor, turned Tom Brady into… well, whatever quarterback the Dolphins had at the time. The 16-0 season seemed particularly improbable because beating Miami twice has always seemed like a tall order. And all that was before the current era: with Miami as a team designed specifically to take down the Patriots.

The Dolphins of Marino were the most “warm weather” team there was; now Miami runs the most “cold weather” offense in the last 10 years, the Wildcat-heavy crux of which they unveiled last year in Foxboro. The game plan ruined the unsuspecting Patriots, who nonetheless got revenge in Miami behind a spread offense and their backup quarterback. The teams had basically become mirror images of what they’re “supposed” to be, climate-wise, but the balance is once again changing.

Tom Brady admitted this week that the 2007/08 offense is basically being scrapped for good, not because of the departure of Josh McDaniels but because Joey Galloway was a total bust and Julian Edelman injured. No extra receivers equals no spread offense, and that means more running plays, and a reversion to the playcalling of the early Brady years. More play action, less shotgun. That ought to help against a team that feeds off time of possession. Paint the Phins into situations where they think they have to pass, and good things will happen, because they’ve been built to play against the pass. The Wildcat aims to drain time from the clock, forcing you into foolish plays on offense. The prototypical Wildcat game was against the Colts, where they had the ball for 48 minutes. The game plan played right into their hands… but since they were playing Peyton Manning, they lost. You can only do so much.

The Wildcat is not easy offense to operate in the NFL. Every team runs it (or ran it) after the Dolphins unveiled it last year, with decreasing marginal returns to the point where some teams have scrapped it altogether. Not Miami: they doubled down, instilling more plays for Ronnie Brown at quarterback, and running it for entire drives and games. There is something completely awesome about this, and evocative of Chuck Klosterman’s essay on innovation in football. But it’s not all good.

The bad part is that the Dolphins are still very beatable. Can they  win this game? Absolutely. Do I think they will? No. Does their Wildcat scare the absolute piss out of me? Yes. Why? Because this team seems single-handedly devised to beat the Patriots, like a good boxer who wins the belt because they match up well with the otherwise better champ (I’m thinking Vernon Forrest*). Unfortunately for the Phins, this approach won’t win them a Super Bowl; the Steelers would absolutely ruin them. Sparano hasn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, but in a league with Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson and Brady, “good” isn’t going to cut it in the end. This week? It might.

As the years tick away for Belichick, games like this will show how much the Brady Patriots have left in them. The Pats were never about dominance; they were about adapting. Now that the division has adapted to them (become more defense- and run-heavy to match their firepower), the Pats have to tack back toward being an all-around team that changes styles based on opponents. As they turn the defense over to youngsters, they’re vulnerable now to targeted attacks like Miami’s Wildcat. They’ll probably win the division either way, but if they can survive this week’s broadside, the whole league needs to watch out. If the teal-and-orange Kryptonite can’t get the job done, can anything?

* RIP

The Phillies Live For Another 48 Hours

We now know the real difference between the Phillies and the Yankees: it’s in the bullpen. They’re both shaky… until the very end. When the Yankees have a lead in the ninth inning, they win. When the Phillies have a lead, they might win.

That, more than any reason, is why a Phillies team that is otherwise demonstrably better than last year’s may not win this year’s World Series. They’ve added Cliff Lee, Pedro Martinez, and Jayson Werth has made the jump from WWE lookalike to 38-home run smacking WWE lookalike; still, the Phillies have lost their edge. Last year, Brad Lidge was untouchable. This year, everyone in the bullpen is getting roughed up. Last night, Charlie Manuel went to Ryan Madsen—a player with such a sad early history that we named an award for futility after him in our fairytale baseball league—up three runs in the ninth inning. He let the first two guys on, and only a double play ball by Captain Clutch Jeter got him out of a giant mess. Johnny Damon singled, but Madsen got the suddenly slumping Mark Teixeira to end it. A-Rod never got a chance to gallop into history.

Now the series heads back to New York, with the Yankees in an interesting position. On the bright side, they get to face Pedro again, and it’s entirely possible that they launch a NASA-like program off his arm. On the negative side, they have Andy Pettitte starting a game six on three days’ rest, and Pettitte’s up-and-down postseason history seems overdue for a down (especially against this lineup). If they Phillies are somehow able to win game six, they’ll enter game seven in a situation they haven’t found themselves in all year: they’ll be without a solid starter, but the closer situation will be locked down. You have to figure that Cliff Lee will be pitching whenever the Phils need him… if we get that far.

After the Red Sox beat the Yankees in game five of the 2004 ALCS, the signs on the highway all read “Red Sox 5, Yankees 4,” knowing that both teams would pass underneath them on their way back to New York. Each win seemed to give the Sox strength. After last night’s win, there was no jubilation from the Phillies. They high-fived but for the most part did so with lips pursed, business-like. Maybe they’re not confident they can win two in a row, or maybe they’re not content to celebrate until the job’s done. They’ve got 48 hours to draw up a game plan, insofar as there is one besides “just win.” They came out swinging against A.J. Burnett last night, making sure that he couldn’t get ahead of them with the fastball to drop the curve on them. The teams will scout Martinez and Pettitte and reconvene at 7:57 tomorrow. It’ll all be over by this time on Friday, folks. Drink it up.

What Has Changed Since The Last Yankees Title?

This could be the last post you read on this site before the Yankees are once again World Series champions. It’s time to take stock of what’s happened since the last time they won it all.

• George W. Bush became President after Election Night (see what I did there?) and served two terms, the second of which was almost singlehandedly caused by Curt Schilling.

• Some things happened that you know about, like that bad day and that really good one. To give you a hint about that really good one, it also involved Curt Schilling.

• The Diamondbacks, Angels, Marlins, Red Sox, White Sox, Cardinals and Phillies won the World Series of baseball. Carlos Mortensen, Robert Varkonyi, Chris Moneymaker, Greg Raymer, Joseph Hachem, Jamie Gold, Jerry Yang and Peter Eastgate won the World Series of Poker. But they didn’t have to beat the Yankees, so it doesn’t really count.

• I moved from Chicago to Forest Hills, Queens to Martha’s Vineyard to New Haven to Forest Hills to Flushing to Morningside Heights to Sunset Park, Brooklyn to Astoria to Astoria to Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. During one of these moves I had the single greatest cup of coffee I’ve ever had at Kane’s Diner in College Point, Queens. Coachie be knowing.

• The Patriots, a team that was the laughingstock of the NFL 10 years prior, turned the 199th pick in the NFL draft into arguably the league’s best player and won three Super Bowls, narrowly missing a fourth when a dude caught a ball with his f*cking head.

• The Celtics won a title one year after being the laughingstock of the league.

• Barack Obama went from a guy teaching law school in the building next to my freshman dorm to being the President of all the United States, except for the ones that don’t like him, except he really is their President. Don’t tell them.

• Michael Bloomberg snuck into office because of 9/11 (the race was a dead heat before then, and he was the Giuliani-backed candidate) and thus far has stayed for the maximum two terms allowed by 200o law. If the Yankees don’t win tonight, we’ll have to edit that sentence.

• Pedro Cerrano became the nation’s first black President and, after being assassinated by a shot through the neck, now does Allstate commercials.

• Newspapers basically cease to exist. By the time of the Yankees next title, they may literally cease to exist. Maybe not in the case of a repeat. Maybe.

• Brett Favre started every football game of every year for eight years in either direction, but there’s no fine wine corrolary.

• I can now distinguish between an actual fine wine and a cheap one. I think.

Tonight, the slate may be wiped clean. We’ll go from 3295 days since the last Yankees title down to zero. That’ll be sad, but it was a good run—better than we ever could have hoped—and we’ll get to put up a 1 on Wednesday.