Monthly Archives: February 2018

One Team, One Jersey: Baltimore Ravens

With the beginning of a new year comes the beginning of a new series. I’ve spent hundreds of hours (not an exaggeration) enthralled in game film sessions, reading player profiles, scrounging through stat sheets and scanning the histories of all the NFL franchises. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. Welcome to One Team, One Jersey.

As a jersey collector and connoisseur, I am constantly expanding my repertoire and so I thought I should probably expand my search to all the teams of pro football. Buying every jersey I want would be too expensive though. Picking one for each team is reasonable and so became the idea that is One Team, One Jersey.

If you could only have one jersey from each NFL team, who would it be? There are a few ground rules:

The player you choose must have played for that team more than any other AND must have been on that team’s roster during the 2017 season.

Aside from that, it’s up to you what you prioritize: character, statistical production, championships, a combination of the three. Your call.

Who will you choose?

The NFL was introduced to the Baltimore Ravens in 1996 when Art Modell decided to move the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore. All Browns records and their history was left behind in Cleveland and the Ravens were considered an expansion team. With that categorization, the Ravens became one of the most successful expansion teams in sports history. Their first ever draft picks were left tackle Jonathan Ogden and linebacker Ray Lewis. The two Hall of Famers had 24 Pro Bowl seasons combined, giving Baltimore the framework from the beginning of a contender.

Since the Ravens’ induction into the NFL, Baltimore has won two Super Bowls and 15 playoff games. It takes some expansions teams five or six years just to be competitive. Baltimore has achieved these heights in 22 seasons. They may be one of the younger franchises in the league, but Baltimore has come to play more often than not and their youth has put a chip on the team’s shoulder, the type of motor that attracts fans.

It was difficult to pick a jersey for Cincinnati and Cleveland. There are plenty of options in the stronghold of Maryland.

For example, it would be unfair to make this list and not include Marshall Yanda, who made six consecutive Pro Bowls beginning in 2011. He was named the top guard by Pro Football Focus in ’14, ’15 and ’16. If that doesn’t demonstrate how dominate he’s been in the trenches, I’m not sure what does.

The team is lacking on offense, but a 2008 first-rounder from Delaware is still behind center. Joe Flacco had one of the greatest playoff runs in NFL history in 2012, tying Montana’s record with 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions in the same postseason. He’s played in some rather large postseason contests. He’s gathered playoff victories on the road.

The argument goes, and I believe it to be the right one, that many of those playoff victories came on the back of an elite defense, not on the shoulder of a quarterback named Joe. He’s made big throws in big moments, but the Ravens did not beat the Patriots because Flacco outdueled Brady.

In his ten-year career, Flacco has thrown for 25 touchdowns only twice and broached the 4,000 yard plateau once. He’s the best quarterback Baltimore has ever had and that earns him sentimentality points and a spot in Ravens lore, but in actuality, he was never elite, nor extraordinary. Not the type of player you buy a jersey for.

For years, he’s been one of the game’s most overrated signal callers and one historic postseason doesn’t diminish that argument the same way Josh Gordon leading the league in receiving yards doesn’t mean he’s an otherworldly talent. Success is temporary and professional athletes are expected to reach it from time to time. Those who reach it regularly are elite and they reach these heights on their own merits. Brady never won MVPs because his defense was top-five. Peyton didn’t set passing records because Ray Lewis was phenomenal at playing middle linebacker. Joe Flacco isn’t in the same realm as these two legends and you can argue it if you want, but he’s not. He’s had a passer rating above 90 twice. He’s serviceable for the most part, although these past three seasons have been difficult to watch considering his Zeppelin of a contract. Ten years after his career is over, Ravens fans will remember the name with pride but football fans will remember the Mile High Miracle and the 2012 Super Bowl and think of that one great year he had. There’s a reason that’s the case.

Besides, Baltimore has always been known for its staunch defense and so it only feels right to pick a player on that side of the field.

Brandon Williams is quite the presence at defensive tackle.

CJ Mosley has proven to be a fine successor to new HOFer Ray Lewis in the middle, making three Pro Bowl rosters.

Jimmy Smith has been close to a top-ten corner for a majority of his career. He’s not quite a tier one star, but is a reliable player that can go one-v-one against most receivers.

There’s still one big name we haven’t mentioned, one of the most dominant edge rushers of the last 20 years.

There were three elite players on the Ravens’ defenses of the 2000s: Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs. In my eyes, Suggs should be in the Hall. He played with a ferocity and aggression that personified the Ravens grit and tenacity and plays with that same motor today.

Suggs is one of only 37 players to win Defensive Player of the Year, a true honor for a terrorizing player. He also holds the Ravens franchise records for sacks (125.5) and forced fumbles (29) by wide margins. Those 125.5 sacks put him 17th on the all-time quarterback takedown list.

He was unanimously named Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2003 after setting a franchise rookie record with 12 sacks. He’s a seven-time Pro Bowler and a Super Bowl champion.

Routinely voted as one of the most hated players in the NFL, Suggs also carries the charisma of a performer, often putting opponents on edge with sack dances. Maybe he’s dirty, maybe he’s passionate. Maybe he just shows no mercy. Whatever it is, ain’t no one ever doubt his effort or his compete level. No one looks forward to playing that guy. That hostility, that grit, personifies the Ravens.

My pick: Terrell Suggs. My jersey: Home Purple.

Image result for terrell suggs home jersey free use

 

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One Team, One Jersey: Cleveland Browns

With the beginning of a new year comes the beginning of a new series. I’ve spent hundreds of hours (not an exaggeration) enthralled in game film sessions, reading player profiles, scrounging through stat sheets and scanning the histories of all the NFL franchises. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. Welcome to One Team, One Jersey.

As a jersey collector and connoisseur, I am constantly expanding my repertoire and so I thought I should probably expand my search to all the teams of pro football. Buying every jersey I want would be too expensive though. Picking one for each team is reasonable and so became the idea that is One Team, One Jersey.

If you could only have one jersey from each NFL team, who would it be? There are a few ground rules:

The player you choose must have played for that team more than any other AND must have been on that team’s roster during the 2017 season.

Aside from that, it’s up to you what you prioritize: character, statistical production, championships, a combination of the three. Your call.

Who will you choose?

The Cleveland Browns are the biggest joke in the NFL. I actually wrote a piece detailing how they might be the worst franchise in professional sports. A champion in complete incompetence, Cleveland just finished the 2017 season 0-16, bringing Hue Jackson’s career record as a head coach to 1-31. All logical signs point to him losing his job, especially given he had three first-rounders on his roster this year, but Cleveland and logic simply don’t go together. He will be at the helm for 2018.

People spend their whole childhood playing football with the hope they make it to the NFL. When you’re drafted by the Cleveland Browns, your dreams die pretty fast. Football is supposed to be fun. That’s the whole point of playing it. Playing for the Cleveland Browns is downright depressing. It’s laughable. Just watching the Browns would make me want to quit playing.

You pity them initially but once you realize the team is digging its own holes, that pity quickly turns to unabated hatred. You hate the management that has no idea how to perform the bare necessities of their position (consider the amount of draft picks this team has had over these last few years) and the owner that refuses to sign a marquee free agent. Whether that results in an overpay or not should be of little consequence given the team’s desolate landscape.

Their ability to draft quarterbacks is legendary. Only the Browns could miss that many times. DeShone Kizer is painful to watch, regularly overthrows his receivers and makes mind-numbingly awful reads. Despite his mobile ability, he has little pocket awareness and perhaps less composure under pressure. Kizer ended the season with a completion percentage of 53, 22 interceptions to only 11 touchdowns and a sack percentage of 7.4 (38 sacks). It’s hard to tell at this point if the Browns are that bad at picking players or if there’s a psychological block that comes into play when an athlete dons the Cleveland gridiron colors.

Picking a jersey from this hellhole is very difficult. No one stays in Cleveland long enough to make an impression, leaving us with a lot of unproven youth to choose from.

Yes, perhaps we should consider Myles Garrett, one of only 82 players to ever be drafted first overall. Garrett has yet to show the talent that shot him to the top of draft boards, with a rookie campaign that was beset by injury and didn’t produce much flair from the edge rusher.

Duke Johnson Jr is one of the best third-down backs in the NFL. He, at times, shows the abilities of a starter. He’s predominantly a screen back and is good in the open field but I have a hard time seeing him in a starting role and you just don’t buy jerseys of third-down backs.

Christian Kirksey is one cocoon that could become a butterfly. 

He signed a four-year contract extension with Cleveland so if you get his jersey, he should be around for a while, but that’s the only draw you’re really getting out of it. He’s a backer in a weak defense who doesn’t make a lot of high value plays.

“Tim, if you’re looking for high value plays, why don’t you take Josh Gordon?”

Was Josh Gordon the first player in NFL history to record back-to-back 200-yard receiving games? Yes.

Is Josh Gordon also a complete idiot? Yes.

After leading the league in receiving while playing for the CLEVELAND BROWNS in 2013 (in a shortened season after failing a drug test), Gordon was arrested for driving impaired, suspended ten games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy again, suspended a game by the Browns for violating team rules, suspended the entire 2015 season for failing to follow the substance-abuse policy a third time, applied for reinstatement only to fail yet another drug test (that’s four times for those counting at home) and got suspended the first four games of the 2016 season before coming to the decision to leave football and try to get his life back. He was activated off the Exempt List in November of 2017.

Gordon has set a couple of franchise records, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Josh Gordon is a horrible role model and toxic personality to have in a locker room. He’s completely unreliable and it’s a virtual certainty that he will get suspended a sixth time. That’s not someone I want to support or associate myself with.

When it comes to Cleveland, you have to look at folk heroes. For example, Peyton Hillis is a legitimate selection. While he doesn’t meet either of the requirements for this series, a Peyton Hillis jersey is one I can respect. While he only had one great year in the league, there was a lot of hype surrounding him that season and it was well-deserved. He gathered 1,177 yards and 11 TDs on the ground after starting only 14 games. He added nearly 500 receiving. It seemed like everyone was rooting for him, so much so that he won the Madden cover vote after the season. There’s a good chance he’s the last Browns player to ever show up on the cover of Madden and it’s probably for the better honestly. Not a lot of folk heroes pass through Cleveland and certainly not many good players, which leaves us with only one true choice.

One of the best offensive lineman for nearly a decade, Joe Thomas is a 10-time Pro Bowler and has been first-team All-Pro seven times in his career. His streak of 10,363 consecutive snaps is the longest streak in NFL history, a streak that ended this past season due to a torn triceps. He’s regularly been in the conversation for best offensive lineman in the league and he’s done all this while playing for a franchise that certainly doesn’t deserve him. There’s a chance he retires this offseason, which would be a great loss for professional football and the Cleveland Browns. Joe Thomas is the only thing that fan base has to look forward to.

My pick: Joe Thomas. My jersey: Away White.

Image result for joe thomas away jersey free use

 

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One Team, One Jersey: Cincinnati Bengals

With the beginning of a new year comes the beginning of a new series. I’ve spent hundreds of hours (not an exaggeration) enthralled in game film sessions, reading player profiles, scrounging through stat sheets and scanning the histories of all the NFL franchises. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. Welcome to One Team, One Jersey.

As a jersey collector and connoisseur, I am constantly expanding my repertoire and so I thought I should probably expand my search to all the teams of pro football. Buying every jersey I want would be too expensive though. Picking one for each team is reasonable and so became the idea that is One Team, One Jersey.

If you could only have one jersey from each NFL team, who would it be? There are a few ground rules:

The player you choose must have played for that team more than any other AND must have been on that team’s roster during the 2017 season.

Aside from that, it’s up to you what you prioritize: character, statistical production, championships, a combination of the three. Your call.

Who will you choose?

The Cincinnati Bengals have been on the struggle train for a while now, with seemingly no end in sight. A roster that at times has shown promise has been unable to pop out a playoff win. The team hasn’t won one of those since 1990, stifled by a host of draft busts such as Ki-Jana Carter and Akili Smith. With Marvin Lewis at the head for another few years fresh off a contract extension, that doesn’t look to change. A culture has been created in Cincinnati for dirty play, from notable players such as Vontaze Burfict, quite possibly the league’s dirtiest player, and Adam Jones. That culture cost them a playoff win in 2015, one of the weirdest endings to a football game you’ll ever see. With the game all but over, running back Jeremy Hill got stripped by young talent Ryan Shazier, giving Pittsburgh another chance. Vontaze Burfict went headhunting in the most crucial moment of the contest and Adam Jones just couldn’t help himself when it came to doing something stupid.

The Bengals have only seemed to embrace those with character issues by drafting Josh Shaw, who did this, and Joe Mixon, who did this. This is not to say the Bengals are the only team to do this. Plenty of teams have decided to give players with flawed histories a second chance, but they have done little to prevent this aggressive mindset from festering.

You can make an argument that Andy Dalton, the Red Rifle, is a jersey worth having, but the TCU product has yet to win a playoff game. He has made a career of chucking 50-50 balls to one A.J. Green and there are rumors Cincinnati may let him test free agency. If I buy a jersey, I want it to be one that will stay relevant and I don’t see Dalton staying relevant in Cincy or anywhere for that matter. He’s barely stayed relevant during his time there. He’s had a QBR over 60 once in his seven-year career and is coming off his worst campaign since his rookie season, completing a slice under 60 percent of his passes. In fact, you can make the argument the less you use him, the better he plays. In his best statistical season, he threw for only 3200 yards in 13 games. He had 386 attempts in those games, an average of about 30 per. The more he throws, the worse he performs. He’s not a play caller that can take over a game, which is what you look for your quarterback to do. I’ll pass on this misfire.

I’m sure someone out there wants to see Tyler Eifert’s name on this list, but the Notre Dame star has dimmed quite a bit in recent years. Coming off his third back surgery, his career highlights are likely behind him and the time when he was in the conversation as one of the best tight ends in football has passed. He had 13 touchdowns in 2015, quite an accomplishment for a tight end, but has played in only ten games since. In total, he has missed about two and half seasons worth of time because of injuries.

One of the best defensive lineman in the league, Geno Atkins has big moment potential. He has the impact of a game-changer. He has a high motor, a bull rush than can overpower a lineman of any caliber and a swim that can finesse nearly any double team. He’s also one of the best values you can find on the defensive line at a $9.5 million cap hit. Cincinnati grabbed him in the 2010 draft in the fourth round out of Georgia. He was the 13th defensive tackle taken. To get a player with the ceiling he has at that round is a steal for a franchise. He’s already set a franchise record in sacks with 12.5 (2012) and has had at least nine sacks in each of the past three seasons. He’s the player to fear on that defense.

But Atkins isn’t the only Georgia stud on the Bengals. One Adriel Jeremiah Green, drafted with the fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft, began his career with five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and has yet to miss a Pro Bowl since coming into the league and this despite a lingering injury history.

And look, maybe they should have taken Julio Jones, who wasn’t taken until the sixth pick that year, but A.J. Green might be the third best receiver in the game. He’s got the hands and leap made for the deep ball and no matter the coverage, A.J. Green always seems to be a safe bet. He has excellent sideline awareness and the type of vertical presence one associates with Calvin Johnson. Goal line fades were made for athletes like Green, someone who can simply outmuscle you and go over top of you, mano-a-mano. Green also has speed that defenses have to respect (recorded a 4.47 at the combine). Only making it more impressive is that Cincinnati has never given Green a solid number two. Marvin Jones hadn’t yet come into his peak when Cincy let him walk and just when they found a talent in Mohammed Sanu, who showed the potential of a one when Green missed time, Cincy let him go, too. The lack of weapons on offense has hurt this team and if it weren’t for Mr. Green, they’d have been bottom feeders long before now. Where A.J. goes, the team goes.

It’s possible Green might be on his way out, too. 2018 is the final year of his four-year, $60 million extension and he’ll be 29, but it’s also true that he’s been one of the most dominant players at his position for five plus years now. To be honest, Cincinnati doesn’t have much else going for them.

My pick: A.J. Green. My jersey: Home Black.

Image result for aj green home jersey free use

 

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Movie Review: The Conjuring

Image result for the conjuring movie poster free useJames Wan’s 2013 novella was beloved by audiences, conjuring over $300 million and becoming one of the highest-grossing horror films in cinematic history.

As I’ve made my way through the depths of horror these last few years, I’ve found a lot of duds, the type of garbage that turned me off to the genre at an early age. I’ve also found some crystals such as Cabin in the Woods, Sinister, The Babadook and The Shining, films that demonstrate tension, creativity and imagination. These are the type of productions that keep the category alive. We need more of them.

The Conjuring, through and through, is an ode to original horrors such as The Exorcist, playing on high wires, shredding one’s nerves against a grater and stretching them with a rolling pin like an experienced culinary maestro. Wan has a talent for this type of film making, pairing a fascination with cinematography with a genuine care for character. The widely known pitfalls of the niche are tactfully avoided by his pen strokes. (You’ll be hard pressed to find a misplaced horror trope.)

This isn’t to say The Conjuring is revolutionary in its innovativeness. Familiar imagery is often used to give us rather blatant gestures. Wan is not trying to finesse you. He’s going to come at you. Here, we’ll play a game of hide and seek in Rhode Island before unleashing the stops in the final third. A certain bar of patience is required, though I feel the apprehension to what we all know is coming is more than enough of a reason to stick around. We’re all toys in Wan’s fantasy. We’re just being played with.

The acting is capable though nothing dramatic. Most of its success is from its authenticity. Invested characters are key to an audience’s sympathy and involvement. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson bring intrigue to demon hunters and paranormal specialists, a concept that is rather difficult to take seriously without our acceptance of these leads.

I feel that directors of scare stories underappreciate the value a character brings to said moving picture, whether it’s a slasher flick or dramatic mind bending. Cynics, especially like myself, are looking for any opportunity to remove themselves from the equation, which spells, “Uh-oh” for horror creationists. An audience that is not slaved by the puppeteer is hard to frighten. They still feel they have control of the situation. That’s why drawing a line from your audience to a character is so important, whether that person is a protagonist or villain. Friday the 13th is great because that line is drawn from us to Jason. He embodies emotional trauma. It’s hard to watch a film like that and not get even a little uneasy. The same goes for Michael Myers and Halloween.

So when you start the film and find yourself asking why we’re spending what seems like forever on this family, that is why. It gives us time to get to know ourselves in this pattern.

This film contains little to no jump scares. Wan is not someone to dab in the trivial. Wan would prefer to throw elements into his pressure cooker and watch them slowly rise up until its overbearing, silently laughing like a mad scientist.

This is not the type of movie to scare the daylights out of you, nor tell you a whole lot about yourself. There are shades of destiny talk here and there between the Warrens but not much in form of storytelling is going on. It is, however, a nice stamp to add to your passport of horror trips if you’ve just begun your adventures. It dedicates itself to what the origins of this storytelling based themselves on: a slice of visual grandeur, a pinch of narrative bravado and a heavy sampling of anticipation.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.  

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Captain America: Civil WarDeadpoolAvengers: Age of UltronThe AvengersThe Babadook)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (SinisterOlympus Has FallenThe Cable GuyThe Cabin in the WoodsTears of the Sun)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (Ip Man 2Ip ManKong: Skull IslandThe InvitationHush)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Doctor StrangeJohnny MnemonicJason BourneSuicide SquadBatman Forever)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (Tommy Boy, Death NoteTrue Memoirs of an International AssassinThe Great WallRobin Hood)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesPower RangersUnderworld: EvolutionBatman & RobinBloodsport)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (Most Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of AngelsCenturionPlanet of the Apes)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (The Snowman, Avalanche SharksCatwomanThe GunmanThe Visit)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcastSabotage)

My score for The Conjuring: 84.

People might have hyped this up a tad too much for me to see it as a magnum opus, but it’s still clear that The Conjuring pulls its punches and waits for its characters’ most vulnerable moment before unleashing on them. James Wan is certainly a prodigy in the industry.

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