Mailbag Time and let's get this out of the way: I think Theo Epstein is a good general manager, for all the reasons we've heard a million times (developing players, pretty solid trade track record, etc.) I'm not a professional Theo-basher (you've read them and heard 'em on the radio -- the guy can't do anything right, he deserves no credit for the 2004 World Series, all the greatest hits), nor I do think the word "jeopardy" should be allowed in the same paragraph as "Theo Epstein's job" should the playoff walls come crumbling down happen in the next week.
And yes, I understand that the players should absolutely be held accountable for what we've watched in September (with a heavy -- think "Week 1 of the Biggest Loser" kind of heavy -- share of the blame on the pitching. Do you realize that the Sox are second in baseball in runs scored in September?). And if you want to throw a decent size of the blame pie at Terry Francona, I'm OK with it (though unless Francona has some ability to actually will good pitching performances out of these guys and has elected not to do so I'm not sure what he's supposed to do at this point).
But at the end of the day are we really going to blame Kyle Weiland, Tim Wakefield or Andrew Miller for being Kyle Weiland, Tim Wakefield and Andrew Miller?
Daniel Bard. Weiland. Carl Crawford (having one of the three or four worst seasons ever by a Red Sox outfielder). Erik Bedard. John Lackey (having the worst season ever by a Red Sox starting pitcher). Wakefield (probably could just write this and save us all some time -- the Sox starters have an ERA of 6.77 in September). Francona. Curt Young. Everyone is in play -- I'll even throw out the Curse of 93.7 (the Sox are 3-8 since the switch to FM).
But if I had to blame just one person for what would be a historic collapse, I'd have to point the ol' finger at Theo Epstein.
He took a risk with Bedard. Hasn't worked. He released Kevin Millwood, who hasn't been great in Colorado, but that 4.56 ERA and 1.31 WHIP looks pretty good next to Miller, Wakefield, Weiland and Lackey. Let's give Theo credit for Alfredo Aceves, but the reason Aceves can't be moved to the rotation is that there is no one in the bullpen who could come close to matching that level of performance. Well, Bobby Jenks ($6 million for a 6.32 ERA, 2.23 WHIP in 19 appearances) and Dan Wheeler (unable to stay healthy) were supposed to be those guys. Didn't happen.
Theo Epstein signed John Lackey and Carl Crawford to contracts that add up to nearly a quarter of a billion dollars. You could argue that -- at the time -- last Sunday's game vs. Tampa was the most important game of the season for the Red Sox. Carl Crawford was benched that day for Conor Jackson. You could now argue that very possibly Sunday's game in New York will be the most important game the Red Sox play this season. If the Red Sox had another breathing option there is no chance that John Lackey would be starting that game (and I'm still not convinced that he will).
I've been consistent since Day One that Crawford was a severe overpay (just doesn't get on base enough to be a $20 million player), but I think we can all agree that he's probably going to return to something close to the form that we saw in Tampa. But Lackey is an absolute disaster. We all knew he wasn't worth $82 million, but there was an understanding that Sox fans should expect 200+ innings a year, high teens in wins, an ERA in the mid-to-high 3.00's and security that a "big-game pitcher" would be on the mound when it mattered. That was the definition.
Instead what has happened is this: The highest-paid pitcher in Red Sox history is having the worst season by a pitcher in Red Sox history. John Lackey in 2010 looks like a bargain at this point. And let's not forget this: The Lackey signing was made, in no small part, because Daisuke Matsuzaka was injured (and awful when he did pitch) in 2009.
Epstein chased -- and overpaid -- Lackey to try and clean up what was already shaping up to be a serious mistake with Dice-K. I'm not sure how we look at the Daisuke contract -- is it $52 million or $103 million? -- but you could make the argument that the Sox have spent nearly $200 million on Daisuke and Lackey (and what's most astonishing about the performance of Crawford and Lackey this season is that it almost makes you forget about J.D. Drew and Daisuke -- just $25 million bucks down the drain).
And that is the biggest reason why the Sox find themselves in this spot. That is virtually no return (at least not since 2008) on $200 million. And that has paralyzed this team. How could the Sox go out and spend another $100 million on a pitcher when you've got $200 million tied up in 40 percent of the rotation? That meant no shot at Cliff Lee (who has as many shutouts this season as Lackey does quality starts) or any other guy who could at least be a "leave alone" pitcher in this rotation.
Is there enough sample size to maybe suggest that Theo is really good at some parts of this job (farm system, finding productive free agents on the cheap, trades) but really lousy when it comes to high-priced, long-term free agent deals? After Drew, Dice-K, Lackey, Lugo, Clement and Crawford I think it's OK to call this one. And if I'm John Henry there is no way I'd ever let Theo spend another $100 million on a free agent. It makes no business sense.
A good general manger? Sure. But if the Sox miss the playoffs, the blame has to start with Theo Epstein.
An all-Patriots mailbag this week, as we look at Tom Brady vs. Otto Graham, Tom Brady vs. Dan Marino, Bill Belichick vs. Don Shula and Tedy Bruschi vs. Tom Jackson. Also we rank the all-time Butterfaces and defend Danny Woodhead. All this plus the Week 3 NFL picks.
To the 'bag we go ...
The 2011 Patriots remind me of a dating a super-hot girl. Everything is great, every minute you are with her life seems good. But deep down, you don't trust her and know she's going to break your heart.
A: Nah, that doesn't work. Too many flaws defensively. The 2007 Patriots are a better fit -- almost perfect but you just had a feeling that it wasn't going to end well (particularly over the last six weeks or so). The 2011 Patriots aren't anywhere close to a "super-hot girl" -- I'd throw them in the Butterface category (Butterpassrush? Buttercornerbacks?)
(My all-time top three Butterfaces? Fergie, Hilary Swank and Sarah Jessica Parker. The first shot of Sarah Jessica Parker in a bikini in "Honeymoon in Vegas" is the Butterface equivalent of Wilt scoring 100 points in a game, or Bob Beamon jumping 29 feet, two inches. Total game-changer that will never be matched.)
Even with the turnovers the defense looks real shaky. The secondary is in trouble with Chung, Arrington, and Dowling going down. Arrington is going to get killed if he keeps trying to tackle like that. Josh Barrett looks like crap.
A: Yup, I still have zero faith in this secondary. I think McCourty will be fine (though it's not unusual for a young corner to take a step back in Year Two), but Arrington, Bodden and the safeties are a very real concern. And if we don't see at least a semi-consistent pass rush I wonder why this defense will be any different than the 2010 group.
The only “lucky” turn-over was the Tolbert fumble. The TOs were good defensive reads and plays and of course getting the ball back on downs after the goal line stand. The secondary did a good job covering most SD receivers except Jackson … and at 6’5″ and incredibly athletic, Jackson is almost impossible for someone McCourty’s size to cover. When you think back over the game it was really only the Rivers/Jackson hook-up that the Pats D had a tough time with. Otherwise, few other SD receivers were making big catches and the Pats D took away the SD running game.
I think we all want to see a more effective pass rush, but you have to credit both the SD O-line and Rivers. One of Rivers talents is his mobility in the pocket and his ability to wait until the last second to throw the ball. The Chargers have a very potent offense in Rivers and his receivers and they should have one of their better seasons this year.
But the classic difference between the two teams is BB coaches a smarter team and stresses fundamentals better than anyone else, especially Norv Turner. Pats players make fewer mental errors and know how to take care of the football.
A: That's kind of the point though, isn't it? Sure, we can give credit to the Patriots for the turnovers, but if you want to look at this team from a "Can they win a Super Bowl?" perspective they are going to have to beat two or three quarterbacks at least as good as Rivers (think Roethlisberger, Rodgers or Brees). You have to figure at some point one of these guys will play a clean game. And when I see the NFL's worst third-down defense last year allow the Chargers (with apologies to Chad Henne) but Test No. 1 of the season for this defense) to go 10-of-12 it's not exactly a sign that things are improving. Sorry, I heard all the "scrappy and opportunistic" crapola last year. Didn't work. They need to get to the quarterback and get off the field on third down.
Marino had a number of great games in September. If the Pats defense doesn’t get much better before December, Brady will never get that last elusive Super Bowl, and Belichick will be on the verge of becoming Don Shula –a great coach who won Super Bowls early in his tenure never to get back on top despite a Hall-of-Fame Quarterback
A: Brady is secure, Billy. Mt. Rushmore. Three Super Bowls, two MVP's and two of the five or six best seasons ever by a quarterback? Come on. But I do agree that he needs a fourth Super Bowl to put the Greatest Ever argument away. Looking at Shula's record, he had an NFL Championship and two Super Bowls by the time he was 43 years old (Belichick was 43 years old when he got whacked by the Browns). Shula coached 22 more years, had exactly two losing seasons over that span (his only two in 33 years of coaching) and never won a title again. So yeah, if Belichick coaches until 2026 and doesn't win another Super Bowl we can call him another Don Shula (I can think of worse things to be called, like another David Shula).
Brady's great, but come on. He’s no Otto Graham. First ten years in pro football (after a little military service for WWII) he leads his team to 10 straight championship games – winning seven! Also, found time to play one season of pro basketball winning a championship that season as well.
A: Well, Brady did average 12.6 points and 6.3 rebounds for the Team Ugg in the Metrosexual League in 2009. Look, I can't compare Graham -- great though he obviously was -- to Brady. Too many variables. It's like trying to compare Daniel Day-Lewis to Charles Laughton (both were lousy quarterbacks), just different languages. When I talk about Brady potentially being the best ever at his position, I'm referring to the modern era. And he's as good as any I've ever seen, and if he wins another MVP and the Pats win the Super Bowl I think the debate is closed.
Woodhead's days are numbered, the guy can't pick up a blitz. With the TE’s emerging, BJGE, and Ridley in the mix, what is Woodhead's role?
A: The Kevin Faulk comparisons end when we get to blocking, huh? I thought Woodhead had improved as blocker as last year went on -- and he did a nice job picking up a Karlos Dansby blitz on Brady's first TD pass to Welker in the Week 1 win at Miami -- but he had a rough day Sunday, getting beat badly twice. You can have all the spunk in the world (that sounded better than it looks) but when you are Woodhead's size that is going to happen. And he isn't an every-down back. But this is a guy who is averaging 5.3 yards per carry with the Patriots. Maybe Ridley steals a few carries away, but Woodhead is going to be a significant player in this offense.
Tweeting is "attention on me" by idiot sportswriters who don't have the brains to write a real sports story. Not the Patriot Way.
A: And that's why I don't write for Patriots.com, Paul. The Patriot Way doesn't apply to me. If you really feel the need to read someone who wants to be part of that, there is no shortage of Belichick back-slapping going on in the local media. And a lot of it is deserved, clearly, but sometimes I wonder what these folks are going to do if things get ugly. Anyway, plenty of pro-Bruschi feedback this week, and that's OK. He was a great Patriot. (I'm frankly getting a little tired of having to preface all Bruschi bashing.) But he was wrong last week. He behaved like an angry teammate and not an analyst for ESPN. And the argument that he was trying to motivate Ochocinco is a complete joke. Weren't we all (correctly) killing Tom Jackson when he played the Motivation Card with the Jets in January?
Week 3 NFL picks
CINCINNATI (-2) over San Francisco
CAROLINA (-3) over Jacksonville
Detroit (-3) over MINNESOTA
Denver (+8) over TENNESSEE
CLEVELAND (-3) over Miami
NEW ORLEANS (-4) over Houston (lock of the week)
Kansas City (+15) over SAN DIEGO
ST. LOUIS (+4) over Baltimore
Jets (-3) over RAIDERS
Atlanta (+1) over TAMPA BAY
SEATTLE (-3) over Arizona
Green Bay (-3) over CHICAGO
INDIANAPOLIS (+11) over Pittsburgh
New England (-9) over BUFFALO
Last Week: 9-7
This Season: 13-19