The Oakland Raiders had the option of selecting highly touted wide receiver Calvin Johnson or quarterback JaMarcus Russell as their No. 1 pick in the 2007 NFL draft, and selected Russell, who ended up being categorized as a “bust.” But now Russell is attempting a comeback, according to Yahoo! Sports.Russell’s last snap came in 2009 with the Raiders, but he has been away from the NFL for the last two seasons. He received tryouts from the Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins in 2010, but now finds himself trying to resurrect what once was deemed as a promising career.“My first year out, I couldn’t watch football, but after a while, I couldn’t keep the TV off,” Russell said in an interview with Yahoo! Sports. “I got that itchy feeling but now I gotta watch it, gotta watch.”The 27-year-old Russell was heavily criticized throughout his collegiate and professional career for his weight. When he entered the league he was 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds. He has picked up even more weight since his absence. Now Russell has dropped from 320 to 308 pounds by focusing on his cardio conditioning in the last six weeks.“The last few years, the things going through my life, football is my job and it is how it feeds my family,” he said. “People would say (that) I didn’t love the game but that pisses me off. People don’t know the real you, but I want people to know the real me and see what I can do. People are always saying that I’m a bust. I want show them I’m not. I’m committed to this now.”The next couple of months will be one of Russell’s biggest tests of commitment to reclaiming his future in the league. He will work with a plethora of former NFL players and personnel to get into better physical shape and retool his memory. Jeff Garcia, Marshall Faulk and Olympian Ato Boldon are some of the people he will be working with.Russell will still need to prove that he has changed from the man who was arrested in July 2010 for possession of codeine syrup without a prescription.“I’m not looking for a pat on the shoulder from people who haven’t been there for me,” Russell said.One step that Russell has taken is speaking to youth groups about his arrest and poor decision making.But he is determined that the decision to make a comeback will be the right choice in the long run.“It’s going to feel good to go back out there again,” Russell said. “I will make this happen.”
Charles Barkley supports Colin Kaepernick’s stance but says there are repercussions. (Brent N. Clarke/FilmMagic/Gary Melendez for ESPN/The Source)Charles Barkley is usually one to go against the grain of resistance, but when it comes to Colin Kaepernick’s continued free agency, he’s singing a different tune.“The dude is getting blackballed because he’s messing with [NFL owner’s] money,” Barkley said at the National Association of Black Journalists conference Thursday, Aug. 10, according to Marc J. Spears of “The Undefeated.”Kaepernick drew criticism last season when he sat down and later took a knee during the national anthem to protest Black oppression and, at the time, Barkley wanted more to be done.“Everybody’s engaged already,” Barkley told the Bleacher Report in October. Everybody’s talking about it and know about it. I’m just a bit more big on action. Once you get off your knee, like, ‘OK, what are you doing?’ Because football season is going to be over soon. And the question is: How long do you do it? When is it over?’”Kaepernick, who opted out of his contract with the San Fransico 49ers in March, reportedly has decided he won’t protest this season, but he has yet to be signed to a new team. The quarterback has been keeping busy giving to charity and discovering his roots in recent months and hasn’t commented publicly on his circumstance.Barkley, however, has weighed in regularly on the matter.“I think what Colin has done has been awesome,” Barkley said during a call-in interview on “The Dan Patrick Show” Wednesday, Aug. 9. “I think his cause is terrific, but there are ramifications and he’s paying for those. For every action, there’s a reaction. You look at the greatest athlete of all time, Muhammad Ali. When he didn’t go in the draft, there were ramifications. He didn’t get to fight for three years. So, as noble as what Colin is doing — and it’s very noble — but there are consequences. … It’s very unfortunate, but when you take a stance on certain things, there is a price to pay. It’s that simple.”
1986NYG23.84DEN11.310+12.5 1987WAS5.311DEN17.54-12.2 Source: EdjFootball 2003NE31.23CAR1.216+30.0 2012BAL8.311SF23.85-15.5 1993DAL28.02BUF-2.919+30.9 2000BAL23.35NYG14.110+9.2 Philadelphia59.474.082.0 2008PIT30.1%2ARI-11.5%22+41.7 2013SEA43.71DEN27.02+16.7 1991WAS52.41BUF21.13+31.3 1997DEN23.46GB36.61-13.2 1996GB34.31NE13.49+20.9 The main reason for the Patriots’ mediocre start to the season was the defense. New England actually allowed more than 400 yards of offense in each of the first six games but has done that just once in the past 12 games, including the playoffs, and has conceded more than 20 points just twice.The improvement in defensive coordinator Matt Patricia’s unit has been real, but the Patriots still rank only 22nd in weighted defensive DVOA because they continue to allow a lot of successful plays. The 2017 Patriots have one of the most statistically unique defenses that we have ever studied. They are 32nd in yards per drive allowed but still rank sixth in points per drive allowed. No other defense since the latest league expansion in 2002 has ranked in the top 10 in points per drive allowed while ranking 26th or lower in yards per drive allowed. The Patriots were able to accomplish this with an extreme bend-but-don’t-break style of play. While part of this reflects New England’s red-zone defense that ranks second in points allowed per red-zone appearance, it’s also a matter of real estate. The Patriots’ opponents have the worst starting field position in the league thanks to New England’s strong special teams and ball security on offense — so there are more yards for offenses to gain against this unit. Still, the defense has managed to keep scoring down and is even doing this with just one takeaway in the past six games.You also can say that the Patriots have had some good fortune on defense this year. Opposing kickers missed nine field goals against the Patriots for a success rate of 71.0 percent, the second lowest against any team in 2017. New England has also controversially benefited from a few touchdowns overturned by replay — against the Jets (Austin Seferian-Jenkins), Steelers (Jesse James) and Bills (Kelvin Benjamin).Lest we forget, the Eagles finished 2017 ranked fourth in offensive points per drive. Foles threw four touchdowns against the Giants and just shredded a superior Minnesota defense in the NFC Championship Game for 352 yards and three touchdowns. If head coach Doug Pederson can devise another good offensive game plan, the Eagles could be poised for another big night of scoring against a suspect defense.Stat No. 3: Under PressureThese were two of the best offenses at handling pass pressure all season long, though Wentz hid a lot of Philadelphia’s protection problems with his mobility. Foles is not nearly the same threat in that regard, and he’s also not playing as well as Brady has been under pressure, which we highlighted a few weeks back.Using a scatter plot from ESPN Stats & Info, we looked at how teams fared under pressure by comparing their Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) to their average air yards per pass attempt (how far the ball traveled relative to the line of scrimmage). Not only were the Patriots and Eagles among the top three offenses in QBR, but they were also among the five most vertical offenses when pressured, both averaging just shy of 10 air yards per attempt. SplitTeamQ1Q2Q3 Stat No. 2: Defensive DVOAFor the season, the Patriots rank 31st in defensive DVOA, and that could ultimately be their undoing this week. Our study of Super Bowl winners has shown that no team since at least 1986 has won a Super Bowl with a defense ranked lower than 25th in this metric. Atlanta came really close a year ago, but the 26th-ranked defense eventually wore down against the Patriots in the Falcons’ 28-3 collapse in Super Bowl LI. The 2011 Patriots also came close with the 30th-ranked defense, but Eli Manning led the Giants down the field for another game-winning drive in Super Bowl XLVI. Teams don’t require great balance to win a Super Bowl, but having the No. 1 offense and No. 31 defense like the 2017 Patriots makes them the most unbalanced Super Bowl team in more than 30 years. 2010GB25.14PIT38.42-13.3 1992DAL40.61BUF10.69+30.0 Game winning chance 2016NE33.01ATL19.94+13.1 Philadelphia68.470.873.1 Brady in particular has really taken to throwing deep with defenders bearing down on him. Since 2015, Brady leads all quarterbacks by averaging 10.28 air yards per pass attempt while pressured, according to ESPN Stats & Info. In 2017, Brady has clearly been leaning toward the left portion of the field on passes thrown more than 15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. He has thrown for 723 yards on 52 deep passes outside the left numbers, as opposed to 407 yards on 25 deep passes outside the right numbers.New England wide receiver Brandin Cooks leads the NFL (including the playoffs) with 381 receiving yards on passes to the deep left this season. He could be in for a big night against a Philadelphia defense that fared better in DVOA on passes thrown to the deep right (-10.8 percent) than the deep left (6.5 percent).Stat No. 4: The Predictable Game Script?In their previous seven Super Bowls, the Patriots have never scored in the first quarter. Every game was decided by 1 to 6 points, and either Brady or Eli Manning led a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime. This season, the Patriots and Eagles led the league in net points per drive, with 1.04 and 0.79 points respectively, and both are accustomed to playing with the lead, though the Patriots needed late game-winning touchdowns to topple the Steelers (in Week 15) and Jaguars in crucial matchups.We turned to EdjFootball, part of the EdjSports analytics site, for its Game Winning Chance probability data to see which team had the higher average win probability through each of the first three quarters of their 2017 games. 1999STL28.21TEN19.45+8.8 The biggest mismatches heading into a Super BowlSuper Bowls with the biggest discrepancy in weighted DVOA since 1986 2007NYG2.617NE42.51-39.9 PostseasonNew England58.869.558.1 DVOADVOA 2001NE15.49STL21.94-6.5 2015DEN16.36CAR30.93-14.6 1994SF39.51SD7.78+31.8 TotalNew England70.177.276.5 Both teams are seldom in troubleThe average Game Winning Chance of each Super Bowl team at the end of the first through third quarters 1989SF42.91DEN18.84+24.1 YearWinnerWEIRankLoserWEIRankDIFF. This year, New England has a weighted DVOA of 33.6 percent, and Philadelphia is at 23.6 percent.Source: Football Outsiders Philadelphia69.670.472.0 1995DAL30.83PIT24.75+6.1 Seemingly everyone has a Super Bowl take or prediction these days — the football media is afforded 14 days to scrutinize two teams and dissect every facet of their matchup. But that doesn’t mean every useful bit of information has been presented on the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles. We dug into the databases of ESPN’s Stats & Information Group and Football Outsiders to find a few obscure statistical areas to highlight that could help predict Sunday’s showdown.Stat No. 1: Weighted DVOAThe key efficiency metric used at Football Outsiders is Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, or DVOA for short (explained here). For the season, the Eagles ranked fifth in DVOA (23.5 percent) and actually edged out the sixth-ranked Patriots (22.6 percent). However, when looking at weighted DVOA, which places less importance on early-season games — the ones when the Patriots couldn’t get off the field and Carson Wentz was launching his breakout campaign — things become much different. The Patriots finished No. 1 in weighted DVOA (33.6 percent) and were 10 percentage points higher than the No. 7 Eagles (23.6 percent).It makes sense for the Patriots to rank No. 1 in weighted DVOA. Four of their five lowest games by DVOA came in the first five weeks of the season. Their only loss in their last 14 outings was the Week 14 game in Miami. It also makes sense that the Eagles held steady between the two stats: Philadelphia had five games with negative DVOA in 2017, and four of them were the last four games of the regular season.It has taken some time to adjust from Wentz to Nick Foles at quarterback, but Foles and the Eagles were stellar in the NFC Championship Game against Minnesota. That game is not reflected in the 23.6 percent weighted DVOA for the Eagles, but as Neil Paine recently wrote, a dominant performance in the conference title round has not been predictive of success in the Super Bowl.Since 1986 (as far back as the data currently goes), teams with at least a 5 percentage point edge in weighted DVOA are 15-8 in the Super Bowl. That sounds good for New England, but consider that the two biggest upsets by weighted DVOA were the Patriots’ losses to the Giants in Super Bowls XLII (the Pats had a 39.9-point advantage) and XLVI (a 19.3-point edge). 2011NYG6.014NE25.33-19.3 2004NE32.83PHI20.47+12.5 Regular seasonNew England71.5%78.2%78.8% Including the playoffs, the Patriots hold a slight edge over the Eagles in each quarter, boasting an average Game Winning Chance of 76.5 percent to start their fourth quarters compared with 73.1 percent for the Eagles. However, the Patriots have had a rougher go of things in the playoffs; they held just a 16.2 percent Game Winning Chance to start the fourth quarter against Jacksonville in the AFC Championship. Of course, it sure felt like the Patriots would come back from that deficit more than 16 times given 100 chances, but that’s just because we’ve seen this play out so often.No matter how well the Eagles start this game, we know the Patriots have the ability to come back. To make matters worse, Philadelphia’s worst defensive quarter this season was the fourth quarter, in which its DVOA fell to 14th after ranking in the top five in each of the first three quarters. While the Eagles have some experience at holding big leads, they weren’t doing so against an experienced New England team with Brady and Belichick. The Eagles have to be able to exploit the holes in New England’s defense to put a big number on the scoreboard and keep Brady off the field as much as possible.
With the NHL playoffs starting this week, all eyes will be on the goaltenders, hockey’s masked men. A goalie’s time on the ice is a solitary existence, with flurries of activity punctuating long periods of inaction. Hockey has been called the ultimate team sport, but all too often the goaltender finds himself alone as the puck approaches.Because the goalie is a team’s last line of defense, it’s no surprise that strong performance in net is incredibly important to winning a hockey game. During the regular season, save percentage (the generally accepted shorthand measure of goaltending effectiveness) explains a higher proportion of team performance than any other fundamental factor1Think of hockey’s “Four Factors” as the following: generating shots (as measured by shots per game), scoring on a high percentage of those shots (shooting percentage), preventing opposing shots (shots allowed per game), and stopping shots (save percentage). Together, these factors explain over 99 percent of a team’s goals-per game-differential, which in turn explains 92 percent of point percentage (a team’s standings points divided by the total number of points available in its games). in hockey.2The measure of relative importance used here is the Lindeman, Merenda and Gold (LMG) method described in this paper. In NHL regular seasons since 1988, team save percentage has a 29.5 percent LMG value when regressed against goal differential/game, compared to 28.9 percent for shooting percentage, 24.0 percent for shots allowed/game, and 17.7 percent for shots/game. In the playoffs, the emphasis on goaltending only intensifies; save percentage is easily the most important determinant of a team’s goals-per-game differential in the postseason.3In postseason play since 1988, team save percentage has a 43.3 percent LMG value when regressed against per-game goal differential, compared to 34.9 percent for shooting percentage, 13.3 percent for shots allowed/game and 8.6 percent for shots/game. A hot goalie really is the key to a successful playoff run.But herein lies a great paradox: Despite goaltending’s outsize impact on the outcomes of hockey games, it’s extremely hard to say exactly which goalies are truly good or bad at their jobs.This perplexing point was raised by the authors of the 2010 book “Stumbling on Wins,” and it still stands today. Using Hockey-Reference.com’s adjusted version of the save percentage statistic, adjusted Goals Against Percentage (GA%-),4I used GA%- because it’s useful for historical analysis since it compares a goalie’s save percentage to the ever-changing league average. GA%- is scaled to represent the percentage of the league’s rate of goals per shot that a player allows, so lower is better. For example, a GA%- of 84, like Henrik Lundqvist had last season, means he allowed only 84 percent of the number of goals a league-average goalie would have allowed on the same number of shots. the correlation of goalie performance from year to year is so low5A correlation coefficient of 0.296, to be exact, for goalies who qualified for Hockey-Reference’s leaderboards in back-to-back seasons. that, in practical terms, only 30 percent of the difference we see between a goalie and the league average in any given season actually “belongs” to the goalie himself. The rest is just random.6So when Ottawa’s Craig Anderson led the NHL last season with a 67 GA%- (the second-lowest mark of any goalie since 1984), the best expectation of his talent going forward was still only a GA%- of 90 — the assumption being that the other 23 points of GA%- were probably due to random variance. (If you’re doubting that assumption, Anderson snapped back to earth this season with a 104 GA%-.)The poor correlation of save percentage from one year to the next also indicates that goalies are extremely volatile commodities. For instance, if a goaltender is above average in a given season, there’s only a 59.2 percent chance he’ll be above average again the following year. And if he’s below average now, don’t worry: There’s a 47.2 percent probability that he’ll be above average next season.7Some of this is admittedly due to selection bias; by zeroing in on goalies we knew had a “next season,” we’re implicitly weeding out the ones who played poorly and were never given another chance — presumably because scouts decided they were as bad as the numbers said. But the threshold to qualify for Hockey-Reference’s save percentage leaderboard is a mere 26 games in a normal season, so the selection effect shouldn’t influence the results too much.Take Brian Elliott of the St. Louis Blues. During the 2010-11 season, Elliott was the NHL’s second-worst qualified goalie — only Nikolai Khabibulin was less effective at stopping pucks — and in 142 career games he had a lifetime GA%- of 111 (which translates to 11 percent worse than league average). If any goalie seemed unlikely to play well in the future, it was Elliott, but the very next year he led the NHL with a 69 GA%- (31 percent better than league average), at the time the third-best single-season performance by any goalie since the NHL started tracking save percentage in 1984.8Elliott’s 2011-12 season now ranks fourth because Craig Anderson put up a 67 GA%- last season. And how did Elliott follow that brilliant campaign? By posting a below-average 106 GA%- last season, and a 90 GA%- this year.It’s the kind of thing that will spin you around faster than a Pavel Datsyuk deke.So is Elliott a good goaltender or not? We can say he is probably a slightly below-average netminder who happened to have an all-time outlier of a career year in 2012. But that’s just because we have a relatively large amount of data on him by now. His career GA%- is 103 after nearly 250 games and 6,000 shots faced. A goalie’s save percentage only begins to stabilize after facing around 3,000 shots, at which point we would expect half of his observed performance to be talent (the rest is still luck). The busiest goaltenders each year face roughly 2,000 shots, so it takes about a season and a half for GA%- to offer insight on even the biggest goaltending workhorses.This does not mean that there is no difference in talent among goalies. It just means there’s a great deal of uncertainty around how any one goalie compares to another, and that the distribution of talent among NHL-caliber goaltenders is significantly more narrow than would be expected from looking at season-level save percentages alone.9The spread of which is artificially inflated by luck in small samples. As a consequence, the “replacement-level” save percentage for goalies (to borrow a term from baseball’s sabermetrics, referring to the production a team could expect from a minimum-salary player freely available on the waiver wire) is remarkably close to league average.10In keeping with the ratios of cap dollars devoted to each position, a save percentage .006 below average is probably the optimal replacement level. In 2013-14, that would set the replacement level at .908, a number that was average just five seasons ago. This, too, is a product of the uncertainty surrounding the true talent level of any given goalie — with such high levels of volatility, teams don’t need to accept bad goaltending performances for long. Given what little information we have about any goalie’s actual talent, a backup is almost as likely to give above-replacement production as a struggling starter is.If chance overwhelms skill in an entire regular season’s worth of goaltending statistics, imagine what can happen in the playoffs, when the leading goalies face but 800 shots at most. The Vancouver Canucks have experience with this: Kirk McLean, a nine-year veteran with a perfectly average 100 career GA%- going into the 1994 playoffs, backstopped the team to within a win of the Stanley Cup on the strength of a stellar 78 GA%- in the postseason. So do Capitals die-hards: Olaf Kolzig led Washington to the Finals in 1998 with a playoff GA%- that was 27 points lower than his career average. And Mike Smith nearly did the same for the 2012 Phoenix Coyotes. Playoff history is littered with seemingly nondescript goaltenders who suddenly became incredible puck-stoppers come springtime.But history can also cut the other way. In 2001, the great Patrick Roy had a regular-season GA%- of 90 — 13th in the league, if slightly down from his peak numbers of a few years earlier — and during the playoffs he had one of the best performances of his career with a 75 GA%-, leading the Colorado Avalanche to the championship. The following year, Roy was quite a bit better during the regular season (81 GA%-), ostensibly setting himself up for another strong playoff bid. So what happened next? Roy put up a terrible 110 GA%- in the playoffs, capped off by an embarrassing, season-ending loss to Detroit in which he allowed six goals before being pulled from the game in the second period. In the minuscule sample of the playoffs, even Hall of Famers are at the capricious whims of variance.It’s something to keep in mind during this year’s playoffs. Just as we found the correlation for regular-season GA%- to be quite low from year to year, the correlation between a goalie’s regular-season and his playoff GA%- is even smaller, as is the correlation between his previous career GA%- and playoff GA%-. We can’t predict who will fluctuate, just that somebody likely will.It’s not just goalies who are unpredictable; hockey’s stats holy war over shot quantity versus shot quality has shown us that an offense’s shooting percentage is just as inconsistent. The whole sport is especially vulnerable to random fluctuations, something that shows up most once a puck starts moving towards the net.In 2008, an Edmonton fan named Brian King left a comment at a now-defunct Oilers blog suggesting that the best way to understand luck in hockey was to look at a team’s shooting percentage on offense and the collective save percentage of its goalies. If you combined those stats for a team, and compared them to the league average, you could tell whether a team had been lucky or unlucky — and how far it had to go to regress to the league’s mean. The metric became known as PDO (its namesake was King’s online pseudonym), and the more it strays from its baseline of 1.00 (above 1 means lucky; below, unlucky), the more likely the team’s record, and even its goal differential, has been tainted by randomness.A great deal of recent hockey research has shown that, if given a large enough sample, every team’s PDO will more or less regress toward the league average of 1.00. The big implication of PDO is that a team has virtually no long-term control over shooting percentage, just like it can’t predict the efficacy of its goalie. The key to good defense, then, is simply to keep the opposition from shooting, because it’s impossible for a goalie to maintain a consistently high save percentage.PDO can now tell us the extent of hockey’s chaos, but goaltenders have always grappled with the randomness of their position. In his classic book, “The Game,” the Montreal Canadiens’ Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden wrote that a goaltender’s mental focus is key:If you were to ask a coach or a player what he would most like to see in a goalie, he would, after some rambling out-loud thoughts, probably settle on something like: consistency, dependability, and the ability to make the big save. [ … ] Because the demands on a goalie are mostly mental, it means that for a goalie the biggest enemy is himself. Not a puck, not an opponent, not a quirk of size or style. Him. The stress and anxiety he feels when he plays, the fear of failing, the fear of being embarrassed, the fear of being physically hurt, all are symptoms of his position, in constant ebb and flow, but never disappearing. The successful goalie understands these neuroses, accepts them, and puts them under control. The unsuccessful goalie is distracted by them, his mind in knots, his body quickly following.Stats portray the goalie’s job as a nihilistic one. Chaos mounts, pucks fly, muscles react. What happens beyond that is so random that, as Dryden writes, the only way for a goalie to cope is to focus on what’s immediately in front of him: a stretch of ice with an ever-changing landscape of variables.
Yards / target8.67.7 YesNo Gronkowski on the field? Targets400100 Receptions27772 Air yards / target9.47.4 Completion %69.272.0 Brady needs GronkPatriots’ receiving stats, 2017-18 season through Week 15 First downs / target0.690.32 Plenty of things went sideways down the stretch of Patriots-Steelers on Sunday. Pittsburgh tight end Jesse James either did or did not make a go-ahead touchdown catch with 28 seconds left in the game, and Ben Roethlisberger definitely didn’t spike the ball with eight seconds remaining to set up a field goal that very likely would have tied the game 27-27 and sent the game into overtime. But uncertainties aside, one thing beyond argument was the unalloyed dominance of Rob Gronkowski in his return from a one-game suspension.Gronkowski had nine catches for 168 yards against a defense that had been determined to stop him. He caught passes with defenders draped over him and inaccurate throws from Tom Brady. He created space down the seam and made catches in traffic over the middle. He was a lot.Gronkowski’s return also made a noticeable difference for Brady, who had looked vulnerable without his tight end, especially when going deep. The Patriots have been without top wideout Julian Edelman all season after he suffered a season-ending ACL tear during the preseason, and they were also without receiver Chris Hogan on Sunday. And even though the Patriots showed last season that they can succeed — win a Super Bowl! — without Gronkowski,1Gronkowski missed the Patriots last five regular-season games and all three playoff games. Edelman doubled his per-game receiving average in the second half of the season and had 342 yards in New England’s three playoff games. Brady has struggled over the past several seasons when neither Edelman nor Gronkowski is on the field.Here’s how New England’s passing game has gone with and without Gronkowski on the field this season (which has, of course, played out entirely without Edelman): Yards3,429771 Source: ESPN Stats & information group Gronk’s effect as a receiver himself should be obvious enough — he’s an enormous target with sure hands. But the way he opens up the offense overall, or perhaps the way the offense contracts when he isn’t around, has a greater effect on the offense as a whole than even his impressive personal numbers suggest. While the receiving yards per target gained remain about the same when Gronk sits — yards per target fall from 8.6 to 7.7 — the average air yards per target fall off considerably, as do the team’s first downs per target. And even though Brady is excellent at short, quick passes, it’s not the same without Gronkowski eating up chunks of yardage and opening up lanes for teammates to do the same.Even with Gronkowski’s standout performance, the game came down to that chaotic final minute. Maybe it goes differently if Pittsburgh doesn’t lose its own driving-engine receiver, Antonio Brown, early in the game. There are a lot of mysteries about what could have happened in this specific game. But any doubts raised by New England’s loss to Miami in Week 14 seem to have been put to rest: Brady and the Patriots are still just fine, so long as Gronkowski is on the field.Check out our latest NFL predictions.
OSU coach Thad Matta yells out a play from the sidelines during a game against Michigan on Feb. 16 at the Schottenstein Center. Credit: William Kosileski | Lantern PhotographerLast season, the Ohio State men’s basketball team suffered from immaturity, poor play and a lack of accountability. During the offseason, the Buckeyes were focused on righting last season’s wrongs.Posting a 21-14 record last year, an 11-7 conference record couldn’t salvage early season losses to Texas-Arlington, Louisiana Tech and Memphis that paved the way to the National Invitational Tournament.This year, the Buckeyes have been emphasizing unity, and holding each player accountable for his contribution to the team. OSU coach Thad Matta said his unit will be focused on the parts they can play, and not on the talent of one player.“I think this team is going to be a team where guys are going to have roles,” he said. “And they’re going to have to embrace the role. They’re going to have to do their job every time they take the floor.”After struggling to find a rhythm early on, the Buckeyes found a groove in February last season, picking up four straight wins before a matchup against then-No. 6 Michigan State. Before the game, it was announced that then-sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate would miss the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury.The injury hurt the Buckeyes in all aspects of the game, since Tate is known for his scoring and rebounding ability after averaging 11.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in 2015. Lacking his fast-paced style of play, OSU lost two of its next three games, and was blown out in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament by Michigan State, before losing in the NIT.With Tate back and six of the leading scorers from last year’s team returning, Matta said he will be looking for his team to be more grown up as compared with the 2015 season.“It wasn’t what I wanted just in terms of the daily behavior, the daily way we carried ourselves last year,” he said. “The immaturity that we had last season at certain times was something that, hopefully, we learned we can’t have that going into this season because it can really cost us.”Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop was an instrumental player for OSU last season, averaging 11.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Although he contributed on both ends of the court last year, Bates-Diop said he and the rest of the Buckeyes have been focusing on the most minute details of the game that caused problems last year.“It’s the little things … last year was turnovers, free throws and a lot of stuff,” Bates-Diop said. “Just focusing on those things, running and making sure everyone knows the plays, the defensive schemes going into the season is going to be a huge thing for us.”The return of multiple starters has the Buckeyes and the OSU coaching staff eager to get onto the court. Following the conclusion of last season, OSU underwent a slew of transfers, affecting team depth and chemistry.Sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle is the only returning member of the 2015 recruiting class. Redshirt junior guard Kam Williams said the members of the team are hungry to improve their game and have a greater desire to win that was not present last season.“I say, this summer, everybody was eager to learn and everybody was highly motivated,” Williams said. “Obviously the way we finished last season was obviously not where we want to be. Each day, everybody came in with a chip on their shoulder, and we’re just trying to get better and prove people wrong every single day.”Problems with the team last season seemed to grow and fester, resulting in head-scratching losses and blowouts at the hands of Big Ten teams. OSU ranked 68th in opponent points per game, while registering a turnover margin of -1.1.That number put the Buckeyes in a tie for the 260th spot. To put into perspective just how much OSU turned the ball over, the Buckeyes had the third most turnovers on the Big Ten.Williams said issues that plagued the team last year have been addressed this offseason, and Matta and the team will not hesitate to fix any issues that arise.“We know when something is a problem,” Williams said. “We nip it in the bud as soon as we see it. I don’t think we did that last year. I think this team is a lot more mature than last year’s team by far.”The rebooted Buckeyes will get a chance to test their revamped approach against Walsh University in an exhibition game on Nov. 6 at the Schottenstein Center.
Coach Urban Meyer stands in front of the team before the Buckeyes take the field against Rutgers on Oct. 1. The Buckeyes won 58-0. Credit: Mason Swires | Assistant Photo EditorThe enterprise that is college football continues to grow with social media branding, television deals and other sources of revenue. All factors emphasize the importance of signing one of the best play callers in the country, but that comes at a price.On Wednesday, USA Today released a compiled database of the 2016 salaries of all NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision coaches. At the top were arguably the three best coaches in the NCAA: Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, Alabama coach Nick Saban and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.Meyer is ranked third out of 128 coaches with a 2016 total salary of $6,094,800.Meyer trails only Harbaugh and Saban, respectively, for the largest income of Division I coaches. Harbaugh tops the charts at $9,004,000, more than $2 million higher than Saban’s $6,939,395. USA Today lists Harbaugh’s maximum bonus at $1,325,000, while Meyer’s maximum bonus is $775,000.Not all of Meyer’s payment is coming from OSU. The school pays Meyer a maximum of $6,003,000, with all bonuses factored in, and Meyer received $91,800 for “other pay.” OSU said the $91,800 was meant to cover travel costs associated with outside engagements, and any leftover money was directed to the Shelley and Urban Meyer Family Foundation.The most recent outside-income form available to USA Today was due to be filed by Sept. 10, 2015, and lists Meyer as having generated a total of $801,450 in “cash and/or goods and services for charities.” That number includes $696,450 he raised for his family’s charity.Meyer had $250,000 of his possible bonuses paid in the 2015-16 season.
Ohio State redshirt junior center Trevor Thompson catches the ball on the block against Northwestern’s Dererk Pardon on Jan. 22 at the Schottenstein Center. Credit: Jacob Myers | Assistant Sports EditorOhio State survived a road game on Thursday — one could argue the Buckeyes stole it. The last thing the team needed was a flop at home against a Northwestern team that is currently projected in the NCAA field and on the cusp of being ranked in the top 25 — but flop is just what they did.Northwestern walked away from the Schottenstein Center with a 74-72 victory on Sunday. It marked the first time since 1977 the Wildcats beat OSU in Columbus.In the first half, OSU could not find its way to the charity stripe, as the Buckeyes had just one attempt from the free throw line — a miss from sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle. Even with some extremely physical defense on display from Northwestern, only one foul sent OSU to the line in the first.Even after having a lead, OSU allowed a 10-0 run and a 9-0 run in the first that erased the lead.The Wildcats were led by Scottie Lindsey, who racked up 21 points, who also lead the team with time on the court with 35 minutes. The Buckeyes had little answer for him, leading to the Wildcat win. OSU was led in scoring by junior forward Jae’Sean Tate, who earned 14 points. Sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle had 13 points, and hit two of his three 3-point attempts. “There was times in the game where we started on a run, but we just couldn’t capitalize,” Tate said following the loss. “First half, at the end we just didn’t work together as a team, and (Northwestern) got that little run. We just didn’t have it tonight.”OSU had a bit of a scare during the first half, as sophomore guard C.J. Jackson fell hard in front of the Northwestern bench and was helped to the locker room during a timeout, putting little to no weight on his right knee. He later returned, and finished the game with seven points and six rebounds, but was visibly limping for much of the game.Each side traded blows in the early goings of the second, before a 3 by Northwestern guard Bryant McIntosh brought the Wildcats’ lead to five with 13:59 left in the game.Contrary to the first half, Northwestern was guilty of a plethora of fouls, allowing 22 second-half chances at the line, and put the Buckeyes in the bonus with 12:29 left in the game. Of those, OSU converted just 12 for a 52 percent mark from the free throw line.Junior center Trevor Thompson took advantage of a noticeable height advantage over anyone was guarding him, pulling down 15 boards and picking up 11 points. Sunday marked his sixth double-double this season, all of which have been with points and rebounds.“It’s just frustrating,” Thompson said. “We have to play harder. Biggest thing, this last three games, has been competing, competing, competing. All in. There was moments today where we just split apart and wasn’t a team and didn’t compete.”A basket by Jackson with 9:05 remaining tied the game at 52-52, before he found space on the next possession in the right corner and nailed a 3 to give OSU the lead. Northwestern pushed ahead off back-to-back plays by guard Isiah Brown, who knocked down a tough layup before grabbing a steal and scoring on a fast break. After a Tate 3 from the corner and a defensive stop, the junior forward went to the line looking to tie the game, but missed one of his shots.After getting close, OSU fouled Northwestern on three separate trips, giving the Wildcats an easy chance to stretch out their lead. All six free throws were converted.“I thought our half court defense was pretty decent in terms of what we were trying to do and what we were trying to take away,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “But Northwestern’s too good to give them free points, that’s for sure.”OSU fought back with 3-point shots from Lyle and freshman center Micah Potter, and had the chance to pull within one after Loving made a layup and was fouled. But it wasn’t meant to be for OSU, as his foul shot clanked off the back of the rim, and Northwestern converted two more from the free throw line. The loss puts OSU at 2-5 in the Big Ten, and 12-8 overall. Northwestern is now 5-2 in conference play, and is 16-4 overall.The Buckeyes will face Minnesota at home on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in their next game
The Ohio State softball team (7-5) returned the bulk of its offensive production from last season, but through its first 12 games of the 2017 season, the best offense has come from a newcomer — sophomore shortstop Lilli Piper, an Akron transfer.Piper has made an immediate impact for the Buckeyes since her arrival before the season. She leads the team in hits, RBIs, multi-base hits and has the team’s second-highest slugging percentage.Before putting up those team-leading numbers, Piper had to adjust to a new environment and group of teammates.“It was almost like starting freshman year all over again,” Piper said. “I was kind of finding my niche in the program and what they wanted to do and what they wanted from me. I was just getting used to the girls, getting used to the team, making new friends and a new family.”Complicating matters, Piper wasn’t just switching teams, she was switching sports. Though she did play softball at Akron, Piper was on scholarship with the basketball team and spent extensive time on the hardwood.“Going from playing basketball year-round for years to stopping and completely switching was definitely another switch in my head that had to come on and a different mentality,” Piper said. “Playing both sports really helped me become the athlete and player today when it comes to softball.”The changes didn’t seem to hinder Piper. She earned a starting spot before the season, beating out freshman shortstop Amy Balich, and exceeded expectations at the plate. Before the season, OSU coach Kelly Schoenly said Piper proved she could handle the job defensively, but was waiting to see what she could add offensively. Obviously, she’s more than proven herself at the plate.Senior pitcher Lena Springer said she knew immediately Piper was going to add a lot to the Buckeye offense.“I actually thought that the first day of practice, when she first stepped foot on the field,” Springer said. “I remember I was throwing batting practice for her one day and I was like, ‘Woah, this kid’s got a bat.’”Despite the immediate success, Piper knows she must keep working, or she will lose her spot as quickly as she got it.“Every single day, every game you’re fighting for a spot on the field,” Piper said. “That’s what kind of pushes me, that nothing is guaranteed. So, coming out there it’s working every single day to be out on the field and earning the right to be on the field. That’s the mentality I had.”Piper will look to continue her hot hitting at the Central Florida Tournament, where the Buckeyes will face Georgia, Central Florida, Delaware State and Mercer.
Ohio State Utility player Noah McGowan (4) hits the ball foul during the sixth inning of Ohio State’s 2-1 win against Cal State Northridge in extra innings on Friday, March 16, 2018 at Nick Swisher field in Bill Davis Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. Credit: Ebo Amissah-Aggrey | Lantern ReporterThe Ohio State baseball team’s offense appeared dead at the start, but came alive ferociously in the fourth inning.The Buckeyes (19-8, 2-1 Big Ten) rode a tumultuous wave of momentum and held on for a 15-14 win against the Nebraska Cornhuskers (14-14, 2-4 Big Ten) in a crazy Easter Sunday rubber match at Bill Davis Stadium.It was an important series victory to open Big Ten play for the Buckeyes.“Next two weekends are gonna be on the road,” head coach Greg Beals said. “You need to win your home series.”The Cornhuskers responded to a 15-3 run by the Buckeyes that put Ohio State up 15-6 with eight unanswered runs to close the ball game. They had the tying run in scoring position in the top of the ninth with two outs, but senior Ohio State reliever Seth Kinker struck out sophomore Joe Acker to record his sixth save of the season.Junior catcher Jacob Barnwell started the offensive fireworks with a bloop single that fell into right field, scoring third baseman Conner Pohl.Sophomore right fielder Dominic Canzone laced a ball down the line two batters later, and the ball short-hopped a diving Mojo Hagge for a two-run double. He scored on a single through the left side by junior shortstop Kobie Foppe, ending a four-run Ohio State inning.In the fifth inning, Canzone drove a two-run single with the bases loaded to increase his team’s lead to 8-3.From there, the Ohio State batters continued to go ham on a variety of offerings from a smattering of Nebraska pitchers. Pohl punched a two-run single up the middle against freshman Paul Tillotson, then Barnwell sacrificed another home against junior Zack Engelken in the sixth.Senior first baseman Noah McGowan bounced a three-run blast off the top of the right-center field wall off freshman Max Schreiber in the seventh for his team-leading sixth home run of the season.“Hitting’s contagious,” Beals said. “Everything that happens in baseball is contagious.”Nebraska’s offense resurrected itself soon after with a five-hit, six-run eighth aided by a Pohl throwing error and a pair of walks. Kinker, arguably Ohio State’s best pitcher, entered to face Nebraska’s best hitter in senior Scott Schreiber. Schreiber represented the tying run with two outs, but Kinker was able to strike him out to end the eighth inning.“Throughout the series, you try to find a hole in someone’s swing. There wasn’t a hole,” Kinker said. “So I was thinking in my head ‘I don’t want to let this guy get his hands extended. If I’m gonna throw this slider, I need to throw it maybe for a strike but just out of the zone where he can’t do much with it.’” Schreiber provided the initial jolt for Nebraska with a two-run homer over the right field fence back in the top of the seventh, his third of the weekend to make it an 11-5 game.Ohio State and Nebraska combined for an incredible 41 hits on the day.Redshirt senior Adam Niemeyer recovered from his shaky start for the Buckeyes with a pair of eggs on the scoreboard in innings four and five. He finished allowing three runs on seven hits over five innings of work to earn his second win of the year.