Archive for November, 2011

Running to Punish – Jackson vs. Lynch

Just try and tackle Steven Jackson

This article can also be found on Missouri Sports Magazine: http://missourisportsmag.com/?author=17

St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson doesn’t just run the football to get yards; it looks like he runs the football to punish defenses.  Jackson runs the ball fast, but he also runs the ball hard.  If you’re a secondary player, the last thing you want to see is that Rams helmet and long hair sticking out the back, and a #39 jersey running full speed your way.  Just ask the last three teams the Rams have played – he’s run for 417 yards in the last three weeks.

Seattle Head Coach Pete Carroll said, “Yeah, he looks great, man. He looks great and it’s no coincidence that they’re 2-1 (in their last three games). They could have won another game too with him on the rise like this. He’s such a fantastic player. I’ve watched this guy and played against him for years, way back in college and all that. He’s always been the same guy that just…he’s the only guy you can see on the field when he’s playing. So, we’ve got our hands full with this. The fact that he’s stacked up three big games in a row and they’re getting their confidence and they’re roaring off the football, that doesn’t help us at all. It’s going to be tough.”

Jackson plays running back like a linebacker, and is now – despite missing time with a thigh injury – seventh in the league in rushing yards (707 yards, 88.4 average, 4 TDs) before Thursday night’s game.  And he’s done that without having more than two 40+ yard runs, meaning he’s banging those yards out.

But there’s another running back in the league that plays that same way, and he just happens to be in the same division as Jackson.  Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch is a bruiser, himself.  Lynch has run for 244 yards in the last two weeks, and last week pounded out more than 100 yards against the second-best run defense in the league – the Cincinnati Bengals (86.8 run yards against per game).  After a slow start (507 yards on the season, 63.4 average, 5 TDs), he’s showing the kind of runner he can be.  Carroll said, “I think he’s just working with the guys. We’re all growing together at the same time kind of. Again, you can’t get any younger than these guys are, but they’re figuring it out. He’s hitting runs well as they give him the opportunities and we haven’t always been doing that. I think it’s just he’s taking advantage of their growth and the progress they’re making.”

Lynch breaks free from Baltimore's defense (AP/Ted S. Warren)

The Seahawks are trying to reinvent themselves as a running team.  Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson said, “That’s what we’re hoping for. We want to be able to run the football whenever we feel, something that we can hang our hat on. The history that (Offensive Line/ Asst. Head) Coach (Tom) Cable has in the run game is pretty good, so we want to make sure we keep that going and we know that he knows what he’s doing. We’ve just got to trust him and the guys have been trusting him the last couple weeks and we’ve been doing a better job. We want to be able to run the football, then just do everything off the run.”

Carroll agreed, “You know, this is a very young (offensive) line and it’s taken us some time. I don’t think we’ve arrived by any sense, but we’re getting better and coming off the ball with more confidence. We’ve run the ball the last two weeks against two very difficult defenses in Dallas and Baltimore. We take that into account that those guys are about as physical of a style that you could play. One’s a 3-4 team, one’s a 4-3 team more so. So we’re getting better.”

Looking at the two backs you might give Steven Jackson the edge over Marshawn Lynch.  But the Seahawks have done well against the run this year, ranked 12th in the NFL with an average of 106.4 yards allowed per game.  They haven’t allowed a run longer than 40 yards all season long.  But they haven’t seen a banger like Jackson yet.

For the Rams, it’s been well-documented – they’re the worst run defense in the league statistically (150.6 yards allowed per game).  They’ve done much better the last few weeks; Chris Ogbonnaya’s 90 yards is the most they have allowed a runner since DeMarco Murray’s 253 yards in Week 7 for Dallas.  Pete Carroll thinks they’re underrated.  “Yeah,” Carroll said, “they had that game against Dallas that threw everything out of whack. All those yards went up and that day on the big runs. Listen, we know this is a good solid group that knows how to do the things on the line of scrimmage. This is a physical tough group that attacks the heck out of you. I think their numbers are skewed from that game in particular.”

Steven Jackson and Marshawn Lynch will go head-to-head this weekend in St. Louis.  Both teams are coming off big wins, ones they want to build off of.  And they’ll be counting on their punishing running backs to put their teams on their backs.

The Rams (2-7) come home Sunday to host the Seattle Seahawks (3-6) at 3:05 CST.

Hitchcock Takes Over the Blues

Ken Hitchcock with Jason Arnott and David Backes (Getty Image/Mark Buckner)

To see the original article from Missouri Sports Magazine, follow this link: http://missourisportsmag.com/?p=40651

ST. LOUIS, MO. (Joe Richter, Missouri Sports Magazine) – If you don’t think the St. Louis Blues are serious about winning, just ask Davis Payne.  If there’s an automatic positive out of the Blues relieving their head coach, Payne, of his duties, fans won’t have to put up with all the bad puns from sportswriters (and “House of Payne” puns from marketers).  There’s another positive: Payne’s replacement, Ken Hitchcock, is a winner.

My initial reaction upon hearing the news Sunday night of Payne’s release was “wow, the Blues aren’t messing around.”  They obviously want to reward their fans for continuing to support the team despite years of playoff absences.  Blues GM Doug Armstrong went out and added lots of playoff-experienced players such as Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner to supplement the young talent.  And now they added a coach with the same credibility.

The numbers don’t lie.  Hitchcock brings a career record of 534-350-88-70 (for a .588 winning percentage) to the Blues.  He won the Stanley Cup in 1999.  His teams have accrued more than 100 points in a season an astonishing eight times – and many of those were before the current procedure of shootout winners getting two points, instead of settling for a one-point tie.  Hitchcock has six division titles, as well as nine 40-win seasons.  Are you convinced yet?

Ok, chew on this, then.  When asked about what it will take to fix the Blues power play problems (last in the NHL), he said, “One practice.”  I got chills.

Davis Payne has given us some good hockey since taking over; he leaves the Blues with a 67-55-15 record (6-7-0 this year, with most of those games on the road).  At the age of 41, he was one of the youngest coaches in the league.  At age 59, Hitchcock is now the second-oldest coach in the league.  Age isn’t the end-all for a coach, but experience might be – especially in the playoffs.

Not that there was a lot of nonsense going on with Payne as coach, but a no-nonsense coach (Hitchcock) is exactly what a young team needs.  Former Blues star and Stanley Cup winner with Hitchcock’s ’99 Dallas Stars, Brett Hull, expressed that very sentiment.  Hey, if he got Hullie to change his game to fit his system, I would hope he can get the best out of players like Patrik Berglund, TJ Oshie, and Chris Stewart – who have underachieved at times this season.  Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets is a perfect example of a Hitchcock getting a young player to blossom under his tutelage.

Another aspect of Hitchcock is his ability to get the best out his goalies.  And if there’s anything the Blues need more, let me know.  Jaroslav Halak has been perhaps the biggest underachiever on the team.  True, the team hasn’t played its best in front of him, but we all know Halak is better than he has played.  Looking at some of the goalies that Hitchcock has worked with, they have had some of their best seasons under his system.

We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves; the Blues have a long season staring them in the face.  It will take time to really get things together for the new coach.  But five games in a row at home, along with six of their next seven, should give “Hitch” a chance to get organized.

At least he might be able to fix that blasted power play.  And at least he might be able to make the team serious about a playoff run.  The fans are serious, and now the Blues proved they’re just as serious.  It’s time to win.

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