Trott’s Departure One of Many Problems England Face Down Under

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Jonathan Trott’s weakness against the short ball in Brisbane hastened his exit from Australia with a stress related illness.

 

Just when it looked like England’s opening act in Australia couldn’t get worse, it did. Batting mainstay Jonathan Trott announced that he was leaving the tour for an indefinite amount of time due to a stress related illness that the team had known about and managed for some time, however the problem had been exasperated by the South African born player’s poor performance in the first test in Brisbane and had become unmanageable. Although Trott struggled mightily in that game where his weakness against the short ball exploited ruthlessly by Aussie fast bowler Mitchell Johnson, his record in an England shirt demonstrates just how crucial he has been to their success in recent years. In 49 test matches Trott has averaged 46.45 with the bat while striking nine centuries, including an Ashes winning ton on debut at the Oval in 2009. A one day average of 51.25 confirms his undoubted skill, with nearly all of his runs for the three lions made from the previously problematic number three spot in the batting order.

Of course the main concern in this whole episode should be for Trott’s well being, and speaking for myself I wish him a speedy return to health. But I also don’t know enough about stress related illness to comment insightfully about the situation Trott has found himself in, with the extent of my knowledge on the subject restricted to Marcus Trescothick’s autobiography ‘Coming Back To Me’. So opposed a less than perfect examination of Trott’s mental state I’m going to focus on the tangible effect his departure will have on the England cricket team,  who are currently reeling after being trounced by 381 runs this past weekend by Michael Clarke’s aggressive Australian outfit. Scores of 136 and 179 on a belting wicket will have embarrassed the England batsmen, rightfully so, and it’s now been 18 innings since the team passed 400 despite facing weak opposition such as New Zealand during that run. Trott, along with perhaps Alistair Cook, has been one of the rocks of the batting lineup in recent years and has helped sett the tone at the top of the order with not just centuries but the ‘Daddy tons’ which Graham Gooch preaches so earnestly to his disciples. What Trott lacks in flair he makes up for in substance, and he will be missed at first drop in the order even in spite of his current poor run of form.

The first question England coach Andy Flower must answer is who will replace Trott at number three in the lineup. Ian Bell has experience there for his country and following his stellar performances against Australia during the return series last summer he would be my preferred choice for the role. However rumblings in the press suggest that Flower is leaning towards Joe Root for the role, even though he was recently demoted from an opening berth and repositioned back at number six in the lineup. However Root’s less than impressive efforts against the new ball last summer should worry Flower, Gooch and company, for if the Aussies were to get an early breakthrough at Adelaide next week then they will surely smell blood and look to expose another weakness in the construction of England’s batting order. Perhaps the biggest problem the situation presents England with is the identity of the batsman who’d fill the middle order spot vacated by either Root or Bell. There are three choices, all of them less than appealing. Gary Ballance is yet to play in a test match and his scores in the warm up games were ordinary to say the least, all-rounder Ben Stokes is a novice at test level and his game with both bat and ball needs serious refinement, while Jonny Bairstow (my choice for the position) owns a mediocre test average of 30 over twelve games, suggesting he may not yet have the technique to compete at this level. Whomever England choose will have a lot to prove and while hindsight is 20/20 the decision to omit Nick Compton, who could slot straight in at three, from the squad could come back to haunt Flower and the tour selection panel.

At the risk of being pessimistic, following that first test dressing down the number three position is but one of many issues England need to address. Chris Tremlett displayed none of the pace and zip that made him such a success on England’s previous tour down under and in the second innings he was barely able to crack 80 miles per hour on the speed gun. While Tremlett took four wickets at the cost of 120 runs in the match he failed the eye test and if Tim Bresnan comes through the England Performance Program game starting tomorrow unscathed then he will almost certainly return to the team in Adelaide, replacing Surrey man Tremlett.

Another major worry for the visitors is the form of wicket keeper Matt Prior. The Sussex glove-man, like Trott and Cook, has been central to England’s success since Andy Flower took charge of the team in early 2009. However thanks to a calf strain picked up in the second warm up game he entered the Brisbane test thoroughly undercooked and it told with him being dismissed twice in poor fashion by Australian off-spinner Nathan Lyon. However to simply dismiss the Brisbane test as an aberration for Prior would be wrong. His last 15 scores stretching back to the start of the summer read as follows: 4, 0, 0*, 47, 0, 17, 30, 1*, 6, 31, 1, 4*, 39, 0, 0. In case you were wondering that’s an average of 15, and at 31 years of age it could be that Prior’s best days are in the rear view mirror. On a purely professional level Trott’s return home may have come at an opportune time for Prior, who could have seen his own place in the side come under scrutiny with more below par performances. However with Jonny Bairstow likely to replace Trott in the side Prior is as good as guaranteed his place for the rest of the series.

This isn’t to say Australia don’t have question marks of their own. Opener Chris Rogers and middle order batsman Steve Smith both failed to replicate their encouraging summer performances on the fast Gabba wicket. Mitchell Johnson remains unreliable and will maintain that designation until he produces consistent performances for an entire series. Johnson’s new ball partner Ryan Harris is an injury risk and could break down at any time. Yet the more I search for Australian weakness’s the more I feel as though I’m clutching at straws. England’s own problems are far more tangible and much easier to demonstrate with statistics. For example in six career test matches in Australia Graeme Swann has taken just 17 wickets at an average of 47.76. By contrast Australia’s own off-spinner Nathan Lyon has taken 40 wickets in 12 home test matches at an average of 31.82.

Statistics don’t tell the whole story and they don’t predict future performance. But they do give an indicator of what to expect based on past events. When you look at the above evidence there’s no denying England find themselves in a tricky situation, and the stats overwhelmingly suggest that they are a team in decline. But the same could have been said after the Ahmedabad debacle in India last year. On that occasion England came back from a disastrous first test to prevail 2-1 against all the odds. The same could well happen this time round. Unfortunately for England lightning seldom strikes twice.

Week 12 NFL Predictions

Manning V Brady XIV is the marquee match-up of week 12

Another Sunday is upon us, which means another slate of NFL games are on the horizon. Last week saw the last undefeated team in the league, Kansas City, lose that distinction, having been beaten by Denver in the Rocky mountains. In this weeks marquee match-up those same Broncos will take on New England in the fourteenth instalment of Manning V Brady. Here’s my take on that game and all the other NFL action on tap for this weekend.

New York Jets @ Baltimore

The Jets have been a nightmare to predict this season thanks to their incredible inconsistency, leaving me with a tough decision to make as they take on the Ravens this week. Baltimore suffered a tough overtime defeat in Chicago last Sunday during that weather affected game, while the Jets were blown out by the Bills. With neither team in resounding form the fact that Baltimore are at home and have a better quarterback  tilts me in their direction. Jets 17, Ravens 28

Pittsburgh @ Cleveland

Both of these teams enter week 12 at 4-6 and three games out of Cincinnati in first place in the AFC north with their play-off hopes rapidly fading. Coming off a surprising win against the Lions Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers have a bit of momentum coming into this one, and while Cleveland have been steady if not spectacular since Jason Cambell took over at QB it’s difficult seeing them outscoring the Pittsburgh offense if it can replicate last weeks Antonio Brown led outburst. Steelers 23, Browns 14

Tampa Bay @ Detroit

All of a sudden the Lions are under a bit of pressure to win this game following their aforementioned let down against Pittsburgh last week,  and with the Buccaneers on a two game winning streak they’ll be wary of the threat they pose. Mike Glennon has been widely praised for his performances under centre for Tampa Bay, but he’ll have a tough assignment here as the fearsome Detroit defensive front bears down on him. At home it’s hard to look past Detroit in this one, but expect the Buccaneers to put up a fight in the motor city. Buccaneers 20, Lions 30

Minnesota @ Green Bay
 
In normal circumstances the Packers would  be heavy favourites to beat the Vikings at Lambeau field, but with Aaron Rodgers walking wounded and Scott Tolzien struggling in his place Minnesota will be sniffing an upset. However I don’t think the Vikings have enough to genuinely trouble Green Bay, who know shutting down Adrian Peterson and putting the ball in Christian Ponder’s hands will be key. So long as Tolzien doesn’t have too much to do and can just hand the ball of the Eddie Lacy the Packers should pick up the win and head into Thanksgiving with a 6-5 record. Vikings 17, Packers 24

Jacksonville @ Houston

One of these teams was expected to be terrible in 2013, the other not so much. But terrible they are, and absolutely no one should choose to watch this game over any of the other early kick-offs unless they’re being held at gun point. The Texans just appear to be in such a mess, with a quarterback controversy spawned by Gary Kubiak’s decision last week to bench Case Keenum for Matt Shaub mid-game. The Jaguars are a bad, bad team but they know this is a prime opportunity for them to pick up win number two of the season. The Texans are so hapless I can actually see that happening. Jaguars 21, Texans 14

San Diego @ Kansas City

The Chiefs ability to bounce back from their first defeat of the season will be tested here, although their AFC west rivals San Diego have been on a poor run of form lately and lost to Miami 20-16 last week. Going into Arrowhead is a tricky proposition for any visiting team, and although Kansas City were beaten in Denver they gave a good account of themselves and their excellent defensive unit should be able to keep the Chargers stuttering offense in check enough for Alex Smith to lead them back to winning ways. Chargers 13, Chiefs 24

Carolina @ Miami

This is a classic trap game for the Panthers, travelling to play Miami on the road after a statement win over New England on Monday night. With Carolina on a short week and on the road they could come unstuck in South Florida, but with a stellar defense and Cam Newton playing the best football of his career they should, on paper, have enough to deal with those obstacles comfortably. The Dolphins know they need a win to keep pace in the AFC east, but they couldn’t have asked for a more difficult game and the Panthers should reinstate their credentials as a major contender in the NFC despite coming off a short week. Panthers 26, Dolphins 21

Chicago @ St. Louis

The Rams have emerged this season as the ‘ugly sister’ of the NFC west, lagging behind the other three teams in the division as the only team below .500. Chicago on the other hand are tied for the lead in the NFC north even with Jay Cutler struggling with injury, mainly thanks to the emergence of Josh McCown as one of the leagues most reliable backup quarterbacks. St. Louis have a very good defensive front so they should be able to put pressure on McCown, but the Bears solid running game led by Matt Forte gives McCown a useful out. Unfortunately the Rams have been dealing with a quarterback injury of their own, and even though Kellen Clemens hasn’t been as bad as feared he’ll have a tough time putting points up on the Bears vaunted D. Expect a road win with Chicago keeping pace in the play-off race. Bears 24, Rams 16

Indianapolis @ Arizona

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians hosts the team with which he won the NFL coach of the year award last season in a fascinating encounter between two play-off contenders. Arizona may have beat Jacksonville last week but that achievement should be taken with a pinch of salt, and despite Carson Palmer improving with each game I still don’t trust him to out-duel the Colts Andrew Luck. While Luck is without Reggie Wayne he’s good enough to utilise his remaining weapons, but it could be a great game with Arians able to call upon his intimate knowledge of the Cardinals opponents. Colts 31, Cardinals 23

Tennessee @ Oakland

Coming off a mini bye week the Titans will fancy their chances of upending Oakland, who this week anointed Matt McGloin their starter at quarterback. Yes, McGloin was impressive in defeating Houston last week. But he’s an undrafted rookie who struggled to hold onto his job at Penn State. I’m yet to be convinced he can be a steady signal caller in the NFL, and in this battle of 4-6 teams that could be the difference. The Titans raced out to a lead against the Colts two Thursdays ago and despite the fact they couldn’t hold onto it I was impressed with Chris Johnson and their running game. If Johnson can repeat that performance the Titans should have no trouble scoring on Oakland, who recently allowed Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles to put up 49 points against them. Titans 28, Raiders 19

Dallas @ New York Giants

A crucial NFC east battle, a win for New York would make it five in a row and tie them in the standings with the fading Cowboys. Famed for struggling in December, Tony Romo has been unable to keep up his stellar early season pace which is worrying for Jerry Jones’ boys. However the porous Giants defense should be a helpful tonic for Romo, Dez Bryant and co, who have the potential to score heavily in the Meadowlands. Eli Manning is in the midst of his worst professional season and while Dallas don’t have a great defense they have at times shut down teams this season. They’re unlikely to keep New York completely in check, but that shouldn’t matter if the Giants defense holds true to form. Dallas to win, and move into a first place tie with Philly as a result. Cowboys 34, Giants 21

Denver @ New England

Sunday Night Football pits two old enemies, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, against each other at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots know they’ll need to bounce back quickly from last weeks controversial loss at Carolin if they’re to secure a bye in the first round of the play-offs, which is easier said than done against probably the leagues elite team. Manning was able to throw from a clean pocket last week against KC and if he can do the same this week then I’d strongly expect the Broncos to win and move to 10-1. Wes Welker has been cleared to play following his concussion, adding even more spice to this game as he comes up against his former team. If the Patriots are forced to play catchup, which I think they will, the Von Miller led Denver pass rush will be licking their lips at the prospect of flying off the ball towards Tom terrific in the New England pocket. The Pats may be able to keep up for a while, even deep into the game, but I can’t see them overhauling the juggernaut Broncos tonight. I’m predicting a big win for Denver, sending the Patriots to their second consecutive defeat. Broncos 34, Patriots 28

San Fransisco @ Washington

In the battle of struggling dual threat quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick takes the 49ers into FedEx field to take on Robert Griffin III and the Redskins. However though both teams are struggling on offense the 49ers defense gives San Fran a significant advantage, as the likes of Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis should combine to shut down Alfred Morris and the Redskins running game. Washington were shut out for three quarters in Philly last week and following this tough fixture they could well find themselves cut adrift at the foot of the NFC east. One last point: RG III’s teammates seem to be getting fed up of the sophomore’s attitude, so keep your eyes on the sideline during this one especially if Washington once more find themselves struggling to score points. 49ers 27, Redskins 21

So those are my picks, let me know what you think in the comments or on twitter @fredjstanley. It’s an Eagles bye week so I’ll be able to pay more attention to some of the other games this evening, although the New York-Dallas game will be my main focus due to it’s relevance to the birds in the NFC east standings.

 

Australia V England – 1st Ashes Test Match Preview

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The Gabba is the scene of the first Ashes test between Australia and England

Venue: Gabba, Brisbane (Queensland)

Date: 21-25 November 2013

Time: Midnight (GMT)

One of the cricket’s great theaters is the scene for the first Ashes test match of the southern hemisphere summer, where actions will finally supplant words. Three years ago Peter Siddle set the series alight on the first day with a rare Ashes hat-trick, and while the odds are against him repeating the trick this time around the contest should still be a memorable one. Michael Clarke will be out for revenge after suffering a 3-0 reverse during the summer, while Alistair Cook knows that an England win will cement his place in three lions history after just twelve months in charge. The stage is set, the phony war is over and the Barmy Army have touched down in Brisbane. Whether they have anything to cheer remains to be seen.

Team News

Australia will be pleased to have some semblance of stability heading into the series, a far cry from the mess they found themselves in before the return series in England earlier this year. With Darren Lehmann well entrenched as coach, not to mention well liked by the players, the uncertainty that followed Mickey Arthur’s sacking is a thing of the past. David Warner is certain to open the batting alongside Chris Rogers, something he was unable to do for the first two tests of the summer after he was suspended following the Walkabout incident involving England’s Joe Root. Shane Watson will bat at three although concerns remain over his ability to bowl owing to a hamstring strain. Further down the lineup Twenty20 captain George Bailey looks likely to make his test debut at number six. Mitchell Johnson will lead the Australian attack despite being dropped for last summer’s series, while Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris will join him in the pace attack. The only decision to be made is between spinner Nathan Lyon and fast bowling all-rounder James Faulkner. While it would be a surprise to see the hosts enter the game without a front-line spinner Steve Smith can turn his arm over and if Watson is deemed not fit enough to bowl left-armer Faulkner could be included as a fourth seam option.

Likely team: Rogers, Warner, Watson, Clarke (c), Smith, Bailey, Haddin (wk), Johnson, Siddle, Harris, Lyon

England have a few more selection headaches heading into the opening test down under than they did in 2010/11, when they were so settled they were able to send their first choice bowling attack ahead to Brisbane a week before the test began. On this occasion the identity of the third seamer behind James Anderson and Stuart Broad remains a mystery, with Chris Tremlett the slight favourite to beat Boyd Rankin and Steven Finn to the role. Matt Prior remains questionable with an injured calf, but having come through three straight training sessions unscathed he looks likely to play ahead of his understudy Jonny Bairtstow. Joe Root will drop down to six to accommodate Hampshire’s Michael Carberry, who’ll add to the solitary test cap he picked up in Bangladesh back in early 2010.

Pitch and weather

All of the talk coming out of the Australian camp is of a quick and bouncy wicket at the Gabba. After the docile surfaces prepared in England this summer a substantial layer of grass is also likely to be left on the pitch to help assist Australia’s seam bowlers, which should encourage a result. Nonetheless the pitch won’t differ too much from a typical Gabba wicket, meaning whoever wins the toss would be wise to bat first (I’ll resist making a Nasser Hussain joke here).

The weather forecast looks mixed for the test, with the first day set to provide plenty of sun and temperatures of up to 28c before the weather progressively cools through to Sunday when there’s a chance of tropical showers. Thankfully the Gabba, like most grounds in Australia, has a fantastic drainage system to enable sports such as rugby and Aussie Rules to be played on a lush outfield and delays should be reduced to a minimum.

Umpires

Aleem Dar and Kumar Dharmasena (third umpire Marais Erasmus)

Prediction

Although England are on paper the stronger team and favourites they have started recent series in notoriously slow fashion. A flat if slightly sporting wicket should aid the batsman once the shine wears off the Kookaburra ball, and combined with some time likely being lost to rain a draw is probably the early favourite for this test. However that can all change with a brilliant spell from one of either sides bowlers, of which the likes of Stuart Broad and Mitchell Johnson are more than capable. This helps to make this one of the more unpredictable series in recent memory.

The Highs and Lows of an England Great

Kevin Pietersen has celebrated 23 centuries during his 99 test matches to date

Kevin Pietersen has celebrated 23 centuries during his 99 test matches to date

From the highs of the Oval in 2005 to the lows at Headingly last year, Kevin Pietersen has always found a way to be the star of the show. An integral part of English crickets golden era the man dubbed ‘the ego’ by the Australian press is set to earn his 100th test cap tomorrow in the first test of this winter’s Ashes series at the Gabba, a feat only achieved by nine English cricketers before him.

Back at the start of his England career nine years ago, ‘KP’ burst onto the international stage. A trio of flamboyant centuries in the country of his birth, South Africa, in one-day cricket set the scene for him to enter the test arena at the start of the most anticipated series this country has ever known. Pietersen’s performance in that match, swatting a pair of fifties in a losing cause, immediately demonstrated his willingness to take the game to even the most revered of opponents. Ask Glenn McGrath, who saw a length ball disappear straight back over his head and into the second tier of the famed Lords pavilion courtesy of an almighty Pietersen straight drive. Later that summer in the fifth and final test Pietersen played one of the outrageous test innings, of which he owns a few, counter-attacking brilliantly on his way to 158 after England had wobbled early on the fifth day at the Oval when trying to close out a 2-1 series win and secure the return of the urn for the first time in nearly two decades.

From that explosive start Pietersen pressed on. In early 2006 he hit back to back centuries against the touring Sri Lankan’s, followed by scores of 135 and 96 during the controversial series with Pakistan later that year. Even during England’s infamous defeat in Adelaide that winter Pietersen was centre stage, striking 158 once more during a monumental first innings stand with the immovable Paul Collingwood. Two fifties in the next test at Perth were not enough to prevent England handing the urn back to Australia at the earliest opportunity, but by then Pietersen had already become the man Australia feared above all others in world cricket. 2007 brought a career best 226 against the West Indies and two more tons during the lost three match series at home to India. In just two short years Pietersen had become England’s star, the man they relied on more than any other, and his ceiling appeared limitless. It wasn’t just the amount of runs he made, but how he made them. It’s been a long time since a cricket shot has been truly ‘invented’, but the switch-hit Pietersen unveiled that summer was indeed revolutionary.

Early 2008 saw home and away centuries versus New Zealand, this time both part of series wins – a rarity for Pietersen thanks to England’s regression following the 2005 Ashes. KP then amassed 152 against his native South Africa at Lords in his first test innings against the country of his birth. Another team crossed of the list, another bowling attack tormented and emasculated. But it all changed two test matches later. Michael Vaughan, bereft of form and having become the first England captain to lose a home series to South Africa since their readmission to international cricket tearfully resigned, and after 42 tests Kevin Pietersen was elevated to the role of England’s cricket captain.

It was a role in which Pietersen’s occupancy was brief, and which would stem the seemingly inevitable flow of runs from his bat. A debut century and a win in a dead rubber versus the South Africans was the perfect start, but after two unsuccessful tests in India Pietersen and then-England coach Peter Moores’ uneasy relationship reached breaking point. Pietersen’s sometimes combative personality surfaced, and his ultimatum to the ECB in an effort to get Moores sacked spectacularly backfired as both men were relieved of their positions with the team. His ego dented, Pietersen had no choice but to return to the ranks following undoubtedly the biggest set-back of his cricketing career. The subsequent series in the Caribbean would see England lose 1-0 in spite of some typical Pietersen knocks – a 97 in his first test since losing the captaincy was followed by two further scores of 50 plus and a century in the drawn final test. However that innings in Port of Spain would remain his last test century for an unfathomable 18 tests and 21 months. A weakness against left-arm spin became more and more pronounced. Injury problems came to the fore, notably an Achilles problem which sidelined him for the final three Ashes tests in the summer of 2009. Without their talisman England were still able to win back the urn with a 2-1 victory against the old enemy, perhaps indicating a shift from their over-reliance on Pietersen towards a more balanced side featuring newcomers such as Jonathan Trott and a finally matured Ian Bell. Pietersen had gone from ‘the man’ to just another name on the team sheet, and with his body beginning to fail him 100 tests seemed a long way off.

But Pietersen wasn’t finished yet, and he still isn’t finished now. A return to form against those hated Aussies with a breathtaking 227 at Adelaide announced to the world that KP still had plenty left in the tank, and his 202 not out against India at Lords early the next year helped England on their way to a clean sweep and their first ever visit to the number one spot in the world test rankings. Another century, a mammoth 175 at the Oval, followed. Pietersen was back and he was as good as ever. Although the teams results began to decline upon their arrival at the summit of the world game Pietersen was still as capable as anyone in the world of a match winning innings. After four successive losses on the sub-continent Pietersen blitzed the Sri Lankan attack once more at Colombo on route to a match winning and series salvaging 151.

What followed that summer is a well visited incident. The text messages to the South African captain Graeme Smith. The infamous press conference he gave after the drawn Headingly test. An ill-advised retirement, then un-retirement for England in limited overs formats. All of the above, primarily the text messages, combined to see Pietersen dropped from the final test of the summer at Lords, where England had to win to draw the series and remain number one in the world rankings. But either side of his isolation from the team came two of Pieteren’s most absurd and masterful knocks. His 149 at Leeds included some quite frankly disdainful treatment of the worlds premier fast bowler, Dale Steyn, who at 90 mph was slapped around Headingly with such ease that it bordered on public humiliation. Then in India, at 1-0 down in the series and on a raging turner Pietersen once again produced an innings that mere mortals could only dream of playing. It was fantasy cricket. His contribution of 186 turned the tide and the series in England’s favour, inspiring them to go on and win on Indian soil for the first time since the mid-80’s.

Ninety nine test matches. Seven thousand, eight hundred and eighty seven runs. Twenty three centuries. An average of 48.38. Those are the raw, emotionless numbers. But as anyone who’s ever seen KP bat will tell you, those numbers tell but a fraction of his story. He’s been a saviour, a talisman and at times a villain within English cricket. But above all Kevin Pietersen has been one of the greatest players to ever wear the three lions. It would be a brave man who’d bet against him bringing up this latest landmark with yet another innings to remember.

Quarterback Draft Class Retrospective: 1999

Donovan McNabb enjoyed a successful NFL career unlike some of the other quarterbacks taken in the first round of the 1999 NFL draft

Following on from my earlier post featuring the 1998 draft class which produced some notable quarterbacks (hello Peyton Manning) and some more obscure signal callers here is my review of the following years class in 1999. The last draft before the turn of the century included five first round selections at the position, including the first three picks of the draft, and in total 13 quarterbacks were selected that year. For more information on each individual player and to find out how they fared during their NFL careers keep it right here.

Tim Couch, 1st round (1st overall selection), Cleveland Browns

Unfortunately for the Browns and Couch this pick never worked out as the University of Kentucky star was drafted first overall by the expansion Cleveland franchise. Although he was pressed into action in just his second week in the league Couch never truly settled in as an above average quarterback, and it could justifiably be reasoned that his selection has haunted the Browns ever since. The former All-American passer lasted just five seasons in Cleveland and following his release in 2004 despite a number of try-outs he never again made it onto a regular season NFL roster, a staggering fall for someone with such high pedigree. Couch registered underwhelming yet consistent statistics during his stint with the Browns, with a career completion percentage of 59.8 and passer rating of 75.1 well below the expectations set for someone drafted so high. Couch threw more touchdowns than interceptions over the course of a season just twice in his career, in his rookie year (15 TDs/13 INTs) and his final season in the NFL (7/6). To add insult to injury Couch also received a six game drug related ban from the league in 2006 – when he wasn’t even registered to a team.

Donovan McNabb, 1st round (2nd overall selection), Philadelphia Eagles

Andy Reid struck gold with McNabb, who would go on to break almost every single Eagles passing record before he left the team in 2010. Although he never won a title the Syracuse product led Philly to four NFC championship games and one Superbowl appearance. A dual threat at the position, McNabb was a throwback for Eagles fans to the days of Randall Cunningham and earlier this year his number 5 was retired by the franchise. One of McNabb’s most impressive feats was becoming the first QB in league history to throw more than 30 touchdowns and less than 10 interceptions in a single season, which he accomplished during the teams run to Superbowl XXXIX in 2004. Less successful stints with Washington and Minnesota followed after his time with Philadelphia came to an end, but they remain just a small stain on a decorated career.

Akili Smith, 1st round (3rd overall selection), Cincinnati Bengals

Much like Couch, Smith wound up becoming a monumental bust for the Bengals and by missing on a QB with such a high draft choice the move set the team back years in their development. In hindsight Smith was a risky selection for Cincinnati due to the fact he’d had just one productive year at college, his senior season at Oregon where he won Pac-12 player of the year honours. Smith started just 17 games during his four years in the NFL, all with the Bengals, and his final passer rating of just 52.8 best exemplifies just how bad he was. While neither Couch or Smith inhabited ideal situations for a young quarterback they clearly had major flaws that weren’t picked up during the draft process. Still, it would have been interesting to see if McNabb could have succeeded where Couch and Smith failed, and vice versa.

Daunte Culpepper, 1st round (11th overall selection), Minnesota Vikings

Culpepper’s NFL career far more closely resembled McNabb’s than either Smith or Couch’s, yet he still didn’t quite his the heights that #5 did in terms of wins and play-off success. One of Culpepper’s main attributes was his outstanding size. During his playing days he stood 6 foot 4 inches tall (he probably still does) and weighed in at 255 pounds (he probably still doesn’t). He also possessed good speed for a quarterback, enabling him to rush for 2,652 yards and 34 touchdowns during his career. His overall passer rating of 87.8 actually ranks 14th all-time in the NFL, although having played in an era where passing is easier than ever before that record loses some of its luster, not to mention the fact that he had Randy Moss to throw to while playing for the Vikings. However his accomplishments are still impressive, and in 2004 he set an NFL season yardage record for a quarterback (passing and rushing) although that record has since been broken. Following an acrimonious end to his time with the Vikings Culpepper suffered several severe knee injuries and struggled during stints with Miami and Oakland amongst others, resulting in a sad end to a career which contained an almighty peak and a couple of play-off appearances.

Cade McNown, 1st round (12th overall selection), Chicago Bears

McNown had a miserable NFL career, playing in just two seasons for the Bears before he was traded to Miami and later San Francisco before retiring. In 15 starts he threw 19 interceptions and just 16 touchdowns with a mediocre 67.7 passer rating. Of the top 12 selections in the 1999 draft eight would play in the Pro Bowl during their career; Couch, Smith, McNown and linebacker Chris Claiborne were the only four who didn’t.

Shaun King, 2nd round (50th overall selection), Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The one thing King has which the five men drafted ahead of him don’t is a Superbowl ring, earned while playing for Tampa Bay in 2002 (although King himself didn’t suit up for the game). He enjoyed mild success during his time with Tampa, starting all 16 games in 2000 and recording a respectable 75.8 passer rating while throwing 18 touchdowns to just 13 interceptions. However he would start just three games over the remainder of his career, including two for Arizona in 2004 – his last season in the NFL.

Brock Huard, 3rd round (77th overall selection), Seattle Seahawks

Probably less famous than his brother Damon, Brock Huard never really made much of an impact in the NFL. Huard saw action in parts of three NFL seasons including four starts (all in 2000), with his four year spell in Seattle briefly interrupted by a two year stint with the Colts. His final stats actually read quite well; four touchdowns, two interceptions and a QB rating of 80.3. However he saw such limited playing time that those stats can be mostly rendered meaningless.

Joe Germaine, 4th round (101st overall selection), St. Louis Rams

I’ll admit I’d never heard of Germaine until I started researching this article, and the most interesting thing I learned about him is that he took two years out of college to complete a Mormon mission. His NFL career was slightly less interesting, although he did pick up a Superbowl ring as Kurt Warner’s back-up on the victorious Rams team in 1999. Germaine only ever threw 16 passes in the NFL, all in his rookie season, completing 9 of them including a solitary touchdown. He did however also throw two picks that season. Germaine also served time with the Chiefs and Bengals before he was out of the NFL by the start of the 2003 season, before going on to enjoy a productive career in Arena League Football.

Aaron Brooks, 4th round (131st overall selection), Green Bay Packers

Although Brooks never played a down for the Packers, he was stuck behind both Brett Favre and Matt Hasselbeck on the depth chart, he enjoyed a successful NFL career largely thanks to a six year stint with New Orleans. During his time in the big easy Brooks set several franchise marks including career and single season touchdown passing records (both since broken by Drew Brees). Unfortunately for Brooks and the Saints his only play-off win came in his first season with the team, against the then defending Superbowl champion Rams. A short lived spell in Oakland followed his release from the Saints in 2005, but all told for a late fourth round pick Brooks delivered fantastic value considering some of the busts further up this list and a career passer rating of 78.5 represents a very respectable career.

Kevin Daft, 5th round (151st overall selection), Tennessee Titans

Kevin, who it should be said has a frankly ridiculous or some might Daft name (sorry), failed to make an impact upon the NFL and bounced around several practice squads including Tennessee, San Diego, San Francisco, Atlanta and eventually Tennessee once more. He did however set an NFL Europe record by throwing for 30 touchdowns in the 2002 season. Taken just 20 spots after Brooks, Daft’s career is more representative of the kind of career you expect from a quarterback taken so late on in the draft process.

Michael Bishop, 7th round (227th overall selection), New England Patriots

Did you know actor Jamie Foxx is Bishop’s cousin? Thank me later for that. Bishop actually had a very distinguished college career with Kansas State, breaking several school records and earning All-American recognition. However his time in the NFL with New England was short lived and after two seasons spent backing up Drew Bledsoe he was released. Bishop was able to become a success in both Arena League Football and the Canadian Football League following his brief NFL career, which in the grand scheme of things means he’s been successful in every phase of his football life with the exception of the NFL, better than most seventh round picks manage.

Chris Greisen, 7th round (239th overall selection), Arizona Cardinals

Greisen’s career has followed a fascinating path, beginning with a three year term as the Cardinals third string QB. Appearing in just five games Greisen threw just 16 passes, including one touchdown, during his original stint in the NFL. After he was released he became one of the stars of Arena League Football, a common career path for quarterbacks from this draft class it would seem, where he was voted AFL offensive player of the year in both 2007 and 2010. Greisen also set since-broken AFL records for single season passing yards and touchdown passes. Despite having been out of the NFL since 2001 Greisen was amazingly picked up by the Dallas Cowboys nine years later in 2010, spending a week on the active roster before being released. After once again going back to the AFL Greisen was signed again by the Cowboys in 2011, this time to their practice squad, before being released last year. With his NFL career now seemingly over Griesen is a great example of persistence, and the fact that he was on an NFL roster as recently as three years ago when the likes of Couch and Smith were long gone from the league is a testament to his work ethic and determination.

Scott Covington, 7th round (245th overall selection), Cincinnati Bengals

Covington was the second quarterback taken in this draft by the Bengals, and I’m pretty sure the Bengals didn’t envision him lasting longer in the NFL than first-rounder Akili Smith. However Covington himself didn’t pull up any trees in the pro’s and unlike some of the other late round selections on this list he failed to make a career for himself after his release in the CFL, AFL or any other-FL’s.


Notable undrafted free-agent quarterbacks: Anthony Wright

So there you have it, an in depth look at the 1999 quarterback draft class featuring a fair few busts but also a couple of late round gems and a borderline hall-of-famer in McNabb. I’ll be back later in the week with a new episode of the American Football Focus podcast, but you can let me know what you think of the class of ’99 before then by leaving a comment or tweeting me @fredjstanley.
    

Week 11 NFL Predictions

Copyright Yahoo Sports

This evening sees another round of NFL games, including the big showdown between AFC west rivals Denver and Kansas City in the Sunday Night Football slot. With plenty of other exciting match-ups it promises to be yet another great evening of football, and hopefully I’ll be on the mark with one or two of my picks. Both myself and Scott Taylor correctly predicted an Indianapolis win over Tennessee on Thursday during this weeks podcast which you can still listen to here. Once your done listening to that fine piece of broadcasting carry on reading to find out what I think will take place across the NFL later on today.

New York Jets @ Buffalo

Do you trust the Jets to beat a team they should beat? Do you trust the Bills to actually play well enough to win against a superior team? I’m not sure I trust either quite frankly, and the game has the potential to be a real defensive struggle with the first two quarterbacks taken in the 2013 draft squaring off against eachother.  If that does turn out to be the case then despite the fact that Mario Williams has been on a tear this season the Jets unit as a whole is stronger, and that should lead them to 6-4 and keep them firmly in the hunt for a play-off spot. Jets 17, Bills 13

Baltimore @ Chicago

Josh McCown looks set to deputise for the injured Jay Cutler for Chicago as the Bears welcome a rejuvenated Baltimore outfit to Soldier Field.  McCown’s life will be made easier by being able to hand the ball off to Matt Forte, and with Brandon Marshall out wide he’s also got a go-to receiver in the passing game. The Ravens survived an scare against Cincinnati in week 10, where having allowed a hail-mary touchdown pass to A.J Green as time expired they triumphed in overtime. However with a defense that’s a shadow of its former self they’ll have a tough time stopping the Bears putting up the amount of points required to win this game; which won’t be very many judging by the Ravens offensive showings this year. Ravens 20, Bears 27

Cleveland @ Cincinnati

Usually this game is a basement battle in the AFC north, but that isn’t quite the case this year. Both teams are in with a shout of winning the division, particularly the 6-4 Bengals, and the home side should quite comfortably hold serve against the rival Browns despite their recent wobble. It could be close, but I just don’t see a way Cincinnati lets this one slip through their grasp. Browns 21, Bengals 28

Oakland @ Houston

If you tune into an NFL game tonight in the hope of watching stellar play at the quarterback position, avoid this one. Maybe I’m being a bit harsh on Case Keenum who’s shown flashes of the ability needed to be a starting NFL QB, but Raiders starter Matt McGloin has no place on a professional football field. But on the field he will be thanks to Terrell Pryor’s knee ailment, and that fact alone should help Texans coach Gary Kubiak pick up the W on his return to the sidelines following his mini stroke. Raiders 10, Texans 24

Arizona @ Jacksonville

I failed to pick the Jags last week against better judgement and it came back to bite me, but I’m going to make the same mistake this week and go with the piping hot Cardinals. All of a sudden Arizona are just a game behind San Francisco in the NFC west and thanks in large part to some excellent defensive showings they have a real chance of catching the 49ers. Patrick Peterson and Calais Campbell  are true difference makers on that side of the ball, and they should have no trouble keeping Jacksonville in check as Carson Palmer leads the offense to enough points to secure this one quite comfortably. Cardinals 27, Jaguars 13

Washington @ Philadelphia

Tied for the division lead, Philadelphia looks to break a breathtaking 10 game (!) home losing streak against the Redskins at Lincoln Financial Field. On paper everything points to that happening; an explosive offense, improving defense and momentum all combine to make Philly strong favourites. However they’ll have to beware the Redskins running game, as they have the ability to control the clock with Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris moving the rock. Should the Eagles jump out to an early lead that shouldn’t matter, and I think they will. So I think they’ll win. I think (hope) I’ll be right. Redskins 24, Eagles 34

Detroit @ Pittsburgh

Two working class cities go head to head as the motor and steel industries collide. Well, they may have collided if both hadn’t gone bust (or nearly bust). The Lions are coming off a vital road win in Chicago last week and have sole possession of first place in the NFC north, something they should have no difficulty retaining against the woeful Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger could be in for a long day behind a leaky offensive line and I wouldn’t have begrudged him a few nightmares about Nick Fairley as he tried to get some sleep last night. Lions 30, Steelers 17

Atlanta @ Tampa Bay

One massive disappointment meets another in west Florida this week, but the Buccaneers have a little momentum on their side thanks to capturing their first win of the season against Miami last week. The Falcons have been besieged with injuries during this campaign and having already lost Julio Jones and Roddy White they could be without future hall of fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, who’s battling a toe injury. With or without him they will probably struggle to score, which leads me to believe that the Bucs will make it two in a row. You wait all season for a win to come along.. Falcons 18, Buccaneers 21

San Diego @ Miami

With Miami engulfed in scandal San Diego have lucked it with the timing of their visit to south beach. The Chargers put up a good fight against Denver a week ago and with one of the stronger defensive units in the league it’s difficult to see them being upset by the Dolphins, who in the absence of Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito have one of the most porous offensive lines in the league. Expect Phillip Rivers and co to get the win and move back to .500. Chargers 27, Dolphins 21

San Francisco @ New Orleans

In one of the games of the week (alongside the Chiefs-Broncos extravaganza and Carolina-New England) the 49ers will attempt to repeat last seasons feat of winning in the hostile Superdome. However that’s easier said than done, and after a string of unimpressive offensive showings the niners will have their work cut out scoring on Rob Ryan’s D. With Drew Brees almost a certainty to lead the Saints to over 20 points Colin Kaepernick will have to party like it’s 2012 if San Francisco are to win this one and keep within touching distance of Seattle in the NFC west. I’m not sure Kaepernick’s got that in his at this stage; especially not in the Saints house. 49ers 17, Saints 28

Green Bay @ New York Giants

Scott Tolzien will start at QB for the Packers in the meadowlands, but fortunately for Tolzien and his team the Giants will also start a third stringer in Eli Manning. The Giants are fighting for their lives and in their defense have shown signs of life after a horrific start to the season, winning three on the spin after an 0-6 start. The Packers are also in dire need of a win after being handled by the Eagles last Sunday, but with Clay Matthews not at 100% I can’t see their defense picking them up and earning a crucial road win. Giants by default. Packers 14, Giants 20

Minnesota @ Seattle

The Vikings head into the northwest with little to no chance of walking away victorious. Seattle remain the NFCs elite team and they should take care of business here easily. Aside from Percy Harvin making his season debut there’s not much to see here, so move along. Vikings 14, Seahawks 27

Kansas City @ Denver

Sunday Night Football sees the unbeaten Chiefs head to the thin Denver air to tackle the 8-1 Broncos. It’s a classic match-up of offense versus defense, with the best D in the NFL (KC) taking on the best offense (Denver). Peyton Manning has a dodgy ankle which could limit his mobility in the pocket when trying to escape the Chiefs vaunted pass rush led by Tamba Hali, and Andy Reid has an incredible record after the bye week. However as much as Manning may or may not struggle the Denver defense will fancy its chances of keeping the Alex Smith led Chiefs offense in check, and an amped up crowd should witness the Broncos even the standings in the division ahead of the rematch in two weeks. Chiefs 17, Broncos 24

New England @ Carolina

A few weeks ago it looked extremely unlikely that the Panthers would have a realistic chance of catching the Saints in the NFC south, but should New Orleans lose to the 49ers and the Panthers win here the two would be neck and neck. Cam Newton has been playing well but the real story in Carolina is a rock solid defensive unit led by Luke Kuechly. The New England offense isn’t an explosive unit and as a result the Patriots could come unstuck here, unless they themselves can stiffle the Panthers attack. I never thought I’d say this, but I have more confidence in Cam Newton making the plays to win this game than I do Tom Brady, so I’m going for a landmark Panthers victory. Patriots 20, Panthers 23

Those are my picks for the week, let me know what you think in the comments of tweet me @fredjstanley. Enjoy this evenings games, and if you can afford a lie in tomorrow make sure you stay up for Sunday Night Football. I’ll be back later in the week with the American Football Focus podcast, so until then..

 

Can Captain Cook Retain the Urn Down Under? A 2013/14 Ashes Betting Preview

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All eyes will be on England skipper Alistair Cook as he attempts to retain the Ashes down under this winter

Following a highly contentious summer Ashes series where old enemies England and Australia bickered over DRS, the spirit of cricket and everything in between the two sides go head to head in the return series starting this Wednesday. The mind games have already begun, with Australian skipper Michael Clarke making like Jose Mourinho during a recent press conference and naming the eleven players that he thinks will take the field for the visitors at the Gabba next week. His counterpart Alistair Cook has come in for criticism over his captaincy style since the conclusion of the summer series, most notably from Aussie leg-spinning great Shane Warne, but after a record breaking tour with the bat in 2010/11 the opening batsman will be confident that his team can retain the little urn having won 3-0 in familiar conditions just a few months ago. As ever when these two countries lock horns tension runs high and the competitive juices flow and if you fancy a flutter on the Aussies avenging last summers defeat or Cooks men conquering the ancestral convicts then look no further than this comprehensive Ashes betting guide.

With the willow in hand Australia have struggled mightily since the retirements of Ricky Ponting an Michael Husssey, though Clarke remains a world class presence in the middle order. He’s 5/2 to lead the hosts run charts with a number of bookmakers, including Coral and Bet Victor. The rest of the Australian squad should enjoy more success at home than they did over the summer, with the in-form David Warner a solid outside bet at 5/1 with Bet Fred and others.

Similarly to the Aussies England’s best batsman, at least statistically, is their captain Alistair Cook. However the controversial Kevin Pietersen always fares well against England’s great rivals, and at 7/2 with Bet Victor he represents good value in the leading English batsman market. Other options include Ian Bell, who had a magnificent home series, and Jonathan Trott who didn’t quite fare so well. Although Bell would appear to be in better form that Trott the latter had a sensational trip in 2010/11 and generally scores well on fast, bouncy wickets like the ones he’s likely to see down under. Bet Victor are again offering the best odds of 9/2 on the South African-born batsman leading the way for England.

In the bowling department Australia’s Ryan Harris led the way during the summer, but his inability to stay fit for five tests is a major concern and it’s unlikely he’ll last the duration this winter. Peter Siddle is more durable and can be dangerous in bursts, such as his opening day hat-trick in the first test three years ago. There hasn’t been a more consistent Australian bowler than Siddle since the likes of Glenn McGrath, and you can get on him at 3/1 with Bet Victor.

For England Jimmy Anderson remains the leader of the attack, and with good reason as he approaches Ian Botham’s record wicket taking haul for the poms. He’s 9/4 with Sporting Bet to once again fly the flag for Queen and country, dismissing a bucket-load of Aussies in the process. Graeme Swann is the other mainstay of the England attack and although he has suffered elbow discomfort in recent years he should make it through all five tests and if he does at 4/1 (Stan James) he should run the “Burnley Express” close.

So far as the overall result is concerned England will enter the series as strong favourites having won three Ashes in a row and four of the last five (the less said about 2006/7 the better). Yet Australia are confident, with good reason, that they can end that streak on home turf during these five games. With doubts over the fitness of Pietersen and especially wicket keeper Matt Prior England aren’t in as good shape as they might have wanted heading into the opening test, and a fast start by the hosts could give them the confidence they need to press home the advantage over the course of the series. I’m plumping for an Australia series win (7/4, Stan James), but it would by no means shock me if England managed to regain the urn and they’re 23/20 at Boyle Sports to bring the famous trophy back with them in January.
Prediction: Australia 2-1 (12/1, Stan James)
Odds on all of these markets plus many more can be found at Oddschecker.com