Whats that, you say? No, it is not the sound of Luis Suarez munching on another one of his futbol victims. Instead, it is me biting my fingernails down to the nub as I anxiously await USA’s huge match with Germany tomorrow in this “copas de copas.”
We all know how heartbreaking the ending of the Portugal game was for this team as they found themselves just 20 seconds away from escaping the clutches of the fabled “Group of Death.” The question now is, how will this US team respond? And what needs to happen for them to stare down the Grim Reaper and laugh in his face as they ascend to the knockout rounds in Brasil?
If you’ve been paying attention to the “sports scene” this last week chances are you have heard that the US has a 75% chance of advancing. Where exactly they get this number from, I am not so sure myself. However I have put together some incredibly easy to understand absolutely basic guidelines for what to cheer for if you want the US to advance.
First, get a result (win or tie) and advance. The only difference between the two is where the team will be seeded the next round. If they win the group, they will face Algeria, whereas if they come out of the group in second, they will have to play everyone’s sexy World Cup darkhorse Belgium.
So while a win would be nice for the US’s chances going forward, I don’t think they can count on it when playing one of the top 3 teams in the entire world.
Now, what happens if the US loses? How can they still advance? The simplest way for this to happen following a loss would be for Portugal and Ghana to tie, which would place those two sides at two points a piece with the US sitting pretty on four. If those two sides don’t tie, you should be cheering for Portugal, as the US has a goal differential advantage of five over Cristiano Ronaldo’s side (Portugal is -4 while the US is +1).
The reason this comes into play is that a US loss and Portugal win would put both teams at four points apiece and the first tie-breaker the World Cup uses is goal differential. This is important because Ghana is much closer to the United States in goal differential than Portugal. Ghana is minus one, while the US is plus one, thus equaling just a two goal net advantage for Klinsmann and co.
Granted, this is essentially a three goal advantage, because if goal differential is tied between two sides, the next tie breaker is head to head matchups which favors the red, white, and blue as they beat Ghana in the opening match of group play.
This sounds like the US team is pretty safe, until you think about some possible scorelines that would see them knocked out. Let's say the US loses 2-0 to Germany and Ghana wins 1-0 - that right there would be enough to knock out the Americans and complete everyone’s nightmare scenario.
The scary part is that both those scores seem frighteningly realistic when you look at how these four teams have played. I, however, am a firm believer in the style of futbol the US is playing right now, and I believe that they are too confident in themselves to be beaten that badly. I believe they get the job done and move on to play another day.
To paraphrase what to cheer for tomorrow:
1) US gets a win or tie and you're in.
2) Cheer for Portugal. If they win US almost assuredly moves on.
3) DON’T CHEER FOR GHANA.
Mini-camp is in the books, and unfortunately there is not too much to report on from an O-line perspective. The media's line of sight was not ideal at times and there were a couple of periods where I couldn’t see much more than who was with the 1st and 2nd groups. Overall, I thought the line looked solid, but that is not to say that there isn’t anything to improve. Coach Payton pumped in crowd noise during a couple of periods yesterday and it caused a few mental mistakes.
Most notably, there were a couple of false start penalties and a general sense that the line’s timing had been disrupted. I wouldn’t worry about this, however, as it is to be expected when using silent cadences and crowd mechanics for the first practice. In a couple weeks I expect the “silent” play execution to be right on par with their operation while running plays on a “normal” cadence.
The ongoing competition between Tim Lelito and Jonathan Goodwin has remained almost wholly unchanged. Tuesday, Goodwin took one period of plays with the 1st group where as Wednesday I don’t think he did (I say don’t think because sometimes it was hard to see, but from what I saw he didn’t run with the Ones). Besides this slight change in the allotment of reps, I thought both players continued to look solid.
The operation of the huddle and the hustle to the line has been excellent so far. The communication and mental aspect of playing center seems to be top notch as well as both players are assessing and processing the defense quickly while making the calls to make sure everyone is on the same page. I will continue to look for some separation between the two but so far I have been impressed with Lelito’s ability to stay focused and put some great practices together despite the presence of a thirteen-year vet behind him.
I attempted to keep a closer eye on Terron Armstead, and from what I saw, he seems to be playing well, and more importantly playing consistently. He looks confident in both his pass and run sets, and I am starting to get excited about how high his ceiling is in year two. I would still offer a word of caution though, temper your excitement because it still remains to be seen how he handles the grind of going against the best pass rusher for every side the Saints will face.
Even the “worst-best” pass rusher is REALLY GOOD. I remain optimistic, however, as he played well in huge situations last year and must be feeling far more confident going into this fall with an entire offseason under his belt.
On a side note for tackles, rookie Tavon Rooks continues to impress. He has a ways to go to challenge Bryce Harris for a roster spot but he seems like he has the ability to pass block on this level.
This is the 2nd part of a continuing series chronicling the offseason practices of the Saints offensive line. Day 1 of mandatory veteran mini-camp is in the books, and overall I think the line looked pretty solid. Sometimes it is hard to get a feel for who is truly winning or losing the battles without pads on, but on the whole I have to give advantage for Day 1 to the defensive line. I believe that the Saints D-line is extremely talented and there aren’t many lines in this league that could win the day against this crew.
In my last post, we took a look at the battle for the Center position taking place between Tim Lelito and Jonathan Goodwin. In the previous OTA, Lelito took every rep with the 1st group, while Goodwin handled all the 2nd team reps. Today’s minicamp practice saw a slight deviation as Goodwin spent one period (1st Down plays I believe) with the first line group while Lelito helmed the second. During this period there didn’t seem to be any marked drop off or improvement of either line. Goodwin looked steady throughout while Lelito experienced a bit more excitement. One play Lelito almost snapped it over the QBs head and you could tell he was angry with himself.
A couple plays later Lelito used that anger to catch D-lineman Brandon Deaderick off guard and hit him with a punishing block that saw Lelito end up on top of Deaderick. This play stood out to me not only because it was a good block but also because I love the way Lelito responded after the bad snap. He didn’t pout or dwell on it, instead he used his frustration in a positive manner and made a good play. This speaks to the mental toughness that I have spoken of previously. I still don’t see any clear advantage either way in this battle and will continue to monitor the situation as it further develops.
One area that I believe may be cause for concern with this offensive line is tackle depth. In the interior, you already have a guy in Lelito who has proven to be a competent swingman that can play either guard or center. I don't know if the Saints are as sure about who should be the backup tackle. Besides Armstead and Strief, I am not sure that the Saints have a tackle that can step in without too much of a drop-off in play taking place.
Bryce Harris, the 3-year vet out of Fresno State, has the most experience and is the lead dog. However, it does beg the question - how long do you let a guy develop before he starts seeing the field? Is Harris still your best bet despite not challenging for a starting position? This line of questioning may be unfair to Harris because if he wins the job he will have undoubtedly earned it, as they don’t just keep guys around in the League just because they like you.
Some of the names to keep on eye on for guys who may challenge Harris’ role are Thomas Welch, Jason Weaver, Ty Nsekhe, and rookie Tavon Rooks. Welch has been in the league four years, which give him far more experience than the rest of this crew. Weaver is a New Orleans native who spent last season on the Miami Dolphins practice squad. Weaver has a tragic history that makes it hard not to cheer for him to make the roster. Ty Nsekhe definitely passes the eyeball test looking like one of the giants from Game Of Thrones. Nsehke is 6 feet 8 inches tall while tipping the scales at over 320 pounds. He played 3 years worth of arena football before getting picked up by the Rams. Has never caught on with a team yet.
Finally, there is the rookie out of Kansas State,Tavon Rooks. Rooks is tall and lean at 6’6 300. He has struggled at times and needs to be more consistent but he has also shown flashes of excellent footwork and athleticism. I think that there is potential in Rooks, and while it is too early to say, I am looking forward to watching watching the momentum he builds.
Next time we will talk about Terron Armstead. I will be keeping a close eye on him the next couple days to see how he looks heading into year two.
This is the first entry in what will be an ongoing series chronicling the Saints offensive linemen through OTAs and camp up to the beginning of the season. Today was the media’s second time having access to one of these organized team activities and already changes have been made.
On Double Coverage I’ve talked about how the Saints center situation is unique in that they have two former Division II teammates competing for the same job in the NFL in 2nd year man Tim Lelito and rookie free agent Matt Armstrong. I doubt this has ever happened in league history, however, as many predicted, there is a new dog in the fight…or rather, an old dog, who’s been away for a couple years.
The Saints finalized a deal with 13 year veteran Jonathan Goodwin Tuesday that saw the former Saint return to New Orleans after spending a couple years out in San Francisco. Goodwin spent his first four years in New York with the Jets, before signing with New Orleans in 2006. He was, of course, the starting center for the Saints 2009 Super Bowl team and was a Pro Bowl reserve selection in 2010. Goodwin then signed with the San Francisco 49ers before the 2011 season and over the next three years would helm a unit that cleared the way for one of the league’s top rushing attacks, while making it to three consecutive NFC Championships and one Super Bowl.
Goodwin is now a 13 year veteran and while the Niners decided to move in a younger direction, it would be wrong to assume that Goodwin can’t be valuable to the Saints. Goodwin has a full four more years of experience than any other O-lineman on this roster. He knows this game inside and out and perhaps more importantly Goodwin has spent 5 years of his career playing for Sean Payton and is intimately familiar with how the Saints system works. Goodwin brings great value as both a potential starter and as a resource for younger players to go to with questions, advice, etc... Much like Champ Bailey, Goodwin can teach these guys what it means to be a professional on a day to day basis and how to give themselves the best chance of being successful.
What does this mean for Tim Lelito? From what we saw today Lelito was still running with the 1st group, while Goodwin was in charge of the 2nd. This is not surprising… Goodwin just signed Tuesday and I wouldn’t put too much weight behind whose playing with what group right now. In the big picture, however, the pressure is turned up considerably on Lelito. There is a huge difference between having a rookie from Grand Valley State versus a 13 year NFL vet, who started every game the last three years, coming up behind you.
Contrary to what some might think, this is not necessarily a negative thing for Lelito. “As iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another”… Proverbs 27:17. Competition brings out the best in people and greater competition can cause a player to rise above even his own expectations. When you combine the added motivation with the fact that Lelito can tap into Goodwin’s wealth of experience, I still really like the position the 2nd year player currently finds himself in.
I am not sure exactly how it will all shake out, but I will definitely keep a close eye on these two as I try to glean who is playing better from the very limited viewings we are allowed. One thing I do feel confident in saying, however, is that I believe the Saints will be just fine at that Center spot this season. You may ask, “How could you say that when Lelito has never even started a game at center?” In response I’ll point to the fact that in order to win the starting job Lelito will have to beat out a guy who started 108 games in his career. If Tim does this in the eyes of the coaches, then I would venture to say he is ready to captain the ship on Sundays.
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