Archive | November, 2006

Learning Young: Titans rookie comes through in the clutch

30 Nov

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

If you didn’t see the 4th quarter of the Tennessee Titans-New York Giants game, you missed a glimpse of what could be a very bright future for Titans rookie quarterback Vince Young.

With his team down 21-0 and seemingly out of it, Young reminded folks why he was the top quarterback taken in the 2006 NFL draft. Young engineered three touchdown drives in the final 10 minutes. He threw two touchdown passes and ran for another. Then he drove his team to a game-winning field goal in the Titans stunning 24-21 comeback win. It was the greatest come back in NFL history by a rookie quarterback.

Young’s brilliance reminded me of what he did to the USC Trojans and Michigan Wolverines in the last two Rose Bowls when he led the Texas Longhorns to a pair of come-from-behind wins.

Granted, he still has plenty to work on as an NFL passer, but he is getting better and better with each game. Most of what he needs to know simply has to do with adjusting to the speed of the game and recognizing the myriad of pro coverage schemes. But that will come with experience. The played Sunday he is definitely making progress.

It’s a sneak peak of what’s going to happen, not just with me, but with this team in general,” Young said.

Young completed 24-of-35 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns. He was 13-of-17 for 133 yards in the last 10 minutes of the game. He also ran for another score. Titans head coach Jeff Fisher said Sunday’s performance was a major step in Young’s development as an NFL quarterback.

“It was huge and now what we have to do is build on this. We can’t afford to take significant steps backward, but every team is different and every team provides a different challenge,” Fisher said earlier this week. “I don’t think the Giants anticipated us spreading things out, dropping back and throwing the ball down the field. I don’t think they, 1- anticipated his ability to scramble they way he did, and 2- his ability to make throws down field. His was exceptional with his arm and decision making.”

Give Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow credit in simplifying the game and tailoring his plays to fit Young’s skills. At times, the Titans have used a version of the college spread option offense to take advantage of Young’s ability to run the football. Chow told the Associated Press back in October that Young’s work ethic is enabling him to learn the offense faster than he anticipated.

“He studies, he works and he’s disciplined. He has great leadership skills. He’s determined, and because of that, the work ethic comes along with it. If you’re willing to work at it like he is, you continue to get better,” Chow said.

But even more than his ability to run the ball was his ability to rally his teammates and not let them give up when everything seemed lost. He put the team on his back. It reminded me of a young John Elway pulling off the same feat against the Baltimore Colts in 1983 when he rallied the Denver Broncos from a 19-point deficit to a 21-19 win. It was a precursor of things to come for Elway, who would spend his career helping the Broncos come back from many fourth quarter deficits.

What I like about Young is that he doesn’t panic and keeps the same cool expression whether his team is up 35-0 or down 35-0. When he was a sophomore at Texas, he rallied the Longhorns to victory after being down 35-0 to Oklahoma State. He did the same thing against Oklahoma State last year with his team 28-10 at halftime.

And no where was his cool under fire more apparent than on that 4th and 10 play where Giants defensive lineman Mathias Kiwanuka had Young in his grasp and thought he had thrown the ball. Incredibly, he let him go. Young got the first down and faked safety Will Demps out of his jock strap in the process. And then he threw a laser to Brandon Jones in the end zone to tie the game.

“He was cool like it was it was a regular day. He was like ‘If you guys don’t want to play then you need to get out of the huddle’,” Jones said in the locker room after the game. “He knew from the beginning when we were down by three touchdowns that we were not going to leave a goose egg on the scoreboard. Having a leader say something like that makes you want to play harder.”

That ladies and gentleman is respect and not many, if you pardon the expression here, young’uns, especially rookie quarterbacks, get that kind of respect in this league. Young may still be green and inexperienced, but the SOB has guts. That’s what you want from your quarterback in a pressure-packed situation.

Young will no doubt make his share of mistakes and I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a tough day against the Indianapolis Colts. But he will grow from it in time. Once he learns all the tricks of the trade, he’s gonna be a bad man.

Vick needs to concentrate on developing his passing skills

28 Nov

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

About a couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column in the Philadelphia Tribune about how Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was beginning to turn the corner as a pro signal caller. He had a couple of good games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals.

Against the Steelers, he was 18-of-30 for 232 yards and four touchdown passes in the Falcons 41-38 win. In a 29-27 win over the Bengals, Vick was 20-of-28 for 291 yards and three touchdown passes. In both of those games, he threw zero interceptions.

Looking at his yards, his passing percentage and the fact that he did it over a two-game period, I was thinking that this was the beginning of Vick’s maturity as a complete quarterback.

But four weeks later, I might have been a bit premature in my assessment. Vick is still a work in progress as a passer. For him to be in his sixth year in the NFL, he should be beyond the point of being a work in progress. He should be an accomplished NFL passer by now, but he’s not there yet.

In the four games since their win over Cincinnati, Vick has had some really bad games and the Falcons have not a won a game in the month of November. Two of those games were against terrible teams-the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns. He threw a combined four interceptions in both those games-2 in each game.

Against the Baltimore Ravens, he was 11-of 22 for 127 yards and no touchdowns. The Falcons were just 2-of- 18 on third down conversions against a tough Ravens defense. Atlanta lost 24-10.

Sunday’s 31-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints, the former Virginia Tech star might have hit rock bottom for this season as a quarterback. In a game where he gained 166 yards rushing, he was 8-of-24 for 84 yards passing. A visibly frustrated Vick capped off his bad day by giving the crowd at the Georgia Dome,the middle finger salute as headed into the Falcons locker room . The FOX television cameras captured him saying, “F— you” while flashing his middle finger. That ‘s a terrible thing to do. It was completely unprofessional and out of character for him. Vick knows better than that. The NFL fined him $10,000 and they were correct in sanctioning him. Vick later apologized for his actions which came from the frustration of losing four straight games.

In Vick’s defense, his receivers are awful and his team overall is mediocre. They dropped five passes against New Orleans, including a drop by Roddy White at the Saints 10-yard line late in the fourth quarter with the Falcons behind 21-13. None of their receivers are in the top 30 in receptions, touchdowns or yardage. Tight end Alge Crumpler is the team’s leading receiver with 36 receptions. Their leading wideout, Michael Jenkins has just 26 receptions and one touchdown.

The Falcons defense doesn’t help things. They are 20th in the NFL in total defense and 29th against the pass. Drew Brees took the Falcons defense to school last Sunday. He passed for 349 yards and 2 long touchdown passes. But the Falcons defense is wracked with a bunch of injuries, including linebacker Edgerton Hartwell and defensive end John Abraham.

All the above said, Vick is 25th in passer ratings (74) and has to work on consistency in the passing game. Something’s amiss there and I don’t pretend to know what the problem is because Vick is in his sixth year and some of the throws he makes has me scratching my head. He should be a more accurate passer at this point in his career. By now, he should know how to dissect defenses the way a veteran quarterback should. His lack of consistency as a passer makes it difficult for the Falcons to move the ball even with a strong running game and his ability to run.

Guys like Donovan McNabb and Steve McNair didn’t have receivers who were world beaters as they were developing their passing skills. But they still had better completion percentages than Vick and they are both mobile quarterbacks.

It could be Jim Mora Jr.’s schemes. I don’t think the West Coast offense is suited for Vick’s skills. The Falcons coaches need to come up with a way to take advantage of Vick’s unique ability.

But ultimately it’s up to Vick himself. He has to figure out a way to make his receivers better and to gear his mind on becoming better as an all-around quarterback. I don’t mind Vick’s ability to run the ball, but if he can become a better passer he’d really be dangerous and he would wreak havoc upon opposing defenses.

He is also reaching the point in his career when his run first, pass second mentality is going to take its toll on his body. As he gets older, he is going to rely less on his legs and more on his ability to read defenses and throw the football.

To be honest, it could be a number of factors as to why Vick hasn’t been a consistent quarterback. While coaching and bad receivers are a huge factor, I think Vick needs to take a look a himself and figure out a way to become a better passing quarterback before it’s too late.

Racism and Sports Media

21 Nov

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

            As an African-American columnist looking to become a columnist at some big mainstream newspaper or magazine, I find myself to be in one hell of a predicament.

            For one thing, my views of how African-American sports figures are viewed and portrayed definitely are not reflective of those in the mainstream sports media. In fact, I am critical of the way the mainstream media portrays African-American sports figures because it reflects a definite white male bias.

            And so when I see instances of racism in sports, the columns I write will generally point it out to the reader and call it into question. The problem is that nowadays it is taboo for an African-American columnist to point out racial bias in sports. I suspect that some of the columns I have written for the Philadelphia Tribune will not help land me a job to a similar position at a mainstream daily newspaper.

            In 2006, it’s still not cool for a Black columnist—whether it’s sports or on the news side to say that racism still exists in America’s institutions. The new form of racism in America today is to say that is doesn’t exist even when it clearly does or to shift blame on the people affected by racism. Or they’ll use language such as you’re playing the race card.

            Ironically, the main people helping to perpetrate this idea are Black journalists who’ve bought into this new form of racism. They believe in the same white male stereotypes of Black athletes. When a black athlete actually has the balls to speak out against racism in sports, you can count on the acceptable, establishment Black columnist to be the first to admonish him or her for speaking out against “the man.”

            White columnists, in fact, will point to this Black columnist to give them comfort and to validate their racism. It’s like they’ll say, see “John so and so says we’re not being racist and he’s Black.”  In other words, if you offend white sensibilities by merely pointing out their racism, they will call you the racist and you’re told to shut up.

            Recently, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis came out and said that if quarterback Steve McNair were a white quarterback he would not have been locked out of the Tennessee Titans facility while in the midst of contract negotiations. When McNair himself was asked about it, he was careful not to say it was straight up racism, but he said it was without saying it.

            “I always say you can’t mix personal feelings with business, and I always feel like if you do that’s when these things like that happen,” McNair said.  “That’s why it would never happen to Brett Favre or Peyton Manning and it probably would never happen to those guys, but it happened to me.”

            But how some prominent Black sports columnists responded to Lewis’ and McNair’s comments is a sad commentary of where we are today when it comes to pointing out racism where it exists. AOL Black Voices Roy Johnson Jr. applauded Lewis for pointing it out, but liked the idea that he was subtle about it. It was as if he was saying, ‘if it is there, don’t say it loudly.’ Walk on egg shells and tip toe around it. Additionally, Johnson also said that we shouldn’t make a big deal out of it because, after all, these guys are millionaires who aren’t experiencing the things that regular Black folks go through.

            Then there was Kansas City Star/AOL columnist Jason Whitlock who suggested that Lewis should shut up and sit in the back of his limousine rather than say something in support of McNair.  His argument is because the Ravens stood by him during his murder trial that he should lose his race card, i.e. his right to speak out on social causes.     

            Wow, since when did being a millionaire or being accused of murder take away your right to stand up for another Black man? I wish more African-American athletes had the guts to speak their minds on race. Hell, I wish more Black columnists would have the guts to point out white racism in sports in their columns. Ironically, Black columnists in the mainstream media aren’t going to speak up or are going to be subtle about it because they don’t want to lose their $50,000 to $100,000 per year jobs because they don’t want to offend their white editors. So if you can’t beat them join them.

             A lot of Black journalists pride themselves on being tough on Black sports figures and holding them accountable to please their white bosses. I wish we would apply that same intensity to holding the captains of the sports industry accountable for their racial bias as they do for Black folks who speak out against it.

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