November 01, 2008
Cassel, Patriots Now Have High Hopes
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
"Just what makes that little old ant
think he'll move that rubber tree plant…"
Harry Kalas can sing, somewhat. Can Gil Santos?
Not really. Actually, not really good. You heard Gil and Gino attempting to sing after the first two Belichick-era AFC title game wins. They sang about New Orleans and Houston, the sites of the first two Super Bowl venues the Belichick Patriots went to. Those who do know about vocal music would not grade those renditions real high on pure aesthetic value.
On Wednesday night, the venerable Kalas, whom Patriot fans should embrace as the narrator of all three Patriot Super Bowl videos, realized a career-long dream by finally getting to call a World Series win by the Philadelphia Phillies. Kalas came onto the Citizens Bank Park field after the game and addressed the fans, then serenaded them with his famous (in Philly) rendition of High Hopes, a 1959 tune made famous by Frank Sinatra. Kalas, whose rich, deep, mellow and measured baritone is perhaps the most distinctive voice in all of pro sports, can barely keep a tune. Yet Phillies fans didn't consider the celebration complete without Kalas (whose son Todd is the pre/postgame host for the losing Tampa Bay Rays on Fox Sports Florida) belting out that tune and trying to sound like Ol' Blue Eyes while doing so.
Santos, who could qualify as the football equivalent of Kalas (from a play-by-play standpoint as opposed to film voiceover), could do the same for the Patriots. This 2008 edition, ravaged with injuries including the most devastating one of all, is 5-2, tied for first place in the AFC East, beginning to assert itself with Matt Cassel at the helm of the offense, and heads to Indianapolis this weekend to take on a Colt team which is also reeling from injuries but is poised to get some of their blue-chip starters back for this weekend.
Talk about a team with high hopes.
When Tom Brady went down right at the start of the season with his knee injury which wiped out this year (and possibly next year depending upon which doctor you listen to regarding infections in his knee), most everyone wrote this year off immediately (Deion Sanders: "They are done! They are done!"). Today, the biggest question is not at quarterback but rather in the defensive backfield, as the bigger concern is not throwing the ball but rather preventing the other team from doing so.
The Colts are 3-4 and mired in one of the worst starts in recent memory. They haven't had this bad a record after seven weeks since Peyton Manning's rookie season in 1998. Manning has looked off kilter at times all season long, and there are those who believe that Manning is hurt in some unknown way and is not at full strength. Some observers out there think that Marvin Harrison has lost a step and is on the downside of his brilliant career. The running game has suffered due to the loss of Joseph Addai and the absence of center Jeff Saturday.
On defense, the Colts seemed to revert to their old ways of not being able to stop the run. Bob Sanders, the NFL defensive player of the year last season, has been out with a high ankle sprain, and the defense is significantly poorer without him in there. His presence elevates the play of all the other ten men, especially end rushers Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney and linebackers Gary Brackett and Freddy Keiaho. The Colts are 26th in the league against the run going into this contest this Sunday night with New England.
Time for the Patriots to breathe easy?
People have been crunching numbers and have found this amazing stat: Going into this game, Cassel's passer rating is higher than Manning's, 84.6 to 79.0. Lately, Cassel has looked much more comfortable in the pocket, is making solid and confident throws, and the offense seems to be cranked up just a little bit to accommodate Cassel's learning curve. Cassel made only one bad throw last week against the Rams and looked like he was trying harder to get rid of the ball quicker following a blowout win versus Denver where he was sacked six times.
But the Colts, who have moved into their brand new home, Lucas Oil Stadium, will be beefed up a little bit for this game. Both Addai and Sanders are expected to play in this game, which will mean significant upgrades on both sides of the ball. Despite their record, the Colts are second in the league against the pass even without Sanders in there. This alone will present a challenge for Cassel, but with Sanders in there to bolster the run defense against a depleted Patriot running back corps, the Colts can load up on the pass and make life difficult for Cassel.
With Addai back in the lineup, it will make things more difficult for the Patriots to curtail a hampered Colt pass attack. Dallas Clark has had problems staying healthy, but Manning has other targets to throw to, such as Reggie Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez. With Ellis Hobbs' availability in question, the Patriots may have to start Mike Richardson and Jonathan Wilhite at cornerback, which may seem daunting against even a sub-par Manning.
Another element which may work against the Patriots is that the Colts have much more urgency to win this game than the Patriots do. With Tennessee the one remaining unbeaten team in the NFL at 7-0, the Colts cannot afford to fall further behind the Titans and have to depend on a Wild Card berth to make the playoffs. In this season of several great teams having down seasons, an 8-8 record making the playoffs is not out of the question, but the Colts have some tough games ahead (at Pittsburgh, at San Diego, at Jacksonville, Tennessee) and might be hard pressed to finish at .500 if they fall to 3-5.
That's why someone might need to come to Patriot practice and sing High Hopes. Santos and Cappelletti, as previously stated, will sing over the radio waves if the Patriots win the AFC Championship. The Patriots will need high hopes this weekend, playing a perennial rival who has been down but seems primed to salvage their season and make a big comeback. The Patriots will need to put lots of pressure on Manning with a suspect secondary behind them, a strategy which doesn't always work. Usually you win against the Colts when you harass Manning's receivers instead of Manning himself, but this week the opposite may have to happen.
"So any time you're getting' low, ‘stead of lettin' go
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