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Mike Lalor’s Sports Report: Jets, Mets, Knicks and more!

Mike Lalor’s Sports Report: Jets, Mets, Knicks and more!

Week 8 Preview: New York Jets (4-2) at Oakland Raiders (3-3)…and around NY sports

Coming off a 30-23 Week 7 road loss to the undefeated, and first place-New England Patriots, the New York Jets (4-2, 2nd AFC East) will travel out to northern California this weekend, in order to take on the improved Oakland Raiders (3-3, 2nd AFC West). Last week, the Raiders defeated the Chargers 37-29, in San Diego.

Where to watch: This game is a 4:05 pm Eastern start at the Oakland Coliseum on Sunday, and will be aired regionally in the New York and San Francisco/Oakland markets on CBS, and on DirecTV channel 713. Veteran NFL and NBA play-by-play man Kevin Harlan will have the call, with his analyst partner, former NFL and Raider QB, Rich Gannon.

Oakland update. Led by Head Coach Jack Del Rio (first year with Oakland) and second-year QB Derek Carr (Fresno State), the Raiders finally appear to be turning the corner, after years in the NFL’s wilderness. The once-proud Oakland franchise has amazingly not had a winning season since 2002, when they finished 11-5, and 1st in the AFC West, with QB and NFL MVP Rich Gannon at the controls. The 2002 Raiders advanced to Super Bowl XXXLVII, before losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 48-21. Since that 2002 season, the Raiders have endured twelve straight losing seasons (2003-2014), and have a cumulative record of 56-120 (.318), worst in the NFL. A model of instability, the Raiders have had eight head coaches in those twelve seasons, and a host of failed draft picks (notably QB JaMarcus Russell, #1 overall in 2007, and WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, #7 overall in 2009) and free agent signings.

The 2015 version of the Raiders is different. General Manager Reggie McKenzie arrived from Green Bay in 2012, steadily rebuilt the team, primarily through the draft, and is now starting to see his hard work result in success on the field – especially on offense. QB Derek Carr started all 16 games in 2014, and took his share of hits and defeats in a 3-13 season — but he showed poise, promise, and ability to direct the offense, throwing 21 TDs and only 12 INTs. That invaluable experience for a young QB, coupled with the emergence RB Latavius Murray (6th round pick, 2013, Central Florida) and rookie WR Amari Cooper (fourth overall pick in the 2015 draft, Alabama) has already enabled the Raiders to equal their 2014 win total. Carr engineered a 37-33 comeback win over the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2, and helped snap the franchise’s 11-game road losing streak with a Week 3, 27-20 win at Cleveland. Through the first six games of 2015, Derek Carr has completed 65.8% of his passes for 1,460 yds, 11 TDs and 3 INTs. His primary targets include Cooper and free agent WR acquisition, Michael Crabtree (49ers). Cooper has 33 receptions for a team-high 519 yds and 3 TDs, while Crabtree also has 33 receptions, for 381 yds, and 2 TDs.

Former USC and NFL LB Jack Del Rio was hired as the Head Coach for 2015, returning to the NFL as a HC for the first time since 2011. In his nine years (2003-2011) as the HC of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Del Rio was 68-71 with two playoff appearances. He has already brought a steadying influence with him, adding stability to a franchise that has craved it for over a decade. From 2012-2014, Del Rio was the Defensive Coordinator for the Denver Broncos; two of his three Denver defenses were Top-10 in the league (2012, 2014) and his other defense (2013) was part of a Super Bowl run that ended in a defeat to the Seattle Seahawks. Del Rio and Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. have their work cut out for them in Oakland; the Raiders lack the ability to generate pressure on the opposing QB (only 11 sacks), and it places tremendous pressure on their secondary.

That said, the Raiders are young, still building, and do have several impact playmakers on defense, including fourth-year LB (and XLVIII Super Bowl MVP w/Seattle) Malcolm Smith (3.0 sacks), second-year LB Khalil Mack (3.0 sacks, Oakland 1st round pick, #5 overall in 2014), third-year CB D.J. Hayden (Oakland 1st round pick, #12 overall in 2013), and the ageless S Charles Woodson (4 INTs). At the age of 39, Woodson — the future Hall of Famer and 1997 Heisman Trophy Award winner out of Michigan – is in his 18th NFL season and continues to perform at a high level. Woodson is a fantastic story, and a good example for the young Oakland team. He was the #4 overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft by Oakland, played for the Raiders from 1998-2005, departed to Green Bay as a free agent from 2006-2012 (winning a Super Bowl in 2010), and returned back to Oakland in 2013. He is still in phenomenal physical condition and has a tremendous passion for the game.

Oakland in Week 7, 37-29 win at San Diego. Picking up their second road win of the year, the Raiders jumped out to a 24 point lead at halftime, and led the Chargers 37-6 at the start of the 4th quarter. Derek Carr completed 24 of 31 passes for 289 yards, and 3 TDs. Cooper had 5 catches for 133 yards, including a 52-yard TD. The Raiders made progress with the running game against a porous Charger front, rushing for 120 yards as a team; Murray carried 15 times for 85 yards and a TD. Although they did allow 23 points to San Diego in the 4th quarter, the Raiders never allowed the game to hang in the balance. Coming out of the Charger game, LB Keiron Ball sustained a knee injury and will be out against Jets; DE Denico Autry (concussion) and DT Justin Ellis (ankle) are both questionable for Sunday.

Raider Notes. The Week 3, 27-20 win at Cleveland that snapped an 11-game road losing streak was Oakland’s first win on the road since November 17, 2013 (a 28-23 win at Houston). It also broke a 16-game losing streak in the Eastern Time Zone, dating back to a Week 13, 27-23 win at Pittsburgh on December 6, 2009. The Raider offense ranks 9th in the NFL, scoring 24 points/game; the Raiders offense ranks 11th in passing yardage and 23rd in rushing yardage, with 4.2 yds/carry. The Silver and Black defense ranks 21st in the NFL, permitting 25.5 points/game; the Raiders are 32nd, and worst in the NFL against the pass, and have already surrendered 23 TDs. The Raiders are stronger against the run, ranking 3rd in the NFL, only allowing 3.7 yds/carry.

The Raiders are working with the Chargers on a plan for to build a $1.7 billion stadium in Carson, CA / Los Angeles area, which may enable the relocation of both teams. The St. Louis Rams are also showing interest in re-locating to Los Angeles, with a proposed stadium in Inglewood, near the Hollywood Park race track. Interestingly, the Rams, Raiders, and Chargers have all called Los Angeles home at various points across their respective franchise histories. The NFL led public hearings this week regarding the potential relocation of these three franchises – Tuesday in St. Louis, Wednesday in San Diego, and Thursday night in Oakland.
Jets update. The Jets provided the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots their stiffest test thus far, losing 30-23 in Foxborough. Early on, the Jets completely neutralized the Patriots’ ground game (New England only rushed 9 times) and the New York front seven placed pressure on Patriot QB Tom Brady, sacking him three times, and helping propel the Jets to a 13-10 halftime lead. The Jets took a 20-16 lead on FG by K Nick Folk with 12:50 remaining in the 4th quarter. From there, Tom Brady masterfully worked matchups against the Jet defense, leading two straight scoring drives that put New England up 30-20, effectively ending the game. The last Patriot TD was a 15-yd pass play from Brady to untouched TE Rob Gronkowski. Last week, in breaking down this game, we thought the Jets would win by a FG and that Gronkowski would be their biggest challenge defensively. We were off on the final result, but the Gronkowski matchup is something the Jets will need to relook before the December 27th rematch at MetLife Stadium.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick hung in throughout. He fumbled on the game’s third play, but rebounded to throw for 295 yards and 2 TDs. The Jets were never able to effectively establish the running game, as RB Chris Ivory was only able to generate 41 yards on 17 carries; he did have a 9-yd TD reception. WR Brandon Marshall’s streak of consecutive 100-yd games ended at four. He had a rough day, dropping a potential 12-yd TD catch, and being called for a false start on the game’s final play. Marshall finished with 4 receptions for 67 yards. WR Eric Decker had 6 catches for 94 yards. On defense, DE Muhammad Wilkerson tallied his 5th sack of the season, and S Marcus Gilchrist recorded 10 tackles.

Jet Notes and Injury Report. The Jets sustained several key injuries at New England that will impact the upcoming game against Oakland. S Calvin Pryor injured an ankle, and is out for Sunday’s game. Pro Bowl C Nick Mangold has a neck injury, and is doubtful; if he does not play, it will only be his 4th missed game in 10 seasons, and his absence will certainly be felt up front. RB Bilal Powell is also out with a sprained ankle. In response, on Friday, the Jets activated former Patriot RB Stevan Ridley from the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. Ridley will likely see game action for the first time since last October, when he sustained injuries to his ACL and MCL. Ridley and RB Zac Stacy will backup Ivory, who did tweak a hamstring early in the New England game; Ivory practiced this week, and appears probable. On the outside, WR Chris Owunsu (concussion) is also out against Oakland, as is WR Devin Smith, who sprained his ankle in practice on Thursday. This will lead to an expanded role for WR Jeremy Kerley, as WR Quincy Ewunu is also suspended 4 games for a violation of the league’s personal conduct policy, stemming from a 2014 arrest.

On Friday, stories surfaced that claimed the Jets had asked the NFL to sweep the Visitors’ locker room in New England prior to last Sunday’s game; an NFL spokesman said that the request was not unusual for teams to make…but, he did not dispute the report. Jets-Patriots = never dull. See you in December.

What to watch for, and a Prediction. A great matchup to watch this Sunday will be CB Darrelle Revis against Raider rookie WR Amari Cooper. It will be interesting to see how both Cooper and QB Derek Carr react to the stress that Revis is likely to create. The Jets front seven will look to generate pressure on Carr, who will face the most pressure he has seen in ’15. I would expect HC Todd Bowles and Defensive Coordinator Kacy Rogers to bring pressure on blitzes from a variety of angles to cause confusion for the second-year QB. The Raiders will be hard pressed to run the ball against New York; the Jets have only allowed 37 carries for 109 yards in the last 3 games (Miami, Washington, New England)…that’s an average of about 12 carries a game for 36 yards. When the Jets are on offense, I expect OC Chan Gailey to throw early on first and second down to help establish the running game. The Raiders are strong against the run, but generate little pass pressure. The potential loss of C Mangold could be problematic, but the Jets may not feel the hurt too badly against the anemic Oakland front seven. Many around the country are predicting a Raider win with all of the Jet health concerns entering the weekend. I think the Jets are deep enough here to get back on the winning track…Jets 30-20.
…and around NY sports.

1) The World Series shifts to New York. The Kansas City Royals won the first two games of the 2015 World Series at Kauffman Stadium in KC on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. The Royals won a thrilling Game 1, 5-4 in 14 innings. LF Alex Gordon’s game tying home run of Mets’ closer RHP Jeurys Familia with one out in the bottom of the 9th shocked the Mets, and the Royals placed pressure on the Mets relief corps throughout extra innings, finally getting to RHP Bartolo Colon after 3B David Wright made an error on Kansas City SS Alcides Escobar’s ground ball that led off the bottom of the 14th. After a double by Royals’ 2B Ben Zobrist, the Mets elected to intentionally walk Royals’ CF Lorenzo Cain. KC 1B Eric Hosmer won it with a sacrifice fly to right, scoring Escobar, even with a valiant throw by Mets’ RF Curtis Granderson.

In Game 2, Royals’ RHP Johnny Cueto threw a sparkling complete game, 2-hitter, as KC won 7-1. The Royals placed tremendous pressure on Mets’ starter, RHP Jacob DeGrom with their aggressive contact hitting style, and ability to run the bases. Going into this series, I assessed the Mets had the advantage based on their starters, and that New York would win the World Series in 6. It’s off to a rocky start, but entering Friday night, if RHP Noah Syndergaard can give the Mets’ offense a chance to get to Royals’ starter Yordano Ventura, they will get on top early…and the Mets will be back in the Series. Stay tuned…

2) New York Giants (4-3, 1st NFC East) at New Orleans Saints (3-4, 3rd NFC South). Last Sunday, the Giants’ special teams and secondary served as the catalysts in the team’s 27-20 win at Met Life Stadium against the Dallas Cowboys. The Giants’ offensive attack has not been as potent over the last two weeks (L, at Philadelphia; W vs. Dallas) with the hamstring injuries plaguing WRs Odell Beckham, Jr. and Rueben Randle – and was unable to sustain drives. On defense, the Giant secondary made key plays that snuffed Dallas drives – two INTs for CB Dominique-Rogers Cromartie (one returned for a 58-yard TD) and one INT by S Brandon Meriweather. However, the Giant defense was woefully ineffective in stopping the run. The Cowboys gouged the Giants for 233 yards on 41 carries; RB Darren McFadden led Dallas with 152 yards and 1 TD.

Midway through the 4th quarter, Dallas QB Matt Cassel connected with WR Devin Street on a 25-yd TD to tie the game at 20-20. On the ensuing kickoff, Giant KR/WR Dwayne Harris – an offseason free agent from Dallas – returned a kickoff 100 yards for a TD, to give the Giants undisputed possession of 1st place in the NFC East…and Giants’ Head Coach Tom Coughlin his 100th regular season win as HC of the NYG. Coach Coughlin, who won 68 games as the HC of the Jacksonville Jaguars (1995-2002) has also won 8 postseason games during two Super Bowl runs with the Giants; he is only the second Giants’ HC to attain 100 victories – Hall of Famer Steve Owen (1931-1953) is the franchise leader with 151.

This week, the Giants travel down to New Orleans to take on Saints team that started 0-3, but has won 3 of its last 4, including a 27-21 win in Indianapolis last Sunday. The Saints have not actually been above the .500 mark since the end of the 2013 season, and they are no longer a dominant team at the Superdome. But, this is a tale of two lower-tier defenses. The Saints yield 26.4 points/game, 25th in the NFL, and 404.9 yds/game, 30th of 32 NFL teams. Meanwhile, Giants’ Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is making lemonade out of lemons. The Giants’ D is 29th in the NFL in yards allowed (just one notch above the Saints), and 30th in the NFL, allowing opponents to convert 46% of third-down opportunities – but the team is a respectable 14th in points allowed – truly, the bottom line metric – at 22.4 points/game. The Giants only have 9 sacks through seven games, and will welcome the eventual return of DE Jason-Pierre Paul; JPP signed his ’15 contract earlier this week, and will make his debut before the end of the month.

Expect the Giants to move the ball better this week as Beckham, Jr. and Randle continue to heal; the Giants added second-year RB Orleans Darkwa (Tulane) to the rotation last week – he gained 48 yards on 8 carries, and scored his first TD of the season. Look for him to get more carries this week, at the expense of RB Rashad Jennings, who has had most of the work in the early going. But, the Giants D will be under constant pressure from Saints’ QB Drew Brees and company. The Giants do not normally play well in the Big Easy, and this week will be no different. Saints 34-24.

3) New York Knicks. The New York Knicks tipped off their 2015-2016 season on Wednesday night with an impressive win at Milwaukee, defeating the Bucks, 122-97. F Kristaps Porzingas had 16 points in his NBA debut, while offseason free agent acquisition F Derrick Williams (FA – Minnesota) led the way with 24 points off the bench. F Carmelo Anthony, returning from knee surgery that limited him to 41 games in 2014-2015, had 11 in his season debut. The next night, the Knicks opened their home campaign at MSG against the Atlanta Hawks, who had the Eastern Conference’s best regular season record a year ago. The Knicks trailed most of the night and lost the second game of the back-to-back, 112-101. Early impressions are that Knicks President/GM Phil Jackson has smartly restocked this team with versatile players who can compete, rounding out a professional second unit that can defend. The key will be how the Knicks starters – G Jose Calderon, G Aaron Aafalo (currently sidelined), Anthony, Porzingas, and C Robin Lopez (FA – Portland) can mesh, score, and stay healthy. The starters are not a great defensive unit, and the Knicks will be reliant on the depth of their newly constructed roster. Coming off a franchise worst 17 wins in 2014-2015, this team can only get better. Most publications have the Knicks anywhere from 24 to 42 wins, which reflects the uncertainty surrounding this team and what it is capable of. I think the Knicks can win 35-37 games and stay in the hunt for the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference. They have a rough November schedule, matching up against 10 different 2014-2015 playoff teams. If they are able to survive that stretch, they’ll get better as the season progresses and make a run at it in the second half…on the high end, I think they can win 39. We’ll revisit the Knicks at the season progresses.

4) MLB Managerial updates. Although most MLB teams do not make news or announce hires/changes during the World Series, it was a busy week around the game. The Miami Marlins have all but announced a 4-year agreement with former Yankee 1B, and former Los Angeles Dodger Manager (2011-2015), Don Mattingly. Donnie Baseball stated that he wanted to manage after he parted ways from the Dodgers last week, and it looks like he’ll get the chance in south Florida. The Marlins have talent in RF Giancarlo Stanton, RHP Jose Fernandez, 2B Dee Gordon, and LF Christian Yelich. They have holes in the pitching rotation though, and the organization usually operates in a state of flux and chaos under owner Jeffrey Loria. We wish the best to the former Yankee Captain as he takes the reins…he’ll need it.

In other moves, the Washington Nationals decided to hire former San Diego Padre manager (2007-2015), and former MLB LHP, Bud Black as their next manager. Black will replace Matt Williams; it appears that the decision in DC came down to Black and former Giants-Cubs-Reds manager Dusty Baker. The Padres meanwhile, did announce the hiring of Diamondbacks’ coach Andy Green as their next manager; it appears he was the final choice in a final group that included former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and Pirate coach, Rick Sofield. The Seattle Mariners hired former MLB catcher Scott Servais to be their next pilot. Servais will replace Lloyd McClendon, who was released after the regular season by new-GM Jerry DiPoto. DiPoto has a long standing relationship with Servais that only grew stronger during DiPoto’s time as the Angels’ GM (2011-2015); Servais served as his assistant.

Mike Lalor can be heard talking NY Jets and New York sports on the Spadora on Sports Radio Program. His blog can be found at SpadoraOnSports.com

 

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