In case you were out waiting for your turn to sing “Manic Monday” at your local karaoke bar, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Alabama hammered Notre Dame, 42-14, in the BCS championship to secure their third college football championship in the past four years. It was reported that the amount of self-satisfied nodding by middle-aged men wearing crimson polo shirts tucked into khaki shorts skyrocketed to dangerous levels by the end of the first quarter. Observers feared that Alabama's exploits could lead to a superstorm of smugness in SEC country, but, fortunately, the thrashing Alabama delivered was so severe, the insufferable nodding quickly gave way to stoic close-lipped grinning, and potential disaster was averted as the Tide cruised to victory.
Despite their BCS Championship loss, Notre Dame fans had something to cheer about, as their men's basketball team topped Cincinnati, 66-60. "We're all just so happy to get a huge Big East win," said smiling Notre Dame sophomore Alison Whitner as her facial muscles started to twitch. "Sure, that football game wasn't the best, but my classmates and I are all totally satisfied getting one out of two. Football? Basketball? All the same to us here at Notre Dame. All the same to us All All " Whitner then fell deathly silent as a trickle of blood rolled down from her right nostril.
The Boston Celtics, led by a vintage performance from Paul Pierce, won a hard-fought battle with the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, 102-96. After the game, All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony, who committed a technical foul in the fourth quarter in an altercation with Kevin Garnett, reportedly continued harassing Garnett in the bowels of the arena. Garnett, for his part, denied the altercation occurred, as he was embarrassed that he fell for the oldest trick in the book: the misdirection. See, while Anthony had Garnett distracted outside the locker room, former Celtic Rasheed Wallace, cannily disguised in his old uniform, snuck into the Boston locker room and stole Garnett's prized stuffed elephant, Trunky. Expect the situation to escalate the next time these two teams meet.
Because I’m a Bears fan, and because my friends and I made a blood pact to never again discuss what transpired in the NFL on Sunday afternoon, I decided that this week’s Trenchie Awards would go a bit differently. There’s really no sense in discussing what happened in the past. We can only move forward, and in front of us is a set of lineman matchups that has me (and anyone else with pictures of J.J. Watt in his or her locker) looking forward to this year’s wild-card weekend even more than I normally would.
J.J. Watt vs. Geno Atkins
OK, so they’re not actually playing against each other, but in a game that’s otherwise uninspiring, we get a chance to watch the two best defensive players in football do their thing.
As Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus wrote this week, if it weren’t for the historic year Watt has put together, Atkins’s 2012 would be the season worthy of all this adulation. According to PFF’s numbers, Atkins graded out almost two times better than any other defensive tackle the site has ever charted. Cameron Wake and Von Miller were the only two players, at any position, to record more total pressures. Unlike Watt, whose position varies based on Houston’s front and situation, there’s no mistaking what Atkins is. He’s a 3-technique, 4-3 tackle who happens to be one of the four most disruptive pass rushers in the league.
With Tom Brady and Peyton Manning still dissecting defenses, this weekend’s game between the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins might not produce this year’s Super Bowl winner, but it may still be the key to the NFL’s future. Since their 3-6 start, the Redskins are on a seven-game winning streak, during which their already potent offense stabilized into one of the best in the league. Seattle, on its own five-game winning streak, has coalesced into arguably the best team in football. After outscheming the Chicago Bears en route to a dramatic overtime victory, Seattle pulled off one of the greatest three-game stretches in league history by bludgeoning the Cardinals, Bills, and 49ers, a stretch during which they outscored their opponents 150 to 30.
Among similar dominant stretches in NFL history, one that comes close was by the 1940 Chicago Bears, whose streak culminated in a 73-0 victory over the Redskins in the NFL Championship. That record offensive output followed totals of 47 and 31 points in the previous two weeks. The success was the direct result of a switch in offensive scheme by legendary Bears coach and owner George Halas, a switch that helped turn a 7-3 Bears loss to the Redskins earlier that season into the most lopsided championship game in any major professional sport. Halas, frustrated by his offense, turned to good friend and Stanford coach Clark Shaughnessy for help.
At the time, every NFL team ran the single wing offense, a shotgun-based attack with an unbalanced line where the ball was typically snapped directly to the tailback. Shaughnessy — first at the University of Chicago, where he and Halas became friends, and later at Stanford — had revived the old T-formation, which placed a quarterback directly behind the center. Shaughnessy updated the T to include a variety of motions and misdirection to buttress the running game and bolted on an all-new passing attack. The combination made the offense nearly unstoppable — at least in college. Even as late as 1940, most pro coaches viewed the T formation and its reliance on the quarterback making fakes and dropping back to pass as a bizarre gimmick. That is until Chicago ripped through the latter part of its schedule, and, with Sid Luckman as the prototype for a new era of "T-formation quarterbacks," built a dynasty.
In celebration of the NFL's release of the all-22 and end-zone film for the 2012 season, each week we'll be bringing you the best in offensive- and defensive-line play. For the winners of last week's Trenchie's, click here.
The Bob Lilly Award for Run Stuffing
J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
This could get boring. Watt takes this one home for the second straight week, and even though I tried Karl Malone–ing him, there’s really no denying what he did on Sunday. On the four plays where the second-year defensive end made solo tackles in the run game, Denver gained a total of negative three yards. As he did last week, Watt showed off his ability to both maintain outside leverage and play down the line of scrimmage when the ball went away from him. The two plays that stood out, though — both two-yard losses for the Broncos — simply saw Watt beating up on whoever was tasked with blocking him.