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Providence Kernel, August 16, 2008
Special Teams Failures Doom Steam Roller in 34-31 Loss to Albany
Frost’s Blocked Punt in Overtime Gift-Wraps Winning Score
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Richmond Timed Distant, August 17, 2008
Rebels Rally, Edge Baltimore in Overtime, 22-16
Again Stover Boots Field Goal on Last Play of 4th Quarter
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Washington Postage Stamp, August 17, 2008
Sproles Stars as Capitols Outlast Charleston, 31-20
Returns Punt and Kickoff for TDs in 4th Quarter
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Syracuse Posed Standee, August 17, 2008
Connecticut Keeps Crush Out of Win Column, 23-17
10-Point Deficit Entering 4th Quarter Too Much to Overcome
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New York Slimes, August 17, 2008
3 Pennington TD Passes Pace Empires’ 31-28 Win Over Hershey
Pair of Scores Each for Toomer, Parker
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Wilmington Snooze-Terminal, August 18, 2008
Tomlinson’s OT Heroics Boost Cherries Over Lakers, 36-33
Pair of Big Gains Sets Up Kasay for Winning Field Goal
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Wilmington Snooze-Terminal, August 18, 2008

Rip Snorter

Defenseless Cherries Need to Plug Holes Fast

Last season the Cherries got off to a slow start defensively. They allowed 59 points in their first two games, winning one. They proceeded to win 11 of their last 12 regular season games, allowing fewer than 13 points per game over that stretch.

This season the Cherries again stand at 1‑1 after two games, thanks to LaDainian Tomlinson carrying them on his back in overtime against Philadelphia. But they’ve started even more slowly on defense — alarmingly so. In the course of giving up a total of 70 points to teams not known for robust offense — 37 to Charleston and 33 to the Lakers — the Cherries’ defense has been torched for an average of 425 yards per game!

Ouch!

Yesterday morning, Brandon Jacobs repeatedly sliced through the first two layers of Delaware defenders for big gains. Brett Favre, like Eli Manning the week before, had little trouble finding his receivers. Rarely did the Cherries double-team the right one.

So where do the problems lie?

The pass rush has been weak, for one. They’ve sacked opposing quarterbacks only once. (Admittedly, the one sack was a game-changer — by Julius Peppers on Favre for a safety early in the fourth quarter.) More problematic I think is that the linebacking corps hasn’t jelled yet. Bart Scott moved inside in the off-season, and it seems to me he hasn’t yet gotten his sea legs. Rookie LaMarr Woodley thus far has been a downgrade from Carlos Polk whom the Cherries let get away to Richmond. Woodley needs to adjust to the higher speed of the pro game. He may yet come around. On a critical play in overtime, he made a splendid play to limit Jacobs to a two-yard gain on a screen pass. That led to the punt that set up the Cherries’ drive for the winning field goal.

Let’s say the Cherries’ defense gets it act together and ultimately decreases its points against down to 25 points per game. That would have them giving up 350 for the season, up more than 50 percent from the miserly 211 they allowed last season. Given that scenario, even if the offense were to continue to pile up close to 30 points per game — and that’s kind of unlikely — I would be hard-pressed to predict more than eight wins. Would eight be enough for them to advance to the post-season. Ehh … maybe. In any case they need to — as the headline says — plug the holes fast with the high-flying — and first place — Emps coming to town Saturday night.

The game yesterday morning in Philly was a classic. What with six — count 'em — six lead changes and an electrifying punt return for six by Delaware rookie Yamon Figurs, the crowd was on the edge of its seats for most of the second half, as well as overtime. Tomlinson almost won it for the Cherries in regulation. On 1st and goal from the 8 with 1:22 left, he streaked through a huge hole up the middle opened by Nick Mangold and Shawn Andrews. Only LaRon Landry had a shot at Tomlinson, and Landry appeared to be hopelessly off balance. Had not Tomlinson lost his footing at the 3, he would have scored — and he knew it.

Tomlinson later said, “After I slipped when we could have won without O.T., I told coach [Jon Brams] and ‘Seventeen’ [Philip Rivers], just give me [the ball in overtime] — I got this!”

Boy did he ever have it!

Coincidentally, the Cherries won by the same 36‑33 score back on October 15, 2006, at home against Albany, and that was also a nationally-televised Sunday morning game. Besides the late drama, the TV audience for yesterday’s game had some interesting strategy on the part of Brams to chew on. Uncharacteristically, he went for first downs three times on 4th and short — and all three gambles paid off:

In response to questioning, Brams said, “I read online about a study that said coaches are too conservative on fourth down. I decided to try things a little differently. It’s irritating, you know, to wave the white flag when a drive is just getting cranked up. Odds are you can make a few yards. And this time we did — and each time it led to points. I’m a believer.”

I googled for the study, and I believe it to be this: http://www.advancednflstats.com/2009/09/4th-down-study-part-4.html. It’s certainly food for thought. I’ll be interested to see whether Brams continues to abide by it.

If not for those 4th down gambles yesterday, the Cherries might well be staring up today at a two-game gap in the division, with the Lakers doing the staring down, as well as the Emps.

By the way, the Cherries’ victory was their fourth in a row over the Lakers. This decade the Delaware-Philadelphia rivalry has been marked by streaks. Before the current streak started in 2006, the Lakers had beaten the Cherries six straight times from 2003 to 2006. Before that the Cherries had taken four straight from the Lakers from 2001 to 2003, a streak that began after the Lakers had prevailed three times in a row from 2000 to 2001.