Nationals

2 quarterbacks, 2 increasingly desperate teams

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2 quarterbacks, 2 increasingly desperate teams

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Michael Vick and Drew Brees came into the NFL the same year.

Now, they're in the same predicament: trying to bail out two increasingly desperate teams, both teetering on the edge of collapse.

Brees has essentially become a one-man show for the New Orleans Saints (2-5), who are plagued by a historically leaky defense and anemic running game, not to mention the lingering effects of a bounty scandal.

For Vick, the stakes are even higher in Monday night's game at the Superdome. He's the face of the struggling Eagles (3-4), who have lost three straight games, and facing weekly questions about his job security.

If Vick fails to shine against the Saints - who are giving up 50 yards more per game than the next-worst team - embattled Philadelphia coach Andy Reid might have little choice except to change QBs, despite giving No. 7 a strong vote of confidence.

``Things could be a lot better,'' Vick said. ``Not only myself but everybody on this team feels like there is more that they can do to help put us in position to be satisfied with our record. In this game, you just have to keep pushing and try to keep getting better every week.''

Brees is having another stellar year statistically, ranking second in the league in yards passing, but there's no room for error. When he struggled last week against the Denver Broncos, the Saints were blown out 34-14.

``I feel like we've gotten better every week with the exception of last week,'' Brees said. ``We just did not play up to our standard, certainly with the hype going into that game, and we were all hurt by it. But it also lights a fire within all of us that we don't want that to be the lasting memory people have of our team. We're better than that, and we need to show them on Monday night.''

Vick was the top overall pick by the Atlanta Falcons in 2001, the same year Brees was taken with the first pick of the second round by the San Diego Chargers. Of the 11 quarterbacks drafted that year, they are the only two still on an NFL roster.

``I feel like I've known him a long time,'' Brees said. ``He's obviously had a lot of success in this league, both in Atlanta and in Philly.''

Not so much this season.

Vick has turned it over 13 times - eight interceptions and five fumbles - and he's coming off a pedestrian performance in Philadelphia's ugly 30-17 loss to the Falcons. Right after the game, a frustrated Reid sounded like he might switch to rookie Nick Foles. Then, after thinking it over, the coach stressed that Vick remains the starter, for this week and beyond.

``Michael was the quarterback, is the quarterback and will continue to be the quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles,'' Reid said. ``I can't make it any more clear than that.''

Then again, there's just as much speculation in Philadelphia about Reid's long-term prospects. Owner Jeffrey Lurie put the coach on notice after last season's disappointing 8-8 finish, and the challenge seemed to work when the Eagles started off with three wins in their first four games - by a total of four points. Then, the defense squandered late leads in losses to Pittsburgh and Detroit, costing coordinator Juan Castillo his job.

``It's important that I get my job going in the right direction and making sure that we win football games and that I coach to win football games,'' Reid said. ``We're all accountable for it. We're all stand-up men and we understand our responsibilities and we've got to do better. But it starts with me.''

Defense isn't the only concern. Despite a seeming abundance of playmakers, from Vick to running back LeSean McCoy to receiver DeSean Jackson, the Eagles are a dismal 28th in scoring, averaging just 17.1 points a game.

Scoring is usually not a problem for the Saints, who are sixth in the league with a 27.1-point average, but the defense has totally collapsed without coordinator Gregg Williams, who was banished by his league for his role in the alleged bounty program.

New Orleans is the first team since at least 1950 - and very likely in the history of the NFL - to surrender more than 400 yards in seven straight games. At this rate (474.7), the Saints will shatter the 31-year-old record for yards in a season, set by the Colts when they were still in Baltimore.

Just how bad is this defense? New Orleans is more than 200 yards worse than league-leading San Francisco (271.4). In fact, the Saints aren't even close to 31st-ranked Buffalo (424.1).

``If I had the answer, I would say something and everything would be solved,'' linebacker Scott Shanle moaned. ``Everybody has a different explanation, different theories. It hasn't been what we thought it would be so far. All we can do is try to keep getting better and see what happens from here on out.''

The Saints also rank last in the league in rushing (72.6 yards), and they'll have to get by this week without all-purpose stud Darren Sproles, who is sidelined with a broken hand.

Which puts even more of a burden on Brees.

``We can't look at the rest of our schedule. We can't look at our division,'' he said. ``We can't look at anything other than how do we win this week?''

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Past Nationals relievers: Where are they now?

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Past Nationals relievers: Where are they now?

It’s no secret that the Nationals bullpen is one of the weakest units in baseball this season. Fans in the nation’s capital have spent two months watching relievers cough up leads and put games out of reach, and the numbers speak for themselves. 

Washington’s team ERA among relievers is an unsightly 7.09 entering Memorial Day Weekend, nearly a full run higher than the 29th-ranked Orioles. As a unit, they’ve pitched fewer innings than any other bullpen, yet have allowed the second-most earned runs.

No one has been immune. Sean Doolittle, by far the best option in 2019, has seen his ERA balloon to 3.68. Justin Miller is the only other regular reliever with an ERA below 5, and he’s at 4.02.

It’s caused much consternation in the fanbase, and for good reason. Where did the Nationals go wrong in building this bullpen? What could they have done differently?

To answer that question, let’s take a look at four relievers who are experiencing various levels of success while no longer in Washington.

Felipe Vazquez

Vazquez has been lights out in Pittsburgh in 2019. He ranks top-10 among relievers in WAR (0.9) and top-12 in ERA (1.25). He holds the sixth-best K/9 (14.54) and is tied for the fourth-most saves in baseball with 13.

Every one of those numbers would lead the Nationals with ease. At 27, Vazquez has turned into one of the elite relievers in the sport. He’s been terrific all three years with the Pirates, and 2019 looks like his best season yet.

Of course, he wasn’t ready to be this guy in 2016 when the Nationals traded him for Mark Melancon. It was a necessary trade at the time, and one that worked out well in a vacuum. Melancon pitched well in Washington and didn’t allow a run in the 2016 postseason.

Right now, the Nats could really use a Felipe Vazquez, but the logic behind their trade at the time was sound.

Blake Treinen

Treinen has already allowed as many earned runs in 2019 (seven) as he did in all of 2018. It’s not a knock on his performance this season, where his 2.59 ERA would still lead the Nationals, but a recognition of just how dominant he was in 2018.

In the modern era of Major League Baseball, it’s just about impossible for a reliever to win the Cy Young. Even with just 80 innings pitched last year, Treinen finished sixth in Cy Young voting and 15th in MVP voting. 

That’s right. He was so good, he got down-ballot votes for MVP. It was a sensational year.

His usually-elite ground ball rate is down this season, which has led to some regression, but it’s still notable he put together a 2018 season that far outshines any individual season the Nats have seen.

It was clear in 2017 he wasn’t capable of performing as the team’s closer, eventually earning a demotion before being traded to Oakland.

Despite his enormous success in the years since the trade, it’s hard to question the Nationals here. Not only did it seem apparent Treinen wasn’t going to figure things out in D.C., but the trade brought back Sean Doolittle, the lone consistently great reliever the Nats have had in recent years.

Brandon Kintzler

Kintzler pitched parts of two seasons in Washington, but ultimately spent exactly one year with the Nationals. In that year, he tossed 68.2 innings while striking out 43 batters and walking 18.

His ERA with the Nationals was 3.54, too high for a high-leverage reliever. He struggled mightily in 2018 after being traded to the Cubs, but has settled down this season to the tune of a 2.96 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 24 innings.

As is the case for just about any halfway-decent reliever, the current Nationals bullpen would benefit from having him, but this isn’t nearly the loss Treinen or Vasquez were.

Shawn Kelley

Kelley was up-and-down in his time with the Nationals. His ERA was below three in 2016 and 2018, but the 2017 season was marred with injuries, inconsistency, and a tendency to allow home runs (a whopping 12 in just 26 innings).

Of course, Kelley was pitching better in 2018, but it wasn’t performance that led to his departure. 

In a blowout Nationals 25-4 victory over the Mets in July 2018, Kelley allowed three earned runs, including a home run. After the home run, he slammed his glove on the ground while staring at the Nats dugout.

The next day, he was designated for assignment as a result of the outburst and never pitched for the Nationals again, traded away a few days later. 

In his 33.2 innings since the trade, Kelley has been terrific. He posted a 2.16 ERA with the Athletics in 2018 and currently holds a 1.59 ERA in 2019 despite pitching his home games in Texas. He’s even filled in at closer with the Rangers, recording five saves so far this year.

Though his removal wasn’t for performance issues like Kintzler's or to acquire proven closers like Treinen’s and Vasquez’s were, the loss of Kelley can be felt just as hard. As is the case with each of these relievers, Kelley’s numbers would lead the Nationals bullpen in just about every category.

For the most part, these moves made sense at the time, for one reason or another. But the Nationals have yet to adequately replace most of these arms, and the 2019 team is suffering as a result.

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Free agent Gerald McCoy to visit Baltimore

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Free agent Gerald McCoy to visit Baltimore

Kick off your holiday weekend with the latest Baltimore Ravens news.

1. One of the most obvious needs for the Ravens is help rushing the passer, and they're hoping to find some of that help on the interior in the form of free agent Gerald McCoy. The longtime Buccaneer DL visited Cleveland last week, but left town without agreeing to a contract.

Reportedly interested in playing for a contender, the former top-five pick is scheduled to visit the Ravens on Tuesday.

2. Quarterback Lamar Jackson is still struggling to throw the ball, as he noted things aren't right yet when it comes to accuracy. Media members noticed the ball wobbling through the air on many throws, and Jackson told them he thinks his hand is too high on the ball. If he's going to successfully run Greg Roman's new offensive scheme, Jackson will eventually need to be able to hit his receivers in stride with greater regularity.

Looking Ahead:

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get a long-term deal done with designated franchise tag players.

The 2019 NFL schedule is set! See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

Credit: Rotoworld and Baltimore Ravens for news points.

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