Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Big Ben takes sacks

I mentioned in passing somewhere on this blog, that I question how long Roethlisberger will play, giving how many shots he takes when he plays. Here's the wonderful guys at Pro Football Reference, looking at this exact issue (from May 11):

Ben Roethlisberger
The correlation coefficient between sack percentage through age 26, and the player’s age in their last season in the NFL, is -0.335. This negative correlation means that the quarterbacks who took a higher percentage of sacks at a young age did tend to retire at an earlier age.
I’ll leave you with the list of quarterbacks who took the most raw number of sacks through age 26:
It's a sobering post.

Puts me in mind of a comment Cam Cameron made in an interview this past year. This was on one of the local "focus on the Ravens" shows that air during football season, where the two coordinators comment on last week's game and the upcoming opponent. Cam said (something like) “I believe in protecting the quarterback, especially a rookie. I'm not gonna apologize for that.” No need to apologize, Cam. No need.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Running an NFL franchise soundly hurts the league

Other morons cover the NFL too. Here's Ross Tucker writing about the Packers on CNN/SI:

Packers aren't doing NFL any favors with their financial strategy
The Packers have elected to be exceptionally frugal in recent years when it comes to player compensation. Ted Thompson and company have been non-existent in the free agent market the past three years. Instead, they have just given extensions to players already under contract like Aaron Rodgers and Greg Jennings in order to reach the mandated salary floor. That strategy is good for business and arguably a sound football decision, but...
But? There needs to be a "but"? Doesn't running a business intelligently justify itself? No!
...it doesn't do the other owners any favors when the end of the fiscal year financial information is released by the Packers. ... Recent news of the Packers' operating profit of over $20 million last year appears to hurt the owners' argument that opting out of the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement with the players was necessary. If a franchise in a miniscule market can turn a profit during a historically down economy, what does that say about big money owners like Dan Snyder and Robert Kraft? ... A better strategy, knowing the CBA negotiations were looming, would have been to spend closer to the cap in 2008 and thus negate a lot of the revenue that was being generated. It may not have been ideal in the short term for the Packers but it sure could have strengthened the position and argument of the league going forward.
A better strategy would be to make less financially responsible decisions? That's ludicrous, right? If it's not a good decision for the Packers, then they shouldn't do it.

Strengthening a franchise strengthens the league. Always. If the Packers are a strong franchise, that helps the league, period. If it really does weaken an argument the league might be trying to make in some venue, then that suggests the argument is BS.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Premium for being well behaved?

Greg Jennings just signed a contract extension that apparently could pay him $31MM for four years, which puts him around the $8MM a year mark. Here are Greg Jennings' stats in case you're interested...

Jennings, in '08, broke out in a big way. But, while he's now being paid like one of the elite receivers (not on the Larry Fitzgerald level, but he's not there of course), I'm not yet convinced he belongs in that category...
t-#16 for # receptions
#6 in rec yards
#8 in rec TDs
This, while Rodgers was #4 for yards and TDs thrown, with over 4,000 yards and 28 TDs.

So the question is, does Jennings have much up-side from the ~1,300 yards and 9 TDs he had this season? It's possible there's some, but when I watched him last year, I'm not certain he has much more up-side. He's a very good receiver, but he never struck me as an elite receiver. I think it's more likely he'll level off around 1,100 yards and 7-8 TDs per year. Very good of course, but worth $8MM a year?

Maybe it is, but I personally wouldn't want to pay that much for such a receiver. But then you have to look at some of the guys considered to be some of the best receivers in the game...better than (or maybe just "at least as good as") Jennings.....

Steve Smith - Punches his teammates in the face.
Brandon Marshall - Rap sheet longer than his 47 yard TD reception last year.
Terrell Owens - His QBs are his red headed step-children.
Anquan Boldin - He's not creating too many problems but his complaints are getting louder.
Randy Moss - He's been pretty normal in New England, but he's a destructive force.

Meanwhile, all Jennings does is shut up and play great football. At a position filled with divas, Jennings is decidedly the opposite, which makes me wonder if the Packers are paying a bit of a premium for a WR who might not be as good as the above guys, but they feel comfortable will never cause problems.

It also makes me wonder - regardless of whether that's the case or not - if it's smart to pay a big of a premium for such a player. It seems to me that the problem guys are still getting at or above market deals. So maybe the answer is to pay a premium for the good characters? Seems counter-intuitive to me, but is that a valuable use of extra funds?

I'm not certain of the answer, but seems like an interesting question.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mike Preston is a moron

Preston is a sports columnist for the Baltimore Sun. In this week's edition of Mike Preston is a moron –

Well it's almost not fair to pick on this column. It's one of those random grab-bags, a few paragraphs on one subject, a few on another. I tend to like columns like that. And this one is interesting thruout, full of interesting notes on KJ Gerard & Dawan Landry, Domonique Foxworth, and Tavares Gooden. The section I'm going to hammer Preston on is one single sentence. Shouldn't a journalist under deadline be able to catch a break on one single throwaway sentence?

Perhaps most columnists. But Mike Preston is a moron.

Preston writes that John Harbaugh has definitely taken control of the Ravens team. It's a fair subject for a column, because the Ravens squad definitely has its share of strong personalities, including Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs. And there was a perception that they were a little out-of-control under Brian Billick (although it should be pointed out that the main source for that perception was Preston himself). And there were questions about how strongly a rookie head coach could grab the reins of a veteran, cocky squad. Preston observes the high attendance at the offseason OTA's and says:

It's definitely Harbaugh's team now
by Mike Preston
Preston says that while there will be some tests, and while Harbaugh still has to deal with some stuff, it's his team. Here's one specific item Preston calls out:
Harbaugh still needs to improve the way he talks to players.

Are you trying to imagine what might lie behind a throwaway comment like that? I am. Perhaps Mike Preston has listened in on film sessions and locker room talks and practices, and feels that Harbaugh could improve his rhythm and timing. What, no? No. No, Harbaugh's locker rooms and practices have not been wide open to the media.

Well then perhaps Preston is observing the performance of the team, and astutely concluding that the team isn't displaying the unity that comes when coach and team are all on the same page moving in perfect step with each other. What, no? No: the Ravens advanced to the conference championship game last season, playing with more heart and unity then they've shown since maybe 2002. Many commentators observed that, after the conference championship game, the Ravens post-game locker room was angry and focussed; and the OTA's have been crisp and business like. And well-attended, as Preston himself notes in this column.

Then what?

Here's what it is. A couple of veterans last year grumbled to Preston that they didn't like the hard new regime as much as they liked Brian Billick's laissez faire approach – an approach which years ago Mike Preston dubbed "Camp Creampuff". Preston rushed to print with these in a column last year. Reading between the lines, that group of grumbling veterans may have included Chris McAllister (since cut), Ed Reed, maybe Willis McGahee, maybe some other "names". So they grumble to Preston off the record. "Harbaugh's too in-your-face" or "Harbaugh is a rah-rah guy" or whatever the hell they say.

And Preston swallows it hook, line and sinker. With absolutely no critical thinking about the source or what may lie behind it. He prints an "uh oh, there's trouble" column. Some of the veterans aren't buying in. And now, a season later, he still thinks of it as part of the iceberg of truth hidden beneath the surface of the Ravens "we're all family" PR machine.

John Harbaugh has been talking to football players for something on the order of 25 yrs. A dozen or so years in the college ranks, and then 10 yrs in the NFL as a highly-regarded asst coach, and then a very successful year as an NFL head coach. Isn't the preponderance of evidence that Harbaugh knows exactly how to talk to players? Or put another way, if you're going to suggest that Harbaugh needs to improve in that area, don't you have to accept a burden of proof? We're not talking about Josh McDaniel, here.

Because what it looks like is, Harbaugh stepped into a situation with a team that needed to be challenged a little. Football coaches, as a class, are rather confrontational guys anyway: cf Rex Ryan, Bill Parcells, Ditka, et al. Mike Tomlin is a stone-cold killa. Harbaugh displayed exactly zero hesitation about challenging his team. ("Hesitation" as a personality trait seems to have been omitted from his makeup, completely.) Chris Mcllister definitely needed his ass kicked a little; Willis McGahee too. But just because guys complain about how a coach talks to them, that does not necessarily indicate that the coach needs to change. In the my-way-or-the-highway NFL, it more often means the player might need to make an adjustment.

None of this seemed to cross Preston's mind at all.

"Speaking", as an area of job performance, looks like a big strength for Harbaugh. He manages to be forceful, direct, warm & engaging all at once. One thing that stands out after watching all the Ravens coaches press conferences last year, Harbaugh never criticizes a player publicly. There was much smoke in the media last season about McAllister being on the outs with Harbaugh; Harbaugh never said a word about it when pressed by reporters. McGahee was rumored to be in the doghouse for not being physically prepared to play: asked about it, Harbaugh said he sees a guy who's "killing himself" trying to get back on the field. That's specific praise of effort. Todd Heap was rumored to be in the doghouse for not having a great season as a receiver; asked about it, Harbaugh praises Heap's play as a blocker and talks about tight ends being "football players", not receivers. Etc.

Not that this is remarkable; it's normal adult behavior. (Actually, "normal adult behavior" is a little remarkable, when you see it in the NFL.) But it is an example of observable behavior that belies the assertion that Harbaugh doesn't know how to talk to people.

Here's more of Harbaugh interacting with his team:
Brigance's Brigade Marches Strong
The Ravens' entire team came out for O.J. Brigance and ALS research.
Listen, at the end of the day, I don't know a thing about how Harbugh talks to his players. Mike Preston has actually met these players, as I have not; so maybe I ought to give him the benefit of the doubt when he reports on what they think. But cripes, Preston: accept some responsibility as a writer, for having thought about what you mean when you say stuff.


Great offensive lines

It's finally the slow month, the only time in the NFL calendar that really represents a down time. All the teams have finished up their OTA's; players and coaches are off for a couple months before training camp starts. There is no news. Brandon Marshall probably can't make anything happen until training camp gets closer, if at all. Terrell Owens is still in his good behavior phase with his new team. And it's probably too much to expect Plaxico to shoot himself again.

The wonderful guys at Pro Football Reference to the rescue. Here's a post from their blog, on ranking the great O-lines in history using a statistical "approximate value" method:

Great offensive lines

A fun list, something to savor. The top 2 or 3 will make you nod your head. Guess what, the '72-73 Dolphins had a pretty good O-line. Go figure, right? I was surprised the 90's-era Cowboys didn't make a better showing, but it turns out Larry Allen came along later than I remembered. The Bill Walsh Niners had better O-lines than you remember. Also, check out their table with values for "pctg of peak value" by age. It graphically illustrates something that's been a core part of my thinking on pro sports, since I first encountered the idea in Bill James' writings.

Great post.

Good luck getting thru the next month. Are you ready for some football?


Friday, June 12, 2009

More on concussions

As a follow-up to this post, the NYT has this:


An international panel of neurologists, updating their recommendations on concussion care in the May issue of The British Journal of Sports Medicine, said that any athlete 18 or younger who was believed to have sustained a concussion during a game or practice should never be allowed to return to the playing field the same day. The group had previously said that such athletes could return if cleared by a doctor or certified athletic trainer
Other doctors, many of whom work the sidelines of high school athletic events, said they feared the effects of such strictness. They predicted that athletes would respond by hiding their injuries from coaches and trainers even more than they are already known to do, leaving them at risk for a second and more dangerous concussion.
Dr. Bob Sallis, a past president of the American College of Sports Medicine and a longtime sideline doctor in Southern California, said he saw the recommendation as a step backward. “More kids will be hurt seriously because of this, either by players not admitting they might have gotten a concussion or coaches encouraging them not to be up front about their symptoms, whether subtly or overtly,” Sallis said.
spotlights how some attempts to improve concussion-related safety can instead compromise it, a paradox encountered at levels as high as the N.F.L..
That's a very salient point.

The whole article is interesting, I don't want to steal its thunder by quoting too much of it. But this tidbit toward the end is particularly cool, about recovery from a concussion:
The panel also emphasized the importance of not just physical rest for players found to have a concussion, but cognitive rest as well. It said that teenagers should be kept from activities ranging from schoolwork to video games and text messaging while recovering from a concussion. “That is the No. 1 management issue in our clinic — how do we manage the cognitive activity that stresses that brain’s abnormal metabolism?” said Gerry Gioia, the chief of pediatric neuropsychology at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington. “Studying for an algebra exam, reading a lengthy text, sitting in a classroom for an hour and a half trying to keep notes and keep up — it extends recovery, it feels miserable to the kid, and it’s misunderstood by the school and public.”


Three Coaches

When NFL head coaches make the news it is usually a series of soundbites from pressers or as the focus of analysis buried deep within a column. This goes double for new head coaches who typically are "installing systems" and "evaluating players" and other insubstantial somethings. When new head coaches make the sports page equivalent of the gossip columns? Well usually it ends badly.

So here we are, slightly more than halfway through the offseason and seeing something that - if not unprecedented is at least on the far side of rare. Three incoming head coaches are making waves, not with their football decisions but with their relatively bizarre behavior outside the white lines.

I think if I was ever hired to coach an NFL team with a 25 year old Pro Bowl quarterback, if asked what the first thing I'd do, my answer wouldn't be "I will shop for a replacement quarterback while trying to sell my Pro Bowler and when challenged I will deny the whole thing so that I can get caught in a lie by the Pro Bowler and alienate him right off the team, leaving myself with no options whatsoever". For one thing I try not to speak in awful run-on sentences like that, but well, you get the point. And of course this is precisely what Josh McDaniels did. If I were Pat Bowlen I would have been sorely tempted to fire McDaniels, Brian Xander and turn to Mike Shanahan on bended knee rather than lose Cutler.

I'm tempted to argue that age plays a role, and probably it does, but the babies in the bathwater are Don Shula, John Madden, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin, each who got their first HC position before the age of 35.

Moving on to Cleveland we have the curious case of Eric Mangini, another coach who got his first gig at the age of 34 and has been ruffling feathers ever since. Since getting hired by Cleveland he engineered the trade of Kellen Winslow for a handful of magic beans. To ensure his offense had absolutely no playmakers he also tried to trade his best wide receiver for some potting soil. He's alienated both of his quarterbacks to some degree, his stud defensive tackle wants out of town. He mixed it up with Josh Cribbs, arguably Cleveland's most important player.

Look, I get the idea of establishing an identity, of being firm with veterans, of creating a presence upon which to build. Considering the behavior of McDaniels and Mangini, the Belichick school seems to go far beyond that. 1) make all your important players hate you 2) get new players. Recipe for success? It's no coincidence that Belichick failed in Cleveland prior to returning to the system installed by his mentor in New England.

Finally we move on to Rex Ryan, who took the position forcibly vacated by Mangini. Everything seemed to go quite well up to the last couple of weeks. The Jets (arguably) "won" free agency, they got their guy in the draft, the installation of Ryan's defense seemed to be progressing. But then he just had to start talking, and once he started he apparently couldn't stop. I don't remember the last time any head coach got into a war of words with a player on an opposing team in the middle of June. I certainly don't remember the last time it was a rookie head coach that got involved. Even worse, Channing Crowder managed to make Ryan look like a fool in the process.

What started out as a funny exchange, Crowder calling Ryan 'the OTA Super Bowl winner' after all of Ryan's crowing, turned even more absurd with Ryan's claim that'if I was younger I'd handle him myself'. Uh ... really Rex? This isn't 3rd grade any more and Buddy isn't there to pull Crowder off of you while he beats in your head. Short message to the rookie head coach: STFU.

Typically, incoming head coaches get through their entire first year without much controversy. In 2009 we are treated with three ego-ridden coaches each taking preliminary steps toward their next trip to the unemployment office.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Loyalty of Long-Timers to Their Towns

Growing up in central PA, and Baltimore not having an NHL team, I grew up a Pittsburgh Penguins fan. My brother lives in Pittsburgh now, so we're both cheering on the Pens to win the Cup.

He and I were having a conversation in which we were stating some ridiculous "Locks" for the game, and my brother said, "Lock it up, Bill Cowher throws out the octopus in game 7 and credits some relative living in Detroit." This, an obvious reference to Cowher spinning the siren in Carolina and doing an interview on the Vs. Network stating he was rooting for the 'Canes. So I asked him if Pittsburgh fans were bitter about that, and he said that he and many others he's spoken with feel it's as bad if not worse than if Cowher had gone to coach the Browns (since, as he said, Cowher's already coached the Browns).

This led me to an interesting question of how much loyalty a long time coach/player/whatever should have for the city they coached/played in. Cowher has long been a Carolina resident, and I believe has been spinning the 'Canes siren for at least a few years now (may be wrong about that, but I believe I've seen that before). He certainly has ties to the area as both he and his wife are NC State grads.

But he coached for 15 years in Pittsburgh. He actually grew up outside of Pittsburgh as well, which adds a bit of extra flavor to the debate.

I can certainly see how something like this would sting Steeler and in general Pittsburgh fans. But I'm also not certain that I can find much fault in Cowher's loyalty to the 'Canes. My feeling is that he's taken on a loyalty to the area in which he's living, and that shouldn't make him any less of a Pittsburgher - or specifically, a Steeler - than he was prior to the NHL conference finals.

But maybe I'm viewing this through tinted shades?


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mike Preston is a moron

Preston is a sports columnist for the Baltimore Sun. In this week's edition of Mike Preston is a moron, he speculates about what kind of season Joe Flacco will have this coming year. This is what he writes – I swear to God this is a direct quote, look it up yourself:

The Ravens: 10 things you'll want to know
by Mike Preston

2. Will there be a sophomore jinx for Flacco?
No, but he'll struggle more in 2009
What?? There'll be no sophomore jinx but he'll struggle more? What exactly does Preston think a "jinx" is, in terms of player seasons??

To be fair, I enjoyed this column. But sometimes Preston writes stuff that just makes you shake your head.


Sunday, June 7, 2009


Dan Le Batard of the Miami Herald wrote an outstanding piece on Jimmy Johnson yesterday and how he broke his football addiction.

So many of us - particularly when we were younger - would have been willing to sacrifice our lives for this game. Not literally, of course, but in the way that Johnson did. 16 hour days, 7 day weeks, 11 months of the year. It's a pursuit of passion which becomes an addiction. I'm not sure how often we consider the mindset of those who actually do.

The players often sacrifice their bodies The vast majority also sacrifice the pursuit of a meaningful livelihood considering the commitment to the game required from high school on for the chance to become one of the tiny minority who actually makes enough money from the sport to repay the time investment.

For the coaches there may be more security, but it is at the cost of life outside of football.

The court of public opinion has excoriated Tiki Barber and Robert Smith and Barry Sanders for walking away from the game at the peak of their careers. The same court has excoriated Brett Favre for being unable to walk away at all. Nick Saban and Larry Brown (in basketball) are criticized for their nomadic ways. Isiah Thomas for his ego driving him to his level of incompetence. Rod Marinelli for being unable to quit when it was obvious to all that he was inept in his position.

But for many of us, probably most who read this, given the same circumstances we would likely make the same decisions. Passion runs deep and beyond reason.

Finally, some quotes from the Le Batard (The Bastard?) article:

joy and fulfillment are not synonyms. Stan Van Gundy can tell you. The Orlando coach is in the NBA Finals now, at the top of his sport, but he does not really enjoy his job. Suffers it, really. He enjoys the rewards, obviously, but not the process. The constant prodding/confrontation/conflict with millionaire players who are at once his employees and his bosses fills his life with uncomfortable daily tension ... ''Pro coaching is . . .'' Johnson begins, and then he makes a sound like he's vomiting ...

He found perspective while weeping and staring into his mother's coffin. He realized that he had let a lot of life blur past in a whirl of appointments and responsibilities and superficial desires. That's the moment when his need for football-first died, too, at that funeral. He hadn't told enough people he loved them, or enjoyed his time around them without being preoccupied. Huizenga told Johnson that he could remain the head of the Dolphins and spend the entire offseason in the Keys. Get all the glory without the work, in other words. But Johnson said he couldn't do it that way if it had his name on it.

''After Mother passed, I thought there had to be something else out there,'' he says. ``I was happy in my accomplishments -- fulfilled, satisfied, proud, very proud -- but I didn't have true joy. I had a responsibility when I was coaching. And that was overriding everything. Family. Friends. Not just friends but even the idea of friendship. I didn't care whether I had friends or not. I was responsible if it didn't work. And when things would go wrong, I'd get upset to no end. I'd replay it in my mind all day and night. At the end, winning was just OK but a loss just crushed me. What kind of way to live is that?''


Friday, June 5, 2009

Silver lining in the cloud of Vick

Don Banks writes a very interesting note about the good that could come from Vick re-entering the NFL, and why maybe there's a reason for us to root for him to succeed...

Some members of my own family seethe at the thought of seeing Michael Vick return to some level of prominence in the NFL after serving his dog-fighting conviction, and I completely understand their indignation. But let's be clear: Michael Vick is the best thing that ever happened to combat dog-fighting in this country. Without his high-profile face attached to that sick and largely secretive world, the spotlight would not have found the story in the same way, and I say that as someone who dug into the Vick dog-fighting saga from some of its earliest days in May 2007.

As sad and grisly as the story was, Vick's deep involvement wound up being a godsend to anti-dog-fighting efforts. It assured nationwide attention, and that attention ultimately saved the lives of many of Vick's dogs plus countless others around the country who would not have cracked the public radar otherwise.

Vick's fall from grace could well serve as the tipping point that eventually eradicates dog-fighting in the United States, and that's a pretty big silver lining in a very disturbing and painful story. Vick's continued prominence will do more to end dog-fighting than any other steps could by keeping the issue alive in our woefully short national attention span.

Blocking Vick's return to the NFL and forcing him to disappear might make his many critics feel better, but it won't necessarily save more dogs. Let him resume his career and become the foremost advocate of anti-dog fighting efforts, whether or not he's sincere. Most great movements boast an identifiable public face, and for better or worse, Vick's will forever be linked to this hot-button issue.

I of course can't find the stomach to actually root for Vick. What he did was disgusting, and if I were an owner of an NFL team, I would never consider bringing him onto my team.

But this is a really interesting way of looking at the issue, and makes it less black and white than many are making it out to be.


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