Thursday, July 30, 2009

Not Young Men

RIP Jim Johnson, longtime DC for the Eagles. He passed away two nights ago after a struggle with cancer. He was 68. Widely considered one of the best in the game at what he did, and as responsible as anyone for the long run of success the Eagles have had under Andy Reid.

Ravens coach Harbaugh issued a statement:

“I loved Jim Johnson. This is a sad day for so many people who were touched by this great man. Ingrid and I, the Harbaugh family, and the Ravens have Jim’s wife, Vicky, and the Johnson family in our thoughts and prayers. Jim was a tremendous teacher of football and life. He had a special ability to bring out the best in people while getting you to see the best in yourself. He saw potential and developed it. He made me believe I could coach at this level. In football, he was a pioneering and brilliant strategist, changing the way defense is played in the NFL. For me, he was a father-type mentor, and above all, a cherished friend. He belongs in the Hall of Fame. I will miss him so much.”
Harbaugh coached in Philly for 9 or 10 years, one of them as DB coach working directly under Johnson. Among the many quotes I read last offseason when Harbaugh was hired to coach the Ravens, was one where he specifically mentioned Johnson's willingness to share his football knowledge with young coaches. Said that was not always the norm with coaches; that it was part of what made Johnson special. (I don't have a link, sorry.)

Doug Farrar of Football Outsiders writes this excellent piece for the Washington Post:
“...the truly great and revolutionary NFL assistant coaches don't generally get the respect they deserve, and the ones who give decades to their profession and are still at their best now are truly gifted.
Jim Johnson was a teacher and tactician of the highest order, and it's important to take time to appreciate the lifers of the NFL. My hope is that Johnson's legacy and memory brings more visibility to all great assistant coaches - including and especially to the Hall of Fame voters. Assistant coaches are a woefully underrepresented class in Canton, and this needs to change.”
More detail there on how Johnson's Eagles defenses excelled. It's really a fine piece, go read it.

Another piece with great detail on how Johnson's defenses excelled, is this blog post by Lance Zierlein of the Houston Chronicle. Zierlein goes into detail on how the Eagles D demolished the Steelers last year, en route to a 15-6 win. He knows what he's talking about too: his dad is the Steelers OL coach.

My blogging colleague Chris posted this on a discussion board yesterday:
“Great, great coach, gone too soon.”
Certainly Johnson is gone too soon from the standpoint of his family, as well as his team.

And yet, not a young man.

You ever notice how truly old some of the men coaching in the league, are? Dick LeBeau in Pittsburgh is probably the most obvious example. He's 71. Thirty-five years of NFL coaching experience. Here's a pic of LeBeau, from the week of practice leading up to last season's Super Bowl:
Doesn't he look great? He's 71.

Tom Moore of Indy, the only OC Peyton Manning has known as a pro, is 70.

Howard Mudd of Indy, their OL coach before this weird pension dust-up this offseason, is 67. He's happy.

Joe Bugel of the Redskins is 69. He also looks great.

Dante Scarnecchia of the Pats is a mere 61.Scary.

Richard Williamson of the Panthers, their WR coach for the past 14 seasons (Steve Smith, Muhsin Muhammad) is 68. He's on the right in the below pic (the other guys are the Panthers owner and head coach).
Jim Skipper on that same staff, at merely 60, barely merits a mention.

It's odd to think of people involved in this sport as having such great longevity, because football grinds up the players so quickly. But coaches often don't choose to retire. Some, like Tony Dungy, walk away because they have other goals they would like to meet in life. Some like Bill Cowher and Joe Gibbs bow out to spend time with their families. But many, many coaches at all levels choose to stay in the game because it's in their blood. They love it.

What I find endlessly fascinating is, how rejuvenating it is to have your career be something you love. Most of us have jobs. But those people who have a vocation, who work at what they love: those people have vigor and strength and great joy into their advanced years, 60s and 70s and maybe beyond. This is often observed among classical musicians: famous ones like Vladimir Horowitz or Lorin Maazel or Slava Rostropovich; and not-so-famous ones, like the 2nd clarinet in your city's symphony orchestra. We have TPS Reports, and they have Mozart.

"Joy" was not always obvious on Jim Johnson's face during games.

He often looked sour and curmudgeonly.

But I'm sure he took great joy in beating your ass. Jim Johnson spent his professional life doing something he loves.

Even with cancer, he was one of the very luckiest, happiest people in the world.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

WR performance when a solid #1 leaves

Recently I had an article published on a fan-run Ravens website. In it I discussed specifically how the Ravens receivers are likely to fare without Mason, but I think this is applicable to any receivers that are not established as quality players when the team loses an established #1 receiver.

I'll edit to cross-post the actual text of the article later (maybe) when I have more time to build the PITA html tables, for now I'll just let you click through to read which is probably good for business for me anyway. I'll be writing somewhat regularly over there now, though mostly Ravens content.

Still, this brings up some interesting questions that I think could make future high content blog postings. I figure I would use this as sort of a dumping ground for follow-up ideas that can later be fleshed out here, and let anyone reading chime in on stuff they'd be interested in seeing, or favorites from the below list...

- How do solid WRs perform when moving to a new team? (Analysis on this is pulled and initial look is interesting, but not fleshed out yet.)
- How well is WR performance correlated to QB performance?
- How important is it for a good QB to have a good WR to increase their performance, and vice versa?
- How likely are good, young QBs to improve upon their performance when they lose their best receiver?

Patrick/Jim, feel free to edit this actual post to add in any new ideas...


Monday, July 27, 2009

1200 Yards, 8 TDs As A Standard For WR

Last week Chris asked me to handicap the chance that Mark Clayton could have a 1200 yard, 8 TD season. I took a quick look at '08 and saw that those numbers would put him solidly in the top ten of both categories. I reasoned that since Clayton had never put up numbers close to this and since the Ravens had never even had a player put up these types of numbers that it was pretty unlikely and I replied 75:1. The question resonated with me over the weekend so I decided to take a little closer look this afternoon. Looking at the top ten receivers over the last six years, it turns out that 1200/8 really is a solid barometer of an elite season. Receivers who put up exactly those numbers would have made the top ten in at least one of those categories every year, two years exactly 1200/8 would have been in the top ten in both.

While it is fun to see forgotten names like Marc Boerigter jump off the page, it might be a little more interesting to see how likely it is for any receiver to put up those kind of numbers. Rather than strictly looking at 1200/8, I set the bar at the top ten in both of those categories. The top ten never dipped lower than 8 TDs but it did dip below 1200 yards a couple of times.

Anyhow, in the last six seasons, players have made both lists 41 times, an average of nearly seven times per year, suggesting that the two accomplishments are well correlated. Only once did a player finish at the top of one list without landing one the other. In 2006 Chad Johnson led the NFL with 1369 receiving yards, scoring 7 times while his teammates Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry each tallied 9 TDs.

Landing on both of these lists has been accomplished by 25 different players. Marvin Harrison and Torry Holt did this four times over the last six years, Terrell Owens, Reggie Wayne and Larry Fitzgerald three times, while Chad Johnson, Hines Ward, Steve Smith and Randy Moss did it twice each.

I'm not exactly sure what to conclude from this. I guess it might be a little more likely that a guy like Clayton hits these types of numbers than I first thought, because the parlay isn't quite as difficult. I still wouldn't expect him to do it very often for a number of reasons. In every case either the receiver was already much more highly regarded than Clayton when they accomplished this or their quarterback and passing offense was much more prolific than Baltimore's, such as in the case of Marques Colston.

I guess maybe we can handicap this at 74:1 instead.


Friday, July 24, 2009

5 Year Record

In the table below, ties are broken by postseason wins, where applicable, under the theory that one postseason win is worth more than one reg season win. It's a slightly greater accomplishment. Thus the Ravens are ranked ahead of the Jaguars who are ahead of the Cowboys. Ties remaining after that are broken by the most recent reg season record, under the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately theory. Thus the Panthers are ahead of the Bears, and the Falcons are ahead of the Vikings who are ahead of the Packers. Ties remaining after that are ignored, because Excel will only sort on three categories at once; but I don't think there are any examples this year.

Reg season
Post season
Grand Total
20042005200620072008 Sum
20042005200620072008 Sum
New England Patriots141012161163
Indianapolis Colts121412131263

Pittsburgh Steelers15118101256

San Diego Chargers1291411854

Philadelphia Eagles1361089.546.5
New York Giants6118101247

Seattle Seahawks913910445

Denver Broncos101397847


Carolina Panthers711871245


Chicago Bears511137945


Baltimore Ravens961351144

Jacksonville Jaguars912811545

Dallas Cowboys69913946

Atlanta Falcons118741141

Minnesota Vikings89681041

Green Bay Packers104813641

Tennessee Titans548101340

Washington Redskins61059838


Cincinnati Bengals811874.538.5

New York Jets104104937

Tampa Bay Buccnrs51149938

New Orleans Saints83107836


Arizona Cardinals6558933

Buffalo Bills9577735

Kansas City Chiefs71094232

Miami Dolphins49611131

Houston Texans7268831

St. Louis Rams8683227

Cleveland Browns46410428

San Francisco 49ers2475725

Detroit Lions6537021

Oakland Raiders5424520


Wow, this is a pain in the ass to do in html.

My rule of thumb is, any team with a grand total over 45 is doing something right. That's an average winning record, nine wins per year, in a league where winning at all (let alone winning consistently) is extremely difficult. These are the best organizations in the sport.

Note technically a total of 40.5 or better represents a “winning” record, barely. I personally think 4 yrs of 8-8 and one year of 8-7-1 (which is what 40.5 would work out to) is nothing to write home about: but it beats losing. These teams with 42 wins are in a second tier.

Tennessee is an interesting case, exactly at .500 over 5 years. Does anything else illustrate more clearly, how cutthroat competitive the league is? Jeff Fisher is one of the finest coaches in the game; he wins 13 games in 2008 and that gets his 5-year record back up to .500.

On this list, there's the Pats, then Indy, then the Steelers; and then there's everybody else. Note how the top 6 or 7 are all teams that have definitively answered their QB questions; and the top two teams just happen to have the consensus top two QBs over the past several years.

The Redskins are still losers, barely.

I like how the Lions can go winless, and still not be on the bottom of this list. Holy god, the Raiders suck.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Coaching Carousel

When the coaching carousel stopped spinning this offseason, there were ELEVEN new head coaches:

TeamNew CoachFormerly
SeattleJim Mora JrSeahawks DC; Falcons HC; Niners DC
San Francisco Mike Singletary Niners DC; Ravens LB coach
ClevelandEric ManginiJets HC; Pats DC, DB coach
DenverJosh McDanielsPatriots OC, QB coach
DetroitJim SchwartzTitans DC; Ravens asst; Browns scout (Belichick)
TampaRaheem Morris Bucs DB coach
St LouisSteve Spagnuolo Giants DC; Eagles Def asst
OaklandTom CableRaiders OL coach; college OC and HC
NY JetsRex RyanRavens DC / asst HC
IndianapolisJim CaldwellIndy QB coach / asst HC; Tampa asst; Wake Forest HC
Kansas CityTodd HaleyCards OC; Dallas passing game coord/WR coach; Bears WR coach

One third of all NFL coaches are new this season. Unprecedented.

Media outlets will tell you all about these new guys: what their coaching background is, what witty or forceful comment they made at their press conference, etc. But no one else will tell you which of these guys is going to succeed, which fail, and which just muddle along. That falls to me.

(Plus one case where I don't know what's going to happen.)


Jim Schwartz!
Detroit; formerly Titans DC, Ravens asst, Browns scout under Belichick

That's right, the Lions head coach. I think he's a really talented, capable coach; he's hired a great staff; and he seems to be supported by a methodical, intelligent player personnel function. That's possibly the most shocking assessment of all: but I've been impressed with their plodding, deliberate moves this offseason. Larry Foote & Julian Peterson are nice pieces, and the Roy Williams trade was good. I guess I like everything but the Stafford pick; but maybe Linehan can make some sense of that. It's also not like they have a particularly forbidding organization in their own division, although the Vikings look strong these last couple years and the Packers are a traditional power.

Maybe we should define for a moment what "success" would look like for the Lions. They're certainly not making the playoffs this year; probly not next year either. "Success" for the Lions could look like 4-6 wins this year, 7 or 8 wins the next year, competing for a playoff berth the following season, making the playoffs the year after that. Schwartz could have a losing record after 5 yrs, and still have done a really good job. Tom Landry was under .500 for 5 straight years at the start of his tenure with the Cowboys, including 0-11 in year one. His next 21 seasons were pretty decent. Current wisdom in the NFL is that if a coach is any good, the team's record will show an immediate impact; if a team is still losing after 3 seasons, the coach must go. Schwartz might be able to have that kind of impact, but I dunno: the Lions are coming from pretty far down. This might be a case where we will have to actually have to watch the team, to judge Schwartz's performance.

On the other hand, it might even by LIKELY that the Lions record will show a big jump this season. The Pythagorean projection gives them 3 wins last season, based on their points-scored and points-allowed, so they were unlucky in addition to being bad. Imagine normal luck this year, plus a bump for an improvement on D (I'm impressed with those LBs) – they could flirt with 7 wins.

Rex Ryan
Jets; formerly Ravens DC / asst HC

Rex is my boy. I've been saying for years that Rex was going to make some organization very happy. That lucky organization is the Jets. Rex himself seems positively tickled to be stomping the same grounds where his Dad won a Super Bowl as an assistant. Good for him. I think Rex has the tools to be a great head coach: shrewd tactical mind, ability to lead players, plays well with others in the organization. If he has half the ability to evaluate talent that his dad had, he will do very well.

But like Schwartz, maybe this is a case where we need to think about what "success" would look like. Dude has to compete with Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells in the division. If Belichick keeps putting up 16-win seasons, there aren't going to be a whole lot of division titles left for other guys to win. The AFC East standings could often look like last season's – which of course got Mangenius fired.

Another area for concern is the player personnel function. I don't know how good Mike Tannenbaum is: he was part of the Belichick mafia back in Cleveland, so you'd think he'd be good, but he doesn't have an outstanding rep.

Anytime a guy who made his name on one side of the ball gets a HC gig, you wonder what he believes in on the other side of the ball. Rex retained OC Brian Schottenheimer, which is uninformative – Little Schott is regarded as a hot commodity, much like Jason Garrett was last year. His roots are of course in Martyball. Not sure exactly what that means: vaguely West Coast-ish, I would guess, with some emphasis on running the ball. But I might be wrong about that: Lil Schott worked as QB coach under Cam Cameron in San Diego. Anyway: it'll be interesting to see what Rex will do if/when he has to hire an OC. My guess is that Rex would pick over the Bengals offensive coaching staff, when that group gets fired after this season: tab OC Bob Bratkowski or QB coach Bob Bratkowski. Those guys are in the lineage of the Don Coryell - Norv Turner - Cam Cameron offense; emphatically not a "West Coast Offense". My impression is that Mark Sanchez' talents are more those of a WCO QB, so I dunno how good a fit would that be.

I should mention that Rex has hired Matt Cavanaugh, to be his QB coach. As a Ravens fan, I am required to hate Cavanaugh, the former Ravens OC; and I can't help but wonder if he's there to be the OC-in-waiting. If so, then – wow, I can't imagine that. That would change some of the stuff I wrote above.

So there are some challenges there. I still think Rex is too good not to do well as a HC. Luck to him.

Jim Caldwell
Indianapolis; formerly Indy QB coach / asst HC, Tampa asst, Wake Forest HC

Has all the advantages of the Indy organization. That means Peyton Manning and Bill Polian. How can you not win, with a setup like that?

Maybe this is another case where we need to consider what "success" would look like. Not many new coaches walk into a situation where the team is coming off six straight seasons of 12+ wins; seven seasons of double-digit wins. If Indy posts another couple 12-win seasons with division titles, is that because Caldwell is good?

Well, it certainly doesn't prove that he's bad.

I should mention that Caldwell has strengths of his own, including six years as HC at Wake Forest. He knows his business. The interesting challenge for the Indy organization over the next several years will be succession planning for Peyton Manning. At some point they have to get The Next Guy into the program, and start grooming him. (No, I don't think Jim Sorgi is The Next Guy.) Caldwell's background is as a QB coach, so maybe he gives them a leg up in that area. Anyway, I certainly think he can win there in the near term.

Jim Mora
Seattle; formerly Seahawks DC, Falcons HC, Niners DC

Dude already has a 26-22 record as an NFL head coach. Seattle has averaged 9 wins over the last six seasons, so they're a half-decent team. Mora has had a few seasons working under a great HC, to rethink some aspects of his approach. Patch has written elsewhere that a former HC is usually a great hire to be a HC: Mora is this year's prototype for that.


Josh McDaniels
Denver; formerly Patriots OC, QB coach

This is self-explanatory. I have never seen a more bumbling start for a new coach, or clearer evidence of guy in over his head. He's also got nothing in terms of resume. You will say that he was the OC for the highest-scoring team in NFL history; I will say that he got to coach Tom Brady & Randy Moss & Wes Welker et al after Charlie Weiss spent years tutoring that offense. McDaniels basically played Madden with a real NFL roster. Fun! But preparation for a head job? I don't think so.

Look at some of the guys above, in the first category. Can you imagine Rex Ryan (with 25 yrs of college coaching experience) or Jim Caldwell (~23 yrs college coaching) running off a 25yo Pro Bowl QB who's coming off a 4500-yd season? Before even getting to see him in minicamp?? An experienced coach comes in and he gets buy-in from his star players, and uses them as ambassadors for the program. Ok, Marty and Parcells wouldn't do exactly that, they would force buy-in and run a guy out of town if they didn't get it. But even with those two, a star player would get a chance to demonstrate buy-in.

McDaniels is still young enough to believe that his own genius wins games, that he doesn't depend on players. He will learn otherwise, these next couple seasons. And then he'll be fired.

Tom Cable
Oakland; formerly Raiders OL coach, college OC and HC

It's kind of sad to watch another Oakland coach be led to the slaughter. Cable seems like a tough, straightforward football guy, a leader. Oh well.

Raheem Morris
Tampa; formerly Bucs DB coach

The most exciting young coach I've seen come on the scene these last few years is Mike Tomlin. (As a Ravens fan, that's a little painful for me to say: but not too bad, because Harbaugh is a close second, and it's still early for both of those guys.) Tomlin is just amazing as a leader; and as an opponent, he's a stone cold killer. I've got a few clips in my Tomlin admiration file: two of them are how he cracked down on Willie Parker last season when Parker complained about not getting enough rushing attempts ("Those aren't rushing titles we have on display in the lobby"), and his post-game press conference after the first Ravens game, when the Steelers lost a bunch of key guys to injury ("What we'll do, we'll put some men out there, and the expectation
will not change."). Tomlin speaks, and you want to run out onto the field and play. Watch him on the sideline, the way his players interact with him. The dude is Shaft.

Raheem Morris impresses people as the next Mike Tomlin. Morris is 33, with just 7 years of coaching experience. The Bucs didn't want to lose him, so they promoted him too far too soon. The guy picking the players is GM Mark Dominik, age 38. He's been with the Tampa personnel dept for over 10 yrs, starting as a scout, then promoted to pro personnel coordinator in 2000, and pro personnel director in 2004.

This is not going to work out for them.

Morris does have a good, experienced DC in Jim Bates. The OC, Jeff Jagodzinski, is less experienced (almost everyone is less experienced than Bates) but a potential star. (Shout out to the Bucs head strength & conditioning coach Kurtis Shultz, ex Maryland basketball player for Gary Williams.) To the extent that Morris really is the next Mike Tomlin, he might keep this situation afloat for a couple years.

Or maybe not. Jon Gruden & Monte Kiffin were able to coax winning records out of this squad the past two seasons, and three of the past four. But those guys are gone: and I don't think this is a super-solid roster. It might fall apart all at once. I don't think the two whiz kids have the chops to deal with it.

Steve Spagnuolo
St Louis; formerly Giants DC, Eagles def asst

A first-time head coach with TWO first-time coordinators: now THAT's a recipe for success! Compare this situation with, for example, the staff John Harbaugh surrounded himself with when he got the Ravens job last season; or Mike Tomlin's 1st staff, or Jim Schwartz's coaching staff, or Todd Haley's staff. It's not that I think Ken Flajole or Pat Shurmur are not good coaches: they're at the point in their careers where they are ready to step up to being coordinators. But where is the voice of experience coming from? The best coach on the Rams staff might be Sylvester Croom, whom they have coaching RBs. (Although Croom did not set the world on fire at Mississippi State.)

Spagnuolo himself has more experience than you might think. 13 yrs coaching in college, 2 Spring seasons in Europe, and a couple of brief stints in pro personnel depts before serving a 7 or 8 year apprenticeship with the Eagles under Jim Johnson. You will learn some defensive football coaching for Johnson, I imagine. Spags coached DBs and LBs in Philly; then of course he became a star coordinating the Giants stacked D.

Who's going to be picking the players? Billy Devaney, who joined the team last year as VP of player personnel and handled their draft, and is now the their GM. His background is mixed. He started as a scout for Bobby Beathard's Redskins orgnization for 8 seasons, then went with Bobby to San Diego where he was director of player personnel for 11 seasons, 1990-2000. So he knows his business, right? The stint in San Diego includes the entire Bobby Ross era, and thus their Super Bowl appearance. But it also includes a number of 5-11 records and even a 1-15, which is not supposed to happen if you are regularly bringing in good players. There was also The Mike Riley Experiment. This is the regime that got cleared out so that Marty could make a fresh start in San Diego. Devaney worked in SF as a pro personnel asst the last 2 years they were good under Mariucci; then he worked on the CBS pre-game show for two seasons, before returning as the Falcons asst GM for 2 bad seasons in 2006-7, getting cleaned out so that Thomas Dimitroff could make a fresh start.

Maybe Devaney knows what he's doing. This year they picked up Jason Smith & James Laurinaitis in the draft; last year, Chris Long & Donnie Avery. They also signed Jason Brown from the Ravens to be their new center. I applaud Devaney for focusing his attention on their lines. On the other hand, Devaney also signed Kyle Boller to be the backup QB. ;-) Bulger is 32. Boller can probably be an effective backup (as Steve McNair's backup in 2006, Boller completed 60% of his passes with a 2-1/2 to 1 TD/INT ratio and 8.8 ypa, for a rating of 104!); but he's already 28. I don't see any obvious long-term successor on the roster.

And this team is BAAAAD. They've won 2 and 3 games the last 2 seasons. Bulger can play, but the rest of this roster needs to be blown up, and Bulger is not going to be around the next time they are ready to be competitive. Probably not Steven Jackson either. He's already 26: figure a 2- or 3-yr rebuilding project and Jackson will be near the end of his productive career.

Do you see any signs that the Rams have embraced the full rebuilding project they face? Parcells and Marty would have cleaned everyone out and started over with a huge batch of undrafted free agents, all of whom would play their lungs out for fear of going home. They'd struggle to 6 or 7 wins in year one, and in a couple years be a feared, physical opponent. These guys look like they're trying to tweak here or there, as if the foundation is solid and they just need to change a couple things in order to field a winning team. Compare this with the Lions, who clearly know the scope of the task they have and are facing it head-on.

So this then is the problem. A truly bad team, a coaching staff that may not be experienced enough to grab the situation by the horns. If Devaney's strategy is to keep adding a few good players every year, not make flat-out mistakes in player acquisition, then that tactic will inevitably work – eventually. But it'll take maybe 4 years to completely turn over the roster at that pace. And by then, Spagnuolo will be fired, with a terrible won-loss record.

I think Spagnuolo might actually be able to coach. I'd be interested in hiring him NEXT TIME around, after this experience and a year or so back in the coordinator ranks. But in this situation right now, he will not be successful.

Muddle along

Eric Mangini
Cleveland; formerly Jets HC, Pats DC, DB coach

If a guy's not going to have a lot of coaching experience prior to getting a head job – and by "a lot" I mean multi-decade experience, although I will grant you that 5 yrs on Belichick's staff might be more like dog years (Mangini was also on staff with the Parcells/Belichick Jets for a few yrs before that) – then he needs to bring some other things to the table. Think Mike Tomlin: "leadership", "fire", "passion", etc.

Describes Mangini to a T, don't it?

He's not a bad coach. Over three seasons in NY Mangenius was close to .500, with some turmoil at QB. He authored two quick turnaround seasons, his first (10 wins after 4) and his third (9 wins after 4). He hired Rob Ryan to be his DC. Rob can coach a bit: he had some good D's in Oakland, despite everything (although they seemed to freelance a little too much this past season).

And Mangini operates with a potentially excellent advantage in new GM George Kokinis. They were members of the Belichick Mafia together. I have previously mentioned the terrific job last season's Ravens did in coming up with depth to replace injured starters. Most of that depth was pro player acquisitions, either free agents or trades, and Kokinis was Director of Pro Personnel for the Ravens, reporting to Ozzie Newsome. Kokinis is a professional. If he can bring some order to the Browns player evaluation function, that will be a huge leg up for Mangini.

If Brady Quinn turns out to be able to play, then you've got to say things are setting up nicely for the Browns to have a run of sucess, right?

Eh. Over the long term I don't think players are going to put themselves on the line for Mangini. He's going to strike them as arrogant and aloof. That can be ok if you're inventive and daring, and players perceive they get an advantage just from playing in your schemes a la Bill Walsh. But Mangenius is no Bill Walsh. Maybe if he hadn't gotten a head job this year, and instead had worked again as a DC for a couple seasons in another organization (like Jim Mora did), he would have had an opportunity to grow in his approach to players. But not the way this played out. Also, Kokinis is nice, but I don't believe he's better than Ozzie & Eric DaCosta in Baltimore, or whoever runs the show in Pittsburgh.

And that's the big thing: these Brownies have to compete with Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the division, and those are two of the best-run franchises in football (Pittsburgh is top three, Baltimore top seven or eight). The Browns can muddle along near .500, but playoff berths are going to be tough to come by.

Todd Haley
Kansas City; formerly Cards OC, Dallas passing game coord/WR coach, Bears WR coach

On the merits, I should put this guy in the "succeed" category. Scott Pioli knows his business, which is a tremendous advantage for a team. The divisional opponents are not formidable. Haley himself has had success everywhere he's been, and he seems to be a passionate football guy who knows what he's doing. He was on Parcells' staff in Dallas; and you can't coach for Parcells without knowing some football. Before that he tutored Marty Booker to his Pro Bowl seasons. They have an accomplished pair of coordinators and a quality guy in asst HC Maurice Carthon; also a very, very experienced OL coach. (Remember Tim Krumrie breaking his leg in the SB, years ago? He's on the staff as DL coach.)

Reflecting on what I said above about Mangini vs Tomlin, in terms of fire & passion etc: Haley certainly fits that bill.

Why, O why do I have trouble believing it?

It could just be me. It's possible I just have a mental block about the Chiefs. It's possible I'm just being prejudiced because the other guys were at least on my radar prior to a month before their hiring. It's possible I'm just playing a numbers game, and having picked 4 guys to be successful as head coaches, I'm arbitrarily drawing a line at 5. I don't know exactly what my problem is. I will note two things in passing:
  1. Just because you can score when you have Kurt Warner throwing to Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, doesn't mean you are an offensive genius. (Someone cc that to Josh McDaniels.)
  2. That's a lot of money to commit to Matt Cassel.
Anyway: feel free to regard this as the pick where I'm most off-base. All the pieces seem to be in place for eventual success in KC. But for some reason, something doesn't quite add up for me.

I don't know

Mike Singletary
San Francisco; formerly Niners DC, Ravens LB coach

Star players do not normally make great head coaches. There's Bud Grant – and who else? Bart Starr coached 9 years for the Packers, which longevity is itself a marker of success. But Starr only once posted a winning record, barely, at 8-7-1; and finished .500 twice more.

Yet Singletary has remarkable personal qualities. Maybe it's just because I remember him as a player, but I am reluctant to bet against him. It's not difficult at all to imagine players jumping at his word; and in fact the team seemed to respond to him, when he took over last year. They went 5-4 under him, after starting the season 2-5. That makes Samurai the first Niners coach with a winning record since Mariucci. He's shown judgement and decisiveness as a coach, terminating the experiments of Mad Mike Martz and giving the starting QB job to Shaun Hill. The Vernon Davis incident did not seem to hurt the team – all of Singletary's wins came after the incident.

(Watch this clip of Singletary and Ray Lewis talking about working together. Doesn't that make you want to suit up and bang heads?)

Singletary's coaching staff is interesting. He's hired a greybeard set of offensive coaches. The OC is Jimmy Raye – who was calling the plays during Eric Dickerson's first two NFL seasons! Later a longtime offensive coach with Marty Schottenheimer, with the Chiefs and Redskins. I wouldn't say that Raye is an innovator, or that his offenses were known for their explosiveness; but he's been around and he does know his business. The team will learn how to run the football. Singletary's got possibly the most accomplished WR coach in the world, Jerry Sullivan. The OL coach is Chris Foerster, who coached OL for the Ravens over Billick's last 3 seasons (set a team record for fewest sacks allowed in 2006) and for Tony Dungy's Buccaneers. (Remember Tom Rathman? He's the Niners RB coach!) The DC is Greg Manusky, who played for Joe Gibbs and in Minnesota under Tony Dungy & Monte Kiffin, and for Marty; then he coached LBs with Marty for several years, with the Redskins and Chargers. They have Johnnie Lynn coaching the DBs: Lynn has a fairly distinguished career, including stints as DC and DB coach with the Giants and Ravens. They've also hired Al Harris to be a "Pass Rush Specialist", which is something I've never heard of before.

So, Singletary himself has leadership qualities, and they've got a capable coaching staff. But who the heck is Scot McCloughan? The Niners GM joined the organization as a VP of Player Personnel from Seattle in 2005, where he had been Director of College Scouting.
“I think Scot is one of the bright young talents in this League. I fought like crazy to keep him here,” Seattle Head Coach Mike Holmgren said at the time of McCloughan’s departure.
Prior to that he was a scout in Ron Wolf's orgranization in Green Bay.
“He’s very good at what he does and has a tremendous desire to improve,” Wolf said. “He has an exceptional eye for talent.”
McCloughan took over the GM role last season, although the little bio piece on him at the Niners web site says that he was in charge of their draft from the day he arrived. So does that say good things about him, or bad things about him? On the one hand, it seems to me that there is not a great deal of talent on the Niners roster. On the other hand, they've made some good picks:

2005 Frank Gore in 3rd; 10 picks make roster
2006 Vernon Davis & Manny Lawson in 1st
2007 Patrick Willis & Joe Staley in 1st
2008 (anyone?)
2009 Crabtree falls to them in 1st; snagged Panthers 2010 1st in trade

But back on the first hand again, dude also spent the 2005 #1 overall on Alex Smith, who is an utter bust. And it's not like Vernon Davis has been spectacularly productive either. As I said, it doesn't seem to me like this squad is bursting with talent. Is there a long-term answer at QB anywhere on the roster? (They did pick up Damon Huard over the offseason.)

So: I don't know what's going to happen here. Either players will continue to respond to Singletary, or they won't. Either his old-school coaching staff can coach-em-up, or they can't. Either McCloughan can find talent, or he can't. My hunch is this: McCloughan will continue to produce these flawed drafts, with the occasional bright star surrounded by a bunch of guys who just aren't good enough to play. Singletary & co will coach up these lopsided rosters with some playmakers but inadequate depth ("breadth" might be a better word) to the point where they will flirt with being over .500. A tough team, but never a dominant team. They'll muddle along. But I think there is wide variability in how well Singletary could do: his force of personality could push players to extravagant efforts; or he could ultimately just not have the chops.

I don't know what's going to happen.


So there you go, a little glimpse into the future courtesy of the Oblong Spheroid. Tune in next year, when we foretell the futures of the new coaching staffs of the Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals, among others.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Wedge Rule: Unintended Consequences

A topic near and dear to us Oblong Spherbois is balancing injury risk with playability, which of course any casual review of our articles would quickly reveal. So in a fit of pique and in the interests of player safety the NFL concocted the new wedge rule. The rule (roughly described) prevents wedges of more than two players from advancing up the field, other players must be separated by at least two yards.

I am completely in favor of rules that actually increase player safety and health. Helmets and facemasks? Good! Illegal blows to the head? Good! Defenders not defying momentum laws and bumping quarterbacks fractions of a second after they release the ball for 15 yard penalties? Goo ... well, not so much. But the point here though, is that there is scant evidence that the wedge actually causes injuries at higher rates than any other full speed collisions. The actual need for this rule is somewhat questionable.

Enforcement of this rule will be interesting to follow during preseason, due to how the referees are instructed to interpret the rule. For example, there will be some kind of fictitious 'wedge zone' where wedges are illegal, but that zone (oddly) will not include the point of impact. Mike Pereira (NFL head of officiating) told the NYT

Pereira said intent would be the most important factor in determining if a flag is thrown. If three or four players come together at the last moment to throw a block, that is not intentionally forming a wedge and would not be penalized, Pereira said.
In other words, you can still have wedges at the point of attack, they just have to be carefully choreographed to come together at the last moment, rather than advancing up the field in unison.


Ken Murray of the Baltimore Sun wrote a good article today discussing the changes, including extensive conversation with Brendan Ayanbadejo and ST coordinator Jerry Rosberg. Rosberg in particular is skeptical of the rule change.
"I can only speak for us," Rosburg said, "but I think it's safe to say special teams coaches are not throwing guys in there with the idea we can sacrifice them. That's not the way the game is coached. These are human beings we're coaching.

"You're not necessarily launching yourself [into another player], you're trying to get into creases and use up blockers and make the ball go one way or the other."
And John Harbaugh with an odd assertion
Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who coached special teams nine seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, said he thinks the change will lead to more long returns.
an argument that I fail to see, since whatever alternative strategy that Harbaugh envisions this will create was certainly available in prior years.
Bill Huber of the Packers Insider on the Scout network discusses an alternative strategy that Green Bay (and new coordinator Shawn Slocum) is taking.

That focus on technique was evident during the offseason practices. Only rarely did the return unit run through a drill at full speed, and rarer still were live reps against a coverage unit. Most of the time was spent with Slocum demonstrating the nuances of man-on-man blocking, done at a snail’s pace rather than a jackrabbit’s pace. Blackmon said Slocum’s teaching simplifies the nuances of the return.


And if those techniques are done correctly, the Packers could use the new rules to their advantage. With wedge blocking, it was apparent which way the kickoff returner was going to run — behind the wedge. With man-on-man blocking, the plan of attack isn’t so obvious. That should keep the kicking unit spread out and mean more open spaces for Blackmon to use the start-and-stop skills that have made him a terror on punt returns. That’s the theory, at least, but it all boils down to the blockers doing their job.

and this at least points to Harbaugh's argument, but once again, I don't think it holds water. If these techniques are more effective than what had gone before than at some point they would have been adopted.

So after all of that, on to the point of this article. I don't see how this rule change can do anything but decrease the net starting position of NFL offenses. Harbaugh may be correct that there are more long returns, due to more misdirection strategies, but overall kickoff returns will likely be several yards shorter on average. The risk of getting called for an illegal wedge is simply too great for teams to ignore, at 15 yards from the spot the resulting penalty will frequently put the offensive team within their own ten yard line, a field position penalty that is probably worth 2-4 points to the kicking team.

Furthermore, if strictly enforced the number of incidental penalties will be quite high. Once again, without careful choreography every time three members of the return team wander within two yards of each other a potentially punishable offense occurs. Pereira tells us that intent will be the guiding interpretation, but asking NFL officials to judge intent gives us around as many different viewpoints as there are officials, and gamesmanship of the rule will ensue.

The kicker to all of this is that it isn't clear that the wedge is any more dangerous of a formation than simple one-on-one blocking is. The Kevin Everett injury seems to be the impetus for this rule change, but his injury did not take place against the wedge.


Tickets, please!

Yesterday - for many Ravens fans at least - was one of the most exciting days of the off-season. Why? Because it was the day the season tickets arrived in the mail!

For me it's like getting a new toy. I love just looking at them, and looking at all the materials they send. It gets me pumped up about the season, knowing it's now right around the corner, and the prospect of being able to see the team live.

There's little I enjoy more than seeing a game live. Many people say "I'd much rather sit in the comfort of my own home. I can see everything that happens in the game, drink beers that don't cost me $7, watch in HD and flip around to other games during commercials." All good points, but to me, there's nothing more thrilling than being in the middle of an amped up crowd screaming their heads off. I love the energy. I feed off it and it pumps me up even more. For me, receiving the tickets in the mail brings a little piece of that back to me...the anticipation of it becomes palpable.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Point/Counterpoint: What should the Ravens do if Derrick Mason retires?

Chris and Jim are die-hard Ravens fans. They disagree about what steps the Ravens should take, in response to Derrick Mason’s announcement that he will retire.


I was thinking over the Summer that we need to get more balls this season to Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams and Marcus Smith. This wasn't what I had in mind! But I guess it's one way to do that.

Mason wasn't really part of the future anyway. In the long run, his retirement doesn't really change anything, in terms of building the next Ravens championship contender. The important thing is not to over-react, mortgage the future for some stopgap player. I mean sure, if the Ravens were on the fence about a trade for an impact player like Anquan Boldin or Brandon Marshall, and this pushes them over, fine. Otherwise, stay the course and keep building the team.

I guess this frees up a roster spot, for Isaiah Williams or even Eron Riley. ;-)


A third party on a discussion board asks:

Is there a way this could be a slight positive for Flacco’s development? Last year he locked on to Mason exclusively, often forcing the ball to Mason when there was a better read. Maybe with no Mason, Flacco is forced to spread the ball around and run the offense.


Anyone who sees anything positive coming from this is delusional.



Hi Chris!


Honestly this is no different from if Mason had retired shortly after his surgery, earlier this offseason.

• The "best players available" in the draft would still have been the same; unless Ozzie is lying every time he says he doesn't draft for need in the early rounds.

• Joe still got to throw to Clayton and Smith et al in OTA's and minicamp: Mason was out with the post-surgical shoulder rehab.

• The prime target free agents and trade bait are still out there: Boldin, Marshall, Plexiglass et al.

The Ravens now have Mason's $3M to spend; and a slight logjam has freed up, so they now have playing time to give to some of their young receivers and continue growing a very young offense.

This may hurt a bit for this season. But I think it helps us for 2010-11-12, Joe's 3rd-thru-5th seasons, by forcing him to spread the ball around more from day one of this training camp. Look at it long-term. Maybe Joe’s stats will take a hit, this year; but not his long-term development.

The announcement on the jocklife site has this quote:
“I have left them in great hands,” explained Mason. "Mark Clayton is a younger version of me and Williams can be a true player, he can be in the elite class. Smith, Harper, Washington, they all are a young group that can only be better with Joe in the backfield.”
I believe this could be substantially true.



Come on, Jim! I know we should keep our heads up and everything, but let's be realistic here. This isn't a good thing. "Hurts now" is for sure correct, and I don't think we can argue this is good for Flacco in year 3-5 because who knows what would have happened next year anyway. If Mason retired at the end of this season, years 3-5 are in the same situation. The only argument is if you think someone's gonna have a big break-out year this year that they wouldn't have had if Mason were still on the team, and that's a tough argument to make.

Clayton is a sub-average #2 receiver, or a very good #3 receiver. He's now left to be playing the #1 role, as a guy who's never had 1,000 yards or 70 receptions in a season. You think he's gonna be running wide open on anyone's #1 CB like he was at times last year? He's not a #1 receiver and if he's left in that role with no help on the other side it legitimately could be a disaster.

The rest of the receivers on our roster had a combined 14 rec last season and a combined 57 over their careers. That is 7% of the number of receptions Mason's had in his career. Mason's caught for over 10,000 yards and 52 TDs his career, and the last two years he's had over 1,000 yards and 5 TDs per season for us.

It's nice to be optimistic in this whole situation. But I think I already posted the odds elsewhere, of how likely it is that we've got a good starting WR on our team other than Mason or Clayton. It's around 25% that we have someone that can at least regularly put up 800 yards a season for a few years. And 800 per season won't replace Mason's production.

As optimistic as anyone wants to be, let's also be realistic. Realistically, it is FAR more likely this situation ends very badly if we do not acquire another receiver to take his place. And not like Hank Baskett or Deion Branch. I mean someone like Boldin or Marshall or someone who can adequately play the #1 role. Because without that, we're losing a TON of production. And guys aren't magically going to suddenly become Derrick Mason quality receivers just because there's no one else to throw to and Flacco is a good QB (assuming that's even true, of course). Odds are that such a thing would be a dramatic set-back in how productive our offense will be this coming season.

It's not at all far fetched to imply that this group of WRs without Mason would be one of the worst in the NFL. No one's implying the team itself can't compete, and I don't think that WR is the most important position on the field by any stretch. But it's certainly possible for the position to derail the team's title hopes if it goes really really bad, or put them over the top if things suddenly go great.

But let's examine that "worst WR corps" claim a moment though. Who has worse than us?

Raiders - Their top WR last year had 366 yards. They just reached on a guy big-time in the draft, and DHB will determine whether or not this corps is better or worse than ours. Right now, I'd take ours over theirs, but not by much.

Titans - Their WRs aren't good, but at least they don't have total scrubbery past the #1 spot. Clayton is better than their best, but from #2 on down the Titans are better than ours.

Bears - Theirs is pretty bad, though we'll see if Hester winds up working out okay as a WR or not. Cutler may also be able to do more with that group than anyone else has. I probably wouldn't trade ours for the Bears, but it's close.

Giants - Hinges almost completely on the young guys. If they're good, theirs is better. If they're not good, probably not. Their young guys have more game experience than ours do, though.

That's it. Those are the only four that I might have some hesitation about. Everyone else, if you offered a straight up trade of ours (assuming no Mason, duh) for theirs, I wouldn't even think twice about it.


Funny, two of those teams you listed were the top seeds in the two conferences.

Tom Brady won Super Bowls with very ordinary talent at wide receiver; and Joe Montana did too, before Jerry Rice came along. The Ravens are pretty much the only team to win a Super Bowl without good QB play.

Patch did a study on the distribution of Pro Bowlers on Super Bowl teams. He found that the LEAST common players were fullbacks and special teams aces; the next least-common were wide receivers. Super Bowl teams usually had Pro Bowl O-linemen and D-backs etc; wide receiver was approximately the 3rd-least important position.

I mean, it helps to have good players everywhere. But I'd a lot rather have a strong O-line and QB with a weak WR corps, than the other way around.

Mind you, if Ozzie pulls the trigger on a blockbuster for Brandon Marshall or Anquan Boldin, I'll stand up and cheer. But short of a true impact player, let's sit tight and develop the guys Ozzie has already acquired.



Yeah right. The Giants had Plaxico and Toomer last year. If they still had them both, they wouldn't be close to this list. The Titans had a defense like ours and a fantastic running game, and were out in the divisional round of the playoffs.

Of the teams I listed, the Titans are the only ones that you can compare to us. And the bottom line is, we're gonna have to have the same or better defense and a better running game if we want to get back to where we were last year, if that's the corps of receivers we're taking into the year. The Titans had that, and didn't make it as far as we did. The other three teams; one had the WRs last year, the other two didn't make the playoffs.

The problem with not doing anything is that we're not in a rebuilding year. If this were the '08 season coming off the horrendous '07 season, then yeah, you could make the argument to say "Let's see what the young guys have." But it's not. There's expectations this year, rightfully so. And right now, we've just gotten SIGNIFICANTLY worse than last year at our weakest position.

All you need is one guy that can mount even a little bit of a receiving threat on the other side of Clayton. That brings our receiving corps from "God awful" to "bad but livable." Clayton can be mediocre at #2 and DWill or Marcus Smith or someone else could at least produce more than the 12 catches that spot saw last year at #3.

But Clayton at #1 and (insert career nobody here) at the #2 spot is a downright disastrous situation.

You don't just "replace" 1,000 yards of production by plugging in other bodies. If everyone else produces the same except we replace only 750 of Mason's yards, that's a pretty major blow for us. That 750 yards of replacement is a VERY reasonable assumption, given how little production all of our other receivers have shown over the course of their careers.

Patch’s study you mentioned was meant to be a look at whether you need a stud at the position or not. I'm not arguing you need a stud there.
But the Patriots are about the only team who have won the Superbowl without an adequate WR. Branch could make that arguable, too; given he won a Superbowl MVP, though he's been trash in Seattle.

It's one thing to just not have a Pro Bowler on the team. Plenty of SB teams have done that. But it's a COMPLETELY different thing to have absolutely no one of value at the position. There are very few SB teams that have giant, gaping holes in any one major position on the field.


What's an "adequate" WR? Mark Clayton is not even "adequate"? He had 940 yds receiving with 14 ypc a couple yrs ago, before the wheels fell off in 2007 and then he was stuck with a rookie QB in 2008. Demetrius Williams, assuming he's healthy, is inadequate? Can't even be an average WR?

These guys have no value?

If there is one position I would want my team to be weakest at, it might be wide receiver. Maybe FB or TE; but WR is up there.

I mean, I'd rather have Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson, with the rest of our team intact and everybody fitting in under the cap. Absolutely. But it is very tough to be strong everywhere, in the salary cap era.

At some point you have to develop your young talent. Last year we started to develop a LT and QB, along with some other O-linemen and a FB. Why not this year too?


C'mon Jim. Clayton had 940 yards three seasons ago. It was a nice ramp up and showed signs of him breaking out to be a legit NFL threat, but since then he's regressed.

He hasn't cracked 700 yards since then, playing against #2 CBs with a 1,000 yard receiver on the other side of him. He's shown some flashes on a few plays, but has not consistently shown the ability to get open and make a QB's life easier. If he's struggled to break 700 yards receiving against #2 CBs, what's he going to do against the #1 guys?

I'm not saying he won't see an increase in his stats. More than likely he will as the primary target. The problem is, it's not good enough to simply have an increase in productivity with Mason not around. Without Mason, there's NO ONE else at WR to throw the ball to. He needs to create situations on his side of the ball to become a threat, and open things up on the other side for other guys.

How good of a chance do you think there is that happens this coming season, assuming our top two are Clayton and someone else currently on our roster? Last year Mason and Clayton had a combined 1,732 yards. What do you think the odds are of our top two WRs combining for that amount again this season?

If I were a betting man (and I think you know I am), I'd set the odds at no less than 4 to 1 against, probably even higher than that.
Demetrius Williams, assuming he's healthy, is inadequate? Can't even be an average WR? These guys have no value?
I never said he or anyone else on this roster can't be. But the odds against them are not good.

In three years, DWill has had 55 total receptions. He's shown no signs on the actual field of play that he can be a consistent threat. On top of that, he's had consistent injury issues, so there's at least some concern that he won't be on the field all season.

Kelly Washington, in his six seasons, has a total of 73 NFL receptions. Never had more than 31, never broken the 400 yard mark, and this was with Carson Palmer and Tom Brady throwing him the ball.

The rest of the receivers on our roster have a combined 2 NFL receptions. I feel safe saying "These guys have no value" because if we tried to get an NFL team to trade a 7th round pick for any of them right now, they'd laugh at us. Is it possible one of them becomes a decent receiver? Sure, of course it is. But it's not possible to argue that it's likely to happen. And I think it's got to be VERY concerning to take something like that into the year.
I mean, I'd rather have Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson, with the rest of our team intact and everybody fitting in under the cap. Absolutely. But it is very tough to be strong everywhere, in the salary cap era.
At some point you have to develop your young talent. Last year we started to develop a LT and QB, along with some other O-linemen and a FB. Why not this year too?
FYI, I'm not saying we need super-studs at the position. I've never said that.

But go back to what I said. Very, VERY rarely has a team ever contended in the Superbowl with a major position on the field containing an incredibly glaring weakness.

FB doesn't count. They largely aren't on the field much and often are not listed as starters anymore.

TE is just one spot of the 22 on the field. A handful don't mention TE as a starting position.

WR though is two to three of the starting 22 mentioned, every single game. Not one team in this league lists less than two receivers as "starters" on their roster...not one. Argue as much as you want about how important the position actually is, but one thing that can't be argued is it's one of the most major positions on the field in terms of the number of players dedicated to it both listed as starters as well as on the roster. I don't know of a team in the NFL that dedicates less than 10% of their roster to being receivers.

Now, go back through the Superbowl teams and look through the major positions and tell me which team had a glaring weakness at one particular roster spot. And I'm not saying "Some mediocrity at the position." We don't have mediocrity at the WR position right now. We have utter, complete garbage right now. Clayton is about the #50 WR in the NFL, and none of the rest of our guys crack the top 100...that's horrendous.

Positions I'd call "major" positions:
IOL (interior OL)

Now, look through the list of prior SB teams and tell me where any of those had a position where the best guy to fill it was ranked around #50, and the second best guy was ranked around or well lower than #100. I would argue that it's probable not one in the past ten years has had such a situation.

Regardless of how important or not important anyone thinks the WR position is, you can't simply ignore it completely, and expect to be successful.


So your argument is that the future is now. We are a top contender, one player away from the Super Bowl. If that's the case we should move heaven & earth to land that player and push the squad over the top.

I disagree. I think it's easy to look at last year, see that we got within ~4 mins of the SB, and conclude that we're RIGHT THERE. No changes necessary, just stand pat and give Joe another year in the system, and we should be favored. But it's a mistake. Thankfully, it seems that it's a mistake the organization is *NOT* making.

There are two issues with the Ravens making moves as if there are "expectations" this year: the conference opponents, and the team.

In terms of the conference: we got a little lucky last year in the playoffs, both in the games we played (we lose the Tennessee game, if either Chris Johnson doesn't get injured or if they stop fumbling) and in the games we didn't play (Indy was in the other bracket). Figure a resurgent Pats squad with Brady coming back; possibly a resurgent Chargers squad with Merriman coming back and Rivers even more experienced; the Titans possibly not unravelling as Kerry Collins puts off crashing to earth another year; and oh yeah there's a fairly tough opponent in our own division. It's not at all a slam dunk that we will be top 5 in the conference this season. There's a lot of football to be played, and there are a lot of good teams that can legitimately expect to be better.

In terms of the team: the roster we competed with last year had some weaknesses. You know these weaknesses, Chris, as well as anyone: rookie QB, very young O-line overall, aging statue RT, no depth at TE, 1st-year running a new offense, unproductive passing game possibly due to the rookie and new offense, very thin secondary, old at some spots in the D front 7. It's a testament to the heart of the players, and the inventiveness of the coaching staff, that the team went as far as they did. They definitely maximized their potential.

We're just a year removed from 5-11, a very legit 5-11. We're still building an offense completely from scratch, from nothing. The correct response from an organization coming off that year is not to relax and say "we're right there". It's to say, "we're on the right track!" and continue the plan. And that's what they've done: sweeping rebuild in the secondary, inject some youth into the front 7 (mostly by allowing Bart Scott's playing time to open up; also draft pick of Kruger), adding a veteran Pro Bowl center, drafting an exciting talent at RT, signing a veteran pass-catching TE.

They should continue in that same vein. Adding an old stopgap guy like Marvin Harrison or Amani Toomer would be a step backward: the team needs to move forward, building a team that can compete at the highest level for years. One possible step forward would be adding an impact guy like Anquan Boldin or Brandon Marshall. I would jump up and down screaming with joy if that were to happen. Oh my god. But another possible step forward would be, giving significant playing time to the young wide receivers that we've already acquired. We know Clayton is a legit NFL receiver, kind of along the lines of Mason in terms of size and speed. We think Demetrius Williams can make plays, with a slightly different kind of talent. I'm sure that SOMEone among Kelly Washington / Marcus Smith / Isaiah Williams / Eron Riley / Ernie Wheelright / whomever from the cast of thousands – someone can be a half-decent #3 receiver. We need to find out who.

It's not about this year. It CAN'T be about this year, because our QB is just in his second season. Granted you take what's in front of you, and this year is what's in front of us. But we're still at the beginning of Joe's career, and Jared Gaither's career, and Ray Rice's, and Ben Grubbs's, and Haloti Ngata's, and Michael Oher's, and Tavares Gooden's, and Jameel McClain's, Paul Kruger's, etc etc. No matter how old Ray Lewis is.

So your argument is that the future is now. We are a top contender, one player away from the Super Bowl. If that's the case we should move heaven & earth to land that player and push the squad over the top.

No, I didn't say that...
I disagree. I think it's easy to look at last year, see that we got within ~4 mins of the SB, and conclude that we're RIGHT THERE. No changes necessary, just stand pat and give Joe another year in the system, and we should be favored. But it's a mistake. Thankfully, it seems that it's a mistake the organization is *NOT* making.
You obviously can't do that cause you're moving backward if you're not moving ahead. But besides that point, the organization DID move backward already this year prior to Mason. Bart Scott, Jim Leonard and Rex Ryan - all of whom played major roles in our success last year - are gone. It's nice to argue that guys can and probably will step up, and yeah we got better at CB (I didn't mention CMac leaving as that could be as much addition by subtraction as anything else). But in general, on paper one week ago with Mason, this roster was weaker than it was last year.

Now, with Mason gone, it's a significant step backward.
Adding an old stopgap guy like Marvin Harrison or Amani Toomer would be a step backward
I don't know how it's even possible to argue this. Bringing in a guy who is very clearly better than anyone we have at the #2 spot doesn't set us back! How can you say it sets us back? Because it doesn't give a guy who to this point has shown nothing more than at best a glimmer of hope a chance to step up on a championship contending team?

And it's not like we've got a ton of big prospects waiting at the position. It's one thing if we have some highly drafted guy who hasn't been able to crack the starting rotation cause he's young and raw and there's lots of talent in front of him. All our guys are 3rd+ round guys that are young and raw and haven't shown anything to indicate they can consistently play the position at an average or better NFL level. Again, not saying there's no chance they can. However, the odds they can simply are nowhere near as good as the odds Marvin Harrison can for another season.
It's not about this year. It CAN'T be about this year, because our QB is just in his second season. Granted you take what's in front of you, and this year is what's in front of us. But we're still at the beginning of Joe's career, and Jared Gaither's career, and Ray Rice's, and Ben Grubbs's, and Haloti Ngata's, and Michael Oher's, and Tavares Gooden's, and Jameel McClain's, Paul Kruger's, etc etc. No matter how old Ray Lewis is.
Going forward, it's not like we'd relying on those guys like Harrison or Toomer to do the job. There's zero difference in '10 between our having those guys on our '09 roster and not having them on our roster. This isn't March, where we sign one of these guys and skip drafting a top receiver...this is July where the option is sign one, or have no one else, and next year we'll do whatever is needed to address the position like we have crap at the position.

It IS about this year. Right now, it is. We're not making roster moves for '10 and beyond right now. Anything this team does - baring a blockbuster deal, which is NOT what I'm saying I want - is for '09. That's how it is every year for every team at this time. In Mar/Apr, it was about '10 and beyond as much as it was about '09. Right now, it's all about '09.

I don't know how it's even possible to argue this [that Marvin Harrison or Amani Toomer would be a step back]. Bringing in a guy who is very clearly better than anyone we have at the #2 spot doesn't set us back! How can you say it sets us back? Because it doesn't give a guy who to this point has shown nothing more than at best a glimmer of hope a chance to step up on a championship contending team?
Because Marvin Harris is 37 years old!!!! Amani Toomer is 35. Duh.

A championship contending team? I think the only chance for us to be a championship contending team, this year or any year, is by making moves with an eye toward the long-term. Stopgaps don't help. We need not to get ahead of ourselves: there is still plenty of rebuilding to do.
And it's not like we've got a ton of big prospects waiting at the position. It's one thing if we have some highly drafted guy who hasn't been able to crack the starting rotation cause he's young and raw and there's lots of talent in front of him. All our guys are 3rd+ round guys that are young and raw and haven't shown anything
Terrell Owens – 3rd round
Steve Smith (Carolina) – 3rd round
Brandon Marshall – 4th round
Wes Welker – undrafted
TJ Houshmazilli – 7th round
Hines Ward – 3rd round
Derrick Mason – 4th round
Donald Driver – 7th round
Steve Breaston - 5th round
Bernard Berrian - 3rd round
Lance Moore - undrafted
Kevin Walter (Houston) - 7th round

We don't know what we have. You don't want to find out
There's zero difference in '10 between our having those guys on our '09 roster and not having them on our roster.
BS. It's the difference between Demetrius Williams and Marcus Smith getting starter & #3 receiver reps this year, or them not getting those reps. Huge impact on the 2010 season.
It IS about this year. Right now, it is. We're not making roster moves for '10 and beyond right now. Anything this team does - baring a blockbuster deal, which is NOT what I'm saying I want - is for '09. That's how it is every year for every team at this time. In Mar/Apr, it was about '10 and beyond as much as it was about '09. Right now, it's all about '09.
Ok. I believe that *EVERY* move should be made with one eye on 2 seasons from now. But I do see your point here.


Marvin Harris is 37 years old!!!! Amani Toomer is 35. Duh.
Both were more productive last year than anyone we have behind Clayton, and likely would be more productive in the #2 slot this year than anyone behind Clayton. Also, both would be more of a respected threat to open things up for Clayton than anyone we currently have.

Harrison and Toomer have lost a step or two with their age. But I'd rather have a tremendously productive WR that's lost a step or two than a guy that has never shown they've had such a step.
A championship contending team? I think the only chance for us to be a championship contending team, this year or any year, is by making moves with an eye toward the long-term. Stopgaps don't help. We need not to get ahead of ourselves: there is still plenty of rebuilding to do.
I agree that's the best way in most cases, but not in all cases. For instance, right now there's nothing we can do in FA with an eye toward '10 or beyond. We could trade for Boldin or Marshall or whatever, but that also hurts us in future years as we'll give away draft picks – trades are usually "a wash." More on this in a bit.

About your list. This is the 300 receivers drafted in the third round or afterward since TO entered the league in 1996. Doesn't even include all the UFAs – probably another 50 - 100. You've named twelve.

More particularly, of the 300 on that list, only 10 have had over 325 career receptions. Twelve have been starters on their teams for five years or more. Eight have had more than one Pro Bowl appearance and only 16 have ever made it to Hawaii.

Now, those numbers are of course somewhat short because guys like Brandon Marshall haven't had the time to get over 250 receptions yet. But it's not like we're talking about doubling that number. Well less than 10% of those 300 drafted in round 3+ since '96 can be considered adequate or better NFL starting WRs. Even if you allow it to be 10% - which it's not - the odds one of the five on our team become starting material is ~40%. I actually broke this down in more detail in another post (I think in the Boldin thread but don't remember). I calculated the odds of one of our five becoming a receiver that could catch for 800+ yards per season for more than four seasons at around 23%.

I never said I don't want to find out what they've got. But do I want to rely on them to become one of those receivers, without other viable options? Hell no.
It's the difference between Demetrius Williams and Marcus Smith getting starter & #3 receiver reps this year, or them not getting those reps. Huge impact on the 2010 season.
No it's not. One more receiver in the stable bumps them down one slot on the depth chart. If one of them is going to break out, they'll have a chance to prove it, and they'll do so. And even still, do you really think Harbaugh and Cam wouldn't give them a shot to compete for the #2 slot against a Matt Jones or Marvin Harrison? If any of them are better, it will stand out, and they'll get their reps.

Guys don't really suddenly get awesome without showing some flash of it before-hand. It happens on rare occasion. But more often than not, there's leading indicators of it. So far I haven't heard of any. Maybe there's a diamond in the rough somewhere. But if you asked me to bet at even odds that we've got a guy behind Clayton that's a legit NFL starting caliber receiver, I wouldn't touch that action.

You've named twelve.
What I've done is name 43% of the players with 900 or more yards receiving last season. (I rounded Kevin Walter up a yard.)
Guys don't really suddenly get awesome without showing some flash of it before-hand. It happens on rare occasion. But more often than not, there's leading indicators of it. So far I haven't heard of any.
You've seen no flashes or indicators whatsoever that Demetrius Williams can play? I dunno about "awesome", that's a Larry Fitzgerald / Andre Johnson level. But no flashes at all? Really?



A NOTE ON MY EARLIER POST: I've found a potential issue with my number of 300 receivers since '96. Apparently's draft query only allows for 300 players to be listed. There may have been more than 300 receivers drafted since '96 in rounds 3+, which simply makes the numbers far more damning.

What I've named is 43% of the players with 900 or more yards receiving last season. (I rounded Kevin Walter up a yard.)
Totally irrelevant statistic. That tells us nothing about how likely any of our guys are to actually become decent players. Simply because 43% of the solid players last year were 3+ round players doesn't mean any of our guys are likely to break out as well.

Since '96, 112 WRs have been drafted in rounds 1 or 2. Vs. 300 or more drafted in rounds 3+. Almost if not more than 3x the number of first or second round receivers, and they only make up 43% of the top players at the position. That ratio sounds about right to me, maybe a little on the high side even. But regardless of that, you would expect a good portion of solid players to come from rounds 3+ since many more are taken in those five rounds plus UFA than are taken in the first two rounds.

None of that says anything about how likely one of our guys is to break out. For a reasonable measure of that, you have to look at the number of receivers were taken in rounds 3+ that turned into very good players vs. the number that didn't. That number falls somewhere between 5% and 8%, depending on your definition of a decent player.

At 8%, it's around 35% that at least one of the five guys under Clayton turn into one of those guys. Not good odds, and while I hope it happens, I certainly don't want to count on it going into the season...

You've seen no flashes or indicators whatsoever that Demetrius Williams can play? I dunno about "awesome", that's a Larry Fitzgerald / Andre Johnson level. But no flashes at all? Really?
Not that he can do it consistently, no. How could I have? He's had two 70+ yard receptions in three years, and other than those two catches in three seasons he's had 53 catches for 719 yards and 1 TD. That's not even equal to Mark Clayton's best season, and it's taken him three to get there.

Sure, there have been flashes. But what NFL guy hasn't shown SOME sort of flash of something when he's on the field? I saw flashes out of Randy Hymes and Clarence Moore, too. Where are those guys, now?

Showing a flash every so often is one thing. But that's not good enough to say there's a decent chance that person can become a legitimate NFL starter. They've got to break a big play more than twice every three years. They've got to consistently show decent production more than once every four to five games. It's been three years and DWill hasn't. My hopes for him are not exactly high.



I think Zip overlooks the elephant in the room as a matter of convenience. If Mason's departure has the potential to improve the Ravens to the extent that he shouldn't be replaced, then it logically follows that Baltimore should extend no effort to return him to the fold. I also disagree with the strategy of 'look how many lower draft picks became productive receivers!' and then producing a list of players, none of whom are Ravens.



Ooo, good point.

One of my unexamined assumptions was that there is no one available in free agency who can replace Mason. A lot of guys who aren't as good as he is (Marvin was better over his career, but he's too old now); no one who is currently as good. The closest guy I can think of to Mason is Wes Welker, who is younger and probably quicker. Yeah, if we could get Wes Welker, that would be AWESOME.

Any free agent we could get is not as good as Mason is. Otherwise, they would be on somebody's roster, right? So in my mind it's not so much a matter of "shouldn't" be replaced as "can't" be replaced. There's a logical next-man-up succession in place on the team; taking some washed-up guy and installing him as #1 would gum up that process. That's not "replacing" Mason in any meaningful way. But, plugging in Welker or Steve Smith (the good one), or some other great player (like the ones mentioned in the exchange): that would be fine. More than fine.

Also, obviously when we talk about Mason's departure "improving the Ravens", it's from a make-lemons-into-lemonade standpoint. Flacco and the offensive coaches and the receivers would be tasked with turning it into something positive; my argument was that the potential is there for that. In modern NFL offenses, there's usually someone open, even if it's the #3 guy. Maybe Joe would more often find that guy if he wasn't fixating on Mason every down.

But yeah: the roster is better with Mason on it, than without him. Sure. Of course.



I definitely agree the team's better with Mason than without of course. I think the difference, Jim, is that I don't see how this can be a good thing overall. The only way this can be a good thing is if there is a receiver on our roster right now that winds up having a break-out season and develops into an NFL caliber receiver, when he wouldn't have had the shot and therefore never breaks out (at least in Baltimore) if we bring someone ... anyone ... else in.

The problem is that the odds of that are miniscule. On top of the 35%ish odds that one of the guys on our roster has to be NFL caliber, you'd have to stack onto that the odds one breaks out because they get a better shot this year than they would have if we brought on another receiver. Lots of factors go into that...
1) Do we even bring in anyone else? If not, it's all moot.
2) How good is the person we bring in? If we bring in a guy like Boldin, that increases the chances someone does NOT break out. But that's unlikely. If we bring in a Marvin Harrison or Matt Jones, that doesn't increase those chances all that much.
3) Assuming we don't bring in a stud, what are the odds that moving down one slot on the depth chart means the receiver won't break out? I think the only POSSIBLE player to have any shot at being hurt by this is the slot receiver if we add no one. The #2 receiver (presumably DWill) moves to the slot, and plenty of slot receivers have break-out years if they're legit weapons (at least a handful from your list broke out playing the slot). The #4 receiver and down rarely gets a shot anyway, so dropping back one won't hurt them. The slot right now moving to #4 could get hurt. Presumably that's Marcus Smith.

So what are the odds any of our guys are legit, PLUS they won't break out with another receiver in the fold but would have without one? IMO, significantly less than 35%. I would guess well less than 10%.

Bottom line, I don't think we have to get a stud to take Mason's place. But I think it's going to have a HUGELY negative impact on our season if we don't have someone else to put in there and give us at least one other body that can be counted on to produce something...anything. I'm not saying I want Harrison or Toomer - the two names thrown out most often here. But someone like them, be it signing Matt Jones, trading for Deion Branch or one of another team's #3 or #4 receiver who has great depth at the position, would at least mean we could function at the position.

Cause right now, the odds we can function at WR are very low. And that's very dangerous for a team with lofty expectations.


And, scene.

Obviously, reasonable fans can disagree on complex situations like this – and so can Chris and Jim!


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