Monday, August 31, 2009

Tedy Bruschi

Bruschi retires.

The piece mentions that "Bruschi played on all three Super Bowl-winning Patriots teams." It doesn't mention that Bruschi also played on the Pats '96 squad that made the SB under Bill Parcells. He was a rookie that year.

The Patriots era of dominance rightly begins
with Parcells tenure as head coach, 1993-6. There was a 3-yr interregnum under Pete Carroll; but Carroll had a winning record, and from a distance it doesn't look like he screwed up the roster too much. A fair number of the key players on Belichick's SB teams joined the Pats under Parcells.

Belichick's SB teams (the winning ones) were known primarily as dominant defensive squads. Opportunistic & efficient on offense, but almost mystically great on D.

I've been curious about something. How will the Hall of Fame voters treat the players from those defenses? I'm thinking specifically of the guys who took the Pats to the SB in '96, and then came back 5 yrs later to make New England the premier franchise in the sport. The core guys were probably:

Willie McGinest
Ted Johnson
Mike Vrabel
Ty Law

(Vince Wilfork & Richard Seymour came along later.)

Some of those guys should go in, right?


Sunday, August 30, 2009

I am rooting for Michael Vick

Donnie Andrews works as head of security at Bethel AME, an African-American church in the Baltimore area. He counsels young gang members, attempting to get them out of the life and keep them out of the drug trade. One of these was the son of his would-be wife, whom he successfully pulled off a corner selling “blue tops” (crack vials with blue tops). He is the picture of a model citizen.

But it wasn’t always this way. In 1987, Andrews copped to a murder he committed in 1986. He was known in the Baltimore streets as a stick-up man, robbing drug dealers to make his living. If you watched the HBO series “The Wire,” you certainly know Omar Little, who was modeled after Donnie (and a few other Baltimore area stick-up men), and Donnie played one of Omar’s crew in seasons 4 and 5.

Donnie was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He began a long road of reform which started in prison, counseling drug addicts. He spent 17 years there and was released in 2005. (Links to read more about Andrews at the bottom of this article.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about Michael Vick and what he did, what he’s been through and what should happen with him now. He’s done some horrible, inexcusable things. Okay, not some…many. He tortured and murdered helpless animals for sport and money. Those dogs that were killed never get a second chance at their lives.

Just like Zach Roach will never get a second chance at his life, thanks to Andrews.

But, like Andrews, society has deemed Vick's debt paid. There is much debate as to whether Vick should be serving more time, paying a steeper price for what he’s done. This, however, isn’t for me to decide. I have no say in the matter, and regardless how much I want Vick to pay that steeper price, he simply won’t…not for these crimes.

And so I’m left with seeing the man on a National Football League team less than two years after his 23 month sentence and wondering what I should be feeling about this. And while I find what he’s done despicable, I can’t shake the feeling that rooting against him is counter-productive and generally useless.

Instead, I’m making a conscious choice to root for him. I root for him to have changed his life and his ideals. I root for him to begin to do good for society, and particularly for the animals he used to abuse. To help make those animals’ lives better and contribute to their lives in a positive way. And to succeed in his football career which will allow him more money and more status to be able to contribute in a more meaningful way.

I’m hoping he can learn from his mistakes and become a positive, productive member of society. It honestly would serve everyone better if he does this successfully, so I wish him luck in his endeavors, and hope that he doesn’t prove me a fool.

Read more about the life and reform of Donnie Andrews here and here.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Art of the QB Non-Competition

To nobody's real surprise, Mark Sanchez has been named the starting QB for the Jets. Somewhat by surprise, it wasn't because he had a great game Monday against the Ravens. Instead, he seems to win it based on the fact the Jets have a new, brash head coach that both saw a rookie first round pick succeed last season as well as realize he has no one attractive enough to start in front of Sanchez.

Therein lies the fun of the Jets "quarterback competition" we had seen early in the pre-season. It was never really a competition. One would say the only way it was is if Sanchez played so poorly in his first start that he worked his way out of a job. The problem is, one might think he'd have done that by throwing a pick six his first pass as a starter and nearly throwing two others prior to notching a TD pass against what amounted to mostly Ravens backups.

And so we're left to wonder if there was really any QB competition to begin with. Is it possible for him to have played his way out of the job? Would Clemens have played well enough to win the job if he'd have done more than what little he did in his two games?

One has to assume not, which begs the question, "Why even announce it as a QB competition?" I see two main arguments here, one on either side of this question.

Arguing for competition, one would think making it a competition would push Sanchez to raise his game. Make it a ruse, make him earn it, and if he plays up to the task he'll get it. Closely connected to this, if he blows up completely, Rex always has the option to keep him on the bench for a while and not look like a fool.

However, on the flip-side of this argument, coming out and giving him the job allows him more time to work with the starting team, and working against starting defenses. This could be particularly important for a rookie QB. So in my personal opinion, if there's basically nothing he could have done to lose the QB "competition" that was set early in camp, Rex probably should have simply given him the job.

That's the beauty of being an armchair quarterback (so to speak) I guess.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Brandon, What The Hell Do You Want?

The ongoing Brandon Marshall saga fluctuates between new absurdities and the sublime, achieving a high frequency resonance of selfishness that blurs the line between legitimate complaint and wanton destruction of the Broncos' season.

And at this point I think Marshall no longer has a clue what he really wants.

So now Marshall is practicing, or sort of practicing while coming off some kind of a hamstring thing. It's clear that Josh McDaniels has no clue how to handle him. Marshall is alternatively listed as a starter and second stringer. He practiced with the scout team last week, even while the Broncos listed four wideouts as starters on their depth chart. Whatever game of chicken McDaniel is playing, he won't win. Chad Jackson will not be the Broncos' starting wide receiver in 2009.

Volumes have been written about the Broncos this off-season. They are a compelling drama, and it is hard to try to tackle the story with any kind of a new angle, they've all been beaten to death. Marshall wants a new contract, Marshall doesn't get along with McDaniels, McDaniels doesn't get along with Marshall, even as they 'like' each other through gritted teeth.

"We don't really have a relationship right now, probably because I haven't been here," said Marshall, who was sidelined during most of the offseason while recovering from hip surgery, and missed many training camp practices because of a hamstring injury and his trial.
worse for Marshall, McDaniels and the Broncos seem to be winning the battle of public opinion, such as it is.

That’s right. Don’t adjust your monitor; according to Marshall it’s the coach’s fault that he feels his hip injury was misdiagnosed. It’s the coach’s fault that the latest prima donna wide receiver thought his team should focus solely on his acquittal. It’s the coach’s fault that a Broncos’ PR exec thought the players should focus on how Marshall’s acquittal helps the team instead of throwing a parade for a man found not guilty of misdemeanor battery.

And it’s McDaniels’ fault that Marshall has gone public with his plans to ignore the playbook until he’s either traded or given a new contract. Never mind that he has a legal obligation to follow through on the agreement he signed, and you can forget about the fact that football is a team sport, not a self-indulgent reality show, and 52 other colleagues are counting on his production. Brandon Marshall has his feelings hurt because the logo on the helmet is a horse’s head, not a horse’s rear.

So somehow, the man to blame is the one wearing the big headset on the sidelines. Notice a trend? If not, here it is. I’ll spell it out for you: It’s someone else’s fault.

Where’s the accountability? Where’s the camaraderie? Where’s the giant banner that ought to be hanging from Marshall’s locker exclaiming that football is a TEAM sport?

David Ramsey of the Colorado Springs Gazette wonders whether Marshall can fit in with McDaniels' Broncos.

Brandon is not concerned with team. Brandon is concerned with Brandon.

He’s obsessed with his catches, his yards, his touchdowns. He wants to dance in the end zone while thousands chant his name.

He’s smart enough to see Denver is not a desirable destination for a wide receiver desperately in love with self and flashy numbers. He sees what every other Broncos fan can see:

Kyle Orton is not the second coming of Joe Montana. He’s not even the second coming of Jake Plummer.

If Marshall returns to play for Denver — and that’s an extremely unlikely scenario — there’s no way he grabs 100 catches for the third straight season. I don’t believe Orton could find him 75 times.

It’s easy to see why Marshall wants to flee.

we've already read this story, except the protagonist was Randy Moss and the city was Oakland.

broncobear at the MileHighReport writes a compelling and related article about the Broncos selecting for leadership.
McDaniels began the process by bringing in some of the best coaches that he could find. Mike Nolan was brought in to turn around a defense that was on life support and fading fast. Mike McCoy came on to work closely with McDaniels and change the offense. Wayne Nunnely, a 35-year veteran of the game, came in to teach the techniques and secrets of the 3-4 defense to the linemen, while other quality position coaches like Don Martindale (linebackers) and Ed Donatell (defensive backs) filled out the positions. On offense, Clancy Barone took over the tight ends and Adam Gase took on the receiving corps, while Turner and Dennison guaranteed some continuity with the running game that has long been a Denver mainstay. The special-teams play that had been missing in action for years was handed to Mike Priefer and supported by longtime Broncos specialist Keith Burns. If it's true that it all starts with the coaching, the Broncos have taken a big step forward.


The next step was to clean house on the players' side of the equation. There were wholesale releases of players who the coaches felt would not fit into the new approach to the game. Bigger, more physical, more cerebral and more versatile became the war cry of the day.
It is legitimate to wonder whether a guy like Brandon Marshall can ever fit into that locker room. Sure, in our other story Randy Moss eventually found his happily ever after, but that was with a team with a track record, stability, and veteran leadership. The Broncos are transitioning, possibly to that point, and Marshall does not appear to be patient enough for the day that point arrives.

I wish I could conclude with something glib or clever, but my jaw is as dropped as anyone's regarding Brandon Marshall. Talented football players will always draw suitors, it's the nature of the beast, and I expect Denver to exhaust every effort to include Marshall as part of a productive offense, but at this point it is really up to Marshall and - other than attention and chaos - it simply isn't clear what he really seeks.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Jerry Jones is a blowhard, and the Redskins are just sad

How wonderful is it that the Titans rookie punter AJ Trapasso hit the Cowboys new mega-scoreboard during the preseason game last night? The broadcasters were saying that punters were regularly doing that during pre-game warmups. Jeff Fisher co-chairs the competition committee; he said "Both of our punters hit the scoreboard, so something needs to be worked out."

But Jerry Jones says there's not a problem:

"If your desire is to punt the ball straight up and hard, I can do that," Jones said, according to the Dallas Morning News. "The height that we've got it wouldn't [affect] normal kicks unless somebody just wanted to hit it."
Jerry, you're being an idiot. Just because you don't like to spend attention or money on obtaining mere special teams players for your team, does not mean that punting for hang time is not "normal". If AJ friggin Trapasso can konk the scoreboard in a game, what do you think Mike Scifres would do? He'd probably knock the stupid thing down.

Going from the sublime to the pathetic: Redskins owner Danny Snyder spent the offseason publicly pursuing stars like Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez to replace his quarterback, Jason Campbell. It's probably true that the Skins could really use a fast start from their offense this preseason, to build confidence and get on the same page etc.

So what do they get? They open the preseason against the Ravens and Steelers, the two best defenses in the NFL (or 2 of the top 3, or whatever). It would not be at all surprising if the Skins got shut out in their first two games. It might not even be meaningful.

Would be pretty funny, though.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Throw out ESPN!

This has got to be my favorite piece of news so far from the NFL preseason. Did you catch this? John Harbaugh threw ESPN out of Ravens practice! The story is:

As reported by Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital, ESPN The Magazine crew was casually stretching out on the ground behind the end zone, lounging under an umbrella as if they were enjoying a wonderful day at the beach. Delivering a few choice expletives, Harbaugh had them thrown out of practice by a public relations official under his year-old policy that no one sits down or lays down at practice.
"When you come to Baltimore, you learn the rules," Harbaugh yelled. "This isn't a country club. Get them out of here."
Later, Harbaugh reinforced his stance during an interview with local reporters.
"Nobody lays down at Ravens practice or sits," he said. "That was disrespectful to you guys."
I heard that last quote on the radio, it was from his post-practice press conference. Asked about throwing out ESPN, he gave that nobody-lays-down line, then added "I thought that was disrespectful to you guys" – meaning the reporters who have been at practice every day and have been observing the rules. Harbaugh likes guys who come to work every day.

He has a funny way of turning things around on a questioner; perhaps 'funny' is the wrong word, it's very coach-like. The "disrespectful to you guys" comment reminds me of something he said in a press conference last year. I forget exactly what the question was, but his response went [something like] "Well, that's part of what makes the NFL so great. It's a privilege to coach in the NFL, I know our players feel like it's a privilege to play in the NFL, and I imagine for you guys it's a privilege to cover the NFL." You could almost feel the reports shuffle and murmur in the room; I wonder how often they think of it that way.
(No link, sorry.)

The Baltimore Sun has the same story:
Harbaugh wasn't as pleased with two members of ESPN the Magazine, who watched practice while lying down in one end zone. Harbaugh finally barked at the two and had them removed.
Chris Mortensen has almost the same story; I was wondering how the 4-letter itself would cover it:
John Harbaugh blistered some freelance photographers for breaking a rule Sunday. If you observe the Baltimore Ravens on the practice field, you don't sit, you stand. Soon, they were escorted from the field.
For the players, there is no standing around. A few moments after giving the heave-ho to the photographers, Harbaugh directed his fire at his offense...
Ah. They were not a crew from ESPN The Magazine. They were freelancers. Sure, ESPN.

Anyway, that's beautiful. Throw the bums out! Let's have ESPN thrown out everywhere.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Book Club

Football has not historically produced the same volume of literature that baseball has. Is there any football book as "famous" as Boys of Summer or Behind the Mask or Ball 4 etc etc etc? And yet as the NFL continues its monolithic march, dominating all forms of media and indeed every waking moment of our lives, its ubiquity is starting to trickle down to that least-techy of mediums, the humble book.

It's that time of the year – football publishing season! As pads start to crack, we get the swarm of offerings aimed at separating a few bux from the devoted fan, who needs a fix to get thru this last month before the real games start. Most sports books are crap, but here's a few that I found excellent, really rewarding.

Football Outsiders Almanac 2009

I picked this up just a few days ago. I'm very impressed. I did not expect so imposing a publication. It's ~550 pages long! 40+ pages of intro and discussion of methods; team essays at ~8 pages per; ~150 pages of player notes; ~60 pages of college ball; ~25 pages of research articles; 20 pages of appendices.

In form and content it is the direct heir of the old Bill James Baseball Abstracts. In tone too. That's a compliment: I loved those old books. This seems exactly like one of those, transposed into the key of football.
(There's a moment in an episode of House, season 2 or 3 I think, where House walks into Wilson's office and Wilson has his feet up and is reading one of the old Baseball Abstracts. Awesome.)

I've only absorbed a small portion of the book so far. As you'd expect, I started with the Ravens piece and a Joe Flacco capsule. I'm not quite ready to declare the book as good as the old Bill James Abstracts. But that's the intellectual lineage; and it predisposes me to like it. My initial impression of the book is like my impression of the Outsiders site itself: extremely interesting and entertaining, and perhaps not quite humble enough in the face of how much we can't know about football.

(As some kind of barometer of my objectivity, I should mention that I found two errors about Flacco's TD's last season in two separate places, the Ravens essay in the early part of the book and the Flacco capsule later. Not the same error repeated, but two different errors. And I don't quite agree with the prediction for the Ravens season, I think there are some gaps in the writer's logic. So when you read my "humble enough" comment above, you may choose to take that with a grain of salt.)

I did not realize the Almanac would be so hefty. I anticipated something in the, I dunno, 100-150 page range. PDF is nice because you get it instantly; but there's an actual bound-and-printed version, and I think next time I'll go for that. I'd like to read it in bed, dip into it over a couple weeks and have it around to refer to, without having to boot up my laptop.

The book is $12 in PDF, available at their online store – the bound version is there too, and also I think on Zon, for $22.

I'm really enjoying the book. As I continue reading it, I am more and more reminded of the old Abstracts. I mean, they've stolen everything. Lofty stuff like approach, methods, goals – even their site's name is an homage to something James wrote
and detailed stuff like how the book is organized, and the kinds of quippy things he said about players. And they've done a fantastic job. You'd think I'd object when I notice just how much they've stolen from my hero; I'm the same guy who usually hates cover versions of old songs I used to love, or movie remakes, or TV series adaptations from movies, etc etc. But instead as I read it I can only admire: the book, the game-charting project and the wealth of information flowing from it, etc.

A Few Seconds of Panic: A Sportswriter Plays in the NFL by Stefan Fatsis (2008)

When I asked above if there was any football book as famous as some of the classic baseball books, the one book in the back of my mind was Paper Lion (1966). It was subtitled "Confessions of a Last-String Quarterback": George Plimpton modeled (or invented?) the new participatory journalism by joining the Lions in training camp and playing QB in an intra-squad game.

40 years later, the NFL is a very different place. Writer Stefan Fatsis, who has been a contributor to
Slate & The Atlantic & NY Times & SI, joined the Broncos for their 2006 training camp, as a kicker. This is a much more serious endeavor than Plimpton's was. Fatsis is less interested in showcasing his literary graces, and more interested in capturing "the physical and emotional realities of playing in the NFL."

He blows it out of the water. This is essential reading for the fan who wants to know "what it's like": this is what it's like. From small revelations like the strength & conditioning coach telling Fatsis "70% of your job is in here", to profiles of players and Mike Shanahan, this book is consistently fascinating. Along the way Fatsis manages to convey the strong impression that playing in the NFL is exactly the kind of job environment I would hate. Wow, such pressure.

The GM: A Football life, a Final Season, and a Last Laugh by Tom Callahan (2007)

Originally subtitled "The Inside Story of a Dream Job and the Nightmares that Go with It" when it was released in 2007, this is Callahan's profile of GM Ernie Accorsi, who retired from the game after the 2006 season. Accorsi had also been GM of the Baltimore Colts for two years in the early 80s (so he drafted John Elway) and of the Browns from 85 to 92 (so he hired Marty Schottenheimer, then replaced him with Bud Carson).

The book has an interesting structure, split into two storylines going thru alternate chapters. The odd-numbered chapters detail the ups-and-downs of the Giants 2006 season. The even-numbered chapters detail Accorsi's career, starting wth his time in the sports publicity dept at Penn St in the 60's, thru joining the Colts in the 70s, assuming their GM job, etc.

Initially I was not super-interested in the 2006 story: I'm not a Giants fan, not an Eli fan, this seemed to me to be tacked-on to the real substance of the book, in order to lend some currency so the average fan might buy it. However, this team did wind up winning the Super Bowl after the 2007 season, the year after Accorsi retired, so that storyline wound up having more interest than I expected. I had not realized how devastated by injury the 2006 Giants had been; after reading this, their championship seemed much more understandable.

The real thread of interest to me was the storyline of Accorsi's career, especially his time in Baltimore. Accorsi (thru Callahan) drops some nuggets about the Elway trade: the blockbuster that he'd gotten a tacit agreement from Elway to sign with the Colts after the fuss died down, before owner Irsay (may he rot in Hell) traded Elway out from under Accorsi; and Accorsi's belief that were it not for that trade, the Colts would likely still be in Baltimore (season ticket sales had spiked up after the draft).

I don't think you have to be a Baltimore fan to find this stuff interesting. It also talks about the Browns, and Schottenheimer, and Kosar, and scouting QBs, and building teams, and what makes the Giants organization classy, and all sorts of things.
Accorsi's career spanned the growth of the NFL, from mom-&-pop operation in the 60s to the megalithic construct it is today; he has a lot of insight into the common threads that generate success across decades.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What To Expect From Michael Turner

A couple of weeks ago Chris emailed me asking how I thought Michael Turner would do in 2009. A number of thoughts went through my head, mostly in response to some of the issues he raised in the email. Eventually I replied something to the effect of 'I have a lot of thoughts about this, do you mind if I blog it instead?'. He didn't mind, but I think he expected my article sometime before never. This morning he sent out a similar email to the whole crew this time, and with a little more urgency as he had some kind of fantasy thingy and the answer to this question weighed heavily on his fantasy strategy. What ensued was a series of emails from the four of us.

Chris On my [draft] board, Steven Jackson is higher than Michael Turner. How much of an idiot am I for that?

Jim I assume the Jackson vs Turner thing is driven by gut instinct? Can't argue with it: you could easily turn out to be right. If you want some rationalizations, Jackson is a year+ younger than Turner, and did not have 370+ carries last year.

Chris The "Curse of 370" is a part of it, yeah. Other factors I'm tossing around in my head in no particular order that have me thinking this way:

- Jackson is running behind a newly beefed up OL. His OL was one of the worst in the bigs and he still managed 4.1/carry, now he's got Smith and Brown on there to help out.
- Jackson gets catches as well as carries. Bulger has no receivers, and you know Boller will check down too.
- Turner got a ridiculous work-load last year. It's almost impossible for me to see him getting 375 carries again this year.
- ATL's OL last year was supposed to be horrible and played out of their minds. Regression this year?
- ATL in general played out of their minds. Regression this year?
- Turner scorched the bad teams. Of his 1,700 yards and 17 TDs, almost 800 of them (47%) and 7 of them (41%) came against Detroit, KC, GB, Oak, and StL...31% of the games. And he scored 4 TDs on 117 yards against Carolina as well. He had 6 games where he had 70 or fewer rushing yards, averaging 57 yards per game in them and scoring two TDs in them. Six games where he scored no TDs.
- Tougher schedule for ATL this year than they had last year. The NFCE is on their plate.
- Playoff schedule: Turner - NO, @NYJ, Buff Jackson - @ Tenn (no Haynesworth), Hou, @ AZ

Also weighing on me is that Jackson has had injuries these past two years. But I think both years we knew that he was aching prior to the start of the season. Maybe I'm wrong about that? I don't remember. Either way, it's a concern. But 376 carries for Turner, plus another 18 in the post-season. Ugh... That's so much work. I feel almost like Turner's as much of an injury risk as Jackson is...

Patrick You think 41% of someone’s yards coming in 5 games is unusual? I sure don’t, I’ll bet that is very typical.

I don’t have much of an opinion on Jackson you might be trying to be a little too clever. I doubt it matters much which you pick but I think you are trying to carve a conclusion out of cherry-picked information.

Chris The TDs is probably usual. But it wasn't 41%, it was 47% of his yards. I don't particularly think it's unusual to have ups and downs, everyone has that. And yeah, it's cherry-picking to an extent. I'm just very scared of the overworked factor.

One of the reasons is probably because I've been burned by it before. I've been the unlucky owner of Larry Johnson and Shaun Alexander coming off their huge seasons, as well as Jamal Lewis off his.

The one thing I can't get over though... The only way I don't see Turner having a big decrease in effectiveness is if the Falcons use him far less than they did last year. There's almost no chance he can go another 350+ carries at the levels he had last year, right? Even if he continues to get 4.5/carry, if they only feed it to him 300 times to keep him "fresh," that's 1,350 yards. Good, but nowhere near where I think people expect him to be, and probably not good enough for the #2 overall pick. His TDs likely also go down in that scenario, and he has absolutely no value as a receiver. So naturally, Steven Jackson getting 1,200 yards on the ground and another 350 in the air is more valuable than Turner getting 1,350 on the ground.

It's not that I think Turner will suck. He's still top 5 on my FFL backs. I just think Jackson's gonna have a bigger year. And quite frankly, I think the risk of Jackson crippling my fantasy team is lower than the risk Turner does it (a function of my "being burned" before)...

The Other James I honestly don't have a resounding negative take on Turner, other than: the 370 rule, regression to the norm, and the fact that defensive coordinators now have a year of tape to study in the offseason. I still expect him to have a strong year, though.

With Jackson, I do believe last year was still affected by bigger injuries suffered the year before, as well as horrendous overall team play (line, QB injuries, etc.) There's a new coach in town, and the players seem to love the new tone. The core of the team seems to be healthy at the moment. I haven't heard anything about any nagging injuries to Jackson and he's seemed strong in workouts. He has a longer track record of strong play than Turner, but that isn't always a big deal.

Patrick I don’t know why you’d expect Jackson to get 1200 on the ground. Three of his last four years have been astonishingly similar, apart from games played.

237 – 253 carries, 1002 – 1046 yards, 5 – 8 TDs, 38 – 43 rec., 271 – 379 yards, 1 – 2 TDs.

If you ask yourself, ‘self, what kind of a year can I expect from Steven Jackson’, the answer should be pretty clear. Could he have a better year than Turner? Of course. Will he? I have no idea. I think a lot of your arguments with respect to Turner are questionable. I don’t know what the mean performance for Atlanta should be but I am pretty sure that last year was much closer than 2007. Excepting ’07, the Falcons finished 5th, 3rd, 1st, and 2nd in rushing attempts the last five years, with similar rankings for yards and touchdowns. On the other hand, St. Louis finished 30th, 29th, 23rd, 24th, and 28th in attempts the last five years. Regardless of the relative philosophies of Mike Smith and Steve Spagnowhatever it is pretty clear that St. Louis is built to pass while Atlanta is built to run.

As far as Turner’s workload, I agree that it will likely be diminished but I think a lot of the rule of 370 is nonsense anyway, that prior injury is a much stronger indicator of future decline, and in that area Jackson is the champ. The thing with 370 is that if you look at their list, age is the stronger corrolator than number of carries. In the case of Johnson, et al, they had all come off multiple seasons of heavy workloads and were at an advanced age in running back years. I don’t know what Turner’s true “running back age” is but it certainly isn’t as old as Jackson’s despite the large number of carries last year. Jackson has 1200 carries and (at least) four injuries that have cost him games over the last five years. Turner has half as many carries and 1-2 injuries (he may not have been active for his entire rookie season). They have both played in the NFL the same number of years.

Chris The "aside from games played" is one important piece of this. '05 and '06 were a little out there on either side. '05 is closer to his normal performance, but that was over 15 games whereas '07 and '08 were over 12 games. He got 20 carries per game on average the last two years. If he stays healthy, that's 320 this year, and even if you give him 4.1 per carry which is his career low that's over 1,300 yards on the ground this year. The past two and three of the last four he's averaged 325 receiving, not counting his '06 season which was off the charts ridiculous...I don't expect 2,300 combined this season of course.

Yeah they were built to pass more than run, but I think that's more a result of the coaching than anything else. Plus Torry Holt and that whole era being held over. Bruce just went last year, now Holt, and Spags is saying he's going to focus far more on the running game this season.

That said, the "overall mileage" on Turner is less than Jackson and lack of prior injury is also a big factor. The main reason I'm still even considering this is cause Jackson's missed 4 games each of the last two years.

I just sorta feel like they're both gonna wind up with around 300 carries, and that Turner will have the higher per carry avg but Jackson will have the receiving yards.

FWIW, Jamal wasn't advanced age when he came off his 2,000 yard season. He was 24 or 25 years old. LJ was 28/29, but he had only had one year prior to his ridiculous 416 carry season where he was the primary runner, so he wasn't high mileage.

BTW, I think one of the reasons the Falcons finished '04 through '06 5th or better for rushing attempts was because Vick had over 100 attempts each of those years. He made up 20% - 25% of the team's rushing attempts those seasons. I don't think it was that they were built for running as much as they had a QB that liked to run. With that said, I think they're still set up to run this year.

Patrick Lewis had already missed an entire year with a knee before his record-setting year. That’s like 7 dog years right there. Johnson was run into the ground his ‘one year’. You may recall that Priest got hurt halfway through and that Johnson only started the last nine games. In those games he averaged 29 carries with a low of 22. In his first 25 starts Johnson averaged 27 carries/game. Herm Edwards should be shot for punishing him like that and Peterson should have been fired before giving him another contract after that abuse. Last year Turner averaged 23 carries/game which is too many, but it isn’t a LOT too many. Get him down to 20 carries/game and we are talking about a very sustainable 320 att/year. Johnson is interesting because he presents a close precedent for Turner, a talented back who backed up a Hall of Famer (or near HoFer) for a few years before getting his opportunity. I don’t recall any other elite backs who followed this path, most are used and used up by the time they hit 27.

It doesn’t really matter if Spagnuolo wants to run or not. For three straight years Marinelli ‘pounded the rock’ (his words), they fired Martz to further emphasize the run. They finished 32, 32, and 31 in rushes during his tenure. When your team is down two scores you aren’t going to be rushing nearly as much as when your team is up two scores. We all know this. IMO the Rams (or Raiders) are the worst team in the NFL. Jackson is a good running back, even a great talent, but I wonder what kind of opportunity he will get. To his credit he is a three down back, and will get receptions to augment his carries, but to what extent they replace the carries that Turner gets as a natural product of being part of an offense that is not only going to emphasize the run, but will also be able to execute the run is somewhat questionable.

Substitute Vick’s attempts for something on the high end of normal, like 50 carries (Philip Rivers/Matt Ryan level) and the Falcons are still top ten in attempts each of those years.

Chris Good point on the Falcons.

I'm smelling another blog article with "elite backs underutilized till later in their career." DeAngelo might qualify although he was running behind Stephen Davis who is anything but a near Hall of Famer. Maybe Jamal Anderson running behind Heyward (another non-entity)? Though that was only for two seasons. Rudi Johnson for two and a half years behind Dillon maybe.

The Other James Don't forget that they also had Duckett and/or Norwood, too. They went with Dunn as the small quick back and Duckett/Norwood as the bowling ball quite a bit. Duckett/Norwood had at least 100 carries each during that span (OK, so Duckett had 99... close enough for a rounding error). They were getting a good 370+ carries a season out of their primary RB pair without Vick's 100 or so on top. So, it's a little bit of both--a running team with a running QB, in net producing huge running stats.

Jim Remember my little "study" on peak years for football players? RB's peaked at around age 24.

(I remember James had a methodological concern, wanted to see averages in addition to whatever I put in my table. Maybe I'll redo it with the most recent PFR data.)

Not sure why you would dis Stephen Davis, he was a 3-time Pro Bowler. Scored 17 TDs one year; led the league in rushing attempts another year, in one of his non- Pro Bowl seasons.

Chris Well, he wasn't good in Carolina after DeAngelo, but I got his name mixed up with DeShaun Foster who was horrendous. No excuse for Foster getting those touches instead of DeAngelo.


So all-in-all we conclude nothing, and Chris wound up taking Steven Jackson.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Favre: "Look at me! Hey! I'm over here! Look!"

In what seems like ages ago now, some optimistic blogger wrote:

[Vick signing with the Eagles] is going to become the new media obsession. His first practice, first preseason game, the time he'll have to sit out, the reinstatement, the first regular season game. We're going to hear about it all. In all things, there is an upside, though--at least we won't get anymore stories about Brett Favre's un-re-un-re-un-re-un-re-tirement for a while.

Well, it was true. For all of 3 days. Thank you, Jay Glazer, for picking at this scab.

Favre is clearly one of the better QBs in NFL history, and he's a no-brainer to be a first ballot Hall of Famer. And this is coming from a guy who watched Favre burn his favorite team more times than he can count over the past 15 years. I'm no fanboi. But unless time travel is finally available and the Vikings get the mid- to late-90s era Favre, this really isn't going to be a major impact to the bottom line.

Favre is the type of QB who can go out and single-handedly win you a couple of games you had no business winning. Last year's 6 TD performance against the Cardinals is a case in point--the Jets give up 35 points at home, yet win running away. There is no doubt that Favre can still have a similar effect for the Vikings a year later, and perhaps give the Vikings another one or two wins in games they had no business winning.

He's also capable of producing some absolute clunkers. He was dreadful down the stretch for the Jets last year. Even if we give him the benefit of the doubt for his injury (which is pretty generous considering he hasn't recovered yet and still hasn't met Brian Urlacher on the field this season), he's turned in some memorable collapses in recent years when the stakes were highest: the 6 INT performance against the Rams during the 2001 playoffs or the 4 INT performance against the Vikings during the 2004 playoffs, for starters. How about the INT in overtime at home against the Giants in his last playoff game?

Here's the bottom line: Favre wearing Viking horns will result in the Purple winning a couple of games they shouldn't have won. It will also result in the Purple losing a couple of games they shouldn't have lost. The end result will be a wash--a couple ecstatic victories for a couple of agonizing losses.

If the Vikings go anywhere this year, it is going to be on the strength of the defense and the dynamic power of their running game. Those are traditionally a pretty strong basis for a championship team. Sage Rosenfels, the starting QB of the current 10 minutes (at least), isn't going to make anyone flash back to the days of Fran Tarkenton. But he's likely to be acceptable enough to pull a Trent Dilfer for the team and give them a shot.

One could debate the analogy between Rosenfels and Dilfer, but that would sort of be like arguing who you'd rather have save your life if you needed emergency surgery: Frank Burns or Nick Riviera. If you're in that situation in the first place, you've done something horribly, horribly wrong, and that's what the Vikings have managed to do to themselves at QB during the Brad Childress era. Luckily for the Ravens, it worked out with Dilfer. It remains to be seen if it will with the Vikings, or if they'll go with another doctor entirely with Favre, the football equivalent of Dr. Jekyll (and Mr. Hyde).


Friday, August 14, 2009

Surprising no one, Vick returns to the NFL

The big NFL news of the day is Michael Vick signing with Philly.

It should be of no surprise that someone signed Vick. Of course someone would--as much as the NFL (and its fans) would like to think that at some point, character issues outweigh tantalizing talent, the reality is that when you get a player that is as captivating as Vick is when he's at his best then he's going to find someone who will turn a blind eye to it. On a side note, it'll be interesting to see how Vick does in Philadelphia, the city that booed Santa Claus. I expect to see plenty of dog collars on the Beagles... uh... Eagles fans this season.

But this isn't about Vick's character issues, whether he should or should not be allowed to play again, or which Philly fan will be the first one to sing "Who Let The Dogs Out?" when Vick hits the field. No, this post is about what Philadelphia is actually going to do with him on the roster.

The obvious and quick answer is that Kevin Kolb sprained his knee so the Eagles need to line up another backup QB. But Kolb's knee isn't expected to be season-ending, and AJ Feeley is tolerable enough to fill the gap.

The NFL is a copycat league... and this year, the cat being copied is going to be a wild one--the trendy Wildcat formation that Miami had so much success with last season. In the Wildcat, the snap goes directly to the running back. Really, what better role is there for Vick? We all know his running ability, and as a passer he has one of the strongest arms in the league (though with accuracy that approaches Shaq at the free throw line some days).

You don't sign a player with Vick's talent if you don't intend to use it, and you don't sign a player with Vick's baggage if you don't intend to try to get something positive in return for the distraction it brings to the team. McNabb is still clearly the starter, so there has to be another way to get Vick on the field. Getting him a few plays a game in situations designed just for him seems to be a good way to get him back into the speed of the NFL game. Andy Reid is certainly capable of figuring out a way to get the most of Vick.

So, the bottom line for Vick? A few rushes, a few passes, and probably a few highlight reel runs in the process. Lots of mocking in every stadium he plays in, including his home field. Dog collars thrown at him in Dallas, snowballs thrown at him in Philly. It's a shame he won't get to play against Cleveland and the Dawg Pound.

This is going to become the new media obsession. His first practice, first preseason game, the time he'll have to sit out, the reinstatement, the first regular season game. We're going to hear about it all. In all things, there is an upside, though--at least we won't get anymore stories about Brett Favre's un-re-un-re-un-re-un-re-tirement for a while.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Expectations for the Now Sophomore QBs

Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco bucked a popular media trend of rookie QBs that do not play well. I say “a popular media trend” because while QBs that start as rookies don’t tend to play as well as they do for the rest of their careers, there are certainly examples of those that have played well. I’ve read some call Matt Ryan’s season possibly the best rookie season since the “passing era” began in 1978, which is difficult to argue in the shadow of Dan Marino and Ben Roethlisberger. I’ve also read an even more ludicrous suggestion that Flacco had the better season of the two, simply because his team made it to their Conference Championship Game…apparently some people see only one player on the field at a time, while most others see twenty two.

But besides that point, the reality is that both Flacco and Ryan had good rookie seasons. Because of this, fans of both franchises are breathing a sigh of relief in belief that they’ve finally solved their quarterback position. In Atlanta, erasing the stain that was Michael Vick was a true achievement for Ryan. Flacco’s version was similar, though Kyle Boller left a different kind of taste in fans’ mouths.

The excitement in Atlanta and Baltimore comes not simply from the two quarterbacks having a solid season, but also from the expectation that they will improve from their rookie campaign. The question is, just how much should we expect them to improve? Many seem to believe both will get better this season. A few suggest the possibility of a sophomore slump (particularly in Baltimore, and especially when Derrick Mason was seemingly retired). How likely is all that to happen?

I went to the books to look at historic trends for QBs that had mediocre to exceptional rookie seasons, and their trends in future years. But first I had to define which QBs would fit the criteria.

I decided to stick to the “modern era” of passing. In 1978, the NFL passed the rule that defensive backs could not come in contact with receivers five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. This ushered in a new era of passers, and quarterback (and receiver) play has for the most part never been the same since. I also decided in a somewhat arbitrary cut to say a QB rating of 70 or better their rookie season would be defined as “mediocre or better.” This isn’t a perfect methodology; it for instance includes Tim Couch, but Rick Mirer is left on the outside looking in. But for the most part it serves as a reasonable criterion for a cut. Finally, I didn’t want to include someone who made a nice splash in a few blow-outs or for two weeks in injury duty, so I set another somewhat arbitrary cut that the rookie QB needed at least 200 attempts to qualify.

This gave me a nice list of thirteen quarterbacks in my sample. Chronologically they are Jim McMahon, Dan Marino, Warren Moon, Jim Kelly, Jeff George, Tony Banks, Jake Plummer, Peyton Manning, Charlie Batch, Tim Couch, Jeff Garcia, Byron Leftwich and Ben Roethlisberger. Taking the combination of their per-game stats, extending them over a full 16 game season, and then looking at the median and average performances of the group, we see the median give a QB rating of 80.7, and a 78.5 average rating. Both are fairly close to Flacco’s 80.2 rating on the year, though Matt Ryan had a far more impressive 87.7 rating.

From there I looked at the median, average and range of per game (NOT per start) performance for each QB’s rookie and sophomore seasons. I then calculated the percentage improvement of each group’s rookie to sophomore statistics, and applied those percentages to Ryan’s and Flacco’s 2008 stats.

Matt Ryan
By Median3224950.6538457.81512
By Range
By Average3024730.6438548.11810
Joe Flacco
By Median3124890.6433116.81313
By Range
By Average2934660.6333187.11611

By median – due to small sample size – is likely the better measure here. The ranges are calculated based on the rookie median, not average. Also, removing the high and/or low performers from the sample yields little difference in the results.

Some interesting trends in this data:
Completion Percentage – Nine of the thirteen players on the list saw an increase in completion percentage from Y1 to Y2.
Touchdowns and Interceptions – Only seven QBs had their TDs per game and TD:INT ratio improve their sophomore season. This partially explains the difference between the average and median TD:INT projections. We could call it the “Marino/Manning/Garcia” effect. Marino saw a massive increase in his TD production. Manning and Garcia a massive increase in their TD:INT ratio.
Yardage – Ten of the thirteen saw their per-game yardage totals increase. This could easily be attributed to the fact that nine saw their per game attempts go up.
Overall – One last thing worth noting. Only Warren Moon saw a decline in all three categories (yards per game, completion percentage and TD:INT ratio), and no others saw a decline in both completion percent and TD:INT ratio.

In this analysis, it’s probably less important to look at the actual numbers, and more important to look at the trending of the numbers. Their TD:INT numbers are likely to be similar to where they were before, but their yardage will probably improve as they get more reps. Generally it should be expected that they play better, but not necessarily a dramatic improvement.

My own personal belief is that I don’t think either is more likely than the other to either improve or decline. There are strong arguments for both going either way. Matt Ryan had a better season, so there’s less room to improve than decline. Additionally, Atlanta’s offensive line played significantly better than in ’07, and better than expected at the on-set of the ’08 season. They are young and could continue to improve, or they could regress to the mean and set Ryan back with them. Should Michael Turner suffer the “Curse of 370” it could negatively impact Ryan’s ability to build on his rookie year. And of course, Ryan could simply improve with a year of experience under his belt, and the addition of ageless, perennial Pro Bowler Tony Gonzalez as an additional receiving option.

The arguments for Flacco are similar. His offensive line is [mostly] young, and will have two or possibly three new starters this season. It could improve or decline and neither would be surprising. Cam Cameron will almost certainly open the offensive playbook up. But the Ravens also still lack the basic weapons to truly give Flacco solid support. Derrick Mason is in his mid-thirties and suffered a serious shoulder injury last season. If he goes down to injury, the Ravens receiving options are horrendous (see my statistical break-down of their odds in light of Mason’s retirement here). But Flacco has plenty of room to improve upon last season, and his stats in his first five weeks vs. the last eleven weeks are night and day. With one TD to seven INTs his first five games, through his final eleven he threw thirteen TDs to only five INTs, and he posted a gaudy 90.2 QB rating his final eleven games.

Either way, both are more likely to improve than they are to decline. And to fans of two franchises that have suffered through frustrations at the QB position for years, these two are a breath of fresh air.


Saturday, August 8, 2009

Rites Of Summer

My Heart is ravisht with delight,
when thee I think upon;
All Grief and Sorrow takes the flight,
and speedily is gone;
The bright resemblance of thy Face,
so fills this, Heart of mine;
That Force nor Fate can me displease,
for Old long syne.

James Watson

Today marks the beginning of the new NFL year. I could see how some might argue for its beginning after the Pro Bowl, or at the beginning of training camp but I don't see it that way. Tomorrow at 8pm the Buffalo Bills will play in Nashville against the Titans and this will be the first live NFL football of the 2009 year. The months after the Pro Bowl is the long autumn after harvest, and if draft day is Christmas then certainly we can see how the return to the playing field is New Years Day. But first comes the day of Auld Lang Syne, the night of remembrance.

It doesn’t matter how many years it takes. Once you get in there, that’s all that matters.”
- Tim Grunhard

James discussed how the NFL pays respect to its greatest players as it kicks off each season with the Hall of Fame ceremony. This year's class is distinguished, but no more distinguished than most, less than some. Ralph Wilson is a giant, every bit as important to the growth of the NFL as Lamar Hunt or Wellington Mara and it is good to see him enshrined while he is still living. With the possible exception of Wilson though, I think the most interesting induction is that of Derrick Thomas.

When I first heard about Thomas' election to the Hall, I immediately began to consider if he really had a Hall of Fame-worthy career, or if his election had more to do with his sudden death and his charitable work. There were calls in the Chief community for Thomas' election by acclamation after his death, following the precedent after Roberto Clemente's death. While there are parallels between Clemente and Thomas, ultimately they fail, right down to the way each died; Clemente delivering aid to earthquake victims, Thomas driving recklessly and flipping his SUV. The latter isn't a judgment of Thomas, it's just what is.

Even so, Thomas was a remarkable humanitarian in his own right. In his third NFL season he founded (along with Neil Smith) the Third and Long Foundation, devoted to tackling illiteracy in the inner city. Since its inception 60 NFL players have devoted time and resources to its success. Thomas was the NFL Man of the Year in 1993. He won the Byron "Whizzer" White Humanitarian Award in 1995. George Bush designated him one of the country's 1000 Points of Light.

I think we all occasionally wonder what the Hall of Fame is. There are obvious Hall of Famers like Walter Payon and Jerry Rice and Johnny Unitas. There are other players who - while maybe not all-time greats - defined the game for their generation. Finally there are guys like Bob Hayes who redefined the way we think of a position, even if no one really thinks that player is a member of the all-time elite.

In a way, Thomas was none of those things, and in another he embodied all of those things. He wasn't the best defensive player of his generation. Most would probably say 'Reggie White', if asked. His Hall of Fame classmates Bruce Smith and Rod Woodson were probably better. Deion Sanders was too. Darrell Green remained an elite defender for much of Thomas' career. Mike Singletary and then Junior Seau and finally Ray Lewis were all better linebackers. Even guys like John Randle trumped Thomas who was only names All Pro twice (Randle six times). At best you could argue that Thomas was the best rush linebacker in the NFL, but even then, as good as he was at attacking the quarterback, he was still a poor run defender for his entire career.

Thomas also couldn't have been said to redefine his position. Lawrence Taylor did it first, and did it better, being named first team All Pro eight times. In a sense Thomas was nothing but the best defensive player on the best defensive team; a guy limited to rushing the quarterback. But oh, what a rusher. Marty Schottenheimer said of Thomas "Derrick weighed 250-255 and we designed what we did to try to put him in a position to do what he did best, that was to go after the quarterback. You don't see many quarterbacks throwing effectively when they're looking over their back shoulder and wondering, 'Who's that guy coming at me? Any time you can get a player, on offense or defense, who must become the focal point of the opponent, those kind of players are rare, he had to be accounted for on every play or he would beat you."

Thomas had 126 quarterback sacks and 448 pressures in an 11 year career covering 169 games. In other words Thomas made series or game changing plays about three and a half times per game. Neil Smith was drafted a year before Thomas and was already being labeled a bust until Thomas began to pull the attention of the offenses to him, in part giving Smith the freedom to dominate the defensive line, leading to several pro bowls and an All Pro season in 1993. Due to their lack of post-season success, the record of the Chiefs in the 1990s is often overlooked. They finished the decade with the third most wins of any franchise, behind only the 49ers and Bills while ahead of perennial winners Dallas, Denver, and Green Bay.

But even with his on-field success and off-field charity, Thomas led a volatile life, right up to the accident that caused his death. Joe Posnanski of the Kansas City Star wrote "
Whenever any of us write or say something good about Thomas — such as this weekend when we celebrate his remarkable football career — we are inundated with angry e-mails and phone calls and rebukes from those who want to yell about the irresponsible way he fathered seven children with five different women. Whenever we talk about all the good he did — and he did a lot of good; he was always generous with his time and he was chosen the NFL Man of the Year in 1993 — we are furiously reminded of his bad habits and wild nights and marathon parties." Even following his death, a protracted and public lawsuit by his survivors against General Motors served little but to keep the circumstances of his death in the public eye.

So what was Thomas? He was an enigma and a great talent, and limited. He had a huge heart and bad judgment and a fierce desire to be bigger than anyone ever could be. He was about as one-dimensional as a three-down player could be, but he was so great at that dimension that dragging him off the field was out of the question. He wasn't the greatest. He wasn't among the greatest in football history, he wasn't among the greatest at his position. But when I think of the qualities that the very greatest have, I see those same qualities in Derrick Thomas. Hall of Famer? Yeah ... yeah.

Derrick worked out with about three other linebackers, we put them through a bunch of drills, and Derrick just kept going and going. I looked back, and I said, ‘That’s about enough,’ and Carl says, ‘No, I want to see more.’ So we kept doing more. And all of a sudden another linebacker dropped out and was about dead, and I looked back at Carl, and he said, ‘More.’

“Then another linebacker dropped out, and I said, ‘Carl, I’ve been through the linebacker drills, I’ve put them through defensive-back drills,’ and he says, ‘No, I want more.’ Finally, the other linebackers couldn’t take anymore. It was a hot day. I said, ‘Carl, I don’t have any more drills.’ He said, ‘OK.’

“And Derrick looked at me and grinned, and said, ‘Coach, are you done? Don’t you have any more?’

“I kind of chuckled, because I know it was making Carl very mad because he was trying to make him get so tired. Everyone else around him was sick, they couldn’t breathe, and Derrick kept on going, and he wanted more.”


My wife and I both have said he's probably the son we've never had. He's a guy who lived his life with a passion, everything he did. I really think that with all the things that have taken place today [in the NFL] and all the publicity of the arrests and everything else that took place, this is a good person.

-Bill Cowher


Thursday, August 6, 2009

An Adequate Offense

I am an ardent believer in Joe Flacco. A couple weeks ago I engaged in a lengthy back and forth banter on a Ravens discussion forum about predictions for Flacco's stats for this upcoming season. I basically went with:

3200-3400 yds with 22-24 TDs and 13-14 INTs

Last season, those numbers would have ranked:

13th-17th in yards
8th-10th in TD passes (12th if you say 21 TD passes)

I don't want to get into whether that's a reasonable or likely prediction for a 2nd-yr QB. I used a number of assumptions, including the major one that the level of performance we saw from Joe Cool over his last 11 regular season games last year was a true, repeatable performance. But mostly I went with my gut, not with any "science". But in the process I wondered: what does a decent, just-barely-in-the-top-10 passing offense look like? Who catches the passes, and what do their stats look like?

What kind of production do the wide receivers, backs and tight ends typically get, when a quarterback posts that kind of season?

I took stats from, of the top 12 leading passers by yardage and TD passes over the last 10 years. Here's how they average out:


This table says that, from 1999-2008 the average league-leader in passing yards threw for 4,576 yards; and the average leader in TD passes threw 37. The average 10th-placed passer by yardage threw for 3449 yards; 10th-place by TDs had 21 passing TDs. If you throw for 3321 yards with 19 TDs, that would on average place you 12th in the league in both categories, over the last 10 years.

Excel's TREND function shows an upward trend of about 23 yards per QB per year over the time period: so next year's prediction by TREND is about a hundred yards higher at each position than this average shows. Close enough.

Returning to Flacco for a moment, you'll notice that my yardage and TD predictions don't quite jibe with each other. Either I was too conservative in the yardage prediction, or too optimistic with the TD prediction (guess which one is most likely). If Joe were to pass for around 3200-3400 yards, then a more likely TD prediction for him would be something like 17-21. If he were to pass for 22-24 TDs, then it seems that might be good for 3600-3800 yards. So my prediction doesn't look too great: basically I have him in the top 10 in the league in the passing stats. Sure I think Joe is good; very good. But it's also true that Drew Brees is good, and Philip Rivers is good, and Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner and Donovan McNabb and Tony Romo and Super Bowl champ Ben Roethlisbugger. That guy Brady in Massachusetts is pretty decent.

By the way, 1999 seems to represent a natural cut-off in the passing data.
  • From 90-99, there were only two seasons where the top 12 QBs combined for over 45,000 passing yards (94-95), and the others weren't close (under 42,500). From 99 on, there were only two seasons where the top 12 QBs didn't combine for over 45,000 yards, and those two were over 44,000.
  • From 90-99, there was only one season where the 4th-highest-yardage passer in the league had over 4000 yards (95, Favre + Mitchell + Moon + Jeff George were all over 4140). From 99 on the league leader has only twice been under 4400, and there have been 5 seasons where the leader had more yardage than any passer in 90-99.
  • From 99 on, the #4 yardage passer has been over 4k six times. In 99 the #5 yardage passer was over 4k, which never happened in 90-99; and that happened 4 more times over the following years.
Maybe it's just an illusion, something that pops up in messy data. But just by eyeball it seems like something changed btw 98 and 99.


I was curious about the "decent" passing offense, or the decent-to-good offense. I decided that meant the QBs ranked #9 thru #12: almost making the top 10, or just barely in it. From the chart above, over the last 10 years that would be a range of QB yardage numbers between 3320 yards and 3575 yards; and from 19 to 23 TDs.

You may pause for a moment to observe how pathetically funny this is. A Ravens fun wonders what a decent offense would look like. And he has to go to the statistical record, because he's never seen one!


has data up thru 2007. I took QB seasons that were narrowly "similar" to that range of stats above: 3300-3600 yards, with 19-23 TDs. I did not adjust for INTs, or for passer rating; I just took the raw production totals. How often does a QB put up numbers like that?

There were 45 such seasons in the PFR data, starting with Johnny Unitas in 1963 and Joe Namath in 1966. That was a little farther back than I wanted to go, so I stuck with the past 20 years (actually 21). That gave me 29 such QB-seasons.

(You might have expected more, since I was going with the #9-10-11-12 guys in yardage and TDs each season. Shouldn't there have been 80 such seasons? 4 x 20? Remember that I required that BOTH the yardage and TDs fit into a narrow range. Very often a guy will be the #10 yardage passer, but a couple spots higher or lower in TDs: since not both stats are in the range, a season like that would be excluded from my list.)

Here are the 29 QB-seasons from 1988-2008:

Phil Simms 1988Brett Favre 1993Steve McNair 2001
Neil Lomax 1988Jeff Hostetler 1994Steve McNair 2002
Randall Cunningham 1989Scott Mitchell 1997Jeff Garcia 2002
Dave Krieg 1989Dan Marino 1998Matt Hasselbeck 2004
Steve Deberg 1990Trent Green 1998Kerry Collins 2004
Dan Marino 1990Jon Kitna 1999Philip Rivers 2006
Jim Kelly 1992Elvis Grbac 1999Eli Manning 2007
Troy Aikman 1992Kurt Warner 2000Jay Cutler 2007
Jim Everett 1992Donovan McNabb 2000Donovan McNabb 2007
Warren Moon 1993Mark Brunell 2001

The average QB line for this group was:

287 of 488 (59%) for 3399.3 yds with 21.3 TDs and 14.5 INTs, 7.0 ypa , passer rating 82.3.
Max 3563 yards, 23 TDs.
Min 3303 yards, 19 TDs.

Could not really ask for seasons more similar to my original prediction for Joe: at the high end for yards, one off at the low end for TDs. (I predicted a higher ypa for Joe, so I had a higher QB rating.)

So then I looked at the performances of the #1 WR (by yardage) on those teams, and the #2 and #3 receiver; also the top RB (by receiving yardage) and the top TE (by receiving yardage). Note that the top RB by receiving yardage is not necessarily the team's top RB. In fact it's usually not: it's the 3rd-down back or the FB.

• I excluded the 2000 Rams of Kurt Warner from the study. Warner put up his stats in 10 or 11 games; Trent Green started the rest of the way, and the composite QB line for the season was like 5500 yds (!) with 37 TDs. Not at all comparable to the kinds of QB seasons I was looking for. Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce combined for 3000 yds all by themselves; Marshall Faulk and Az Hakim added quite a bit more.

• I also excluded the 1988 Cards of Neil Lomax. Lomax played 14 games, so you'd think the data would be "good enough": but the top 5 receivers accounted for 102% of Lomax's yards and 105% of the TDs. Cliff Stoudt threw for ~750 yards with 6 TDs that year: the offense had almost 4200 yards passing with 26 TDs. The season is a little too good to fit in with the others.

• The 1993 Titans of Warren Moon played the run-&-shoot; no TE got a single receiving yard, as far as I can tell. (Did they even have a TE on the roster?) They did complete one 13-yd pass to an offensive lineman. For purposes of the study, I pretended their #4 WR (Curtis Duncan) was the TE.

Here is what I wanted to know: when a QB has a statistical line like that, what kind of production does the team get from the WR corps, and the backs & TEs? What do the #1 receiver, #2 receiver et al, all post in a decent-to-good season like this?


Here are the average receiving yards and TDs for the 5 positions I looked at on those 27 teams:


• Brian Westbrook throws off the RB averages a little. The median RB yardage is 284.

• Likewise Antonio Gates throws off the TE averages: the median TE yardage is 383.

•These 5 players accounted for about 85% of the QB's total production in those seasons: 83.9% of the yardage, 85.1% of the TDs.

So that's the typical decent-to-good passing offense, good for #9 to #12 in the league in yardage and TDs. A thousand-yard receiver with 7 TDs, a #2WR with 650 yds and 5 TDs, a #3WR who kicks in 370 yds and 2 TDs; plus a back with about 300 yds receiving and a couple TD catches (probably the FB or 3rd-down back), and a TE with about 400 yds and 3 receiving TDs.

Looking at the list of teams (data at bottom of post) shows that there are a number of ways to skin the cat on offense. There were some true #1 receivers in the data: Michael Irvin at 1400 yds, Sterling Sharpe (who I think belongs in the Hall of Fame), Tim Brown near his peak, Herman Moore (who probably should also be in the Hall), Jimmy Smith, Derrick Mason when he was making Pro Bowls in Tennessee, Terrell Owens with 1300 yds and 13 TDs with San Francisco, Plaxico in 2007 when he caught 12 TDs, Brandon Marshall.

But there were also some true West Coast dink-and-dunk offenses: McNabb's Eagles, Hasselbeck's Seahawks, possibly the Chiefs with Deberg and later Elvis. And also some offenses built around Hall-of-Fame (or at least Pro Bowl) caliber talent at the backs and TEs: Chargers with Gates and LDT, Chiefs with Tony Gonzalez, Randall's 1989 Eagles with Keith's Jackson & Byars. Brian Westbrook, of course. No one ever talks about this guy, but FB John L. Williams had a 3-yr stretch in the late 80s / early 90s where he was over 650 yds receiving for Chuck Knox's Seahawks, and then 4 more years at 500. A valuable, productive player.

There were only two cases (out of 27) were a #2 WR was over a thousand yards: Scott Mitchell 1997 (Johnnie Morton) and Mark Brunell 2001 (Keenan McCardell). I think in general when your #2 WR puts up a thousand, you have a more productive passing offense than the "adequate" stratum we're looking at here: maybe top 5.

In general I was surprised how little the #3 WR contributed. Several of those totals were below 300 yds, a couple below 200. On the other hand, there was a Pro Bowl caliber TE very often. Not just the obvious guys like Gates & Gonzalez, but Mark Bavaro, Keith Jackson, Ferrell Edmunds, Jay Novacek, Stephen Alexander, Chad Lewis, Frank Wycheck, Shockey. More of these teams had such a player than didn't; many of the guys who never made a Pro Bowl were nevertheless pretty damn productive in the seasons I looked at (Jackie Harris, Jerramy Stevens). The productive pass-catching TE seems to be important.
(It would be nice if Todd Heap could start putting up big numbers again.)


My original interest in this was whether this year's Ravens squad had enough firepower for a passer to post stats similar to the #9-10-11-12 passer rankings. Substituting in the appropriate Ravens:

study averageRavens career high
#3WR368.61.9D Williams3962




This says that if every Raven were to hit their career high, and assuming the normal percentages from above, then Flacco would throw for 4230 yards with 22 TDs. !

I didn't use Mason's career high, which was set when he was much younger, making Pro Bowls in Tennessee; but rather his high with the Ravens. That's the number shown in the table above (2007). Heap's career high (2005) is a pretty aggressive number to use, since he's been to the Pro Bowl twice (could have been three times; but the year he had his career highs, Gates & Gonzalez exploded). His career averages are 538 yards and 4 TDs, which includes some years where he missed extensive time due to injury. If you plug in those for Heap instead of his career high, you get a muliplied total for the QB of 3852 yards with 19 TDs.

A few things would have to break right for this Ravens squad; but I am surprised by how achievable those numbers are. Not that I'm saying it's likely every Raven will set a new career high (though in my heart of hearts I believe that can easily happen, given how limited the Ravens offenses were under Billick). But the Ravens clearly have enough talent at the receivers and backs to be a decent-to-good offense. It really just depends on the QB play.

In particular

Two offenses of particular interest to Ravens fans: the 1998 Redskins of Trent Green, and the 1992 Rams of Jim Everett.

• 1998 Redskins
Cam Cameron had been the QB coach under Norv. This was 2 seasons after these Redskins sent Gus Frerotte to the Pro Bowl, and Cameron was gone, coaching Indiana. Trent Green was in his 5th or 6th season, having attempted only 1 career pass (the year before). They had Terry Allen (700 yds) and Skip Hicks running the ball. Their leading receiver was Michael Westbrook with 736 yds. They had other useful players like Stephen Alexander & Brian Mitchell, plus a few young guys who would later turn into real players (Stephen Davis, James Thrash, Mike Sellers). But this was not an explosive group.
Green went 278 of 509 (55%) for 3441 yds (6.8 ypa) with 23 TDs and 11 INTs (rating 82).
(Also took 49 sacks that year, leading the league. Ouch.)

• 1992 Rams
In Cam Cameron's press conference last year, after Joe got drafted, Jim Everett was one of the QBs Cam specifically mentioned as having developed in the system he was running. Norv had been the WRs/TE coach here, but had left to go to Dallas. Ernie Zampese was still the OC. Jim Everett was in his 7th season, having gone to a Pro Bowl a couple years before (he probably deserved it earlier). They got 1100 yds rushing out of Cleveland Gary, who never came near that number again. The leading receiver was old Henry Ellard, with 727 yds. Flipper Anderson was only 27, but he must have had an injury or something a few yrs before: looks like his speed was gone.
Everett went 281 of 475 (59%) for 3323 yds (7 ypa) with 22 TDs and 18 INTs (rating 80.2).

There are lots of ways to get it done on offense.

People (including Chris!) need to be more optimistic about this year's Ravens team. ;-)



Below is the underlying data for the QB seasons under discussion.
In the tables, the numbers below the QB's name are his stat line for the year:
comp/att (pct) for yards with TD/INT rating.

Phil Simms, 1988 Giants|Randall Cunningham, 1989 Eagles
263/479 (55%) for 3359 with 21/11 r 82.2|290/532 (55%) for 3400 with 21/15 r 76
#1WRLionel Manuel10294|#1WRCris Carter60511
#2WRStephen Baker6567|#2WRRon Johnson2951
#3WRMark Ingram1581|#3WRMike Quick2282
#1RBMaurice Carthon1941|#1RBKeith Byars7210
#1TEMark Bavaro6724|#1TEKeith Jackson6483

Dave Krieg, 1989 Seahawks|Steve Deberg, 1990 Chiefs
286/499 (57%) for 3309 with 21/20 r 74.5|258/444 (58%) for 3444 with 23/4 r 96.3
#1WRBrian Blades10635|#1WRTommy Kane7764
#2WRPaul Skansi4885|#2WRBrian Blades5253
#3WRSteve Largent4033|#3WRJeff Chadwick4784
#1RBJohn L. Williams6576|#1RBJohn L. Williams6990
#1TERobert Tyler1480|#1TERon Heller1571

Dan Marino 1990|Jim Kelly 1992
306/531 (58%) for 3563 with 21/11 r 82.9|269/462 (58%) for 3457 with 23/19 r 81.1
#1WRMark Duper8105|#1WRAndre Reed9133
#2WRMark Clayton4063|#2WRJames Lofton7866
#3WRTony Martin3882|#3WRThurman Thomas5542
#1RBTroy Stradford2570|#1RBThurman Thomas6263
#1TEFerrell Edmunds4461|#1TEPete Metzelaars2986

Troy Aikman, 1992 Cowboys|Jim Everett, 1992 Rams
302/473 (64%) for 3445 with 23/14 r 89.6|281/475 (59%) for 3323 with 22/18 r 80
#1WRMichael Irvin13967|#1WRHenry Ellard7273
#2WRAlvin Harper5624|#2WRFlipper Anderson6577
#3WRKelvin Martin3593|#3WRJeff Chadwick3623
#1RBEmmitt Smith3351|#1RBCleveland Gary2933
#1TEJay Novacek6306|#1TEJim Price3242

Warren Moon 1993|Brett Favre 1993
303/520 (58%) for 3485 with 21/21 r 75|318/522 (61%) for 3303 with 19/24 r 72.3
#1WRWebster Slaughter9045|#1WRSterling Sharpe127411
#2WRErnest Givins8874|#2WRMark Clayton3313
#3WRHaywood Jeffires7536|#3WRRobert Brooks1800
#1RBGary Brown2402|#1RBEdgar Bennett4571
#1TECurtis Duncan4563|#1TEJackie Harris6044

Jeff Hostetler 1994|Scott Mitchell 1997
263/455 (58%) for 3334 with 20/16 r 80.9|293/509 (58%) for 3484 with 19/14 r 79.9

#1WRTim Brown13099|#1WRHerman Moore12938
#2WRRocket Ismail5135|#2WRJohnnie Morton10576
#3WRAlexander Wright2942|#3WRTommie Boyd1420
#1RBHarvey Williams3913|#1RBBarry Sanders3053
#1TEAndrew Glover3712|#1TEDavid Sloan2640

Dan Marino 1998|Trent Green, 1998 Redskins
310/537 (58%) for 3497 with 23/15 r 80.2|278/509 (55%) for 3441 with 23/11 r 82.1
#1WROJ McDuffie10507|#1WRMichael Westbrook7366
#2WROronde Gadsden7137|#2WRLeslie Shepherd7128
#3WRLamar Thomas6035|#3WRAlbert Connell4512
#1RBBernie Parmalee2210|#1RBStephen Davis2632
#1TETroy Drayton3343|#1TEStephen Alexander3834

Jon Kitna, 1999 Seahawks|Elvis Grbac, 1999 Chiefs
270/495 (55%) for 3346 with 23/16 r 78.1|294/499 (59%) for 3389 with 22/15 r 81.7
#1WRSean Dawkins9927|#1WRDerrick Alexander8322
#2WRDerrick Mayes82910|#2WRJoe Horn5866
#3WRMike Pritchard3752|#3WRKevin Lockett4262
#1RBRicky Watters3872|#1RBTony Richardson1410
#1TEChristian Fauria3760|#1TETony Gonzalez84911

Donovan McNabb, 2000 Eagles|Mark Brunell 2001
330/569 (58%) for 3365 with 21/13 r 77.8|289/473 (61%) for 3309 with 19/13 r 84
#1WRCharles Johnson6427|#1WRJimmy Smith13738
#2WRTorrance Small5693|#2WRKeenan McCardell11106
#3WRTodd Pinkston1810|#3WRSean Dawkins2340
#1RBDarnell Autry2751|#1RBElvis Joseph1832
#1TEChad Lewis7353|#1TEKyle Brady3862

Steve McNair, 2001 Titans|Steve McNair, 2002 Titans
264/431 (61%) for 3350 with 21/12 r 89.9|301/492 (61%) for 3387 with 22/15 r 83.8
#1WRDerrick Mason11289|#1WRDerrick Mason10125
#2WRKevin Dyson8257|#2WRDrew Bennett4782
#3WRDrew Bennett3291|#3WRKevin Dyson4604
#1RBEddie George2790|#1RBEddie George2552
#1TEFrank Wycheck6724|#1TEFrank Wycheck3462

Jeff Garcia, 2002 Niners|Matt Hasselbeck, 2004 Seahawks
328/528 (62%) for 3344 with 21/10 r 85.5|279/474 (59%) for 3382 with 22/15 r 83.3
#1WRTerrell Owens130013|#1WRDarrell Jackson11997
#2WRTai Streets7565|#2WRBobby Engram4992
#3WRJ.J. Stokes3321|#3WRKoren Robinson4952
#1RBGarrison Hearst3171|#1RBShaun Alexander1704
#1TEEric Johnson3210|#1TEJerramy Stevens3493

Kerry Collins 2004|Philip Rivers, 2006 Chargers
289/513 (56%) for 3495 with 21/20 r 74.5|284/460 (62%) for 3388 with 22/9 r 92.2
#1WRJerry Porter9989|#1WREric Parker6590
#2WRRonald Curry6796|#2WRVincent Jackson4536
#3WRDoug Gabriel5512|#3WRKeenan McCardell4370
#1RBAmos Zereoue2840|#1RBLaDainian Tomlinson5083
#1TEDoug Jolley3132|#1TEAntonio Gates9249

Eli Manning, 2007 Giants|Jay Cutler 2007
297/529 (56%) for 3336 with 23/20 r 73.8|297/467 (64%) for 3497 with 20/14 r 88.4
#1WRPlaxico Burress102512|#1WRBrandon Marshall13257
#2WRAmani Toomer7603|#2WRBrandon Stokley6355
#3WRSinorice Moss2250|#3WRJavon Walker2870
#1RBDerrick Ward1791|#1RBSelvin Young2310
#1TEJeremy Shockey6193|#1TETony Scheffler5495

Donovan McNabb 2007|
291/473 (62%) for 3324 with 19/7 r 90.3|
#1WRKevin Curtis11106|
#2WRReggie Brown7804|
#3WRJason Avant2672|
#1RBBrian Westbrook7715|
#1TELJ Smith2361|


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