Friday, January 30, 2009

Topical

The Times focuses on the physics, but considering our recent conversations, I think some of the underlying psychology is more interesting.

Clark’s shockingly violent hit on Willis McGahee two Sundays ago — a full-speed, helmet-to-helmet crash that left McGahee unconscious and Clark all but — didn’t just follow the N.F.L.’s rules, but Newton’s as well. Force equaled mass times acceleration. Momentum was conserved. And the bodies finally came to rest, McGahee’s on a stretcher.
The hit was the functional equivalent of running into a padded wall at 40mph.

“The tackler doesn’t want his body to be a big spring — these players lower their shoulder and tense up and launch to make their force go up,” said Stefan Duma, a professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech who has studied the similarities between football collisions and car crashes. “It’s like trying to break down a door — you try to get all your mass behind you and drive it through one point. You want to get all your mass to act as one mass, one missile.”

Reaching the ball carrier at full speed is crucial, as any deceleration before impact saps force from the hit. This is where angles come in, said Timothy Gay, a professor of physics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln

~

“Jack Tatum was vicious — that helps — but he had a way of popping with the perfect angle and timing,” Gay said of the ex-Oakland Raiders receiver called the Assassin in both reverence and fear. “The best hitters accelerate at the last instant. That final jolt of speed allows them to apply a bigger force to their victim.”




Discovery reports on some promising technology.

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A Response

I guess I have a lot to say and my pride won't let this get buried in the comments.

In the brain injury article comments Chris wrote:

The thing is, how much should we really be bothered by it for players today? This should be a situation considered much like smoking. No one knew about this before. Now we do. There should be warnings, but largely these guys know what they're getting themselves into. They're being paid millions of dollars to sacrifice their bodies and make names for themselves. Even the low men on the totem pole make more than 5x the average salary in the US.

But really, it isn't as simple as slapping a warning on a sport for a number of reasons. If it were then safety really wouldn't be a consideration at all, beyond whatever minimum teams decided were necessary to protect their investments. While our society considers the individual supreme, it is also balanced against reasonable regulation. We do not allow reckless endangerment to oneself. Masking that endangerment in a sporting activity does not make it any more legal, even if society somehow finds it more acceptable.

Arguing that the monetary reward for self-destruction is sufficient is ... well, subjective, to say the least. Given enough money we could find people to attempt anything. How about a $50 million duel to the death? I guarantee the line would be out the door.

Laws regarding workplace safety make no distinction for compensation. We don't typically condone the high mortality rate of coal miners because they make so much more than shopkeepers, but instead demand as stringent health and safety measures possible without crippling the industry.

Furthermore, if football is inherently dangerous then we are guilty of exposing minors to unnecessary risk. Football players don't spring wholly formed at the age of consent to embark on a college [sic] career with NFL dreams. They play pee wee and junior high and high school football. At what point do bodily collisions begin to have a deleterious impact? 50 pound collisions? 100 pound collisions? Their consent to play lies with their parents, not with them, and typically big time football players don't come from backgrounds of the greatest education and worldly wisdom. By the time these kids reach the age of consent they are completely programmed.

I love football, and am certainly not arguing it has no place. But this is the real world and these are real world considerations.

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No news is good news?

This has to be one of the most quiet Superbowl weeks in recent memory. The hype is all there. But the circus that usually surrounds this event?

No one is soliciting prostitutes like Eugene Robinson.
No accused felons are playing in the game like Ray Lewis.
No one has gone missing like Barrett Robbins.
No one is engaging in massive smack-talk like Hines Ward and Jeremy Stevens.
No one is asking the starting QBs to marry them like Ines Gomez-Mont.

Both teams are being incredibly silent about things, and *gasp* acting like professionals. It begs the question of whether or not that makes this week a boring week, or is it nice and refreshing to see two teams that seemingly have a lot of respect for the game and for each other?

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Concussions in football players

This might be the most important football-related news in many years. Followed this link off the Football Outsiders web site, so compliments to them on disseminating this. From CNN:

Dead athletes' brains show damage from concussions

using tissue from retired NFL athletes culled posthumously, the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE), at the Boston University School of Medicine, is shedding light on what concussions look like in the brain. The findings are stunning. Far from innocuous, invisible injuries, concussions confer tremendous brain damage. That damage has a name: chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
On Tuesday afternoon, researchers at the CSTE released a study about the sixth documented case of CTE in former NFL player Tom McHale, who died in 2008 at the age of 45, and the youngest case to date, an 18-year-old multi-sport athlete who suffered multiple concussions. While CTE in an ex-NFL player's brain may have been expected, the beginnings of brain damage in an 18-year-old brain was a "shocking" finding, according to Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Bedford, Massachusetts, and co-director of the CSTE.
...
CTE has thus far been found in the brains of six out of six former NFL players. "What's been surprising is that it's so extensive," said McKee. "It's throughout the brain, not just on the superficial aspects of the brain, but it's deep inside." ... McKee, who also studies Alzheimer's disease, says the tangles closely resemble what might be found in the brain of an 80-year-old with dementia.
"I knew what traumatic brain disease looked like in the very end stages, in the most severe cases," said McKee. "To see the kind of changes we're seeing in 45-year-olds is basically unheard of."
...
The Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, along with other research institutions, has now identified traumatic encephalopathy in the brains of late NFL football players John Grimsley, Mike Webster, Andre Waters, Justin Strzelczyk and Terry Long, in addition to McHale. ... "Guys were dying," said Nowinski. "The fact of the matter was guys were dying because they played sports 10 or 20 years before."

The article said the NFL released a statement: "Hundreds of thousands of people have played football and other sports without experiencing any problem of this type and there continues to be considerable debate within the medical community..."

That seems disingenuous. Hundreds of thousands of people have played football without being diagnosed with problems of this type; but the data emerging from the study suggests that these problems may have gone undiagnosed and unreported, for decades. And I don't think there's any debate within the medical community about whether concussions are bad for you. The question has always been, how bad? This study suggests the answer is: potentially devastating.



Football is, of course, a massive business. The NFL itself is a huge enterprise, a multi-billion dollar monster. And the NFL is in some ways just the tip of the iceberg. The NCAA is also a pretty big operation: think of all the big money boosters at places like Georgia and Auburn and Michigan and Notre Dame and USC etc etc. Where I'm going with that is, there will be colossal resistance to the notion that football should be regulated or policed. Think of the political hue and cry over Monday Night Football being broadcast on basic cable (ESPN) rather than over public airwaves. Yet these data suggest that football cries out for, I dunno, OSHA intervention or something.

We as fans have always known that NFL football was "dangerous". Darryl Stingley was rendered quadriplegic by Jack Tatum on the field in 1978; Joe Theisman was maimed by LT on Monday Night Football in 1985; Korey Stringer died of heat stroke during training camp in 2001; Kevin Everett was paralyzed during a kickoff return in week 1 of the 2007 season (although he walked again some months later). Sure, it can be dangerous, sometimes. But I think we've always rationalized it a little, pushed it to the back of our minds. It only happens sometimes. Sure, there are occasional broken legs and torn ACLs and turf toes and ruptured biceps and hammy pulls: but most guys are fine. Stingley called his injury a freak accident.

But in recent years we've started to hear disturbing stories about ex-NFL players. The former linebacker who suffers from depression and Alzheimer's and has attempted suicide. How Joe Montana, in his 50s, can barely walk and can't lift up his grandkids. I wonder how soon we are going to be forced to conclude that football is a sport that feeds on the destruction of human beings. Not like horse-racing, where there's an occasional casualty: more like Michael Vick's much-criticized dog fighting rings, where the destruction of the participants is a certainty.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Onion is life

Mike Tomlin
TJ Housh
Willis McGahee
Dan Rooney
Donovan McNabb
Charlie Weis

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Media Day

Well, it’s Media Day for the Superbowl participants. Many of the more serious sports – and football, really – journalists refer to this as something closer to Circus Day.

Last year’s media day featured nearly 4,800 media members which included such oddities as 57 people from one outlet (Arizona Republic), an eight year old reporter, a reporter asking questions through a monkey puppet, and two marriage proposals (both by the same person, wearing a wedding dress of course). It’s somewhat amusing to me that many media members go out of their way to become the stories rather than report on them.

Media Day has grown annually for a while now. The interesting question will be whether it grows again this year, vs. if the economy is holding some folks back from being able to take that trip.

Next year, maybe we should try to get credentials and head to Miami to be part of the circus. I could wear a wedding dress and ask [fill in your favorite QB’s name here] to marry me.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hook and Lateral

You've heard of it, but have you actually seen it? Here's some of the most exciting 4 mins in NFL broadcasting history.

video

When you absolutely, positively have to score a touchdown.

Watching that vid, one thing I notice is how different the modern NFL-watching experience is. In this clip they do a good job of apprising you of the situation: but don't you find yourself glancing up at the corner for the score-and-time box? The networks have made real strides in the last 10 years, in improving the game-watching experience.

Another thing that stands out is how aware the announcers (Don Criqui and John Brodie) seem to be, that they've got something special. Is it my imagination, or are they much better than the run-of-the-mill we have today? Maybe it's just because they are part of what I grew up with. (Also of course they represent the network's top or #2 team of the time, not the "average" at all.) Brodie makes an obvious mistake about 15 seconds in, saying the Dolphins have "plenty of time" to throw a quick out to try to improve their field position for a FG attempt; but he seems to catch himself, and ~20 seconds later he's saying something more reasonable. (It is live TV.) Criqui nicely captures how stunning the play was. When he yells "Hall of Fame play! That goes to Canton!" I find myself nodding "Yep". It was jaw-dropping in the moment.

Do the players look a little small to you? It's been 27 years, a few lifetimes in NFL terms. I wince at the thought of some of these guys getting crunched by (say) the Ravens defense.

If you don't know how the rest of the game went, Wikipedia has a nice entry on it, with some good external links.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

An early look at the draft

Don Banks released his first mock draft, a bit before he typically does. The week of the Senior Bowl and before the Superbowl hype really picks up, it’s a good time to start thinking through this stuff.

I think the thing that’s striking to me about this year is that there really isn’t what I see as any sort of consensus as to who the top picks should be. We’ve seen some confusion at the very top before, as late as last year. Who would the Dolphins take (before they signed Long)? Would someone (Baltimore) trade up to get Matt Ryan? Would the Raiders bite on McFadden?

There were questions about where some of those guys would go, but the top five was pretty well established as clear top five picks. You can actually see this in Banks’ first crack at the draft last year, which he waited till early Feb to release. Note that three of top four picks were dead on, and all five of the top five were projected as such.

This year, though, there seems to be much more ambiguity at the top of the draft. I think this is a function of a few things. First, there’s no marquee quarterback. Stafford lucks out that Bradford sticks around for another year. But even Stafford has significant questions. We all remember the last time the top of the draft was QB empty with no true top flight talent, right? Alex Smith busted hard as the #1 overall pick, and Aaron Rodgers fell into the mid-twenties. Stafford may still go top five, but would it be at all surprising if he fell a bit? The exact same thing could be said of Mark Sanchez.

The second is that there is significant talent on the OL, but no one stands out as clearly the top. There are three that could all cement themselves at the top of the position with a strong showing at the combine or even Senior Bowl. But no one’s jumping out right now.

Third is the tremendous talent spread across the defense at key positions, and the fact that many of the teams picking at the top need significant help at a variety of defensive positions.

I actually think Michael Crabtree – barring a massive disappointment in his workouts (guessing he will not even bother with the combine) – is the only one that looks to be locked into his slot. Banks is correct when he says “The perfect marriage of need and draft slot, the receiver-starved Seahawks should find Crabtree waiting.” Is Detroit going to take their fourth WR in the last six years? The Rams have many greater needs, and Holt still anchors their flankers. And the same could be said of the Chiefs, with Bowe. Barring a big move to the top (which is certainly possible), I don’t see Crabtree anywhere but Seattle next year. But the rest of the top five and even top ten, I expect there will be a significant amount of shifting between now and late April. There always is, but my guess is there will be even more than we’ve seen in the past, as the talent just looks interchangeable most of the way through the first round.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Well This Is Promising

A little more on Cunningham's coaching pedigree and relationship with Schwartz.

Cunningham, who also spent two years as the Chiefs' head coach in 1999-2000, got his coaching start in 1968 at the University of Oregon, his alma mater, and he has coached everything from kickers to defensive linemen working for mentors such as George Seifert and Bud Carson and, more recently, former Chiefs head coach Marty Schottenheimer. And it's that last name that brings him back to his new boss.

"Working for Marty was probably the greatest thing I've ever done in the NFL -- he and I got along tremendously," Cunningham said. "Jim Schwartz is like a reincarnation for me. ... The relationship we developed at Tennessee is one of those things that comes to you about once in a lifetime in coaching."

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Coach Named Cunningham


Well the Lions got their man. Detroit agreed to a contract with Gunther Cunningham to become their next defensive coordinator. Forgive me for being less than enthusiastic.

First the good. Cunningham coordinated the NFLs #1 defense in 1995 and 1997. And.. umm .. he used to be a head coach. That's about it.


Now a word about those Kansas City defenses. They were great. With Neil Smith and Derrick Thomas dominating at the line and that outstanding secondary with Dale Carter and James Hasty as the best safety tandem in the league. So there is some hope that given the requisite number of great players* Cunningham can build a great defense.

His last five years he has coordinated less than stellar defenses in Kansas City. His scoring defenses have been 29, 16, 12, 14, and 29. His yardage defenses 31, 25, 16, 13, and 31. These were teams that typically had among the worst pass defenses in the league (32, 30, 18, 5 (~!~), 28). I'm guessing that their 5th overall ranking in '07 was primarily the Jared Allen factor. How much of KC's defensive ineptitude was due to Herm craziness, talent deficits or simply 'Gunther isn't who he thought he was' we really can't know right now. It is a problem though, as he is coming to Detroit who had the worst defensive secondary in the NFL last year, and one of the historically worst defenses ever.

Interestingly, Cunningham really can't be credited to any particular coaching tree. He left Stanford a year before Walsh got there. He joined the NFL with Frank Kush's staff in Baltimore '82 for their disastrous last few years before joining Don Coryell for his last two coaching seasons in San Diego. Hard to say where his coaching philosophy evolved. I'd like to credit coaching with Schottenheimer in KC but I suspect by then Cunningham's style and system was probably fully formed.

So what does Cunningham bring besides a so-so pedigree? Intensity. Lots and lots of intensity.

"He's half-crazy,'' said one defensive coordinator in the league. "Good coach, but he's half-crazy. Very, very intense.''

"Explosive,'' said an assistant coach. "He doesn't tolerate anybody stepping out of line. Those players will learn very quickly that they can't test him.''

~

"The best way for me to describe it is that every minute of every day is fourth-and-1 to Gunther," Schwartz said. "And we're going to need that kind of attitude.''

~

"He's one of the most aggressive people that I've met,'' Schwartz said. "Generally, the people who work with him love him and the people who work against him, hate him. The reason is because he views the people who work against him as the enemy. He's not trying to make any friends. You'll get a different perception (from his own coaches and players) than you do from somebody's who's gotten their (butt) kicked by him for a number of years.''

So we'll see. There is a certain quality if a coach is able to take top players and mold them into a top defense, not many coaches can. Whether this coach can take a bunch of lousy players and mold them into a representative defense, and whether he can keep his unit tuned in while they find and develop pieces remains to be seen.


*my pet theory is that great defensive teams have to have an All-Pro at each of the three position groups

~

In a weird sort of juxtaposition, when the Chiefs fired Cunningham as HC and replaced him with Dick Vermeil, Vermeil hired Greg Robinson as defensive coordinator. Robinson failed and the Chiefs ultimately fired him and re-hired Cunningham to be DC. Robinson went on to coach up the championship Longhorn squad as DC in Austin, had a miserable stint as Syracuse HC and got hired to be Michigan's DC only yesterday.

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Anquan Boldin is not the problem

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic was on the Dan Patrick radio show this morning. Patrick asked him what was going on with Anquan Boldin. Bickley responded, and tucked within his response was this nugget (which isn’t an exact quote): “I don’t know if Rosenhaus told him ‘If you want to get traded this off-season, you need to start creating problems now.’ “

So this is leading me to put together a note of the conundrum that the players in the NFL face, when having to choose between their team, their fans, and themselves. I’m going to start by saying that I’m irritated by people who think that the “themselves” part of that sentence shouldn’t exist, cause players should only be about their teams…those fans are being as if not more selfish than a player is when he’s thinking about himself. And on top of that, why shouldn’t a person be allowed to think about themselves? The team thinks of themselves when they cut players. There is a tough situation that players have to deal with, to balance between doing what’s best for them as well as what’s best for the team.

A good example was whether or not Suggs would play in the game with the Steelers. His doctors had told him that he could cause significant ligament damage if he played, which could hurt his long-term playing status. As a free agent this off-season, does he do what’s best for the team and play if he feels okay to play? Or does he say “Playing could wind up costing me millions, not to mention the long term health impacts,” and sit out to protect himself and his earning capacity? Fans would say “Do what’s best for the team and play!” But it’s just not that simple. Would you risk significant injury to yourself to go to work one day if you knew there was a possibility you could damage your long term health and your future earnings?

Boldin faces much the same situation. Here’s the conundrum for him. He wants to get paid the way he’s valued. Why shouldn’t he? Regardless of whether you agree with him wanting to or not, he’s not being paid his market value, he wants that to change, and he’s very unhappy with the Cardinals for not fixing that. This preseason, he made a huge stink about it. But then in the regular season, he shut up. He went out and played. He was one of the best receivers in the league, until suffering a brutal hit that separated his face from his head. After undergoing surgery to rebuild his face, rather than park himself on the sidelines and mope and wait the Cards out, he continued to shut up and went back out on the field. His numbers projected over a full season would have been around 110-120 receptions, 1,300-1,400 yards, and 14-15 TDs.

But now he’s facing a choice. If he continues to shut up and play hard, his team has no incentive to make him happy. They could say “Well, he’s under contract, he plays hard and doesn’t create a distraction during the regular season. Why should we change anything with him?” Thus the conundrum…does he shut up and play and hurt his personal position? Or does he speak up and make things painful to attempt to satisfy himself personally?

I separate this from the TO phenomena. Boldin seems to me to be a guy that has done everything he could for his franchise. He’s been a locker-room leader. He’s come off an horrific injury and gotten back on the field quickly. He’s played balls-to-the-wall every game. He really hasn’t created any distractions during times that count, other than right now. He seems to have given the Cardinals every opportunity to make him happy without hurting the team, and now maybe he feels like his hand is being forced. Owens simply is never happy, wherever he goes, and the instant he becomes unhappy he decides to create a massive distraction and maximize locker-room disruption.

So I’m coming down on the side of Boldin here. After all, this is the Cardinals organization we’re talking about. Despite being in the Superbowl, Bidwell is not an owner known to throw money around. One story says that before he turned a majority of the day-to-day operations over to his son Michael, he used to make his players bring their own soap and shampoo in the locker room, as opposed to virtually every other team that provided it for them. The organization is still not run very well (Bill still has final say), and so it’s not hard to understand why a player could be unhappy there.

But the point is that Boldin isn’t the one that’s created this mess. The Cardinals aren’t, either. The system has created this mess. It’s a system that encourages a player to hurt his team in order to make himself happy, which makes him come off as selfish. It’s set up to allow teams to make those decisions without suffering the same image problem the player does when they try to make them.

And because the system is set up to create this conundrum, I can’t fault the player for doing what he feels he needs to do to be happy.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Championship weekend

Phil @ AZ
Throw ball in air, touchdown Larry Fitzgerald. It is apparently the unstoppable play.

There are two stories coming out of Arizona that lead to this team's success. Larry Fitzgerald's out of this world play is one of them. "But Chris, Fitzgerald is awesome in general. He's had a dominant season, remember?" How good/different has he been this post-season from the regular season?

This regular season, Fitz has caught 96 passes for over 1,400 yards and 12 TDs. If you project his post-season numbers out 16 games, this season he'd have 123 catches, 2,234 yards, and 27 TDs. This is against the (chronologically) #21, #16 and #3 pass defenses in the NFL. Not all awesome defenses, but it's not like he's bottom-of-the-barrelling here. He's playing big-time, which is what big-time players do in big-time situations, and it's not hard at all to see this guy in the Hall of Fame some day.

ESPN had an interview between him and Cris Carter on Sunday before the game. There was a great piece in there about his time as a ball-boy, back when the Vikings were in control of the Atlanta post-season game, and saw it slip away. He said he didn't want to become that guy...that he didn't want to see his team be so close, and have it slip away. And so it went that after the Eagles climbed their way back into a game that Fitz had absolutely dominated in the 1st half, and the Eagles finally seemed to shut him down in the 2nd, Fitz caught three balls for 39 yards, two of them for first downs.

The other story has to be the Arizona defense, which has other than one quarter this post-season, been completely different than they were in the regular season. A team giving up 332 yards and 26.6 points per game has thus far given up less than 270 yards twice, and haven't given up more than 25 points against three top 10 regular season offenses.

This team actually reminds me a good bit of the Colts team that won the Superbowl a couple years ago. Naturally the difference is one guy with the Colts made all the difference on that team. But the comparison is still fairly valid. The Cards defense had a lapse in the 3rd quarter of the Eagles game, but otherwise has played very well against some tough offenses. They're giving up fewer yard (other than the Eagles), fewer points, and they've gotten 12 turnovers.

It's that difference that's put them into the Superbowl. The defense has played adequate football, and their offense is good enough to overcome lapses like in the 3rd quarter.

The next test is the toughest they'll have faced, but this team has to be feeling like they're a team of destiny. And they're being led by a QB who's been there before. It's going to be a tough test, but you have to think this team will be up to it.

Balt @ Pitt
You know, it was a great game. It was a terribly sloppy game by both teams, but it was a great one.

But the ending of a game like this really makes it difficult to feel good about it. I've been a very harsh critic of McGahee this season. But he played like a warrior yesterday. He ran hard, and he was simply spectacular on blitz pick-up.

An injury like this can be a career ender. They say he is "neurologically intact." He has movement in all his limbs. But the way his neck snapped back, and what I'm sure he's going to go through over the next ... however long ... it wouldn't entirely shock me if he couldn't come back from that. I think he will, but it wouldn't be shocking if he couldn't. Best wishes to him.

This is one of those ugly games that the Ravens look like they're getting blown out in, but just hang around until the end for a shot at the win. Like the Titans, the Steelers really kicked them up and down the field. And yet with just under 7 minutes to play, the Steelers punted the ball to the Ravens, who took it at the 39, needing a FG to take the lead, and then a defensive stand to pull off another ridiculous upset in a game they'd for all intents and purposes lost.

And then Daren Stone committed the worst penalty in the history of penalties in the NFL. Literally about two yards out of bounds, and well after the play had ended, he took the defender he was grappling with, and hurled him to the ground. And like that, the Ravens are backed up, needing 50 yards to even have hope at a FG when they hadn't driven more than 44 yards the rest of the night. Five plays later, Polamalu was dancing in the end zone.

The Steelers look like a dominant football team right now. Their offense is playing good enough, and their defense is playing out of this world. They look better than the team that won the Superbowl a couple years ago.

This Superbowl match-up looks like it should be a lot of fun. A prolific offense up against a fantastic defense...the unstoppable force meets the immovable object. The Steelers have only given up more than 21 three times. The Cards have only scored fewer than 20 three times. The questions that will answer who our next Champion will be, are "Will the Cardinals offense be able to overcome the defensive force the Steelers field?" and "Can the Cardinals defense continue to play above what it played in the regular season?" Terrifically interesting.

I love this league.

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Wake To The Dolphins

You kind of wonder why the Great White North isn't plumbed more for sleeper talent. Cameron Wake parlayed a two year career in BC into some life changing money in South Beach. Maybe it was the name change.

In the richest contract given to a Canadian Football League player jumping to the National Football League, the Dolphins signed DE Cameron Wake to a four-year deal that could be worth up to $4.9 million, including close to $1 million in guaranteed money, a league source said Sunday night.

~

Miami gets a pass rusher who posted prolific numbers in the CFL. During the past two seasons for the BC Lions, Wake had 39 sacks. The 6-foot-3, 260-pounder played at Penn State, where he was known as Derek Wake before he began using his middle name, Cameron.

Despite running the 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds at Penn State Pro Day, Wake was an undrafted free agent whom the New York Giants signed shortly after the draft. He went to the CFL in 2006, began to dominate and drew league-wide attention that resulted in him signing a record deal with the Dolphins.


I wonder if he knows there are four downs in the NFL.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Capping The Championships

SBR TV caps each of the contests







I'm on a tease with Pittsburgh pick 'em and under 40.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Schwartz and the Lions

Okay, let's get this out of the way. I am excited about this hire. Given the universe of candidates, he is the guy I wanted Detroit to select. And I don't mean that in a 'given their alternatives' sense, but rather in an absolute one. Other than coaches currently under contract, the only person I would have preferred is Bill Cowher.

My opinion doesn't make Schwartz a great coach of course. I thought Marinelli was a great hire too but really for different reasons. Schwartz has everything you could want in a coaching pedigree from a first time hire.


Which one of these guys isn't a sex offender?











It is a bit of a stretch to laud his experience with Belichick, but it isn't insignificant that he started in scouting with Belichick. Since then he's had experience with two of the best administrative departments in football, with the Ravens and then more extensively with the Titans. Schwartz's first test will be to exploit his associations and to build a superior staff. The Lions retained much of Marinelli's staff, but that was thought to be a hedge against need. Schwartz met with them and told them that he would work through a process but that each was welcome to pursue other jobs at the Senior Bowl. I expect a good bit of turnover.

It is unlikely that Schwartz will be able to plumb Fisher's staff for help. Fisher is rewarded with unusual levels of loyalty from his assistants. A couple of names that have sprung up are Brian Schottenheimer and Jeremy Bates for OC, but there isn't any substance behind these rumors yet.

So, Schwartz is considered cerebral, chess junkie. He has roots in scouting and claims that it has made him better at taking the long view than most coaches who are more than happy to burn out their team to win This Week, next week be damned. He is into statistical analysis and more likely to consider probabilities when making calls. He isn't locked into a defensive scheme and has proven himself adaptable with Titan personnel from year to year. He demonstrated he can take a defense with a few good players and make them elite. He dropped Bill Belichick's name about ten times at his introductory press conference.

But what does it all mean? Nothing, really. That story is yet to be told.

The next few weeks will be more instructive than his previous 18 years, both as to what kind of a coach he will be and how he will assemble his team. He's put a brave face on things, but the fact is that the Lions have an enormous talent gap, even up to the next worst team. That isn't a conclusion based on the record, but rather the record was merely a symptom of this fact. Marinelli kept the team fighting in every game but they simply weren't talented enough to compete. There is really no reason to expect anything different with Schwartz unless they can assemble a talented group of football players who can execute his schemes.

But if nothing else, it is fun to be a Lion fan again, at least until the first week in September.

edit: Adam Schefter reporting that Detroit has asked permission to interview Gunther Cunningham for DC and that Cunningham expects to join Schwartz. They worked together three years in Tennessee.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Schwartz in, Gruden out

So the Lions got their man:

A New Era
Mayhew Introduces Jim Schwartz as Lions' Head Coach
Schwartz hasn’t had an opportunity to conduct any official business as the team’s head coach, but he did say his first priority would be to hire his coaching support staff and call each and every player on the Lions’ roster. “It’s important for me to make personal contact with every player on the team,” he said.
Schwartz wouldn’t elaborate on who he was interested in regarding assistant coaches, but he will interview the remaining coaches on the Lions’ staff. He also talked about multiple coaches who have reached out to him in recent days to express an interest working with him in Detroit. “Over the past few days it’s been very humbling to get phone calls from people that are interested in joining (my staff), said Schwartz, “people that I – quite honestly – would be honored to join their staffs.”


That reminds me a little bit of Harbaugh building his Ravens staff. Harbaugh never gave a quote like that (that I saw); but he had worked as an asst on Cam Cameron's staff at Indiana 11 yrs before becoming the Ravens HC.

I think Jim Schwartz is a great hire. I guess Lions fans hear that every few years, "What a great young coach!" and are all like yeah yeah whatever. But I think the Lions have some professionalism in the front office, FINALLY, and one of the most intriguing young coaching candidates in the game. Imagine if they add Phil Savage or James Harris in the next week or so. I think Detroit has gotten it right. I think they're on their way up.
(Of course it may take a while to get there.)

I'm eager to hear what Patrick has to say.

This one shocked me. Shouldn't have, but it did:

Gruden, Allen Dismissed
Buccaneers dismissed head coach Jon Gruden and General Manager Bruce Allen.

I guess one reason it surprises me is because it's been a few weeks since the end of the season: I thought the dust had settled. None of the playoff teams seem likely to pull an AJ/Marty, so I thought we had the field set.

The main reason it surprises me is that I thought Gruden was untouchable. I hadn't really followed the Bucs, wasn't on top of how disappointing they'd been. It's sad, I guess. I thought he was on his way to one of the really great careers.


Team New Coach Formerly

Seattle Jim Mora Jr Seahawks DC; Falcons HC; Niners DC
San Francisco Mike Singletary Niners DC; Ravens LB coach
Cleveland Eric Mangini Jets HC; Pats DC, DB coach
Denver Josh McDaniels Patriots OC, QB coach
Detroit Jim Schwartz Titans DC; Ravens asst; Browns scout (Belichick)
St Louis - -
Oakland - -
NY Jets - -
Indianapolis - -
Tampa - -
(Note that I had inexplicably left Seattle off prior versions of this list. Oops!)

Dude. LOOK at that list! One third of all head coaches in the league will be different, next season.

Persistent rumors linking Rex Ryan to the Jets job. I hope the Jets have to wait another couple weeks! ;) Some other names on teams' radars are Leslie Frazie (Vikes DC), Raheem Morris (Bucs DC / DB coach), and Jim Fassel. And of course Shanahan is out there.

Interesting times!

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I am flipping out

Sometimes it's a bad thing to be a huge fan of a team that's playing in a conference championship match...

As much as I tell people "I never expected us to win more than six games, beating the Titans was way over what I thought, so even if we lose this week I'm still happy for such a great season," I know that's not going to be how I feel Sunday night if the Ravens lose.

First off, it always hurts to get bumped from the playoffs. I don't care who you are. I wanna hear one Falcons fan tell me they were thrilled two Mondays ago - despite the fact their team was thought to maybe be a 4 win team this year. Not gonna happen. There are only ever fans of one team that are happy when their team's season ends.

Secondly, and more importantly, it's the Steelers!!! I hate them. I hate them so much it makes me angry at my hatred. I want to see them squirm. I want to see them shrivel up and disappear. I want to kick their heads in and pummel their bodies into a bloody, lifeless mass. And then after that I want to squash them into oblivion. Grrr... Just typing about them is firing me up.

And so it goes that this has possibly been the longest week of my life. It's not just that a way overachieving Ravens team plays Sunday night for the right to go to the Superbowl. It's that we have to go through our most bitter rival to do it.

For the final four minutes of the Titans game, I was shaking. Like, violently shaking...not this little nervous tick.

I'm almost there now.

And it's only Friday.

sigh...

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Rating rookie quarterbacks

I had a spreadsheet on my laptop, with data from the wonderful wonderful Pro Football Reference site up thru 2004, which I had used a couple years ago in examining player performance by age. So I took a look at the passer rating of rookie QBs.

The NFL uses an attempts-per-game threshold to determine eligibility for the passer rating list, so I did the same thing. That column is on the far right, on the table below. But the NFL's threshold is 14 pass attempts per game, which I felt was restrictive. In the list below I've eliminated guys with 7 or fewer passes per game. Passes per game is an odd stat to use as a filter, because you get guys who played like 1 or 2 games and float to the top of this list. See Todd Marinovich, who played in 1 game in 1999, but attempted 40 passes. But it gives us a first look at the data.

I also weeded out some guys who were not rookies (like Marc Bulger 2001); and I threw out Dieter Brock for being ridiculous. Technically a rookie, the 34yo Dieter Brock made his NFL debut in 1985 after 11 yrs as a professional QB in the CFL. I was not consistent about this, I left in some guys who had pro ball careers before getting into the NFL. They are asterisked in the list below.

Here are the top 32 rookie seasons by passer rating from the data available at PFR.
If 32 seems like a weird number to you, realize that I had to include enough guys to get Joe Flacco on the list (he's #26), and the next few guys were interesting so I included them too.

PlayerSeasonAgeTeamGCOMPATTYardsTDINTQBRatePassPG
Clint Longley197422dal2122120920122.910.5
Todd Blackledge198322kan4203425930112.38.5
Kevin Sweeney198724dal3142829141111.89.3
Norm VanBrocklin194923ram8325860162111.47.3
Todd Marinovich199122rai1234024330100.340.0
Jim Sorgi200424clt417291752099.17.3
Ben Roethlisbrgr200422pit141962952621171198.121.1
Johnny Lujack194823chi936666116397.57.3
Dan Marino198322mia11173296221020696.026.9
Galen Hall196222was319322742195.110.7
Drew Brees200122sdg115272211094.827.0
Pat Haden197623ram10601058968494.810.5
David Archer198422atl211181811190.39.0
Sam Wyche196823cin335554942289.518.3
Greg Cook196923cin111061971854151188.317.9
Matt Ryan200823atl162654343440161187.727.1
Erik Wilhelm198924cin630564254287.39.3
John Stofa196624mia729574254284.38.1
Edd Hargett196922nor631524030084.18.7
Charlie Conerly194827nyg121622992175221384.024.9
Charlie Batch199824det12173303217811683.525.3
Jim Kelly *198626buf162854803593221783.330.0
Jon Kitna199725sea331453711282.715.0
Shaun King199922tam6891468757482.424.3
Steve McNair199522oti641805693181.713.3
Joe Flacco200823bal162574282971141280.326.8
Doug Flutie *198624chi423463613280.111.5
Jim McMahon198223chi812021015019779.926.3
Mike Boryla197423phi4601025805378.925.5
Roman Gabriel196222ram6571016703278.416.8
Jeff Garcia *199929sfo132253752544111177.928.8

Put some kind of minimum floor on this data, like say 75 or 100 attempts or 6/7 games or both, and the 5 highest rookie passer ratings since Marino belong to Roethlisberger, Ryan, Batch, Jim Kelly*, & Flacco. By the way, I completely forgot about Charlie Batch's rookie season in Detroit. A fine performance. Here's the top list, after requiring 75 pass attempts and 7 games played:

PlayerSeasonQBRate
Ben Roethlisbrgr200498.1
Dan Marino198396.0
Pat Haden197694.8
Greg Cook196988.3
Matt Ryan200887.7
Charlie Conerly194884.0
Charlie Batch199883.5
Jim Kelly *198683.3
Joe Flacco200880.3
Jim McMahon198279.9
Jeff Garcia *199977.9
Warren Moon *198476.9
Fran Tarkenton196174.7
Mike Kruczek197674.5
Johnny Unitas195674.0
Ken O'Brien198474.0

Here's another way to look at the rookie QBs: the "thrown to the wolves" list. This is all the rookie QBs over 25 passing attempts per game (min 75 attempts and 7 games played). Kinda gives me more respect for Chris Weinke and Drew Bledsoe and the Throwin' Samoan, Jack Trudeau.

PlayerSeasonAgeTeamGCOMP ATTYardsTD INTQBRatePassPG
Chris Weinke *200129car152935402931111962.036.0
Peyton Manning199822clt163265753739262871.235.9
Jack Trudeau198624clt12204417222581853.534.8
Drew Bledsoe199321nwe132144292494151565.033.0
Jim Zorn197623sea142084392571122749.531.4
Oliver Luck198323oti7124217137581363.431.0
Karl Sweetan196624det10157309180941454.330.9
Joey Harrington200224det142154292294121659.930.6
Rick Mirer199323sea162744862833121767.030.4
Jim Kelly *198626buf162854803593221783.330.0
Jake Plummer199723crd101572962203151573.129.6
Jeff Garcia *199929sfo132253752544111177.928.8
Kerry Collins199523car152144322717141962.028.8
Warren Moon *198428oti162594503338121476.928.1
Butch Songin *196036nwe141873922476221570.928.0
Byron Leftwich200323jax152394182819141673.027.9
Chad Hutchinson *200225dal912725015557866.327.8
David Carr200223htx16233444259291562.827.8
Bob Griese196722mia121663312005151861.627.6
Steve Walsh198923dal811021913715960.527.4
Matt Ryan200823atl162654343440161187.727.1
Dan Marino198322mia11173296221020696.026.9
Joe Flacco200823bal162574282971141280.326.8
Norm Snead196122was141723752337112251.626.8
Troy Aikman198923dal11155293174991855.726.6
Tim Couch199922cle152233992447151373.226.6
Tony Banks199623ram141923682544151571.026.3
Jim McMahon198223chi812021015019779.926.3
Y.A. Tittle195024bcl12161315188481952.926.3
Joe Namath196522nyj131643402220181568.826.2
Jeff George199023clt131813342152161373.825.7
Charlie Batch199824det12173303217811683.525.3
Steve Deberg197824sfo12137302157082240.025.2
David Woodley198022mia131763271850141763.125.2
Ken Dorsey200423sfo912322612316962.425.1

Here are the top 13 rookie yardage seasons. Passing yardage of course is heavily biased toward modern-day QBs, with the 16-game season and the liberalized passing rules.

PlayerSeasonYards
Peyton Manning19983739
Jim Kelly *19863593
Matt Ryan20083440
Warren Moon *19843338
Joe Flacco20082971
Chris Weinke *20012931
Rick Mirer19932833
Byron Leftwich20032819
Kerry Collins19952717
Ben Roethlisbrgr20042621
David Carr20022592
Jim Zorn19762571
Jeff Garcia *19992544

Peyton Manning really was that far ahead of everyone else. Matt Ryan's season is hella impressive, the #2 "real rookie" season. Flacco heads up the next tier of guys. The one who stands out to me is Jim Zorn. What's a rookie in 1976 doing making this list? Well, he's #5 on our "thrown to the wolves" list, and he also threw 27 INTs that year, the record Manning broke.

Here's rookies with 10 or more TD passes since Marino's season:

PlayerSeasonTDsINTQBRate
Peyton Manning1998262871.2
Jim Kelly *1986221783.3
Dan Marino198320696.0
Ben Roethlisbrgr2004171198.1
Jeff George1990161373.8
Matt Ryan2008161187.7
Drew Bledsoe1993151565.0
Tony Banks1996151571.0
Jake Plummer1997151573.1
Tim Couch1999151373.2
Kerry Collins1995141962.0
Byron Leftwich2003141673.0
Joe Flacco2008141280.3
Warren Moon *1984121476.9
Rick Mirer1993121767.0
Joey Harrington2002121659.9
Charlie Batch199811683.5
Jeff Garcia *1999111177.9
Chris Weinke *2001111962.0
Heath Shuler1994101259.6

More of these than I would have thought. Weinke's asterisks in the above 2 lists are for playing 6 seasons of pro baseball before going back to college. So perhaps it doesn't belong.


The main point of these lists is of course to emphasize how wonderful Joe Flacco's season was. Matt Ryan's season was clearly better – astonishing might not be too strong a word – but Joe Cool's season ranks on the top 5 or 10 lists of best rookie statistical seasons ever, whether we're looking at wins or passer rating or yardage or TD passes.


[Edit: of course the Throwin' Samoan was Jack Thompson, not Jack Trudeau. Sorry, Jack.]


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Beat Your Man!

The Ravens website has a number of great video features every week. They always have the player and coach press conferences, both postgame and mid-week. And the Ravens produce some TV shows, which are shown locally during the week, and which the Ravens make available on the site: the John Harbaugh show, something called Purple Passion, and a great feature called "Behind the Bench".

Here's the main page for the Ravens video features: Ravens vids
I've been hitting this practically every day this amazing season: certainly 3 or 4 times a week.

I love-love-love the "Behind the Bench" feature. It's broken down by offense & defense, and it shows clips of the players and coaches talking to each other on the sideline during the game, reacting to plays etc. It's mixed in with game footage of the plays they're reacting to or whatever. Here's a link to this week's defensive one: Behind the Bench: Defense for Ravens-Titans

Here's a 20-second excerpt from that vid, Ray-ray exhorting the defense on the sidelines after a tough possession:

video
(Copyright Baltimore Ravens.)

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Stories of the Superbowl Contenders

With this weekend’s two match-ups staring us down, begging for sides to be chosen, smack to be talked, and eventually beer to be cried in; I think we have a unique opportunity to choose which side we’re rooting for not because of the love of the team, but rather the love of the story that the team will become.

Each of these four teams has an “amazing story” (as it will undoubtedly be called by media pundits) to be told. And should they win this weekend, their reward shall not only be a trip to a place where you want Florida, you want it all, and you only want to unpack once, it will be to have this story hung round their neck like an anvil for two weeks. For 14 days, the media will beat it into our heads as though it is the most amazing story in sports. They will drive it into our souls. And they will make us think that these stories are so unbelievable, that it’s not possible that any such amazing story has ever happened before. After all, what is the probability that two teams would have made it to the Superbowl???

Anyway, I’m going to beat the media to the punch. I’m going to tell their stories up front, before the media gets a chance to sink their teeth into them like a leech. Get ready…you’re going to half get a preview of your next two weeks, and half get a preview of what would have been, but never will become…..

Arizona Cardinals
There are actually two stories to this team’s improbable run to the Superbowl, and they both bleed nicely together. First, you have the lowly Cardinals, the definition of dismal, the lovable losers. It’s a franchise almost 90 years old, and they’ve had seven (7) playoff appearances. This Superbowl will be their eleventh (11) playoff game in franchise history. For perspective, this is close to the number of prefixes their franchise has held (Chicago, St Louis, Phoenix, Arizona). For some additional perspective, Tom Brady has been playing this game one tenth the number of seasons the Cardinals have, and has played 17 playoff games.

I mean, really, what’s happening here? This is a franchise that hasn’t simply made a job of losing, they’ve perfected it. Prior to this year, only once in the last 20 years have the Cardinals finished with a winning record. Combine the regular season records of their two winning seasons, they were 18-14…four games over .500! And it took two seasons to do it! You know how many times they were four games (or more) under .500 in those 20 years? Thirteen. And now here they are in the Superbowl!

The second story is that really, this franchise really should have continued their losing ways this season. The “reality” is that this is a crappy team that was just lucky to be in a division that makes “crappy” look like the 2007 New England Patriots. The Cardinals were 6-0 in a division that featured three teams with a combined 13 wins. They were 3-7 against the rest of the NFL. It’s the team Don Banks called the worst NFL playoff team in recent history.

Yeah, well, what does Don Banks know, anyway?

Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles Superbowl appearance is virtually the opposite of the Cardinals. This is a perennial winner. This team has had one losing season under the Reid/McNabb watch. But that’s not the story. No, the story is that just two months ago, Reid and McNabb, arguably the two guys most important to this franchise on the field on game days, were a stone’s throw away from being tarred, feathered, driven up to New York, and dropped off at the Meadowlands in the hopes of ruining a divisional rival.

That’s right, the same Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb that have shown up in the playoffs seven of the last nine years. Note please that’s the same as the Cards all-time playoff appearances. Not once in those seven appearances have they gone one-and-done. They’re 11-6 in the playoffs coming into this Superbowl. McNabb has played in five Conference Championship games, and is about to play in his second Superbowl.

To say the city of Philadelphia suffers from multiple-personality disorder might be the understatement of the century. I wonder how it is that McNabb’s jersey isn’t by a country mile the top selling jersey in the NFL. Every year, it seems Eagles fans must buy his jersey, proudly display it until his first poor game, burn it, then go buy another one as he begins to play well again, repeat cycle ad infinitum.

You can be certain that anything less than a Superbowl win will once again bring the mutterings calling for a change.

Baltimore Ravens
Joe Cooooooool. The city is Wacko for Flacco! Three months ago, Baltimoreans had to pinch themselves to be sure they weren’t just dreaming. Could it be? Could the QB carousel the Ravens have ridden for so long finally be over?

This is a story of a rookie quarterback. Quite possibly the best rookie quarterback ever. Not because of what he did in the regular season, although his regular season is maybe the fourth best in the last 25 years or so for rookie QBs (behind Marino, Roethlisberger, and Matt Ryan, in that order).

But because he’s doing something that no other rookie quarterback has ever done: He’s led his team to the Superbowl, and he’s done it by winning three games on the road.

This game is too complex for rookie QBs to grasp. This game moves too much faster than the college level for rookie QBs to handle. The playoffs are simply too big for a rookie QB. Certainly a D1-AA QB wouldn’t be the one to buck the trend…would he?

Hey, he’s not a rookie anymore.

Pittsburgh Steelers
With their second Superbowl appearance this decade, it makes one wonder if we have somehow flashed back into the ‘70s. I, for one, certainly hope not, since the only truly great thing that the decade gave us was the Steel Curtain. Has there ever been a picture that more clearly defines the dynasty than Jack Lambert's scowl?

Here are the defensive ranks from the ’72-’79 Steelers, and the ’01-’08 Steelers. They may not be in that particular order. You see if you can guess which is which…
8, 4, 1, 4, 1, 7, 3, 2 (average = 3.75)
1, 7, 9, 1, 4, 9, 1, 1 (average = 4.13)

Does it even matter which was which? One was never worse than 8th, and averaged better than 4th overall. One was 1st half the years in that stretch. The difference is that from ’72 to ’79, the Steelers never missed the playoffs and won four Superbowls; while the ’01 to ’08 Steelers missed the playoffs twice and only won one (maybe now two?) Superbowls.

But then again, back in the ‘70s, you didn’t have free agency to deal with. Their roster didn’t suffer anything close to the turnover that this version of the Steel Curtain has suffered. So which accomplishment is more impressive? Asserting defensive dominance to the tune of four Superbowl wins in eight seasons? Or one/two Superbowl wins in that span in an era where nearly the entire roster has turned over?

Have there been better defenses to play in any given year? Sure, a few. Have there been other teams known for a strong span of defensive dominance? Baltimore recently and Chicago in the mid-80s come immediately to mind.

But Pittsburgh has truly built a new dynasty out of the same foundation they laid three decades ago. Many franchises in the major sports are synonymous with winning tradition. A very precious few have their greatness that so clearly defines an aspect of the game. When someone thinks of defining defense in the NFL, there can be no other franchise they think of first than the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Heart

Til now
We always got by with Delhomme
It mostly was ok until the Cards game
But now it chills me to the bone
I'M GONNA GET YOU, DELHOMME!
WE GOTTA CUT JAKE DELHOMME!

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Mike Preston is a moron

Preston is a sports columnist for the Baltimore Sun. In this week's edition of Mike Preston is a moron, Preston wonders aloud who the Ravens will tab to replace Rex Ryan. Preston correctly observes that over the years, when DCs have left, the Ravens have had an obvious candidate in-house to replace them. But it's not so obvious this time, who the Ravens ought to promote should Rex leave.

This is a reasonable observation.

Here's how Preston makes his point:

Who's next after Ryan? Ravens not so sure this time
In Baltimore, the system has become just as important as the coordinator. Former coordinator Marvin Lewis, now the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, instituted it in 1996 when the Ravens moved here from Cleveland. ... When Lewis left after the 2001 season, the Ravens had Mike Nolan. When Nolan left in 2004 to become head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, Ryan took over. From Jack Del Rio to Donnie Henderson, there have always been good coordinator candidates.
...
a system that has been extremely successful. Nolan operated a different system when he was with the Jets, New York Giants and Washington Redskins, but once he took over in Baltimore, he did it the Ravens' Way.
...
Look what this system has helped produce: ...
For a lot of Ravens, such as defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, linebackers Terrell Suggs, Bart Scott and Jarret Johnson, cornerback Chris McAlister and safety Ed Reed, this is the only system they've played during their NFL careers.
Is he seriously saying that the Ravens have run the same defensive system thruout the last ~10 yrs? Under Marvin Lewis, under Mike Nolan, under Rex Ryan, the same defensive system? He is!

The Ravens defense under Marvin Lewis ran a base 4-3. When Lewis left after the 2001 season, Mike Nolan became the DC for 2002-4, and he switched to a base 3-4. Nolan's D's have the rep for being sound, but not ultra-aggressive or blitz happy. Possibly a little bend-but-don't-break. When Mike Nolan left after the 2004 season, Rex Ryan took over. He's been the DC 2005-8 (and asst HC this year). Ryan's defense is – well I guess it operates mostly out of a base 3-4. But Ryan is football's foremost authority on the 46 "Bear" defense
(He wrote the book! Coaching Football's 46 Defense, the book
And made the movie! Coaching Football's 46 Defense, the DVD)
...which the Ravens run from time to time; and his D's have the rep of being crazily blitz-happy, with pressure coming from unpredictable angles. He'll use zone-blitz concepts, like dropping 340# DT Haloti Ngata into coverage; he'll run a 5-3-3 for a few plays, and then a 2-2-7 for a few more plays in the same game.

These – Marvin Lewis's base 4-3 tackling machine, Mike Nolan's base 3-4 bend-but-don't break, and Rex Ryan's multiple-front pressure cooker – these are all the same system.

Thank you, Mike Preston.

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Why the shoe missed Bush


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Man Bites Dog

Myron Rolle is taking an extra year to make sure he blows the top off the Wonderlics

Florida State safety Myron Rolle will study at Oxford instead of entering this year's NFL draft.

Rolle won a Rhodes scholarship in November and plans to seek a one-year master's degree in medical anthropology, The New York Times reported Monday in an entry on its college football blog.

"I'm very excited to go," Rolle wrote in a text message to the newspaper.

Rolle, projected to be an early round pick, said he plans to enter the 2010 NFL draft.



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Monday, January 12, 2009

Dan Snyder has stolen your manhood

DC sports radio has a feature on in the afternoons, "The Sports Reporters" with Steve Czaban and Andy Pollen and Chris Knoche. This is on ESPN980, formerly Sportstalk980, which was a Fox sports outlet. This is a great show, I'm always pleased when I get a chance to listen to it.

The first 2 guys, Czaban and Pollen, are longtime sports radio guys, "journalists". They've got that slightly jaundiced air about them, of guys who've spent too many years scrabbling out a living standing in smelly locker rooms sticking a microphone into the faces of entitled jocks. Heard it all before. Maybe some of that jaundice comes from having Dan Snyder own the local team, and watching him put his own special tarnish on Joe Gibbs' legacy. Anyway, they're knowledgeable, usually pretty funny, don't give a crap about the usual stuff like how many carries the local RB is going to get in the next game, and they're not ESPN's programming. I like them.

The other guy, Knoche, played basketball for Gary Williams at American 1979-81, then served as an asst coach there for 8 years, before replacing Ed Tapscott as the head coach there from 1990-97. He now does color for Maryland basketball games. He's a pleasure to listen to: a calm, reasoned, knowledgeable guy with a wry streak. It's interesting to have him on this show.

So this afternoon Czaban & Pollen are talking about the upcoming wkend's NFL games, and of course they're talking from the perspective of a Redskins fan. The NFC conf championship is between the Cardinals and the Eagles; either Czabe or Pollen says
(I'm going to put quotes around these comments: but I just got home, having heard this on the radio, am quoting from memory, could be misquoting.)
"You know this has got to be making Danny [Snyder] crazy. The Redskins went 3-0 against those teams this season!" And the other one says "You know he's thinking, 'We're close!'"

Knoche pipes up. "Saturday, I'm watching the end of the Ravens game. So I text my buddy, who I know is watching the game with his Todd Heap jersey on, I tell him congratulations. And he texts me back, he tells me he's pulling for the Steelers! And I text him back, I tell him 'You don't want the Steelers.'"

Dramatic pause.

"And he texts me back, 'Danny has stolen your football manhood. If we win but we don't go thru the Steelers to do it, it will be tarnished.'"

The other guys on the show laugh: maybe Snyder has stolen our football manhood. If I can find an mp3 of this, I'll link it. Very fun moment in sports radio.

It also nicely captures the attitude of many Ravens fans this week. Maybe we shouldn't want the Steelers. But we kinda do want them. Looking forward to them. Evidently the Ravens feel the same way:

Bruised Ravens ready for another brawl vs. Steelers
Most of the Ravens who watched the game were pulling for the Steelers.
"You have to appreciate the way they play. I love the way they play," Bart Scott said. "You want to play the best, and I think they are the best right now. You want the opportunity to prove yourself against the best. You want to test yourself. We look forward to it. We didn't want to go to San Diego."

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