Monday, August 22, 2011

Player safety vs our viewing pleasure

It's interesting, the debate on the new kickoff rule. Everyone hates it. Matt Bowen of the Natl Football Post writes a piece on "Why the NFL’s new kickoff rule hurts the game". The Bears voted against it, then tried to veto the rule single-handedly on the field in their first preseason game. The league told them to cut it out. In that linked piece, Doug Farrar of Yahoo Sports and Football Outsiders writes that:

"The rule seems like an overreaction built to take fun and excitement out of the game."
I agree that the new rule removes some fun and excitement from the game. I think the most exciting play in football is the kick return for a touchdown. The speed, the cutbacks as the guys weaves thru the entire defense. It's beautiful.

Have we stopped to consider how hypocritical we're all being?

We've been told that kick returns produce a disproportionate share of injuries, compared to other plays. Cutting down on kick returns is a player safety issue. Former NFL VP of officiating and current FOX Sports analyst Mike Pereira puts this succinctly, in an ESPN interview written up in another piece by Farrar:
Pereira was then asked if the rule could be changed back, which is where things got a bit squirrely. "I don't think so, and here's the issue — when you pass something for player safety reasons only, and you then go back on that, you're almost sending a message to the players that you don't care about player safety."
Yes. So what's more important, player safety, or our viewing pleasure?


Sunday, August 21, 2011

What's A Criminal Who Runs A 4.3 40 Worth?

Well, we're going to find out tomorrow after the NFL's supplemental draft.

I think it's a fair question because there's a funny dichotomy that goes on with fans; they will go from 'no way do I want that bum on my team' to ' what a smart pickup for my team' on the fly. I guarantee we will see message-board born agains by this time tomorrow.

So Pryor. Not exactly a criminal but it made for a good post header. He's facing a 5 game suspension regardless, and it is unclear for what. If the NFL is all of a sudden going to start carrying over college suspension to the pros then I am all in favor, but I doubt this is that.

At Pryor's ad hoc Pro Day he ran 40 yard dashes in the 4.3s to 4.4s. He's 6'5" tall, 230 pounds. He can 'easily' throw a football 65 yards. Sounds like Calvin Johnson with the 'throw a football' part as a bonus. There's sort of a universal agreement that he can't be an NFL QB, or at least not without a lot of metal work and detailing. This year would be a wash for him so anyone who drafts him as a quarterback is looking at investing a roster spot for at least two years before any kind of a payoff can be reached. There's some question about whether or not he can ever learn the position.

But the measurables, the athleticism he's put on tape. He interviewed with 17 teams this week. He probably impressed at least a couple of them with requisite humility. Someone is going to be willing to gamble on Pryor. 3rd rounder? 5th rounder? Surely if Plaxico Burress is worth $3M then Pryor is worth a contract, right?



Ravens and Air Coryell

Just after the Pittsburgh loss, we had an intense discussion about what ailed the Ravens offense. The discussion continued offline, but the general idea was that I thought that the Air Coryell was completely wrong with their players, and was failing.

After quite a bit of research, I wrote an article about it, which was published on Football Outsiders here. Short story: I don't believe Cameron's system was primarily the problem last year.

I'd asked Aaron Schatz for some data to help with this, which he graciously provided with the caveat that I give them the article first and decide if they wanted to run it. They did, hence the direction to their site (as opposed to publishing here). I may or may not follow-up on it. I have the content, just not certain about the time.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Collusion and Coercion

Doug Farrar writes about the NFL "influencing" Michael Vick to sign with the Pheagles in 2009, when he had offers from Cincinnati and Buffalo. It's an interesting situation. Did the NFL approve Vick to sign with Philly, but not with the Bengals or Bills? That raises important questions about competition and the reserve clause etc, as Farrar points out.

I don't really have anything to say about it, I just wanted to draw attention to Farrar's piece.

Roger Goodell's NFL seems to keep blundering into areas where it shouldn't. Like
the odd decision to suspend Terrelle Pryor for 5 games. Cindy Boren of the WaPo writes about it here. She's right. Why on earth is the NFL suspending Pryor for something that has no bearing on his conduct as an NFL player? Failing to cooperate with an NCAA investigation can't be a violation of NFL rules. And hiring an agent certainly is not. So what the hell?

Boren goes on:

...why not retroactively suspend or fine Reggie Bush for dragging USC into NCAA purgatory? How about the players responsible for the ongoing disaster at North Carolina? Or Bengals rookie WR A.J. Green selling a game-worn jersey? And what about the laundry list of alleged player participants in the scandal at “The U”?
And while we’re at it, why should Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll be permitted to leave a wake of NCAA violations behind at USC and be granted a clean slate in the NFL?
...the NFL is opening a giant can of worms with its decision.
The suspension is arbitrary and just weird. I hope Pryor files a grievance with the union, after he is in the NFL. The suspension should get overturned.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Concussing Our Kids

Fabulous piece in the Dallas Observer, about brain injuries in youth sports:

Concussing Our Kids, One Hit At a Time
Natasha Helmick goes up for a header during a soccer match and gets speared in the left temple by an opponent. The 14-year-old, a talented center midfielder playing in the choice Lake Highlands Girls Classic League, crumples to the ground.
The discussion of brain injuries has mainly focused on pro sports so far, and some on college football. But despite the high-profile nature of those victims, they are almost beside the point. The real battleground is youth sports.

I tell you right now, we are not very far from tackle football being illegalized (?) in some states, for athletes under 18. Maybe 10 years. Some state is going to go first, and some states will follow, the District among them. Football as we know it is built on a foundation of high school and Pop Warner leagues. Without that supply of athletes, there is no one to play NCAA Division I, whether it's legal for 18-yr-olds or not. And what happens to the NFL, without a deep pool of college players?

The NFL is smart, I'm sure there's someone in the league offices who is looking to get out in front of this thing. Fund some studies, sponsor some safety legislation, etc. They might be able to frame the discussion and turn the tide. But make no mistake, that is what is on the table when we start talking about head trauma and youth sports: the end of football.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Speaking Of The Redskins

For a couple of years now I've marveled at the patchwork offensive lines that the Redskins seem to trot out every year. Despite a relative lack of talent and despite playing in a tough division and despite having no direction and no continuity the team tends to perform fairly well - and by fairly well, I mean they don't roll out 3 win or 4 win seasons like ever, they are always in that 5-9 win range.

There's kind of an adage about having offensive line continuity being integral to team success, and that continuity is more important than pure talent. I kind of am thinking now that this really isn't true, that it's one of those footbally things that footbally people say but that the evidence belies the adage. Is it better to have a great line with great continuity? I'm sure it is. I just think that the degree that it really matters is probably blown out of proportion.

So this is a topic I want to start to chip away at as time permits.

So the Redskins. I'm not a fan of the team but I am definitely a fan of following the team. It's like a soap opera for men where everyone is a bad guy. It's a train wreck where you get to giggle while counting the bodies.

So looking at the Redskin line which is kind of the point, I ran a query of PFR for season starts over 7 from 2007 - 2010. The query returned 15 players who had at least 8 starts in any one of those four season. To me, this seems like an awful lot. To pick a team that seems a bit more stable I ran the same query with the Jets which returned 8 results.

So what this query tells us is that on average, the Redskin offensive linemen are averaging less than one-and-a-half seasons before being replaced. Perhaps worse (although perhaps not), Casey Rabach actually started all four of those years and is now gone. On the other hand, the Redskins do seem to be building a little continuity, as their tackles will probably be starting for the next few years and Kory Lichtensteiger will probably get every chance to be the center for the next half decade.

But even with this turmoil, the Redskins really weren't that bad. They won 9,8,4,and 6 games. So no, not great but not terrible either. Add in disruptions from Albert Haynesworth, the quarterback and running backs last year and we might think that this teams should be among the worst in the league - and yet they aren't.

So how important is offensive line continuity? Hard to say. This conversation probably doesn't advance the question very much, but maybe it will begin the discussion.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

We Don't Need No Steenken Quarterback

The Redskins continue to bemuse their fans while amusing league followers with their antics. I was one of many who thought they might be overturning their leaf when Daniel Snyder dumped Vinny Cerrato and turned to Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan to save the franchise.

While I suppose there might actually be a method to their madness, from 30,000 feet it really just looks like madness.

I have to confess, a few years ago I was convinced that quarterbacking in the NFL was overrated. Well, maybe it is, but I was still way off base. We were fresh off Super Bowl wins from the Ravens with Trent Dilfer and the Buccaneers with Brad Johnson and I became convinced that throwing high draft pick after high draft pick at the quarterback lottery was no good path to success when reasonable game manager types were all over the place and that a Super Bowl team could be constructed with great players at other positions.

I still remained convinced of this to a degree, but really only the degree that some teams are terrible at drafting and developing quarterbacks. There are Super Bowl caliber quarterbacks on the open market every year or two; Drew Brees and Kurt Warner are recent examples. Mike Vick may be the latest one. I think teams can do well by signing or trading for quarterbacks such as with Vick, the Texans did with Schaub a few years ago and possible Arizona with Kolb.

But this isn't so much about that.

The point is, I was wrong. You do need great quarterbacking to hope to contend for a Super Bowl. About 90% of all Super Bowl winning teams were quarterbacked either by a Pro Bowler or a future Hall of Famer. The exceptions had names like Joe Theismann and Jim Plunkett, no slouches either. And one team had a dude named Trent Dilfer.

So the Redskins. I have no idea what they are trying to put together there. I really don't think Allen or Shanahan know what they are trying to put together. I agreed with their addition of McNabb and I remain a closet fan of Donovan's, but for whatever reason it didn't work. But instead of trying to build on it, they seem hell-bent on scrapping the whole thing. A few months ago I thought it was kind of a joke that they intended to go into the season with Rex Grossman and John Beck. I was sure that they would pick up a solid veteran or at least draft someone to develop.

Nope and nope.

I don't discount the possibility that Beck and Grossman will be much better than they've been in the past. Funny things happen to quarterbacks who hang around the league long enough, they tend to improve. Heck, it even happened with Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson. Even so, there is really no chance that either of these guys are going to lead the Redskins to the promised land, particularly since this team has no version of Ray Lewis or Derrick Brooks.

Furthermore, the exact problems that doomed McNabb from the beginning haven't been addressed. They have no playmakers on offense. Their offensive line appears to be even more of disaster than last year's. They devoted the draft and free agency to shoring up the defense which is understandable to a degree, but even if they succeed in that they are facing going into the third year of their rebuild with no real progress on offense.

It is hard to imagine that this Redskin team is improving. At best, they seem to be treading water as a 6-10 team while swapping out players and systems. Snyder has a lot of ego invested in Allen and Shanahan and will probably give them a bit of rope, but it is easy to predict that Snyder will start to get twitchy with another losing year.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What it's like to be the best basketball player

Check out the video embedded in this post from Brian McCormick's magnificent blog.

Football's great, but – well who would you say is the most beloved NFL player? Peyton Manning? In Baltimore it's Ray Lewis, but probably not in Atlanta. Let's go with Ray, just for illustration purposes.

Can you imagine Ray-ray playing his game in an intimate non-professional setting, with hundreds of fans ringing the sideline? Playing for fun, with amateurs? Can you imagine him getting mobbed by his fans after making a series of great plays? There's no way, right? Football does not lend itself to that sort of thing, at all. I'm sure Ray gets mobbed in Baltimore, like if he shows up for a charity event or a speaking engagement or something. But that's not the same thing. In the vid, Kevin Durant's fans are involved with his play in the game.

Football's great. But basketball has a very different relationship with its fans. It's so central, so present, so immediate.

You can imagine getting on the court with Kevin Durant, to play some pickup ball. And he would utterly dominate you, it wouldn't even be funny. But you could dribble it and pass it around and try to take a couple shots, and maybe have some fun. Afterward slap hands and ruefully acknowledge how awesome he is.

You couldn't play football with Ray Lewis. He would obliterate you.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Mike Preston is a moron

Still! He's just warming up, not yet in preseason form, but we get this:

Offense struggles early
Ravens have plenty of time to improve, but you'd figure there would be more cohesiveness in a unit that...
That what, Mike? That did not work together for a single OTA the entire offseason? A unit that is working together for the very first time? Playing without the starting center? You'd seriously figure there would be more cohesiveness?



Monday, August 1, 2011

Swing Your Sword

Chris Brown of Smart Football with a must read on Mike Leach and his book Swing Your Sword



This is not an uncommon theme in football: great players often do as much to make the game evolve (from both protagonist as well as antagonist positions) as coaches. And the great leap forward for Texas Tech and Leach in 2002-2003 was largely sparked by a happenstance combination of this read-on-the-run four verticals plus Wes Welker plus Mike Leach — it was the perfect marriage of the greatest backyard play in football (get open) with one of the greatest backyard players of all-time in Welker with maybe the greatest backyard coach to ever roam an actual, honest-to-god Division I sideline.

Oh, and “six”? It also happened to be the route Leach called for that game-winner of Harrell-to-Crabtree against Texas. In that game, Texas Tech went 9 for 11 for 173 yards on “six.” Leach says his only regret was he didn’t call it another ten times.


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