Sunday, September 25, 2011

Head Trauma And ALS

One of our ongoing themes here at OS is a running commentary on football and head trauma. I remain proud that in our tiny corner of the internet we were doing this before it got cool.

Steve Gleason recently revealed he has ALS. He's a folk hero in New Orleans (I had no idea about this before this morning) and will be the honorary captain for today's game. It is difficult to reconcile our great passion for football with the terrible costs that the game incurs.

Six months before Gleason's diagnosis a team of researchers from Boston University reported a link between an ALS-type disease and the repetitive head trauma suffered by some athletes.

Some peers say the study's sample size -- two former football players and a former boxer -- is insufficient to draw accurate conclusions, but evidence shows ALS strikes athletes in far greater numbers than the general population.


A 2005 paper found that Italian professional soccer players had developed the disease at rates about six times higher than normal.

The disease strikes about two in 100,000 people, which means only two or three NFL players since 1970 should have been afflicted. BU researchers identified 14 former NFL players since 1960 as having been diagnosed with ALS, a total about eight times more than what would be expected among U.S. men of similar ages. Perrin said his research shows Gleason would be the 27th former NFL player identified with the disease.

Most experts believe brain trauma is not solely responsible for diseases like ALS or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, commonly known as CTE. Those afflicted probably have genetic factors leading to susceptibility, with concussions serving as a catalyst.

"You have people in both camps," Gleason said. "But it's getting harder and harder to say that there are no repercussions from head trauma in the NFL or in football. You can't say that anymore."


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Who's Built To Win?

I keep trying to write this post and I keep changing the title and then changing the content and then deleting the whole thing altogether.

Built to win. One of the cliches that we see, particularly in football I think. Ridiculous to think of the alternatives. Built to lose. Built to tie.

I sort of have an argument that I trot out every spring and summer that every team is improving every year. Mostly it's a rhetorical argument. Fans get so myopic about the progression of their own team that they forget about the progression of others. So yeah, teams are always getting better, but they are also always getting worse. The teams who can outrun attrition ultimately improve. The teams who can't don't.

Not sure what this has to do with anything. Originally this post was going to be about Pittsburgh failing to outrun attrition, but after looking at them a bit more I decided that they hadn't, or at least I was not sure that they had. Yeah, James Harrison and Troy Polamalu are past peak. James Farrior and Casey Hampton are simply old. On the other hand though, LaMarr Woodley is the next man up in the Steeler pantheon and it seems likely that others are poised to join him. They have Lawrence Timmons who some in Steelerland are already calling a star, although to me it's premature. They have Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward and Jason Worilds, each at varying levels of development and each players who appear to be highly regarded in Pittsburgh. So are the Steelers outrunning attrition? Is there really any way for us to know?

A couple of years ago I thought I had stumbled on a pretty simple formula to identify a champion. Give me a team with a great quarterback and a star at each level of defensive depth; defensive line, linebacker and defensive back, and this is a team who will compete for Super Bowls. I still think this is a pretty good model, but unfortunately reality intruded and teams started winning Super Bowls without all of these great defensive players. Or maybe they didn't. Sometimes it is hard to tell.

Two years ago New Orleans won with Darren Sharper being named All Pro and Jonathan Vilma and Roman Harper Pro Bowlers. While this sort of validates the model, my gut says that Vilma's and Harper's tickets to Hawaii were gifts, that the real strength of that defense was Gregg Williams and a defensive line that was deep and talented. Really, that team had good players everywhere. Jabari Greer was probably the best of the back seven, but he was hurt for a good chunk of the season. Sometimes teams just come together. Things work. Championships are won.

Football Outsiders informs us that it is easier to build a consistent offense than a consistent defense, which is why you've seen so many recent champions win from an offensive philosophy. If you can build an offense that can score on anyone then maybe once in a while your defense will hold opponents down enough for your team to win. Indianapolis won one championship doing this, and they made another Super Bowl with an even weaker defense.

Going back five years, Indianapolis had the 2nd ranked offense and 23rd defense, the Giants the 14th offense and 17 defense in their fluky run. In 2009, the Saints had the number 1 offense and 20th ranked defense, bolstered by opportunism that forced turnovers in all but two games (both losses) including 5 in the NFC championship game. If you've been counting though, you'll notice I skipped 2008, the last time that Pittsburgh won. That year they had one of the most dominant defenses of all time, finishing 1st in scoring, total yards, passing yards, and second in the NFL in rushing yards against. This against an offense that finished a more pedestrian 20th overall.

So built to win? Again, I'm not sure what that means any more. I thought I knew once, but now teams are learning that they can overcome defensive deficiencies with greater offense. The NFL appears to be getting in to an arms race. Looking at the current contenders, all appear to be making receiving options a priority. The Falcons had one of the best running backs and one of the best wide receivers in football. No matter. They traded half their draft to go up for Julio Jones.

I was clicking back through some of the quarterbacks of the '90s earlier and was startled to realize how common it was for these guys to have completion percentages in the low 50%s. Not just run-of-the-mill guys but Pro Bowlers. Steve Young was an aberration, not just because he was the only guy hitting 65%, but because he was one of the very few who would even hit 60%. Now since the NFL liberalized the passing game even further with their reinterpretation of pass defense in 2007, one wonders if there is really any room left for a running game at all.

The Lions openly admit that they aren't prioritizing development of a running attack. For their purposes 3 yards per carry is as good as 4. Sure, the more, the better but the main goal is to tie defenders to the line, at least a little. The Lions are going to take their yards in chunks, not by running through the tackles 16 times on a 9 minute drive. You can just look at how they've built the team in three years, how they've surrounded Stafford with guys who can catch. It's easy to forget that only Calvin Johnson was on the team when Stafford showed up. They drafted Pettigrew that year, signed Burleson a year later. Traded for Scheffler, drafted Best and then Titus Young this year. That's a loud statement on how the offense is going to run, and now that Stafford is healthy, it appears that the strategy is reaping huge dividends.

The Lions of course aren't the only ones. The Ravens have transitioned to a pass heavy attack. So are the Jets. The Patriots have always been one. The Eagles were among the first to adopt the strategy with Andy Reid's handoff-phobia.

The most exciting game today was Buffalo's 38-35 win over Oakland with both teams scoring down the stretch as the Bills came back. It was exciting for the flow of the game, but equally improbable considering the participants. Buffalo? Oakland? Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jason Campbell? Really? Last week Chad Henne passed for 400 yards. Cam Newton has passed for 400 plus in 100% of his NFL starts - and lost twice.

What we often see in football is the development of a trend by innovators, and then me-too adoption. At this point, it appears to have gone to an extreme.

So what's the next innovation? Probably some kind of Parcellsian strategy to haul the NFL back to a game of running and defense and field position.

The team who figures out how to do this?

That team will be built to win.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Revisiting the Rule of 26-27-60

Back before the ’10 season, SI writer John P. Lopez published a piece examining whether there was a magic bullet that could allow teams to predict NFL success at the quarterback position.

Could a simple formula have warned us of Russell's lack of NFL readiness? And Ryan Leaf's and David Carr's and other failed, high-pick quarterbacks?

Call it the Rule of 26-27-60.

Here is the gist of it: If an NFL prospect scores at least a 26 on the Wonderlic test, starts at least 27 games in his college career and completes at least 60 percent of his passes, there's a good chance he will succeed at the NFL level.

The article gets mentioned on occasion around the sports community, and every time it does, I get irritated by it. The problem is that Lopez falls into the trap of cherry-picking his quarterbacks, and not particularly doing the greatest job at it. As such, I’d like to take a much deeper look at this.

So my intention is to look at the following: I’ll be examining all quarterbacks with more than two years as the primary starter in the NFL. This will eliminate guys like Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow, who we can’t really say whether they’ll be good or not. I do intend to include guys like Matt Stafford, because even though he’s started only 14 games in the NFL, I do think we’ve seen enough of him to say with confidence that if he can stay healthy, he’s going to be a very good NFL QB.

I’m also going to include all first round QB draft picks between years 2002 and 2009 if they’re not primary starters, as this mostly labels them busts. Given the predictor of success, we’ll want to know the QBs that fizzle out as well. Starting with 2002 is a bit arbitrary, but ’01 only had Vick who’s included in current starters and ’00 had Pennington who is difficult to categorize anyway, so it’s not terrible not to include him.

I’m also rounding the study out with two other QBs that deserve mention here, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre. Both are long-time starters that just finished or are injured and would normally still be starting. This gives us a population of 40 different quarterbacks, and should be a good gauge of whether the Rule really does work or not.

I’m also going to try to simplify the definition of QB success by listing four different categories. They’ll go as follows:
The elite – These are the true cream of the crop of the NFL, the best of the best. Seven fit here.
The solid – These are guys I would define as good players that you are happy to leave in as your team’s QB for five-plus years. They may not be the best QBs out there, but they’re good enough to give your team a chance. I have 13 in this category.
The young guns – These are guys playing in their third or fourth year and are on a trajectory to fall somewhere in either the elite or the solid groups in the next few years. There are six of them.
The bad – These will range between flat busts and QBs that are starters for their teams, but are unlikely to hold that job long because they’re not good enough to rely on being winners in the long term. There are 14 in this category.

There may be some discussion as to whether certain guys could fall into the “bad” vs. the “solid” category. And I’m fine with that, but in general, I don’t see a lot of argument there. We may also argue between elite and solid a bit to, but I think that’s an even less important distinction, as the Rule isn’t really called out to distinguish between the good and the great; I’m just looking at it for general instruction.

And so the meat of the discussion, how does the Rule really perform?

Elite, fits Rule
Brees, Manning, Rivers
Elite, doesn’t fit Rule
Brady, Favre, Rodgers, Roethlisberger
Solid, fits Rule
Eli Manning, Kolb, Schaub, Fitzpatrick, Romo
Solid, doesn’t fit Rule
Palmer, McNabb, Cutler, Kerry Collins, Cassel, Hasselbeck, Vick
Young gun, fits Rule
Matt Ryan
Young gun, doesn’t fit Rule
Henne, Flacco, Freeman, Sanchez, Stafford
Bad, fits Rule (as in, does not have 26 and 27 and 60)
Alex Smith, Quinn, Leftwich, Carr, Losman, Russell, Campbell, Harrington, Boller, Ramsey, Tarvaris Jackson, Vince Young
Bad, doesn’t fit Rule (as in, does have 26-27-60)
Leinart, Grossman, Orton

One thing worth noting here, I count Aaron Rodgers in the “doesn’t fit Rule” category, because I don’t count his starts at community college as true college starts. If you do count those, then he fits the Rule. However, starting at community college seems to me to be a terrible measure, as I don’t know that the NFL has ever seen a community-college-only QB ever come into the NFL and succeed. I’m not sure one has ever entered the NFL, and either way it doesn’t impact the overall numbers much.

And so, what percent of each group has the Rule correctly predicted?
Elite – 3/7 = 43%
Solid – 5/12 = 42%
Young Gun – 1/6 = 17%
Bad – 12/15 = 80%
Overall – 21/40 = 53%

Let’s look at it a different way. What percentage did achieve 26-27-60 and succeed and what percentage did not achieve 26-27-60 and turned out bad?

Did achieve 26-27-60 and succeeded – 9/12 = 75%
Did not achieve 26-27-60 and were bad – 12/28 = 43%

It looks like the Rule is actually pretty solid at predicting that a quarterback will succeed on some level if they fit the criteria. However, the Rule appears to be a terrible predictor of failure if the prospect doesn’t fit all the criteria. It also appears to be poor at distinguishing exactly how good a QB is going to be, as only 33% of those that achieved 26-27-60 turned out to be in the elite or young gun category, while 32% that didn’t achieve 26-27-60 fell into elite or young gun.

Overall the Rule doesn’t do a much better job at predicting overall success or failure of the population pool than simply flipping a coin. I hated this Rule from the first time I read about it, because Lopez cherry-picked his quarterbacks to fit his study and never really looked at how good of an indicator it was across the whole population. Seeing the numbers in greater detail doesn’t change my opinion.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Defensive play of the week

I love this play. I'll eventually want you to focus on Ravens OLB Jarrett Johnson, but first here's the entire play. Ed Reed's first interception of the game:

highlight on
This is kind of the generic Ravens defensive highlight. Haloti Ngata flushes Big Ben from the pocket, and Ed Reed ball hawks the ill-advised throw. Ho-hum. You've seen a play just like this 20 times on SportsCenter, the last three years.

What makes it especially interesting for me is the read that Jarrett Johnson makes. He's #95, and at the snap he is lined up at left end, just outside of Ngata. He starts out sort of in the midde of your screen, at the bottom of the group of Ravens at the line of scrimmage.

A YouTube uploader (not me) provides another view, emphasizing JJ's action on the play:

This is amazing to me. Ngata and JJ get what seems like a free run at the QB, who is flushed from the pocket. If anything, JJ is even closer to Ben than Ngata is, has a better angle. I would think that in the heat of the moment, the sight of the QB that close to you, almost in your grasp, would be inflammatory. Like red to a bull, or something.

Yet here's Jarrett Johnson. He is clearly making a read. In the middle of one of the most heated moments you can imagine, obviously something clicks in his brain and he says "Wait, I recognize this play." And he peels of from his pursuit of the QB, he turns away from the QB, and he goes and looks for the WR he knows must be coming across the formation.

And absolutely DESTROYS him.

That the receiver was Hines Ward is just icing on the cake. Ward is the most hated Steeler in Baltimore, a player whom the fans regard as dirty, a cheap shot artist. This hit got some threads devoted to it on Ravens discussion boards. You can get a sense of Ravens fans giddiness over the play from this other YouTube vid.

But that's not the point, to me. The play is set up to be a screen pass. Ben is trying to lure the pass rushers up field, so he can flip the ball to a guy coming around behind them. JJ recognizes it in mid-rush, and he turns around and blows it up. This is some kind of triumph of intelligence over instinct. It's reading your keys, trusting what you've seen in film study, trusting in your understanding of the opponent. The QB is right there! He's almost in your grasp. But JJ is a savvy veteran. To me there's some hard-won experience reflected in JJ's read. He's been involved in a ton of Ravens-Steeers games. He knows that with Big Ben, "almost in your grasp" can be fools gold. Instead he turns and makes the play he knows he can make. Let a younger guy, a special physical specimen like Haloti Ngata, go and chase after Ben: JJ is going to neutralize the play's intended target.

I am super-impressed by this.

Did JJ cause Reed's interception? I don't know, that might be a stretch. Reed makes breathtaking reads of his own. CBS showed one replay last week from the end zone cameras, of Reed's second INT. Ed starts on the right side of the field, and he's watching Big Ben all the way, as Ben reads his progressions from left to right. Reed drifts further and further to the center of the field, like he's participating in Ben's decision-making process. When Ben decides to throw the ball, Reed has arrived in the perfect spot to jump it. It's uncanny. He has some special ability. I'm reluctant to give another player credit for Reed's plays.

But JJ did take away Ben's primary receiver on that play. (In fact he obliterated him.) That leaves Ben on the run from Haloti Ngata, looking for a place to go with the ball, quickly. Let's say that JJ created the situation that Reed was able to exploit.

I've thought for a while that Jarrett Johnson is some sort of unsung hero on the Ravens defense. This play is one of the reasons why.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

R.I.P. Chesmu

Chesmu died today. Born Nov 5th, 2007, Chesmu the monkey was an avid Steeler fan that took up residence on the back of the Baltimore Ravens.

Chesmu died a fast and violent death Sept 11, 2011. As his broken body lay twisting on the ground, Ravens coach John Harbaugh showed Chesmu the ultimate sign of disrespect by dropping a deuce on his face despite already being up by three scores.

Chesmu will be remembered fondly by the city of Pittsburgh. His cousin, Corbin, a natural rival Ravens fan, climbed onto the Steelers back as Chesmu was laid to rest.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

I just read

Mike Tanier's article on the Redskins in the Football Outsiders Almanac. Holy god, has there ever been a more perfectly written analysis of this organization?!? To call it "scathing" is accurate, but inadequate. It is brilliant, top to bottom.

I suppose in one sense it might prove ironic that Tanier has written that piece this year. At one point he says that after last year, analysts no longer need to worry that the Redskins might stumble into a good team for one season. I'm not sure he's right on that point. I watched the Skins play the Ravens in preseason, and came away with the impression that they might be pretty good this season. Pretty good like to the tune of 8 or 9 wins.

It doesn't matter. All of Tanier's larger points are spot-on. It's a terrific read.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Coaching Carousel

I would like to write about the blatant flouting of the Rooney Rule this past couple seasons. Roger Goodell consistently makes steps that seem buffoonish, from his posturing on the conduct policy to his enforcement of NCAA penalties. This is another area. Goodell does not seem to take enforcement of the Rooney Rule seriously, so it has lost its teeth. Candidates are getting blatant token interviews -- Danny Snyder had one of his asst coaches fake an interview -- it is on its way to becoming a sham. It's terrible.

I had planned to write some of that stuff. But this is a tough offseason to make an argument along those lines, when we have more minority head coaches in place than at this time last year. Leslie Frazier and Hue Jackson are black, Ron Rivera is Latino. Another minority coach, Perry Fewell, did not get hired this year, but has been identified as a potential future star candidate.

I don't know if this means the Rooney Rule is alive and well. One of those guys was an interim appointments who performed too well to dismiss. Al Davis has always gone his own way on this issue, anyway. And Ron Rivera has been a high-profile HC candidate since Paul Tagliabue was commish. It seems inevitable that Perry Fewell emerge as a HC candidate, given the great work he's done the past few years. Is the process working, or did the league luck out this year?

Anyway, here's the list. A quarter of the league's coaches are new this year.

TeamNew CoachFormerly
CarolinaRon RiveraDC Chargers, Bears; Eagles LB coach
ClevelandPat ShurmurRams OC; Eagles QB coach
DallasJason GarrettCowboys OC; Dolphins QB coach; longtime NFL QB
DenverJohn FoxPanthers HC; DC w Giants, Raiders; DB coach
VikingsLeslie FrazierDC Vikings, Bengals; DB coach Indy, Philly; 9 yr college HC
RaidersHue JacksonOC Raiders, Falcons; O asst Ravens, Bengals, Redskins
49ersJim HarbaughHC Stanford, San Dieg St; longime NFL QB
TitansMike MunchakLongtime Titans OL coach

Our task with these guys is to divide them into three groups, based on whether they will Succeed, Fail, or Muddle Along Respectably.


John Fox, Broncos

Fox coached 9 years in Carolina, to the tune of 5 non-losing seasons, 3 division titles and one Super Bowl appearance. (They came very close to winning that 2003-4 Super Bowl, too.) This after taking over a 1-15 team. Prior to last year's catastrophe, Fox's *worst* record in Charlotte was 7-9. Then the wheels fell off last year. Still, this is a good coach. His strengths are defense and running the football: physicality, back-to-basics stuff. Guess where Denver has been lacking in recent years? This is a great fit of an organization that needs some old-school butt-kicking, and a coach who is well-prepared to do it.

It's fair to wonder who is going to be picking the players. Brian Xanders is still the GM there. He's the genius who brought you the Tim Tebow trade. That's going to remain a black mark -- Sergio Kindle & Ed Dickson & Dennis Pitta are potential starters for the Ravens, while Tebow will never be worth anything. But the Broncos had a very traditional draft this year, where they loaded up on exactly the type of players John Fox knows how to use: basic football guys like Von Miller, Rahim Moore, Orlando Franklin and Nate Irving. 4 of their top 5 picks (and 6 overall) were defenders. Couple more drafts like that and this squad will look just like Fox's good Carolina teams: hard-nosed, physical, tough to beat. Probably not championship winners, but good football teams.

Leslie Frazier, Vikings

Are black head coaches disproportionately successful, compared to white head coaches? Lovie Smith has taken Da Bears to the Super Bowl; Mike Tomlin has won it, and then gone back. Ton Dungy's career record is ridiculous, especially when you consider the delta between how bad the teams were before he got there, and how successful after. Art Shell had a winning record his first go-around. Even plucky Raheem Morris, whom I picked against when he was hired a couple years ago, went 10-6 last year, with an exciting young QB who has a bright future.

If you're going to assert that black coaches are better, you'd better have some explanation about why. For a long time, I thought that there were more un-hired potentially great black head coaches than white, simply because the field of white head coaches was so picked-over. Rich frickin Kotite got multiple chances at a head job in the 90s, while Sherman Lewis's phone never rang and Art Shell never got a 2nd look even though he had a 54-38 record thru 1994. It was an ugly era. If you were looking for a great head coach, I thought black coaches were almost an untapped pool. A lot of great candidates. Since then we've had the Rooney Rule, so it's tougher to make that argument, although I am still biased in that direction. The other factor for me is an article Paul Zimmerman wrote several years ago about the importance of black leadership on successful football teams. It makes a lot of sense.

Frazier is supposedly more Dungy than Tomlin; and there's nothing wrong with that. There's great talent on that roster. Donovan McNabb can stabilize the QB situation for a year or so; and maybe they'll bring someone in. Frazier was a head coach for 9 years at Trinity International University in Illinois, starting at age 29. He founded the program and built it from thin air to a 2-time conference champion. That says something about his grasp of all aspects of a program. I just think Frazier will prove to be a breath of fresh air, and revitalize a sleeping giant.

It's a tough division, of course. The SB champions reside there, and I've already predicted "succeed" for the current Lions administration. Something's gotta give, you'd think. But today I'm picking Frazier to be successful.

Jim Harbaugh, 49ers

I can't pick against Jim Harbaugh. The Harbaugh family seems to really, really know what they're doing when it comes to football teams. Father Jack coached a zillion years in college and won a D2 national championship. Jim played a part in that achievement, as an unpaid coach and recruiter. Big brother John has proven the Harbaugh schmaltz is not just a rah-rah college thing, with a .667 reg season record and 4-3 in the postseason. If anything, Jim might be even *more* ready to talk to pro players than his brother, having toiled thru a 14-yr pro playing career.

All that is background. Jim H has been stunningly successful as a college coach. 29-6 thru three seasons at U of San Diego with 2 league championships. Then 4 seasons at Stanford, building them up to a 12-1 record, an Orange Bowl win and a #4 ranking. At Stanford!

College coaches don't always, or even normally, make a successful transition to the pro's. But Harbaugh knows the NFL intimately well. If he trips it will be for the normal reason of not having the right talent; not because he wasn't ready for the game.

The lockout hurts him, as it hurts all these 1st-year coaches. But I am very intrigued to see what this team does over the next few years. Harbaugh's record makes him look like an honest-to-goodness miracle worker. And I liked how he embraced the proud history of the franchise. He was asked if the team was going to run the West Coast Offense. "We will install the West Coast offense in San Francisco, the birthplace of the West Coast offense," Harbaugh said without hesitation. "And I'm excited about that." He went on with: "I think the West Coast offense is a very broad system," Harbaugh said. "It has the ability to encompass the talents of a lot different kinds of athletes."
Sac Bee
Harbaugh arrived at Stanford in 2007 and met often with Walsh before his death later that year. He said he had a small picture of Walsh taped to his computer screen and called him a "legendary coach and a great man."
"There's really no sentence that you could put Bill Walsh and Jim Harbaugh in," Harbaugh said when asked about their parallel career paths. "I have a long way to go and a lot of work ahead of me before any comparison can be made."
Doesn't necessarily mean that the team's commitment to Frank Gore will be lessened. It's useful to remember that Walsh's late Niners teams, and some of Seifert's, were excellent at running the ball. Also useful to remember that one other fairly pure West Coast Offense coach is Mike Shanahan. So, WCO does not necessarily mean that you don't run the football.
Bleacher Report
As for Stanford's alleged run bias: they may have statistically appeared heavily wedded to the run, but that is not entirely uncommon for a true West Coast Offense. In 10 seasons under Walsh, the 49ers never failed to attempt fewer than 415 rushes nor to gain less than 1,743 yards on the ground (except in the strike-shortened 1982 season). Remember, in a West Coast Offense the pass sets up the run, making the run the change of pace and often the thing that results in big plays. Also, as a team builds a lead, the run still becomes more and more prominent in eating up remaining clock.
I suppose it would be relevant to consider who will be picking the players (Trent Baalke), who the coordinators will be (Greg Roman and Vic Fangio), and whether it's really appropriate to believe in a magic coach when the guy is not named Parcells or Schottenheimer. I don't care about any of that. I am swept up in the Harbaugh mystique. Go Niners!
Bleacher Report


Ron Rivera, Panthers

I suppose Rivera knows his football, but that team is a mess and Cam Newton will prove to be an anchor.

Pat Shurmer, Brownies

Longtime student at Andy Reid's coaching school in Philly, and Holmgren seems to be building something stable in Cleveland. Holmgren seems to have recognized the necessity to be above all physical in this division. Chris on this blog believes Colt McCoy will prove to be the second coming of Drew Brees -- I've encountered more than a few people with that opinion. Cleveland has great personnel on the O-line.

Whatever, my brain cannot hold a scenario where Cleveland has a good football team. Marty and Belichick have been gone for many years. These guys have to pass both Baltimore and Pittsburgh to win division titles, and Holmgren has not shown personnel to be his area of expertise, in previous stops. This might be a heart over head pick.

Hue Jackson , Raiders

Sigh, Raiders. Sorry Hue.

Mike Munchak, Titans

Former Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher was an unbelievable football coach. He was there for 17 seasons, won 142 games, and established a tradition of physical, tough, smart fooball. He shepherded that franchise thru rebuilding movements and built great teams. Now he's gone and his longime OL coach has taken the reins. I'm sure Munchak is a fine fooball coach -- the Tennessee O-lines have usually been terrific -- but can his force of personality and fooball acumen do as much to buoy up the Titans as Fisher's did? It's tough to believe.


Jason Garrett, Cowboys

I originally had Garrett in the "succeed" list. And I have not changed my mind about how well he'll do. His team responded to him last year: he went 5-3 with a bad team absent its starting QB. The QB returns. Jerry will spend money to win; and god help me for saying this, but Jerry seems to have an eye for skill position talent. These guys could be a perennial 10-win team. If Garrett has even a little of Sean Payton's flair, then they could be very good.

But this is Dallas. What's "successful" in Detroit or Charlotte or San Francisco, does not necessarily spell success here. Even a good team could consistently finish 2nd or 3rd in this division, to the Eagles and Giants. It's easy to picture Jerry becoming impatient with 10 wins and out of the playoffs after the first round. Maybe Jerry gives extra slack to his handpicked fair-haired boy, but for how long? Jerry doesn't usually suffer 2nd place gladly.

I should also mention that Garrett does not have the same depth of coaching experience that this year's other NFL-QB-turned-HC has. Jim Harbaugh worked as a college asst in D2 for his dad, in an unpaid position during his playing career! And then turned around two different college programs as the head guy. Garrett did nothing but coach QBs for the Phins a couple years, then inherit a pre-built high-scoring offence to coordinate in Dallas. This is a guy who interviews well. Does he have the chops to manage this large a group of men, thru tribulations? We'll see.

Tune in next year, when we evaluate the new coaches in Cincinnati, Miami and San Diego!


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