Monday, May 26, 2008

Miscellanea

Some miscellaneous links:

53 Deep continued his look at offensive line play in the NFL Network Replay games. He has kind things to say about both Mawae and Stewart; I suspect Mawae wore down as the year went on.

I was going to post a link to an article on somebody who may be a little like the NFL's equivalent of William Wesley, but the link I had expired, and I don't remember his name. If you haven't heard of Wesley, check out TrueHoop's archives on the man. He's like the anti-me, so it's fascinating reading.

Over at P-F-R blog, Chase Stuart did an interesting series on the black QB in NFL history. Here is Part IV, with links to I, II, and III therein. As an Oilers/Titans fan, this is something I have somewhat of a rooting interest in, but, frankly, I don't care. Moon, McNair, and now VY are NFL QBs, and I'll do my damnedest to judge them on how well they perform as NFL QBs, and that's it.

More from P-F-R blog, changes in NFL player size over time. Yeah, they're bigger now.

Fun with the salary cap: how well teams use the cap and some of its arcana.

An SMQ guest with a detailed explanation of the Flexbone offense. Football geekery at its finest (that's a compliment).

One of the more fantastic examples of the bone offense was the great Oklahoma team that lost in The Game of the Century. The QB for that team was Jack Mildren, whom I mentioned in my review of Saturday's America. I noticed a couple searches to that in my referrers, and it turned out that Mildren recently passed away. RIP. For more on him as a college QB, check out EDSBS, and the video therein. Very impressive stuff.

More substantive material should be coming in the next couple days, depending on how much time I spend at work.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Book Review: Dominance

I've wrestled with what kind of review I was going to do with Eddie Epstein's Dominance: The Best Seasons of Pro Football's Greatest Teams for the last couple days, and I've decided the only good resolution would be to re-read the book, take copious notes, and write a bunch of posts on it. Since (a) busy and (b) don't want to do that, that won't happen. So, you'll get what I write...

One of my biggest pet peeves in football statistics (and this has been true for 12-15+ years) is I HATE yardage statistics. They're useful in conjunction with points, but saying a team outgained a team 427-394 doesn't necessarily provide very much useful information. That's why I became a fan of FO's work (see here for some basic insights). But, FO's work wasn't available, and isn't available for the whole scope of pro football history, and won't be available going back many years for quite some time. So, you make do with what you have (similar story in college, a whole separate can of worms). But that doesn't mean I have to like it. GIGO. Far better to read FO's work. See also The Hidden Game of Football, which I'm making my way through in fits and starts. A decidedly lukewarm recommendation to fans of football statistical analysis, but only after you've read FO's stuff and Hidden Game, much in contrast to my expectations.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Book Review: Rozelle

A couple times, notably with Brand NFL and Instant Replay, all "my" "review" has consisted of is linking to a column (in both those cases by perhaps my favorite book critic, Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post). Another source of occasionally very good reviews is Amazon, to which I invariably link the book title. And so it is here, with Rozelle by Jeff Davis. Jeff Davis apparently wrote a quite reasonable biography of George Halas. This is not that book. This Amazon review captures well the (quite substantial) limitations in Davis' book. Rozelle's failure is particularly disappointing, because MacCambridge's outstanding America's Game doesn't explain well the last half or so of Rozelle's commissionership, including particularly his influence on the offense-favoring rule changes of 1978 and his role in the labor problems of the 1980's and the resolution thereof. Nevertheless, what's in America's Game on Pete Rozelle is a still a darned sight better than anything in Rozelle on the ostensible subject of the book. Really not recommended, because there are at least 50 better things you could be watching on TV right now.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Pass Targets: 2 and 3

Part 2 and Part 3 of my thoughts on pass targets are up over at Total Titans. Here is Part 1, for those seeing this for the first time. Here's what the posts are one:

1: Who the Titans threw the ball to in 2007
2: How 2007 results compared to what you'd expect based on 2006
3: What that might say about 2008

I'm now somewhat interested in this topic, so I'll probably be exploring it some here in the days and weeks to come. In particular, these are the questions I'll probably be addressing:
(1) Who have the Titans thrown the ball to in the past?
(2) What have previous year-to-year transitions looked like?
(3) What did pass distribution look like in the first Mike Heimerdinger era?
(4) Career progressions for receivers who've passed through Tennessee (at least the ones I have decent data for).

If these posts don't interest you, then, well, don't read them. I'll have other stuff up, too.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Book Review: New Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football

One of my recurring themes in doing these books reviews is that there have been a number of excellent books on baseball, but not as many on football. In particular, one thing that's difficult to find is a soup-to-nuts explanation explanation of exactly what the heck is (supposed to be) going on in the 22-man ballet that is a football play. Difficult to find, but not impossible. That book is The New Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football by Paul Zimmerman, aka Dr. Z of Sports Illustrated fame. That "New" in the title? It's the 1984 update to the original Thinking Man's Guide, which was published in 1970, the same year as Saturday's America, which I just panned as a period piece. I acquired my copy of New Thinking Man's Guide about eight years ago, and, in scanning through it in preparation for writing this review, it still noticeably speaks to the modern game. Not quite the same, since it is a quarter-century old, but the same world. There have been more recent books in a similar vein, which I'll probably be reviewing here in the time to come, but by all accounts, this is probably still the best one. Hopefully there'll be a new version coming out at some point in the future (column indications say Z's newest book is more a memoir than an updated version, alas), but until then New Thinking Man's Guide is still an indispensable part of the smart football fan's library. Enthusiastically recommended.

Book Review: Saturday's America

What can you say about a book on college football when the latest edition of the Game of the Century was Arkansas-Texas, and Jack Mildren was a heralded prospect instead of the losing QB in the next (and probably actual) Game of the Century. The book is Saturday's America by Dan Jenkins, legendary SI college football writer. I picked this up (for less than the current $41.29 Amazon list) after noting it seemed to be the source of the best anecdotes in Mandel's Bowls, Polls. Yup, the anecdotes are in there. They're also the best anecdotes in the book, which speaks well to Mandel's judgment. SA is a largely chapter-based looking at the college football landscape that was back then. As someone who's only really been a fan of the Saturday game during the television era, when you get a national perspective, it's really hard to imagine what football was like back then. Jenkins' book has some interesting glimpses, but it's not really an "overview"-type book the way Mandel's is oriented; the book it reminded of the most was Langewiesche's The Outlaw Sea, which was just some repackaged articles from Atlantic Monthly. Some brief searching in the SI Vault suggests the chapters didn't all start as SI articles, but I'm sure they had their genesis in reporting for the magazine.

Ultimately, Jenkins' book remains just a glimpse as some of what college football was like back then. To the extent it's an iconic book on college football, it is because of the lack of alternatives, not because it demands the position. It is, at least by default, the best look at what college football was two score years ago. By all means, if that sounds interesting to you, go ahead and pick up a copy. Or, just read Mandel and get the anecdotes.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Pass Targets

My annual post on pass targets, which was here last year, is now up over at Total Titans. I'll do some more data dump on targets in the next couple days, either over here or over there.

If you've been paying attention to the sidebar, you'll note I added a couple book reviews that had been on The Other Blog I hadn't bothered to import yet. I have four book reviews I still need to write, including New Thinking Man's Guide, and three more football books to read sitting around my residence. Plus, I haven't bothered to write any reviews for KC Joyner's books or FO's annuals. Of course, UFR also beckons...

Sunday, May 04, 2008

On Blogging

Some of you may have noticed the recent kerfuffle between Buzz Bissinger, famed author of Friday Night Lights (my review), and Will Leitch of Deadspin. If you haven't, take a look at the video. See Will's take and his second post; see also Deadspin's link roundup. For more, see Michael Schur of Fire Joe Morgan, Jason Whitlock, Michael David Smith, host Bob Costas defending himself to said MDS, and, most relevantly for purposes of this post, Orson Swindle of EDSBS (and part two) (yes, I know his real name is "Spencer Hall," but I still think of him as Orson Swindle and will be referring to him as such).

In case you haven't figured it out (and it's on my little bio over at Total Titans, so I'm not trying to keep it a huge secret), I fall into Category 5. on Orson's list of people who blog. His description of us is accurate, so I'm going to quote it in full:
Most post under pseudonyms, but these people make up the rank and file of the blogging world. Why? Because they are bored to tears by their jobs despite being creative, articulate, argumentative, and passionate people. Give a dam an outlet, and it’ll crack mountains into silt. That’s what lawyers are to the blogosphere. None of them live with their mothers, and many make more than the sportswriters who accuse them of living–yes–with Mom.

I'm not so sure about "creative," but, yup, that's me. I'm not going to go a full-profile on you, but as interpreted by BFD at DGDB&D, here's more about who I am and why I blog.

Why do I blog?: I have opinions. I like to have them on record. I don't really care how much people agree with me, or if people think my opinion is important. This is largely an exercise in personal gratification for me. That said, I think I tend to say interesting things. Also, this gives me something to do in my freely-assignable (read "spare") time.

Why do I blog anonymously?: Tom is my real name (well, technically, "Thomas" is my first name). My last name is over at Total Titans. My last name isn't on here. When I started blogging, it was over at The Other Blog with a couple law school classmates. They preferred some level of anonymity, for unsurprising reasons, and I liked that level of anonymity. Plus, many of the early readers were classmates or personal acquaintances, so they knew who we were. I like to think of it as "google-nymity." Now that I've joined Total Titans, it's not hard to connect this and The Other Blog with my real name. I looked into setting this up on a different account, with my real name, but it proved annoyingly difficult.

Do I live in my mother's basement: No. I live on my own. I have blogged from my parents' basement before, but they've since moved out of state. I may in the future blog from their guest room or living room or study or someplace, but that won't be a regular occurrence.

Why is it OK for you to blog?: I want to, and I can, and that's all you need. I admit it: I never played football beyond the recreational level. No Pop Warner, no park district-type football. The high school from which I graduated didn't even have a football team. Even if it did, I wouldn't have played. I was a really awful athlete growing up-slow, weak, and uncoordinated. Why write about football then? I love the game, partly because I can enjoy it on so many levels. I can sit there as a fan and react emotionally to the action as it happens-cheering for big plays and cursing the errors and opponent successes. Then, I can sit down and watch tape and intellectually figure it out. There's a great passage in Dr. Z's New Thinking Man's Guide (note to self: add review) about how football is like chess with a constantly-changing background. Exactly what's going on isn't already readily apparent, or part of that visceral reaction. To the extent my blogging here is interesting and/or good, it's in providing a look at some of what may be going on behind the obvious.

Religion/Politics: Orson's comments about being raised Catholic and reacting negatively to religion ring quite true to me. If you want to be religious, fine with me, unless you have a problem with me being not religious. Politics is an issue for The Other Blog, and a topic I intentionally avoid here. The only exception, which isn't strictly a partisan issue, is "public subsidies for sports stadia are a bad idea." If it become relevant, I may in the future discuss politics as it relates more generally to stadia, but political discussions won't go beyond that. There are lots of places to discuss politics on the internet; this ain't one of them.

Education: Undergrad international relations degree from Georgetown. Worthless degree, but I got to read for class a lot of stuff I'd read voluntarily. Law degree from Chicago. A fun place to waste three years if you want a little bit of intellectual rigor and aren't really sold on that whole "law" thing.

Career: Law firm slave labor for a couple years between undergrad and grad school. Now higher up on the "law firm flunky" scale, doing corporate work. The last time I was in a courtroom was on a tour my first year of law school, and it wouldn't bother me at all if I was never in one again.

Family: Single. Parents, sister, brother-in-law, aunts, uncles, cousins, none local.

What do I look like?: 6'2", about 185, dorky-looking but not nearly as dorky as I used to be, glasses, white. I could probably stand to lose 15 pounds, because I hate to exercise and eat too many high-calorie foods (see here), but it's not real obvious. I don't know of anybody I look like.

Miscellaneous Notes: Not evident from the above is I have strong elements of a math/stats dork. Spent junior year of college in Japan; Japanese language ability now very bad due to lack of use. Started grades 5-10 in 6 different schools. Attended 2 preschools, 2 elementary schools, 2 junior highs, 2 high schools, 2 colleges, but only 1 graduate school. Was told in college of 10 different things I should have majored in. Captained state championship-winning team senior year of high school. Sung "Witch Doctor" multiple times in public while sober. Wrote this post while watching Stars-Sharks NHL playoff game.

Dramatic Ending: Ooh ee, ooh ah ah, ting tang, walla walla bing bang. Ooh ee, ooh ah ah, ting tang, walla walla bing bang.

UPDATE (5/26/08 2036 CT): Brian of MGoBlog with some good thoughts, and linking to some of the same from Clay Travis. Clay Travis suggests a quiz bowl-style showdown. I approve, and volunteer to take part. See above for qualifications re same.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Linkagery

In the next couple days, I'll be working on posts previewing the offense and defense like the ones I did last year. In the meantime, here are a couple links:

Terry McCormick of the Nashville City Paper took a look at where the draft picks will fit in.

Recent blogroll addition 53 Deep continued his look at the 2007 NFL season, grading the linemen in the Week 5 NFL Replay games. Titans: Roos #2 of 10 LT, Bell #6 of 10 LG, Mawae #3 of 11 C, Olson #4 of 12 RG, Stewart #7 of 11 RT. Grades not adjusted for opponents. Note the entire Falcon OL graded out as below-average.

Roger Goodell talked to the New York Times. He's good at not saying anything in a way that makes me uncomfortable. I supported his candidacy for the commissionership, but, well, that was a mistake.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Book Review: The Real All-Americans

Another college football book, alas. Even better, the next two football books I have are about the Saturday game. The latest entry in "what football books Tom's read" is The Real All-Americans by Sally Jenkins, about the Carlisle Institute and its football team. This is perfectly competent narrative history, encompassing the origins of the Carlisle Indian school and the rise of the football team (and the school) to national prominence. There's a great deal of interesting material here, and I could easily write several posts analyzing in depth several of the issues, from historiography, writing about early sports history (especially football), and the nature of "amateur" athletics and Carlisle's uneasy place in what was already an uneasy enough "scholastic" sporting environment. If you're expecting a pure football book, this isn't it-half or more governs what Carlisle meant. There's probably just not enough about football (and/or football is hard enough to write about) that that's inevitable. But, the most telling thing I can say is that, after starting The Real All-Americans, I started and finished two other books, and that's something I don't normally do. As I said in my review of When Pride Still Mattered, by Jenkins' Washington Post colleague David Maraniss, not a bad book, but I didn't enjoy it. Call it a lukewarm recommendation.