Saturday, August 09, 2008

Book Review: Blindsided

Hey, I'm late with writing a post. I know, that's NEVER happened before, and will of course absolutely never happen again. In this case, the reason hasn't been purely because of my own lassitude, though, but because I've been going back and forth on how I'm going to review this book. From when I started doing book reviews on blogs about five years ago, I've found there are certain books which I can review in either very few words or, for a book review, very many. I don't mind writing blog posts that are 1,000 or more words long-UFR is a couple thousand words long (I'm not sure exactly how much I write for each game), I think I wrote about 1800 words on Wycheck and the Hall of Fame, etc., but I think it's normally a waste when it comes to book reviews. So, anyway, a relatively short review.

I greatly admire the work of K.C. Joyner, the self-proclaimed Football Scientist. I own the past three editions of Scientific Football, and pre-ordered the current/new edition months ago. Reading his new book, Blindsided: Why the Left Tackle Is Overrated and Other Contrarian Football Thoughts, was however a deeply unsatisfying experience. The primary reason, I believe, is that the book tries to cover too many subjects. From his website, you can see a list of each of the 17 chapters. For a book that doesn't reach 260 pages, including white pages, that's simply too many subjects. It's not quite as bad as The Paolantonio Report in terms of raising and then failing to intelligently discuss plausible arguments, but it's closer to that end than to reaching satisfactory answers.

The best illustration of this is probably the chapter that provides the title and first half of the subtitle, that the left tackle position is overrated. This is, of course, a counter to Michael Lewis's argument in The Blind Side. Now, I didn't find myself particularly agreeing with Lewis when reading The Blind Side, primarily because I'm not convinced he really understands football. He's an excellent storyteller, though, and used a good hook to tell an interesting story, but in terms of illustrative or explanatory power, The Blind Side doesn't hold a candle to Liar's Poker or Moneyball. So, why does Joyner argue the left tackle is overrated?
--Teams run about as effectively behind left tackles as they do behind right tackles or, indeed, other offensive linemen.
--Left tackles don't necessarily give up a high percentage of the sacks against their team.
--Some left tackles who don't give up a lot of sacks play for teams that give up lots of sacks.
--Orlando Pace and Eric Shelton had similar sack statistics in 2005, but everybody thinks Pace is good and Shelton couldn't get a job.
I'm simplifying some of his argument a little, but I don't think I'm missing any major points. I mean, yes, these points are all true, but that doesn't make them interesting. Some better questions are:
--To the extent we can evaluate them similarly, are left tackles or right tackles better players?
--Is it better to have a bad left tackle or a bad right tackle/right guard/left guard/etc?
--Where does the biggest pass rush threat come from?
--How important should we think the left tackle is?
Joyner, for a guy whose hallmark is watching lots of tape, has remarkably few subjective opinions when it comes to the play of left tackles. The best available evidence we have is that having a good left tackle is very important. Most teams have right handed quarterbacks, who are less able to respond and react to a rush coming from the offensive team's left side. Many defenses play their best pass rushers at right end to take advantage of that. Is it the be-all and end-all? Of course not; it's quite possible to have an outstanding left tackle and an offensive line that is poor overall. But it is important, and very likely the hardest position to play on the offensive line, as Ross Tucker has written.

Anyway, I can't particularly recommend Blindsided to anybody. Disappointing, but there you go.


Jon said...

It reminds me of one of the Baseball Prospectus books from a couple of years ago (not Mind Game. Some other one.) but it is shorter and has one author. That said, there’s only one chapter so far that really blew me away and that’s one that divides head coaches into four quadrants. Even then, he could have developed the idea some more.

Matt said...

Thanks for this interesting post. I like K.C. Joyner a lot too.