Sunday, February 28, 2010

Total Titans

New post up at Total Titans, offseason positional analysis for nickelback. After procrastinating on these for a while as part of a general break from blogging, it's crunch time to get them done before the start of a new league year on Friday.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Total Titans

New post up at Total Titans, on Eugene Amano's contract and what it means for VY.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

An Exercise in NFL Player Evaluation, 20 Years Hence

Hall of Fame voting happened earlier this month, and once again, the discussion centered around what sort of accolades a player received and how many times he was voted to the Pro Bowl and made the All-Pro team, rather than how good a player he was. The player in the 2010 class that annoyed me the most was, of course, John Randle, but it's a more general problem. We see the current All-Pro teams and, especially, the Pro Bowl teams, and point out the snubs and erroneous selections, but when it comes to judging players who were around 20 years ago, these same flawed metrics suddenly become the be-all and end-all of judging player quality. So, to help fight against that trend, I'm going to do a thought experiment talking about two contemporary players I'll call Player X and Player Y using the information contained in their respective player page on Pro-Football-Reference.

Player X, a cornerback, was drafted in the first round by a veteran team that had missed the playoffs the year before, though his team would return to the playoffs his rookie season. He didn't start as a rookie, but did play in all 16 games and served as his team's primary kickoff and punt returner. He performed credibly, at roughly a league average level, at both jobs. He broke into the starting lineup in his second season. He ceded the kickoff return job, but was still his team's punt returner, where he finished 4th in the league in punt return average. He also intercepted 9 passes, which was among the best totals in the league, and made the Pro Bowl. Pro Football Weekly also chose him to be first team all-conference. He slipped a little in his third season, putting up mediocre punt return stats and only started 14 games but did still have 5 interceptions. In his fourth season, he may have lost his job, playing in 13 games and starting only 6 of them, with 1 interception.

Player X changed teams that offseason (via trade, though that's not listed on his P-F-R page). He returned to a starting role for his new team, playing in 12 games and starting 10 of them. He had 4 interceptions that year, so he proved he still had ball skills. That was true in spades the next year, as he had 10 interceptions in 15 games to lead the league. He made his second Pro Bowl, Pro Football Weekly named him first team all-conference for the second time in his career, his team improved dramatically and won the division after missing the playoffs his first year there, and oh by the way, he made the All-Pro team. His performance would seemingly slip after that season, as he played in 12 games the next year, starting 7, but only had 1 interception, and his team missed the playoffs. Ditto for the year after, only 8 starts in 16 games, only 1 interception. He played for his third team in his age 31 seasons, the third year after he made All Pro, and was active for all 16 games, starting 10, nabbing 3 interceptions, for a team that ended up with a winning record but missed the playoffs.

That age 31 season marked the end of his NFL career. He finished his career having appeared in 132 games, starting 85 of them. He made two Pro Bowl teams, was named to PFW's all-conference 1st team both of those years, and one All Pro team. He twice finished among the league's very best in interceptions and finished with 34 for his career. PFR credits him with 55 Approximate Value, which is far from Hall of Fame caliber but still quite respectable.

Player Y, who's still active, is another cornerback who was drafted in the first round by a veteran team. The team that drafted Player Y was coming off a deep playoff run and had a good recent history of success. Player Y would start 1 game as a rookie and 7 in his sophomore campaign before becoming a full-time starter for his team in his third season. In his fourth season, he had 8 interceptions to rank among the league's best in that category, but that year looks like a fluke compared to the rest of his career. It's fair to say Player Y is not a ballhawk. In fact, he didn't have a single interception in his first three seasons and only had 1 each in his fifth, sixth, and seventh seasons. The Associated Press named him second-team All-Pro the season he had 8 interceptions. His first Pro Bowl appearance came in his sixth season, when he was also named All-Pro by each of PFW, Sporting News, and AP. He made his second Pro Bowl appearance the next season, after which AP and SN both named him second-team All-Pro.

His career isn't over yet, but Player Y will be 29 at the start of the 2010 season, so he could reasonably have as few as 3 years of part-time service available if he follows the path of Player X. Thus far, he's played in 108 games, starting 85 of them (PFR will reflect this when it's fully updated for the 2009 season). He has 11 career interceptions and has made 2 Pro Bowls and 1 All-Pro team. He has never served as his team's punt or kickoff returner. Excluding 2009, which is not available, PFR credits him with 40 Approximate Value.

So, using the available information, who's the better player? This is slightly unfair to Player Y, who's still playing, but they've each made the same number of Pro Bowls and All-Pro 1st teams, though Player Y has another year where he's been rated on a lesser All-Pro team. Player X gave his team return value Player Y didn't have. Player X has more than three times as many interceptions as Player Y. Player Y has been more of a consistent starter than Player X, but he's also played on generally worse teams. PFR's AV system has 15 points of difference between them as of right now; that might be 6-8 once 2009 is figured in, but either way Player X comes out on top. Even so, that's at least another good year of starting for a league-average cornerback, maybe two, before you can rate Player Y to be Player X's equal. Really, based on this and ignoring what I know, I'd say Player X has been better thus far.

And now, the reveal after the jump:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Total Titans

I have a new post up at Total Titans, expounding on my suggestion that the Titans could target Pisa Tinoisamoa. That suggestion was in the Four Downs article on the AFC South published at FO on Monday, which was an expanded version of the ESPN Insider piece I mentioned on Friday. Thanks to ESPN AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky for calling Four Downs the "read of the day" today.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Total Titans

Latest in the positional analysis series, on tight ends.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Self-Publicity

Total Titans has moved from its temporary home on a self-hosted WordPress site to Bloguin. You may now find us at www.TotalTitans.com. Check out the snazzy new digs. I finally got round to writing up the analysis of the center position for our offseason preview.

Also in the self-pub department, my first (shared) ESPN credit, as part of FO's first offseason look at the divisions. Link is ESPN In$ider, but it'll be re-run on FO later as Four Downs: AFC South with additional content. Currently available on FO for your reading pleasure is an article on the newly-added 1993 season stats, featuring perhaps the craziest 12-4 season in NFL history. A couple comments from me on that team, plus Stravinsky's long one should give you an idea as to why Bud Adams was for a long while considered one of the league's worst, nuttiest, most volatile owners.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Football Outsiders

The final Scramble for the Ball of the 2009-10 season is available at FO for your reading pleasure.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Things I Got Out of the Decent Pregame Shows

So, rather than watching the interminable garbage that makes most most of the Super Bowl pregame, I instead elected to watch the game preview shows that are worth a damn: ESPN's NFL Matchup, a 30 minute show that aired Sunday morning, and NFL Network's Playbook, which aired 30 minute preview shows Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and an hour show Saturday, with each focused on the offense or defense of one of the participants.

NFL Matchup

  • Merrill Hoge points out something I noticed while watching the Colts-Jets game: the Colts changed from 2TE sets to 3WR beginning with the 3rd drive, and the Jets were never able to adjust. This is one thing I think will be different; the Saints will show better positional flexibility, and not show the Colts such a pass-friendly look.
  • Nice breakdown from Hoge of the Gregg Williams Jaguars getting pressure with a fire x stunt up the middle-that kind of pressure up the middle and outside press coverage is what gives the Colts problems. Ideal solution is of course pressure with 4 and cover 7, but if you can't get pressure with 4, that's one solution, though of course it leaves you vulnerable to the 7 yard slant turning into a 70 yard touchdown.
  • Jaws was very enthusiastic about the matchup potential of Reggie Bush. I was very much a downer on him in Scramble this week, because I think the Colts' defense is one well suited to do well against Bush's strengths. He's not the kind of player you want or have to feed if he doesn't have the advantage, so I don't think he'll have a big game.

Playbook Wednesday-Saints Defense

  • Good coverage of the Saints showing some 3-4 look in the NFC Championship Game against Minnesota. This is one of the options Gregg Williams has, and I suspect it's one he'll turn to; I question a little whether the Saints players, particularly the outside linebackers are sufficiently modular-i.e., whether or not they can get at Peyton if they do blitz or cover Addai or Clark or cover even a shallow zone against one of the wideouts, plus it'll only enhance their vulnerability against the run. Even if the Colts aren't ripping off big gains, they could have a consistent 3-5 yards doing that, which is one of the reasons I expect a shorter game in terms of possessions and a similarity to SB XLI.
  • This was mentioned a bit in NFL Matchup as well, and it seems kind of trite, but one thing the Saints back 7 has shown they're vulnerable against, partly for scheme reasons, is being over-aggressive against both play action and pump fakes. That's how Shiancoe got so wide open in the AFC Championship Game, and I'm sure Peyton will nice that. The aggressiveness is part and parcel of Gregg Williams' defensive philosophy, though. If the Colts blow the Saints out, it'll be taking advantage of this aggressiveness.

Playbook Thursday-Colts Defense

  • One important thing to keep in mind: the Colts safeties are extremely fast at reacting once they see what's happening. That's how they can maintain some credibility as a run defense despite being so pass-oriented, but doesn't prevent you from getting the consistent short gains if you want them.
  • Linebackers, more of the same: quick reactions, and great speed on defense. The unspoken lesson for Sean Payton is that if you're getting consistent success on the ground, even if it's not many yards, the point is that you're getting consistent success on the ground. The Rams' loss in Super Bowl XXXVI was about Mike Martz's hubris and insistence that he had to win the game his way, ignoring the fact that his first priority had to be winning the game, regardless of how it happened. Sean Payton: you can't be a genius if you lose the game. Win first, then worry about looking like a genius.

Playbook Friday-Saints Offense

  • Watching Mike Lombardi talk on NFL Network, I'm reminded of a piece he did a year or two ago, about how it didn't make sense the Saints drafted Robert Meachem; while this was a pick I loved at the time and looks like it's paying off now, their receivers at that point were UDFA Lance Moore and 7th round pick Marques Colston. If you can have success finding guys there, why do you need a first round pick? On a related note, if I could get an honest and complete answer from Bill Polian to any single question, it would be about his theory of running back acquisition. He has Marshall Faulk in IND, but dumps him for a 2nd round pick, then spend a first round pick on Edgerrin James. He spends 1st round picks on Joseph Addai (a great pick) and another on Donald Brown, which seemed more like a luxury. Teams are able to find great RBs in all situations, as a look at the Saints' UDFAs of Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell shows, why spend 1st round picks on 2 RBs like that?
  • Cool thing you get on Playbook: Sean Payton breaking down a play. Key part of the play: the use of strong I, twin WRs weak to force the Will to play the deep middle of the Tampa-2.
  • Quote of the shows: "Sometimes, I believe the New Orleans Saints in their window dressing do a little bit too much." He was referring specifically to pre-snap movement to create different formations, but that's something Payton will have to guard against. See also Smart Football's Super Bowl preview, which comments on the Colts' basic offensive simplicity. I charted for FO much of IND's previous Super Bowl run and was struck by the ridiculously simplicity in the run game. It really was as simple as outside zone left, outside zone right, inside zone left, and inside zone right, plus the rare draw play. In that way, this game presents a great contrast of offensive styles.

Playbook Saturday-Colts Offense

  • Austin Collie and Dallas Clark are the same player but of different size. Those '06 Colts were in double-tight, double-wide formation virtually every single play in the playoffs, and their flexibility was moving Clark in the slot or not. This year, they can play Clark at TE and legitimately go 3-wide with Collie or play Clark, either tight or flexed, and Robinson as 2-TE. I really expect a lot of Collie today, to try to force the Saints into nickel personnel or play conservatively to avoid mismatches.
  • Video of the Texans running a fire-X stunt, with success. It's not clear what the Texans were doing defensively, but there seemed to be a little bit of a delay in the rush, so Peyton wasn't looking for his hot, and the coverage was good downfield.
  • Under-reported story: the Saints D has in the playoffs seen two QBs who will end up in the Hall of Fame in Kurt Warner and B**** and F****, while the Colts have seen a second year guy and a rookie.
  • Sterling Sharpe says some very nice things about the Colts' offensive line. I throw something. I don't see this as a particularly good offensive line. What they are now is well-coached and work very well together, thanks to Howard Mudd, but Peyton makes them look like a much better line than they are. He doesn't move a lot, but he moves very intelligently.
  • The Colts don't have big receivers; none of Garcon, Collie, nor Wayne is particularly big, but they're not soft either-good shot of Wayne getting a good release off Revis by being physical at the line of scrimmage. That's normally a big advantage for Revis against most wideouts.

Gee, that was a lot easier than writing a real preview.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Inside the Blog

The recent spate of deleted comments, on posts new and old, is a result of the spammer beating Blogger's spam-blocking software; I've never deleted a non-spam comment here, and hope I never have to. I also removed DGDB&D from the Football Links section, since the site is no longer up, and added Nashville City Paper to the Titans Links section, though the link goes to the Sports section front page and not to a Titans-specific page like for the Tennessean. I guess I'm growing soft in my old age, since the lack of a Titans-specific page had been my previous justification for not linking there. EDIT: And, of course, the new layout means I can't italicize Nashville City Paper, though the emphasis on Tennessean will survive unless I try to edit that part. Curse you, Blogger, for fighting the fight against proper style!

I also keep acquiring football books, with the latest acquisitions being Stagg's University about the history of football at the University of Chicago, where Amos Alonzo Stagg once prowled the sidelines as head coach, Bob McGinn's The Ultimate Super Bowl Book, and Quarterback Abstract by John Maxymuk. Reviews of all three books will be here eventually, which remains a term without a precise legal or enforceable meaning.

2010 Hall of Fame Announcements

Peter King just tweeted that the Final 5 non-senior (regular) candidates are Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, John Randle, Russ Grimm, and Rickey Jackson, and among those, plus the two senior candidates of Lebeau and Little, the ones named on 80% of ballots are in. I gave my brief thoughts on the 25 semifinalists back in November, and my feelings are pretty much unchanged, namely that Rice and Smith are both locks and will make it in, Russ Grimm would be a fine honoree, Rickey Jackson would probably be a fine selectee, and John Randle should have to buy an admission ticket to get it.

I've been remiss in not linking to PFR Blog's fine series analyzing each candidate. See Rice, Smith, Randle, Grimm, Jackson, LeBeau, and Little, which post contains links to all of the ones in the series. Also of interest is the roundtable discussion, though I disagree with too many of the conclusions.

The press conference is ongoing (I'm republishing this post after each paragraph), and the 5 candidates who made the first cut but not the second were Dermontti Dawson, Richard Dent, Cortez Kennedy, Andre Reed, and Shannon Sharpe. IMO, Dawson, Kennedy, and Sharpe would all have been much finer choices than Randle and also finer choices than Rickey Jackson. The first 5 cut, who didn't make the group of 10, were Roger Craig, Tim Brown, Cris Carter, Don Coryell, and Charley Haley. So, good, they whacked the most over-represented positions (RB, WR) first, though I'm surprised Reed finished ahead of both Brown and Carter.

And, the electees are Russ Grimm, Randy [sicRickey] Jackson, Dick LeBeau, Floyd Little, John Randle, Jerry Rice, and Emmitt Smith. How very boring to elect all 7. The most disappointing selection is, by far, Floyd Little, who simply wasn't that good of a player and now serves as a precedent for every single mediocre running back of the past 50 years, up to and including Eddie George, and also adds to the Hall of Fame being grossly overpopulated by running backs.

Slightly longer thoughts on each of the 7 new guys:
Jerry Rice: I got a little bit of pushback from some people on my description of Rice as possibly not in the Hall of Fame if you limit it to only 10 or 15 people, and that he's among the top 5. Maybe I did underrate him a little bit, but the fact that he's in the conversation for that indicates just how awesome of a player he was. My favorite cite is Jerry Rice Odd Years and Jerry Rice Even Years would each be a viable candidate for Hall induction in their own rights.
Emmitt Smith: I'm not angry about him being it, but was he really any better than Curtis Martin, just got lucky to be on those great Cowboy teams? I know, excluding him would make everybody think you're totally nuts, but I don't think he's one of the elite backs in NFL history.
Russ Grimm: A fine way to honor the fine Washington Redskins lines of the Joe Gibbs v.1 Era. Undoubtedly a good player, but I noticed guard play even less then than I did now, and I still don't notice it enough.
Rickey Jackson: I hope to hell the Saints playing tomorrow didn't have anything to do with his selection. Was he really a better player than Pat Swilling? He had a longer career, by 3 years, and 20 more sacks, and while I didn't watch that Saints team much, I remember Swilling being better. Maybe I'm underrating Jackson's play in the 1983-85 era, and maybe I'm overrating Swilling, but I don't see what made Jackson stand out over somebody like Haley, who had more positional flexibility and better team success.
John Randle: Randle's selection makes me wish the NFL hadn't started officially keeping track of sacks, because without sacks he wouldn't have a ghost of a chance at the Hall of Fame. A one-dimensional pass rusher at DT; I can't think of a current comparison, just because that's generally such a terrible idea, plus edge rushing tends to be more productive. With Little, one of the two finalists I was hoping was rejected, and the fact that he made it over Cortez Kennedy, who was a more complete player while still being a fine pass rusher is completely ridiculous. ALL of Randle's honors were a product of him being focused on sacks and the voters ignoring what really makes a player good; the Hall of Fame isn't supposed to be, shouldn't be, that myopic.
Floyd Little: Okay, comparing him to Eddie George, as I did above, is a little of a stretch. Everything I say about him would be a rehash of PFR's more detailed case about why he'd be well below average for a Hall of Fame running back, which is already the most watered-down position in the Hall.
Dick LeBeau: Deserves it as a combination for his job as a coach/coordinator and as a player, but not solely on his merits as a player. Everybody knows why he got in, though, so I'm not going to complain too much.

Congratulations to all seven of the electees.

UPDATE (2/6 2232 CT): Worth a read: Jim Trotter's piece on this year's voting experience. Reed and Dent both in soon, very eh. I miss Dr. Z's willingness to rip on people and take on overrated candidates like Randle.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Football Outsiders

The penultimate edition of this football season's Scramble for the Ball, the annual Super Bowl Prop Bet Extravaganza, is available for your reading pleasure at Football Outsiders. This year's edition is about as long as our ridiculously long first columns, partly because it includes an exegesis of The Commercial We've Been Saving All Year.