Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Total Titans

Hey, it's a post three days in a row. Another Total Titans post, this one on why Kyle Wilson doesn't solve the Titans' CB and returner needs. For the curious, yes, I do intended to continue my look at how the Titans' offense changed when VY came in, but those posts require work.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Total Titans

New post up at Total Titans on the Tye Hill signing. Drexel also responded to my DE post from yesterday.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Football Outsiders and Total Titans

AFC South Four Downs is now available at FO for your reading pleasure. As it so happens, this is my first solo column at FO as a staffer; Scramble for the Ball was co-written with Mr. Kurtz and Mr. Verhei wrote half of the first AFC South Four Downs. Not my first solo column at FO, though, since they did put up my book review of Mandel's Bowls, Polls, and Tattered Souls.

And, as I did with the bit I wrote on the Titans for the first offseason column, I did a post at Total Titans on something related to the column, namely why the Titans should draft a defensive end, not a cornerback. Bottom line: pass rush = playoffs.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Books Which Have Influenced Me Most

Originally from Marginal Revolution, but since migrated to other places, it's a list of ten books that influenced me.

I originally didn't plan to partake in this exercise since, oddly for someone who is a fairly prolific reader (about 90 books a year the last 5 years and more than that growing up), I had a difficult time thinking of 10 books that I felt had strongly influenced me. Rather than follow the directions precisely, I will instead list 10 books that are in some way important to me.

1. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Only the finest novel ever written. I read this at the end of my senior year in high school. Perhaps part of it was the time of transition, but when I first thought about this little exercise, Bros K occupied spots 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 10, and #9 was "every other book I've ever read put together." A particularly perceptive friend even noted the change in me while I was reading it. To re-read it has been on my to-do list for a about a dozen years, but is a task I continually shy away from. If I do ever get round to doing that, I've considered starting a blog expressly for that.

2. Delivered from Evil by Robert Leckie. I know, how timely, what with Leckie's memoir about his time on Guadalcanal being a basis for the new HBO series "The Pacific." Read in seventh grade, though. In some sense, the first real adult book I ever read-including index and bibliography, 998 pages of small type, but readable enough I've seen it cataloged in libraries in the Young Adult section. I've since acquired John Keegan's single volume World War II history, but every time I try to pick it up, I end up putting it down and reading Leckie for the dozenth time instead. I read others of Leckie's books later (though not his memoir), but they don't measure up in my adult eyes.

3. The First World War by Martin Gilbert. Read fall semester, senior year of high school. I read a lot that year. Technically, perhaps not quite as good as Keegan's later single volume WWI history, but Gilbert gets more right in my view the complete and utter nonsense that World War I was. The scenario that should have been in What If? but wasn't was what the world would have looked like if the 1914 Christmas truce had held. Also the book that taught me the joy of reading the footnotes, thanks to Gilbert noting in a note about German soldiers getting lost in Belgium that Soviet troops sent to put down the Hungarian uprising in 1956 thought the Danube was the Suez Canal and they would be battling the Brits, French, and Israelis.

4. The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam. Read freshman year of college, I believe. A more prominent example of something I'd already learned, the power of in-group thinking to crowd out intelligence and diversity of thought. There's a reason I name-checked "The Exclusive Country Club" in my latest links post. See also this defense.

5. The Birth of the Modern by Paul Johnson. Read in 2001 (while working between college and law school). For those unfamiliar with his work, Johnson is a skilled polemicist with definite views of the world. I've read most of his works, including the brief tract he did as a young leftist firebrand inveighing against Eden for Suez (yes, really). In some respects, Intellectuals was the more influential book on me, but it's an extended rant more than a book. Birth of the Modern makes the 15 years after the end of the Napoleonic era seems like the most exciting time in world history, while still providing Johnson enough of a platform for his polemics. Not for everyone, but I'm a fan. His A History of the American People is also great fun, though he'll lose half the audience with almost everything he writes about stuff that happened after 1960.

6. The Price of Admission by Daniel Golden. Or, "How the Exclusive Country Club Plans to Stay the Exclusive Country Club Forever." The quotes from the back of the book are from a bunch of people I normally disagree with, which gives it bonus points. Again, see Zenpundit. Read in 2007.

7. American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Unfortunately it now seems to have been scrubbed from the web, but quite possibly my favorite newspaper article of all time was Washington Post book critic Jonathan Yardley's review in 2002 of the past 125 years of the American literature. Not because my tastes coincided with Yardley's to any great degree, but because he quite properly condemned most all literary fiction as parochial and jejune. Gaiman writes in the decidedly declasse science fiction-type genre, so literary fiction he will never be, but with American Gods he steps into American mythos in an astounding way. In a way, the book David Gelertner's Americanism would like to have been. This is probably the only time those two books have ever been mentioned together. Best read in conjunction with Gordon Wood's The American Revolution, which is what every "short book" aspires to be.

8. The New Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football by Paul Zimmerman. Hey, I finally got around to remembering I was writing a football blog. Read over a decade ago, shortly after I finished college. In some ways, this is how I got from where I was to writing football. There's more football knowledge in here than pretty much every other book on the sidebar; Dr. Z was an iconic writer for many of us football people for a reason, though it's difficult for me to separate out just how much of his influence came from his online columns and how much came from this book.

9. America's Game by Michael MacCambridge. One of the very few books about pro football that people who don't like pro football could read profitably. Those who think When Pride Still Mattered falls into that category should go read First in His Class and then try to make the argument with a straight face that WPSM is about football. That rant aside, to heck with Jacques Barzun, baseball hasn't been the national pastime since JFK was President. That America's Game tells that story and is a popular history, rather than a more straightforwardly philosophical work like Paolantonio's How Football Explains America or Giamatti's claptrap can be understood by reading American Gods.

10. More than a Game by Brian Billick. It's been long enough since I finished this book that to do the quality of review it deserves I need to re-read it, so this is not that review. Rather, I will simply note that as a guy writing a lowly-trafficked blog sitting on his couch thinking about football, I sometimes wonder if I'm going off half-cocked. Yeah, Billick, arrogant Ravens coach, as a Titan fan I hate him, blah blah blah. He's a credible and sometimes thoughtful insider who's describing the current state of the game in some important ways exactly the same as I'm seeing it. That sort of confirmation can make for a nice pick-me-up. Unfortunately, in a way this book is almost too good, too recent, too accurate, and could therefore be mostly obsolete within three years.

Bonus Novels:
A. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. I have said before, though possibly not out loud, that the world can be divided into two groups of people: those who have read and greatly enjoyed Cryptonomicon and those with whom it is probably not worth having a general conversation. This is, of course, a gross exaggeration and absolutely not true at all, but that doesn't mean it's not a principle you couldn't and shouldn't live your life by. My favorite pat of it changes every 6 weeks or so, but perennial favorites include the dinner party, the business plan, and Scott and Laura.
B. Dune by Frank Herbert. The Dune series (the initial sextet, not all the follow-up nonsense) is, to me, best described as a slide, but it's one starting from an incredibly high peak. Herbert creates an amazing world and tells a great story. This is a book to press on open-minded readers who normally abhor science fiction.

The more perspicacious among my readers will realize that several of the aforementioned works are by authors with a partisan reputation or otherwise more political in nature. I have, for various reasons, adhered fairly scrupulously to There's No Politics In Football in my postings, which was another one of the reasons I hesitated to write a post like this one. To explain why, I will note a great story from Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals. Goodwin, in an attempt to explain why it was worth spending 800-odd pages writing about Lincoln's cabinet relates a fascinating anecdote from Tolstoy about telling a bunch of Siberian peasants, I believe, everything he knew about Lincoln because they were insatiably curious about this man who had been head of this country they knew very little about 20 or 30 years ago. To them, Lincoln wasn't just this old dead foreigner, but someone who dealt with matters that were of great interest to their lives.

Similarly, to me, there are really very few questions that are actually particularly interesting. The books above that may seem more political in nature all address one or more of those particularly interesting questions in some way, and at a minimum helped me resolve or crystallize my thinking about the question. That a book is included in the list above does not represent agreement with any particular viewpoint discussed in the book, let alone a complete endorsement of everything said therein, nor that there are not other, better books that address the same question.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Total Titans

New post up at Total Titans, this one the post listing the Titans' picks in the 2010 draft after today's announcement of the compensatory picks.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Total Titans

New post up at Total Titans, the first of what will be a multi-part series on how much the Titans offense improved when VY became the starting quarterback. How many parts? I don't know yet, since it depends on how much time I decide I want to spend on the series, plus how fruitful future posts end up being. I'll probably wrap the running back carry data into this series, as part of the comparison, since it seems like a major deal. Tentatively, I'll look at each quarterback's sacks and what happened, though that question may be more dog that didn't bark. I'll probably also do other tape posts, looking at comparing the two, though I'm not sure yet how I'll do that. Receiver target data will also probably end up in this series, looking for a corresponding change. I hope to do at least one post a week on this series; it's something I'm still in the process of thinking about and have barely started researching, not something I have drafted or even planned out.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Assorted Links

Minor housekeeping note: earlier today, I added some old posts from where I used to write, most notably a review of Pro Football Prospectus 2005. Pardon the lack of more substantive work, but I spent most of the previous week on my butt with a nasty stomach bug and I've long overlooked this for other stuff.

Interesting but not necessarily meaningful: road team record, by number of visits to stadium. Data dump by Jason Lisk of PFR.

Also from Jason, he continued his series on the AFL versus the NFL with looks at the Super Bowls and most-merger results before concluding by posting the annual power ratings. Overall, a very interesting exercise by Jason.

A story we'll probably end up hearing more of: ex-NFL'er Dave Pear: "I wish I never played football.".

Players reporting to teams on other players having concussions: "We ain't no snitches over here." See also, of course, the Matt Bowen article where he reported he flubbed the healthy standards test so he wouldn't get benched if he did have an actual injury. And, of course, pain is part of the game.

It's fun to read interviews with cranky older guys, like this one with Fran Tarkenton. Best quote: "And the quarterback for the Jets, I mean he looks like he's never picked up a football. The Jets don't even let the guy play anymore. They play him, but they make him hand the ball off 80 times a game because he doesn't get it."

All-Decade teams for college football, as selected by Dr. Saturday and friends: Offense and Defense.

The NFL's Rooney Rule is wracked with loopholes, ignored by teams when they want, and generally broken. NFP's Andrew Brandt suggests how to fix it: with the ubiquitous cure-all of the blue-ribbon panel! Michael Lombardi has written before about how minority candidates should embrace it and use it as an opportunity to show their stuff and learn notwithstanding the shambolic nature of their interview, but teams have no incentive to really go along with that. And don't expect Roger Rex, a card-carrying member of The Exclusive Country Club, to push for meaningful change.

One thing I bookmarked a few links and have been deleting is Big Ten expansion. If you're interested in the subject, the guy to read on this is Frank the Tank. Bookmark and read, because he's thinking right and people who tell you otherwise (the Big East could add Cincinnati, or Iowa State, or West Virginia!) are entirely wrong. Start here, then read followups one, two, and three.

Random interesting newspaper series: Tulsa World on high school football recruiting.

Why the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective is not on the blogroll and will not be on the blogroll: this post on kickoff return length is a good example of why. It looks at average kickoff return length as a measure of the effect of the NFL's wedge ban. This figure is calculated by calculating per team averages. But, it ignores that we're operating in a dynamic environment here, and the key effect is where teams start after a kickoff as opposed to where we end up after the length of the return. After all, we could see things like teams choosing to return fewer kicks, or teams intentionally kicking the ball shorter on kickoffs. The simple things I checked were average kickoff length, without adjusting for team variations or onside kicks. It increased from 64.12 yards last year to 64.81 yards this year, so the purported non-change in kickoff return now looks like a .72 yard difference in field position. The percentage of touchbacks also increased from 14.48% to 16.50%. So, rather than the no effect found by the HSAC post, it seems like the wedge ban may have had a major effect on kickoff returns, reducing their frequency and shortening their distance. Note that I'm not actually sure this is the case, but I think it's a plausible result given the data here.

Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana, playoff mediocrities before they were playoff superstars. It seems quite fitting while watching the NCAA tournament to write about massively overrating small sample size theater.

Not really a news flash: successful teams in college football spend a lot of money.

I've long felt, intuitively, that the people who use conventional statistics to argue that Joe Namath is overrated and should not be a Hall of Fame quarterback are wrong. To those people, I present this post by Jason Lisk supporting my case.

Finally, for now, I'll be writing a Total Titans post on this PFR post on which quarterback stats stay consistent when a team makes midseason quarterback changes.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Assorted Links

Wow, it's been a long time since I've done one of these. I'll be sorting out a lot of links, since there's not much point in putting up a link about, oh, the NFL's decision to stop the supplemental revenue sharing when there's already been a decision that, despite what they want, they can't stop supplemental revenue sharing.

That said, I did enjoy this post by Jack Bechta about his agent pitch.

A characteristically exhaustive post by Travis at Quirky Research on palpably unfair acts, featuring examples beyond the 1954 Cotton Bowl.

A useful hiring checklist for college coaches, from Robert Boland of NFP. As for coaching hires where the team might not have followed that checklist, see Brian Kelly at Notre Dame.

Identifying the source, from another Bechta article, this one on coaches:
I’ve also heard, but can’t confirm, that one AFC coach told his team owner that if he pulled the pension, “you will have my resignation on your desk.”
Hmm, let's count the AFC coaches from November 17 with Super Bowl rings: Bill Belichick, Mike Tomlin. Hmm, this year the Patriots are going without coordinators. 2+2=5, for sufficiently large values of 2.

Always timely: USA Today's work on collegiate coaching salaries, with a useful look at the increasing cost to Mizzou of Gary Pinkel's on-field success. The superstar, of course, remains the coaching contracts database.

Mid-season factoid: 300 yard passers win almost as much as 100 yard rushers, and if you eliminate the games where both teams had 300 yard passers, they won at a higher clip than 100 yard rushers (though without the same adjustment). Just more evidence of how it's becoming a passing game.

Another one from PFR: in figuring out how much a quarterback actually plays, draft position and performance level both matter. If I told you that Malcolm Gladwell, channeling David Berri, argued to the contrary, you probably figured that already.

Second Rick Gosselin: Canton needs a contributor category.

The high cost of bowl games: school's ticket guarantees. Going to bowls is not necessarily a winning proposition for a school, in direct cost terms. In a real sense, the schools that make money off bowls are the ones that go to the big money bowls and the ones that win 5 or fewer games and get to share in the conference bowl revenue without the expense. HT to The Sports Economist.

Finally, for now, FO colleague Doug Farrar over at one of his other homes, Yahoo!'s Shutdown Corner, put together a list of the top 10 strategic changes of the 2000's.

More links probably coming later this weekend, when I get cranky at basketball again.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Total Titans

Yes, I've come out of my hibernation. New post up on signing of LB Will Witherspoon.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Total Titans

New post up at Total Titans, commenting on how the Titans may get 4 compensatory picks. That total comes off the great work projecting compensatory picks done by AdamJT13. You should definitely check out his projections post for the full list of picks if interested.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Total Titans

Last in the positional analysis series: running backs (including fullbacks). The success rate by distance stuff is ending up as a separate post, which may (but probably will not) be up as soon as tomorrow.

Book Review: All Madden

First was One Knee Equals Two Feet. Next came Hey, Wait a Minute. Then came One Size Doesn't Fit All. Now, as I sort of conclude my tour of the works of John Madden (with NYT scribe Dave Anderson), is All Madden: Hey, I'm Talking Pro Football. The book to read, if you're interested in Madden's insights into pro football remains One Knee. All Madden falls into the same category as One Size-Madden's thoughts on the players of the era (1996, 10 years after One Size) and stories of his life as a commentator. Madden remains an entertaining storyteller, and I don't regret having read any of the books I have, but I really haven't gotten much out of them since One Knee. All Madden was the last Madden book I had on my shelf owned but unread, and while there are others out there, I see no reason for me to acquire or read them.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Total Titans

Total Titans' position-by-position look at the Titans as they enter the 2010 offseason continues with my look at the safeties. Last up, the RBs, which should include some of the stuff I talk about in this post and never got round to writing up.