Monday, October 24, 2011

Play Notes: 2011 Week 07 vs Houston-Run Defense

Data dump for another Total Titans post, this one on the rushing defense against the Texans in Week 7. Per normal practice, full details after the break.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Book Review: America's Quarterback

America's Quarterback: Bart Starr and the Rise of the National Football League is the third book by Keith Dunnavant I've reviewed on here, after The Fifty-Year Seduction and The Missing Ring.

As you might guess from the subtitle, America's Quarterback is a biography of Bart Starr. It's a well-done straightforward narrative of Starr's life from growing up, Alabama, Green Bay, and afterward, with the bulk of the time spent on his time as quarterback for the Packer dynasty under Vince Lombardi. Starr comes across, as he has in anything else I've ever read about him, as a consummate professional and very high-character guy.

Ultimately, though, and this speaks more to me than it does to America's Quarterback, it's well done, I appreciate it, but I just don't actually care. I had this same feeling about Missing Ring or for that matter about When Pride Still Mattered. I mentioned this on twitter earlier, but America's Quarterback and the other books about football I've been reading lately feel, well, small. Hypothetical Tyler Cowen who reads about football would probably dismiss all of them as insufficiently theoretical or conceptual, or at least that's the way I'm feeling right now.

That's probably a sign I need to start reading something else, which will likely mean few or no book reviews here coming soon. I do have out from the library Roger L. Martin's Fixing the Game, though I'm not sure I'll end up writing a review here about it. Perhaps I shall finally get around to Finding the Winning Edge.

America's Quarterback contains an index, source notes, and some bibliographic notes in the Acknowledgments section, which all nonfiction books should have and too many of them don't. I noticed a couple typos, none major. I should probably buy a copy of The League by David Harris. Recommended for what it is.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Book Review: Lombardi and Landry

Longtime New York Giants beatwriter Ernie Palladino's Lombardi and Landry: How Two of Pro Football's Greatest Coaches Launched Their Legends and Changed the Game Forever tells the story of one of those remarkable times in NFL coaching history: when Vince Lombardi was offensive coordinator of the New York Giants in the 1950's while Tom Landry was simultaneously serving as the Giants' defensive coordinator, and head coach Jim Lee Howell just got out of their way and let them run their units.

As subtitles are wont to do, Lombardi and Landry's overpromises something the book doesn't really try to deliver. Rather than a real explanation of how Lombardi and Landry changed the game, Palladino tells the straightforward narrative story of their time as Giants coordinators. I didn't see anything groundbreaking in the book, but the story is told well and flows quickly.

Lombardi and Landry isn't a special book, and it isn't one I see myself returning to in the future, but is a very solid book and one that was a quiet pleasure to read. Recommended for what it is.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Book Review: Year of Pain

Some books I feel like deserve a long review. Kenny Hand's Year of Pain: The 1989 Houston Oilers Season is not one of those. Hand, a longtime Houston Post scribe, as the subtitle suggests, put together a book chronicling the 1989 Houston Oilers season [N.B. Year of Pain was published in 1990]. Now, this is an old and much-imitated form of doing a book, and the results can be very good or, well, not so much.

My primary problem with Year of Pain is that beyond seeming a larger degree of access to Oilers coach Jerry Glanville than most journalists, I don't get the feeling that there's anything in the book that any other reporter covering the team, or now any other person, couldn't have written. It's better edited than a collection of my long-form game recaps when I wrote those every Sunday, but it doesn't feel fundamentally that much different. For one, there doesn't feel like much of an overarching narrative to the book. This isn't a fiction book; the outcome is known when the book is published, but the chapter on any individual game week could have been (and well may have been) written the week after that game, depriving you of any sort of bigger picture. Whatever its other faults, even Next Man Up was able to tell the story of a season, not just the story of individual weeks. Of course, as somebody who doesn't necessarily care about the normal narrative, reading Hand's normal columnist gloss on the game isn't necessarily helpful in getting a feel for what happened and why and how each game turned out the way it did; that's definitely a YMMV point, though.

Hand did at least have pretty decent material to work with. The Oilers were in the early days of their fun but ultimately deep unsatisfying run of seven straight years in the playoffs without making even a single conference championship game, and Jerry Glanville was under pressure to improve on the two previous wild card appearances. The AFC Central in those years was a good example of why the AFC was better than the conventional wisdom created by NFC Super Bowl triumphs would have you believe (that said, 1989 was the first year of the stretch where you could plausibly argue the NFC actually was better, though the AFC Central did go 11-5 against the NFC Central)-none of the Bengals, Browns, Steelers, or Oilers was a great team, but three of the four were coming off 10-plus wins in 1988 and each would end the 1989 season with 8 or 9 wins.

The season would go down to the finish line, as the Oilers lost their last two games to the Bengals (the infamous 61-7 game) and Browns to fall from a division title and bye to the wild card, and then completed the trifecta by losing to the Steelers in the wild card game. Glanville would leave the Oilers in the offseason (pseudo-non-firing) to coach the Falcons, and Jack Pardee would arrive for his four years of playoff disappointment. Oh, and those Oilers were also one of the most penalized teams in NFL history, a proud result of Glanville's policy of drawing the "too aggressive" line way past the "stupidity" line. The elements for an interesting book were there, but, well, it's a trip down memory lane for old Oilers fans only.

Bonus "hey, that guy" note for people who don't remember what famous people were assistants on the 1989 Houston Oilers: future Oilers/Titans general manager Floyd Reese and of course the defensive backs coach was future Miami Dolphins head coach Nick Saban.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

My 2011 Total Titans Archive

It occurs to me that with me not putting up a post here whenever I put up a Total Titans post, and with the site not having a sort-by-author function, I don't have a good way to keep track of which posts are mine. I have thus decided to create this irregularly-updated page of my Total Titans posts. In true blog fashion, it'll be in reverse chron order, with the newest material at the top.

UPDATE: Because of the length of this post, I'll keep it at one year's worth, so here are my Total Titans post from 2011.

DECEMBER 2011
2011-12-30: Texans Tribune answers Total Titans' questions about the Texans
2011-12-25: Tennessee Titans playoff scenarios
2011-12-24: Titans beat Jaguars, 23-17
2011-12-24: Tennessee Titans-Jacksonville Jaguars inactives, gameday thread
2011-12-23: Enemy Intelligence: Jacksonville Jaguars
2011-12-20: Titans who may be playing their final home game this week
2011-12-19: On the Titans' offense after Week 15
2011-12-16: Enemy Intelligence: Indianapolis Colts
2011-12-15: 18 to 88 answers Total Titans' questions about the Colts
2011-12-13: UFR: Jake Locker's play against the Saints
2011-12-12: Titans fans, what questions do you have about the Colts?
2011-12-11: Titans' upset bid foiled by Saints, 22-17
2011-12-11: Tennessee Titans-New Orleans Saints inactives, gameday thread
2011-12-09: Saints Nation answers Total Titans' questions about the Saints
2011-12-08: Enemy Intelligence: New Orleans Saints
2011-12-06: Titans fans, what questions do you have about the Saints?
2011-12-05: Field position and the Titans' defense
2011-12-04: Titans stave of Bills, 23-17
2011-12-04: Tennessee Titans-Buffalo Bills inactives, gameday thread
2011-12-03: Enemy Intelligence: Last week's Buffalo Bills game
2011-12-02: Buffalo Wins answers Total Titans' questions about the Bills
NOVEMBER 2011
2011-11-30: Updating field position and the Titans' offense
2011-11-29: Titans fans, what questions do you have about the Bills?
2011-11-27: Titans rally past Buccaneers, 23-17
2011-11-27: Titans-Buccaneers inactives, gameday thread
2011-11-26: Enemy Intelligence: Last week's Tampa Bay Buccaneers game
2011-11-22: I'm pretty much done with Chris Johnson
2011-11-20: Titans comeback fails as Falcons prevail, 23-17
2011-11-20: Tennessee Titans-Atlanta Falcons inactives, gameday thread
2011-11-19: Enemy Intelligence: Last week's Atlanta Falcons game
2011-11-16: Player Game Analysis: DT Karl Klug against the Panthers
2011-11-13: Tennessee Titans blow out Carolina Panthers, 30-3
2011-11-13: Tennessee Titans-Carolina Panthers inactives, gameday thread
2011-11-11: Enemy Intelligence: The previous Carolina Panthers game
2011-11-03: Enemy Intelligence: Last week's Cincinnati Bengals game
2011-11-02: Meandering thoughts on various issues about the Titans
OCTOBER 2011
2011-10-30: Tennessee Titans right the ship and beat the Colts, 27-10
2011-10-30: Titans-Colts inactives, gameday thread
2011-10-29: Enemy Intelligence: The previous week's Indianapolis Colts game
2011-10-28: 18 to 88 answers Total Titans' questions about the Colts
2011-10-27: More on Chris Johnson and the Titans' struggles in the run game
2011-10-25: Based on his play against the Texans, Chris Johnson is not really an NFL-caliber rusher
2011-10-25: Questions for Titans-Colts Q&A
2011-10-24: How the Tennessee Titans gave up 222 rushing yards
2011-10-23: Tennessee Titans crushed by Houston Texans, 41-7
2011-10-23: Tennessee Titans-Houston Texans inactives, gameday thread
2011-10-21: Texans Tribune answers Total Titans' questions about the Texans
2011-10-20: Enemy Intelligence: The last two Houston Texans games
2011-10-18: Questions for Titans-Texans Q&A
2011-10-17: On the Titans' offense at the bye week
2011-10-11: Damian Williams and Lavelle Hawkins, Men on the Spot
2011-10-09: Titans smacked around in 38-17 loss to Steelers
2011-10-09: Tennessee Titans-Pittsburgh Steelers inactives, gameday thread
2011-10-08: Titans-Steelers: Three players to watch
2011-10-06: Enemy Intelligence: Last week's Pittsburgh Steelers game
2011-10-06: Greg Cosell on Matt Hasselbeck
2011-10-04: Statistical tidbits on the Titans' offense through four weeks
2011-10-02: Titans take advantage of Browns' miscues for 31-13 win
2011-10-02: Tennesee Titans-Cleveland Browns inactives, gameday thread
SEPTEMBER 2011
2011-09-30: Enemy Intelligence: Last week's Cleveland Browns game
2011-09-25: Tennessee Titans-Denver Broncos inactives, gameday thread
2011-09-24: Thoughts on the Titans' pass protection against the Ravens
2011-09-23: It's All Over, Fat Man! answers Total Titans' questions about the Broncos
2011-09-21: Enemy Intelligence: Last week's Denver Broncos game
2011-09-20: How the Tennessee Titans shut down the Ravens' passing attack
2011-09-20: Titans fans, what questions do you have about the Broncos?
2011-09-18: Tennessee Titans topple Baltimore Ravens, 26-13
2011-09-18: Tennessee Titans vs Baltimore Ravens pregame thoughts, open thread
2011-09-15: UFR: Titans defense against the Jaguars
2011-09-14: Enemy Intelligence: Last week's Baltimore Ravens game
2011-09-12: UFR: Titans offense against the Jaguars
2011-09-11: Tennessee Titans fall to Jacksonville Jaguars, 16-14
2011-09-10: On the Tennessee Titans' 2011 season
2011-09-08: 2011 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: S
2011-09-07: On Quinn Johnson
2011-09-06: 2011 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: OLB
2011-09-05: 2011 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: C
2011-09-04: Tennessee Titans form 2011 practice squad
2011-09-04: On Chris Palmer's offense
2011-09-03: Tennessee Titans 53-man roster and analysis
2011-09-02: Some thoughts on Titans-Saints
2011-09-02: Titans roster cutdown open thread
2011-09-02: 2011 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: OT
2011-09-01: Tennessee Titans at New Orleans Saints preview
2011-09-01: Tennesee Titans re-sign Chris Johnson
AUGUST 2011
2011-08-29: Titans start cutdown process with Haye, 8 others
2011-08-28: 2011 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: WR
2011-08-27: Recap: Titans top Bears, 14-13
2011-08-27: Titans-Bears inactives, gameday thread
2011-08-25: Belated thoughts on Titans-Rams
2011-08-21: On Rob Bironas and expectations
2011-08-20: Titans-Rams preview
2011-08-17: Belated thoughts on Titans-Vikings
2011-08-13: Titans-Vikings preview
2011-08-10: Did the Titans have a problem covering tight ends in 2010?
2011-08-04: Titans add DB depth with Walker, Babineaux
2011-08-01: Titans re-sign Dave Ball, Jacob Ford, Ahmard Hall
JULY 2011
2011-07-31: Tennessee Titans sign TE Daniel Graham
2011-07-30: Tennessee Titans add LB Barrett Ruud
2011-07-30: Titans re-sign G Leroy Harris
2011-07-25: A pre-free agency look at the Titans' roster
MAY 2011
2011-05-08: I don't care about Jake Locker's stats against Nebraska
2011-05-07: How the Tennessee Titans gave up big plays in 2010
APRIL 2011
2011-04-30: Tennessee Titans close 2011 draft by taking DB Tommie Campbell
2011-04-30: Tennessee Titans add DT Karl Klug in 5th round
2011-04-29: Titans add DT Jurrell Casey in 3rd round
2011-04-27: Ranking the Titans' top draft needs
2011-04-24: Reviewing past Tennessee Titans drafts: 2005
2011-04-22: A pre-draft look at the Titans' roster: Defense
2011-04-21: A pre-draft look at the Titans' roster: Offense
2011-04-12: Tennessee Titans preseason schedule announced
MARCH 2011
2011-03-31: Tennessee Titans take DE Robert Quinn in Bloguin mock draft
2011-03-28: 2011 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: NB
2011-03-27: Titans picks in the 2011 draft
2011-03-23: 2011 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: CB
2011-03-14: How the Titans were intercepted in 2010
2011-03-10: 2011 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: G
2011-03-07: 2011 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: C
2011-03-06: Field position and the Titans' offensive success revisited
FEBRUARY 2011
2011-02-27: Do the Titans play better against the AFC South?
2011-02-26: 2011 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: TE
2011-02-20: Evaluating Randy Moss's Titans tenure
2011-02-16: Upon further review: Michael Griffin's interceptions in 2010
JANUARY 2011
2011-01-06: Evaluating Jeff Fisher's performance as Tennessee Titans head coach
2011-01-02: Tennessee Titans close out season with 23-20 loss to Colts
2011-01-02: Titans-Colts inactives, gameday thread

Monday, October 03, 2011

Book Review: Showdown

Showdown: JFK and the Integration of the Washington Redskins by Thomas G. Smith tells the story of how the Washington Redskins were essentially forced to start using black players. D.C. Stadium, later RFK, was just built on federal land. JFK's Interior Secretary, Stewart Udall, in furtherance of federal government regulations banning discrimination on the basis of race, declared the Redskins, who'd signed a 30-year lease for the facility that was crucial in getting it built, wouldn't be allowed to play in the new building unless they agreed to add their first black player. Redskins owner George Preston Marshall got Udall to agree to a one-year extension, then drafted and otherwise acquired black players. The end.

Admittedly, the story is somewhat more complicated than that. Marshall, who originally acquired the team when it was in Boston and then moved it to D.C., made a conscious business decision that seemed to match his personal predilections to keep the team lily-white, even at the cost of success on the field. Baseball and the rest of the NFL integrated, the Redskins got worse, Marshall kept trying to act like he was a football man like his friend George Halas, the Redskins got even worse but still apparently made money, then eventually agreed to integrate under federal and NFL pressure.

Smith pads out the Redskins integration story with some of the color of Marshall's life and the story of integration, including perspective from the black newspapers. The Redskins integration story itself is relatively thin; Smith, a professor of history, got on to the story from writing about Udall and environmental policy. The subtitle is misleading-Udall seems to have done it on his own, without any push from or even the assistance of JFK and the rest of Camelot. Marshall spent the last half-decade-plus of his life in particularly ill health, estranged from his family, and didn't seem to ever have elaborated on why he made the final decision to integrate or even go to court for the right to use the stadium without integrating. Bobby Mitchell, the most notable player to integrate the Redskins, might have been able to share some interesting tales; he gave Smith an interview in 1985, when the academic work that formed the basis for Showdown was being written, but didn't cooperate with the actual writing of Showdown (which ended up not being released until September 2011).

Questions that I'd like to see flesh out notwithstanding, Smith tells the story in Showdown reasonably well, and I can see why the suggestion was made to expand his academic articles into a book, but at just over 200 pages of narrative, the book feels about 50 pages too long. As you'd expect from a book by a professor, Showdown includes endnotes, a bibliography, a brief bibliographic essay, and an index, each a feature too often missing in books about football. I noticed a couple nits; the man who threw to ball to Don Huston is referred to as Arnie "Huber" rather than Herber, some of the Redskins stock sales are referred to as purchases but sound more like redemptions (a distinction you may have to be a corporate attorney to care about), and one more that's so important I don't remember what it was.

Overall, I found Showdown an interesting story about something I hadn't known that much about. The material wasn't quite enough for a fully-satisfying book, but it was a worthwhile read as a library rental. Recommended for what it is.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Play Notes: 2011 Week 02 vs Baltimore-Pass Rush

Another post that's primarily a data dump, this aimed at judging the Titans' pass rush against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2 of the 2011 NFL season. Even less detail than last week's simple defense UFR. Read the Total Titans post for the analysis and takeaways [note to self: insert direct link to Total Titans post once it's done.]

As per normal course, full details after the jump.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Simple UFR: 2011 Week 01 at Jaguars-Defense

I gave you the offense a couple days ago, now it's time for the defense.

I haven't really done true UFR for the defense before outside of just play notes on preseason games. If I had to put things in a spectrum, these are much closer to play notes in terms of responsibility than "true" UFR, which I think of as much more hardcore into grading and analytic measures.

There are few personnel notes-I didn't record when the Titans were in nickel or other interesting formational bits unless particularly relevant to the play. As with the offensive breakdown, the only separator for drives is what's listed in the Gamebook, the team name and time. I've bolded those, and added two-spaces. I also didn't do drive recaps like I used to, but will probably include those if I have time to do this going forward.

Full details after the jump.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Simple UFR: 2011 Week 01 at Jaguars-Offense

Along the lines of the data dumps I've done recently, here's a simplified version of the Upon Further Review I used to do. Note this is only the offense.

One thing I've modified from the original UFR as I did it is personnel and formation. That's listed under "PERSONNEL". The first item is the formation, but I've changed and simplified nomenclature. I-formation is obvious, and I've used 2x1, 2x2, or 1x3, etc. to show how many receivers are to one side. This includes, for the most part, everybody not an in-line tight end or back. Left side of the formation is listed first, so 1x2 means one receiver to the left side and two to the right side. Then come personnel, first RBs/backfield people, then TEs, then WRs. WR are generally listed from left to right. For instance, "3x1, CJ, Cook, Williams/Washington/Britt" would indicate CJ is the lone setback, Williams was the wide receiver to the left side, Washington in the slot to the left, and Britt the right-most receiver. Cook's location isn't specified, but he lined up largely in the slot. One thing I plan to do for next time is include Cook or anybody else with the WRs whenever he's listed in the formation (3x1).

The only separator for drives is what's listed in the Gamebook, the team name and time. I've bolded those, and added two-spaces. I also didn't do drive recaps like I used to, but will probably include those if I have time to do this going forward.

As per normal practice, full details go after the jump.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Book Review: Swing Your Sword

Autobiographies, particularly autobiographies of famous people take several different forms. Normally there's a ghostwriter involved, and the celebrity may not have very much involvement in the book. Most famously, Charles Barkley claimed to have been misquoted in his autobiography. Sometimes the celebrity is very involved and actually even writes, or at least sets the tone of, much of the book.

Having never met or had personal contact with Mike Leach, it's difficult to say how precisely Swing Your Sword: Leading the Charge in Football and Life matches his personality and personal style. That said, I've read a decent amount of Leach-related material the last few years, and Swing sounded an awful lot like what I think Leach looks like. Some credit for this must go to his ghostwriter, Bruce Feldman, but Swing is a very engagingly and entertainingly written tour of Mike Leach's life up to and through his termination by Texas Tech and his relocation to Key West.

Beyond the degree of involvement to the celebrity, one of the things that helps dictate how interesting a celebrity autobiography is is just how ... revealing the celebrity is interested in being. Swing is a tour of Mike Leach's life, starring Mike Leach and Mike Leach's career and accomplishments. He's worked and come into contact with some people who are interesting and/or accomplished, like Hal Mumme, Bob Stoops, and Dana Holgorsen, but even people who give half-page or one page blurbs, like Leach's quarterback at Texas Tech Graham Harrell, don't come alive. They're mostly paper cutouts, not fellow stars in the firmament.

That relative lack of depth is a recurring theme in the book. You get a feel for Leach and the way he thinks, but I'm not sure it's hugely deeper than what I already knew. Swing is probably best viewed as an entertaining trip through an entertaining coach's career.

For a much more useful review, see that by Chris Brown of Smart Football, who has had both personal contact with Leach and more familiarity with the airraid offense and Leach's version thereof.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Book Review: NFL Record & Fact Book 2011

Another year, another edition of the NFL Record & Fact Book. See my review of the 2009 edition for a basic description of what the book is.

To release this year's edition at the normal time around the start of preseason, the NFL had to print the R&FB based on rosters as of the day before the lockout, plus the draft picks. Thus, all the free agency moves after the lockout that are in Football Outsiders Almanac 2011 are not included.

I've only skimmed the 2010 edition for changes, but these are the changes I've seen:
1. The rundown on overtime procedures seems to have been removed.
2. There's a list of the number of active players permitted in a game over time (going back to 1925), plus the numbers for player movement in the free agency era.
3. The cover in the past has featured the image of a Super Bowl-winning player. This year's cover instead as the 32 team shields.
4. Most game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime since 1970 has been added.

By now I'm in the habit of buying it every season. It's a useful reference to have nearby when I'm watching games and sometimes if I need to look up a particular item or two when writing something. On balance, though, if you're only looking for current information, you can find pretty much everything in the Record & Fact Book online, either on NFL.com or P-F-R.

UPDATE (9/05/11 1913 CT): Item #2 wasn't removed, just moved to a new section and with an entry added to the table of contents.
UPDATE #2 (9/07/11 2207 CT): Item #1 wasn't removed, just moved to a new section. Jon Zimmer (@NFLHistory on twitter) also noted most GW drives by QB has been added. Note, though, their numbers don't match those listed by P-F-R based on Scott Kacsmar's research (see parts one, two, and three), whose numbers are transparent enough I have some trust in them. For example, John Elway is listed as having 40 (p.310), while P-F-R has him with 35 fourth-quarter comebacks and 46 game-winning drives. Maybe there's a methodology issue involved.

Book Review: Football Outsiders Almanac 2011

So, yeah, Football Outsiders Almanac 2011. It's the latest edition of the annual from the people at Football Outsiders. For the second year in a row, that group includes yours truly, and you can find my name on the cover page.

I'm not even going to pretend to give you some sort of objective review of this book. I did the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans chapters. Neither is perfect; subjective, my favorite chapter I've done is the Jaguars one last year.

We held the book this year until after the lockout, so we had a couple frantic weeks of writing and editing. There are probably more flaws than there have been in the past, but I'm pretty confident the book's not the disaster too many rush projects are.

I've reviewed previous editions of the annual, which was known as Pro Football Prospectus through 2008, on here. My review of PFP08 is probably the most useful.

FOA2011 is available in print from Amazon or Createspace, or in PDF download from the FO online store.

Disclosure: As a co-author, I got a free PDF copy of the book, though I did have to pay for my hard copy.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Titans-Saints data dump

As I did recently for the Vikings game, it's time for a play-by-play comments data dump for the Titans' most recent preseason games. Notes on each first-half play of the Saints game after the jump.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

On Terrelle Pryor's Suspension

Since this seems to be a bit of a lingering issue, I thought I'd bother to collect my thoughts on Terrelle Pryor being permitted to enter the NFL draft but also being suspended for five games. My first thought upon hearing the news was that Roger Goodell had spun his Wheel of Justice again and it had somehow landed on five games, the precise length of time for which Pryor would've been suspended had he returned to Ohio State this fall. After a couple minutes of thought, though, I decided that, as much as I don't care for Roger Goodell and his image-conscious discipline strategy, I actually agreed with Pryor being suspended as a condition of being permitted to enter the Supplemental Draft. As to why, well...

The purpose of the Supplemental Draft is to provide an opportunity for football players whose eligibility status changes between the time of the January early entry deadline and the Supplemental Draft deadline. The NFL’s argument against letting Pryor in the Supplemental Draft was that his status didn’t really change much if at all between January and now; rather, he decided the deal he’d agreed to in January (sit 5 games, then resume playing) was a bad deal. To the extent he’d taken actions within his control since then that would’ve affected his eligibility (hiring an agent, openly taking benefits, etc.), the NFL does not believe the Supplemental Draft should be available to those players because they can be used as a method of manipulating the regular Draft process.

The poster boy for this draft manipulation is Bernie Kosar. A native Ohioan, he wanted to join the Browns. He bypassed the regular entry Draft, where the Vikings likely would’ve selected him, but entered the Supplemental Draft, where he was indeed selected by the Browns. The NFL frowns on that sort of thing, and modified the Supplemental Draft eligibility rules after that.

The NFL is therefore very conscious of players whose status doesn't change between the regular early entry deadline in January and the Supplemental Draft date, and hesitant to let those players into the draft. Thus the normal supplemental draft players are guys like Caleb King, who loses his academic eligibility for the fall after January, Mike McAdoo, who lost an appeal of his suspension and can't play this fall, or guys who apply for an extra year of eligibility and are denied after January (I believe Titans FB Ahmard Hall was eligible for this reason). Pryor could have made a case that his circumstances with the NCAA changed enough that he should've been eligible, but I don't find it a persuasive argument, and apparently neither did the NFL. Pryor could have sued, but any litigation wouldn't have been resolved quickly and he likely would've had to wait until next April's regular draft. Rather than end up in court, the NFL and Pryor’s reps agreed on the suspension so he could play in the NFL this year.

The part that the NFL should have made clear is that Pryor’s suspension is an NFL suspension, not an NFL enforcement of his collegiate suspension, and they should’ve made the suspension a different number of games (I’d have been fine with 4 or 6) to reflect that it was a different suspension. However, I think Roger Goodell as part of his image-conscious discipline strategy would like the ability to suspend players for violations of NCAA rules and otherwise while not under the NFL's aegis, so that evidently wasn’t a concern of his. That, however, was not why Pryor was suspended.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Titans-Rams data dump

Here are my notes on each play of the first half of last Saturday's preseason game between the Rams and the Titans. I wrote a sort of summary post over at Total Titans, but this is the raw data. Notes are fairly long, almost 2k words, so they're going after the jump, and also unedited.


Friday, July 15, 2011

An Ode to Lockout Coverage

With apologies to Albert Breer, Dan Kaplan, and everybody else who's doing the best job they can...

Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.


Macbeth, V, v, 23-28.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Unread List

Just because, here are the books about football I own and haven't read yet:

Richard Whittingham, Rites of Autumn
John Sayle Watterson, College Football
Michael Oriard, Reading Football
David Nelson, Anatomy of a Game
Robert W. Peterson, Pigskin
Chris Willis, The Man Who Built the National Football League
Andy Piascik, Gridiron Gauntlet*
Lou Sahadi, One Sunday in December
Dave Klein, The Game of Their Lives
Mark Bowden, The Best Game Ever
Jonathan Rand, The Year That Changed the Game
Dave Steidel, Remember the AFL
Sean Lahman, The Pro Football Historical Abstract
Carroll/Palmer/Thorn, The Hidden Game of Football
Carroll/Palmer/Thorn, The Football Abstract
John Maxymuk, The Quarterback Abstract
Steve Belichick, Football Scouting Methods
Mike Ditka, Ditka
Bill Walsh, Finding the Winning Edge
Jim Tressel, The Winner's Manual for the Game of Life
Bill Walsh, The Score Takes Care of Itself
Kenny Hand, Year of Pain
Tom Bass, Play Football the NFL Way

Don't worry, the list of books not about football I own and haven't read yet is several times long than this list. There's also the 100+ football books listed on the spreadsheet, and then you have the strategy books, and all the books that are far enough down the priority list they're not even on the spreadsheet, and all the football-related PDFs I've downloaded...

*-Copy provided gratis to Football Outsiders.  Yes, I feel bad I haven't read and reviewed it yet.

UPDATE (5/30/11, 2059 CT): I neglected to mention Roy Blount's About Three Bricks Shy, which I've been pretending to read for the last two-plus months.

Book Review: The Big Scrum

Well, my New Year's non-resolution to read at least one book about football every month lasted a whole three months before falling by the wayside. I did read Scorecasting in April, but (i) it's not a real football book, and (ii) I didn't find it interesting enough to review here. But April has passed, and I can't go back and read a book about football then, so it's time to move on.

It's a relatively familiar story, to many football fans: the game called football at the dawn of the twentieth century was a bloody scrum more like a particularly violent version of rugby than today's more elegant (well, sometimes) game. The brutality came to a peak in 1905, when 18 players died. Teddy Roosevelt used the bully pulpit to declare football needed to be changed, and the powers that be got together and instituted a series of rules changes, most notably the introduction of the forward pass. Football opened up from the scrum, fewer people died, and life went on. The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football by John J. Miller retells this story, and a lot about Theodore Roosevelt's devotion to a strenuous life. An awful lot about Roosevelt's devotion to a strenuous life, from a sickly youth up to his time as President in 1905 and beyond.

The key 1905 rules changes come toward the end of The Big Scrum and cover 30 or so pages toward the end of the book. The first 180 or so pages cover the development of football as a game, and more detail than I particularly cared on Theodore Roosevelt's opinions on a vigorous life and on the wonderful virtues of football (which game, I will note, he spent just as much time playing as yours truly or, for that matter, Pope Urban II). The main antagonist in the story is Harvard's President, Charles W. Eliot. Whereas in Stagg's University, when Chicago dropped football, President Hutchins was opposed to all athletics, Eliot like Roosevelt was a follower of Muscular Christianity, and personally devoted to fitness; it was to football's brutality, team nature, competitiveness, and emphasis on winning that he found fault with.

In telling the story of the 1905 rules changes, Miller does not seem to trod any new ground, but draws on standard accounts, most notably the work done by John Sayle Watterson. Of course, many people will not have read Watterson's work (yours truly included, even though I do own and have skimmed much of College Football), and Miller's story will be of greater value to them. If you're like me, you want and plan to read Watterson, and Ronald A. Smith's work, and maybe even Mark Bernstein and Allison Danzig. If you are like me, you can safely give The Big Scrum a pass.

If, on the other hand, you have nary an interest in reading more detailed and scholarly treatments of how college sports and football in particular developed, and you're interested in Theodore Roosevelt's life story explored through his interest in the strenuous life, you might enjoy The Big Scrum.

Aside from finding Theodore Roosevelt and his avocation of the strenuous life and the great virtues of a game he never played quite tiresome, I have no complaints about the writing of The Big Scrum. Includes many footnotes for a book directed at a more popular audience, all of which may be skipped by those not interested, and an index, both of which should be standard in books of this nature but which sadly are not. As I often do with nonfiction books, I read the bibliography first and saw Miller cited most of the books I expected him to, including all of those referenced above, but not Nelson's Anatomy of a Game or Walter Camp's American Football (though he does cite Camp's later 1896 work). Miller writes for National Review, a conservative/Republican periodical, but I did not feel the heavy hand of partisanship in Scrum.

For more on Miller and Scrum, see Hey Miller, his website. Miller does a book podcast, Between the Covers, which I listen to regularly but whose guests may tax your partisanship tolerance. Blogfriend Nate Dunlevy of the Colts blog 18 to 88 reviewed Miller's book and did a podcast (mp3 link) with him.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Titans 2011 Draft Recap

Another April weekend, another NFL draft. As I try to do every year, it's time for me to put down my idiosyncratic, pessimistic, snarky thoughts on the players the Tennessee Titans drafted this year. That way, in 6 years when it's time to pass judgment on how the picks actually performed on the year, I can claim plaudits or you can laugh at how silly my predictions were. Players names are links to the relevant Total Titans post. No trades to consider this year, so you won't see any of that analysis.

#1-8: Jake Locker, QB, Washington
A.k.a. the pick by which the Titans draft will be judged in the future, rightly or wrongly. I've been a personal fan of Locker since early in his Washington career, but right now he's not accurate enough to be a good NFL quarterback and I'm skeptical of the idea of spending a first-round pick on a player who's not accurate enough and may never be accurate enough. I'll still be rooting like heck for him, though.

#2-39: Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA
Hello, defensive makeover in progress. Ayers was seen as more of a 3-4 linebacker prospect than a 4-3, as he moved around a little bit for the Bruins. DC Jerry Gray said he plans to use him more as a true Sam linebacker, a position the Titans haven't used much lately. Personally, I thought the Titans and Cowboys, who picked UNC LB Bruce Carter with the next pick, would've been better off with the other team's pick.

#3-77 Jurrell Casey, DT, USC
The Titans' raid on the Pac-10 continues. Some people loved Casey, others were more skeptical. I didn't think the Titans had a need a defensive tackle really at all, and a third-round pick seems like a real luxury for somebody who'll play inside. I hope it's a good pick, but who's the last USC player to live up to or exceed his draft status. Brian Cushing as a roided-up rookie, but beyond him, Steve Smith-WR-NYG, and there've been several others since then.

#4-109 LB Colin McCarthy, Miami-FL
I don't have strong feelings on McCarthy. Hopefully he'll prove useful, but his injury history suggests he might not be. Might be an MLB-OLB tweener, so I'll be curious to see just how the Titans use him.

#4-130 Jamie Harper, RB, Clemson
A bigger back who doesn't always use his size effectively or run with the power you'd think he'd have. Gee, where have I ever heard that one before. Prediction: he'll get 300 more carries than he should over his first two years, and has less than 100 carries for a team other than the Titans. I really hope I'm wrong about that, but hitting on Chris Johnson seems more like random luck than any sort of evidence the Titans know what they're doing when it comes to running backs. Yes, I know the front office and staff hasn't been the same the whole time, but the stink permeates the organization.

#5-142 Karl Klug, DL, Iowa
I liked him better when his name was Mitch King and he was an undrafted free agent and not a fifth-round pick. Granted, it was still stupid to pay King one of the top signing bonuses given to a UDFA that year when he couldn't have been more than the 10th defensive lineman on your team. I guess there's a chance with the defensive makeover Klug could be the 7th or 8th defensive lineman on the team, but he wouldn't be higher than 10th on a team with a real defensive line. Looks like a wasted pick.

#6-175 Byron Stingily, OL, Louisville
Whee, a developmental tackle prospect. Hopefully he'll pan out, but no great shakes if he doesn't.

#7-212 Zach Clayton, DT, Auburn
Let me get this straight: the Titans come into the draft with four decent defensive linemen, then draw three more? Something does not compute here. I'll try to do a Total Titans post figuring how the mess will shake out, but Clayton's a DT, not even a potential DE tweener like Klug. Another real WTF pick.

#7-251 Tommie Campbell, DB, California-PA
Another guy with a pretty good story-not quite Todd Williams, but still making the best of what he can after throwing away some opportunity early. I'm not opposed to fliers on seventh-round defensive backs.

But if this draft is going to work out, Chris Palmer and Dowell Loggains are going to have to do some very good work with Locker and Jerry Gray is going to have to sort out a mess of defensive players in a way that makes a lot of sense. Otherwise, this draft is going to go down the toilet like 2006's mostly did.

Big Play Data Dump

I just wrote a post for Total Titans on how the Titans gave up big plays in 2010. This is the supporting data for that post.

Because of the length of this post, I've stuck most of it behind a read more tag.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Book Review: The Little League That Could

Another short review this time.

Ken Rappoport's The Little League That Could: A History of the American Football League is a light and fairly readable run through the history of the AFL, from its founding by Lamar Hunt, Bud Adams, and friends up through the Chiefs' victory in Super Bowl IV. It hits the expected high points, with overviews of each of the championship games, draft wars with the NFL, the New Orleans All-Star Game boycott, the merger, and the Super Bowls.

Personally, I found it a little too light. The high points are hit, but I already knew about them from reading other books like America's Game and Going Long and the fantastic TV series that aired on NFL Network "Full Color Football," all of which I enthusiastically recommend, plus other books on the sidebar and other things I've read. I enjoyed reading Little League, but didn't get much out of it.

Index, no bibliography, list of interviews. Most valuable to people who know very little, if anything, about the AFL and its history. If you don't know much about the AFL and want to learn about it, though, you should read the other works I mentioned first, and if you do that, there's not much point in reading Little League.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Book Review: The Games That Changed the Game

There was a troika of football strategy books that came out that fall. Having read and reviewed both Tim Layden's Blood, Sweat and Chalk and Pat Kirwan's Take Your Eye Off the Ball, I finally turned my attention to the one I'd actually anticipated the most, The Games That Changed the Game: The Evolution of the NFL in Seven Sundays by Ron Jaworski, Greg Cosell, and David Plaut. Jaworski and Cosell are known for their work on ESPN's NFL Matchup show, and it's a good pairing for talking about more of the technical football stuff in a way that's accessible to those of us who never played the game at a high level (or, like yours truly, at all).

If you're interested in a more conventional sort of review of the book, I commend to you FO colleague Doug Farrar's view of the book and also the podcast Doug did with Greg Cosell. As is normally the case, my "review" will be more my ramblings and thoughts on the book and where it fits into the grand scheme of things.

Setting Kirwan's book aside, because I didn't like it very much, Games is clearly much more technical than Layden's Chalk. Whereas Chalk was much more the history of football evolution by storytime, Games goes more into the detail of what happened, and what sort of impact it had. Jaws et al focus on a single game in describing their innovation, and their innovation and the games are mostly well-chosen. The game that sort of sticks out is Super Bowl XXXVI, and Belichick's focus on hitting Marshall Faulk; gameplans designed to take away a single player's unique ability didn't exactly begin in 2002, and that sort of monomaniacal focus on a single player hasn't propagated itself the same way the West Coast Offense or the Zone Blitz has.

The focus on games is also an interesting one, and works both well and not so well. If you treat innovations more generally, as Layden does, you have to navigate between the Scylla and Charybdis of talking about the changes in more general terms and cherry-picking individual plays. Talking about individual games lets you drill down in more detail about what teams did and how they incorporated the changes into the whole rest of what was already going on. The Bears played maybe a third of the 1985 rout of the Cowboys in a 46 front-that's a lot, yes, but it's not like they did the same thing the entire game, and they had success both in the 46 and in their more conventional formations.

One downside of writing about individual games is you don't see how the specific changes themselves changed over time. Take, for instance, the chapter on the zone blitz. The instant game was against the Bills, and though the Steelers lost, center Kent Hull, who made all the line calls, talked about how the Bills' standard line calls were totally incapable of handling Dick LeBeau's innovation. Obviously teams did adjust and learn better how to deal with a zone blitz, but the focus on a single game doesn't, in my view, do a particularly good job of handling the changes that are more transitory like the 46 with the ones that are more persistent, like the zone blitz which exists in pretty much the same form 18 years later. Obviously, this is part of the tradeoff in deciding how you're going to structure a book.

One note of caution: as mentioned above, this is a more technical sort of book than Layden's. Football books mostly tend to go to one of two extremes: the hard-core coaching manuals, which normally feature a lot of jargon and aren't designed to be accessible to the casual fan, and most books written for a popular audience, which I like to describe as not being about football at all but instead about people who happen to do football for a living. I'd say Games is aimed at the more serious casual fan, the kind of person who watches NFL MatchUp. There are a couple diagrams per chapter, but they talk about a number of plays in each game just in written form, without diagrams. I generally didn't have an issue following them, but I had to concentrate more on those passages to get a better understanding of what's going on. I also have some experience writing about that myself, which I think makes it easier, and am more of a hardcore fan who voluntarily reads stuff like that. If you're not a serious football fan, Chalk is the better, more accessible book.

There are a few places I could go with some of the strategic stuff, but I think those are best explored in other posts at another time. This review also probably comes off as a little too critical. I really enjoyed reading Games, and it had a lot of good content. That said, it's not for everybody, and isn't at the same level of insight as more general and comprehensive books like New Thinking Man's Guide or One Knee Equals Two Feet, or the closest thing to a modern equivalent, More Than a Game (which I still need to re-read and write a review for).  Strongly recommended to those who think they'd enjoy it.

UPDATE (5/25/11 2244 CT): For an alternative take, see Chris Brown of Smart Football.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Book Review: The Ultimate Super Bowl Book

Sitting on my shelf for the past year and change has been The Ultimate Super Bowl Book by Bob McGinn, and with the Steelers and Packers squaring off tomorrow, I thought I'd finally get round to reading it. Having done so, it's time to write a review.

Ultimate Super Bowl Book is really forty-three chapters, one on each of Super Bowls I through XLIII, plus random lists of superlatives scattered throughout, generally in a relevant place. That something is a collection of connected associated material rather than an actual book is a common complaint of mine in my reviews, but here it's perfectly appropriate. Ultimate Super Bowl Book is really a reference work rather than a book, and it's perfectly fine for it as what it is. In putting together the chapters, McGinn did an impressive amount of research, interviewing no fewer than four people associated with every single Super Bowl and reading enough about them to tell a coherent story about each one. Each chapter also includes a full box score, plus the starting lineup and lists of reserves for every game, which is very useful information that is not collected in any single book I have. My one complaint about the information is that each game has list of scoring plays, but as in the case in P-F-R's box scores, the time of each scoring play is not listed.

One interesting thing that comes out occasionally is the recriminations players or coaches have about how things came out. You hear the obvious stories, about Rams players angry at Mike Martz for not running the ball enough against the Patriots, but they're a common story. Take, for instance, the five Super Bowls preceding that game:
XXXI (GB-NE): Bill Parcells leaving the Patriots screwing up preparations;
XXXII (GB-DEN): Holmgren's failure to adjust protections, letting the Broncos score in part because of a down mixup, and calling a rarely-used play on the crucial fourth-down call at the end;
XXXIII (ATL-DEN): Eugene Robinson's arrest and subsequent decision to play him;
XXXIV (STL-TEN): Titans offensive coordinator Les Steckel throwing Kevin Dyson under the bus for running his route at the wrong depth; and
XXXV (BAL-NYG): Giants defensive players blaming coordinator John Fox for unnecessarily complicated defensive calls against an unthreatening offense.
Obviously, pretty much any game story could include these kinds of recriminations, but the seem more prevalent in this book than they normally are. Mind you, this isn't a criticism of McGinn's work, more a comment about what my impression was.

One other note is I read it in fits and starts over about a week. It's a much more enjoyable read browsing a chapter or two at a time than trying to read through in chunks. I can't see myself ever reading it straight through again, but it will be on my end table tomorrow during the game and I can easily see myself picking it up whenever I need or want to read more about any non-recent Super Bowl. Recommended for what it is.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Book Review: Houston Oilers: The Early Years

Short review this time.

In Houston Oilers: The Early Years, Kevin Carroll tells the story of just that, the early years of the Houston Oilers. The book concentrates heavily on that inaugural season of 1960, with the remaining third-plus on the second season of 1961, so when the book says "the early years," it means it. The book is primarily an oral history-not explicitly so a la Going Long, but the content is based heavily on interviews with the living former Oilers (published in 2001, so the number of them is undoubtedly smaller now). The book is divided into a series of chapters covering games and former players, and takes you that the two seasons.

The book is competently done, but I was never particularly enthralled by it and it took me more time to finish it than I expected it would, simply because I never felt myself compelled to read more of it. I was never particularly engaged, and you don't get the same sort of broader perspective in The Early Years you do reading the sections of Oiler Blues covering the same time period. I'd say it's similar to That First Season, only it feels less professionally-done. For Oilers die-hards only, and optional even in that category.