Thursday, February 16, 2012

My 2012 Total Titans Archive

As I did for 2011, this will be an irregularly-updated list of my, and only my, Total Titans posts for 2012.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Book Review: War Room

Michael Holley's War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team continues the tales he began in Patriot Reign as Scott Pioli and Thomas Dimitroff finish their New England tenures and move on to their own jobs in Kansas City and Atlanta, respectively.

I criticized Patriot Reign for being relatively content-light. War Room is nominally about fifty percent longer, but effectively close to twice as long, with a shorter introduction that doesn't bog down the book nearly as badly. There are more interesting things to tell, such as Pioli's and Dimitroff's struggles to impose new regimes with the Chiefs and Falcons, and how those are both similar to and different from the ones they experienced and learned from in New England. Both men were obviously strongly influenced by their time with Belichick, but without simply being clones of him.
War Room also drops a few nuggets, which I don't recall Patriot Reign doing at all. The biggest ones come from draft day deliberations, where the Patriots picked noted busts Laurence Maroney and Chad Jackson in the first and second round over the objections of their scouts. They had instead been endorsed by people outside the building, namely Josh McDaniels' brother Ben at Minnesota for Maroney and Belichick's close friend Urban Meyer for Jackson. The Titans had actually done something similar the year before, reportedly relying on tight ends coach George Henshaw, whose son played at West Virginia, for a positive character evaluation of Adam "Pacman" Jones. Henshaw was fired after Jones' rookie season. As far as I know, Belichick and Meyer are still friends, and Ben and Josh McDaniels are still on speaking terms. In fact, Josh would hire Ben to be his quarterbacks coach in Denver, where the brothers tried to resurrect Maroney's career without any success.

I didn't find any deep insights in War Room, though I freely admit I read most football books as a deep amateur looking for a way to pass the time rather than as a professional looking to extill insights. There are also a couple things Holley doesn't seem to get, either from a Boston-centric viewpoint or they're not obvious and nobody actually bothered to explain them to him, with the foremost example in my mind that Spygate (covered only briefly) exacerbated an existing anti-Boston sentiment arising from a belief that the Patriots were willing to push to the edge of the rules and beyond, if they could get away with it, which they could (see increase in illegal contact penalties, 2004, post Colts-Patriots). War Room is currently available in the Kindle edition for $4.99, and is worth that price more than Patriot Reign is worth $2.99 on Kindle.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

My 2011 NFL Awards

For This Given Sunday, we made our choices for a number of NFL awards, which were aggregated into this post. As my individual votes and writeups weren't included in the site, I'm re-printing my email here.

MVP: It's Aaron Rodgers, and for half of the year it was laughably not close. Rodgers cooled a bit the second half of the season, partly the result of some struggles at offensive tackle, partly some issues with the receivers, and partly because it's darned near impossible to play virtually mistake-free football for an entire season. Drew Brees of course put up more numbers, but he also dropped back to pass 138 more times. Brees' sheer volume includes a lot more short passes designed to get playmakers in space and to complement the Saints' running game, so it's no surprise he had a higher completion percentage than Rodgers. He still threw more than twice as many interceptions, and that's no surprise, because every week he gives defenses multiple opportunities for turnovers.

Rookie of the Year: Carolina went from a pathetic to competent and at times quite prolific offense primarily because of the tremendous upgrade Cam Newton represented over the vast abattoir of suck that was Matt Moore, Jimmy Clausen, and whatever else the Panthers called what they rolled out at quarterback in 2010.

Defensive Player of the Year: With all due respect to Jason Pierre-Paul's one man band effort for the New York Giants, Justin Smith was probably the key to the San Francisco 49ers' outstanding defense this year, lining up in different positions, soaking up blockers, and generally creating havoc from a 3-4 defensive end position where creating havoc rarely ranks high on the results list. As impressive as rookie Aldon Smith's 14.0 sacks were, he should probably give half of them to Justin for his role in creating them by disrupting protection schemes and drawing double coverage.

Offensive Player of the Year: Too often, the most outstanding offensive player of the year is the person who actually wins the MVP award, and some player who puts up outstanding numbers but either for a lesser team or just isn't as good as the person who wins MVP. It's nice to recognize the great year Drew Brees had, but Aaron Rodgers was both better and more valuable.

Comeback Player of the Year: Cam Newton reminded us that Steve Smith was still good, but Smith was also good in 2010. He was just hard to see amidst the dross in Carolina. I'll instead go with Matt Stafford, who after missing most of 2010 with shoulder surgery, started all 16 games en route to leading the Lions to the playoffs in 2011. Granted, it helps when you have a player like Calvin Johnson, but he came back from injury, answered questions about his health, and showed the promise that led the Lions to choose him first overall in the 2009 draft.

Coach of the Year: Jim Harbaugh instilled the San Francisco 49ers with the toughness Mike Singletary always talked about, and added more creative offensive play-calling, better management of quarterback Alex Smith, and a new defensive coordinator who brought better results. With the 49ers holding the #2 seed in the conference, you can't kick the NFC West champs around the way you've been able to the past couple years.

Book Review: Patriot Reign

How do you have extensive behind-the-scenes access to the top decision-makers for one of the NFL's most secretive franchises for the better part of two seasons, write a book about it, and not have much interesting in it? That's the question I have to ask of Michael Holley's Patriot Reign: Bill Belichick, the Coaches, and the Players Who Built a Champion. Sitting down to write this review perhaps a dozen hours after finishing the book, I find myself at a loss to talk about the interesting insights I gleaned from reading it. Perhaps reading it would've been a more valuable experience when the book first came out in 2004, but even then I doubt it. Too much of the book is devoted to the time before Holley had the extensive behind-the-scenes access (the first third, roughly), and too much of the remainder is taken up by descriptions of game action where Holley's access provides little, if any, value-add over a game recap written the day of the game. In what's left, there's not much insight into any of Bill Belichick, Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis, or Scott Pioli beyond what I already knew, and the players are almost complete ciphers. I may have said unkind things about Next Man Up, and still think they're true, but Feinstein's at least was a relatively complete portrait of a team in a season; Patriot Reign doesn't even get that far.

Despite my quibble with whether reading Patriot Reign was a particularly valuable use of my non-infinite time, reading it was a relatively pleasant experience. If you're a Patriot fan who wants to read about your favorite team and don't care about deep insights and unique content, you could do worse. For serious football fans, though, there's little if anything of interest or importance. And I'm still planning on reading Holley's newer book, War Room.