Monday, January 28, 2008

Skip Bayless, Hack or Tool?

a few minutes ago I happened to walk past my TV which I had left ESPN's "First Take" on and was hit with the stupidest sports question I've ever heard, "Who is more dominant in there respective sport, Tiger Woods or Tom Brady?


Even allowing for the usual amount of ESPN hyperbole and Pats ball washing that is ridiculous.

First of all you are comparing a individual sport to a team sport. Every single win of Tiger's is his alone. Brady doesn't do a single thing on the football field without the help of 10 teammates on offense and doesn't win a game without the help of 40-some teammates plus a large coaching staff. If Tiger has a bad day, he loses. If Brady gets outplayed by Chad Pennington (who wasn't even the starter for that game) or throws three picks in a playoff game his team still marches on towards 19-0.

Tiger Woods is in a class of his own. I don't even follow golf and I know that. Brady is great and an argument that he's the best in the game today can definitely be made, but he isn't in the same class of dominance as Tiger simply because you can make an argument that one of his contemporaries (Peyton) is better without being laughed out of the room. No one argues that Tiger isn't the best golfer around today, because he clearly is. Whether you think Tom Brady is the best or not, there is another QB in that discussion, making him nowhere near as dominant as Tiger Woods.

Donovan McNabb who was a guest on the show, answered Tiger without hesitation. Skip Bayless then took the side of Brady. The question is, is he a hack who took the opposite side, no matter how wrong simply to make an argument? Or is he a tool of unheard of proportions who actually believes that there is a bigger gap between Tom Brady and
Peyton Manning than between Tiger Woods and ?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Fixing the Special Teams

Football Outsiders DVOA ranked the Colts special teams dead last overall, 31st on FG/XPs, 29th in kickoff coverage, 26th in punt coverage, 24th in kickoff returns and the lone bright spot, 6th in punt returns. You don't need advanced stats to tell you the special teams were awful, it was obvious. They cost the Colts a minimum of one win (@SD) and put the offense and defense in bad situations the entire year. How does a team that requires top level speed from it's linebackers, great tackling ability from it's DBs, has a 288lb DT who is fast enough to cover kicks and employs the highest paid kicker in the league suck on special teams?

I have to point the finger at the coaching. The talent is there, the Colts love the kind of defensive players that most teams relegate to special teams, undersized speedy LBs and D-linemen, hard hitting DBs, even some with top level speed (Giordano/Jennings), they used a fifth round pick on Roy Hall (who hardly played in college) because he had the physical talent to contribute on special teams immediately, not as a returner, on the coverage unit. Dungy and Polian see special teams as such a problem they are using mid round picks on kick coverage players. The Colts special teams have been above average once in Russ Purnell's time as the Colt's special team coach (2003, 14th in the league and that's with Vanderjagt perfect on FG/XPs). The Colts kickoff unit has varied between bad and embarrassing, but remained below average for Purnell's entire 6 years with the Colts. The Punt unit has hovered around the low side of average with occasional dips to horrible. The return units are consistently average. Russ Purnell=bad special teams play.

Was Vinateiri hurt? If he was I'm willing to writeoff his horrible season, but if not I'm worried. The highest paid kicker in the league should not be 12.4 points below the average NFL kicker. Hopefully his booming kickoffs and first successful 40+ yard FG in the SD playoff game means he was hurt for most of the year like some people were suggesting. If the Colts know he was healthy through that awful stretch of season Vinatieri should be on a tight leash next year. If this year is the kind of year the Colts will continue to get from him he can be added right below Corey Simon on the list of reasons the Colts don't sign big money FAs.

Hopefully the Colts will finally take steps in the right direction. Fire Purnell and figure out what the hell was wrong with Mr. Clutch. I don't want to dread kickoffs and punts anymore.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Another Brian Burke post on the lucky Pats

In it he tests whether there is any statistical evidence to suggest that some QBs perform have an ability to perform better in the redzone than others (they're clutch). He finds that which QBs do well in the redzone and which do poorly has little to do with how they do on the rest of the field, strongly suggesting randomness. QBs that perform better than average in the redzone are very likely just lucky. And who was really lucky in the redzone this season, Mr. Touchdown, Tom Brady.

I've said it before and will say it again, "Brady is a great QB, one of the top 2 in the league, but his shiny new TD passing record is a product of a lot of attempts, a bit of luck and having the force that is a motivated Randy Moss."

Monday, January 21, 2008

Here's what to look for

Mathis' pre-draft profiles:


NFL Draft

Len Pasquarelli
Robert Mathis of Alabama A&M (No. 5) isn't big enough to play end on a regular basis, and has no experience at linebacker, but it's hard to ignore the 17 sacks he registered in 2002. The Tony Dungy scheme will find some way to put him to use, probably as a third-down rusher.

Mel Kiper:
Indianapolis also got a potential sleeper in Robert Mathis, who could be good as a situational pass rusher and special teams player.

So that's the kind of guy I hope the Colts are looking for in the draft this year.

Those were all I could find from a Google search post more as comments if you find some.

Changes on the defense

The complete lack of a pass rush turned the top pass and scoring D in the league into one that gives up 264 yards and 3 TDs to Marmalard.

This has caused some questioning of the Colts style of defense, we should blitz more, mix up packages, etc. My response to this is, "The enemy of good is better," and if your defining #1 pass and scoring D as good, there's really not a whole lot of room for better, only worse. There is nothing wrong with the Colts defense that requires a change in scheme.
Freeney's return and Mathis and Brock getting healthy should do a lot to fix the pass rush, but a definite weakness in the Colts D was revealed this year, there are only two players on the defense that can get pressure from the outside. Polian needs to dust off some second day magic and find the Colts D another 2004-05 Robert Mathis, a situational pass rusher who can come in on passing downs and backup both DE position. Mathis in 2004 and 2005: 22 sacks, 1 start. Mathis fell to the fifth round in 2003, there are guys like him out there and the Colts need (another) one.
The other question on the D-line is whether McFarland should return or be cut for cap savings. Ed Johnson became one of a small group of undrafted players that started every game of their rookie season. Has he made McFarland unneeded and not worth his cap number? Well, the D was amazing all season with Johnson in the middle, but the Colts D with McFarland won them a Superbowl. On this one I have to answer "I don't know." If cap room is tight he can be done without, but keeping him would be great if possible.
Nickelback was the other sore spot on the defense. Tim Jennings was consistently out of position and committing penalties. Some of that is expected from a second year player who is asked to play on the outside instead of the slot and sometimes cover the opposition's best receiver (honestly, why did they put him on Moss, that was the dumbest thing I saw from the Colts all year). Rookie Dante Hughes looked strong late in the year and saw some time in the nickel package until a shoulder injury landed him on IR. He could take the nickel spot next year, he is basically Marlin Jackson Lite. That's good and bad. Jackson is a great cover two corner, but the Colts like to move him to the slot to hide his lack of speed. Hughes has the same problem, only one of them can play inside in the nickel leaving one on the outside in a mid to deep passing situation where they're are at their weakest, that's why a nickelback who can play on the outside is still needed. Polian loves drafting DBs so there should be a whole new batch of rookies to get a shot.
The linebacker position is as solid as it's ever been. Brackett is performing at a Pro Bowl level, Keiaho is the beast we thought he would be and Hagler grew into his role on the strong side. Rob Morris will be healthy and is under contract for next year and was playing well before his injury. Colts rookie linebackers might as well be in the witness protection program, because they are drafted and disappear for two years, but Clint Sessions found his way onto the field and was excellent in his limited playing time. The linebacker position appears to have recovered from the talent drought that allow Gilbert Gardner into the starting lineup.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Still kind of depressed about the Colts game

Not in my actual life, but following the NFL has been a lot less fun the last week. That said, Go Chargers and Go Packers.

The Chargers choice is for obvious reasons (I hate the Pats).

The Packers are because even though I bash Favre and his legion of ball washers a lot the Packers have history with me. The first NFL game I ever remember watching was Brett Favre in the superbowl. I rooted for the Packers then and I guess I'm reduced to doing it again.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Disappointment and Moving On

The Colts season is over. No repeat, no chance to end the perfect season, no three extra weeks of awesome football for the fans. Did I scream obscenities and throw things? Only during the Cromartie INT return. Did I cry like a baby? No. Do I feel like we lost to a better team? No, but they outplayed the Colts yesterday. Am I searching for a scapegoat? No, there's a large share of blame at everyone's feet today. The D regressed, they generated no pass rush and committed stupid penalties. The Offense turned the ball over three times while in scoring position and failed to put the ball in the endzone from inside the 10 for the win, but I'm over all of that now. There are football fans dwelling on the loss, some tastefully and rationally, others likely less so. I'm sure between the two groups everything the can be said (no matter how right or wrong) will be said about the game, so instead I'm taking the more optimistic angle : What do the Colts need to do over the long 7 months until next season? The playoff loss is still fresh in my mind and it would be ridiculous to ignore the game that eliminated the Colts so it will be part of the analysis, but it isn't the focus.

I'm breaking down the offseason into 4 parts that I'll cover in detail later (there are 7 months until next season I'm sure I'll beat them all to death)

What to change? (offseason plans/goals)
The FAs
The Cuts
The Draft

Changes on the offense
The 2007 Colts were done in by injuries and poor execution, so nothing resembling the offseason overhaul many teams need is required for the Colts. On offense inexperience and poor execution were the problems, but that doesn't mean no changes are needed. Kenton Keith showed the he can run the ball at an NFL level and was good in pass protection, but he cannot catch the football well enough to be a runningback in the Colts system. Keith is more likely to have a successful run (58%) than catch a pass thrown to him (57%). Best of luck to you elsewhere (likely in the NFL) in a system that doesn't require you to be a good receiver. The Colts need a new backup RB (Dom Rhodes, you still out there). The receiving corps is excellent if healthy, but depth is poor. If Marvin returns and recovers from his knee injury (please, please, please, please recover and return Marvin) then WR is an afterthought, with an elite top 3 in Marvin, Reggie and Gonzo. The O line struggled with injuries and both guards are free agents. Howard Mudd consistently turns middle to late rounders into NFL level guards so neither will return if they want big money. Tony Ugoh was a force when healthy and smashed the level of expectations set for a second round rookie starting at Left Tackle from day one. "The left tackle was defined by his weakest moment. He wasn't measured by his body of work, but by the outliers" (The Blind Side, Michael Lewis). Ugoh was at his weakest when it mattered most. Up against one of the top pass rushers in the game Ugoh contained him for 59 minutes, zero sacks from Merriman (the botched draw play was counted as Manning run), but on that final drive he was beaten with the game on the line. That moment reminded us all that he was still a rookie. He'll get better and maybe next season will stone Merriman in that final minute.
The offense needs to get the guard position settled and find a back with good hands to pair with Addai and they are set for another run.

Note: I know there are at least a few people out there reading. I'm not above talking to myself, but talking to actual people is better. If you disagree with anything I say or want to add or whatever please feel free to comment.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Divisional Picks/thoughts

There are four clear favorites this week (I thought, see odds below). This makes most peoples picks hard, but mine easy.

"All four favorites won't advance. There will be one upset, but I don't really see more than one happening"-everyone (Bill Simmons and Mike Golic specifically)

Yeah, you're probably right, but even if that is true you can either:
Try to guess which game is the upset and have a 1 in 4 chance at getting all 4 games right, but a 3 in 4 chance of getting two games wrong (the wrong upset pick + the actual upset)
Take all four favorites and lock in a 3 of 4 (75%, better than anyone gets long run)

And that's assuming a favorite loses. They are the favorites for a reason. They are probably going to win. Using Brian Burke's Win Probability from here The odds of all four favorites winning 26.4% (.74 x .80 x .55 x .81)
The odds of the most likely one upset combo 21.6% (.74 x .80 x .45 x .81)
The odds that the popular upset pick (Giants) is right 6.2% (.74 x .80 x .55 x .19)

If someone wants to bet you that all the favorites will win, take it, because then you get all four underdogs working for you. If you're just picking winners though the odds are with the favorites.

So give me the favorites. Pats, Colts, Packers and Cowboys

Bonus odds: Pats v Colts AFC title game next week 59.2% (.74 x .80)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

ESPN Reporter told by source that Ferentz is staying, reporter can't pronounce Ferentz

I keep ESPN on in the background while I'm on the computer reading real sports news. This usually just makes me angry and wonder why I do it. Yesterday was just another one of those days.

Some ESPN reporter was on with a breaking report from his sources, saying Iowa Football Coach Kirk Ferentz is staying at Iowa (just like he does every year) instead of jumping to the NFL. That didn't surprise me and I was actually happy to have any irrational fear of Ferentz leaving put to rest by ESPN. Then the reporter kept talking, this guy who supposedly has sources that know what coach Ferentz is going to do with his career, mispronounced Ferentz. Ok, once is fine, he misspoke it happens. He continued and over and over said the name wrong. How does he not know how to say the name when he has "sources" telling him that the guy is staying. How does he talk to his source and then not learn how to pronounce the name. Did no one at ESPN listen to the reporter talk before he went on. Ferentz isn't some nobody, he's a coach of a BCS conference team and a yearly NFL coaching candidate.

Repeat after me ESPN reporter with "sources" FAIR-rents not fur-RINSE (said as one syllable)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Some Tuesday stuff

3 of 4 on Playoff picks

Colts are looking healthy, Antonio Gates is not

Are the Pats a 14-2 team that got lucky?
According to Brian Burke's numbers they are. Those are also the numbers that outpicked every expert out there over the course of the NFL season.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Good Morning

It's 1:50 central time. The Bucs-Giants game started a while ago so I won't count my Bucs pick. Unless they are losing right now. Fair Enough?

The Chargers-Titans game is the one that I'm most interested in the result of, this game will set the Colts divisional round opponent. If the Chargers win the Colts get them at home. If the Titans pull the upset, they go to New England and the Jags head to Indy. The QB situation has some worried about who to pick/bet, it shouldn't. They both bring about the same amount to the table, not a whole lot. Collins is a competent passer and Young has great running ability. They are pretty close to interchangeable in how much they help their team. Only the Chargers have to worry about which one plays. The Titans will lose no matter who starts at QB. Chargers

Friday, January 4, 2008

Wild Card Saturday

Redskins @ Seahawks
The Seahawks are the better tea, but Washington has put together a great streak of games to sneak into the playoffs. The difference in DVOA stats between the 5-7 Redskins team that played the first 12 games of the year and the 4-0 Redskins that won
all of it's last 4 is almost entirely an improvement in third down defense. FO
readers know that a team performing differently on 3rd down than on 1st and 2nd is
likely to regress to the mean (1st and 2nd down performance). So a team playing very well on 3rd down, compared 1st and 2nd is probably going to stop playing over it's ability level soon*. That's the Redskins. The regression might not be this week, but it's (likely) coming. Seahawks.

*=The Peyton Manning led Colts have defied this general trend for most of Peyton's career. This is why FO's preseason predictions underestimate the Colts. It's factoring in a likely regression that isn't actually likely.

Jags @ Steelers
The Jags went into Heinz Field and dominated the Steelers for 3 quarters (22-7 through Q3). Then the Steelers got on track and put together two defensive stops each followed with successful drives , tying the game at 22 (one short drive following a Garrard pick and the other in true 07 Steelers fashion, overcoming a stuffed Parker run on first down and a sack on second, to convert 3rd and 18 to keep the TD drive alive).
The Jags outplayed the Steelers on their own field a month ago. They are likely the better team. They aren't the overwhelming favorite they are being made out to be, but they did win the previous game with, 3 quarters of dominance and held off the desperate comeback. The Steelers have relied on Roethlisberger to perform miracles being a awful O-line, usually in long yardage situation because Willie Parker is incapable of running for any gains between 2 and 15 yards (42% success rate, -11.3% DVOA). Parker is out, so the more consistent (52% success rate) Najeh "The Dump Truck" Davenport is the starting runningback. He could give them an offense that actually sustains drives. It's not the "obvious game" some make it out to be, but the Jags showed that they are the better team a month ago and did nothing to suggest they aren't the same team that beat the Steelers, while the Steelers have gotten worse if anything due to injuries. Jaguars.