Thursday, January 16, 2014

Caldwell Apologeia

So I can't say I'm too excited by the Caldwell hire.  I will say that from a contrarian perspective, I'll bet he does much better than most people think.  Sentiment is fully against him.
 
Regardless though, I can't say I would have been very excited by any of the candidates.  Lovie was the only one who I liked and it doesn't appear that the Lions strongly considered him.  My dream was that the team trade a first round pick to the 49ers for Harbaugh a la the Belichick deal 15 years ago.
 
But as you all can tell from the subject, this email isn't to bury Caldwell, but rather to praise him so praise him I shall.
 
1.  I've had a philosophy for quite a while, mostly with personnel but also with coaching that if you don't trust management to make the right pick then your team of choice has much greater problems than the head coach.  This doesn't guarantee any kind of success with Caldwell, but it does presume that the team vetted him thoroughly and he was among their final choices.  It also presumes that management expects him to be successful.

2.  Caldwell's coaching prowess [sic] cannot be easily measured by the performance of his teams.  This isn't an endorsement of course, but more of a 'it's all under the hood' type of argument.  He was HC for Wake Forest and then the Colts late/post Manning.  It is notable that his first Colt team went 14-2 and lost in the Super Bowl.  You can count the number of Super Bowl coaches available for hire on zero fingers now that Whisenhunt, Lovie, and Caldwell are gone.  This team was among the worst in the league in yards allowed yet finished 8th in scoring defense.  They also finished 7th in scoring offense yet were a threat to go undefeated until they pulled Peyton at halftime with a multiscore lead and a 14-0 record.  This team also held Baltimore to 3 points in the Divisional round.
His second year the team went 10-6 as the defense fell apart.  His legacy from his Colt tenure marked more by his mind-numbing times out in the Wild Card game which led to a Jet FG and loss than by the Super Bowl appearance the year before.  And of course in year three he lost Peyton, most of his games, and ultimately his job.

3.  He isn't being asked to do a lot.  This isn't a team that needs rebuilding, it's a team that needs stability - precisely the type of team that he's already succeeded with.  The Lions need two things right now, discipline and ... errr .. discipline.  The first is to remain collected, not do stupid things, accept what comes.  Schwartz is a hothead.  A good coach, but a hothead and the team took its lead from him, committing countless stupid penalties, often at the worst times.  Merely having a coach who preaches calm should help here. 

The second discipline is between Stafford's ears.  I think everyone understands that Stafford has as much physical talent as any quarterback in the league.  What he hasn't developed is the mental acuity to exploit his physical advantages.  He recently told the press that he doesn't need a quarterback guru, to the dismay of - well - everyone.  Caldwell has a great record with quarterbacks.  He was quarterbacks coach with Penn State while Kerry Collins was there.  While he didn't have much success with his QBs at Wake Forest (notable only for Brian Kuklick) his time with Peyton Manning cannot be overlooked.  While it can be debated whether Caldwell influenced Manning's development, it cannot be debated that merely being in the presence of Peyton had to have helped Caldwell.  I think all Raven fans would agree that not only did he represent an enormous upgrade at OC when he came, but that he also brought something to Flacco or at least that he was able to deliver the offense to Flacco's skillset.  If he can duplicate this in Detroit, the team will be in the playoffs annually.

4.  He is fully qualified.  This isn't a Raheem Morris/Mike Tice type of hire.  This is a guy who has been a coordinator for multiple teams, a head coach for multiple teams.  It is impossible to argue that he's inexperienced for the job.  He may be incompetent - that remains to be seen - but if so it will be experienced incompetence.

5.  He's black.  This point really can't be underscored enough.  Black head coaches in the NFL have an excellent record overall.  The list is astonishingly short, of course, but also astonishingly successful.  Not count Fritz Pollard in 1921, and not counting interims, there have been 15 black NFL head coaches.  Of those 15 only Romeo Crennel, Mike Singletary and Raheem Morris failed to take their teams to the playoffs at least once.  Crennel and Morris both had 10 win seasons, Singletary an 8 win season.  Flores, Dungy and Tomlin each won Super Bowls while Lovie and Caldwell each lost one.  Additionally, Shell and Green (twice) took their teams to conference championships.

6.  Finally, he's learned.  I can't prove this of course, but I assume that everyone learns and that Caldwell couldn't have 'won' the interview without displaying skills that he may not have had in the past.  Stafford (and Bill Ford Jr) sat in on Caldwell's interview and Caldwell proceeded to break down film showing Stafford where he could have made better decisions in certain spots.  While Stafford may publicly deny the need for a quarterback whisperer, everyone welcomes a mentor when the situation presents.  If Caldwell can be a mentor to Stafford, if Caldwell can get Stafford to take that next step to disciplined player, then this hire will be a success and so will the team.

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

It's Alive

Chris sent Zippy and I an email a few days ago. the OblongSpheroid domain is/was up for renewal and he was curious if we wanted to keep on. The last two years we've had a total of 15 blog posts, none since February.

Fair question.

Our fair answer was yes, of course. We have a lot of history here. And some day someone is really going to want to be called OblongSpheroid.com so why would we ever want to give that up?

I suppose though, to be a blog you ought to - you know - blog occasionally. I've noticed that most blogs go through the same lifecycle. A lot of passion followed by a period of less passionate effort simply to preserve the momentum, followed by tailing interest and inactivity. I've also seen the inevitable short-lived renaissances where the blogger will make great promises to resume blogging and maintain that pledge for a day or two.

The fact is, without the reward of feedback (or money) it is tough to believe that our words aren't merely vapor. I think it was an advantage for use to have three guys instead of one, because at least we were reading each others' posts and commenting. We have a couple of friends who follow the blog too and occasionally post. All of this could be accomplished via email, of course, and in the last couple of years that has been our main medium.

So here's a post. Going to keep the bar low, not promise a renaissance. Heck, won't even provide football content. Just a post about posting. A promise that the last post wasn't the last post and a further hope that this one isn't either.

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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

5 Year Record

Updated:
TeamReg seasonPost seasonGrand Total
20082009201020112012Sum20082009201020112012Sum
Baltimore Ravens1191212105421114963
New England Patriots11101413126021363
Green Bay Packers6111015115341558
Pittsburgh Steelers129121285332558
Atlanta Falcons119131013561157
New Orleans Saints813111375231456
New York Giants1281099484452
Indianapolis Colts121410211492251
San Francisco 49ers7861311.545.512348.5
New York Jets9911864322447
Houston Texans89610124511247
Chicago Bears9711810451146
San Diego Chargers813987451146
Philadelphia Eagles9.511108442.52244.5
Dallas Cowboys911688421143
Denver Broncos884813411142
Minnesota Vikings10126310411142
Tennessee Titans13869642042
Arizona Cardinals9105853731441
Miami Dolphins11776738038
Cincinnati Bengals4.510491037.5037.5
Seattle Seahawks4577113411236
Carolina Panthers12826735035
Washington Redskins84651033033
Tampa Bay Buccnrs93104733033
Oakland Raiders5588430030
Buffalo Bills7646629029
Jacksonville Jaguars5785227027
Kansas City Chiefs24107225025
Cleveland Browns4554523023
Detroit Lions02610422022
St. Louis Rams21727.519.5019.5

Ravens #1, baby.

In the table, ties are broken by postseason wins, where applicable, under the theory that one postseason win is worth more than one reg season win. It's a slightly greater accomplishment. Thus the Ravens are #1 ahead of the Patriots! Also the Jets get the nod over the Texans, and the Vikings over the Titans. Ties remaining after that are broken by the most recent reg season record, under the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately theory. Thus Packers ahead of Steelers; likewise Bears over Chargers, Broncos over Vikings, and Redskins over Buccaneers.

For comparison, last season's list is here.

The main reason Baltimore moves up 45 spots from last season, is that their 5-win 2007 season came off the books, while they posted another good great year. For the first time the chart includes only the Harbaugh-Flacco era Ravens.

More interestingly, the Patriots stays at the top even though their Imperfect Season dropped off the chart. First, of course they had another great season. Second: the #s 2-3-4-5 teams from last year were Green Bay, Pittsburgh, the Giants and the Saints. Pittsburgh and New Orleans had mediocre seasons this year. The Packers and Giants had good seasons; but like the Patriots, they had great seasons drop off the back end of the list. Last year, the first season on the chart was Brett Favre's last season in Green Bay: they won 13 reg season games and advanced to the conference finals. They lost to the Giants, who rendered the Pats season Imperfect. So even though the Pats had 16 wins drop from their chart before the season began, the Packers and Giants each had 14 wins drop off, and couldn't catch up.

My rule of thumb is, any team with a grand total of 45 or over is doing something right. That's an average winning record, nine wins per year, in a league where winning at all (let alone winning consistently) is extremely difficult. These are the most successful organizations in the sport. Note that the Chargers are just on the right side of this line, which I find somewhat surprising. Also note that the Eagles are just half a game out of this. Considering the debacle there this year, that really points out how consistently excellent even the tail end of Andy Reid's tenure was.

Note technically a total of 40.5 or better represents a “winning” record, barely. That would average out to 4 yrs of 8-8 and one year of 8-7-1. I personally think that is nothing to write home about: but it beats losing. These teams in the 41-44 win category are in a second tier. It's nice to see Dallas firmly in mid-tier territory. I assume Denver is trending up for another couple seasons. Minnesota will have trouble breaking up out of this tier: they would need to win 10 and 12 over the next two seasons, just to stay where they are. Seattle and maybe Cincinnati should move into this tier next season.

At the other end of the spectrum: man St Louis is horrendous. But they seem to be moving up. Detroit will get a bounce next year, as their big zero comes off the books. Even a bad record would move them up. I'm not sure who to project into the bottom spot for next season. Maybe Jax?

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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Just Happy To Be Here

I'm surprised how completely I'm buying in to the notion that just getting to the Super Bowl is a crowning accomplishment for a team. 

Most Super Bowl losers are more or less consigned to the dustbin of history.  No one really gives any credit to the Panthers for a great accomplishment in 2003, or to the Cardinals for a great run in 2008, or to the Titans for being a great team in 1999.  Those teams lost, and they are nothing.  And that's weird actually, because the games those teams lost were magnificent, down-to-the-wire nailbiters.  The Panthers lost on an Adam Vinatieri field goal with 4 seconds on the clock.  The Cardinals lost on a thrilling last-minute TD pass in the back corner of the end zone, 35 seconds on the clock, fabulous catch, a play that was endlessly shown as a highlight all offseason.  The Titans lost when Kevin Dyson was tackled one yard shy of the end zone on the final play of the game.  These are games that VERY EASILY could have gone the other way, teams that were just as good on Super Sunday as their opponent.  But those teams lost, and therefore suck.

The only real exception to the “losers are nothing” rule is
the Imperfect Patriots, who were 18-0 going into the Big Game, and lost.  Maybe the Colts of Super Bowl 3, old Johnny Unitas and Earl Morrall and Tom Matte, losing the game of “The Guarantee”.  But everyone else, we forget.

So that explains why I'm “surprised”.  More difficult to explain why I'm buying it, that just getting there is a big deal: because despite all of the foregoing, I'm really excited and happy for the Ravens who have gotten to the big game.  We usually vilify teams who are satisfied just to get there, but just getting there is an extremely satisfying accomplishment.  These Ravens have banged their head against the conference championship door a few times in the last 5 season.  Getting IN is tremendous.

What makes it special is the two week layoff, the long pause during which you are at the very top of the game.  Prior to the Ravens being part of it, I have looked down my nose at Super Bowl week and Media Day and the endless empty “analysis” and the blather & hype that goes with all of it.  But now that the Ravens are in it, it seems like a humane tradition.  Picture CBS playing “One Shining Moment” at the end of the NCAA Tournament, but this song goes on for two weeks. 

Ed Reed gets a piece of center stage!  Have you seen how happy Ed Reed looks, in all his press conferences?  Deeply, deeply happy.  Like I've never seen him before: utterly relaxed and at peace.  The stupidest questions elicit from him a fond, indulgent chuckle; and he's a guy who often seems bitter & angry when put in front of a camera.  Getting the Hall of Famer to this game and this stage, in his home city, is a worthy deed.  Terrell Suggs is a guy in less need of a raised platform; but he's a 10-yr veteran who's been a big-enough part of enough greatness to “deserve” a trip to this game.  Matt Birk, Haloti Ngata, Vonta Leach, Marshall Yanda, Ray Rice: these are guys any NFL fan could root for getting their chance to trot onto the field Super Sunday.  Joe Flacco gets to push aside all that “elite” stuff: for two weeks he is a Super Bowl QB, and the critics are nowhere to be found.  Anquan Boldin & Brendon Ayanbadejo get to return to the Super Bowl.  And yes, Ray Lewis doesn't end his career in the anonymity of a road loss in the divisional round.  For the last two weeks of the football year, he is the biggest star in the NFL.

So, getting here is enormously satisfying.  These two weeks stretch out, in a really nice and enjoyable way for a Ravens fan.

I have to admit, I'm a little concerned that just getting here BETTER be enough.  Because the game itself worries me.  It's a common observation that these Ravens remind of recent Giants teams, 2007 and last year.  Scrappy teams with a puncher's chance, who heat up and make the most of what they got.  Aaron Schatz writes: “here we are again, with the 'mediocre team gets hot in the playoffs' conundrum.”  Those teams won.  But I'm afraid the Giants team these Ravens most resemble, is the one from a dozen years ago.  They were a scrappy, above-average but not great team, that surprised a couple opponents in the playoffs and advanced to the Super Bowl.  There they ran into a VASTLY more physical team, and they got destroyed.  The opponent was younger, faster, stronger, on both fronts.  The game was not competitive.  That's what I worry about with this game.  San Francisco is younger, faster, and stronger on both fronts.

These two teams played 14 months ago, and I thought the Niners were younger/faster/stronger then.   The Ravens only won because of the home field / travel advantage, and because they were a little farther along the program-building arc than the Niners were.  The Ravens were accustumed to playing in “that game,” they did it twice (sometimes thrice) a year vs Pittsburgh; whereas the Niners were still brand new to the idea of being a great team.  And the Ravens had a slightly more fully-functional offense, with their QB and OC having the whole playbook.  But that was last season.  The Niners have gotten better since; and the Ravens have for the most part just aged.  San Francisco has had a whole year (and two conference championship appearances) to grow into the role of being a great team.  There's no short week / long travel advantage for the Ravens here, both teams are a short walk from the stadium. 

San Francisco is an awfully strong team.  Ben Muth writes that the best unit in football is the Niners O-line.  Not the best O-line, the best unit overall; and the Ravens have been appallingly vulnerable to a strong rushing attack all season long.  The Niners have an outstanding front seven, while the Ravens have been inconsistent on the O-line thruout the season.  And Jim Harbaugh has big brass balls (see: Veer, Collin Kaepernick).  There's just a lot to worry about in this game, if you're a Ravens fan.

The reasons to be hopeful, for a Ravens fan, mostly revolve around what we've seen in the playoffs.


  • Ray Lewis pointed out that the first time he, Suggs, Reed and Bernard Pollard all played together this season, was the first playoff game.  Plus Haloti Ngata has been trudging along at about 80% for most of the year.  Is the healthy Ravens D we've seen in the playoffs a much more capable squad than we saw during the reg season?
  • Have Jim Caldwell and Joe Flacco discovered magic offense sauce?
  • Is the revamped O-line a solid unit?
  • Is Collin Kaepernick still an inexperienced QB after only 9 starts?  Can he be baited into some game-changing mistakes, by Mr Ed Reed?  Who, by the way, will be playing in his home state.  If I had to pick the one Ravens defender most ready to make an impact play…
Is that stuff real, or is it a mirage?  Tune in Sunday.  In the meantime: wow, what an awesome moment this is.  Patrick wrote a nice email to us Ravens fans, late after the conf championship.  It went:

I am happy for you guys.  It’s a special time, the next couple of weeks, regardless of the outcome on 2/3.  I’ve been fortunate enough to be a fan of a few great teams balanced at the precipice of the pinnacle – as the Ravens are now – to know how exhilarating it is.  IMO the anticipation is far more fun and rewarding than the actual outcome.

Sunday's gonna come fast, and it's gonna be gone even quicker.  This nice, long moment is one to savor.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Deserve

On PTI last week, the guys asked which Harbaugh boy the parents were rooting for in the Super Bowl?

Kornheiser said, "The older one." John, of the Ravens. TK's thinking was, John is not the one who had the size and athletic ability to be recruited as a D1 quarterback; that was Jim. John played his football at D3 Miami of Ohio, earning a degree in Political Science. John did not get picked in the first round of the NFL draft; that was Jim. John, after graduation, went to grad school at Western Michigan and worked as a grad asst with the football team (his dad's team). John didn't play 14 years in the NFL; that was Jim. John spent 14 years as a college assistant, working his way up to the NFL. John didn't get a head coaching gig "immediately", ie in his 3rd year of coaching; that was Jim. John worked for 24 years as an assistant, college and pro, assembling a body of work, before anyone gave him an opportunity to be a head coach, at any level.

I think Tony's right. Oh, not that Jack & Jackie are pulling for their younger son Jim to lose the big game. But if there is an ideal scenario for
both of the brothers getting one, it's that John gets his now, and Jim brings his team back and wins next year – against someone else.

Jim has a powerhouse team that should be on the rise, with a championship window just opening. He should have a chance at more of these. John's team is older at key positions; their championship window is likely closing, after years of banging their head against the door. Oh sure, you can imagine that Joe Flacco is "coming into his own" as a QB under Jim Caldwell, and they will have a championship offense for the next several years. But Joe is aleady 28, which is (just) past prime for an NFL player. (QBs have a longer prime than other players, but peak is usually age 27.) Ray Lewis is leaving, Ed Reed 34 and likely leaving, Terrell Suggs turns 31 a month into next season, and Haloti Ngata is 29. The Ravens era of championship defenses should be drawing to a close. They might have enough to reach up and play at that level one more time; but it would be a surprise to see them back on this stage in the next couple years.

So any scenario for the Harbaugh parents where both of their boys win a ring, has John winning now and Jim following up in the next couple years. Plus John has a greater body of coaching work in the NFL. Of the brothers, he “deserves” it more right now.

Of course, as William Munny reminds us, "deserve" has got nothing to do with it



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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

$100M To Study Injuries

Poop's getting serious.
The union that represents U.S. professional football players has given Harvard University a $100 million grant for a study of the range of health problems, from brain damage to heart conditions, that affect current and former players.

Researchers with Harvard Medical School plan to spend a decade studying hundreds of former players who are members of the National Football League Players Association, university officials said on Tuesday. The aim is to develop strategies to limit the long-term damage that players suffer from years of hits on the field.


Link

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Monday, January 28, 2013

5 Year Record

Back to our regularly scheduled time, the week between the conf championships and the Super Bowl.  Yes, I am particularly enjoying this list, this week.

In the table below, ties are broken by postseason wins, where applicable, under the theory that one postseason win is worth more than one reg season win. It's a slightly greater accomplishment. Thus the Jets get the nod over the Texans, and the Vikings over the Titans. Ties remaining after that are broken by the most recent reg season record, under the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately theory. Thus Packers ahead of Steelers; likewise Bears over Chargers, Broncos over Vikings, and Redskins over Buccaneers.

For comparison, last season's list is here.
TeamReg seasonPost seasonGrand Total
20082009201020112012Sum20082009201020112012Sum
New England Patriots11101413126021363
Baltimore Ravens1191212105421113862
Green Bay Packers6111015115341558
Pittsburgh Steelers129121285332558
Atlanta Falcons119131013561157
New Orleans Saints813111375231456
New York Giants1281099484452
Indianapolis Colts121410211492251
San Francisco 49ers7861311.545.512348.5
New York Jets9911864322447
Houston Texans89610124511247
Chicago Bears9711810451146
San Diego Chargers813987451146
Philadelphia Eagles9.511108442.52244.5
Dallas Cowboys911688421143
Denver Broncos884813411142
Minnesota Vikings10126310411142
Tennessee Titans13869642042
Arizona Cardinals9105853731441
Miami Dolphins11776738038
Cincinnati Bengals4.510491037.5037.5
Seattle Seahawks4577113411236
Carolina Panthers12826735035
Washington Redskins84651033033
Tampa Bay Buccnrs93104733033
Oakland Raiders5588430030
Buffalo Bills7646629029
Jacksonville Jaguars5785227027
Kansas City Chiefs24107225025
Cleveland Browns4554523023
Detroit Lions02610422022
St. Louis Rams21727.519.5019.5

Re positions 1 and 2: you bet your ass that if the outcome next weekend goes a certain way, I will re-post this list recalculated. The main reason Baltimore moves up 4 spots from last season, is that their 5-win 2007 season came off the books, while they posted another good year. For the first time the chart includes only the Harbaugh-Flacco era Ravens.

More interestingly, the Patriots stay in the top spot even though their Imperfect Season dropped off the chart. First, of course they had another great season. Second: the #s 2-3-4-5 teams from last year were Green Bay, Pittsburgh, the Giants and the Saints. Pittsburgh and New Orleans had mediocre seasons this year. The Packers and Giants had good seasons; but like the Patriots, they had great seasons drop off the back end of the list. Last year, the first season on the chart was Brett Favre's last season in Green Bay: they won 13 reg season games and advanced to the conference finals. They lost to the Giants, who rendered the Pats season Imperfect. So even though the Pats had 16 wins drop from their chart before the season began, the Packers and Giants each had 14 wins drop off, and couldn't catch up.

My rule of thumb is, any team with a grand total of 45 or over is doing something right. That's an average winning record, nine wins per year, in a league where winning at all (let alone winning consistently) is extremely difficult. These are the most successful organizations in the sport. Note that the Chargers are just on the right side of this line, which I find somewhat surprising. Also note that the Eagles are just half a game out of this. Considering the debacle there this year, that really points out how consistently excellent event the tail end of Andy Reid's tenure was.

Note technically a total of 40.5 or better represents a “winning” record, barely. That would average out to 4 yrs of 8-8 and one year of 8-7-1. I personally think that is nothing to write home about: but it beats losing. These teams in the 41-44 win category are in a second tier. It's nice to see Dallas firmly in mid-tier territory. I assume Denver is trending up for another couple seasons. Minnesota will have trouble breaking up out of this tier: they would need to win 10 and 12 over the next two seasons, just to stay where they are. Seattle and maybe Cincinnati should move into this tier next season.

At the other end of the spectrum: man St Louis is horrendous. But they seem to be moving up. Detroit will get a bounce next year, as their big zero comes off the books. Even a bad record would move them up. I'm not sure who to project into the bottom spot for next season. Maybe Jax?

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ravens Coaches

This must have hurt Preston to write:

Ravens' coaching staff deserves tons of credit for getting this team to the Super Bowl

At least he didn't miss the chance to take credit for being smarter than the coaches on the OL switch: “The move was way overdue, but at least Harbaugh swallowed his pride.”

[EDIT: Preston is utterly unwilling to let go of his idea that Harbaugh was too stupid or hardheaded to make the moves Preston wanted.  In this piece: Newsome tells Preston flat-out that he did not order John Harbaugh to play Bryant McKinnie at LT: 

“I give the coach the roster of the players to work with, but John and his coaches have the final say on the 53-man roster, even the practice squad,” Newsome said. “That's not my job.”
Preston actually, literally writes “Newsome said that wasn't true, but I suspect...”  It's funny, and unusual I think, to see a bias so nakedly revealed.]

In other Ravens coaches news, they hired ex-Eagles guy Juan Castillo.  He's a "consultant" this week, to be Run Game Coordinator as soon as the offseason starts.  Despite the debacle with the Eagles D, he has a great rep as an O-line coach.  Andy Reid wanted to tab him to be O-line coach in KC, but John Harbaugh nabbed him first. Seems like a great add.

"Run game coordinator" seems an odd position, since in the same announcement they retained Jim Caldwell as Offensive Coordinator for next season.  Not many teams need a separate guy to coordinate the run game.  It's true that Caldwell's previous expertise was in the passing game; but I have to wonder if Harbaugh is stashing Castillo up his sleeve, in case he needs to replace OL coach Andy Moeller.  Worked out well with Caldwell.

On the defensive side –

I might be acting like an idiot here, given Dean Pees' resume and the results these past 3 weeks.  But with the Pistol and read option coming soon to a line of scrimmage near us, I find myself wishing the Ravens still had Rex on staff.  Rex never met an unusual wrinkle he didn't want to throw at an offense.  I feel like he had (has) a gift for simplifying reads for his players, so that a defense which presented a very complex face to the opposing offense, was actually pretty easy for the defenders to play.

I remember when the Wildcat first stormed the NFL, and the Dolphins absolutely clobbered the Patriots with it.  (If I'm not mistaken, Dean Pees was the Pats DC at the time.)  Miami hosted Baltimore a few games later.  I watched Rex's press conference that week, and reporters asked him about preparing for the Wildcat. He just smirked that smug, insolent, arrogant little smirk of his, and said "Oh I think we'll be ready."  Then they went out and throttled the Dolphins, allowing 70 yds rushing at about 3 ypc.  (Got 'em on the rematch in the playoffs too, allowing only 50 yds rushing at under 2.5 ypc.)  The impression was that Rex and his guys knew exactly how to handle that offense after about 3 mins of watching tape.

...Of course it's also true that Rex had a Pro Bowl -level Bart Scott on that squad, along with Jarrett Johnson & Trevor Pryce, uninjured versions of Ngata & Suggs, 4-yrs-younger editions of Ed & Ray, and my boy Jim Leonhard.  So it probably wasn't all "scheme".  But I still feel like Rex is exactly the guy you want tinkering up a counter to a college offense imported into the NFL.  Dust off Dad's old 46 D maybe, or some other twist.  Staid old Dean Pees does not inspire the same confidence that we will have something special in response.

I may be under-rating Dean.  He has been around the block.  (Timeline below.)  [EDIT: And in the piece that I linked above, Ozzie expresses admiration for the job done by Pees.] And Harbaugh is not going to lack energy in delving into possible counters, including formation changes etc.  This is just in the back of my mind.


Dean Pees timeline
yearsTeamPosition
1973-4Elmwood HS (Ohio)Asst
1975-8Elmwood HS (Ohio)Head coach
1979-82Univ of FindlayDC/Secondary (1979 D2 Natl Champship)
1983-86Miami (OH)DC/Secondary (coached DB John Harbaugh)
1987-89NavySecondary coach
1990-93ToledoDC (under Nick Saban)
1994Notre DameSecondary (under Lou Holtz)
1995-97Michigan StateDC /ILB coach (under Saban again)
1998-2003Kent StateHead Coach
2004-05New England PatriotsLB coach
2006-09New England PatriotsDC
2010-11Baltimore RavensLB coach
2012Baltimore RavensDC

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Monday, January 21, 2013

The Super Bowl! The Super Bowl!

Ok, you can't contribute (even sporadically) to a football blog, and have your favorite team make it to the Big Game, and not post something about it! Even if I'm a little too blown away to have anything articulate to say, something has got to go down on pixel.v
Patrick sent a congratulatory email late last night after the AFC Championship game, saying that he was happy for us and that this two-week long moment is a special time.  I dashed  off a hurried but long & rambling response in the wee hours.  Here are my disordered thoughts in reply:

Thanks Patrick, that's a super gracious email.

This has been an unbelievable couple of weeks, absolutely unbelievable.

And oddly familiar. It reminds me, of all things, of when the Maryland basketball team of Juan Dixon - Lonny Baxter - Steve Blake (and later Chris Wilcox) started to change the narrative about what you could expect from the team, ca 1999-2000.  Games that seemed like automatic losses, slowly started to be won.  And it changed the horizon of expectation around the team.  Fatalism about a matchup becomes excited doubt: "Maybe they can win – ?"  They do things you don't expect them to do, and you revise your expectation upward a bit, and then they do more, and you revise again.  Two years later they were in the National Championship game.  And they were clearly great; but you still have a touch of disbelief.  They really got here, from there??

The “storyline” ESPN is already selling us – and I stayed up late to watch everything on ESPN and NFL Network – glosses over what a miniscule margin the Ravens have lived on the past two weeks.  That Jacoby Jones - Rahim Moore play was a miracle, and without it the Ravens don't even get to Foxboro.  (The game isn't even held there.)  In this game, Baltimore was doing nothing on offense, until Aqib Talib pulls his hamstring.  And did Patrick Chung ever return to the game?  Or did the Pats lose two starters in the secondary in the first half?  Despite Ray-ray's view of God's Plan, there was nothing inevitable about a Ravens victory here.

That Jack Harbaugh living room must have been a fun place to watch some football this weekend.  I found myself thinking this afternoon about all the NFL teams that were looking for coaches this carousel season.  I bet every one of them wishes there were a third Harbaugh brother.

What if there were a third brother, and he's not on the same same page as the other two: the bad, unacknowledged Harbaugh.  Picture "Jeb" Harbaugh, the lesser Harbaugh brother, something like Billy Carter.  Maybe he payed football in college, got cut from his college team, started smoking a lot of weed, now he's bagging groceries.  He gets a call from the Jags to come in for an interview.  This thought cracked me up off and on before the games today.

Flacco in his last 4 playoff games: 73 of 129 for 1159 yards, 10 TDs / 1 INT, 8.98 yards per attempt, rating 109.3.  Elite enough for ya?  And not against tomato cans either: Indy is unimpressive, but the other 3 opponents were New England in Foxboro (twice) and the Broncos in Denver.  I'm not trying to stake a position about whether he is or is not anywhere near that good: but geez, talk about making a statement at contract time!  He becomes an unrestricted free agent after the Super Bowl.  Has any player ever increased his stock so dramatically at so exactly the right moment?

And yet it's hard to criticize Ozzie & the front office for playing  their contract cards this way.  Sure, they expose themselves to having to offer Joe at the exact moment when his value is the highest it will ever be.  But what if Joe's contract situation is part of what's driving him to be super extra sharp this postseason?  “Please Joe, make us franchise you.  Make it so we have absolutely no choice but to franchise you.”  The Ravens can't exactly mind being forced over a barrel by this development.  Crazy like a fox. The weakest possible bargaining position for the Ravens is if Joe delivers a Super Bowl MVP -type performance while leading them to a win.  And wouldn't that be just so upsetting to the folks in the Ravens front office.  I picture Bisciotti thinking to himself, “Go ahead Joe, make your case even stronger.  Force my hand.  Weaken my negotiating position.  Please.”
The email thread about Ray Lewis a week or so ago [about the murder trial in Atlanta] was eye-opening.  I meant to respond to it; there was some stuff in there I had not known.  Important stuff. I don't know the whole truth of that; and it's possible that I and other Ravens fans have been guilty of willful ignorance, in not following the testimony and taking a hard look at the possible bad news about Ray.  However, let us also acknowledge the – I don't want to say "other side" of the story, let me say instead: the present day reality of Ray Lewis.  Whether you can stand to hear another fluff piece about that [possible criminal] and his "leadership" blah blah blah, Ray's leadership is an observable phenomenon, like Peyton Manning's intelligence.  Grown men who have spent their entire lives being "motivated" and "psyched up" by everyone from Pop Warner coaches thru high school and college rah-rah guys, men who are yelled at every day of their working lives and who ought to have developed some immunity to your basic pep talk, these guys are electrified when Ray Lewis brings it.

The most revealing thing to me this week, was Joe Flacco's postgame last night.  He was his usual monotone self; but he suddenly got animated when talking about Ray, and how he thinks Ray really wants to get back to the Super Bowl because he knows what it feels like, and he wants “US”, meaning Joe and Ray Rice and Suggs etc, to have that same feeling.  And how neat it was for Ray to feel that way.  If you were graphing Flacco's level of animation during the press conference, as revealed by his rate of speech (words per second) and the pitch of his voice, it would be his normal flatline for most of it, and then a spike up for the minute or so he spent talking about Ray Lewis, and then a slope back down to the flat line.  Joe Flacco gets excited about Ray Lewis??  (or as excited as Flacco gets)

Ray Lewis has an impact on the team members around him, and it defies explanation how much of an impact.

I can't believe how effectively Ray is playing. The early-season Ray was not capable of making double-digit tackles vs playoff-caliber offenses.  I have to assume that the time off due to injury really helped him get his legs back.  It makes sense, actually: rest the old guy midseason, bring him back for the playoff run.

Ray pointed out that he & Suggs & Ed Reed had not played together all season, until the playoffs started.  Also Haloti Ngata has been struggling with an undisclosed leg injury all season, with people around the team saying he's been around 80%.  The Ravens were bad on D this season; but is it possible they are a much better defensive team right now than they've been thru the season?   Shades of the recent Giants teams?  That would be indescribably awesome.  Whatever the case, the Ravens will really, really benefit from having a week off before the next game.  They will benefit more than the Niners will; and they may benefit enough to change the outcome.  The game might go one way if played next week, but another way because the old banged-up Ravens get an extra week to recuperate.

John Harbaugh's team has made him look like a friggin genius.  His high-stakes moves for the postseason really paid off.  First he goes to the bullpen for Jim Caldwell in relief of Cam Cameron with 3 games left in the season.  Who fires the offensive coordinator when sitting at 9-4 and in first place???  But three games proved a nice shakedown timeframe for the new playcalling mechanics (Caldwell in the booth, relayed from the sideline).  And Caldwell has shown himself to be flexible and aggressive, while simultaneously patient with sticking to the run.  I've had a couple of tug-at-my-hair moments the last two games: too much conservative running in the OT at Denver, thus punting the ball back to Peyton Manning; forgetting Ray Rice at one stretch in the second half, and then a couple incomplete passes on a 3-and-out with a big lead in the 4th today, rather than trying to milk the clock.  But just a couple: on the whole, the play-calling and the offensive personnel groupings have been great.  Flacco looks renewed.  Bernard Pierce has been exceptional as a change-of-pace back.  You sure can't argue with the results.

Then Harbaugh scrambles the O-line for the start of the playoffs.  Who voluntarily changes personnel at 3 positions on the O-line for the start of the playoffs?  And with no bye week!  "Ok we'll play one way all season to gain experience, then when the rea games start we'll switch over to the line we expect to win with."  WTF?  Critics, esp Preston of the Balt Sun, have been calling for this O-line configuration (McKinney at LT, Oher at RT, rookie Osemele at LG) for months, maybe even all season long.  (I think Preston may have called it before week 1.)  And Harbaugh says yep you're right at the start of the playoffs?!??  It is mind-boggling.  Supposedly McKinney agitated to play, and Harbaugh said "Then show me in practice." McKinney has wasted a good part of his career by not bothering to show other coaches in practice; but somehow for Harbaugh he takes the challenge and gets himself ready to play.  However it happened, the revamped O-line has been tremendous.  They've averaged 35 rushing attempts in the postseason, and Flacco has been sacked once a game.  It's the best O-line play Baltimore has had in the last two years; maybe longer, maybe since they heyday of Jared Gaither.

The boldness of those moves is breathtaking; and their success is – unusual.  Both Harbaugh boys, really: the Kaepernick move looks inspired.

John Harbaugh also did not hesitate to go to the emotion well.  Ray Lewis timed his retirement announcement exceptionally well, to counter the Chuck Strong tide of emotion: I wonder if Ray received counselling on when to break the news.  Then they have OJ Briggance come out for the coin toss last night. That is hard core. 

What a thrill ride.  Amazing. Unbelievable.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Turnover Margin and Predictions


Joe Fortenbaugh with a cool article.  Usually the kind of thing I like to research and I’m a little surprised I hadn’t thought it of it before.

I disagree with some of his conclusions (of course) because I think he looks too much at single seasons without looking at spreads of seasons for anomalous numbers.

First the link:  

Now the chart:

odds chart

From this it is easy to look at 3-4 year spreads and ask “what number doesn’t fit”.  For example, Kansas City’s +9 in 2010 was out of character for them and corresponded with a somewhat improbable playoff run.

Looking at 2011 we see that Fortenbaugh highlighted Jacksonville’s jump, but the real anomaly was 2010, not 2011.  2011 was corrective.

So looking at this, the teams who I would expect to be “corrective” in 2012 would be (in order of confidence):

San Francisco     -15.5
Philadelphia      +13.5
Pittsburgh          +12.5
Tampa Bay         +11

I would normally expect Baltimore to improve by about +6 but the loss of Suggs may mitigate this improvement a bit.  I’ll leave it to you guys to decide whether last year’s dip was merely normal variation or a combination of weak offensive line play and aging playmakers.  You’ll recall Reed’s somewhat bizarre INTsplosion in a half season in 2010.  It could be that +2 is closer to the new normal for the Ravens.

I would like to point to Arizona.  A team I already thought was a bit remarkable, going 8-8 with no quarterback and trying to overcome heavy losses from the ’10 offseason.  Additionally we see that their TO margin also dove.  While this could directly correspond to their personnel problems, it could also point to a team that suffered bad luck and might be worth a couple more wins.

Finally, looking at Denver.  This is an interesting team.  Made the playoffs (and won a game!) last year with an absurd run of 4th quarter comebacks.  Now they’ve replaced their awful QB with an all-time great.  It is impossible to predict exactly what Peyton will be, but it is fairly easy to project that he will be better than Ortonbow.  This is a team that could take dramatic steps forward, given the right Manning, similarly to Minnesota in Favre’s penultimate season.

Not predicting, just predicting.

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