Deciphering the Draft: A Taylor Made Defensive System

May 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

Despite the groans from the typical whining fan, Phil Taylor was probably the best fit for the Browns. Sort of a lynchpin for what the Browns are going to try to do, a system fit. By getting a run stopper, they get better in run and pass defense.

Need:
The Browns needed to get better at stopping the run. Last year Ahtyba Rubin was a force in the middle, but one guy can’t do it all. First off, fatigue after owning double teams for 3 quarters played a huge role. Moreover, this happened at the end of games when teams were running the ball more to run the clock out. Let’s also not be delusional, the Browns are going to continue to play a very conservative ball game, so they will have to eke out close ones at the end. That means stopping the run is incredibly crucial.

System: 2 Deep
Taylor is going to make the secondary much better. The reason is that they can now have 2 high safeties. TJ Ward played mostly in the box last year, to help out in run support, this posed liability for the deep ball with one high. We all should remember T.O. burning Eric Wright on Rob Ryan’s Cover 0 genius. Now the presence of Taylor and Rubin in the middle of the line, should make it incredibly tough to run the ball between the tackles with out having to bring a safety down. From there, having a safety on either half off the field means aiding in stopping deep threats. Finally, more aggressive play from the corners should translate into turnovers, because with the help on the deep ball, they will be able to jump routes and be generally much more aggressive in going for the interception.

Common Sense: If there is no safety and the CB misses on the INT attempt, it’s usually six points. That means for the Browns if it’s a 50:50 chance for the CB, he should play the man and not risk giving up the points.

Hindsight, Judging the 2011 Draft:
Stupid people will judge the trade be stats of Taylor vs. Jones, which is ridiculously oversimplifying the game by morons. No matter what happens, Jones is going to a better situation in ATL than he would ever have here. Matt Ryan is better than Colt, Roddy White is better than our entire WR corps, Gonzales is better than Watson, and Michael Turner is probably better than Hillis, but the homer in me will not let me admit that fully. Ergo, I don’t care if he has a 2k yard, 30 TD season every year for the next decade, he would not do that in CLE.
Phil Taylor, not only should not be compared to Jones for effectiveness of the draft, we shouldn’t count his stats to judge him. DT’s rarely produce stats that grab attention, and certainly none who have run stopping as there primary role.
The stats that we should look to at the end of the season are team defensive stats; rushing attempts and average, passing attempts and average, and that the leader in tackles is not a safety, finally the number of interceptions. 2010 saw low passing attempts but high averages per attempt, and high rushing attempts and low averages, with Ward the leading tackler and Elam 4th in tackles.
We should want to see more teams throwing the ball on us, because that generally means we will be playing with a lead, and a lower average per attempt, limiting the big plays. On those same lines, if they are running less, that means less teams are trying to run out the clock, and the average should stay the same or lower. We should also expect more of a mix at the tackle totals within the team, hopefully leaning towards D-line and LB more as well, although CBs should see more tackles in run support. Lastly, turnovers should be generated by the system, by allowing corners to go after the ball, with safeties limiting the risk involved.

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Labor Pains

March 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

As much as I want to just say “I don’t give a damn who’s to blame, I just want football next season,” that is kind of a stupid thing to say.  this whole scenario started five years ago. Then commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, did not want to end his tenure in 2006 with labor disputes. So at the last-minute he pushed through a deal, now at the expiration, that was extremely favorable to the NFLPA. As for 2011 the owners are creating the situation and have been taking steps for year to gain as much leverage in the process.

Owners poised for lockout

1 TV contracts – they got them in all guaranteed money. The owners get that revenue if there is a season or not. That is the primary source of revenue. More than tickets, concessions, and stadium advertising combined.

2 They hired the guy who was in charge of the NHL lockout a few years back, Bob Batterman.

3 They terminated the most recent CBA, which they did have the option in the last CBA after five years, but it was drafted for 7 years.

All of the actions of the owners lend to looking very childish. Instead of the realistic moving forward, their actions look to be the juvenile, self-centered type. Like they do not want a fair deal now, but to also recoup any losses due to the last CBA. That would just be the type of inexcusable behavior one would expect from the billionaires by winning the sperm lottery. They have no recourse against Paul Tagiliabue or most of the players that benefitted for the last 5 years (remember the average NFL career is less than 4 years) so they are seeking to punish this crop of players for what the last batch got away with.

Basically, if you were forced to overpay for something. Then a few years later for a replacement of that item you demand a reduction in the price, because you overpaid for the previous one. You are just stupid. Hence, the owners are stupid for the punitive nature of the negotiation process.

It is also understood that both sides of this are grossly overpaid for offering no real intrinsic value. However, market value for the most popular sport, by a huge margin, in the richest country in the world, and protected by anti-trust exemptions equals a ton of money for everyone involved. That is not enough to say “everyone’s overpaid, who cares who loses a little bit of money, just get a deal done.” As much as it should be the case, the words ‘should be’ have nothing to do business. Market value is all that matters and the word ‘deserve’ used when referring to pay scale is only used by whiners and other malcontents. I will probably never be a millionaire either, I at least have the decency to accept the realities of the world and not be callow enough as to be embittered by them.

On another point, for the players in regard to their overpayments for services, they have a built-in downside to their high pay. People, in general, treat professional athletes like pieces of meat, more so than any other profession. What other industry can you get hurt on the job, lose your job, and with no severance from that. If you blew out your ACL, and could not rehab back to 100%, would your entire city call you a worthless, overpaid piece of &%*$?

The NFLPA has been ultimately offering very middle of the road compromise-type suggestions that are getting shot down. The owners have used the past few years to stack the deck in this negotiation process, and will probably drag this out until the 11th hour to see how desperate the NFLPA can get. Really the owners have all of the cards. They are the ones locking out the players, they are the ones that have the financial ability to wait out an indefinite impasse (handing a contract of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to someone in their early twenties does not generally lead to sound fiscal decisions), they are the ones making all of the changes to the status quo.

For the future and other random thoughts…

If there is no new CBA by the regular beginning of training camp, I will probably never attend another game in my life. No ticket sales, concessions, jerseys or other money from me. That is all I have as retaliation, and I am okay with it.

Every entity that operates with anti-trust exemptions should be forced by the bylaws to make all finances available to the public. It should be a matter of public record and enforced with extreme fines. Complete transparency, fine to the point of operating at 10% loss, or complete dissolving of that entity all of the contractual obligations that exempted body is a party to, and stripped of legal rights and protections under said exemption.

Why not a 17 game season with 2 bye weeks? Most of the money comes from TV contracts, and that offers the same 19 weeks of televised games. While there is the increased danger involved in adding games to the schedule, it is exactly half the current proposal. Plus the additional bye week will give more healing time with players less likely to risk prolonged injury by coming back to the lineup too soon.

The NFLPA should try for compromises that increase the size of the shared revenue portion because that would divide the owners into small market versus large market teams. By presenting proposals that would increase the portion of the revenues that are shared among all teams it would create more benefit for the Green Bay’s and Buffalo’s to get a compromise deal done, it would also force a little bit further prying open of the financial books. Then, as one of the fringe benefits, it would drive Jerry Jones further to the brink of insanity.

Random thoughts on the draft…

February 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

I took the day off and figured I would vent a little on the upcoming draft. I still have time to read/watch football, but writing on it is significantly more time consuming, especial since I am prone to be on the longwinded side of things.
1. Panthers

2. Broncos

3. Bills

4. Bengals

5. Cardinals

6. Browns

7. 49ers

8. Titans

9. Cowboys

10. Redskins

11. Texans

12. Vikings

13. Lions

14. Rams

15. Dolphins

16. Jaguars

17. Patriots (from Raiders)

18. Chargers

19. Giants

20. Buccaneers

21. Chiefs

22. Colts

23. Eagles

24. Saints

25. Seahawks

26. Ravens

27. Falcons

28. Patriots

29. Jets

30. Bears

31. Steelers

32. Packers

For all intents and purposes the Browns will be selecting from this rather short list. I have taken the general consensus top picks and put them together in the order that I have ascribed to them if I were the GM. This is also adjusting for the change to the 4-3 base defense.
1. Da’Quan Bowers DE Clemson

2. Patrick Peterson CB LSU

3. Nick Fairley DT Auburn

4. Marcell Dareus DT Alabama

5. Prince Amukamara CB Nebraska

6. Robert Quinn DE N. Carolina

7. A.J. Green WR Georgia

8. Blaine Gabbert QB Missouri

Pass rush is the primary concern.

The past 2 seasons saw Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan as the undisputed sack leader. Pass rush has been a product of schemes and blitzes, but that changes with a 4-3 defense. In a 3-4 you can drop 7 into coverage (man with 2 deep safeties) and still have an element of surprise as to where the 4th pass rusher is coming from. In a 4-3 they have to take away coverage in order to blitz. That means the offense knows where to block, and any surprise necessarily comes at the expense of coverage. Therefore, in order to run a 4-3, it is imparative to generate pass rush with the 4 down linemen.

Corners; Pat and Prince

Adjusted for their talents versus impact for the Browns, they are both viable picks. While pass rush is a primary concern, it is largely due to the defensive transition, the cornerback position is probably the second most important position for any team like the Browns, QB being most important for all teams. If you do not have a high scoring team, if your running game is a bigger threat than passing, you need good corners. This will allow your defense to keep the score low and not allow the other team to force a shootout scenario, which would kill the Browns. Plus having either across from Haden for the next decade or so would be a formidable matchup against any team. Further, Eric Wright is a terrible tackler, and Browns corners will need to tackle more. Again it goes to the 4-3, removing a linebacker for an additional linemen means less speed in pursuit of ball carriers, and therefore corners will have to tackle more.

DTs?

Basically, Ahtyba Rubin is the only significant bright spot in the front seven. Like the corners, the interior of the line would be great if it was shored up to top notch. This would require a dominant defensive tackle. Really, a guy that can hold up in a phone booth with anyone in the league and 2 gap, as well as pass rush whenever. This may also require a significant vote of confidence in Matt Roth, or some other linebacker, to play defensive end.

A.J. Green, or any WR

If he is the glaring best available, then sure, but picking a WR over a CB or pass rushing end is ridiculous. Top picks at WR are okay if there is an established QB, otherwise it is like buying $20,000 rims for a 1979 Chevette. Look at Larry Fitzgerald’s impact on the Cardinals this year, or Steve Smith’s to the Panthers, compared with Brady, Manning and Rivers looking like All-stars with a no-name receiving corps for most of the year.

Blaine Gabbert

Should he be passed up by Arizona and Cincinnati, and fall to the 6th pick, Cleveland should take the opportunity to trade back, unless of course the coaches fall in love with this QB from Missouri. The Vikings, Dolphins, Redskins, Titans, and Jaguars could all be willing to trade for the top QB prospect, and the change in systems means high positional turnover, so you may as well get young guys in to fill the void and add depth.

Trading back is the rule in the Browns spot, unless the front office is willing to make an exception for one of the guys listed above. Some of the people to look out for if the Browns get a chance to trade back.

Gabe Carimi
He is a big boy and projected high, somewhere in the mid-to-late first round, on most mock draft boards.  For NFL teams he might be a bit scary of a choice though coming from Wisconsin. While he played left tackle there, he is really more of a Right Tackle, skewed by Wisconsin’s run heavy offense one does not see the required footwork from him to make him an elite Left Tackle. That said, he is the prototypical Right Tackle, and would be great as a road grater for Hillis.

Ryan Kerrigan
You remember when you were in high school, and you had a crush on a girl and you couldn’t explain why. She wasn’t the prettiest, most popular, or funniest, or really any of the things that one thought to set her apart from other girls, all you knew is that you liked her. That said, Ryan Kerrigan is going to be the subject of a lot of NFL ‘man-crushes’ this year. He runs high, tends to be flatfooted, and I question his initial burst against NFL talent, or significant developmental upside, but I am still on the ‘man-crush’ list.

He seems mature in interviews, has a nonstop motor, and has great instincts, the maturity comes in huge in coach ability in overcoming some of the drawbacks. He played a monstrous season as a left Defensive End this year, but at 260 lbs he will never be able to set the edge consistently in the NFL. As the Browns go to a 4-3 this year, he could play at the RDE spot, utilizing his exceptional pass rushing skills. Then again, at 6’4”, he does have the frame to support some more weight. There are a few question marks as to his speed, but they will mean more to teams that would look to develop him as a 3-4 OLB. If he turns out to run particularly slow, that could mean a significant drop in his status on draft day. With about half the teams in the league running 3-4 defenses, a slower time may drop him significantly, leaving more value for a 4-3 team than a 3-4 team.

J.J. Watt
Another defensive end to watch out for. He is currently listed to go in the mid 20s as far as draft day goes, but that could all change depending on how he performs at the combine and pro-days. He is listed at 6’6” and 280 lbs, a big boy who can get bigger. His size means 3-4 teams will be looking at him as well, looking to add 20 or so pounds and line him up at an end spot too. He may just be the best fit if the Browns can trade back a few times, add more picks. His size and pass rush ability, combine to make him very versatile, giving him the ability to potentially move inside to tackle on 3rd and long, or other passing downs. That would allow a faster guy to replace his end spot, while he replaces inside tackle to upgrade pass rushing from the front four as a whole.
Under the Radar

These are a couple of guys that I think will do well in the right situation, not due to their talent necessarily, but are a couple of system fits that may excel in Brown and Orange.
1 Quan Sturdivant

At 6’2” 230 lbs he is big enough, and then, from what I have seen, he should run somewhere in the 4.5s maybe low 4.6s making him fast enough, and he has the instincts. He is probably the most versatile LB prospect in the draft and currently projected in the 3rd-4th rounds, in which he could be a steal. He can play any LB position and do all that is asked of him. That versatility is key to ensure that he contributes in the future, and allowing the Browns to upgrade their line backing corps.
2 Kendall Hunter

OK State has him listed at 5’8” and 200 lbs… That is probably soaking wet, in pads, and with at least one inch cleats on. That said, he lacks the build for a 3 down back, but has the skills for a third down back. His blocking is unbelievable for his size, and his hands do really well as a receiving option. He is probably worth a shot in the second round but the lack of size, and looming history of injuries is a major concern, probably dropping to the third, if not fourth, round.

On the uncomfortable side of the draft, AKA scary picks
1 Cameron Heyward – DE – The Ohio State University

Yes we need 4-3 ends, and has all the inherent physical tools, but he is soft. He plays soft, meaning he does not go all out on every play, and before you hand someone millions to play a game, you must know that the game is the most important thing to them. You do not see the ‘strong will’ in Heyward that you see in fellow Big 10 prospects listed above. That combined with his lack of progression from junior to senior years is frightening. Basically, most inconsistent players, like Heyward, have tremendous physical ability, not to be confused with talent, and rely solely on that, unwilling to work at getting better, also known as JaMarcus Russell Syndrome
2 Casey Matthews – LB – OregonDue to his father, uncle, and brother, people seem a little too high on him. He really looks exceptionally undisciplined and his aggressiveness is more of a liability than asset. I don’t like him before the 4th or 5th round. He needs at least a couple years on special teams before he should get into the ball game with any regularity.

Something clever that sums it up and ends on a witty comment, that is pointed and leaves you smiling… That is a whole lot faster!!!

 

The Plain Dealer and Rush Limbaugh: The only time they will be lumped together by similarity

January 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

The story begins when I was still in high school, somewhere around 16 or 17. I listened to Rush for the first time. I was interested in politics, had no idea which way to lean in my opinions, and thusly was open to any and every avenue. Rush irritated me, I loathed his pompous, matter-of-fact opinions, although it was juxtaposed by the fact that that I found him to be extremely insightful and have a welcomed perspective, all at the same time.

I thought to myself, “if only he were more humble, and less iron-fisted in his views. He has a lot of pointed things to say, and he could change many opinions, but his method is so obnoxious and oppressive that they aggravate to the point that one is not open to hear the points, but rather retract defensively.” Moreover, the question of why always loomed in regard for Rush, until I figured it out a few years later.

That takes us to the Plain Dealer, not in general, but specifically the sports section. The notions are the exact same. The fundamentalist views of playing to the base, for the PD it is the fans instead of political, but nonetheless the same. For Tony Grossi, and to a lesser extent Mary Kay Cabot and Terry Pluto, they are effectually the exact same as Rush Limbaugh. They will, beyond all else, play to the base.

As for Rush Limbaugh, the realization came when I became slightly more jaded in life, in particular that money and ratings is the prime motivation. As such, it is far more advantageous for him to galvanize a staunch and devout following than it is to open oneself up to subjectivity by attempting to sway a broad cross-section of the public. Basically, if Rush were to be less adamant, and tone down the rhetoric, he would sway many more opinions. His method, as it stands, creates not a wider fan base, rather a more faithful fan base. Therefore, by my Limbaugh theory of media, it is far more worthwhile and profitable to “preach to the choir,” than to assume a missionary type role.

Now back to the PD, with that same type of logic, it is better to reiterate the same knee-jerk reactions of fans, than it is to educate those reading. For instance, public outcry for a coaching change means that the PD should echo those sentiments without regard to the outcome. Case and point: Eric Mangini. Moreover, the Cleveland Browns organization is beholden to those paying for tickets, i.e. those being echoed. Therefore, and to some extent, we the fans have to take a portion of the responsibility, and project another portion upon all the media outlets with similar disdain.

Actually, the similarities between Rush and the PD beat writers leaves some requirement for apology to Mr. Limbaugh. Regardless of ones own political views, each person should recognize Rush as an authority in his field. As such, his assessment of current events and various motivations are deduced down to form his own opinions. Whereas, in the case of the Plain Dealer, the opinions are predetermined and then the “causality” is retrofitted as is seen fit. So where Rush Limbaugh is in a position of “preaching to the choir,” it is based off of broad based notions and generalized sentiments, while the PD cherry picks specific instances.

If there was a city wide time machine, we probably would be better off all going out and buying Todd Philcox jerseys than hating Belichick. The same is true with Eric Mangini, with hack beat reporters questioning everything he does. Case and point, the week 16 onside kick attempt against the Ravens. The odds were 60-40 in the Browns favor, while losing the game, to a favored divisional opponent, with absolutely no future implications for the Browns, yet the “preach to the choir” reporters, like Tony Grossi, questioned it with every chance they got. That was utterly disgraceful.

In the end, however, it is not even really a question of the journalists incompetence, it is a reflection on the fans. We accept, and often embrace, ineptitude in the journalism and broadcasting professions. The fact of the matter is, they are not in their jobs because they know the game of football, they are there because they have a degree that states they know a given industry, that is it. The HR departments at the Plain Dealer or STO, even more legitimate enterprises, would not know where to begin with questions of ‘football strategy’ or anything of the like. Further, it comes down to lowly bloggers, and a few more credible sources, to put the pieces together: beyond what happened, but why they happened.

When all is said and done, the Plain Dealer, and sources of the like, have connections. They are vital for telling readers who practiced, what NFL policy a player violated, and who is expected to play, but their opinions are not worth the newsprint they are printed on. Therefore, it is up to the fans, the real fans to sift though the drivel, and find those worth listening to. I, for one, would put my knowledge of the game, not useless bygone stats, but strategy of the game, moderated by coaches and GMs, against any journalist.

Moreover on the subject of the written word on football, enjoy the lowly blogger that you stumble across. That hapless guy that writes, not for a paycheck, but because he love his favorite team. He may not have the degree that that those HR departments are looking for, but at least he knows what he is talking about. He may not say what you want to hear, but he makes coherent sense, even if it is wordy and markedly unpolished. At the bare minimum, at least there is no doubt if he is patronizingly telling you what you want to hear. For me, this is not a career, though I hold on to a glimmer of hope, this is just an outlet on a game that I enjoy.

Eric Wright, LeBron James, and a Heartfelt Message to My Unborn Child…

January 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Eric Wright is an odd ambiguity. On the one hand he has been a marked disappointment for the Cleveland Browns and fans, but through that he can provide a more metaphysical service. One would be hard pressed to find a more pointed example of what is wrong with athletes as role models for children. Athletes in general are subject to what I call a fragile ego, the dangerous combination of inflated sense of self-importance and being overly sensitive and highly emotional. The combination of the Browns season ending and being a father-to-be just got me thinking.

Wright entered this 2010 season with high expectations from all around him. From starting since his rookie season to entering his fourth year, typically the great cornerbacks establish themselves fully in year four. Moreover, the hype was warranted as he had flashed the ability to shut down some of the best receivers in the game. Really, all that was expected was to shore up a few aspects of his game and show consistency, but that never came to pass.

In all fairness, some of the major gripes have to fall on the defensive play calling, and that is why we have not seen Cover 0 (no safety help) for the last several games. All things considered, however, it is not a question of Wright’s talent, rather of his will. There are only a few receivers in the game who pose a talent mismatch against him, but many who will out fight him and just beat him because they want it more.

The problem for Eric Wright is not getting burned occasionally or even the horrible tackling, it is his callowness.That immaturity and fragility of ego that does not seem all that uncommon among professional athletes. In fact, it can be attributed to most of the negative actions by any athlete in any sport, on the field of play and in their personal lives.

From Eric Wright to LeBron James’ “decision,” it is the exact same scenario. A gifted athlete who has been singled out, pampered, and babied for all or most of their adolescent and adult life. This brings about some misguided sense of entitlement, that success and respect are expected as given. This is most obvious in the face of adversity, where the easy way out is always the most preferable.

Further, as in both James and Wright’s respective cases, they will not give it their all if they believe they might lose. In a display of professional cowardice, and probably unintentional and fully subconscious, their fragile egos have a similar coping mechanism. For these emotionally stunted athletes it is preferable to give less than their all and lose, whereas if they had given 100% and gotten beat, it would be morally crushing to know that they are not always “special.” This is the most obvious reason behind James’ infamous game 5 performance, as it is the reason for Wright’s lack of progression as a cornerback, most notably in his shoddy tackling.

Evidence for LeBron James’ fragile ego can be seen pretty much weekly. When he was with the Cavs, that is when he was the guy that everyone looked to, he was noticeably humble, to a point of being exemplary. Since he has “taken his talents to South Beach,” that has not been the case. LeBron is noticeably more vocal, and brazen at that, with the Miami Heat, which serves as the perfect case and point. One is reminded of grade school, where the little kid would be silent if by himself, but the first to pick a fight if he was surrounded by his friends. That guy… a “king?” Never.

Back to Eric Wright. On a personal note, having met him several times, I have found him to be defensive in conversation. So quick to let everyone know that he “kicks it with Nnamdi (Asomugha),” or other high profile players, he is a little too eager to impress. Then there is the 2010 training camp. First there was some hamstring issues off the bat, which are indicative of not being in shape upon arrival. Then that proceeded throughout weeks of practices, that he grabbed his thigh on every occasion where he was beat on a play. It was frequently enough to elicit a chuckle from the security staff and several fans when I questioned, “he’s got to be grabbing his hammy because he’s getting beat, not getting beat because of the hammy.” Finally, there is his tackling. The 2 techniques he prefers over fundamentals are the love tap on the sidelines (see how that worked against Adrian Peterson below; he was number 24 last year and I think it might have added to the reason he changed his number), or the hug and fall.

Side Note: I particularly like the Hug and Fall, it reminds me of my nephew holding my leg to make me stay when I say that I have to go; only in a less cute, and more infuriating sort of way.

Now I am sure that he would take refuge in claims that his “tackling,” is to avoid injuries. I agree, but it is the damage that would be done to his ego if he broke down, wrapped up, and got ran over. Then there is this display, in a 1 possession game, within the last 2 minutes of a game in which the Browns trailed, this. You can find him at the top of the screen. At about the 5 second mark he is aware of the running play, then… I need not go further. It is enough to give me Tourette’s Syndrome.

It was 2nd and 7, and the Browns had 2 timeouts. Any effort would have led to a tackle, another stop on third down, and… At least the Browns would have had a shot to win. Regardless of how much of a long shot it was, you need players that give it their all, despite the odds of a given situation.

This problem with the fragile ego, is limited to Cleveland. In fact, one could go so far as to ascribe almost every major incident involving professional athletes to that same callowness. Both on the field and off, that unnecessary, foolish, and misplaced sense of pride permeates sports headlines.

Team Obliterator and Others

The most obvious on the field case is the fair-weather player eluded to in describing Eric Wright in the Bills game. That guy that has a ton of talent, and the fragile ego, that cannot cope with playing on a losing team, and just do not contribute like they should. Guys like T.O., Randy Moss, and perhaps most notably, definitely most quotably, Ricky Waters. It is obvious in other sports as well, when the name on the back of the jersey means more than the on the front, they fit this bill. There are thousands of “for what, for who” moments, and each one is unforgivable.

Fights, cheap shots, and Hissyfits

Then there are these three. The fight between Andre Johnson and Courtland Finnegan that broke out, no one would see that happening if Finnegan was outplaying Johnson routinely. Albert Haynesworth got his money, and he just did not want to play as a 2-gap nose tackle. Similar to the spat between Johnson and Finnegan, and the assumption of how it started, one does not see players that are beating their man all day flagged for stupid, and dangerous, cheap shots. One can also add to this list all of the players that call out their coach. It is all the frustration of the fragile ego.

Off the Field Garbage

As much as it pains me to acknowledge Ben Roethlisberger for anything positive, he gets a few points for owning up to his ego trip, and saying he got caught up in the “Big Ben” persona. Across the board it applies to all of the fights, some (usually) insignificant slight that damages the fragile ego makes headlines, because they cannot say that it is not worth it. There is the “party boy” mentality in others, despite the almost certain reflection in play. The rest can largely summed up as an assumption of entitlement to whatever whim.

The Other Side of Ego

The good side of ego is out there too. It is the remarkable self-determination. Michael Jordan has received criticism for his ego, but one can render that as apples to oranges, because at no where along the way has anyone felt that he had anything to prove to anyone but himself. That is the difference, who they are proving it to. If there actions are a means of self-aggrandizement, and usually with a few excuses, than they are on the fragile side. If however, they are like MJ, there is nothing that should be given except respect.

The Kids and Role Models

While trying to avoid the clichéd Charles Barkley reference, athletes are gifted at a craft and often not concerned with who chooses to look up to them. That said it is a dangerous line between fan admiration and hero worship in children. The danger of the role model mantle placed upon the unworthy, is there needs to be someone there to moderate it. The hope of every parent is to raise a kindhearted, respectful, and well-rounded child, their having an emotionally stunted idol, just makes that job even tougher.

As a soon-to-be new dad, I look forward to being my son or daughters first role model. From there I look forward to pointing out the good and the bad in what I see. I will gladly point to a player like Ahtyba Rubin and say, “wow, that guy just does not quit… ever!” On the opposite end, when some dummy is displaying that fragile ego, I will teach him or her to pity that athlete.

“If they need the superficial limelight to be happy, then they will spend most of their life in misery,” I will say solemnly. Then I will pick him/her up and continue with something like, “whatever fleeting moment of fan affection they seek, or show of insecurity about the one thing they know, it is all a shameful act of hiding that scared little child that hides within them. You will never have to do that, you will always know that all the people that matter to you will love you no matter what.” And finally, “everything you do in this world, is going to be because you want it, and the only chance you have of disappointing anyone is by not giving something your all, and even then we’ll still love you”

In a little follow-up, and at the behest of family members, namely the wife, I was told to encourage the Facebook “like” button. Really I just do this as an outlet for me, and am pretty nonschalant about the site hits, but they have told me to encourage the spread of this one. I guess they just don’t get into the typical football-strategy-dork posts. Then again, if they would listen to me rant, this site would probably never exist to begin with. The “like” button is not visible from the “home page,” but is if you click on the title at the top of the page you can see it at the bottom. So long as I am on a personal message, thanks for all the continued support, the views keep growing, which is awesome to know that people seem to like it enough to keep coming back and posting links all over the web.

Now that Mangini is gone, it’s time for deductive reasoning.

January 4, 2011 § 2 Comments

The speculation started while news of Mangini’s dismissal broke, who will the next head coach in Cleveland? Since the firing there have been dozens of names bandied about, but are all of them serious contenders, no. So it begins, the process of whittling down the list of HC suitors.

1) Holmgren is interviewing a lot of people…

It really does not matter how many people Holmgren is interviewing. I believe, just by common sense, it is a short list. Mike Holmgren, should look for some type of offensive star power and track record. If only to buy time before my fellow fans fickleness starts the pointing of their pitchforks at him. You know its bad when in a second season, after a roster sweep year, and in the midst of a season with 3 different QBs out with injuries, 5 total QB adjustments for the offense, and the coach still gets fired, public opinions are temperamental to say the least. Given the current state of Clevelanders, I think that anyone hired will need a marked degree of star power or at least track record of winning with either Holmgren or Heckert.

I actually believe that Holmgren would not have fired Eric Mangini if it wasn’t for public sentiment. To put it another way… If Holmgren had no association with the Browns and someone wanted to bet on Mangini’s ability, I think he would take it without a doubt. However, since the duty will ultimately reflect on him, he is opting for going with his own system and hires. Moreover, I believe that the firing was expedited by the PR situation. Holmgren can get rid of him now, buy more time for himself before the pointing of the proverbial pitchforks. Whereas if the Browns did not show marked improvement next year, fans would not just be calling for Daboll and Mangini in 2012. Therefore, the coaching change happens now to buy at least another year of “transistion” though there should not be much legitimate transitioning from a personnel perspective.

In the end, I think it is a short list of potential HCs. It is probably a combination of politics of not burning bridges, and ensuring that there is no future questions of due diligence. There is also probably something to be said for keeping options open if they are turned down by their top choices.

Coaches Eliminated

Ron Rivera- SD Def Coor- Has the star power, but unproven on offense. Not the right kind of star power.

Perry Fewell- NYG Def Coor- ”   ”

Pat Shurmur- On the fence with his elimination, perhaps better to call him a darkhorse candidate. He does have ties to Heckert in Philly as he held several positions under Reid before getting promoted to OC. Andy Reid was, of course, hired as HC of the Eagles off of Holmgren’s staff.

2) I have heard of the West Coast Offense (WCO), but how important of a role will it play?

A lot. The West Coast Offense as developed by Bill Walsh, not to be confused with the Air Coryell type like Bernie Kosar once did, will play a huge role. First let’s brush up on the general WCO theory.

In basic strategy, the WCO centers around short and intermediate passing, i.e. high efficiency throws. Essentially, these high percentage throws work like a running game, as a way of maintaining ball control, aiding in time of possession, long drives with  slow and steady rhythm passing,  and doing so with little risk. Then the passing game helps the running game as the defense has to account for the horizontal spread of where the passes occur. Theoretically, this means that the defense has to move personnel to be able to cover receivers utilizing all 53 feet of the width, as opposed to just a perimeter weapon, and that means pulling them away from the “box” which helps in the development of running lanes. These quick passes are also great for exploiting blitzes and beating the cover 2, which is designed to stop deeper throws.

It requires a high level of cohesiveness between the front office and coaching staff  to turn any football theory into practical application. Players each have their own personal skill sets, and schemes emphasize different types of skills. Therefore, the coaches must be on the same philosophical page as those in charge of acquiring personnel.

Players skills vary in football way more than other sports, and the schemes have to make the most of the players skills. The WCO places certain requirements that emphasize different skills than other systems.

QB-The QB has to be immensely accurate, that is the deal breaker of the system, and fit the ball into tighter windows with much less margin of error. A QB that can tuck the ball and run also has added value in the WCO, the pass designs are quick, so there is not a whole lot of options to bail out the QB if they are covered.

RB- Runningbacks who can catch the ball have added value, generally speaking, as a check down option in pass heavy offenses. Also, smaller speedier backs tend to do well because they are getting the ball in space with these passes, they can avoid bigger tacklers easier than on a handoff play.

WR- Great routes and toughness trump speed all day. You need receivers that are not going to shy away from contact, go over the middle, and be more concerned with catching the ball than the status of their ribs. Moreover they have to be in the same place at the same time, every time. For the WCO to work, it requires a heavy dose of synchronization between QB and wide out.

TE- Sort of whatever the coach deems necessary. Usually they are hybrid blockers and receivers depending on the circumstance. Although there is likely to be a continued emphasis because of the 3-4’s in Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

Line- Varies by coach. Those that seek to utilize the running ability of the QB tend to go with smallish lines that are more mobile, like Mike Shanahan does, then they utilize a mobile packet, a lot of zone play on the line, and the speedier linemen get in front of screens better.

Sidenote, I will be livid if they do this in Cleveland- Division is 3-4 heavy and we would need an overhaul of the line to pull this off, then exquisite zone play to be effective. I vote just to get the right side better. (pretending I have a vote)

Player Examples

Ken Anderson- The Bengals QB that helped Walsh’s ascension to fame. Not exactly the Sid Gillman style prototype of a quarterback, but he was successful in the scheme.

Johnny Unitas- The opposite of Anderson. He is down in history as one of the best of all time, but would not be in any West Coast coaches top 100 to be used in a WCO. He threw a heaving and wobbly ball, and was not remarkably accurate, he didn’t hit the tight windows over the middle or make the backshoulder throws that are vital to the success of the scheme.

Randy Moss (circa early 2000’s)- Nope… You have to go over the middle Randy.

Coaches Eliminated

Bill Cower

Mike Mularky

John Fox

Jim Harbaugh

Tom Cable

Josh McDandiels

Who’s Left, and my estimated odds…

Pat Shurmur- Offensive Coordinator St Louis Rams

The Darkhorse candidiate at 25:1 odds

…for all the reasons above under the star power section balanced with familiarity

Any Defensive oriented coach (Fewell, Rivera, et cetera)

20:1 odds

The thought could be to lock up someone on board with the offense for an OC position. The HC would then be versed in the situational philosophies of the game, and defer the practice time to the OC, and offensive personnel almost entirely to the front office.

John Gruden- Former Head Coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders

10:1 odds

“Chucky” will have options. He just does not seem to be the type of guy to play second fiddle, although he is ideally suited. The one other knock is his temper, Holmgren insisted on Mangini changing his ways, and he did not seem nearly as bad as Gruden. Ultimately, like Homgren’s decision to get rid of Mangini, I think wherever Gruden goes, he will want to be in charge of more than will be available in Cleveland. His reputation, and therefore his decisions.

Mike Holmgren himself

5:1 odds

I think Mike Holmgren is dying to put a headset back on. So why doesn’t he just name himself HC? Because he was outvoted by the more important people… Their names are Kathy, Calla, Jenny, Emily, Gretchen, and his 6 grandchildren. A head coach devotes almost every second of his life to his job usually the best just burnout, and do not give their 17 hour days when they start to have troubles. That takes a toll on any family I’m sure. Interestingly, he is poised to do the job, but only if the other options shoot him down.

Marty Mornhinweg – Current OC of the Philidelphia Eagles.

2:1 odds

If there is anyone that Tom Heckert is going to be on the same page with, not named Andy Reid, it’s this guy. Moreover, they are all looking at the same type of talent, in the same type of system, and there will be one definitive leader of the franchise with the spotlight on Mike Holmgren. Basically, he does not have traditional star power, but he has a significant track record with a one of the most successful offenses in recent time. Moreover, it was successful based off the the same things that Holmgren and Heckert are very familiar with.

In the end, the decision to fire Mangini may to have had more to do with the mass exodus of fans at half time, than the blowout on the field itself. It is a business. Therefore, Holmgren’s duties, which include the money end, will lend to Morninweg even further. If Holmgren hires him, Holmgren will take full ownership of the situation, and be more involved on the media/PR end, but not in the Berea Headquarters 80 hours a week.

Browns Get Blown Out; Not a Surprise

January 3, 2011 § 2 Comments

(and neither was Cleveland beating of the Pats)

It is always frustrating, year after year, to watch the Browns get whooped on by the Steelers. Now it appears Eric Mangini’s fate may have been sealed by the black and gold routing of the Browns. The fact is that there are very good reasons for why this happens, but no one has yet to explain it. The fact is, journalists would not know where to begin (post on them coming shortly), and the theories are beyond the average fan’s knowledge, or at least their willingness/time to put it together.

General football theory:

1. No team is great in every phase of the game, the key is aligning  strengths to perpetuate themselves, and to scheme to where the deficiencies are made for by strengths.

2. In the ideal for a coach for favorable match ups you want your defensive strengths to be the same areas as your opponents offensive strengths, and your offensive strengths to be in areas other than the defense.

The Steelers Offense:

The Steelers have one of the more well-rounded offenses in the game. They do not get one dimensional too often, and when they do it can get ugly for them. Ultimately, there offense primarily features power running, mixed up with efficient passing, and a steady amount of deep throws. They are built to take what the defense gives, and are pretty much always ready capitalize on any mistakes from the opposing D.

For all intents and purposes, they are an interesting match up for any team. They are able to run against most teams in the league, then they throw it deep when the defense devotes additional personnel to stopping the run for the quick score. All and all, they are pretty good allover and their success is about not making mistakes and deferring to the defense. Now if they were decimated with injuries at the running back position, they would be hard pressed to do anything significant, like the Colts or Pats can, but nonetheless “good” enough for significant passing influence.

The Steelers Defense:

This is the best part of the Steelers and the bane of the Browns existence. The Steelers defense is centered around their front 7, and especially the linebackers. They are the best consistent unit in the NFL. Then they also have the hands down best Strong Safety in the league in Troy Polamalu. As such, they beyond hard to run upon. Further, the secondary, the weakness of the team, is aided by the front 7 particularly in the way they have schemed to cover that up; Namely the zone blitz or Cover 2.

This section can go on for days with Dick LeBeau as the DC, but I realize that I have a tendency to ramble on even the most inane details, so… They do a lot of different things to alter the specifics of what is trying to be accomplished, but the general idea is the same.

Blitz- shooting gaps to help the run defense, which turns into pressure on the QB if it is a pass, which then helps cover up lacking secondary play by shortening the time in coverage.

Situational Play Calls(albeit obvious)- Down and distance, field position, weather, score to clock ratio, et cetera all apply.

Zone Coverage- Everyone watches the ball, not a specific man, that helps in recognizing run plays. It limits the ground that the players have to cover, they do not need to give a cushion because they will hand off coverage if they try to run deep. As they do not have to worry about getting in a foot race, by playing closer they are in better position on shorter routes and stopping patterns, i.e. what the Browns do well.

Pass Rush (End Game)- When the Steelers have the lead and time is winding down, they can send a ton of pressure at the QB. Enough to close out games, and not allow the last minute losses. This also translates into Third Down scenarios, it is pass rush, and they have it.

The Browns Offense Vs The Steelers Defense

Woody Hayes mentality need not apply as Browns HC

As stated earlier, you do not want your offensive strengths to match up directly with the defensive strengths. The Steelers are the best in the league at stopping the run, therefore “three yards and a cloud of dust” attitude, usually will turn into a three outs. You just do not run down the throat of the perennial best run defense in the league.

Quarterbacks Don’t Grow on Trees…

The key to beating the Steelers, is great QB play. The Steelers do many things on defense with the intent to confuse QBs, and to force an all encompassing game plan. The QB has to be remarkably accurate. There is just not enough room for a normal margin of error, pressing close to receivers. Further he has to have a stronger arm than most. “The Honey Hole,” the area in the seems of the zones between the corners and safeties, has to be exploited if they are in a Cover 2. The arm strength comes into play on getting the ball in the “honey hole” quickly, that means the stronger the arm the less chance the defenders have on closing the gap between the defender and receiver.  The problem for the Browns is that I just described Tom Brady, and guys like that are hard to find. It all comes down to the quarterback, if it is a quarterback driven league, then the Browns are a quarterback stalled team. Until they find “the guy” to have behind center, Pittsburgh will have their number.

Colt May Not Cut It… (I hope he can, just being honest)

He has the accuracy, the attitude, and the most important aspects of being an NFL caliber talent, but there are looming doubts about hitting that honey hole. The issue with that is giving that recovery time, means taking away more on the shorter routes. The cornerbacks move up and press the receivers, while not respecting the arm to hurt them deeper. He can make most of the throws, but to win this division he has to make all the throws.
As For the Browns Defense Against Big Ben and Company

The Steelers strengths are power running, and the deep ball. The Browns lack the defensive line depth, particularly with the injuries, to stop Mendenhall in the B and C gaps, Rubin holds down the middle pretty well. Then the Browns man coverage, leaves the deep ball liability, as witnessed by Mike Wallace in a footrace with anyone and no safety help. The Browns are pretty good all-around, except in pass rushing. Those third and long and final drives when the Browns have the lead, become the most nerve-racking and often the most infuriating displays in all of sports. To this end, the Browns defense is constructed as almost the complete opposite of the Steelers, Steelers have their best players at linebacker.

Why Polamalu is So Damn Good…

Guys like Troy Polamalu are just fun to watch. It is the innate sense of the game, where plays seem to be made by intuitive “feel” of what is going on, or seemingly by clairvoyant anticipation. Forgive me, I am unable to describe that inherent gift better. What I am trying to describe should leave the reader with an appreciation for his abilities, as if he protected a villagers from a mauling bear, unarmed, and without hurting the bear or sustaining injury himself. It should be a feeling of something vaguely supernatural is implied, but the astounding physical ability is taken as a given.

The other thing, and the reason that in his absence he is so gravely missed, he is one of only a few players in the league that are legitimate superstars. By my definition, at least, there are only a few players who have this title, no need to go to toes if your counting…

su·per·star

[soo-per-stahr]–noun

1. A person, who is recognized and is esteemed for exceptional talent in every facet of their position.

i.e. Running back A is a 2,000 yard rusher, but is a blocking liability with terrible hands out of the backfield, would not be considered a superstar. However a 1,200 yard rusher who can pick up blitzers, catch, et cetera, would be considered a superstar.

2. A football player whose vast skill set allows their respective play caller no limitation of options what can be done.

Securing his superstar status, is the combination of run stopping ability, block shedding, blitzing ability, speed, toughness, man coverage, zone coverage, ball skills, tackling, play recognition, and general awareness. Over the broad spectrum of skills that could be applied to a strong safety, Polamalu is at least in the top 10 in every category. Therefore, his versatility does not take away from what Dick LeBeau can do. He will play close to the line against teams without a quarterback that they respect, like the Browns, and play in coverage against teams that have respected QBs, and do either at an elite level.

Rock, Paper, Scissors…

The match up of systems and team strengths on paper, can give the football a feeling of paper, scissors, rock, sort of a what beats what. Having gone over some of the theories behind why the Browns cannot get the best of the Steelers, the same goes into why the Steelers match up poorly with the Patriots.

Unlike the QBs the Browns have had, Tom Brady can pick apart the Steelers defense better than anyone. Of the guys with the most elite accuracy, Brady, Manning, and Rivers, Brady has the strongest arm. He just gets the ball to the receivers slightly quicker, and those fractions of a second are huge. So the arm strength, combined with the small ball approach, short and intermediate receiver routes, allows Brady to get the ball in the seems of the zone coverage. The Steelers run defense is also depleted by the Patriots spread type personnel of additional wide receivers, forcing the Steelers to substitute defensive backs (Weakness) for linebackers (Strength).

The Patriots defense also causes issues. The Patriots run 2-Man, 2 safeties back with man coverage underneath, which is the probably the best scheme for turnovers (corners can be more aggressive in going after the ball knowing there are safeties to tackle) and tough against the deep ball that the Steelers are largely dependant on. Although they give up a bit in run defense by this approach, they are trying to force a shootout scenario, so they are trusting in a cohesive plan by allowing more little plays, but stopping big ones.

Interestingly enough, the Browns have a great match up with the Patriots. People like Tony Grossi, and others who do not have the vaguest understanding of the game, like to pretend that the win against the Patriot in 2010 was a fluke, but it was a systems clash. Mangini and Daboll’s small ball approach worked well against the Patriots. That defense is built to play with a lead, i.e. pass rush, and stop the long ball. They got to do neither of the two. The Browns running game smashed them, and the Pats secondary did not appear up to stopping the short stopping and crossing routes.

Defensively for the Browns, they knew the Patriots wanted to pass often, and force the shootout. Fortunately for the Browns, that never came to pass. The Browns are pretty excellent in the secondary against the small ball teams. Moreover, where the Steelers lose a lot defensively in “Nickel” and “Dime” packages, 5 DBs and 6 DBs respectively, by having to remove linebackers for defensive backs, the substitutions are not nearly as drastic for the Browns from general talent perspective.

This, of course, is not to say that the outcome of games can be predetermined by a simple logical formula, there is however much to be said for tendencies. Further, the “Any Given Sunday” principle applies. Much of the time it due to miscues, still it is often peoples lack of understanding that makes the winner seem to be an upset victory, when it actually was pretty straightforward.

Summation

The Browns need an elite QB to compete in the foreseeable future. Less than elite will win against a lot of defenses, not Pittsburgh.

The Browns need to either get to Big Ben quicker or maintain coverage deeper. No way but to upgrade pass rush.

This all may be moot in weeks. This was largely in reference to the Browns under Mangini, and that means there is a possibility of the roster getting swept for new system fits soon. Best advice is to try and distract oneself from the agony of contemplating the future.

PS I know that some of you can’t wait for the new coach to be announced. I only assume it is to get started on calling for his firing as soon as possible.