This week in his TMQ, Gregg takes small sample sizes his own misguided point of view and uses them to show out how the 3-4 defense is a fad and this "trend" will ultimately prove to be just that. As his usual routine, he takes 1-2 incidents where a 3-4 defense has gotten a lot of points scored on it and ignores the other effective 3-4 defenses in the NFL that succeed. He seems to confuse teams who run a 3-4 defense with teams having the correct personnel to run the 3-4 defense. Gregg acts as if teams believe if they use the 3-4 defense they will have a great defense, personnel be damned.
Obviously this is wrong. The 3-4 defense like any other defense requires the correct personnel to run it correctly. NFL teams know that and simply because a team switches to a 3-4 doesn't mean that team will immediately shoot to the top of the NFL defensive rankings. Gregg seems to think NFL teams expect this to happen.
Nothing's hotter in the NFL right now than the 3-4 defense. A few seasons ago, five or six teams used the 3-4. This year, 15 are employing the look -- Ticonderoga-class nose tackle, two big defensive ends whose first assignment is to strip blockers, four quick linebackers whose job is to make the plays.
Nothing's hotter than the 3-4 despite the fact, just a few weeks ago Gregg was talking about how popular being "pass wacky" has become in the NFL.
Gregg seems to believe there are no deviations in the 3-4 scheme. This is how Gregg plans on pigeon-holing every single 3-4 scheme. This is the basic form of a 3-4 defense, but based on personnel, there are changes in how each team runs it.
Last season ended with four of the top five defenses showing a 3-4. That got the league's attention, and this season the 3-4 is everywhere you look. Such defenses are the toast of sports talk. Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats asserts that if you adjust for differences in personnel, the 3-4 makes your team 4 percent more likely to win.
It tends to emphasize speed over strength, which can help in a pass-wacky era.
So 3-4 is a better scheme than the 4-3 in many cases and it also helps teams adjust to the new NFL where teams seem to be passing more. I think we can see why many teams switch over to the 3-4.
But in the main, TMQ is suspicious of the 3-4 hype.
Well naturally. It involves blitzing, which Gregg Easterbrook is completely against.
One reason I'm suspicious is because two of the past four Super Bowl winners -- Indianapolis and Jersey/A -- used 4-3 fronts.
Obviously that is a reason to be suspicious. Cherry picking small sample sizes using ultra-specific criteria does tend to lend itself to finding out statistics like this. Out of the last 15 Super Bowl winners, at least 7 or 8 of them ran a 3-4 defense. It's a proven defense and many good-to-great defenses have used it. Gregg can continue to be suspicious, but that doesn't mean he is justified to be suspicious.
Another reason I'm suspicious is because contemporary defenses have so many personnel groups that they may run 3-4 one play and 4-3 the next. New Orleans opened the most recent Super Bowl in a 3-4, but showed a lot of 4-3, some 3-3-5 and other looks.
This really isn't a reason to be suspicious of the 3-4 defense. Contemporary defenses do have a lot of personnel groups, but because teams run a lot of personnel groupings doesn't mean the 3-4 isn't a good defense, but can mean a team hides the 3-4 well.
Green Bay's 3-4 defense, everybody's darling,
Yeah, I am not sure where he gets this idea from.
gave up 45 points and 532 yards of offense in its playoff contest last season, and by the second half was switching to funky 2-5-4 and 1-5-5 fronts in desperation. This doesn't sound much like 3-4 dominance.
Gregg has repeatedly talked about how great the funky satellite defense (where the players just sort of wander around on defense and the offense doesn't know who is coming at the quarterback and who isn't) works in the NFL, yet he thinks funky defenses show desperation. The Packers were getting destroyed on defense, putting more defensive backs in the game was one way they tried to solve the problem.
The Steelers have consistently run a great 3-4 defense and have two Super Bowls in the 2000's to show for it. New England has won three Super Bowls in the 2000's with the 3-4 defense. That sounds like dominance compared to a one game sample size.
And consider the Washington Redskins. Using a conventional 4-3 with little blitzing, the Skins finished fourth in defense in 2008 and 10th in 2009. This year, seeking to "make plays" on defense, Washington switched to a blitz-a-rama 3-4. The Redskins are now last in the NFL in defense, and just surrendered 30 points to the hapless Rams. Not much of a testimony to the supposedly magical 3-4.
This is the first year the Redskins have run the 3-4 defense. One of the most annoying, if not the most annoying, idea among NFL fans is that teams can switch to the 3-4 defense and immediately see results the very next year. Sometimes it happens, but it takes different personnel to run the 3-4 defense and sometimes the growing pains aren't always so easy. It's not just as easy as installing the defense and watching the team improve overnight.
More important, I am suspicious because football tactics run in cycles of fads. The spread, the spread option, the no-huddle, the run 'n' shoot -- all seemed unstoppable for a while.
I am pretty sure no team runs the spread option in the NFL. Teams still run the no-huddle offense at times, so I would say it has become a part of NFL offenses rather than a fad. There is a difference in a defense that has been around for thirty years, and has shown itself to be considerably successful, and different sorts of offenses that some teams have run over the years. The 3-4 is an overall good defense scheme, while the spread and run 'n' shoot are parts of the overall scheme of an offense.
The Tampa 2 seemed unstoppable.
No one ever said it was unstoppable. When the defense is run well with the right personnel, it is a good defense. Need I remind Gregg that the same reasoning he used to say the 3-4 defense is a fad, that two of the last four Super Bowl champions did not use it, can be used to show the Tampa 2 defense still works. Two teams that appeared in the Super Bowl two of the last four years also ran a variation of the Tampa 2 defense.
Roughly by the year 2000, NFL offenses had figured out how to counter the 3-4, and defensive coordinators began to rediscover the 4-3. The disruptive, Super Bowl-winning Baltimore and City of Tampa defenses of this phase were conservative 4-3 schemes. Through the middle 2000s, the 4-3 was the "It Girl" defense. Then coaches and quarterbacks got a good handle on the 4-3, and defenses started reverting to the 3-4. Within a few years, the 3-4 will be understood again and teams will switch to the 4-3 as the hot defense.
I don't even know where to begin with this passage. Does Gregg seem to believe that defenses forget how to handle a 3-4/4-3 defense after a period of time and have to re-learn how to counter them? Do offensive coordinators have incredibly terrible long-term memories? I find it hard to believe the 3-4/4-3 defense had gotten figured out completely, so teams started switching defenses. Defenses are cyclical and sometimes NFL teams run more of one defense than another defense depending on what is popular in the cycle. Right now, the 3-4 defense is popular, but I am not sure NFL offenses have ever figured out the 4-3 or 3-4 defense.
Tactics matter, but players are more important. Give me a 4-3 defense with good players over a 3-4 with poor players any day of the week.
Well no shit asshole. Give me a 3-4 with good players over a 4-3 defense with bad players any day of the week. Give me a team full of overweight kids over a team of kids in wheelchairs any day of the week. Give me an offense with Pro Bowlers over the current Colts team quarterbacked by Peyton Manning any day of the week. This proves nothing. Obviously less talented football players aren't as competitive as good football players.
Alignments run in fad cycles; the essential question is how good the players are.
I am not sure who in the world would argue to the contrary.
Sweet 'N' Sour Play: Defending champion New Orleans lined up trips right, with speedy Lance Moore in the middle of three. Atlanta had a regular defense, not a nickel, on the field; linebacker Sean Witherspoon lined up to cover Moore, who blew past him for an 80-yard touchdown reception. That was sweet.
What was sour is that the Falcons don't have a guy named Sean Witherspoon on the roster. They have a guy named Sean Weatherspoon though.
A linebacker covering a speed receiver deep was sour. Also sour was that no one from the Falcons' defense or sideline recognized the mismatch and called timeout, though Witherspoon was waving his arm in a "help!" gesture.
I didn't see the play, but I would imagine that if Sean Weatherspoon had wanted a timeout, he could have called it himself. Possibly he wasn't waving "help" but instead signaling something of defensive importance to his team.
Eli Manning threw deep for what looked like a long gain, but the Giants were called for a safety for two major penalties in the end zone -- grabbing the face mask and chop-blocking. Center Adam Koets was trying to block two pass-rushers at once and hit one while grabbing the other's face mask -- a botched line call left Koets with two men to block while both Giants guards were double-teaming. Ay caramba. After the 2009 draft, TMQ noted that Jersey/A for several years had used nearly all its high choices on skinny guys -- defensive backs and wide receivers -- while ignoring the offensive line. The Giants' offensive line, a few seasons ago a strength, now looks worn down, dazed and confused.
This is an interesting comment and further goes to show that Gregg Easterbrook has no need for research when criticizing NFL teams. Adam Koets is not the starting center for the New York Giants, in fact he was drafted in 2007 (when the Giants were ignoring the offensive line according to Gregg) and would seem to be one of the guys who is replacing the "worn down, dazed and confused" starting offensive line. Koets wasn't a high draft choice, but he also isn't the Giants starter. I also enjoy how Gregg constantly talks about how highly drafted players are useless and overpaid, but he thinks the Giants would have improved by drafting an offensive lineman high in the draft.
"The NFL.com shop now sells unframed gameday pictures of cheer-babes for $50 or more. Is the NFL giving the cheerleaders a portion of the sale revenue? I bet not.
On opening day, NFL.com had a cheerleader picture on the front page, with a button that said 'Buy Photo.' Owners and league headquarters expect revenue from this. Why don't the cheerleaders receive payments?" And it's not as if these are photos of generic cheerleaders who cannot be identified. Most are easily identified; some are listed by name.
I am pretty sure Gregg Easterbrook is the only person who looks up the cheerleaders and knows some of them by name. The rest of the NFL-loving world is too busy watching the game to try and differentiate between the NFL cheerleaders. So to me, they are generic. Sorry, I am sure they are good at what they do though.
Mike Engle of Montreal writes, "I am a student at McGill University. Outside our Bell Centre, we have a nice park. There are already tiny little evergreen trees with Christmas lights along the perimeter." Daniel Guerra of McAllen, Texas, reports Toys R Us has already released its list of top holiday toys. Dave Lewis of Raleigh, N.C., reports, "On September 25th the popular game Doodlejump on my iPhone changed to Christmas mode. Fully equipped with snowmen, wrapped gifts, and Christmas trees. It was 96 degrees that day in my hometown."
TODAY AT WORK SOMEONE WAS PASSING AROUND A CHRISTMAS WRAPPING PAPER ORDER FORM! I PUNCHED THEM IN THE FACE AND ACCUSED THEM OF CHRISTMAS CREEP! AREN'T I CLEVER?
Jersey note 2: The previous Giants-Jets stadium, completed in 1976, cost $290 million in today's dollars. The replacement cost $1.6 billion. Can the new stadium really be 5.5 times better?
Inflation, the increasing cost of products used in building the stadium, there are new amenities in the new stadium that the old stadium did not have...should I go on with better reasons as to why a stadium costs more in 2010 than in 1976? I am sure the cost of a stadium is directly related to how much better it is and has nothing to do with the actual cost of building the stadium.
Trailing Arizona 17-13, the Raiders faced second-and-goal on the Cardinals' 2 with 15 seconds remaining in the first half, out of timeouts. Standard tactics dictate either a field goal attempt or a pass into the end zone so that any incompletion stops the clock; because of this, Arizona expected a pass. Instead the Raiders ran a toss sweep to Darren McFadden, touchdown. That's the kind of bold call the football gods usually reward with victory. Instead the Raiders went on to lose on a missed short field goal on the game's final snap.
Possibly because there are no football gods. Perhaps?
Reader Adam Gadberry of Birmingham, Ala., notes this testimony last week about possible national legislation on youth-sports head trauma. One motivating force is this report, which finds that concussion incidence is underreported.
This must be the obvious news story of the day. How long has the public heard that concussions are underreported? Did we anticipate concussion incidence would be overreported?
Alexander Hancock of New Orleans writes, "I'm a fan of Towson (Md.) University's radio station, WTMD, on Facebook. In mid-September they posted this: 'With 2010 winding down, which albums have you listened to the most?' We were less than 75 percent through 2010.
"Winding down" was the terminology used here. Not "ending" or "almost over," but "winding down" which indicates 2010 is coming to an end sooner rather than later, which is accurate since there is approximately 75% of 2010 already gone. Who are these people who write in to Gregg?
Adam Zuidema of Philadelphia reports, "This past week I was driving through Willow Grove, Pa., and noticed an electronics store advertising 'Black Friday sales every Thursday in September.' Not only is the store having Black Friday sales two months in advance of Black Friday, the store is having Black Friday sales on Thursdays."
Where in the Constitution does it say "Black Friday" can only refer to the Friday after Thanksgiving? It is a marketing promotion. I hope this guy and Gregg realize that beer commercials aren't real either. That guy did not really build a house out of beer and those guys in the Coors Light commercials aren't really talking to ex-NFL head coaches.
Companies market their products and have sales with names like "Black Friday" in order to get consumers to associate spending (like they would on Black Friday) with their sales so they come into the store on that day.
Trailing 31-3, San Francisco reached the Kansas City 3-yard line with three seconds remaining and called timeout, as Singletary frantically tried to keep a game without a touchdown off his résumé. It would have been more dignified for the Niners to kneel.
Now if Gregg had been talking about a college football coach trying to keep a game without a touchdown off his resume then Gregg would have been fine with it. I guess Gregg thinks the most dignified thing for Singletary to do is just not try and be competitive at the tail-end of a game. Quite possibly Singletary was trying to show his team they should never quit playing, even when the outcome is assured, which I think is not a bad lesson. Under Gregg's idea of how football works, wouldn't this send a message to his team and turn around the losing attitude of the 49ers?
Yes, blitzes sometimes work: A Rams six-blitz forced the Donovan McNabb interception that iced the Les Mouflons-Skins. But coaches boast about how they will make a big play by all-out blitzing; usually the play they make is for the offense.
Gregg has absolutely no proof that when an NFL team blitzes the play usually goes in favor of the offense. He tends to try and mislead his readers by pretending his opinions such as this are stone-cold fact without providing stone-cold facts to prove his opinion.
As for the host Broncos -- 22 red zone snaps for a total of six points, ye gods. Trailing 20-13 midway through the fourth quarter, Josh "When Does the Frat Party Start?" McDaniels went for it on fourth-and-3 at the Colts' 12, a good decision. But the play was a junky-looking short out at the first-down stick, incomplete. Denver, is that all you got?
How dare Denver try to get the first down in this situation. What a stupid play. I love how Gregg is all about going for it on fourth down, but then when the defense stops the offense from converting the fourth down he criticizes the team's play selection. It's never a good defense that stops the offense, but always poor play selection by the offense. Going for it on fourth down should be more prevalent in the NFL, but Gregg Easterbrook only occasionally provides good arguments for when teams should go for it.
Soon Indianapolis was facing third-and-15 on its 17. In this situation, Denver defensive backs must "keep the play in front of them." It doesn't matter if Indianapolis gains 10 yards, all that matters is that nobody gets behind a defensive back.
Which would explain why a short out on fourth-and-three in the red zone to try and get the first down may be a good play call for the Broncos. Anyway, carry on...
Collie, running a stutter-go, got behind cornerback Nate Jones for a 48-yard gain, and fans started streaming to the exits. Just to prove it was no fluke, four snaps later, Jones again allowed Collie to get behind him on a stutter-go, touchdown.
I know Gregg hasn't thought of this, but perhaps Nate Jones was expecting safety help on both plays. Maybe the safety bit on the stutter-go and was out of position. How could a highly drafted guy like Nate Jones screw up like this? Wait, he was a lowly drafted player? It's funny that Gregg Easterbrook completely fails to mention this since he always makes a point to show when a highly drafted player makes a bad play and points out when a lowly drafted player makes a good play.
Dallas went for it twice on fourth down on its opening possession at Houston, and though the second try failed, this seemed to create an aggressive mindset for the Boys' first win. Better still: Against the defending champion Saints, Atlanta staged a 21-play touchdown drive than included going for it twice on fourth-and-2.
It was the aggressive mindset of the Cowboys in going for it on fourth down that made a difference in the game and caused Garrett Hartley to miss an easy field goal in the New Orleans-Atlanta game.
Leading Carolina 7-0 in the second quarter, Cincinnati faced fourth-and-2 on its own 40. The Bengals sent out what initially looked like a punt unit, but the players quickly formed a regular offense -- a Wildcat with reserve tailback Brian Leonard behind center. He ran right for the first down, and although Cincinnati did not score on the possession, this call set the tone for the visitor's win.
What set the tone for the Bengals win was that when the Bengals did punt they put the Panthers inside the 20 yard line five times. What also contributed was the one complete pass the Panthers had in the first half...but I am sure it was the fake punt that set the tone rather than getting good field position against a terrible offensive team.
Joe Flacco entered Week 3 as the league's lowest-rated quarterback, in danger of benching. His first pass was a badly underthrown short out; T. J. Ward of Cleveland stepped in front and had both hands on the ball for a pick-six, and dropped the pass. Had Ward scored on that play, Flacco would have been booed off the field by the home crowd.
Gregg's ability to predict the future exactly knows no parallel. He knows the exact reaction of the Ravens crowd.
Chris Gumas of Lancaster, Pa., reports, "Trailing Franklin and Marshall 35-10 in the third quarter with fourth-and-goal from the 9, Juniata coaches sent in the field goal unit. Juniata is 0-3 to start the season for the sixth consecutive year, and fraidy cat calls won't change that. Even at the Division III level, coaches are more concerned with holding down the margin of defeat than try all-out to win."
Wasn't it just two weeks ago that Gregg Easterbrook said this:
Hurray for overmatched Morgan State. Trailing football factory Maryland 48-0 on the Terps' home turf, the Bears -- a hired cream puff who in 2009 lost by 41 points at Akron -- kicked a field goal to prevent the hosts from boasting of a shutout.
So it is fine to kick a field goal when you are "overmatched," but is not fine when a team isn't "overmatched" (yet seems overmatched according to the score) because the coach is just trying to make himself look better by kicking a field goal and decreasing the margin of defeat?
David McGaughey of University Park, Md., proposes, "The NFL could immediately eliminate the loose helmet issue with a simple rule -- if a helmet is knocked off during a play, the player must be removed for the next play. That would incentivize the players to keep their lids on!"
Not only would it incentivize players keeping their helmets on, but it would also add a retarded-ass rule to the NFL rulebook. So if a defensive player gets his hand up under an offensive lineman's helmet to the point it pops off, and gets a penalty for hands-to-the-face probably, the offensive lineman should have to come out of the game? Helmets come off for reasons that aren't because they are too loose fitting.
Here, Alan Schwarz, who's leading the charge on concussions in the media, argues that the Washington state law sounds better than it works. Like several Schwarz articles, this piece suffers from the journalese failing of treating one or two instances as proof of a sweeping trend -- you can find isolated examples of practically anything.
It is hilarious that Gregg Easterbrook criticizes Alan Schwarz's writing for using one or two isolated examples to show a trend when that is what most of Gregg's writing is based entirely on. We can't forget the wonderful example earlier in this column about how the 3-4 defense is just a fad because two teams out of the last four Super Bowl winning teams have no used this defense. I could also use nearly every other example Gregg uses when talking about plays that happen on the field. Gregg Easterbrook's entire way of using examples is to take one or two isolated examples and make it a trend.
Next Week: Next week's TMQ will be nonencyclopedic -- on Sunday I will be attending the Jets-at-Bills game as guest of Buffalo owner Ralph Wilson.
I am sure even though it will be nonencyclopedic, it will still be plenty nonsensical.