Monday, September 3, 2012

11 comments TMQ Features Great Ideas from High School Football That May Not Translate to the NFL

Gregg Easterbrook wrote his AFC Preview-that-isn't-really-a-preview last week in TMQ and this week he previews the NFC, even though he doesn't really do much previewing. The good (bad) news is that while Gregg got rid of his creepy "Cheerleader of the Week" feature and the incredibly craptastic "Christmas Creep" feature, he has added a "Friends Don't Let Friends Punt" feature where he will selectively choose one team each week who shouldn't have punted in a certain situation while ignoring the teams who did go for it on fourth down and don't succeed in picking up the first down. Gregg has also become bored with criticizing science-fiction shows for their lack of realism and has now started picking on police procedurals for their lack of realism. At some point Gregg needs to be informed that 100% of all television shows are fake in some way, whether it is through the editing of a reality show or the overall lack of realism in a drama/comedy television show.

In 2005, your columnist chatted at a cocktail party with Don Shula, asking him if there was any fundamental football innovation yet to be tried. "Someday," Shula said with a twinkle in his eye, "there will be a coach who doesn't punt."

Shula had a twinkle in his eye? Who is he, Santa Claus?

Turns out 2005 was the very year the idea was tried. Kevin Kelley, head coach of Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Ark., stopped sending in the punt unit, and his charges reached the state quarterfinals. The next year Pulaski didn't punt once, and reached the state championship.

While this is an interesting tactic to not punt, Gregg fails to mention the Pulaski Academy had a pretty good football program prior to deciding he was no longer going to punt. Pulaski Academy won the 3A Arkansas state title in 2003. So while Gregg wants it to appear Kelley and Pulaski stopped punting and this helped lead the team to more success than the team had experienced prior, the football program was already successful prior to Kelley refusing to punt. Pulaski Academy was already a good football program prior to the change of heart when it comes to punting. Gregg conveniently leaves this out in order for his readers to gain a less clear picture of where the program was in terms of competitiveness prior to 2005.

Kelley holds other unorthodox views of kicking downs. He almost always has Pulaski onside kick, reasoning that the roughly one-in-three chance of recovering (thus creating a turnover) is worth the two-in-three chance of surrendering field position.

While I won't deny this statistic probably being true for high school football, as of 2009 the odds of recovering an onside kick was 26% in the NFL and much of this number being so high was attributed to whether the kick was a surprise or not. I'm not denying this strategy in high school football, but in the NFL I would doubt the onside kick would work 33% of the time, especially when the opposing team learns to expect an onside kick. In the NFL much of the success of an onside kick is because of the surprise aspect of it.

"In high school the average opponent start after a regular kickoff is the 33-yard line. After a failed onside it is the 47," he says. "So you are risking 14 yards of field position in return for a good chance of a turnover. If there was a blitz action that would risk a 14-yard gain by the offense versus a turnover for your defense, you'd call it constantly. That is the equation for an onside, yet the play is hardly ever called."

I don't know where these numbers come from, but this rationale does seem to make a bit of sense in high school football. In the NFL, the average kickoff position in 2011 was the 22.1 yard line. I am using tenths of a yard, which would drive Gregg Easterbrook crazy because I am being hyper-specific.

In the NFL, a kickoff happens at the 35 yard line and an onside kick would have to go at least ten yards for the kicking team to recover it, so I would guess most failed onside kicks end up at the 47 yard line (just to keep it consistent with the high school yardage line). So instead of 14 yards of field position, an NFL team would be giving up 25 yards of field position (from the average starting yardage marker) in a league where fewer onside kicks are successful. I would be interested to see how this strategy works through an entire season in the NFL or college, but Gregg can't blatantly ignore the differences in the NFL and high school game when discussing this topic. I'm not sure how these tactics would translate to the NFL.

When the other team punts, Pulaski rarely has a returner on the field. Kelley reasons that a muffed or fumbled punt is about as likely as a long return, and so is content simply to let the punt roll, in order to ensure his side takes possession.

Again, in the NFL where there are professional punters who can kick a ball 40- 50 yards in the air at times, I'm not sure how this strategy would work. I would be interested to see it, but I don't know how applicable to the NFL this strategy seems to be. A punter in the NFL can kick the ball 40-50 yards in the air and that doesn't include if the kicking team got a good bounce. A football team who has the opposing team punting out of their end zone could give up 20+ yards in field position by not sending a returner on the field.

Kelley rarely sends a rush after a punter, reasoning that a roughing-the-kicker penalty is more likely than a block.

If a coach doesn't send a rush after the punter, then what will the Jets do with Ex-Backup QB Punt Protector Jets? Coaches can't just stop sending a rush after a punter. Think about Ex-Backup QB Punt Protector Jets, what he is going to do, play quarterback if this happens?

"Everyone says football is a game of field position, but it's not," Kelley maintains. "It's a game of scoring points, which only happens when you possess the ball.

Yes, but good field position means a team has less territory on the field to cover when trying to score points. I think in the NFL football is a game of field position many times. I'm not saying this is a reason to be conservative or not go for it on fourth down, but in the NFL field position can be very important since it reduces or increases the yardage an offense has to gain in order to score points.

Kelley's logic about onside kickoffs and not returning punts may apply more to high school than the college and pro levels of the sport, where muffs are less frequent and touchbacks more common.

"May apply?" No shit. I guess the big question this raises for me is why Gregg is bringing this topic up if it may not relate to the NFL? So for high school football, these are principles I can get behind, but in the NFL I am not sure it is applicable. NFL punters are too talented, kick returners in the NFL don't muff the ball as much as high school kids do, and because there is a more even level of talent on each team in the NFL as compared to high school field position is pretty important. Kelley is all about scoring points, but it is easier to score points if you have good field position.

But his argument for going for it on most fourth downs seems sound across all levels of football.

Last year the typical NFL offensive play gained 5.4 yards. If it's fourth-and-3 or less, going for the first is likely to result in keeping possession.

Advanced NFL Stats did a study that said coaches should go for it in situations like this. Call me risk adverse, but the position on the field would influence whether I went for it or not. If I am at the 50 yard line, I would probably go for it on fourth down (but use a lot of motion and never call a running play that goes straight ahead since Gregg Easterbrook has told us that's the key to converting fourth down), but I wouldn't go for it on fourth down if I am on my own 25 yard line.

The Accuscore computer simulated thousands of NFL games for TMQ using NFL stats, and found that at the pro level, rarely punting made victory 5 percent more likely. In a 16-game NFL season, that means one additional victory per year.

I'm not entirely sure the math on this makes sense. I don't know if a 5% greater chance of victory in 16 individual games really does add up to one additional victory per year.

Consider that the Giants-versus-Bills Super Bowl in 1991 came down to a 47-yard field goal attempt on grass as the clock expired. When the kicker missed, he was blamed for the loss, though 47 yards on grass is 50/50 for the best place-kickers.

The Bills should have gone for it on fourth down and that way the clock would have run out and the Giants definitely would have won the game?

Earlier in the game, Buffalo punted on fourth-and-1 from midfield and on fourth-and-2 from the Giants' 44. The Bills were the league's highest-scoring team that year, averaging 6.3 yards per offensive snap. Had Buffalo gone for it on those fourth-and-short situations, victory was likely.

Victory was likely, huh? Other than having to convert this fourth down, the Bills would have had to get another first down in order to be in field goal range and Scott Norwood would have had to make the kick. Again, this is all likely to happen.

I think "possible" is the word Gregg should be using here. It very well could have happened, but the Giants played pretty good defense in that Super Bowl, so I wouldn't call it "likely" to happen.

This season, Tuesday Morning Quarterback will track Pulaski's progress with weekly items on every fourth down that the Bruins face, what Kelley calls, and what the play and game results are. Pulaski opens its season Friday night, so the first weekly item about the program -- Friends Don't Let Friends Punt -- will run next Tuesday.

I am sure this strategy will work perfectly fine in high school. The idea of no-punting should not be revolutionary when you have a good team like Kelley has at Pulaski Academy. Whether this strategy can work at the high school level is not in doubt, but this won't prove anything until it is seen to work at the college and NFL-level. So Gregg constantly beating his readers over the head with how successful this no-punt strategy at the high school level can be is pointless. We know it can work in high school.

Though TMQ believes football coaches should go for it more often on fourth down, that does not, of course, mean the tactic will work.

So per the usual TMQ policy, if going for it on fourth down will work, then go ahead and do it, but if going for it on fourth down won't work, then don't do it. Whatever the result of the play was, that determines whether a coach should have gone for it or not.

Despite the show put on by their prize rookie, the Panthers finished 6-10 and a weak 1-6 versus teams that made the playoffs. Defense was the main reason: poor overall, and an NFC-worst 143 points allowed in the fourth quarter. New head coach Ron Rivera is a former defensive coordinator, so presumably will have something to say about the tackling.

Perhaps Rivera will also find a way to make sure four linebackers, including two starters, don't go on Injured Reserve this year.

Perhaps he also will break Carolina of its recent habit of cannibalizing future drafts. In the past three years, the Panthers have traded future first-, second- and third-round choices for second-, third- and fourth-round selections right away. The net of those transactions was to swap a first-round draft choice for a fourth-round draft choice.

This a division problem where a second-round pick cancels another second-round pick, so the net isn't a fourth round pick for a 1st round pick. To move up one round in the draft the starting price is usually a pick one round earlier in the next year's draft. The Panthers traded the first round pick for the next year to make a pick in the second round during the current year, traded a second round pick for the next year to take a pick in the third round during the current year, and traded a third round pick for the next year to take a pick in the fourth round during the current year. While Gregg has in the past criticized the Patriots for stockpiling picks, he is now criticizing teams for not stockpiling picks. Apparently the only way to please Gregg Easterbrook is to never make a trade during the NFL Draft.

But many touchdown catches are short plays that begin near the opponent's goal line,

Really? Like how short of a play are these touchdown catches? This statement somewhat confuses me.

Green Bay: The Packers were a league-best 15-1 in 2011, then honked their home playoff opener. A heartbreaking death in the family was one reason.

I know Gregg is talking about Joe Philbin, but he never makes this clear and never explains it. In fact, Gregg's next sentence is this one:

On the field, the Packers had been masking a weak defense -- Green Bay dropped from fifth in defense in 2010 to last in 2011.

Give your readers some context when saying things like this. Not everyone may not know what you are talking about.

Green Bay: The Packers were a league-best 15-1 in 2011, then lost their playoff opener at home. Who knew alien invasions had such bad timing?

Last season the Vikings were 1-2 when rushing for at least 200 yards, which may mean the run is overrated in the contemporary pass-wacky NFL.

Or it may mean this is a sample size taken from the win-loss record over three games played by one NFL team during one NFL season. Is this reliable data? Possibly not.

The Vikes' 3-13 record definitely shows that sacks are overrated. Minnesota was first in the NFL for sacks with 50, and had the league's top sack artist, Jared Allen, with 22. The Vikings also were outscored by 109 points, finished 26th against the pass, and were eliminated from playoff contention by Thanksgiving.

Or it may mean the Vikings secondary was terrible. There are players who have a job to do other than the defensive linemen when it comes to a team playing defense.

Here are "procedurals" lowlights from the offseason:

(bangs head on desk repeatedly)

On "NCIS: Los Angeles," a mad scientist is said to be about to release enough weaponized smallpox to kill a third of the world's population. Yet the entire United States government has only nine people working on the problem, mostly from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. No FBI, no LAPD, no California State Police, no CDC personnel.

It's almost like this is a television show and not based entirely on reality.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service can declare martial law? Sure, it's just a preposterous show. But last year it was the No. 2-rated drama on American television.

Americans are idiots. We already know that. "Two and a Half Men" is still on the air and few people have figured out "Glee" is one of the most racist shows full of ignorant stereotypes on network television.

Crime shows drastically overstate both the incidence of murder and the frequency of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. This summer in one of the final episodes of "The Closer," a priest is murdered. The chief detective wants to charge into the famed Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels to seek evidence. The LAPD police chief tells her, "This place must be treated with respect; there were five memorial services here last year alone for our officers killed in the line of duty." No LAPD officer died in the line of duty in 2011.

Obviously Gregg should email the creator of "The Closer" so they can re-shoot this entire episode, which was obviously supposed to accurately reflect real life much like other network television shows accurately reflect real life.

Always on the cutting edge of cheesecake technology, the Eagles cheerleaders -- first pro sports dance squad to advance from swimsuit calendars to lingerie calendars -- this year offer "eco-friendly" bikinis with a theme of reducing water consumption in energy production.

Beside this comment is included a picture of an Eagles cheerleader holding her bikini. I guess Gregg isn't doing the "Cheerleader of the Week" feature, but he is fully dedicated to maintaining his "creepy old man" attitude towards NFL cheerleaders.

The Rams have been active this summer in granting lucrative contract extensions to players. The gang that just went 2-14, we want to make sure we keep them together!

Right, because having their starting quarterback injured for most of last year didn't negatively affect the Rams team at all. Why does Gregg find it entirely unfathomable for a 2-14 team to have players worth re-signing?

This year's wide receiver corps includes the me-first Randy Moss, the me-first Michael Crabtree, me-first top draft choice A.J. Jenkins and Mario Manningham, who left the Giants because he wasn't getting the ball enough.

Where is the proof that A.J. Jenkins is a me-first player? There is none that I can find. Here goes Gregg just throwing out criticism that has no basis, much like he did last year when he called Julio Jones a "diva."

Manningham left the Giants because he got paid more to play for the 49ers. If offered Gregg more money than ESPN offers when his contract with ESPN runs out, does that make Gregg selfish or does that mean he is maximizing his value on the open market?

What could possibly go wrong? In all, the Niners will field five receivers who were first-round draft selections.

You mean highly-paid glory boys. Those guys suck because they are only in it for the money and the glory and don't work as hard as undrafted free agents. Amirightorwhat?

Isn't this everything offensive about institutional Washington in a nutshell? Preventing the opposition from recording a victory often is more important than improving the country. The Democrats did it to George W. Bush over clean air; the Republicans are now trying to return the favor to Barack Obama on several fronts.

It's all about winning and if your opponent has a good idea then you have to be against that idea or else the public might see your opponent has having a good idea. Progress always comes after partisanship.

Last season Tampa was last in the NFL in sacks despite using its first and second draft choices in both 2010 and 2011 on defensive linemen.

Sacks don't matter though, do they? After all, sacks are overrated says Gregg Easterbrook from earlier in this column...

The Vikes' 3-13 record definitely shows that sacks are overrated. Minnesota was first in the NFL for sacks with 50,

Typical Easterbrook. Sacks are overrated until they aren't overrated anymore. His position depends solely on the point he is trying to prove.

In just two years at Washington, Shanahan has spent a net of three No. 1 draft choices, a second-round and a third-round pick on the quarterback position.

I mean, yeah, that is sort of true. The Redskins haven't actually drafted a quarterback with three first round picks, one second round pick and one third round pick, so simply saying they spent a net of those draft picks on the quarterback position is factually correct, but a bit misleading since most of those picks came from the Robert Griffin III trade.

Next Week: Still America's original all-haiku NFL season predictions.

Haikus, Gregg Easterbrook...who says "no" to this?


rich said...

"Someday," Shula said with a twinkle in his eye, "there will be a coach who doesn't punt."

I love this. Don Shula was a coach for 35 years, if he thought this was such a great strategy, why didn't he fucking use it?

Last year the typical NFL offensive play gained 5.4 yards.

The NFL Advanced stats site is much better than Gregg, but I'm going to focus on Gregg's argument.

Just because the average play is 5 yards, mean shit. It doesn't even mean you have a 50-50 chance of getting more or less than 5 yards, so statistically, using the average is fucking meaningless. What's the standard deviation? What's the median (the actual 50-50 point?

What about field position? What about down and distance? In Gregg's thinking because the average of all 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th down plays is 5, going for it on 4th and 3/4 is a good idea.

The link you gave does a much better job and had Gregg spent 30 seconds looking at it and linking to that instead of just spouting a cherry picked stat without context, he may have had a point.

The Bills were the league's highest-scoring team that year, averaging 6.3 yards per offensive snap.

Again, this is completely without context. The NY Giants defense allowed 211 points that year, which was the best in the league by 28 points.

So basing decisions based on how you performed against other teams (including two below average and one very shitty defenses in the AFC East) when you're playing the best defense in the game... not smart.

Crime shows drastically overstate both the incidence of murder and the frequency of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.

It's almost like people wouldn't watch a show where the investigators spend an hour trying to read license plates on the red light cameras to catch people running red lights.

And for all the bitching Gregg does about these shows, it seems like the idiot still fucking watches them.

::after watching an episode of The Closer, turns to wife::

"Honey, this show is terribly inaccurate, the murder rate isn't that high!"

::next week::
"Oh shit, The Closer is on, I have to watch it... er... to um... be sure to note the inaccuracies for my article."

As dumb as some people are, I guarantee most of them realize that people aren't getting popped every two or three hours.

Normal life is boring as fuck, if I wanted to watch tv shows that accurately reflected life, I wouldn't fucking watch tv. I don't want to watch cop shows where 99% of the show is them doing paper work.

Sure, it's just a preposterous show. But last year it was the No. 2-rated drama on American television.

This week, the number 1 movie in the country is "Possession" which is a story about a girl being possessed by a demon that was conveniently locked in a box sold at a garage sale.

Who gives a flying fuck about the tv show. No one who is even remotely functional thinks that the people who work at NCIS can declare martial law anymore than they believe that if an asteroid were heading for us we'd send Bruce Willis and a bunch of oil drillers to blow it up.

Mario Manningham, who left the Giants because he wasn't getting the ball enough.

Yes, it's almost like Mannigham played pretty well last year and was told by the Giants they didn't have the money to keep him and that he'd be their number 3 receiver. It's absolutely mind boggling why he'd go somewhere he'd be a 1/2 and make 7M a year.

In all, the Niners will field five receivers who were first-round draft selections.

And one future hall of famer.

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, I wish I had said that. Sure, now that Shula is retired, he thinks this is a great strategy. When he was the coach, he subscribed to the same strategy that Gregg criticizes. Shula didn't want to get fired and just went with conventional wisdom.

I find it consistently abhorrent that Gregg states "the average yardage on a play in Year 20XX was 5.6 yards" with no regard for down and distance or where on the field the play takes place. It's impossible to just throw this statistic out there and just expect your audience to understand it with no perspective.

If the average gain on a play was 5.4 yards and every play got this much yardage then there would be no need for punters because teams would consistently get first downs on every drive.

I get so frustrated reading Gregg TMQ when Gregg just throws stats out at us with no context for down and distance. Are there really people who read TMQ and believe they are learning something upon hearing the average play is 5.6 yards and so that means on fourth-and-3 on the opposing team's 5 yard line a team should have gone for it?

If television shows were like real life there would be no need for television because real life would be just as exciting. It's a television show. If he is really morally outraged, then he should focus on how television shows portray certain individuals (men with babies, pretty much the entire show "Glee" is morally repugnant) and then complain about it. Shows are fictional for a reason. Real life is boring.

I find it hilarious that Gregg says Manningham left the Giants b/c he wasn't getting the ball enough. God forbid he wants more money and a starting job.

One future Hall of Famer on the Niners roster. You are talking about Michael Crabtree, famous for the Crabtree Curse, of course.

I wonder what happened to the Crabtree Curse? It's almost like it wasn't around last year and Gregg is full of shit.

JJJJShabado said...

My guess on the point where the 5% increase is that .05 * 16 = .8 and rounds to 1. There's no way to accurate way to conclude that the 5% increase would give you another win.

If you were 47% to win every game, with an extra 5%, you would still expect to win about 8 games in both scenarios. There isn't necessarily the same probability for each game. Plus, flukes and everything else.

Absolutely agree there's context to most of what Gregg is talking about that he never provides.

Bengoodfella said...

JJJJ, I thought he was doing that as well. Each game has to be taken as a separate probability if I am not wrong. So I don't know if that equals to one additional win either.

I would have less of an issue with Gregg if he would spend some of the time he spends talking about politics or television shows providing some sort of context to what he writes. It's too simplistic to say, "Player X gets 4.5 yards every time he rushes the ball so on fourth-and-one on the opposing team's one yard line Player X would definitely score."

Anonymous said...

As mentioned above, standard deviation, median and mode would all be interesting points of data to look at when discussing this 5.4 number. That assumes that Gregg wants to look at this information in a critical manner, rather than trying to cherry pick items that support his going-for-it-on-fourth-down position. The biggest issue is that the data set (yards gained on a given play) is very positively skewed. If a team has a 90 yard gain on one play, then said team would need 20 1 yard gains to get approximately to this 5.4 yard average.

The snazzy speed-based Lions are a team built for ideal playing conditions, and that's what they have been dealt in 2012 by the schedule makers. Nine dates in domed stadia; four outdoor games in warm weather; outdoor games at Chicago and Philadelphia, but before Halloween. The Lions' sole likely bad-weather contest is at Green Bay on Dec. 9. In 2011, the Lions were 10-2 in high-scoring games (when they recorded at least 20 points) and 0-5 in low-scoring games. Their ideal-weather slate promises lots of scoring, which should favor Detroit.,

8/9 of those "domed stadia" (seriously, why does he have to make all of these stupid nicknames and weird pluralizations?) are Ford field, you know, their home stadium. The other game is at the vikings, who they go home-and-home with every single year by nature of being in the same division. If the schedule makers were actually to give a gift to the Lions (in terms of "domed stadia"), then their games against the Falcons, Rams, and Colts would all be on the road rather than at home, making for 12 games in "domed stadia."

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, we will never get this information from Gregg b/c the data he provides proves his conclusion. That's all he cares about.

He makes up weird nicknames and pluralizations in order to be cute and funny. I don't find it to be funny or cute.

That's a good point. Basically the Lions have one game in a stadium outside of Ford Field. This isn't really a gift at all. I fell for it this time, but this is an example of Gregg giving us a statistic and not providing some sense of context.

jacktotherack said...

"What could possibly go wrong? In all, the Niners will field five receivers who were first-round draft selections."

Gregg Easterbrook is the only person who "covers" football who would see this and think it is a bad thing...

Anonymous said...

Wait, who is the 5th receiver that was a 1st rounder?

I've got:

1. Randy Moss
2. Michael Crabtree
3. AJ Jenkins
4. Tedd Ginn
5. ??

Manningham was a 3rd rounder (not entirely sure where that ranks on Gregg's scale of glory-boy or UDFA) and Kyle Williams was a 6th rounder. Maybe he's counting Davis?

Bengoodfella said...

Jack, it is a bad thing because first round picks are highly-paid glory boys who are lazy. It would be much more preferable for the 49ers to have all UDFA.

And yes, Gregg is the only one who sees this as a bad thing. What can I say? He isn't that bright.

Anon, he was talking about Vernon Davis. I had to do the count in my head as well and came to the conclusion he has to be talking about Davis.

Manningham as a 3rd rounder is neither a highly-paid glory boy first round pick or an underpaid, overachieving UDFA. Manningham is a greedy FA who dared to try to get market value for his services. Getting market value for your services is acceptable to Gregg in every field except sports.

Anonymous said...

^^^ But wasn't he underappreciated and unwanted by the Giants? They let him go after he was key to their superbowl victory because they wanted to go with highly-paid glory boy Hakeem Nicks and UDFA Victor Cruz (who is awfully showy for a hard-working blue collar guy). Gregg's rules are starting to make my head hurt...

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, now my head hurts. Here's how it works. If Manningham has a great year then Gregg will portray him as unwanted by the Giants in favor of Nicks and Cruz, both guys who crave attention and money. If Manningham has a bad year with the 49ers then he is the highly-paid glory boy who ruined his career because he dared to want a starting spot and to get paid his market value.

Whatever the outcome ends up being, that's how Gregg will portray Manningham. His rules are very malleable.