Thursday, October 11, 2012

9 comments Gregg Easterbrook Latest NFL Epidemic of the Week is That NFL Offenses and Defenses Are Too Complex

Last week in TMQ Gregg Easterbrook had some bizarre thoughts about why the NFL is like the NBA in that the officials don't enforce the rules (which I still don't completely understand), criticized a rookie cornerback for not being able to cover an All-Pro tight end, and generally wrote the same type of stuff he writes on a weekly basis in TMQ. Gregg also complained about all the scoring in NFL games and suggested the NFL do something about the lack of defense, then watched as a weekend of NFL action was played without a lot of high scoring games between two teams. Gregg never fails to run out of league-wide epidemics (that last for a week or two, like the 3-4 being a "gimmick" defense) which need the NFL's attention immediately and he feels feels to discuss in his weekly TMQ. This week Gregg decides the NFL is too complicated and teams that use a basic offense, like he claims the Minnesota Vikings use, are teams that will win more games here in the future. Gregg doesn't tell us how his belief that basic offenses are better than complex offenses fits in with his belief teams that use motion and a lot of movement on fourth-and-short situations have a better chance of converting the first down. By next week, Gregg will have a reason why basic offenses and defenses don't work and talk about how good NFL teams are the ones who can confuse the opposing team with the complex offensive/defensive game plan they are using.

The Vikes opened 1-1, then posted three straight victories, including over San Francisco and Detroit, playoff teams from last season. What is Minnesota's secret? The Vikings threw out complex schemes and went simple.

Which raises the question -- has football gotten too complicated?

For the purposes of this column, let's assume this is true and then never bring it up again once this is proven untrue over the next week. After all, Gregg is always telling NFL teams they need to simplify their offense. On fourth-and-short plays he is always telling NFL teams they need to use motion or some other complicated offensive procedure rather than merely running the ball straight ahead for the fourth down. You know, make it simple and don't overcomplicate a simple game by using motion or any other fancy offensive procedures to get 1-2 yards. That's what Gregg stands for, right?

Offenses have dozens of formations with hundreds of possible plays. Defenses have multiple fronts, personnel packages for every down-and-distance, complicated twists and rotating coverages. Yet for all this complexity, game statistics have changed only a little in the last half century. 

Game statistics have changed very much over the last half century other than that enormous increase in offensive scoring that Gregg was so concerned about last week. That was last week and apparently Gregg isn't able to remember what he writes about on a week-to-week basis. Just last week Gregg wanted the NFL to change some rules to reduce the offensive explosion of the last decade, but this week game statistics haven't changed very much. It's interesting how Gregg can change his position from week-to-week. If game statistics haven't changed much in the last half century then why would the NFL need to change the rules to stop an offensive explosion? After all, game statistics haven't changed much in the last half century have they?

Sunday, no one at all from the Atlanta Falcons covered Santana Moss of the Redskins on his 77-yard touchdown catch. Maybe a simpler scheme would suffice. 

Or maybe the complex offensive play design is what caused the Falcons defense to be confused about which Redskins player to cover. So maybe the Redskins' complex offensive scheme is what paid off on this play.

Then there's the profusion of coaches. The Vikings employ 22 coaches, most in the NFL. Having 22 coaches sounds like having five girlfriends -- way too many to juggle. 

But again, it is the simplicity of having 22 coaches on staff that has led the Vikings to a 4-1 record. It isn't the play of Christian Ponder or an improved defense. It is not the special teams play of Percy Harvin, but the simple play-calling (which apparently overrides the non-simplicity of having 22 coaches on staff) that has led the Vikings to a 4-1 start.

Maybe teams should just line up and play!

This is as opposed to what they do now? Teams have to practice and while teams probably do have too many coaches, the complexity of a team's offense prevents the defense from knowing exactly what play is being run and how to stop that play. The same thing goes for an offense knowing what the defense is running. There has to be some complexity or else the other team will know how to scheme to win the game.

I really hope that Gregg realizes while a team's offense or defense can be too complex, it is the complexity and unexpectedness of a team's offense or defense that can win a game for that team. NFL teams have game plans going into a game and if the opposing team does something different or adds a wrinkle to their offense or defense it can throw this game plan off. So while saying "line up and play" sounds really good, it isn't very productive without game planning and some complexity in the offense or defense that throws off the opposing team.

If Brees were coming out of college today, is there any chance he would have stuck around long enough to become a star?

Yes, there is a chance Brees would have stuck around long enough to become a star. Brees showed in his third season in San Diego that he could be a quality NFL starting quarterback. He had an excellent 2004 season and that was his fourth year in the league and his second full year starting. The Chargers didn't really have to be overly patient with Brees. Teams can be patient with a quarterback though. Alex Smith has been in San Francisco since 2005 and he is now blossoming.

The news-cycle pace of life has accelerated so much, merely in the short time since Brees joined the NFL, that today, he wouldn't have had a career beyond his third season. Brees would have been benched, or waived out of football, before he blossomed. 

Gregg clearly doesn't know this, but the Chargers drafted Philip Rivers in 2004, so Brees was essentially replaced after his third season in the NFL. As I have detailed constantly, the Chargers still made a contract offer to Brees, but the Chargers did bring in Philip Rivers as their quarterback of the future prior to the 2004 season.

Stats of the Week No. 1: Bears defensive back Charles Tillman has more career touchdowns (seven) than Bears wide receivers Earl Bennett, Dane Sanzenbacher or Alshon Jeffrey. 

While true, Alshon Jeffrey is a rookie who has played a grand total of five NFL games. Even though Charles Tillman is a defensive player, this isn't exactly a fair comparison when you look at how many NFL games Jeffrey has played in.

New England leading Denver 17-7 in the third quarter, the Patriots faced second-and-10 on the Broncos' 17. Tom Brady shouted and gestured, seeming to call a checkoff and making blocking assignments -- "52 is the mike!" was one instruction he shouted, meaning the middle linebacker. Then he barked a hard count, and Denver jumped offside. What hard-count word did Brady bark? "Warren!" Denver employs defensive tackle Ty Warren. Hearing their teammate's name made the Broncos defensive line jump. 

Again, I am in awe at Gregg Easterbrook's ability to read minds. It wasn't the barking or tone that Brady used which caused the Broncos to jump offsides, it was the specific word he used in the hard count, "Warren" that caused the Broncos defensive line to jump. I guess Gregg believes the Broncos defensive line are like dogs who salivate when a bell rings. They hear the name "Warren" and immediately jump offsides.

I wish I had the ability to read minds like Gregg does. So we are to believe if Brady had barked "Moore" the Broncos defensive line would not have jumped offsides? This is what Gregg and his Selena Gomez notebook (the same one he writes "Game Over" in) want us to believe.

Then Gregg starts to criticize the movie "Battleship," because a movie about an alien attack based on a board game needs to be realistic as possible.

But the opening scene of "Battleship" raises a question that needs debate. Now that the Kepler probe, launched in 2009 and designed to detect other worlds, has begun discovering "exoplanets" in great numbers, it seems only a matter of time until an Earth-like place is located. When that time comes, should we send a message?

Of course not! Haven't we learned anything from the documentary film "Battleship?" If we engage the aliens then they will hide under the ocean until the time comes for them to attack us.

A space-alien invasion would seem unlikely for the simple reason that an advance species wouldn't bother. 

Now that Gregg is talking about a space-alien invasion, this is a good time to remind you this column is about the NFL and football. Not that Gregg is off-topic or anything like that, of course.

Whether humanity should attempt to contact another Earth-like world is a debate worth having. This question may come up sooner than expected. 

Very, very true. I don't know why the Presidential candidates are wasting their time talking about the deficit or the direction of this country when they could be formulating a plan on how to stop an impending alien attack or beginning a debate on whether humanity should contact another Earth-like world or not.

In the offseason, touts were shocked that Houston traded DeMeco Ryans and let Mario Williams walk. 

Few people were shocked that DeMeco Ryans was traded. He is a 4-3 linebacker who didn't fit in with the 3-4 defense the Texans were now running. Touts were as shocked about this as I am that Gregg essentially just made something up.

Now these moves seem savvy -- Williams is giving Ryan Leaf a run for most overrated football player of all time,

But is he really giving Ryan Leaf a run for this dishonor? Mario Williams has had several very good years in the NFL, so how does that make him more overrated than a guy like Vernon Gholston or any other draft bust (which is what it seems Gregg is actually meaning when he says "overrated")? Perhaps when the aliens from another Earth-like planet contact us we can send them Gregg Easterbrook as our official spokesman. They can even have him for a few months and I guarantee they won't come back to bother Earth for fear there are 5 billion other people like Gregg on the planet Earth.

We'll know more about the Houston defense once it has faced Green Bay and New England, and once the prognosis for Brian Cushing is known. For now, it continues to look like Wade Phillips, who was a deer in the headlights as a head coach, is a master at coaching defense.

It helps that Wade Phillips has guys like Brian Cushing and J.J. Watt on his defense. In fact, the Texans defense has quite a few highly-drafted, glory boys, which is something Gregg intentionally skips over mentioning because it doesn't fit his narrative this type of player is lazy and underperforming.

With 39 seconds remaining at Indianapolis, Andrew Luck dove for a first down at the Green Bay 4. Officials stopped the game for three minutes to review whether Luck made the first down, ultimately confirming the call on the field. A call on the field is supposed to be overturned only if it is obvious the call was wrong -- if you can't be sure whether the call was wrong, the original ruling should stand. How can several minutes of multiple viewings be required to determine if something is obvious?

As usual, Gregg makes up his own standard for instant replay so it sounds like he is making a good point. A call should be overturned upon replay if there is "conclusive" or "indisputable" evidence the original call was correct. Gregg is annoyingly ignorant when it comes to things like this. There is a difference in a call that is "conclusive" and "obvious." The official was looking at multiple views to confirm the call was correct. Multiple viewings are required to ensure the call was conclusive and to confirm the placement of the football on the field. There are different camera angles the official needs to look at in order to determine there was indisputable evidence the call was correct. So the official wanted to confirm the call and also determine where the ball should be spotted. Naturally, Gregg is too busy asking questions and creating his own fictional standard to overturn a call upon replay that he doesn't take the time to think.

If replay officials are looking at the play over and over and over again, then they can't be sure what happened so the call on the field must stand. The replay review booth should be limited to two viewings of the play.

There are also different angles of the same play you ass-clown. This isn't difficult to figure out. Different angles can give different indisputable evidence as to whether the call was correct or not and good officials look at every angle to determine the call on the field was correct. Stop writing TMQ if you are going to ask questions just to be obstinate.

Revenge of the Defense: Last week, Tuesday Morning Quarterback opined that it was time for defenses to assert themselves. This week, five NFL teams were held without touchdowns. Florida defeated LSU 14-6 in a clouds-of-dust contest that might have been staged in 1962, with the winner held to 237 yards of offense. 

Last week's TMQ is otherwise known as, "Gregg Easterbrook tends to write columns claiming a football-wide epidemic based on one week's worth of data and then wants us to completely forget what he wrote that ended up being incorrect."

If you can't use small sample sizes to claim a larger issue exists, then what is the point in living life?

Reformers want to limit political donations: all such plans have run afoul of the First Amendment, and they should. But maybe we're thinking about this wrong. Don't try to limit donations -- forbid fundraising by current public officials. 

So how would a public official raise money for his re-election campaign? Why should an incumbent be denied the fundraising opportunities a non-incumbent has? I'm all about election fundraising overhauls, but this doesn't seem to make sense to me.

If any person or organization wants to donate to the president or other elected official, fine, so long as the donation is disclosed. But it should not be fine for a sitting president or other elected official not only to solicit donations but to do so on public time,

An elected official, especially the President of the United States, is always on public time. Even his vacations involve him doing some sort of work. So a law to limit donations and forbid fundraising by current public officials would in essence not allow an incumbent candidate for an office to raise money. This is especially true for an incumbent in the United States Senate or House of Representatives, a incumbent governor or the incumbent President who is running for re-election.

I agree elected officials shouldn't use public funds to campaign, but it is hard to enforce this rule for some elected offices. It sounds really good in principle, but nearly impossible to do in reality.

Foreswearing fundraising should be one of the conditions of holding public office. And if that handed an advantage to challengers -- good, because incumbents hold too many advantages. 

Incumbents do hold a lot of advantages, and as much as I can get behind a campaign finance reform bill, I am not sure I could get behind a bill that says incumbents can't fundraise. Maybe it is a good idea, but this would only lead to a candidate attending a fundraiser but not actually doing any fundraising while he is there. The rules will get bent and then Gregg will want to create a whole new set of rules to prevent a candidate from attending a fundraiser on his behalf where the candidate isn't actually doing any fundraising.

Friday night, Pulaski won 42-14 with starters leaving the game in the third quarter. Because Pulaski won handily, Bruins starters faced only two fourth downs. The results:
  • Fourth-and-7 own 38 -- pass, convert. First Pulaski possession of the game. Touchdown on the possession.
  • Fourth-and-goal on the 15 -- pass, touchdown.
Kelley notes, "From those two drives, we scored 14 points where most teams would have done the 'safe' thing and ended up with three points." 

So by going for it on fourth down Kelley and Pulaski successfully were able to run up the score more on the opposing team. Instead of winning 31-14, they won 42-14 (and note Gregg complains about college teams running up the score on opposing teams). Usually, these are the sort of actions that Gregg Easterbrook tends to believe are indicative of a coach who will be thrashed by the football gods. As I write every week, the team Pulaski faced was clearly overmatched so I'm not sure we can learn anything from their fourth down conversion. If the Baltimore Ravens play the Missouri Tigers and go for it every time on fourth down and succeed 80% of the time in getting the first down, does this really mean anything in terms of whether it is smart for the Ravens to go for it every time on fourth down when playing the New England Patriots? Probably not.

I avowed it is a good thing that today almost all high school graduates aspire to attend college. Doug Lippert of Babylon, N.Y., replies, "I believe there is a parallel between the rising cost of college and the housing bubble we saw burst in 2008. The reason for both is/was the amount of loan capital freely available for the purpose of either purchasing a home, or going to college. When people can easily get a specific-purpose loan, the cost of the product tends to go up. Due to the proliferation of student loans and increased demand for college degrees, tuition costs are rising at an unsustainable rate. 

This same point was made in the comments last week. America already tried the "Everyone can afford a house!" movement in the housing market and it turns out everyone can afford a house, but not everyone can pay for that house. Wanting everyone to go to college is a great idea in theory.

There could be a market correction, where the cost of tuition goes down due to lenders being less willing to write tuition loans. 

Not likely to happen. Colleges will only lower tuition costs if given a good reason to do so and lenders being less willing to write tuition loans isn't a good enough reason.

Unfortunately the more likely scenario is tuition will become such a burden that going to college returns to its previous status as an elite privilege. This would make a degree rarer and therefore more valuable, which would be good for well-off families but bad for everyone else." 

Families who are not well-off could have their child go to a less expensive school or more scholarships can be given to students who exhibit more need for those scholarships. Some colleges already award aid based on a student's need for that aid. So colleges could continue to give more aid to qualified non-elite status students and the elite students who can afford to pay out of pocket for the balance still owed the college after scholarships and grants will do so. The idea every college should be affordable makes as much sense as saying every house or car should be affordable for every home buyer. It would be nice, but it isn't realistic. 

Next Week:

A week after saying NFL rules needed to be changed because of powerful offenses, which I didn't think had any truth to it, Gregg now says the best offenses are the simple offenses. I will remember this the next time Gregg credits a complex offensive play design with confusing the opposing defense. 


Anonymous said...

In safety news, the league just debuted a commercial in which Tom Brady, Ray Lewis, Lewis's mother, NFL vice president Carl Johnson and a medical researcher talk about plans to make football safer. Except Ray Lewis's mother is not his mother -- she is an actress. More importantly, the medical researcher is not a medical researcher. He's an actor. The commercial is phony.

Wearing a white lab coat and standing in what appears to be a research facility, the fake scientist talks confidently about progress. But he's just reading lines; he might as well be saying, "I'm putting Bruce Willis in my time machine." The phony doctor declares the NFL will donate $100 million to brain trauma research over the next 10 years. Last month the league pledged $30 million to the National Institutes of Health. The league is asking credit for money it hasn't actually given yet.

But the key thing is the commercial deceives the audience. The league does not disclose that the "doctor" presented is a fake.

There are highly credible concussion researchers at Boston University, the Cleveland Clinic, the University of Pittsburgh and elsewhere. So in a spot with real football players and a real NFL official, why was an actor falsely presented as a scientist? Perhaps no genuine, credible researcher was willing to toe the desired PR line. League spokesman Greg Aiello told me an actor was used "to ensure that it was an effective commercial." Truthfulness is effective; the purpose of phoniness is to deceive the public.

I was surprised that you didn't hit on this little nugget. Now that Gregg has moved beyond just criticizing Scifi movies and into criticizing message-based commercials, I think we should all be scared. Seriously, WTF difference does it make if the doctor is real or not? Maybe I should email Gregg to make sure he's aware that Hugh Laurie isn't a real doctor, lest he be duped by Fox into believing that the best doctors are those with canes who solve medical mysteries in unconventional ways.

Also, regarding the $100 million over 10 years comment... If they just pledged $30M LAST MONTH, then it seems like they are well on their way to $100M OVER TEN YEARS.

Anonymous said...

Bears defensive back Charles Tillman has more career touchdowns (seven) than Bears wide receivers Earl Bennett, Dane Sanzenbacher or Alshon Jeffrey.

As you mentioned Jeffrey is a rookie with all of 5 games under his belt. Dane Sanzenbacher is a 2011 UDFA, wtf is he doing comparing him to 2003 second rounder (i.e. highly drafted) Tillman? Yes, one plays defense and one plays offense, but Sazenbacher is like the Bears #5 WR.

Sweet Play of the Week: San Diego leading 7-0, New Orleans faced third-and-6 on the Bolts' 40. Devery Henderson, split right, ran an out-and-up. Highly drafted cornerback Quentin Jammer bit so badly, he'll need to see a dentist. Highly drafted Eric Weddle, the safety on that side, bit so badly on a middle fake that he will need new cleats, since his appeared glued to the turf. Henderson took a perfect strike in stride with no defender within 10 yards, and Brees had the record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass.

"Highly drafted" Eric Weddle and Devery Henderson were both taken in the 2nd round. The ball was thrown by 32nd overall pick (1st pick in 2nd round) Drew Brees who just signed a megabucks contract in the offseason.

Now this question: in a high school game, it's third-and-16. The quarterback throws incomplete, but the defense is assessed a personal foul for roughing the passer. What is the next down? (Answer below.)


Officiating Answer: The down is third-and-1 except in Massachusetts and Texas, where the down is first-and-10. Most states use the National Federation of High Schools handbook, which stipulates that a personal foul is 15 yards but not an automatic first down. Massachusetts and Texas use the NCAA rulebook, which syncs with the NFL rule.

I don't know about this one, but numerous posters claiming to be HS officials call out Gregg in the comments section on this one, claiming that he is wrong.

Murray said...

Isn't Warren out for the year?

Bengoodfella said...

Anon1, I miss out on things every week. That was a pretty big miss. I'm not sure how I missed it. I would say if the NFL has pledged $30 million then they are well on their way to $100 million. They probably want to spread their contribution over a few years.

I always assume any doctor in a commercial is an actor and not a real doctor. I'm not sure why Gregg's world view has been shaken like it has.

Anon2, those are the kind of cherry-picking comparisons that Gregg is famous for. He picks a rookie and a #4/#5 receiver to compare Tillman to. It just doesn't make sense to do this. Tillman is a great defensive player and has been in the NFL for 9 years. It doesn't shock me he has more TD's than the other two guys. Plus, notice how Gregg fails to mention Tillman's draft position. It's deliberate.

Crap, I'm off my game this week. I should have pointed out where Henderson was picked and where Brees was picked. So basically a highly drafted player was beaten by two other highly drafted players. Welcome to the NFL, this happens all the time, Gregg.

I will have to read the comments. I try to avoid them on the whole, but I'll take a look. If he is wrong, he'll have a small correction next week.

Murray, it seems he is out for the year. I guess hearing their fallen teammate's voice causes the Broncos defensive line to jump offsides...because that makes so much sense.

Eric C said...

With all the talk of obscure colleges, you figure Gregg would have heard of community or junior colleges.

Bengoodfella said...

Eric, I have given up trying to figure out what Gregg thinks. It's a losing proposition for me. Otherwise, yes you would figure he had heard of community or junior colleges.

jacktotherack said...

"Stats of the Week No. 1: Bears defensive back Charles Tillman has more career touchdowns (seven) than Bears wide receivers Earl Bennett, Dane Sanzenbacher or Alshon Jeffrey."

How shocking that the best cornerback in team history has more TD's than a WR 5 games into his career, A receiver who has only played extensively for 1.5 years, and Dane fucking Sanzenbacher, who has only been active in 1/3 of Bears games over the last two years. This is the most meaningless statistic ever.

Bengoodfella said...

Jack, It is shocking isn't it? That's saying a lot that this is the most meaningless statistic ever. I feel miserable knowing someone is going to read that statistic and then moronically repeat it to their friends.

James McAllister said...

Great article! Especially the bit about corporate owners "donating" to political campaigns - that seems shady for sure. Although, I do think they should try to advocate for legalizing gambling, which these ridiculous daily fantasy sports companies are actually doing. Might as well make it legal and regulate it. I play football teasers and I have no doubt the NFL wants a piece of the pie.