Thursday, January 29, 2015

10 comments Gregg Easterbrook Says Special Teams Aren't as Important as Offense or Defense Unless Special Teams Becomes as Important as Offense and Defense

It's almost time for Gregg Easterbrook and TMQ (because they are two separate entities in Gregg's mind) to go into hibernation for the winter, or at least until draft time. So I will enjoy berating Gregg for his weekly contradictions and attempts to mislead his readers while he is still around for me to berate him. Gregg tells us this week that whichever team has a pick-six will win the Super Bowl, unless that team loses the coin toss. One would think the Authentic Games metric would allow Gregg to tell us NOW who will win the Super Bowl, but apparently the metric that predicts the Super Bowl pairing can't predict which team will actually win the Super Bowl. Gregg also takes issues with bottomless pits (irony alert!) and names his non-QB non-RB NFL MVP. I'm kidding of course. He has his readers name the winner of this award and nominates two undrafted players, a 5th round pick and a 2nd round pick in an effort to make sure the winner is undrafted or lowly drafted so he can crow about how undrafted players are the best. It's fun how Gregg skips over highly-drafted offensive and defensive players as the non-QB non-RB NFL MVP. He could include guys like Jamie Collins, Darrelle Revis, Vince Wilfork, Rob Gronkowski, Bruce Irvin, and Earl Thomas, but he wants to nominate two undrafted players and a 5th round pick as his non-QB non-RB NFL MVP. Not that Gregg would ever have an agenda of course.

There's data, there's big data, and then there is slam-dunk data. In the latter category: Teams that return an interception for a touchdown are 12-0 in the Super Bowl. Get a pick-six, win the Super Bowl. It's pretty much that simple.

So both the Patriots and Seahawks need to ignore whatever game plan they have and just try to get a pick-six. Once they do that, they can rest easy knowing they have won the game. It's slam-dunk data.

Teams that run back a fumble for a touchdown in the Super Bowl are 2-2. Teams that run a kick back for a touchdown are 4-6, that winning total diluted by two Super Bowl victors who had both kickoff and interception return touchdowns.

The pick-six rules the Super Bowl.

Again, each team's secondary should jump all routes and do whatever it takes, even if the opposing team gets a touchdown as a result, to get a pick-six.

Why do interception return touchdowns link so tightly with Super Bowl victory when other kinds of return touchdowns don't?

I'm not a smart man, but I'm guessing this is probably a coincidence and not any type of data that is indicative of a trend that actually means something. A pick-six is a big swing in a football game, but there is no reason a team that has a pick-six has won every Super Bowl. I'm not sure there is a causation here.

One answer may be sample size. There have been only 48 -- excuse me, XLVIII -- Super Bowls. Maybe that's not enough to wash out the role of luck in the XII-0 record for pick-six teams.

Right, it's a smaller sample size. I don't know of a way to find this information, but I would bet that teams over the history of the NFL (INCLUDING THE TRIASSIC PERIOD!) who have a pick-six in a game are more likely to win that game. So what we have is a smaller sample size, along with a pick-six making it more likely the team that gets the pick-six will win the game, leading to Super Bowl teams with a pick-six are now 12-0. It's an indicator a team will win a game, but not to the extent the 12-0 record in the Super Bowl shows.

Perhaps this is because high-level quarterback play is needed for Super Bowl success, and an interception returned for a touchdown causes the quarterback to lose confidence in himself -- or his teammates to lose confidence in him.

Or maybe because it's six points scored against a team while they are on offense is a large swing of points and it doesn't have a ton to do with reading the quarterback's mind and knowing if he has lost confidence or not.

Fumble return touchdowns are great, but all players know that being in the right place at the right time for a scoop-and-score is almost entirely chance.

A pick-six is partly chance too. There is skill in causing a fumble, like there is skill in making an interception, but to return it for a touchdown requires a certain amount of luck that there aren't five offensive players directly around the defender who made the interception to where he has a chance to run it back for a touchdown.

Kick return touchdowns are nice, too, but they involve special teams on both sides -- and while special-teams play is important, offense and defense are more important.

Oh. Well then, I guess it's official. Someone should tell Tony Romo or Scott Norwood that special teams aren't that important. I'm sure they probably would think otherwise. I bet the Patriots and their fans think special teams are as important in the Super Bowl as offense and defense, considering they have won two Super Bowls on game-winning kicks. As a Panthers fan, I'm liable to disagree that special teams aren't as important as offense and defense considering John Kasay kicking the ball out of bounds in the Super Bowl undid all the good work that the Panthers' offense did in the fourth quarter. But yeah, special teams isn't as important as offense and defense until it is.

Gregg kills me. Special teams isn't as important as offense or defense until a team screws up on special teams. Then it suddenly becomes as important.

When the quarterback throws an interception run back for touchdown, this may mean the quarterback, the team's leader, just made a huge mistake, or that the opponent's defense is really good. Both are unsettling. Peyton Manning won his first Super Bowl, versus Chicago, then lost his next two, versus New Orleans with Indianapolis and versus Seattle with Denver. In both losses Manning threw an interception returned for a touchdown. Both times as the intercepting player scampered down the field, one could feel the air drain from Manning's team.

There was even a measurement on the scoreboard showing how much air was in each team and after Manning threw both interceptions for a touchdown the Air Drain Percentage for the Colts and Broncos increased dramatically. Everyone in the stadium saw the Air Drain Percentage go from 4.32% to 74.3% both times Manning threw a pick-six in the Super Bowl.

While I won't doubt there is a psychological component to a pick-six, part of the reason the pick-six thrown by Manning against the Saints hurt so much is it put the Saints up ahead by more than a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. So it wasn't a matter of air being drained, but a matter of the Colts then being down by more than a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. In the Super Bowl against the Seahawks, the safety on the first play of the game set the tone for the game more than anything else did, at least in my opinion.

Super Bowl XXXV was close until early in the third quarter, when Baltimore's Duane Starks intercepted a Kerry Collins pass and ran it back for a touchdown; the Giants went on to lose 34-7. There are many examples of the interception return touchdown breaking a team's psychology.

It was close, but it was also 10-0 in favor of the Ravens prior to Collins throwing this interception. Then Ron Dixon ran a kick back for a touchdown on the ensuring kickoff, putting the Giants right back in the game where it was "close" again. Then know what happened? Jermaine Lewis of the Ravens ran a kick back for a touchdown, putting the Ravens up 24-7, which really put the game out of reach for the Giants against the Ravens' defense.

Notice how Gregg points out the pick-six broke the Giants in this Super Bowl, but fails to mention the Giants special teams unit that isn't as important as offense or defense put the Giants right back in the game to where it was (in Gregg's own words) a "close" 10 point deficit for the Giants. Then the Ravens ran a kick back for a touchdown, which put the Giants right back down by 17 points. So Gregg points to the pick-six as the psychologically damaging play, but it was really the Jermaine Lewis touchdown on the kickoff that did it, because it put the Giants down by 17 points in the third quarter. The special teams unit that wasn't as important as offense or defense suddenly became as important as offense or defense in the very example Gregg uses to show the damage to a team's psyche that a pick-six can do.

Come Sunday, should Seattle or New England take an interception back for a touchdown, turn to your friends and confidently predict victory for that team. Act like you have access to some incredible Vegas insider service. And if the pick-six team doesn't win, remember this column's ironclad guarantee: All Predictions Wrong or Your Money Back.

"If I'm right, tell everyone how smart I am and know that the pick-six is a definite indicator of whether a team will win the Super Bowl or not, but if I'm wrong, then it's all a joke anyway and I have no idea what I'm talking about. When I'm right, it's because my conclusion is based on fact, when I'm wrong, it was all a joke anyway so don't take me seriously."

This is the same shit Gregg did with the Authentic Games metric. He wants it both ways. He wants credit for his accurate metric when it's right, but when it's wrong, the metric was only a joke anyway so don't take it so seriously.

In column news, it's time to name the recipient of the coveted "longest award in sports" -- Entertainment and Sports Programming Network's Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-Quarterback Non-Running Back National Football League Most Valuable Player.

As with last year, I nominate, then readers decide. Before you jump to a conclusion spelled "J.J. Watt," remember only players from teams that reach the Super Bowl are eligible -- my logic being if one is to wear the mantle of Most Valuable, one must have created value.

And of course, how could a defensive player who had one of the best individual performances ever by a defensive player have created value for his team? According to Gregg Easterbrook, the answer is that he did not.

The idea a player doesn't create value if his team doesn't make the Super Bowl is ridiculous. Just dumb. It's the same line of thinking that MVP voters in MLB use.

Stats To Ponder No. 1: This season, when New England and Seattle win the coin flip that starts a game, they are 18-2; when losing the flip, they are 10-6. 

Clearly whichever team wins the coin flip will win the game, but what if the team that wins the coin flip gets a pick-six? What if both teams get a pick-six?

Last week, I asked readers for their favorite bottomless pits.

And if there is ever an expert on a bottomless pit, then it's Gregg. Every week TMQ is a bottomless pit of misleading information and facts withheld in order to help prove the point Gregg wants to prove that week.

Mike Turschmann of White Plains, New York, noted that in "300," Leonidas has a bottomless pit in Sparta that he uses to dispose of Persians. If Sparta could build bottomless pits 2,500 years ago, why did Persia rule the ancient world?

Because it's a fictional movie.

Ryan Ottele of Renton, Washington, notes that in "Return of the Jedi," the evil emperor ends up hurled into a bottomless pit that conveniently is about 10 feet from his throne. I know if I ruled the galaxy, I'd want a bottomless pit in my office.

Ryan Ottele of Renton, Washington should probably know that it wasn't a bottomless pit that Emperor Palpatine was thrown into, but the reactor shaft of the Death Star. So he didn't have a bottomless pit hanging around his throne, but he had a reactor shaft for the Death Star near his throne. And the reactor shaft wasn't even bottomless, as can be seen in that video where there is an explosion when Palpatine hits the bottom. So this is just a big fail by Ryan, though it would help if Gregg wouldn't print something as bottomless when it was not indeed bottomless. It would require research to find out if the "bottomless pit" was in fact a bottomless pit and Gregg has no time for silly things like research.

Spencer Ferrero of Los Angeles notes that in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," Indy has to leap across a bottomless pit, then is pulled out of an abyss -- the secret temple had one of each! -- by his father.

The secret temple didn't haven abyss, but an abyss was created when the temple started pulling apart, sort of like what happens during an earthquake when the ground separates to create an abyss.

John Yaeger of Minneapolis ‏notes there is an actual bottomless pit in Minnesota.

If Minnesota has a bottomless pit, then why don't they rule the world?

The physics of bottomless pits are never spelled out. How is one built?

I don't know, ask the people in Minnesota.

Where does the stuff go?

Well Gregg, since it's bottomless I think that question sort of answers itself doesn't it?

Why don't bottomless pits have guard rails?

Darth Vader did have to raise the Emperor over a rail before dumping him down the reactor shaft. So...maybe watch the movie or something.

Since the MVP award almost always goes to a quarterback or running back, Tuesday Morning Quarterback confers an MVP for which quarterbacks and running backs are not eligible. Given pass-wacky trends, soon the award may be the Non-QB Non-WR MVP.

Because wide receivers are winning the MVP award all the time now and all. The last time a wide receiver won the MVP award was....oh yeah, never. Anyway, I think I'll worry about it becoming the non-QB non-WR MVP as soon as a wide receiver actually wins the MVP for the first time ever.

Only players from teams that reached the Super Bowl are eligible.

Which is dumb.

Cast your vote nearby. Next week's column will announce the winner.

And of course Gregg has to provide the nominations for his readers to ensure that no highly-drafted glory boy would be named non-QB non-RB MVP or anything like that. So Gregg nominates as many undrafted and lowly drafted players as possible so he can lead his readers in the direction of voting an undrafted player as non-QB non-RB MVP. This achieves the purpose of allowing Gregg to crow about how an undrafted player was voted as the winner, as if he didn't provide nominations that led the voting in that direction in the first place.

New England, offense: Dan Connolly, guard. Undrafted out of lower-division Southeast Missouri State, Connolly is the man who replaced perennial Pro Bowler Logan Mankins. For five seasons, Connolly has started almost every Patriots game. Against Indianapolis, most of the Patriots' rushing yards came up the middle between the guards. Connolly helped open holes a runner could have gone through holding a medicine ball.

You mean the guy who was rated by Pro Football Focus as the Patriots' worst offensive linemen? That guy? I'm sure those numbers don't mean anything though and Gregg's visual observation that Connolly was undrafted and plays for a team in the Super Bowl means PFF is wrong.

New England, defense: Rob Ninkovich, linebacker. Kyle Arrington, Darrelle Revis and Jamie Collins have had fine years for the Flying Elvii defense,

But two of them are highly-drafted players, so Gregg can't count them as part of this discussion for fear he won't get to go on a "Undrafted players are so valuable and here's proof" rant.

He has great instincts whether dropping into coverage or rushing the passer, and must be accounted for. Bonus: Ninkovich was let go by New Orleans (twice!) and by Miami.

That is a bonus! Obviously knowing Ninkovich was let go years ago by two NFL teams means his performance on the field in 2014 should be judged in a more positive light. Ninkovich may be a 5th round pick but he's also considered "unwanted" by Gregg.

Seattle, defense: Bobby Wagner, linebacker. On a team of defensive standouts, Wagner is the man who gets it done. Who's most "valuable" is usually hard to measure, but not in this case. Wagner missed a few games because of injury: Seattle was 3-2 without him, 11-2 with him. Offensive coordinators find Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman annoying; Wagner makes them tear their hair out.

Wagner was a second round pick, so he's the only hope to win this award and prevent Gregg talking about how valuable undrafted players are compared to highly-drafted glory boys. You know highly drafted guys like Earl Thomas, who is the catalyst for the Seahawks' defense. Notice that Wagner's draft position is not included in the discussion of how valuable he is.

The Super Bowl may be over at the coin flip, since Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick both like to defer and their teams perform better when deferring.

Deferring is thought to confer a slight tactical advantage since the team that gets the second-half kickoff knows what happened in the first half, what tactics were used and what the scoreboard situation is. Deferring also creates the chance of the back-to-back score -- scoring to end the first half, then scoring again to begin the second half. This can be demoralizing for the opponent.

Unless that opponent then gets a pick-six, in which case they have then demoralized their opponent that got back-to-back scores. The nature of demoralization is very complicated.

New England's performance has been reasonably uniform, a 292-194 margin in the first half then a 265-157 margin after intermission. The Patriots' best quarter is the second. They've outscored opponents by 79 points in the second quarter, which has fourth-quarter tactical dynamics but lacks the drama of the fourth quarter.

I think there are certain times in TMQ that Gregg just starts rambling without totally thinking about what he's rambling about. This may be one of those times.

Since about the middle of 2013, the Seahawks have disdained the blitz -- they brought pressure on five of 65 Green Bay snaps in the NFC Championship Game, much lower than the league average of 20 percent blitzing.

But as I always say, it's not just a matter of the Seahawks deciding they aren't blitzing, it's also a matter of the fact they can get pressure with four pass rushers. Not every team can get pressure with just four rushers, so teams that are able to do this don't have to blitz as much.

Given extra time to prepare, Seattle may try to surprise Brady by offering coverages it hasn't shown on film this season.

Or they may not offer coverages not shown on film this season. It may or may not happen.

When Seattle has the ball, expect a traditionalist approach of run-run-run then play-fake and throw long. In a pass-wacky era, the Seahawks' offense is a throwback. Early three-and-outs that might frustrate other teams don't seem to frustrate the Seattle offense, 

Partially because the Seahawks' offense knows their defense is good enough to not allow points that would put the Seahawks behind by a lot in the game. It's easy to not get frustrated with a three-and-out when you know that your defense won't allow the other team to score a ton of points and the three-and-out won't cause your offense to change the game plan drastically.

New England has been using press corners this season, playing a similar style to Seattle's. Adding Revis made press corners possible for the Patriots. 

Adding Revis allowed the Patriots to change their entire defensive strategy, but he's not in the running for non-QB non-RB MVP because he's a first round pick.

Statistically, by yards, Seattle is superior to New England on offense as well as on defense. Football Outsiders finds the Patriots' special teams better,

Yeah, but special teams aren't as important as offense and defense, so I'm not even sure why Gregg is choosing to discuss special teams at all.

and three of the past five Super Bowls included important special-teams plays by the victors.

Gregg Easterbrook from earlier in the column:

Kick return touchdowns are nice, too, but they involve special teams on both sides -- and while special-teams play is important, offense and defense are more important.

Gregg Easterbrook now:

"One thing that may make a difference in the Super Bowl is special teams. Three of the last five teams to win the Super Bowls had important special teams plays by the team that won. So special teams aren't as important as offense and defense, unless it is as important as offense or defense. It depends on what point needs to be proven at that moment."

The latest New England ethical lapse -- how many times do the Patriots have to let the whole country down? -- means Bill Belichick henceforth will be Bill Belichick* to this column.

Oh God, please don't let this become a "thing" in TMQ. Please.

A Nissan commercial showing a car driving through a pack of evil living snowmen says "do not attempt." If you encounter evil living snowmen, don't drive through them!

I think what the disclaimer means is don't drive your car through a lot of snow because it could damage the car in some way. It's more fun though to be intentionally ignorant and think the disclaimer is about evil snowmen.

The last time Bill Belichick's*

Crap, it's a "thing" that Gregg is going to be doing.

Patriots reached the final contest and also were in hot water was Super Bowl XLII, versus the Giants, the season of Spygate. As punishment for cheating, the football gods denied New England the first 19-0 record in NFL history. Now the Patriots once again have reached the final contest while being in hot water. Will the football gods once again exact vengeance?

They very well could. The football gods have been punishing the Patriots for Spygate so far by only allowing them to reach two Super Bowls since Spygate was uncovered, as well as allowing them to be one of the best teams in the NFL since 2007. It's been a harsh punishment, so I don't see why it would end in this upcoming Super Bowl.

When astronomers are puzzled by unknown high-energy events in the cosmos, TMQ asks: Why assume what we are seeing is natural? Perhaps astronomers are seeing the muzzle flashes of doomsday weapons. 

This from the guy who has a real issue with the use of bottomless pits in a fictional movie. Gregg has no issue with high-energy events in the cosmos possibly being muzzle flashes of doomsday weapons. Of course if a movie tried to set up a scenario where these were muzzle flashes of doomsday weapons then Gregg would make a great effort to point out how unrealistic this and then point out the scientific fallacies which the writers of the movie ignored and should not have.

Belichick* told the packed house. Shocked, shocked! In the famous scene from "Casablanca," the moment after Captain Renault shuts down Rick's cafe because he is shocked, shocked to find out gambling was going on, the croupier walks up, hands the captain cash and says, "Your winnings, sir." Captain Renault takes the cash and says, "Thank you very much." So when Belichick* declared himself shocked about Patriots cheating, a team assistant should have walked up to the podium and said, "Your Super Bowl plane ticket, sir."

I realize Gregg is attempting to be funny, but his example isn't the same as the scenario presented in the movie. In "Casablanca," Captain Renault was handed the very object which proved he should not have been shocked by the gambling. In Gregg's scenario, a Super Bowl ticket isn't the very object which proved Belichick should not have been shocked by the deflating of footballs. If the team assistant had walked up to the podium and said, "Here is the deflated football you ordered" then Gregg's scenario would make sense. Even when making a joke, Gregg just sort of mails it in without worrying about whether the joke makes sense in the context of the real life event he's commenting on.

Newspaper front pages, the lead story of network evening newscasts, 24-7 cable news coverage -- if the Patriots doctored game balls, that's wrong, but why the four-alarm level of coverage?

One reason is simply that football is the king of sports. America is obsessed with this game, down to its minutiae. The NFL has an outsized role in society, and never hesitates to use that outsized role for money and ratings. When the NFL screws up, it's an outsized screwup.

That's the long and short of it. The NFL is very, very popular and any news that happens involving the NFL is big news. It's the main reason the deflating of footballs has led news coverage.

Initially mulling this, I was tempted to say another factor in the reaction is that so many people viscerally dislike Belichick*. But the Saints' bounty scandal and the Ray Rice imbroglio got four-alarm treatment, and neither involved Belichick*.

The fact the Patriots were involved with Spygate a few years ago had something to do with the coverage, but before mulling it too long, just know the reason the deflating of footballs story is so big is because the NFL is so big.

But on reflection I don't think the reaction to PSIcheated is about Belichick*. It's about the assumption that people reach positions of power and privilege -- in sports, business, government, school, Wall Street -- by cheating, and most are never caught.

I'm just glad Gregg is finally getting to the bottom of what this football deflating scandal is really about. Because it certainly can't be about a Hall of Fame-caliber coach and quarterback suspected of cheating for a second time. It can't be that simple. It has to be about society and the idea people in power cheat to get there. There has to be some sort of macro-level to the Patriots deflating footballs, so it can't simply be about how some people believe Belichick and Brady are found to have cheated for the second time and they are about to appear in the Super Bowl (some claim) as a direct result of cheating. That can't be it.

But if there's a fair, open competition and one person ends up with a powerful, highly remunerative position while another ends up with little or nothing, we may prefer to believe the whole thing was fixed. Seeing a powerful, wealthy person caught cheating reinforces this.

Or many people just don't like the idea one team is cheating in order to win games. Or many people don't like the Patriots and can't wait to eviscerate them for getting caught violating NFL rules for a second time.

Postscript No. 3: TMQ regularly reminds -- including in this 2007 column as Spygate started

I find it interesting that Gregg links a column from 2007 and refers to it as when "Spygate started" considering a few years ago he tried to justify his whole "The Patriots haven't won a Super Bowl or had postseason success because of football gods punished them" stance based on Spygate not really having started until AFTER the Patriots lost the Super Bowl to the Giants. Gregg wanted to push the start of Spygate to the end of the season to justify his insistence the Patriots had not had postseason success since Spygate occurred. I can't find the exact TMQ, but that was Gregg's position. When called out on this being incorrect, I recall Gregg mealy-mouthed his way around it by saying Spygate didn't start until the Patriots were punished for it. So basically, I find it interesting he acknowledges Spygate started before the 2007 season started, because that wasn't always his position when he had a point he wanted to prove.

Postscript No. 4: Andrew Luck's hand size (pinkie to thumb with fingers spread) is 10 inches, Brady's is 9.4 inches. That's a bigger distinction than it may seem.

This is an excellent example of how Gregg's position on an issue will change depending on what he wants to prove. After most NFL seasons, Gregg writes in TMQ about "hyper specificity" and how there is no difference in a player running a 4.41 40-yard dash and a 4.48 40-yard dash because both should be rounded to 4.4 or 4.5. All of a sudden, Brady's hand size isn't 9 inches or 10 inches wide. Not at all. Now Gregg embraces hyper specificity and says Brady's hand size is 9.4 inches long. In fact, here is Gregg mocking those who do exactly what he's doing here.

Football is wild for absurd precision. Here, a combine 40-yard dash time is touted as "4.27" seconds, trailing only a record of "4.24" seconds. A player who runs a "4.24" is half of 1 percent faster than a player who runs a "4.27," and would finish a 40-yard dash three inches ahead.

Maryland just raised its state income tax rate to 8.95 percent. It's certainly not 9 percent!

Medicare taxes are rising this year by 0.9 percent for many filers to help finance ObamaCare. It's certainly not a 1 percent increase!

When Gregg has a point to prove, he is allowed to use hyper specificity, but it's outrageous when anyone else dares to say Medicare taxes are rising 0.9 percent rather than 1.0 percent. Gregg's own rules need not apply to himself.

In the aftermath of Green Bay facing four fourth-and-1s in the NFC Championship Game and kicking four times, many readers, including Rebecca Wayne of Bellingham, Washington, noted that as the decisions happened, Fox's on-air announcers seemed to agree. She wrote, "So in hindsight Mike McCarthy was wrong but it wasn't obvious in real time."

In most fourth-and-short situations, on-air personnel for CBS, ESPN, Fox and NBC (CBS provides the booth crew for NFL Network broadcasts) express approval when the coach sends out the kicking unit. Announcers tend to assume that if coaches who do nothing all year but study football think kicking on fourth-and-short is the right move, they must be right.

This could be true. What is also true is that most play-by-play guys are older and the analysts tend to be older ex-football players as well. I view going for it on fourth down as a more progressive and more recent trend. Those people, like on-air personnel, that don't have to make the decision and have traditionally favored taking points over going for it on fourth down will think the head coach did the right thing by taking the points. It's why Twitter blows up with negativity when a coach like Mike McCarthy kicks a field goal so close to the end zone. Twitter trends younger and younger people tend to favor the more aggressive and progressive tactics, while the tactic of "take the points" isn't as entrenched in them as it is the older play-by-play guys and analysts. It's my small little theory about why on-air personnel tend to seem more conservative.

It's obvious when athletes make errors -- interceptions are not supposed to happen -- but not obvious when coaches err, thus they receive the benefit of the doubt. Announcers even use the "have to" construction. As in, "It's fourth-and-1, the Screaming Lemurs have to punt."

Again, they favor less aggressive tactics because going for it on fourth down being supported by data stating this is the right strategy is a relatively new thing. It's why baseball announcers also tend to be more conservative and less accepting of newer Sabermetric principles. They call the game based on how they played/grew up around the game, which may be slightly different from how the current game is played in terms of strategy.

Blame-shifting is essential to understanding why so many football coaches opt for the "safe" tactic even if it reduces the odds of winning. Of course every coach wants to win, but that is not necessarily the No. 1 objective in the coach's mind. Avoiding criticism, and thus prolonging job security, may be objective No. 1.

Mike McCarthy just signed a new contract extension that takes him through 2018 and it's probably worth more than the $5 million per year he got in his last contract extension. So why would McCarthy give a shit about job security? If he gets fired, the Packers will be paying him for four seasons that he doesn't even coach the team. Job security isn't objective No. 1. Maybe this blanket criticism is correct for other head coaches, but Gregg can't explain away why McCarthy was conservative against Seattle with this "job security" explanation. It doesn't pass the bullshit test.

Usually coaches are criticized for fourth-down tries -- Belichick* was hammered for going for it in Patriots territory at Indianapolis. McCarthy's situation is a rare case of a coach criticized for doing the "safe" thing.

Probably because it was so egregious. Gregg explains job security is the concern of a coach when he decides not to go for it on fourth down. I don't think that pertains to McCarthy, so I would love to know if Gregg thinks McCarthy is that concerned about avoiding criticism. I can't believe McCarthy would have that thin of skin.

Football aside: Yours truly watched the tape of the fourth-and-1 decisions and was struck by this: All four times Aaron Rodgers trotted off passively, not arguing to go for it. Can anyone believe Brett Favre in this situation would have trotted off passively? This may be emblematic of the difference between the modern analytics-based, emotionally cool approach to sports and old-fashioned passion for athletic battle.

For the love of God, running off the field and throwing a tantrum like a child or questioning the head coach while yelling at him IS NOT LEADERSHIP! It is not. I wish Gregg would get this out of his head. Maybe Favre would trot off passively, maybe he wouldn't. Rodgers was probably thinking about how the Packers left opportunities to score on the field instead of thinking about showing "leadership" by acting like a child and stomping off the field.

Trotting off passively has nothing to do with an analytics-based approach to sports. It has to do with real leaders not questioning their coach publicly or acting like a spoiled brat in cases where that quarterback doesn't agree with the decision of his coach. Is leadership showing fellow teammates that it's okay to question the coach? Is leadership showing fellow teammates that it's okay to act like a spoiled brat? This is not leadership.

Political aside: Hillary Clinton is so far ahead in the early polls that the very size of the lead ought to make her nervous. The Packers thought a 16-0 lead was insurmountable, too.

I'm sure Hillary Clinton knows that being far ahead in an early poll isn't the same thing as the Packers having a 16-0 lead in a football playoff game. If only Gregg knew it.

Next Week: That Super Bowl thing you might have heard about.

Actually the Super Bowl takes place this week. Is this an example of Reverse-Creep where Gregg talks about an event occurring next week when it really takes place this week? 


Chris said...

It's very simple Gregg. The reason people reacted to Ray Rice and Bountygate is because one was a guy viciously beating his wife and getting a slap on the wrist for it, and exposed an unfortunate trend of NFL players being involved in domestic violence and the league and/or the teams choosing to look the other way. Bountygate was during the middle of the NFL's attempts to cut down on concussions and improve player safety. And then it brewed up again when Goddell in some people's minds imposed Draconian punishments for the Saints and the former comissioner ended up reversing those decisions. Most people's lives and opinions are not centered around their severe loathing of Bill Belichick.

It's a minor miracle to me that Gregg didn't use Belicheat although the asterix is much worse.

Isn't it also a bit odd that Gregg praises Dan Conolly yet also says the "football gods" will punish the Pats team as a whole because they are a bunch of lying cheating scum?

Snarf said...

How does this data of SB game winners take into account a game like the Ravens-Giants Superbowl? Ravens ran back a pick-six, Giants scored on the ensuing kick return, then the Ravens ran back the next kick return for a TD.

Snarf said...

"Connolly is the man who replaced perennial Pro Bowler Logan Mankins. For five seasons, Connolly has started almost every Patriots game."

How does this work? Has he been starting for the past five seasons, or did he fill-in for Mankins. I can understand that it could be both given certain circumstances, but that would require some additional clarification.

Anonymous said...

I dont have the data. But I remember a couple times where a team was behind late in the game, therefore passing the ball. So the defense is already defending against the pass. And the quarterback takes more chances because time is running out. When it doesn't work (interecepted), opportunity for a pick-six. And more receivers deep down field, so less players in position to tackle the defender who intercepted. And if not much time, defense knows the QB is throwing to the sidelines. Defender steps in front and he's gone (my Steelers lost this way one year).

Frank said...

Does this joker really get paid to write?

"Perhaps this is because high-level quarterback play is needed for Super Bowl success, and an interception returned for a touchdown causes the quarterback to lose confidence in himself -- or his teammates to lose confidence in him."

Uh, Gregg, ever thought that desperate teams playing from behind in the Super Bowl are passing the ball a whole heck of a lot more, causing there to be a much higher likelihood of a pick-six? And that if they are playing from behind, maybe they are up against a pretty good defense in the first place?

His lack of understanding of the term "correlation" is astounding for someone who fancies himself so GD intelligent.

Bengoodfella said...

Chris, I couldn't handle the Belicheat name. That's too much for me. It's totally different that he praises Dan Connolly and calls the rest of the Patriots cheats. It's not like Connolly ever played center before for NE and would know the pressure of the football IF it was low. Wait, nevermind.

Snarf, I have no idea to be honest. I just know that special teams aren't important unless they are.

That is a very unclear sentence. I know that Mankins started even when Connolly started and Connolly only replaced Mankins for a short time. Reading that sentence it's hard to come to that conclusion from the way the sentence is structured.

Anon, I was going to mention something about a team being behind and having to throw, which cause a pick-six, but it seemed so anecdotal to me because I didn't have the data either. Larry Brown forever!

Frank, sometimes I wonder if ESPN should pay him or he should pay them. He doesn't get correlation at all. I wonder how many of the pick-sixes were thrown when a team was already losing by a TD or more?

Chris said...

What I love is Gregg states that perhaps only 48 Super Bowls is a small sample size to effectively state that pick sixes win Super Bowl's, then uses an even smaller sample size to make the point he wants by referring to INT's thrown by Manning in his three Super Bowl's. So 48 games is too small a sample size for Gregg to prove his point, but 3 games is perfectly fine as long as it proves Gregg is right.

Eric said...

Of course Gregg doesn't understand correlation. He also doesn't even comprehend how to determine an appropriate sample size. I would send him an e-mail explaining it to him, but his last response to an e-mail I sent was so mind-bogglingly stupid that I can't bring myself to do it again.

However, he is really good at one thing. He is very good at deciding that there is EXACTLY one way to view/interpret everything in the world. Then, once his interpretation gets challenged, he incorporates whatever concepts he needs to so that he is still right in his own mind. He is so inconsistent and unable to clearly delineate what he actually thinks that we end up with this shit where his life paradigm is essentially "Things may or may not happen." Then he takes credit. Sadly, I don't even think he realizes he does this because is too simple (I'm guessing he would hate being called that... maybe I should send that e-mail...).

Chris said...

As we saw from his recent twitter exchange Eric if you shatter Gregg's worldview he will just infer that you are a mentally deranged sociopath that needs therapy

Bengoodfella said...

Chris, that is true. Really good point. Gregg uses a smaller sample size to make a point about Manning. There is so much crap in here, it's easy to miss something.

Eric, I don't have the energy to try and correspond to him. At least he wrote you back, but it was a dumbass response. He does have one way of doing something and then he finds a way to mealy-mouth around it when that way doesn't work every time.