Monday, September 28, 2015

8 comments Fresh Off a Week of Blaming Tom Coughlin for Using a "Safe" Strategy, Gregg Talks About How NFL Coaches Should Stop Playing It Safe

Gregg Easterbrook made his non-triumphant return to writing TMQ, albeit for a different news outlet, last week. I haven't met the person who is really excited that TMQ is back, but maybe I run in company that all think like I do. This week Gregg talks about how moving the extra point back hasn't been the cure-all to get NFL coaches to be more aggressive as some (umm...Peter King) thought that it might. For some reason, the "Times" hasn't updated the picture of Gregg beside his column. This really shouldn't bother me, but it does for some reason. Find a newer picture of Gregg and not one taken when he was in his early-40's. The new, shorter TMQ is a much easier read, but I don't understand why he is explaining his ridiculous nicknames for each NFL team. Those people who have read TMQ at ESPN are probably still reading it and don't need him to explain his ridiculous team nicknames. If Gregg does the explanation for new readers, well there were probably new readers every week at and he didn't explain the ridiculous nicknames on a weekly basis, so why explain them now? Actually, how about just calling each NFL team by it's real nickname? I guess that's not annoying enough.

The N.F.L.’s new try rule — “try” is the correct term, not point-after attempt, which applies only to kicks —

Don't be so pretentious about correcting what the right term would be to use. Pretend for a second you like sports and aren't an academic.

is having the desired effect of making after-touchdown placement attempts no longer automatic. In the 2014 season, there were eight missed extra-point kicks. Already this season, with extra-point attempts snapped from the 15-yard line instead of the 2, there have been nine.

Great success! The NFL can fix anything once they put their mind to it. You know, except for their inconsistent disciplinary policy.

But the flip side of the new rule — encouraging the deuce — has not panned out. This season there have been 15 two-point tries. That’s not the landslide expected by those who backed the rules change, considering an average of seven two-point tries in the first two weeks of the previous 10 seasons.

(ahem, Peter King)

NFL coaches are going to suddenly become less conservative after the extra point was moved back from being a 99% probability of success to a 90%-95% probability of success. That's exactly what will happen.

At work may be the same risk-aversion that causes N.F.L. coaches to order punts on fourth-and-short. A deuce try is essentially fourth-and-goal from the 2

Nooooooooooo, you think Gregg? You don't think the same coaches who punt on fourth-and-short are afraid to try for a two-point conversion, do you? It's not like the two-point conversion was moved up, so coaches still see a guaranteed point as better than trying the two-point conversion. The idea there would be initially be a substantial increase in two-point tries amuses me. That wasn't happening with the current attitude NFL coaches have towards the two-point conversion, so why would it change if the extra point was moved back slightly? 

If the coach sends in the kicker for the singleton attempt, he’s doing the “safe” thing. If the coach orders a deuce try that does not succeed, the coach is criticized.

Gregg believes that coaches make every decision based on avoiding criticism. This is his belief. Unlike Gregg, I can't read the minds of people, so I'm not sure if this is a correct assumption or not. I do believe NFL coaches are too conservative, but also that they see the advantage of kicking the extra point and guaranteeing that his team gets an additional point. The belief is the two-point conversion won't be converted at such a high rate as to justify kicking a two-point conversion rather than an extra point. When Gregg spends time in TMQ pointing out how the Bears couldn't get the ball in the end zone on four tries during Week 1, it doesn't help conservative coaches like John Fox to believe going for the two-point conversion is worth it.

I know they aren't totally analogous situations, but I can't help but laugh at Gregg and how he eviscerated the Giants for going for a touchdown, as opposed to doing the "safe" thing and running the clock out in Week 1 versus the Cowboys. Tom Coughlin didn't do the "safe" thing and was criticized. He essentially tried a two-point conversion to ice the game (except it would have been a touchdown) and Gregg thought this was a terrible decision. Remember this when Gregg talks about how NFL head coaches should go for two more often.

Chip Kelly, case in point. At Oregon, where Kelly was worshiped by the local media, he often went for two. This season, Kelly, who is getting hammered by the Philly sports press, has not ordered a deuce try.

Yeah, but..............

Of course it’s not as if he’s had a lot of touchdowns to work with.

"Here is my criticism of Chip Kelly and I want you to take it seriously, despite the fact I'm about to point out the fallacy of my criticism. The larger point is to ignore that Kelly hasn't had a lot of touchdowns to work with and take my observation from a two game sample seriously and see how it proves my larger point." 

What do the numbers show so far? Eight of 15 on deuce tries, 146 of 155 on extra-point kicks. This suggests 100 two-point attempts would produce 106 points, while 100 extra-point kicks would produce 94 points. That seems a strong case for attempting a deuce.

I mean, it does seem like a strong case for attempting the two-point conversion league-wide when using a sample size of 100 touchdowns. I don't think this information can be viewed in this way though. Each team may have different success rates on the two-point conversion over a sample of 100 touchdowns. It's like saying college basketball teams should never shoot a two-point shot because the average 3-point percentage is 38.6%, while the average 2-point percentage is 47.0%. So if a team only shot 3-pointers for 100 shots then that team will score 116 points, while they would only score 94 points if they only shot two-point shots. These percentages aren't necessarily true for every single college basketball team, and in terms of football, each team won't convert a two-point conversion at a rate of 53%. Like much of the reason a college basketball team might make 38.6% of 3-point shots is because some of these are open shots and teams are selective when taking these shots, an NFL team may try a two-point conversion because they have a two-point conversion play they feel they can run effectively against a certain team's defense.  

Because the N.F.L. is pass-wacky, coaches who do go for two are showing an inclination to throw.

Gregg will provide information below about the percentage of successful two-point conversions when teams pass and when they run the ball. At no point will he provide information on how many times teams attempted to pass and attempted to run the ball on two-point conversions. So who knows if teams are showing an inclination to throw? Gregg never provides information showing this.

Sunday, the Steelers and the Packers went with empty backfields on deuce attempts. Rushing for two might up the odds of success, making the deuce more attractive.

Or it might not. Gregg will see the results of teams running the ball on two-point conversions and then base his opinion on the outcome, like he normally does. 

Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders — by a huge margin the best independent football website —

A huge margin. It's a landslide. Football Outsiders is 47.62% better than any other independent football website. Wait, did I use too much specificity for Gregg when rounding to the hundredth decimal?

recently analyzed all N.F.L. two-point tries from 1994 to 2014. He found that 44 percent of passing deuces were successful, while 56 percent of rushing deuces were.

I would be interested to know how many two-point attempts were rushes and how many were passing attempts. I feel like this would be interesting information for me to know in order to decide if the rushing attempts were successful because defenses predominantly are used to facing passing attempts on two-point conversions. 

The numbers show that N.F.L. coaches ought to try for two, and ought to do so by rushing. Instead they are avoiding the deuce, or when they do try for two, are ordering passes. This is National Football League resistance to change in a nutshell.

Yes, the NFL is resisting changing to a running league. For decades, passing has been the law around the NFL, while rushing has been given the short stick. But now, NFL teams need to run the ball more, despite the entire history of the NFL being a passing league and that's how touchdowns have traditionally been scored. 

The Steelers’ try succeeded, putting Pittsburgh ahead, 8-0, and firing up the home crowd. Seeing their coaches go all-in to win, rather than stick with “safe” tactics, seemed to fire up Steelers players, too, setting in motion a runaway victory.

These aggressive tactics fired up the Steelers team and that's why they won the game. The natural question would be why the aggressive tactics that Tom Coughlin showed the week before when trying to score a touchdown rather than running out the clock didn't fire up the Giants, but don't worry about the failure of non-"safe" tactics in helping the Giants lose a game and just focus on when "safe" tactics win games for NFL teams. There's no need to pay attention to when Gregg's contentions don't seem true and he instead criticizes a head coach for not playing it "safe." Do whatever ends up working, that's all Gregg asks for head coaches to do.

Did Bill Belichick Stage the PSIcheated Scandal to Get Brady Fired Up? Last season’s No. 1 pass defense was Seattle, and the No. 3 unit belonged to Buffalo. At the Super Bowl, Tom Brady threw for 328 yards against the best pass defense; Sunday, he torched the third-best pass defense for 466 yards. At times, Brady was toying with the Boastful Bills.

It's almost like Tom Brady is a really good quarterback or something. 

He completed 18 passes for 210 yards and three touchdowns to Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, and it just never seemed to occur to Buffalo that Gronkowski and Edelman were being targeted.

OR, Gronkowski and Edelman are really good football players who find a way to get open when running the offensive plays called by Josh McDaniels, who is most likely calling plays in an effort to get these two players open. Simply because a team knows a certain receiver is being targeted doesn't mean that team can stop that receiver from catching the football. If that were true, then the best wide receivers in the NFL would barely catch any passes. There is a difference in knowing these two players are targeted and actually being able to stop these two players from catching the football. Because Gregg makes everything black and white, I wouldn't expect him to understand this difference. 

At Buffalo, the recent waiver-wire acquisitions Dion Lewis and Scott Chandler combined for nine receptions for 121 yards. Lewis, dubbed a bust by the Eagles, the Browns and the Colts,

Dion Lewis was a 5th round pick. I don't think any team will call a 5th round pick a "bust" by any stretch of the imagination. Gregg consistently fails to understand that some running backs fit the system one team may run better than he fits the system another team may run. The Patriots like pass catching running backs and lost Shane Vereen in free agency. The Eagles had Darren Sproles to catch passes and LeSean McCoy to run the football, so they didn't need Lewis on the team. I can't speak for the Browns and Colts, but maybe the Patriots know how to utilize Lewis better within their system. Either way, not one of those three teams think a 5th round pick is a "bust."

blitz-blocked well and ran two perfect “wheel” routes, the most challenging pass pattern for a tailback.

Yes, this wheel route is the most challenging pass pattern for all tailbacks. Every single one of them believe this. There are no exceptions and don't question this. 

Two undrafted free agents started on the New England offensive line and noticeably outperformed Buffalo’s megabucks defensive line of three Pro Bowlers.

How did the left tackle and right tackle for the Patriots do in this game? You know, the first and second round picks who have a combined cap hit of $12.6 million. Did they do okay during the game or they don't merit a mention since they aren't undrafted players? 

What is Belichick injecting these guys with? I’m guessing grape Ovaltine. But I’m still trying to confirm that story.

This is remarkably unfunny and incoherent. 

Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! Jersey/A leading Atlanta 20-17 with 1:53 remaining, the host Giants big-blitzed, leaving Julio Jones single-covered deep for a 38-yard touchdown reception that gave the visitors the lead.

Yeah, but why would any team double-cover Julio Jones? He's just a highly-paid glory boy who doesn't block in the run game and is singlehandedly to blame for the Falcons not making the playoffs in a given season.

I still love how Gregg considers Jones to be one of the best receivers in the NFL when it was just last year Gregg was discussing how the mega-trade for Jones didn't work out for the Falcons because of the team's record since drafting Jones. Gregg wants his readers to choose to not remember or simply forget about all the things he's written about Julio Jones since 2011. 

Defensive Tackles Cash In, Zone Out. Coming into the season, defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Marcell Dareus signed mega-contracts, each with around $60 million guaranteed. Both are celebrating by seeming to take the 2015 season off. Sunday, Suh’s stat line was one tackle, nothing else, as Miami lost to the woeful Jaguars. Sunday, the Bills’ Dareus was totally outplayed by the undrafted New England free-agent rookie David Andrews.

Yes, Suh is paid to get tackles, but that's not really all he does as a defensive tackle. Same thing for Dareus, but I get Gregg's point based on a one game sample size.

In the Dolphins’ opener, the cloak of invisibility was draped over Suh by the Washington rookie Brandon Scherff.

What else would you expect from a highly-paid, glory boy like Brandon Scherff? Though the Redskins are now 1-2, so the Redskins decision to draft Scherff has not paid off with wins. Using Gregg's logic to criticize Julio Jones, this must mean that Scherff was not worth the draft pick.

Sunday, Scherff neutralized Aaron Donald, who has been playing well.

Here is a great example of Gregg Easterbrook lying to his readers and hoping that no one has the energy to look his lie up. Welp, I have the energy and Gregg is a liar. Donald's line from the game:

0.5 sacks and three tackles. Is the really "neutralizing" Aaron Donald? At that rate, he would end the season with 8 sacks and 48 tackles. I'm pretty sure that would make him one of the best DT's in the NFL if those were his statistics over a full season.

N.F.L. received wisdom is that guards should not go high in the first round. Chosen fifth in the 2015 draft, Scherff is the highest-drafted guard since 1975, when Ken Huff was selected third over all.

Facts are so annoying! The Redskins drafted Scherff as a tackle and not a guard. Yes, he is currently playing tackle, but the plan was for Scherff to be a tackle in the NFL. So he can play both positions, but he wasn't drafted as a pure guard. 

All units, all units, be on the lookout for the Seattle Seahawks, who stretching back to last season have lost three straight. Then again, in 2014 the Seahawks opened 3-3 and looked blah: They ended that season one snap away from a Lombardi Trophy.

"Here's the point I want to prove about the Seahawks, they are just not very good, but don't listen to me because they have been not good in the past before and almost won the Super Bowl. Well, do listen to me, but don't listen to the parts I don't want you to pay attention to, which is mostly that you shouldn't be listening to me." 

All units, all units, be on the lookout for an explanation for the Washington defense, currently ranked No. 1.

After two games against the Rams and Dolphins. That was before they gave up 363 yards to the New York Giants. 

Undrafted and in the News. Undrafted Seth Roberts of Division II West Alabama — school of undrafted Malcolm Butler, Super Bowl hero — caught the winning touchdown pass as Oakland upset Baltimore.

Who threw the ball? Oh yeah, highly-paid glory boy second round pick Derek Carr. Nice how Gregg leaves that out.

Bot Meets Barbie. Maybe The Upshot’s 4th Down Bot should ask A.I. Barbie out. Their first-date conversation:

4th Down Bot: How’s your burrito? Hey, can you believe Chip Kelly punted on fourth-and-1 at midfield against the Cowboys?

A.I. Barbie: I love what you’ve done with your grappling hooks! And those new treads really complement your look.

4th Down Bot: People say I’m just a machine. Nobody understands me. You’ve been dealing with “she’s just a doll” for like 50 years. How do you handle it?

A.I. Barbie: I believe in gurl power! Why don’t you use your parents’ credit card to order some genuine Mattel fashion accessories for me?

This is shockingly unfunny. There's no punchline and no point to it. 

Johnny Football Report. Last season, Johnny Manziel started a game for the Browns in which his team had 38 snaps, a season low for the league. (N.F.L. teams average 64 snaps per game.) Sunday, Manziel started and the Browns won, with just 47 snaps. Nearly all of Cleveland’s passing offense came on two plays, completions of 60 and 50 yards. Defenses are choking up to stop Manziel from scrambling, which allows the occasional deep throw. But if Cleveland doesn’t snap the ball more, the Browns won’t go far.

I mean, yes and no. Yes, they won't go far if they don't snap the ball much because their defense is on the field and the offense can't manage to stay on the field. But no, they could go far if the Browns are possessing the football on long drives that lead to points on the board for the offense. 

I’d Rather Be Blue. Boise State is on a 94-4 run when playing at home. This has something to do with its recruiting edge over many opponents — the Broncos just had their way with lower-division Idaho State — and with Boise’s 2,700-foot elevation. But T.M.Q. thinks the blue turf is a factor. 

Yet all N.F.L. turf remains standard-issue. The City of Tampa Buccaneers (see explanation below) could make their ugly new video-game-icon uniforms less visible by playing on Creamsicle orange turf that harks back to the founding of the franchise. The Cleveland Browns could make their new kids-pajamas uniforms less visible by playing on turf that’s Tootsie Roll brown. The 49ers could install black turf as camouflage for their Black-Widow-inspired new unis. Why don’t N.F.L. teams explore the possibilities?

Because the NFL has a strict dress code about players can wear their socks and what celebrations a player can and can not do after a touchdown. Does Gregg really think the NFL will allow the Colts to paint their turf all blue? The NFL had a six month investigation into whether a football was missing air by a few tenths of the regulation PSI, but they are going to let the Saints have a gold field? Get the fuck out of here if this is a real question. 

Ye Gods. The Eagles have 70 yards rushing this season. DeMarco Murray has carried 21 times for 11 yards. At Dallas, Murray played behind the league’s best offensive line. Maybe his Boys stats were a reflection of the blocking.

Maybe a running back's statistics are partly dependent on how well his offensive line blocks for him! This is such an obvious observation I have no doubt that Gregg will have an entire TMQ dedicated to trying to figure out the answers. Yes, maybe the fact the Cowboys have the best offensive line in the NFL does have something to do with DeMarco Murray's great rushing statistics last year. Look for Gregg to explore this idea further in an upcoming TMQ. I have no doubt he will. 

Does Belichick Have Hillary’s Missing Emails? Bill Belichick is so paranoid that the team’s website says UNOFFICIAL DEPTH CHART lest an opponent glean some minute tactical advantage from knowing who’s third string at tight end.

Or he just wants everyone to know the Patriots have no official depth chart and will start certain players (especially running backs) depending on the matchup and which players he perceives will give the Patriots an advantage. I'm not sure Belichick is paranoid about opposing teams knowing the depth chart more than he wants people to be aware the depth chart changes on a weekly basis at times. 

College Punting Follies. Hosting Florida State in a high-profile N.C.A.A. game, Boston College punted on fourth-and-2 at midfield, then punted again on fourth-and-2 at midfield. Just to prove it was no fluke, the Eagles also punted in Florida State territory. With five minutes remaining and the visitors up, 14-0, then Boston College went for it. This demonstrates a pattern in coaching decisions on fourth down. Early in the game, when going for it on fourth down might help a team win — but also would expose the coach to criticism if the conversion attempt fails — coaches do the safe thing and order punts.

Yes, it was a "high-profile" NCAA game. I don't know if I understand what "high-profile" means in this situation, other than Florida State is a highly ranked team, but I don't think even Gregg knows what he's talking about much of the time. 

Adventures in Officiating. In the closing seconds of Texans at Panthers, there was confusing over whether a throwing motion was a pass or fumble; whether if a pass, it was grounding; whether Houston could avoid a 10-second runoff by calling a timeout after the fact; and what the clock should be reset to. Zebras required 6 minutes 15 seconds to figure out the spot, down and time remaining.

The official did go to the review booth I believe, so there seems to have been four separate things that needed to be determined on this play. So it's not shocking that it took over six minutes to figure it out, given the fact the official went to the replay booth and had to determine four separate issues on this play. 

Many big-college football coaches, including Nick Saban, yell four-letter-words at players on the sideline, behaving in abusive ways that would get a college professor suspended. Many college football coaches seem to view themselves as little gods;

Probably because the school treats them like little gods and therefore they end up viewing themselves that way. When the coach is the highest paid person at a university and he gets almost anything he wants, then you can see how he would view himself as a god. 

St. Louis at Washington Note. Since the 2012 RG3 mega-trade, Les Mouflons and the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons are a combined 38-61-1, with only one above-.500 season in the six between these two clubs. This suggests the transaction was lose-lose.

This is partly why Gregg wrote last year in TMQ that mega-trades don't work. Except for that mega-trade for Julio Jones, which Gregg doesn't talk about anymore because the ridiculous bullshit he asserts about Jones being responsible for the Falcons record is even now too ridiculous and bullshitty for even Gregg to keep asserting.

Rex Ryan Boast of the Week. Ryan is nothing if not entertaining — his news conferences should have an opening monologue. Before the New England game, he mocked the Steelers for a blown coverage that left Rob Gronkowski uncovered, then assured “we’ll have somebody on him.” When Gronkowski flanked wide left in a goal-to-go situation — usually he flanks wide right — the Buffalo defense was confused. Cornerbacks were gesturing and shouting at one another; Ryan did not call a timeout. 

Maybe Rex Ryan should have called a timeout. That's a possibility. The problem is a team only has so many timeouts per half and coaches really don't like burning these timeouts. There's no way for a head coach to predict that if he doesn't call timeout then the other team will score a touchdown. Maybe I'm being too kind to head coaches, but by the time he sees the confusion then it's possible the offense has snapped the ball or he can't the attention of an official to call timeout. Gregg's suggestion is always just "Call a timeout" when that's not always a reasonable solution that can take place. 

Clearly the Patriots have zero respect for Ryan’s boasting, and hoped to increase the victory margin. Ryan talks a great game, Belichick barely talks at all. Which approach works?

Probably the approach that has Tom Brady as his team's quarterback. That is the approach I would take. 

T.M.Q. Lexicon Note. Tampa is the name of the place where the Buccaneers perform. Tampa Bay is a body of water. Thus to T.M.Q. this franchise is the City of Tampa Bucs. Since Green Bay is the city name, Green Bay Packers is fine.

Congratulations, Packers! Your name is fine and Gregg won't rename you with some stupid nickname that is the Gregg Easterbrook version of Peter King's Adieu Haiku. 

The Washington franchise name is offensive. The Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons nicely captures the spirit of the team, plus it’s pleasing to see Dan Snyder’s name near the word “drainage.”

I don't know why Gregg insists on giving an origin story for why he calls NFL teams these ridiculous nicknames. I'm just thankful that we missed the TMQ NFL season preview that really isn't a preview because all it does is talk about what happened with these NFL teams last year.


Slag-King said...

No matter who suits up for the New England offense, Brady makes his teammates perform better.

How? Did Brady become one with the players? Did they perform a mind-meld? They are soul-mates? Did Brady possess them? Gregg makes this statement to make himself look so smart (just like his boast that he saw the offensive pass interference that nobody saw!).

Frank said...

Gregg completely ignores the idea of situational football re: two point conversions. If Team A wins the coin toss and drives down the field for a score, they're up 6-0 in the first quarter. Why the hell would they go for a 2-point conversion at this point in the game? Pretty much eliminate the first quarter re: going for 2 point conversions; who does that?

Similarly, if Team B responds in kind, they will invariably attempt to tie, not go ahead 8-7 - it's too early in the game for that kind of risk.

We can go on all day with situations where it simply does not make any sense to try for 2, but Gregg specifically points out that the "other side" of it doesn't "pan out". To me, it's even less difficult to understand that moving the PAT back is not mutually exclusive of the above logic. You can move the PAT back to make it less of an automatic extra point, and still have the same logic as to why you won't go for 2 points in many cases.

Much as I love your weekly dissection of Easterbrook, I can see how it must give you a headache.

Eric said...

They are "encouraging the deuce." Sounds like the parent of a three year old. Thanks for the chuckle Greggggg.

Bengoodfella said...

Slag, Gregg is clearly using hyperbole there. I can think of a few players even Tom Brady wasn't able to make better.

No, the pass interference wasn't seen by anyone, unless the Patriots lost, in which everyone would have noticed it and it would have been a black stain on the game.

Frank, I'm fine with teams always going for a two-point conversion. I know this sounds dumb, but I wonder if some coaches don't go for a two-point conversion because many of those players are their goal line plays. Why burn a good goal line play for two points when you can get six points at some other point in the season/game? I know that's speculation. I have wondered it though.

The NFL has tried to incentivize going for two by moving the extra point back. Unfortunately, the completion rate of FG's from the 33 yard line is still too high to make coaches not be conservative.

Eric, you gotta encourage the deuce. If you don't, your child can't start kindergarten.

Anonymous said...

"Probably the approach that has Tom Brady as his team's quarterback. That is the approach I would take."

Classic. Keep up the good work.

Frank said...

Great point about goal line plays - I have no doubt you're spot on there.

Frank said...

Hope you got a laugh out of this:

"Gregg Easterbrook has been one of the writers who have helped make sports journalism better. As the Tuesday Morning Quarterback columnist for ESPN and Slate, he has been ahead of the pack on a substantial number of football topics — like the irrational timidity of coaches on fourth down, the overuse of the blitz and the need for better football helmets. (In his non-football life, Gregg writes about religion, space, economics and other subjects.)"

Where to begin...

"ha(s) helped make sports journalism better"...needed a few minutes to stop laughing.

"writes about [everything other than football] in his non-football life". No, for years, he would write about a ton of non-football stuff *in his football column*. Perhaps NYT told him to change that.

Bengoodfella said...

I think I accidentally made that point again in this week's TMQ. I just thought of that. I don't know if that explains it, but a team only has so many goal line plays they feel confident in. Maybe they don't want to waste good goal line plays on two points and would rather use them on an attempt to get a touchdown.

And no, Gregg has not made journalism better. I'm sure the NYT told him to cut down on all the stuff that isn't football related. There's nothing to be found that isn't football related in TMQ now.