Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Deadspin Sports Human of the Year

Deadspin is in the middle of their annual Sports Human of the Year tournament. I would like to formally endorse this baby who looks exactly like the head coach of the Kansas football team.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Shanahan Gets Can-ahanned


Armchair Coaching Case Study: The Dumbening

Andy has post over at "Packergeeks" about coaches who can "coach in the moment." He gets points for originality, but at bottom he is discussing some vague, undefinable, I know-it-when-I-see-it qualities. He might as well make a list of the coaches with the most "je ne sais quoi" (which is a fancy French phrase than means "I Don't Know Quoi"). At bottom the list reads a lot like a list of the successful teams this season versus the unsuccessful ones. The critical flaw in Andy's argument, however, is that many of his je ne sais quoi coaches have faced much of the same (dumb) criticism in past seasons that McCarthy faces this year.

For example, Andy thinks so highly of Jeff Fisher that he included him on the list twice. The funny thing is, Fisher oversaw some atrocious seasons in Tennessee, and not surprisingly many fans wanted him fired, especially at the now-abandoned

This is my favorite comment about Fisher circa 2006:

Fisher has been far too conservative with all of his teams. Over the years there has been numerous games that we should have won easily that have been nail bitters or losses because of Fishers conservative play calls. The Titans get a lead and then start going 3 and out and giving the ball back over and over until eventually our defense breaks down and we lose.

Too perfect. Andy also includes Andy Reid on his list. There were serious questions whether Andy Reid would survive this season. I like this stupid internet petition to have him fired.

Andy Reid has secured the confidence of the Philadelphia Eagles fans that he is incapable of making the necessary adjustments needed to help the Philadelphia
Eagles compete in the NFL.

Fox (like Tom Coughlin who also makes the "in the moment" list) was on the hot seat just last year. Here's a great op ed piece about how "Fox too conservative when it counted."

If Carolina Panthers coach John Fox is fired at the end of the season -- and I'd put the odds of that at about 50-50 -- Sunday's game should haunt him.


Carolina's ultra-conservative, ultra-ineffective offense generated just two field goals. The Panthers defense let the team down in the final minute. Fox and his staff got tight when the time was wrong, and Carolina ensured it would go more than a calendar year without a home win.

Andy also lists 2007 McCarthy as "in the moment" but 2008 McCarthy is not. Let Occam's Razor be your guide. Do you really think that McCarthy and basically every other coach that has suffered through a bad season suddenly lost the ability to coach (or coach "in the moment")? And then somehow regained the ability the next season? Does that seem damn unlikely to anyone else?

ADDENDUM: This could go on and on, but I inadvertantly came across this about another "in the moment" coach, Sparano, and it's simply too ironic not to share:

The stock report has usually featured players, but this time a coach makes the list. I know this was his first real game as a head coach in the NFL but his team got out-coached by Eric Mangini, whose schemes and game-plan on offense and defense were far superior. Not only was Sparano's team undisciplined in the regular season opener, but one would have expected someone with such a meticulous personality to have dotted a lot more I's and crossed plenty more T's when it came to personnel issues. But that was my biggest issue with last Sunday's game. And it was HUGE. Without even knowing the outcome of the game, and the play, I found myself questioning more than a dozen decisions he and his staff made. That's not good. Some of the team's decisions were inexcusable, and in my opinion handed New York the victory. This team isn't talented enough to let coaching be a handicap, and last season we saw what happens when the players lose confidence in the coaching staff. Sparano's going to need some positive results in the next few weeks to maintain his power and influence.

In sum, if you haven't noticed, I think most fans (and most journalists) are dumbasses. Oh, and I also lump myself in with that statement. But in my defense, at least I recognize that I am a dumbass. In the spirit of Marinelli, I try to man-up and "take ownership" of my dumbassedness.

In defense of Bob Sanders.

Acme Packing has an interesting post arguing the case for keeping Sanders. I don't think I completely buy it. While I do sympathize with Sanders and think he is not nearly as bad as he is made out to be. He is also nothing special. As I say, I can't tell you whether my plumber is doing things correctly but I can sure tell you whether there is water on the floor. The Packer defense left a lot of water on the floor this year.

Also I don't completely buy the argument (from Bill Walsh) that "Defense is just a matter of having the personnel." We have seen the difference coaching can make in the switch from Slowick to Bates.

Also a great snippet about Winston Moss:

I've never understood the love for Moss, or why he was promoted to assistant head coach before the 2007 season. The linebackers he's coached have never been outstanding. They've never seen bad either. There must be something about meeting the man in person.

I must say I agree with that one. On the other hand, you can't make chicken salad out of chicken poo. People said similar things about McCarthy when he was hired (e.g., why hire the offensive coordinator of one of the worst offenses in the league). Thus, if Moss gets the nod I will be disappointed, but will do my best to try to keep an open mind about it.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Pointless Tuesday List: Greatest Butt Songs

Looking over the blog statistics I have realized that I got the most search engine hits from the stupid "top fictional football player list" I did a couple weeks ago.  

I also had hit for "cut your cock off," and my favorite "dropped towel in packers locker room."  It turns out this blog is the second Google hit for folks searching for "dropped towel in packers locker room."   Second place is for losers.  I'm shooting for number one.  [UPDATE: As of today, this blog is now the first Google hit for "dropped towel in packers locker room."]

Anyhow, this week I combine the inanity of stupid pop culture lists with topic that will appeal to the base interests of Google searchers.  This is a play list that I have put together 5 or 6 years ago: The Ultimate Butt Collection (or UBC).  It used to be quite popular amoung my circle of friends.  

Track 1: Fat Bottomed Girls, Queen.

Track 2: Big Ol' Butt, LL Cool J. (No embedding. I hate that).

Track 3: Rump Shaker, Wreckx-N-Effect

Track 4: Back That Ass Up, Juvenile.

Track 6:  I See You Baby (Shakin' That Ass), Groove Armada.

Track 7: Da Butt, EU.

Special Note: This is hands down the greatest butt song of all time. Pretty much the greatest use of call and response ever. Also, Spike Lee is in the video.

Track 8:  Baby Got Back, Sir Mix A Lot.

Track 9: Saturday (Oooh Oooooh), Ludacris.

Track 10: Big Bottom, Spinal Tap.

Does Woodson think some players need to be cut?

Quoth Chuck (on free agency and the offseason):

"I think we're a couple pieces off," Woodson said. "I think they'll make the necessary changes, additions, subtractions, to put us back where we need to be."

Maybe this was just an offhanded comment that Woodson did not really mean. Otherwise, I wonder who Woodson is talking about. Maybe another team mate in the defensive backfield?

McGinn breaks down the 2009 schedule

McGinn breaks down the 2009 Packers schedule, concluding that "[o]n paper, at least, the Green Bay Packers will play a much easier schedule in 2009 than they did in 2008."

It is probably a bit early to project how difficult the 2009 schedule is, and in fact, we probably will not really know until October of 2009 how difficult the schedule is. That said, I would be surprised if the next year's schedule was more difficult than this year's schedule.

An interesting factoid, this season the Packers played only four games against teams that finished below .500: Detroit twice, Seattle, and Jacksonville. In comparison, during the 13-3 2007 season, the Packers played nine games against teams that finished sub-.500.

Armchair coaching Rule 5: Don't waste time with cliche and vague criticism.

This is my last entry on this topic for now. It's more of a pet-peeve of mine than anything else.

(5) Don't waste time with vague and cliche criticism. If all you have to contribute to the debate is that the playcalling was "too conservative" or "too vanilla" or that the coach "abandoned the run," you don't have enough to contribute to waste anyone's time. You can go into any sportbars and pull a dozen random dudes off barstools that can offer the same analysis.

Armchair coaching Rule 4: No over-emotional rants.

(4) No over-emotional rants. I explained here, here, and here the steps I go through before launching into an over-emotional rant. My Rule 4 is never launch into over-emotional rants. A coach is not an "idiot" or "coward" based upon a playcall that I don't like.

Launching into these types of rants is the equivilent of getting drunk and yelling at the TV. It might be theraputic for me, but I doubt it is very interesting for others to witness.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Another Favre Scoop from Jay Glazer

Supposedly, Favre does not like Mangini or being treated like the rest of his team mates:
Favre, who long had a great relationship with head coaches in Green Bay, was rarely called on the carpet with the Packers, especially in front of the team. With the Jets, however, the sources say that Favre has been called to what they dub "the principal's office" and grilled about making bad throws that turned into interceptions. Those same sources say this is not just done in private. Mangini will also grill Favre about his throws in front of the team, just like everybody else.
Geez, you name your kid after a guy and then he wants special treatment.

Favre, Rodgers, and "Toughness"

Let me preface this by saying Favre is a tough player. He has etched his place in NFL history as not only one of the toughest QBs to play the game but one of the toughest players.  But think about this:

Rodgers injured his shoulder against Tampa in week four.  He sucked it up and played through the pain.  And played well.  I don't recall him ever making his injury an excuse.

Favre has played horribly down the stretch.  All of a sudden he is blaming his poor play on some phantom shoulder injury that nobody ever knew about and that never showed up on a single injury report.

Unlike rain on your wedding day, I think this is ironic.

GOB on Sesame Street

Arrested Development (the show not the hip hop group) fans will want to watch this.

I saw this a few months ago when Bratkowski was watching Sesame Street and found it on YouTube tonight.  There are three major problems with the clip:

(1) It cuts off the beginning wherein GOB (err... "Max the Magician" wink wink) enters to a Final Countdown-esque theme song.

(2) The sound is horrible.  Apparently someone set up a camcorder in front of their TV to capture the video.  It's like watching a movie pirated from a Taiwanese theatre.  But it's the best I could find.

(3)  Everyone---everyone---knows that a "trick is something a whore does for money (or candy)."  

A NOTE ON MY PARENTING STYLE:  My wife and I are terrible parents as we let our children watch TV.  The American Pediatrics Association says that children should not watch any television until they are 18.  And they must ride around in car seats until they are 8.  I'm exaggerating (slightly) about the first.  But kids are suppose to be in car seats until they are 8. Seriously.  When I was 8, I think the rule was that you had to wear a seatbelt if you were sitting in the front seat.

Also, I just realized the pseudonym "Bratkowski" could be misinterpreted.  I am not calling my son a "brat."  It's a play off of his first name.


Three headbanging cellists rocking out to Final Countdown:

Final Pythagorean number

The Packers finished with a Pythagorean projection of 8.9.  This means that based on the points scored by the Packers and their opponents, you would have expected that the Packers would have won around 9 games this season.  Typically, a team that underperforms its Pythagorean projection will bounce back the following season. 

Niners Win, Packers have ninth pick in the draft.

Packers will select ninth in the draft this spring.  I know everyone wants to see a defensive linemen, but I'd love to see the Packers land a dominant left tackle.

Favre continues to stick it to the Packers

Bye bye, second round pick.  Hello third round pick.  Favre was genuinely terrible this week.  I doubt Favre will have much of a "should I return or not" soap opera this offseason because I can't imagine that the Jets (or their fans) want him back.

If the Jets cut him, it sets up the possibility that Favre could remain a free agent until November of 2009.  I still think that this would be a brilliant move, as I believe Favre has some good games left in the tank (just not 16 of them).

Armchair coaching Rule 3: Keep it in context.

(3) Keep it in context.  Criticism should come within the context of a coach's overall body of work.  The proof is in the pudding.  I have no idea whether the plumber is doing his job right, but I can sure as hell tell if there is water on the floor.  

The point being, if the coach has been successful, you should have a little bit of faith that the coach knows what he is doing. For the Packers, McCarthy is the exact same coach that he was a year ago.  Now, I'm not convinced that we have enough information to say whether McCarthy is a good coach or not.  But based upon his entire body of work I am willing to give McCarthy the benefit of the doubt.  I had very few quibbles with McCarthy's play calling last season. I have basically the same number or quibbles this year.  He's the exact same coach.

"Champs" Bowl

I don't want to say much about the Badgers/FSU game.  But I'm sure every Packer fan had one thought during the first half: the Packers need to draft that Gano guy.  If you didn't see the game (first of all: good for you) FSU's punter/place kicker Graham Gano landed his first four punts within the ten yardline.  Three of the punts hit landed within the three yardline (two directional kicks that went out of bounds and another punt that stopped dead at the one yardline).  

Perhaps the most amazing punting performance that I have ever seen.  

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Armchair coaching Rule 2: Reasonable people (and coaches) can and do disagree.

(2) Reasonable people can disagree.  Reasonable people, and reasonable coaches, can disagree.  Just because you would have done something differently does not mean that the play calling was wrong.  There is no cookie cutter football philosophy that guarantees success.  Elite coaches has subscribed to vastly different philosophies and have employed vastly different game plans.  We each prefer one style over the other, but we should recognize that this is a preference.  
Moreover, there is no cause for indignation if the call that you dispute is subject to reasonable disagreement.  

Happy Birthday, Lambeau Leap

The Lambeau Leap turns 15 this week.  

It was on Dec. 26, 1993, that Green Bay Packers legendary defensive end Reggie White scooped up a fumble by Los Angeles Raiders running back Randy Jordan and lateraled the ball to Butler, who ran the final 25 yards to the end zone to give the Packers a three-touchdown lead early in the fourth quarter.

Then, on a sudden impulse, Butler pointed to the stands and took off toward the wall behind the end zone. Blame it on the numbness caused by the third-coldest game day ever at Lambeau Field, with the temperature at zero and the wind chill at minus-22. Or the jubilation of putting the nail in the coffin of the shivering Californians for a victory that clinched Green Bay's first playoff berth in 11 seasons, paving the way for a new era of greatness.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Rule No. 1: "A man has got to know his limitations."

I am not fan of armchair coaching.   I frequently post comments on other blogs and have developed a reputation among a very small circle of enthusiasts as an annoying pain in the ass for criticising the criticising of playcalling.  I have been called a "tool" (I'd prefer "a-hole" but I guess "tool" is in the ballpark so I can live with it) and a "troll" (this one is comically baseless).

However, I'm actually not an absolutist.  I certainly do criticise playcalling and will continue to do so in the future.  It's just that I personally feel that too many fans (and certainly too many internet bloggers and commenters) go overboard---and in my opinion way overboard.  So, for what it is worth---if anything---I wrote down a list of the rules that I try to observe when armchair coaching.  Then I looked at what I had and it was way too long.  No sane person would bother to read it.   So I am breaking it up into 5 pieces.  Here is my Rule 1:

(1) "A man has got to know his limitations."  Cliff Chrystl  (who I must admit I miss quite a bit)  used to get pretty aggressive with fans who constantly whined about playcalling.  

I think I've had the advantage of interviewing countless GMs, coaches, etc., over the years and have gained considerable knowledge from those people. But I don't believe that makes me an expert on the game. I admit to you that I know almost nothing about play-calling, game plans, etc.; that I'm not qualified to judge coaches with other teams, etc. Ron Wolf used to tell me that he wasn't qualified to speak about the technical aspects of the game or that he didn't know enough about certain coaches to comment on them. So when I "diss" or criticize fans, as you say, it's usually the ones who come across as experts in their own minds. If Ron Wolf says he isn't qualified to talk about something, how many fans are qualified to do so? And I think I take most of my shots at those of you who think you're know-it-alls and feel the need to editorialize on subjects where you have limited knowledge.

At bottom, coaching is a "real job."  And a demanding one at that.  Pro coaches spent 60 hours, 80 hours, or more a week breaking down film and preparing for opponents.  They know as much as there is to know about obscure players that I am only vaguely familiar with.  I am hobbyist.  I watch the games, I  hit replay on my DVR a few times on important plays.  I read news coverage. And that's about it.  Fans (even passionate fans) are hobbyists.

I stand by my position that "hobbyists" are deluding themselves if they honestly believe that week in and week out they have all the answers over those that put in the hours and go through the grind.

Does that mean that coaches are always right and fans are always wrong?  Of course not.  There are bad coaches everywhere. (I do argue in Rule 3,  however, that you should judge those coaches based upon their overall body of work and not based upon a handful of plays.)

However, before I go on an overemotional rant (See the upcoming Rule 4), it is useful for me to remind myself that there is a very good chance that I am off base.  A little humility is never a bad thing.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Lions signed Junius Coston

The Lions have signed Junius Coston  just in time for the Packer game.  Hopefully, Coston is no more help to the Lions than those phone calls from Brett Favre.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

More picking on Bedard

I'm feeling Grinchly, so why not pick on Bedard a little more?  Lately, it's like shooting fish in a barrel, but I have enough ammo and I like seafood so what the hell....  From today's Journal Sentinel.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only one other team - the 1984 Cleveland Browns - had more losses by four points or fewer than the current Packers. They had eight in a 5-11 campaign that saw coach Sam Rutigliano replaced by Marty Schottenheimer after a 1-7 start.

With one game to play, the Packers are tied with three other teams with seven losses by four points or fewer in a season: the 2001 Carolina Panthers, 1994 Houston Oilers and '93 New England Patriots. 

So what does Bedard think this means?

The Packers surely will learn from all these close games and put the knowledge to good use next season, won't they?

If history is any predictor, don't bet on it.

The four other teams the Packers are grouped with for close-game futility improved a collective 19 games the next season (13-51 to 32-32) but only one posted a winning record. The '93 Patriots were 5-11 in Bill Parcells' first season as coach and went 10-6 the next to make the playoffs as a wild-card entry.

Bedard concludes---from this overwhelming evidence----that the "Patriots are the exception rather than the rule."   The big problem here is that Bedard is working with a sample size of 4.   You cannot extrapolate "rules" and "exceptions" based on a sample size of 4.

But even if you could... Bedard's (very limited data) shows that each team improved the following season by a minimum of three games (and as many as six games).  Moreover, each of the teams that had at least five wins in the season in which it lost seven close games (the Browns and Patriots) went to the playoffs the following season.  (The Browns went to the playoffs at 8-8).

But enough of that silliness.  You cannot deduce anything based on a sample size of four.  But there is a great metric for predicting how the Packers will do next season: Pythagorean wins.  If you have never heard Pythagorean wins, Football Outsiders has a good primer here.  In one sentence, you can calculate how many games a team "should have" won based upon the teams points scored and points allowed.  Pythogorean wins are also (supposedly) the single best indicator for how a team will perform following season.  Teams that underachieve below their Pythagorean projection tend to bounce back the following season.  Teams that overachieve tend to slip the following season.

Anyhow, using this methodology, the Packers "should be" 8-7 right now,  and probably will finish the season with a Pythagorean number of 9.

Fun fact from Football Outsiders: "Right now, the Packers are on pace to underachieve their Pythagorean projection by .213, which would be more than any team since 1981."

Football Outsiders also has its own special metric called DVOA ("defense adjusted value over average").  "DVOA breaks down every single play of the NFL season to see how much success offensive players achieved in each specific situation compared to the league average in that situation, adjusted for the strength of the opponent."  Got it?

Anyhow, this will surprise you: the Packers have the 11th highest DVOA rating in the NFL.  Ahead of the Bears, Vikings, Patriots, and Cowboys, among many others.

In sum, notwithstanding Bedard's painstaking research based upon sample size of four, from a numbers and statistics standpoint, the Packers look like a team due for a bounce in 2009.

Merry Christmas!

Ho, ho, ho!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Belichick Canard

Here's a cool new trend. When arguing your point, always make the case that "Belichick would have done it my way." I call it The Belichick Canard, and its every bit as popular as lame initial-based nicknames.

Here's a fantastic example from Bedard:

Yes I think McCarthy is a good coach although some of his decisions this second half of the season have started to alarm me, mostly his being conservative and taking field goals when he can keep going. When I wonder whether a coach is doing the right thing, I always ask, 'What would BB do?' You think Belichick would have settled for long field goals to win games? No chance in hell.

Actually there is a chance in hell and I have proof! There is a annual tradition that occurs late every Janurary. It's actually a pretty popular television event. And while I wouldn't expect a hotshot sports writer to waste much time with trivial television events (especially with all the Groundhogs Day preparations to attend), the "Super Bowl" is almost difficult to avoid, even if you are trying to avoid it.

What may come as a surprise to Bedard is that Belichick has coached in the Super Bowl four times now. What will definitely shock Bedard is that Belichick's teams have won two of those games on last second field goals. (It's true, I looked it up.)

Okay, so the first victory over the Rams there really wasn't enough time to go down and score a TD. However, the same was not true against the Panthers. Against the Panthers, Belichick had the ball at his own forty yard line, 1:08 on the clock and all three time outs. There was plenty of time to march down the field and score a TD, but that's not what Belichick did. He sat on all of his time outs, worked the ball down to the 23 yard line while working the clock down to 9 seconds. Then he called out the kicker.

Although the Imaginary Belichick In Your Head is crazy aggressive, The Real Belichick is smart and conventional.

Need more proof? Check out the Super Bowl against the Eagles. Leading by only three points with almost two minutes remaining (and with the ball just outside of scoring position), The Real Belichick called the following series of plays:

  • 1-10-PHI41 (1:47) K.Faulk left tackle to PHI 39 for 2 yards (D.Jones).
  • 2-8-PHI39 (1:43) K.Faulk up the middle to PHI 36 for 3 yards (M.Lewis).
  • 3-5-PHI36 (1:39) K.Faulk up the middle to PHI 36 for no gain (J.Kearse; D.Walker).
  • 4-5-PHI36 (:55) Jo.Miller punts 32 yards to PHI 4, Center-L.Paxton, downed by NE-D.Reid.
What?!? Belichick called a series of running plays and then punted the football when he was right at the edge of scoring in an effort to run down the clock and preserve his lead? Well, I'll be dipped in Magic Shell (TM).

ADDENDUM: Ironically, the one time Belichick went pass crazy at the end of a Super Bowl, the Patriots left too much time on the clock and lost.

Practicing Outoors

There was controversy last week about the Packers (unlike the Bears) not practicing outdoors. Intersting point from Bedards' chat (sub  req):

Packers sure looked like the outdoor team to me for most of the game. Of course the one unit that does go outdoors -- the kickers, snappers and holders -- royally screwed this one up. 

Pointless Tuesday List: Greatest Packer Nicknames of All Time

I am not a huge fan on modern initials-based nickname conventions.  D.D., C. Wood, A. Rod, KGB (well actually KGB is kinda cool), I.C.U.P.,  blah blah blah.  (Don't get me started on the Berman punny nicknames based on some crappy Steely Dan song.  Ugh.) 

It's lazy and unimaginative. Whatever happened to cool nicknames like Night Train, and Crazy Legs, and The Horse?  Here is my list of the greatest Packer nicknames of all time.

(5) Gravedigger.  Points off here because Gilbert Brown sort of (but not quite really) gave himself this nickname since it was based upon the celebration that he made up.  This is a major faux pas.  Nevertheless, Gravedigger is a pretty badassed nickname.  So he's on my list.

(4) Minister of Defense.  It's a double entendre.  Which is a fancy French phrase that means "two entendres."  He was an ordained minister.  And he played defensive end.  Get it?   

(3) The Gray Ghost. The Gray Ghost of Gonzaga.  That's cool.  If Tony Canadeo played today he would be "T. Can."  And that would not be cool.

(2) Johnny Blood.  Likewise, compare Johnny Blood with "J. Mac."  Interestingly, Johnny McNally took on the assumed name of "Johnny Blood" so that he could play pro football while maintaining his college eligibility.  Clever ruse.  So then he went from Johnny Blood to Johnny Blood McNally.  This is also pretty much what happened to Johnny Cougar Mellencamp (aka J. Mel) many years later.

(1) The Golden Boy.  As badassed as The Gray Ghost and Johnny Blood are, how can you possibly top The Golden Boy.  It can't be done.

Honorable mentions:  Bag O' Donuts, The Walrus, and Majik-Man.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Amazing. Simply amazing.

The Packers dominate the Bears and lose in overtime.  What else did I expect? 

Way to go Jarrett Bush!  You are responsible for 10 Bears points.  

Way to go Mason Crosby! That's two game winning FGs that you missed this season.  Sure the defense had push on the play, but it wouldn't have mattered because the FG seemed to be only about 6-6.5 feet high at the line of scrimmage.  (Also, as exciting as the missed FG was, I also loved the kick out of bounds!)

Anyhow, let me focus on the positives:

  • Nice play by Jermichael Finley.  Fans have been really down on Finley (myself included) but you have to love a TE that can get deep like Finley did tonight.  He's got a long---long---way to go, but there is some really exciting potential there.  He's a guy that could really benefit from  sticking around Green Bay this offseason and dedicating himself to improving.
  • Loved seeing Rouse pancake a 300lb lineman on Woodson's INT return.
  • How did the Bears not anticipate a fake punt on third and two from the 37 yard line?
  • Right now, the Packers are in position to draft 9th.  The lowest that they will select is 10th.

Malcolm Gladwell on drafting NFL QBs

Interesting piece in The New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, Blink, and the recent book Outliers. Outliers is currently #1 on the NYT bestsellers list. I have mixed feelings about it and intend to put up a book review sometime soon.

Anyhow, the peice in the New Yorker is about identifying good QBs and fixing the educational system. Two topics that go together like peanutbutter and jelly.

The idea here is that it is difficult to identify which QBs will pan out in the NFL because the pro game is too different from the college game and because there is no proven battery of tests or measurables that enable a scout to predict which QBs will succeed at the next level. Gladwell also posits that the same holds true for teachers: the "smartest" teachers are not the best teachers and there is no way of knowing which candidates will become good teachers until they are in front of a class of students.

His conclusion is that we are doing it all wrong. Rather than focusing on more and more exacting criteria in selecting candidates (which is the instinct), we should loosen the criteria and let more and more candidates duke it out.

Gladwell also examines the world of financial advisors which has developed an interesting approach to selecting job candidates :

Perhaps no profession has taken the implications of the quarterback problem more seriously than the financial-advice field, and the experience of financial advisers is a useful guide to what could happen in teaching as well. There are no formal qualifications for entering the field except a college degree. Financial-services firms don’t look for only the best students, or require graduate degrees or specify a list of prerequisites. No one knows beforehand what makes a high-performing financial adviser different from a low-performing one, so the field throws the door wide open.

As illustration financial firms might start out 49 candidates and whittle that number down to 23 candidates in four months. Then over the course of the next 3 to four years the firms might whittle that number down even further to around 9.

Gladwell concludes that:

The equivalent of that approach, in the N.F.L., would be for a team to give up trying to figure out who the “best” college quarterback is, and, instead, try out three or four "good” candidates.

Interestingly enough, this is exactly what the Packers did this year. They stuck with three unproven QBs with the belief that at least one of them will pan out. Thompson has had plenty of detractors who thought it would have been wiser to cut one of the prospects and sign a journeyman like Chris Simms. I thought the "try out" approach was a good idea then, and I still think it is a good idea for precisely the reason that Gladwell theorizes.

It was certainly bold and probably a little risky. However, going into next season the Packers will have a proven starter and two developmental QBs with a year of experience under their belts.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Favre Watch: The Slide Continues

A month ago there was chatter about Favre being the league MVP.  Not any more.  This sounds familiar:

Favre came up short when the Jets (9-6) needed him most. Then again, New York has felt that way for a month.

The Jets were 8-3 and an apparent shoo-in for the playoffs. But New York has lost three of four while Favre has thrown just one touchdown pass and six interceptions.

Favre undoubtedly can still play, it is just looking more and more like he can't play a 16 game season anymore.  But he does seem to have a stellar 8 to 10 games a year in him before he wears out.  The solution is really simple.  Next year, Favre needs to sit out the first 10 games of the season and then go to a team in playoff contention that needs a QB.  Stay in shape, of course, but wait until the beginning of November to start playing football.

Of course in order to do that, the Jets would have to cut him this offseason with no strings attached.  Seems unlikely.

ADDENDUM:  The Jets would have to cut Favre with no strings attached and Favre would have to voluntarily say goodbye to his precious "streak."

The Biggest Game of Rodgers's Career

He may not know it, but tommorow's game against Chicago is the biggest game of Rodgers's career. I need 15 points.  That's it.  15 points and I take the fantasy football championship.  Rodgers has scored less than 15 fantasy points only three times this whole season.  But I'm still pretty nervous. 

I thought about playing Tyler Thigpen (who put up 29 points and would have cliched a championship) this week.  But I didn't.  I put all my faith in Rodgers.  Please don't let me down. There's real money at stake.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Rodgers is the "19th Best" QB in the league.

According to the consensus of four scouts who have played the Packers.   These are the quartbacks listed ahead of Rodgers:

Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Jay Cutler, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Carson Palmer, Matt Ryan, Donovan McNabb, Philip Rivers, Kurt Warner, Brett Favre, Jake Delhomme, Vince Young.

Rodgers was tied with Jason Campbell, Chad Pennington and Jeff Garcia.

Now I could quibble with some these selections (Vince Young?!?!), but the truth is that there are a lot of good quarterbacks on this list and it is a little difficult to make a case that Rodgers is clearly "better" than most of these guys.  But by the same token its also difficult to say that many of these guys are clearly better than Rodgers.

It seems to me that every year there are about 4 or 5 QBs that clearly stand out.  Then there are the next 10-12 QBs that form the next pack of players.   The QBs in the next pack are all pretty much interchangable.  You can rank them, but the results will be pretty arbitrary. Looking over your list, you would have to admit that there is not a hell of a lot of difference between #6 and #15.

For what its worth, I do feel strongly that Rodgers is in that next pack.

Et tu, McGinn?

I have loads of respect for Bob McGinn but this is downright silly.

The departures of Favre and Rob Davis left the Packers almost bankrupt of leadership.

Yes.  Exactly.  This is what I've been trying to tell my friends.  When the chips are down, every young player turns to the longsnapper for inspiration.  Only---if only---the Packers had a grizzled veteran at longsnapper things could have been different this year.  Finally, the real story can be told.

"Hindsight" Is 20/20...Err Something

Unintentionally hilarious piece from Bedard this morning.  Jason Taylor thinks that the Redskins might cut him after his mediocre 2008 season.

It's been a weird but ultimately disappointing year for the 34-year-old Taylor. . . .

A knee injury nearly ended his season in the exhibition season. Then Taylor got kicked in the calf and an ensuing infection necessitated two surgeries.

He's missed four games and is on pace to set career lows in tackles (25) and sacks (1.5).

 Nevertheless, Thompson should have traded for Taylor last year:

 In retrospect, it was a disastrous non-move. Taylor could have helped the Packers in the two areas that ultimately led the team to their doom this season: pass rush and veteran leadership.

Got it? Taylor totally sucked this year, but not giving up a 2nd and 6th rounder for him was a "disaster."

This reminds me of the old joke about the two cranky old ladies at a new resteraunt.   

"This is the worst food I have ever had in my life,"  says one to the other.

"I agree," replies the other.  "And, the portions are way too small."

Also, buckle-up for a barrage of articles about how a "lack of veteran leadership" was the problem this year.  I do hope that Bedard has the grapefruits to ask Chuck Woodson why he was asleep at the wheel and could not supply the veteran leadership that Mr. Dancing-With-The-Stars so obviously could have supplied. 

Alternate Karate Kid Ending

This is too brilliant not to share:

What the hell, here is another amusing one. (You can skip the first 30 seconds of the video with the dude with the ponytail pretending to talk on his cellphone.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Thompson should stick to the system

McGinn wrote wrap up of the game on Sunday, which quoted Ted Thompson taking responsibility for this team's struggles.  The Packer blogs have jumped on this quote and are hoping that this indicates that Thompson will abandon his philosophy and transform himself into the Anti-Thompson.  The Anti-Thompson trades up in the draft and picks according to need, and never trades back in the draft unless someone offers a silly deal.

Just because this season is a disappointment is not cause to abandon the system that Thompson learned from Ron Wolf.  The draft is often referred to as a "crap shoot."  For good reason, the draft involves probability and chance.  

Most casual gamblers understand that for each game there is a system, or a set of rules based upon probability.  For example, stand on 16 if the dealer is showing a 6, but hit on 16 if the dealer is showing a 10.  Following the correct strategy will not ensure that you win every hand. Far from it.  But religiously following the correct strategy will ensure that in the long run, you are better off.  The absolute worst thing that you can do is to get frustrated (or worse, desperate) and go off on a "hunch."  Or to get desperate and draft based on need "just this once."  (See Wolf's comments below on this topic.)

Drafting is about probability (with the caveat that the teams with better scouting have a better understanding of the true probabilities that any given prospect will develop into a solid player). There is no sure thing.  Trading down to accumulate picks makes sense because instead of 6 or 7  pulls at the slot machine, Thompson usually comes away with 11 or 12.  That is not to say that Thompson should never trade up (and, indeed, Thompson reportedly explores trading up in every draft) it all depends upon the value available.  The point is that now is not the time to abandon a system that, through Wolf and on to Thompson, has a pretty long and proven record of success.

An important point to remember is that the system does not (and is not designed) to win every hand or on every draft pick.  The point is to win in the long run.   If you stand on 16 when the dealer shows a 6, and the the dealer draws a 10 and a 3, you lose.  That doesn't mean that you "should" have played your hand any differently.  It just means that you lost a hand.

Similarly, the temptation is to point out the instances where a draft pick didn't work out and use that as evidence that Thompson doesn't know what he is doing.  This is wrong.  Just like the mistaken notion that "I should have hit on 16" is wrong.  Not every draft pick is going to pan out and that is just the way it is.  

From the outside, it is almost impossible to distinguish between a "bad pick" and a pick that just didn't work out.  Thus, I think it is much more useful to look at a GM's body of work as a whole. Here, as far as the draft is concerned Thompson's body of work is certainly solid.  He has my trust that he knows what he is doing in that department.  There is no need to panic and start hitting on the 16 when the dealer shows a 6.

This post is already getting lengthy but I have just a couple thoughts on drafting for need. From the mouth of Ron Wolf.

On drafting Jon Michels:

I had an opportunity that year to trade down, which would have left on our board Tony Brackens, plus I would have gotten another third rounder out of it. But I opted not to do that. That was one time where I was blinded by taking a need pick. We needed an offensive lineman. It was an idiotic decision on my part.

On drafting Jonathan Brown:

I took Jonathan Brown over Steve McKinney, who is still a starting guard for the Colts. Which was stupid. Again, it was a need pick and I was being hard-headed.

Stick to the system, Ted.

Pointless Tuesday List: Top Fictional Football Players

Top fictional football players:

(5) Ogre.  Unquestionably the backbone of the Adams Atoms.  And skilled at harrassing nerds.  True double-threat.

(4) Smash Williams.  The talented tailback at Dillon H.S. who spent his college prep money on roids, lost his scholarship to his top school because he was involved in a racially motivated fist fight, accepted a scholarship to a historically black college only to ... well I won't spoil it for those who don't have DirecTV.

(3) Steve Holt!  Although we never technically see Steve Holt! on the football field.  We do know that Steve Holt! is awesome.  Youtube has disabled the embedding on this one.  Come on!

(2) Rod Tidwell.  Responsible for earning Cuba Gooding Jr. an Academy Award and for annoying 90's catchphrase.   

(1) Flash Gordon.  This is another no brainer.  He saved everyone of us.

Woodson and Collins Get Nod; Jennings Gets Snubbed

The Pro Bowl selections are out. The title of this post says it all.

Oh, and Favre made the cut for the AFC.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Draft Pick Derby.

If the season ended today, the Packers would likely have the 10th pick in the 2009 draft (behind Detroit, Kansas City, St. Louis, Cincinatti, Seattle, Oakland, Cleveland, San Francisco and Jacksonville).  

A caveat: I assume that the Packers have played a tougher schedule than San Francisco and Jacksonville.  (Number of opponents' wins is the draft tiebreaker, with the weaker schedule earning the higher pick.)  I am basing this off the latest Sagarin ratings, which lists the Packer schedule the fourth toughest in the league.  I can't seem to find opponents' wins anywhere on the web, and I'm just too lazy to do it myself tonight.

The Packers could (at least theoretically) rise as high as to 5th, or slip as far as to 16th. 


The Packers are guaranteed their second losing season since 1991.  Thoughts and observations:

  • I am a huge Rodgers supporter/defender.  If he continues to make poor decisions in crunchtime, I am going to have to wonder if I am a Rodgers defender or a Rodgers apologist.   I don't mean to overreact.  He is a fairly inexperienced player put in tough positions week in and week out.  But still.

  • What is the deal with the backwards pitch?  I understand the pitch/sweep.  The QB pitches the ball out to where the running back is rushing, and, when done well it assists the running back in getting to the corner quicker.  But what is the point of pitching the ball straight back?  If it is called as an inside the tackles run (as it appeared to be)  the running back has to run right by the QB anyhow.  Wouldn't a handoff be just as good (and simplier)?   Moreover, after he pitches the ball, the QB is now directly between the running back and the line of scrimmage and has to get out of the way quickly.  Total fustercluck.  If it was somehow supposed to be an outside run, by pitching the ball straight back the running back has a lot of pasture to cover in order to make the corner.  Weird play.  It's no suprise that it lost yardage every time it was called.  What is a surprising  is that it was called three times.  

  • I don't care what anyone says.  I still like the fullback dive.  

  • James Jones, where have you been all season?

  • Shameful confession: It's fantasy football playoffs time, and there is real money on the line.  I started Jones-Drew this week over Steve Slaton and Michael Turner.  

ONE ADDITIONAL TOUGHT:  After I posted this I realized that had one addendum.  This is not the same team that the Packers fielded even one month ago.  This is not the same team that spanked the Bears or that came up a missed field goal from beating the Vikings in the Metrodome.  This team is completely beaten down and demoralized.  Perhaps injuries have just finally caught up with the Packers.  I sure hope it isn't the case that McCarthy has lost his lockerroom.  I just don't know.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Silverstein needs to work on his "notepad level"

I really hate it when, journalists gratuitously editorialize in supposed "news" articles. Here's an example from this morning's Journal Sentinel:

Tauscher might not return next season because his contract will expire and general manager Ted Thompson generally doesn't invest in aging veterans, no matter how important their leadership and presence is on the field and in the locker room.

Set aside whether the first half of the statement is correct. But for the record, Thompson extended Al Harris at the age of 32, and signed Donald Driver at the age of 31, as just two counterexamples. (Tauscher, for the record, is 31 this year).

There are only two ways that bold part can be objectively true: (1) Thompson has gone on record to say "I don't care about leadership and locker room presence," or (2) there exists some metric to measure "leadership and locker room presence." If it is the former, Silverstein could have done us all a favor by---you know---quoting Thompson. If it is the later, Silverstein should have set forth his methodology so his readers determine whether it withstands any scrutiny.

I strongly suspect these are just Silverstein's "feelings." Which is cool. But he should work for a feelingspaper rather than a newspaper.

Reason Magazine had a great interview with Craig Newmark (the "craigslist guy"). (It's in the print version, but I can't find it online yet.) Craigslist has been somewhat villainized by newspapers for supposedly siphoning off classified revenues. However, in the interview, Newmark comes across as a staunch defender of traditional media. His overall point was that traditional media has the resources to do the fact checking that "New Media" does not. And that is what they should focus on. I think he is on to something.

That's what makes shoddy journalism that much more frustrating. Rather then play to their strengths, "journalists" are impersonating bloggers. Silverstein: leave the blogging to those unqualified to do your job. I don't need you to weave your narrative into each story. Neutrality and accuracy are the fundamentals of journalism. Now go out there and write with good "notepad level."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Barry Sanders, Jr.

Cool video making the rounds. Barry Sanders has a kid who is a high school freshman. Watch this 64 yard TD run in the OK state semis. Not too shabby. My math says he won't be eligible for the draft until 2013.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Al Harris, "Chronic Towel-Dropper"

Apparently there is a controversy brewing over Vikings TE Visanthe Shiancoe's private parts and whether he intentionally publicized his private parts live on local television.  The experts are starting to weigh in.  Former Eagles DE, Hugh Douglas says that it was no accident.  He then proceeded to list other players gone wild.  Among the gentlemen called out by Douglas were none other than Packer cornerback Al Harris: 

Al would find out there would be media around and he'd drop his towel and walk slowly across the locker room. Then he'd be all bending over and shit. He was into it too.

Enjoy that mental image.  You are welcome.

Pointless Tuesday List: Worst Packer Free Agent Losses

I love pointless lists.  I can't explain why, but I do.  So I'm going to try to do a new pointless list every Tuesday (weather permitting).

Packer fans are starting to buzz about the wisdom of letting Corey Williams fly the coop last offseason.  Despite Williams's thoroughly underwhelming performance this year, some are suggesting that Thompson should have signed him anyway.  I don't follow the logic.  It's as if nobody remembers Clete Hunt.  Anyhow, it is way too early to decide whether letting Williams leave was a good move or a bad move.  

Here is my list of the worst Packer free agent losses.  Some ground rules.  The player must have been a free agent and not a roster cut (like Wahle and Sharper) or a trade (like Wayne Simmons).

(5) Keith McKenzie: This is admittedly not an obvious pick.  McKenzie was little more than a "pretty good" situational pass rush.  McKenzie makes my list not necessarily because he was a great player but because his absence left a hole on the team that the Packers over-reacted to fill.  The following draft the Packers selected Jamal Reynolds with the 10th overall pick and the rest is history.

(4) Craig Hendrich: Ron Wolf has named Hendrich his biggest mistake as GM (or something like that).  While I don't think Hendrich is even close to Wolf's biggest blunder, Hendrich was a hell of a punter for the Packers.  We all learned this season just how underrrated the punter can be.

(3)  Adam TimmermanTimmerman went on to have a very good career with St. Louis, winning another Super Bowl and being named All-Pro.  

(2)  Eugene Robinson:  Robinson was named All-Pro the season after leaving the Packers.  And he went to the Super Bowl (and jail before that).  Meanwhile, the Packers struggled with a not-quite-ready-for-prime-time Darren Sharper. 

(1) Bryce Paup: This is a no-brainer.  The following season after leaving the Packers, Bryce Paup was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year.  That same season, the Packers were within spitting distance from the Super Bowl.  Even though his replacement, Simmons, was a pretty good player in his own right, a DPOY-caliber player very well may have put the Packers over the top.

If this doesn't cheer you up...

Funny scene from the classic film Reggie's Prayer. It's a well-meaning and unintentionally hilarious bit of Packer pop-culture (think Super Bowl shuffle, except featuring Reggie White carrying a farm animal and earnestly pleading with God). Plus, it features an all star cast including MC Hammer and Pat Morita. Like I said, it's a classic.

I used to own it on VHS and would watch it all the time. Hopefully someone will put more clips like this on YouTube. Otherwise, I guess I'll have to try to track down a DVD version.

"I gotta go change the urinal mints."

Monday, December 8, 2008

McGinn's Crystal Ball

Now is a good time to go back and re-examine that McGinn prediction from the beginning of the season.  Remember that one?

Seven National Football League teams in the last decade followed up a 13-3 record one year with a precipitous fall in the standings the next year

The Green Bay Packers of 2008 have all the makings of joining the club

McGinn's ultimate prediction: 

The operative question is, how far have the Packers slipped? Based on a training camp this summer that could have been dubbed "Mediocrity on Parade," the answer is somewhere between four to eight games from 13-3 a year ago.

That means 9-7 looks like the best the Packers could finish and 5-11 looks like the worst.

At the time, I though McGinn was a little too pessimistic.  (Although I definitely saw the Packers slipping, I thought 9-7 was more of a worst case scenario).

McGinn based his prediction on three primary factors: (1) an aging group of playmakers, (2) an inevitable injury streak, and (3) a tougher schedule.  On the second factor:

When one looks back on the seven 13-3 teams in the last 10 years that collapsed, injuries were the common denominator.

The ’07 Baltimore Ravens (5-11, down from 13-3), the ’07 Bears (7-9, down from 13-3), the ’05 Philadelphia Eagles (6-10, down from 13-3), the ’04 Kansas City Chiefs (7-9, down from 13-3), the ’02 Bears (4-12, down from 13-3), the ’01 Tennessee Titans (7-9, down from 13-3) and the ’98 Chiefs (7-9, down from 13-3) all were picked to win at least 10 games by prognosticators.

Everyone in the industry just sort of knows that injuries run in cycles.

Interesting stuff.

A Dry Lambeau?

Great piece over on the Turley-blog about a settlement by Giants Stadium with a girl paralyzed in a post-game car accident caused by a drunken Giant's fan driving home after the game.  The parties settled the case for $25 Million.  

The settlement is unique:
Dram shop liability judgments remain rare for stadiums due to the environment. The vendors are constantly moving around and often overlap with other vendors. Eye-witnesses tend to be less useful in the highly chaotic atmosphere of a game. Often different people will buy beer at different times. However, this case shows that liability can still be established even in this fluid environment.
Not only that.  Booze is cheap in the parking lot and expensive in the stadium.  Fans drink accordingly.  I would wager that most fans consume far more alcohol before the game than they do during it.

In any event, while I doubt this single case will cause much change if any, a couple more and we could see new policies in place and I do think dry stadiums could be a---albeit remote---possibility.  

Simple math shows why.  The capacity at Lambeau Field is 78,928.  Assume that every fan buys two alcoholic drinks at the stadium.  I think this is a fair estimate.  Some will buy many more drinks, and many fans will not buy any.  Also assume that the stadium earns a six dollar profit on each drink.  Here, I am just taking a wild guess and trying to over estimate if possible.  That would mean that the stadium clears $947,136 per game on alcohol sales.

It would take the Packers over 3 seasons in alcohol sales to recoup the cost of a $25 Million lawsuit.  If such suits become more common place, sooner or later stadiums will have to ask themselves if it is even worth it.

I don't think we will see dry stadiums any time soon.  Still, if someone were to tell you 15 years ago that it would become illegal to smoke in bars, you probably would have laughed at them too.