Sunday, February 22, 2015

Latest version of NFL minute

There has been recently a great deal of coverage of the free agent travels of quarterback Josh McCown. Now part of this is because he was cut and so can visit and sign with teams while others can’t during a slow news cycle. But the other reality is he is arguably the best free agent QB available this off-season.

I am going to let that sink in.

First of all do you know Josh McCown? I am betting some of you do not, so let me give you a little review.

Josh McCown is a 35-year-old quarterback who has played on 6 teams in a twelve year career. He has been a starter for two of those teams and has 17 career wins (or 1.4 wins a year). To be fair he has mainly been a backup and has actually won just over a third of his starts – so that is something. Right?
He has a career 58% completion percentage and a 76% rating. His best season ever was for the Hartford Colonials of the short-lived United Football League. In 2011 he was out of football before the chronically QB poor Chicago Bears brought him in as backup. The same thing happened in 2012. To repeat the arguably best free agent QB was OUT OF THE LEAGUE just three seasons ago. Both times he vaguely stayed in the game by being an assistant high school football coach. In 2013 he actually played for the Bears when Jay Cutler got hurt and played well – going 3-2 and throwing for more TDs than INTs for the second time in his career. He parlayed that into a $5 million contract with the Buccaneers where he returned for form, winning just one of his eleven starts. He did get the Bucs the #1 pick in the draft and a chance to take Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston and hope they surprise me by becoming solid starters. He had another year on his deal with Tampa Bay, but they had seen enough.

Does this sound to be a QB you would want your team to bring in? That he might be the best QB out there tells you about how bad this year’s QB class is. Here are the best of the other guys out there (in no particular order):

Shaun Hill – who has proven he is a very good backup, but a marginal starter.

Whatever is left of Michael Vick’s speed.

Mark Sanchez – he of the 130 turnovers in 71 career games

Someone will probably give Minnesota’s first round bust Christian Ponder a second chance.

Ditto the Titan’s Jake Locker – who I thought would be good, but has mainly been hurt.

Colt McCoy – he had a marginal rebirth in DC last year before getting hurt (twice). Winning in Dallas on Monday night will raise your profile – even if it is your only win since 2011.

Ryan Mallet – an unknown big arm guy with two starts coming off an season ending injury. Was a kicked out of Michigan, but studied under Tom Brady in New England.

I could see a desperate coach playing Case Keenum late in a lost season.

But here is the thing – McCown was a relativley hot candidate last year too. This speaks to the broader truth – there just aren’t 32 men on this planet who can play quarterback well. So when teams have on they hold on for dear life – this is why when you see some team paying a margin guy (Jay Cutler, Mathew Stafford, Tony Romo, Andy Dalton) huge money. The reality is scarcity is only going to make QB salaries rise more. Which will be deadly for teams paying ok QB’s great QB money because they won’t be able to spend that money to surround the him with weapons.

I will close on this issue by saying the teams that have brought McCown in have mainly been looking at him as a backup. There are NO definite starters available.

I wish to expand upon something I said earlier – that the Packers in Seattle lost when they went conservative. I was NOT referencing settling for three early in the game. They were on course to win having done that. I meant Morgan Burnett sliding after making an interception with 5 minutes to go when there was no one around him (which one of Fox’s dipshit announcers said was wise at the time – I am guess Troy Aikman but I honestly don’t recall). But more importantly that they didn’t attack Richard Sherman when he was clearly playing with one arm – that shows they were playing scared.

Finally I want to give the NFL Network a little credit. As far as I have been able to discern they are covering the concussion lawsuit against their owner in a credible enough way I can’t accuse them of sandbagging.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

XLIX is coming

I am picking the Patriots for the Super Bowl, but not confidently. I give them a 55% chance of winning. For years New England’s defense lived off its (and Belichick’s) reputation. But with the additions of Revis (despite somewhat of a decline in his skills) and Browner their secondary has taken a major step forward. I’m still suspect of their pass rush and Seattle’s defense is better, but the Pats defense is better than it has been in many years. Plus they have the smarter coach and better QB. That said I am worried – the Seahawks aren’t going to get blown out, but I could see a scenario where the Patriots would be.

It is also true that Seattle isn’t unbeatable, if the Packers hadn’t turtled coming down the stretch then we’d be looking at a repeat of Super Bowl XXXI.

I would also like to take a moment to point out that the Patriots were already known cheaters – and knowingly and intentionally messed with the footballs. They are all just lying now. And don’t say it doesn’t matter, they have been doing this for a long time and in tight games giving Brady a better grip on the ball could make the difference in a W. But I would also point to the fact that Pete Carroll came to the Seahawks running away from the NCAA coming down with sanctions on his USC program and plenty of his Seattle players have been dinged for steroids.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

This is supposed to be a passing league right?

Of the 8 NFL teams play this weekend - FIVE have pass defenses ranked in the 20's. Carolina - the best - is just outside the top ten (11th). Denver and Green Bay are 9th and 10th (Seattle is 1, New England 17th).

Conversely 4 of them have run defenses in the top 8 - as do Denver & Seattle - plus the Patriots are 9th. So if you have a top ten run defense you apparently have a 70% of making the playoffs (the Texans, who were alive in Week 17, the 49ers and the Jets round out the top ten).

For passing offense the playoff teams are all over the place, but again 4 of the best 8 rushing offenses take the field this weekend and Seattle is 1. In a startlingly mirror image the same three teams - 49ers, Texans, and Jets - round out the top 8. Although the Lions (28) and Cardinals (31) are amongst the five worst.

The real lesson - running the ball is still important in today's NFL, but there is more than one way to make the post season.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

So my DC cousin asked if I can pontificate about Washington too- “you betcha!”

I don't know that I believe much in new coach Jay Gruden. I do not know a ton about him and while he got some production in Cincy, he also always had AJ Green, Jermaine Gresham (I know coaches can improve players – but they were both the highest players taken at their position in their respective drafts) and several other talented parts. His offenses did look good at times, but in three playoff losses the Bungles score a combined 33 points (somehow only the QB has caught flack for this – imagine that). Gruden’s offenses were ranked in the 20s two of his three years there. Meanwhile Marvin Lewis’s defenses were always in the top 10 – maybe a little coattail riding going on in getting this job (plus remember his brother, ESPN Monday Night Football announcer and form Super Bowl winning coach John Gruden, is a big name too)? I am not saying he was a terrible hire, but his record is a definitely mixed bag.

Gruden aside, Washington is starting to learn as a franchise (I heavily suspect this "learning" is just Bruce Allen making picks rather than their competent owner Daniel Synder) - they used their top picks on unsexily, but wisely, building the Offensive-Line.
They also didn't trade away all their picks: Washington drafted 8 guys and had a pick in every round save the first (and many of those were their own actual picks rather than trade pickups). However I don't see anyone that they added as being special. Still a solid draft of quality starters is the foundation of winning seasons.

In free agency they may have overpayed (a bit, not horrendously( for DeSean Jackson, but at least he isn't 37 – the normal age of a Washington free agent. Plus Jackson is more of a #1 than Pierre Garcon (although also more of a headcase). Former Cardinal Andre Roberts is a reliable #3 – certainly an upgrade. They signed a couple of LBs who started in their old homes in Akeem Jordan (KC) and Daryl Sharpton (Houston). They aren't super-great but I am assuming will be replacing the retired London Fletcher. CB Tracey Porter (most recently Oakland) was once a borderline great corner, but something is off with him the last few years (injuries messed with his head?). Ex-Steeler Ryan Clark was a better safety than many realized during his career, but is probably done. Maybe they will be able to squeeze a year out of him as a guy directing traffic.

Elsewhere at safety they have Brandon Meriweather returning, but he is more consistently subpar than erratic. He never should have been a Pro-Bowler, that was Patriots mystique. SF Tanard Jackson, coming back after a two year suspension, was a somewhat better than average safety in Tampa (big hitter who occasionally took a bad gamble), but who knows how he’ll be after not playing since 2011 (it does say something that Washington did not flush him).

They should lock up their best passrusher Brian Orakpo with a long-term deal. Beside him and Ryan Kerrigan on the other side there isn't much at impresses me about this front 7 either. People are a little too excited about signing DT Jason Hatcher away from the rival Cowboys. He was 31 in a contract year last season (yes the 'Pokes Defensive-Line was a mess, but let's not forget DeMarcus Ware drew a lot of attention). He was getting better the last few seasons, but I expect he will revert back to be a solid starter, not someone who will “make” the DL.

Washington still needs to redo their DL & secondary (I’m counting Orakpo and Kerrigan as Outside Line-Backers), get even more OL help, find a #2 RB, , and I don't buy TE Jordan Reed will be a star, but he may be okay as starter (shame about Fred Davis smokng his life away). If this team is going to be winning games it will be the offense carrying them.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Your overly in-depth Niners draft review (general thoughts at end)

As a Niners fan I was curious about our first overall pick – Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward. So I did what any twenty-first century man would do - I went on youtube and found two games films of every NIU defensive play, with Ward highlighted. [As an aside, I love whomever is making these videos – youtube is a very underutilized football guru resource]. Those films made me warm to Ward quite quickly. He's a very sure tackler who was rarely beaten in coverage (I can't say that about NIU’s secondary as a whole - wow). He can be blocked out of the way - but that is no surprise given that he is barely over 190lbs. He isn't exceptionally fast, but he’s fast enough. He also played man-to-man a TON for a safety.

As for the rest of the draft I am pretty happy. I loved the trade down and then right back up to get another 4th next year – which should cover the Stevie Johnson trade (a trade which gives us a GREAT receiving corps). I don't know why we traded down so much when we went into the draft with 11 picks but not 11 open spots needing filling on the roster – we ended up with 12 players drafted. We’ll have a full compliment next year, but with Denver’s pick in the 4th rather than our own.

At least two, and possibly three, of those 12 players are coming of ACLs and won’t play this year. The best is 3rd round pick G/T Brandon Thomas out of Clemson – who I saw in college and feel will be very good once he is healed. 5th round pick CB Keith Reaser has had to have surgery twice for one knee injury, played at a small school in Florida Atlantic (the Owls) and is only 5’10” – all of which makes him a less exciting pick. However before that knee injury he ran a 4.3 in the 40 so I can live with burning a fifth on him. They also took FB Trey Millard out of Oklahoma in the 7th. He tore his knee up in October so he might play this year. We have a fine FB in Bruce Miller already, but if a guy is talented you can take whatever position in the late rounds.

We did this last year too – drafting DE Tank Carradine (FSU) in the 2nd and DT Quinton Dial (Alabama) in the 5th.
There was also 4th round pick RB Marcus Lattimore of South Carolina who looked amazing in the SEC before a pair of gruesome knee explosions. None of them played, but hopefully Carradine and Dial will be ready to go as we need DL depth and took only an underachieving rush DE (Aaron Lynch of USF) and an injury prone DT/3-4 DE (Kaleb Ramsey of BC).

Despite having Lattimore we took Carlos Hyde in the 2nd (a counter argument to taking injured prospects) A bruising runner – and arguably the best backing he draft, Hyde helps with an aging Gore (who is going into his final year on his contract: this might be his last season). It is a good thing we run often because Kendall Hunter will get some carries too. This move may spell the end of LaMichael James’s time with the franchise – he was reportedly on the block before the draft. Not much return from a 2012 2nd round pick.

Besides the injured Brandon Thomas I was happy we took another O-lineman in the 3rd round - USC’s center Marcus Martin. He may start with Jonathan Goodwin now gone. We also took more DBs. In fact we carpet bombed that position with 4 total picks. It makes sense give that we lost Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers, and Donte Whitner to free agency. Tramaine Brock is good for one corner, but Chris Culliver is likely to be suspended and Antonie Bethea (S signed from the Colts) is no all-star. Besides Ward in the first and the injured Reaser we also picked up CBs Dontae Johnson (NC State) in the 4th and Kenneth Acker (SMU) in the 6th. Johnson is big 6’2” + 200lbs (Acker is 6’0”) but the video I found of him (the only other guy I found on youtube) showed a good coverage guy with sub-par tackling skills. Hopefully a couple of these guys will pan out.

Third round pick ILB Chris Borland of Wisconsin wasn’t a need pick any stretch of the imagination given Willis and Bowman. Plus I think Michael Wilhoite showed he’s an NFL starting caliber LB last year (just not on this D). To be fair Bowman might not be ready to go when the season starts, but I would have rather have seen DL depth or another DB at that point

The most superfluous pick was South Carolina WR Bruce Ellington at the top of the 4th round. While Crabtree is injury prone and may walk next year, Boldin is aging, the reality is that they, Stevie Johnson, and Vernon Davis ensure that Ellington will at best be battling with last year’s 4th round pick Quinton Patton and Chiefs’ draft bust Jon Baldwin just to be active on Sundays. I know you draft for the long term and maybe there is something there, but he’s just 5’9” and was not dominant in the NCAA. He may also return kicks.

And of course the draft is a crapshoot anyway. Keep in that our Pro-Bowl alternate guard Alex Boone was an undrafted free agent.

I also had a few non-Niner thoughts:

The Patriots may have struck gold with Florida DT Dominique Easley in the first. I have seen Easley plenty and he is absolutely dominant. He is a risk coming off two ACLs, but if he can stay on the field you will learn allll about him. I would have been fine with the Niner's rolling the dice on his knees in the late first round for the potential pay out.

Of course we have to talk about the quarterbacks. Johnny Manzel went where he should have. He’s a headcase who might pan out spectacularly, but probably won’t – especially not in the mistake by the lake – especially not with no WRs. That is not a top five pick. Jerry Jones finally made a wise move for once in passing on him (but denying me hours of QB controversy entertainment). Still I can’t blame the Browns for rolling the dice – what have they got to lose?

Bortles was the best QB available, but I worry Jacksonville won’t develop him well. I should be more fair, it is a new crew in charge and while it is impossible to judge at first brush they had a good draft. I would say the same for the Ravens, Saints, and Rams.

Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater might be in a good position in Minnesota. AJ McCarron isn’t that good and doesn’t understand it. He’ll be selling insurance in Alabama in about 4 years. Aaron Murray on the other hand may (I stress may) make something out of himself under Andy Reid in KC. The Texans may like Clowney, but they won’t win a Super Bowl with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center (they should have traded down, but I bet did not find any takers). I don’t think much of Derick Carr, and going to the Black Hole certainly won’t help.

Finally make no mistake about it. Michael Sam fell into the late 7th because he doesn’t like girls. He wasn’t a first round pick, but he’s the first SEC defensive player of the year to fall out of the first round since 2003. 2003!! And that is despite having 11.5 sacks. He should have been a mid-rounder.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

College Football Minute (ok went long, “minutes”)

A: I read a fascinating article on EPSN about college football that I regurgitate here for your edification.

The University of Arizona had only 52% of their student season ticket holders show up on average last year. It was so bad Zona had to resort to handing out cash prizes at the end of games to keep some butts in the seats (20 students won $500 a pop over two games – or would have if three of them hadn’t, yes, left early). They also came up with a “Zona Zoo” concept, handing out shirts saying fans stay the whole game and had a “Zona Zoo Crew” to entertain people.
Now admitted the Wildcats are a perennial disappointment but NCAA wide attendance has been declining since 2008 (which by the way is only 46,000 a game: for every Florida there is a Central Michigan). Heck Oklahoma – mighty Oklahoma – only had 72% attendance from students on average.

That number actually isn’t that bad. Michigan, which always draws the most fans (it helps to have a “Big House” – they haven’t had a crowd under 100k since NINETEEN SEVENTY-FIVE) had just 74% average showups from their students, a drop from the previous two years despite decreasing the number of student tickets available by 10%.

Iowa averaged 70% of student season ticket holders actually come, but only sold about 75% of their season tickets and eventually converted two student sections to general admission. Over Thanksgiving break only half of student tickets were used when the Wolverines came to town.

Ironically Penn State is the Big Ten’s success story with 82% average attendance after selling 1,000 more student season tickets this year (for an impressive 21,000 seats). But that contrasts against 10% total drop in attendance over the last half decade.

Flipping over to the SEC – which has dominated attendance for years (75,500+ average this season) Georgia was the smartest of all. The Bulldogs cut its student section down to 16,000 (from 18,000), but then sold 17,000 season tickets to their kids. Only 71% of which were used. The student newspaper called their own games stale – saying the cheers were geared to the gray-haired big money alumni – compared to Clemson, Auburn, and Vanderbilt (Vandy!?). But while that was funny I have to say I don’t support this argument it is a football game, I doubt what comes out over the loudspeakers is going to dramatically change attendance (this is also why the Cowboy cheerleaders and their insipid reality show need to get over themselves).

Bama had 95% attendance, but then Saban still bitched about students leaving early (after a 52-0 blowout). The school actually did then suspend a bunch of block seating groups.

Schools are really starting to mind data and the answers are a little surprising. Tennessee’s best attended game (93%) was against Tennessee-Martin. The Skyhawks (yep, had to look that up) are I-AA; although given the Vols’ teams lately that might have been because it was the only type of game fans knew they would be in. What was the best predictor? Kickoff time: night games were the best attended.

All of this was frustrating to read given the amount of time I had to scheme to get extra tickets for the Swamp and help friends out. The only time I noticed empty stands was when we played Div. II creampuffs. But perhaps that was because at Florida the games were the place to be for students fan or not. I distinctly remember one time a girl (not noticeably intoxicated) turning around and yelling to everyone a question about who there for the game and who for the social event – before of course declaring she was there the for social event. No, range did not take over. But I did dislike her immensely.

B: Youngstown State University recently lost their president and there is a movement afoot to hire Jim Tressel as a replacement. Yes, THAT Jim Tressel – this is a sports blog. Sure he’s never taught, doesn’t have a PhD and was forced out of Ohio State in a scandal - but he won a national title for the Buckeyes (and four lesser known I-AA titles for Youngstown State prior)!! And two be fair the “scandal” that cost him in Columbus was not reporting players for swapping gear for tattoos – which given that players don’t get paid isn’t much of one. And he has been working as a recruiting VP at the University of Akron so he has one year of relevant job experience. It won’t happen, but I laughed when I heard and so I posted it. The best part is a US CONGRESSMAN is pushing it. This guys loves Captain Sweatervest (or at least thinks voters do), before the job came open he was pushing Tressel for the Cleveland Browns’ head spot. Tim Ryan is his name if you live in the area and need to know who to vote against.

C: I saw a great poll on ESPN asking if fans would want a rule change (slow down offenses) if was clear it would help player’s health. 51% percent said no. FIFTY-ONE percent would rather let these guys wreck themselves.

D: Fast Fact of the Day: The team Tressel gloriously beat (in a classic game of announcers sticking to their pregame storyline of Miami being a superfast team even as OSU went toe to toe with them right in front of their eyes - that was the fastest two yard run ever!) for his ring in Columbus – Thug U. – has their football stadium TWENTY MILES from campus. Clever planning gents.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The State of Fandom Address

So apparently I am a man of the people as nearly half (49%) of all Americans joined me in saying they are NFL fans – although it is down from last year (56%).

The NFL continues to dominate over other sports as well – having led in every poll since they were first done in 1985. This year 35% of Americans listed the NFL as their favorite sport – more than twice as much as MLB at 14%. Baseball was followed by 11% for college football (which means that 46% of the nation lists some type of football as their favorite), 7% for auto racing, 6% for the NBA, 5% for the NHL, and 3% for college basketball (so 9% total for basketball). I am surprise hockey beat out college B-ball, but it’s not great news for either sport that NASCAR is ahead of them.

The polling also tells us that scandals hurt more than you might have guessed. In the thirty years of polling no sport dropped more than baseballs 9% (from 23 to 14) – baseball which just happens to be the only sport that cancelled their championship game one year. Golf also took a huge hit with Tiger-Pants. It hovered around 4% for first arc
of his career, until his wife tried to club him when the number dropped to 2% and there it has remained. That would be more than I would have guessed, sports fans sure can be fickle. Although also remember Tiger’s play tanked at roughly the same point.

In terms of the NFL the most popular teams were Bears, Packers, Broncos, Patriots, Cowboys, Giants and my 49ers (although I don’t know where all those alleged other fans were during the aughts). The first four had 7% of fans each, the next three 6%. If you do the math that is 46% for those seven teams leaving barely more than an average of 2% for the rest of the league.

The NFL does have a bit of an HDTV problem with 8% of fans saying they would not go to a Super Bowl if their team was in it regardless of cost. Roughly half (48%) would be willing to go on the cheap (for less than $250). Yeah, good luck with that. Fans were very off on the cost of tickets, guessing $500 for face (just a thousand tickets sell for that low and they go up to $2,600) and $1,000 average resale when it is actually $2,500 [I spent $2,300 in 2006]. Although given that last number I am betting NFL owners aren’t sweating about the threat of High Def too much.

Fairly surprisingly 45% of fans didn’t care about expanding the playoffs one way or the the other. Of those that did there was a slight opposition (28% to 26% in favor). I would be part of that 28% but I know how money works. Fans have to accept as fact that the decision makers for their favorite sports are thinking primarily in terms of making money (which is why Roger Goodell’s talk about canceling the Pro Bowl because of poor quality play was surprising given the TV share). Owners are billionaire businessmen, not sports purists. I’ve always objected to people complaining owners and players don’t care about fans. They do, they just care about themselves MORE. That isn’t a crime - fans look out for #1 too and would do the same if they were freakishly athletic. However I can certainly commiserate with being frustrated watching as a billionaire’s desire for one more million spoil something I love so much.

Rounding up our numbers roughly 85% of fans want the Washington Racists to keep their name although those numbers are dropping amongst men (in a surprising comparison women held steady) and (less surprisingly) college graduates (although only down to a still disheartening 77%). And no, I am not an Indian.

Similarly a sport's popularity varies based on demographics. NFL fans concentrate in rural areas and the East Coast (which is a little hard to square with Chicago, Green Bay, Dallas, Denver, and San Francisco being five of the seven most popular). In a stat that surprised no one the South is college football’s bastion. Blacks aren’t big baseball fans, but it is the sport of the wealthy (households that make $100+K). While those who never went to college like NASCAR. I guess some stereotypes hold true.

The other big discovery is that many more sports fans are nuts than I had realized as in a recent poll half of all fans said they believed there is some level of supernatural influence in games. HALF!! Just over a quarter have prayed for God to help their team and the same number (I am hoping there is some overlap) have considered if their team was cursed. Hey, the last time I prayed was during a game, but I was TEN. And Montana did indeed find Taylor with 34 seconds left.

Football fans are the most crazed – a third have prayed for touchdowns, almost an equal amount believe their squad is cursed (looking at you Cleveland), a quarter have some type of pre or during game ritual to help their squad of choice, while a fifth of fans said both they have a lucky shirt or whatever, and they agreed with the statement that God influences who wins a game (as two separate questions).

The biggest belief (nearly half) was that God rewards athletes of faith with success and health. Which makes sense – I’ve always guessed (or if I was being honest more hoped) that players are praying for health in those big circles. I also despised Ray Lewis all the more for claiming his success on the field was evidence of God’s favor and by extension that he was a good person.

The only thing that didn’t surprise me was that white Evangelicals were the most likely to believe any of this. If you already strongly believe, why not apply it to sports?

Meanwhile in my whole life I’ve never been called for any survey other than a stupid movie one.