Divisional Round Thread

For some quick meaningless predictions, I’ll take Denver -9 despite some misgivings over the extreme weakness of their second-half schedule. (I should also say that in terms of the Broncos signing Manning, I was formally right but wrong in spirit; I recognized that it was a good gamble, but I would not have expected him to play at this level.) In a coin flip, I’ll take Green Bay +3 because of concerns about Justin Smith’s health. I’ll play McClellan in another coin flip game, taking Atlanta -1; the Clemons injury and Seattle’s lesser play on the road worry me. And while I don’t expect them to win I’d take Texas +10; it’s been a while since the Patriots have blown out a team that had an NFL-caliber QB in the playoffs.

I have a follow up on the (un)importance of the running game in the NFL, but I’ll leave that for later.

…although I have no rooting interest in the game, I have to say I was thrilled by Flacco’s last minute TD pass. It’s nice to see Fox get burned for his ludicrously conservative decision to not let his Hall of Fame QB try to get a game-ending first down.

62 comments on this post.
  1. Rob:

    Not sure you should have linked to that post. You have Jets’ fans calling for Sanchez’s head on a stick.

  2. shah8:

    Hmmm? Well, better have your game keyboarding on, if you want to talk about the unimportance of the running game.

  3. James E. Powell:

    You feel the need to do a post on the (un)importance of the running game? Isn’t that the widely accepted and statistically substantiated understanding?

  4. Pestilence:

    yeah but they’re Jets fans so its probably not metaphor, so thats OK

  5. Scott Lemieux:

    I would have thought so, but apparently not!

  6. Rob:

    I have just discovered the existence of this page. I think it says it all.

    http://www.nfl.com/qs/tebowzone/index.jsp

  7. shah8:

    /me shakes head…

    Take one team, for example, if the Texans can’t run, then they literally can’t *any* offense going.

    Or, how about the Packers? Why do you think they try to run so hard, despite not having capable RBs?

    And the last time you went on this little crusade, you sure didn’t leave me much confidence in your understanding of statistics.

  8. James E. Powell:

    It took me a minute to realize that it was not some Onion-like parody. I’m curious why nfl.com doesn’t have one for all the back-up quarterbacks.

  9. Rob:

    You think the Packers try to run? They don’t. They will run on a call by Rodgers at that line with 6 in the box.

  10. James E. Powell:

    Okay, I’m wrong.

  11. Scott Lemieux:

    I’m not saying that NFL teams should never run. I’m saying that the marginal quality of a team’s running game has very little impact on the quality of its offense. Funny that you would bring up the Packers, who have a bad running game but an elite offense.

  12. shah8:

    And this is why I don’t think you understand your approach.

    What’s an actual replacement level running attack? And what’s a good unit of marginal quality over replacement level? SMH, no, football is not susceptible to quantitative approaches to clarification. More than that, the Xs and Os of the game tend to be about threat and the perception of which. If you don’t try to run, even when you’re bad at it, you’ll take lots of bad sacks. Your passing game will drift into suffocating short throws, and low chance long throws.

    You’re probably going to say that teams that run a lot don’t do well. And I’d look at the Chiefs, and think, “what’s wrong with this picture?” Are they running too much? Or perhaps they just don’t have a good QB? Teams with strong rushers and strong passers tend to do quite well. More than that, both tend to depend on how good their OL is. Then there’s the defense.

  13. shah8:

    And just to rub this in some more…

    http://smartfootball.blogspot.com/2006/07/runpass-balance-and-little-game-theory.html

    Straightforward, the NFL as a whole, already understand the statistical approaches to production. They don’t really do that stuff. They are fundamentally more into game theoretical approaches, which, of course, is much harder to intelligibly write about for the mundane public, except in the most crudest what-if terms.

  14. shah8:

    So, when you read this, I expect you to understand the sheer horrificness of Christian Ponder during that stretch when AD had almost a yard better per rush than Ponder’s Y/A. That is not normal at all. He should be seeing open guys all over the field due to the sheer terror of the RB.

  15. Rob:

    Pretty sure you just made Scott’s point.

  16. shah8:

    Oh, Jesus…

  17. Scott Lemieux:

    And the last time you went on this little crusade, you sure didn’t leave me much confidence in your understanding of statistics.

    Ah, yes, who can forget the brilliant understanding of statistics you showed by citing several teams with mediocre-to-terrible rushing offenses as teams who won primarily with running.

  18. shah8:

    Uh, huh. I wasn’t exactly the only one unimpressed the way you tried to push a correlation as almost conclusive indication of some consistent cause.

    What I’m expecting is some sort of stupid Football Outsiders derivative product (they are not Baseball Prospectus, which, indeedy-0, I used to read way back when that site was young. Aaron Schatz is not Nate Silver. Football is not susceptible to statistical analysis the way baseball is.)

  19. Ken Houghton:

    it’s been a while since the Patriots have blown out a team that had an NFL-caliber QB in the playoffs.

    Well, yes, with the final clause. But they beat Matt Schaub and his team by 28 less than five weeks ago. I would hate to give the ten, but taking it seems a mug’s bet.

  20. Scott Lemieux:

    So, when you read this, I expect you to understand the sheer horrificness of Christian Ponder during that stretch when AD had almost a yard better per rush than Ponder’s Y/A. That is not normal at all. He should be seeing open guys all over the field due to the sheer terror of the RB.

    I agree. The idea that there’s some major synergy between the running and passing games is complete bullshit — in reality if you can throw you can throw and if you can’t you can’t. Thanks for pointing this out!

  21. Rob:

    Wow. Given the previous handcuffing of Manning under 2 minutes and then sitting on the ball with half a minute left and two timeouts Denver really deserves to lose this game.

  22. Scott Lemieux:

    So, I infer the Ravens fired Cam Cameron because his game plans were too imaginative?

  23. ploeg:

    And Peyton Manning still has one fewer playoff wins with the Broncos than Tim Tebow has. (And boy I didn’t see that coming. )

  24. James E. Powell:

    Peyton took one out of the Bret Favre playbook: throw across your body into the middle of the field. Have to admit I never saw that as one of the probable outcomes.

  25. TT:

    Yeah, even Fox and Del Rio will catch on that you’re running on every first down.

    But regardless of whatever game plan he was given, Flacco was terrific. Denver evidently thought it could get away with playing some terrible defense, and he made them pay for it.

  26. TT:

    He looked like a guy who’s had multiple neck surgeries on that one.

  27. James E. Powell:

    On a play like that, the problem is a little higher than the neck

  28. Decrease Mather:

    Yeah, Flacco was great, but the TD to Jones was the worst safety play I’ve veer seen. Even if he just stands there and tackles him in bounds, the Ravens would have had maybe 12 seconds to go 10 yards.

  29. shah8:

    /me facepalms

    Synergy? What? Since when have I talked about synergy? If you’re thinking that I was saying that running complements passing or vice versa to create an overall more effective offense–that would be wrong.

    When I was talking about Ponder, I was saying that Ponder was routinely failing to take advantage of defensive alignments that was selling all out against the run. This is a conditional sentiment. Football isn’t poker, execution of plays matters more than how lucky you are. Run plays have a place in an offense because you generally have the ability to get *some* yards. Of course, unsuccessful runs in that respect are as bad as sacks. In any event, your run-pass ratio depends on what your offense can do vs what a defense can do. If the defense sells out against the run all the time, then you pass, if you can, all the time. If the other way around, then so be it.

    What’s insane is thinking of an interative prisoner’s delimma scenario, and imagining that there is a synergy between betrayal and cooperation. That’s not what happens. In each scenario, the potential gains and losses are set in that particular play’s look on offense and defense and situation, and various trickery during the play, such as play-action, attempts to take advantage of what a defense might assume. This is elementary playcalling, here, and doesn’t even think about dives or a stretch run, or a wheel route vs a fly or slant. Or hot reads, or scramble option after 1/2 reads.

    You see wierdo ratio like Ponder and AD’s Y/A generally when something is very wrong, not because Ponder should be passing more and Musgrave is being stubborn or something. The vast majority of good rushing teams, can also throw. What you’re not really understanding here is that teams can have lower rushing totals and still be highly effective on the ground, and higher rushing totals and not be very good in the air. Balance isn’t so much the point, here, more than having a full-featured offense that can potentially attack a defense on all levels of the field. Running the ball can’t set up the pass, like they say on TV, because you can’t really control what the DC thinks, and generally, you aim via much more complex aims rather than just running.

  30. Davis X. Machina:

    Utter incompetence — and not by the referees, but by Roger Goodell.

    If David Stern wants Brady/Manning, he gets Brady/Manning

  31. Mike Schilling:

    The worst safety play I’ve ever seen was a finesse to guard against a 4-0 trump split that led to down one because they split 2-2.

  32. Erik Loomis:

    There’s no Flynnzone?

  33. Kurzleg:

    Elite is 11th in the league? I’m a Pack fan, but numbers are numbers.

  34. jeer9:

    1. Who knew that Brandon Meriweather was playing safety for Denver?

    2. Jim Harbaugh knows quarterback talent and is utterly fearless in exercising his judgement. (Lucky Alex Smith is probably headed to Jacksonville or Arizona.)

    3. McCarthy should not have punted with 4th and 5 from the 50 down two touchdowns and 8 minutes left. Critics complain about Belichick’s gambles, but that seemed a no-brainer.

  35. James E. Powell:

    On No. 3, the punt. I also found that a little strange.

  36. Dilan Esper:

    Yeah, especially after seeing how San Francisco used the run today.

  37. Alan in SF:

    I should credit the announcer who said this last week, but forget who it was….basically, coming into this season Minnesota and Denver both had abd offenses. Denver added Peyton Manning and then had an elite offense. Minnesota added the second-greatest running back season ever, and moved all the way up to having a mediocre offense.

  38. Alan in SF:

    Rahim Moore is this week’s winner of the JaMarcus Russell Award for Comedy Gold that Will Live Forever.

  39. Scott Lemieux:

    If by “11th” you mean “3rd.

  40. Scott Lemieux:

    2. Jim Harbaugh knows quarterback talent and is utterly fearless in exercising his judgement. (Lucky Alex Smith is probably headed to Jacksonville or Arizona.)

    Excellent point. The move to Capernick was both gutsy and brilliant.

  41. xpara:

    If you do not have a taste for crow, try Raven.

  42. Green Caboose:

    The worst part of the Denver loss for this fan has been that all the Tebow trolls are back in force. They argue like creationists – but given that they come from the same part of the gene pool as the creationists that makes sense.

    A lot of things went wrong for Denver, and it’s clear they weren’t as good as they looked the last 11 weeks against generally weak opponents (Baltimore was down many starters and had just fired their OC in the game Denver won there). There is a theory that if a team doesn’t play a great team for months then they will be less prepared for when they do fact a great team. That’s actually why I was glad Baltimore was the opponent – to give the Broncos some good practice before the Pats. Alas, they just weren’t ready.

    There were two incredibly bad calls by the same official in the first quarter that cost the Broncos 14 points – the same official who hallucinated a PI that kept the Raven’s second drive alive apparently blacked out when Decker was tackled before the ball got to him, leading to the tip and Pick 6. However, after that the calls evened out and the Broncos got lucky with two return TDs, so the luck factor evened out.

    And, yes, the theme today is that Fox is too conservative, coaching not-to-lose. Sigh. We can be certain that in the same situations Belichek would have gone for the jugular. And then their is the problem with Prater suddenly being unreliable the last half of the season …

    But, in the end, the Broncos O managed just 3 TDs and 1 FG attempt all game, while the Broncos D allowed 4 TDs and 1 FG attempt in the same time, with less time of possession. Neither of those are things we expected, and it means there are deeper problems that were masked by the win streak.

  43. mpowell:

    Yeah. Houston is a good example of a team that needs their running game to take enough pressure off of Schaub for their offense to really open up. But really, that’s pretty rare. The league is mostly filled with either teams that have a really good passing offense who also run the ball for strategic reasons (the point shah8 seems to grasp without really appreciating it’s significance) and teams that don’t have good passing offenses and may or may not have a good running game which is basically an irrelevant side question.

    That being said, there are still exceptions. The run option offense being played at times by SF and, more frequently, Washington can be so devastating that it easily rivals passing offense for efficiency at certain times. It’s hard to say whether this is simply the randomness of a single game or an indicator of a simply horrible matchup problem for the defense. SF’s running game played a large part in winning them that game but only because it was insanely effective.

  44. mpowell:

    Especially since he’s still a coach that could eventually be fired if the move really does backfire (and other things go wrong in the next year).

  45. Brien Jackson:

    I think the better way to frame it is that, to win meaningful games, you have to have a quarterback who can make plays when they need to be made (a much better stand in for the silly game of trying to define “elite” quarterbacks). Your basic offensive system can be whatever you want it to be, but ultimately the QB is going to have to make a play of some kind no matter how effective your RB is. Superbowl 42 is like the Holy Grail of this truism. The statistical point is likely reductive, since teams that have these quarterback, and especially the top tier ones, are likely to both win and throw a lot.

    Though I do think the worm is turning a little bit, as teams realize they don’t have to shoehorn quarterbacks into a certain image, and that a running game can be effectively integrated with even a Brady type offense. Note that this year, only two playoff teams were lower than 20th in RYG, and six of the playoff teams are in the top eight, including everyone in the top four.

  46. socraticsilence:

    Wait, running can set up the pass though, because while you can’t control a DC or a LBs perception of the play you can make gambles more effective- teams with horribly poor run defense gamble to stop the run which does open the pass by introducing more 1v1 matchups down the field.

  47. Scott Lemieux:

    RYG is a meaningless statistic in this context. Better teams will often run more often, because when you have a lead in the 4th quarter killing time is more important than optimizing the number of points. But better teams don’t run more effectively. You don’t need Barry Sanders to run to kill some clock.

  48. Dirk Gently:

    I have no earthly idea what was going through Rahim Moore’s mind. The sports yak guys here in Denver were talking all week about match-ups and so on and flatly refused to countenance exactly what happened in this game to allow a Baltimore win:

    * Stupifyingly bad mistakes in the Denver secondary

    * Fox’s conservatism hamstringing the offense

    * Adventures in officiating

    * Injury–Knowshon Moreno being out when Denver need three 3rd and short conversions was a pretty big blow.

    I’ll call Torrey Smith scorching Champ Bailey and Trindon Holliday scorching the Ravens special teams a wash.

  49. Sherm:

    Agreed. I thought it was too risky at the time and just the result of his hubris, but I was clearly mistaken.

  50. Jerry Vinokurov:

    The punt was a terrible idea. I was mostly a neutral in this game (I like both teams) but I thought it was clearly a go-for-it situation. Down 2 scores and you’re punting with 8 minutes left means you’re not seeing that ball again until, at best, 5 minutes if you’re lucky.

  51. Kurzleg:

    It was brilliant for this one game. GB didn’t prepare for the run option that SF ran frequently last night. Whoever wins today will surely be more prepared. Whether or not they neutralize it is a different question, but it won’t come as a surprise.

  52. Pestilence:

    LOL I’ve seen that happen too … totally hilarious

  53. Sherm:

    And they played too much man coverage against a running qb.

  54. Bill Murray:

    I think it’s the Darrell Fullington Award

  55. Bill Murray:

    I think they hired Dick LeBeau as their D-Coordinator

  56. Tracy Lightcap:

    I think the Pack/49ers game yesterday will probably do exactly what Howie Long said: change the way the NFL evaluates QBs. As you may have noticed, that was a pure vanilla pro D against a TO offense, mostly run out of the pistol. The Pack D was just about as effective against that as a college team that never played against the option before would have been: the DLs were constantly fooled, the LBs stood around or misread the play, the DBs didn’t know when to take on the run, ect., ect.. And 633 yards of total offense later, pro football changes. Oh, and Smith becomes a QB who gets an extra mill or so for signing somewhere else.

    And, of course, it’s time for the Tebow mention. Would the Broncs made the playoffs with him at QB. Yes. Would they have led the league in rushing? Yes. Would they have beaten the Ravens? Maybe. If the guy finds a team that’s willing to let him be the kind of QB he is – i.e. a right good country spread option one – he’ll prosper, though he may never get his team to the big game. After yesterday, I expect the light will go on somewhere and he’ll get his chance.

  57. Sherm:

    I couldn’t disagree more with your second paragraph.

  58. Sherm:

    Great comeback by Seattle.

  59. Sherm:

    Damn. Nevermind

  60. sparks:

    Great comeback by Atlanta.

    (free shiv courtesy winning money on the game)

  61. Dirk Gently:

    Kaepernick and Wilson and RGIII can run the pistol because they are also superb passers. Tebow could not possibly succeed in the same way, because I’ve seen better and more consistent passing on halfback option passes.

  62. Col Bat Guano:

    My dog throws better than Tim Tebow. How long is his reputation going to live on that one throw against Pittsburgh?

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