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NFL Open Thread: The SUPERGENIUS Of Rex Ryan Etc.

[ 187 ] January 3, 2016 |

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Certain elements of Rex Ryan’s failure in Buffalo this year were predictable. Attention to detail has always been a problem, and he was unchanged in that regard: Buffalo saw his usual blizzard of stupid penalties, incomprehensible challenges, and blown timeouts. None of this stuff is helpful, but nor is necessarily fatal. (The Bills will probably not break the penalty record held by…the 2014 Seahawks.) On a bigger picture level, the way Ryan failed in 2015 was rather strange and unpredictable ex ante. The biggest barrier for the Bills going into the year was that a coach who had shown little ability to develop offensive players was going to have to use either a 6th round pick with little NFL experience, a busted 1st round pick, or a proven veteran who’s proven he’s not an NFL-caliber QB. Only Tyrod Taylor proved to be a very capable player. More than capable, actually, this year: 9th in DVOA, 6th in QBR, tied for 5th in the NFL rating. If you had told me Taylor would play that well, I would have set the floor for the Bills as a 6 seed. But the problem is that the Bills defense, bellyflopping from 2nd in DVOA to 29th without an unusually large number of injuries. For Ryan to fail in this way is in fact pretty shocking.

Some people will undoubtedly argue that Ryan is just a complete fraud, but I don’t think that this claim can be justified by his record. In Baltimore, his defenses ranked 6th, 1st, 5th, and 2nd in DVOA. Sure, he was promoted within an established system with a lot of talent, but 1)it is not inevitable that talent on paper will keep producing (cf. the 2015 Bills), 2)no better as a DC than Marvin Lewis or Mike Nolan is still pretty damned good, and 3)by 2008 Ray Lewis was 33 and Ed Reed 30; I don’t think you can say that the defense was effective solely because he had the core Lewis won the Super Bowl with. And then, taking over a Jets team that had ranked 14th and 25th in DVOA the previous two years, he transformed the Jets into the an elite defense (#1 in DVOA in 2009, #5 in 2010) and won four playoff games in two years with Mr. Mark Sanchez. Granted, the run in 2009 was a little fluky — they only made the playoffs because the Colts called off the dogs in Week 16 and beat unimpressive Bengals and Chargers teams in the playoffs. That’s still pretty good for a team with a rookie QB with unimpressive credentials. And the 2010 team was just flat impressive — 11-5, beat Peyton Manning and Tom Brady on the road in the playoffs. With Mark Sanchez. Yes, that was his peak with the team — Sanchez never developed and Idzik was brought in to strip the team to the studs — but Ryan had an excellent track record as a defensive coach coming into 2015. There was nothing in his history that would have made what happened to Buffalo’s defense this year foreseeable. He’s done a lot more with a lot less talent in the past.

What happened? In the Football Outsiders Almanac this year, the guy who wrote the Bills section observed that the team manages personnel as if they carefully studied what Bill Belichick does and then tried to do the exact opposite. I think part of the problem was that Ryan seemed to adapt this philosophy to the coaching level. Belichick, as is well known, does not scheme and gameplan based on a System; he relentlessly focuses on the available talent and the matchups presented in a given week. The reports out of Buffalo — particularly with respect to Mario Williams — seem to suggest that Ryan spent the year trying to squeeze square pegs into round holes because that’s the way he wanted to play. I’m sure that’s part of it, but I don’t think that can explain how badly the Bills defense collapsed. Assuming the Bills keep Ryan, I’m sure it will improve substantially next year, although whether it will be enough to end the Bills playoff drought I don’t know. Taylor seems like an NFL QB but I doubt he’s as good as he looked this year.

Did the Bills make a mistake in hiring him? Possibly. It’s easy with 15 games in the books to look at the Jets, who in Todd Bowles seem to have gotten Ryan’s pre-2015 defensive mind with a higher level of discipline and professionalism, and argue that the Bills blew yet another easy one. But I think it’s more complicated than that. Ryan, as I’ve shown, really does have a strong track record as a defensive coach, and while Bowles was a hot coordinator so was Dan Quinn and that didn’t work out very well for Atlanta. I’m not sure there’s any way of telling before the fact which good coordinators will work as head coaches and which won’t. And after a look at this list of the 10 best non-Chip coaching prospects allegedly out there (Hue Jackson #1! (see comments; on reflection, Jackson is actually a really good prospect) Josh McDaniels #3!) I’d bring Rex back for another year.

A final point. As might have been expected, a lot of reports have surfaced suggesting locker room discontent in Philadelphia, leading some to suggest that Chip Kelly can’t hold an NFL locker room. Is there something to that? Possibly. I’m not wild about hiring coaches with exclusively minor league experience, as working with NFL players is a different and more difficult task than working with NCAA players. (And, obviously, giving full coaching and personnel control of your team to someone with 2 years of NFL experience is insane.) But I’m not sure that Kelly’s style can’t work in the NFL, either. He still had two winning seasons with poor quarterbacks to work with, and as Ryan shows their are equal perils in the “player’s coach” style too. I think Kelly’s inability to make talent judgments was a much bigger source of failure than his distant, authoritarian personality, which doesn’t seem all that different from the best coach in the sport. (I may be wrong, but the reports I read don’t suggest that Kelly treated his players as unprofessionally as some of the master’s lesser disciples.) Coaching professional sports is just a really hard job, and no matter what your style it’s hard to “hold your locker room” if you don’t win.

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Consent and the GOP

[ 146 ] January 3, 2016 |

The former is a concept the latter will apparently never grasp.

Getting Away With It

[ 87 ] January 2, 2016 |

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A very important point by Diana Moskovitz about the highly postmature decision to prosecute Bill Cosby:

The last part talks more about details revealed by Cosby that provide “unusually compelling insight regarding Cosby’s sexual relationships with women, including his assaultive behavior towards the victim.” The complaint notes that Cosby made sure Gianna Constand understood “there was no ‘penile penetration’ involved” and Cosby had given police the “never asleep or awake” answer when asked if he had sex with Andrea Constand.

Those are chilling details—and details that authorities had in 2005. So much of this was known to investigators at the time, according to the complaint’s timeline. Yes, the depositions provide new insights and details, but those didn’t become available because of diligent police work. They became public because of legal action brought by the AP, after months of public outcry. If police or prosecutors were trying to get copies of the depositions, I haven’t seen documents indicating that in the court file. (It is, of course, possible that prosecutors have more new evidence they chose not to include in the complaint.)

The bottom line is that the case against Cosby appears to have been built on evidence that was available a decade ago. That evidence didn’t change. What changed was how much people wanted to see it, and how willing they were to believe it.

The overlap with the story told by Spotlight — which apparently has a good chance of being a very rare example of a truly first-rate film winning the Best Picture Oscar — is considerable.

And for further illustration of how rape culture works, the New York Post has the HIGHLY DISTURBING NEWS that a Cosby victim used the settlement money to by a PLACE OF RESIDENCE in a MAJOR URBAN CENTER.

Well, I’m Convinced!

[ 41 ] January 2, 2016 |

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H.A. Goodman is a national treasure:

Bernie Sanders will win the Democratic nomination because if Clinton was ever going to win, it would have been in 2008, not during an investigation of her emails by the FBI.

[…]

If you vote for anyone other than Bernie Sanders in 2016, you’re simply not a progressive, especially knowing that Trump is a racist xenophobe and Clinton utilized the same tactics against Obama in 2008.

Oh, and watch his unwatchable YouTube videos. PRISON LOBBYISTS. Try the veal.

2016

[ 29 ] January 1, 2016 |
FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 31: Head Coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots and head coach Claude Julien of the Boston Bruins skate prior to team practices prior to the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium on December 31, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

FOXBORO, MA – DECEMBER 31: Head Coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots and head coach Claude Julien of the Boston Bruins skate prior to team practices prior to the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium on December 31, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Happy New Year all — you’re why we do this. And, hey, you will accomplish not being the Republican nominee for president with marginally less effort than Ben Carson.

Feel the Jeb!Mentum

[ 25 ] December 31, 2015 |

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Shorter Jeb! Bush: “Is my popularity waning? Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no…no, no, not at all. I, I, I just think that the.. uh.. my appeal is becoming more selective.”

Better Late Than Etc.

[ 108 ] December 31, 2015 |

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Cosby arrested.

The SUPERGENIUS In Exile

[ 123 ] December 30, 2015 |

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I have been, ah, somewhat unkind to Chip Kelly’s performance since he made the unfortunate decision to assume full control over personnel — and, obviously, I don’t think I owe him any apologies — but even I didn’t think it would end this badly.

The firing was something of a surprise, but knowing it was done the way it played out was predictable:

The meeting between Lurie and Kelly (obviously) did not go well. Sal Paolantonio reports that Lurie proposed a new set-up where Kelly would lose control of personnel. When Kelly balked at that idea, Lurie decided to pull the plug, per Sal Pal.

Kelly made it clear to Lurie that the price of having him as coach was effectively accepting Matt Millen as his GM,  so Lurie decided he’d seen enough. And it’s pretty hard to argue that Lurie is wrong, particularly since even Kelly’s ability to maintain the tactical edge that brought him initial success at the NFL level is an open question at this point.

Has Kelly earned another shot as a coach?  Absolutely.  Some coaches — including the two in the most recent Super Bowl — have had a previous gig begin promisingly and end in disappointment but found later success.  I would assume that the management team in Tennessee is very interested, and it would be really fun seeing him work with Mariota.  On the other hand, the fact that he was unwilling to face how in over his head he was as a GM isn’t a great sign.  Maybe he’ll be the next Pete Carroll (let’s leave his mentor Belichick out of this), maybe he’ll be the next Rex Ryan (let’s leave Rich Kotite out of this), and there’s only one way to find out.* I’m sure someone will.

*The linked article has a nugget that helps to explain why Chip was such a disaster as a GM:

Kelly placed an enormous emphasis on measurables. Cornerbacks had to be a certain height. Defensive linemen had to have the proper arm length. Wide receivers had to be a certain size. There’s nothing wrong with having prototypes; that’s common around the NFL. But Kelly showed little flexibility, and eventually his guidelines proved to be too stringent.

At the NCAA level, looking for people with certain athletic traits and trying to turn them into football players might work. At the NFL level, it’s a one-way ticket to the unemployment line. Russell Wilson doesn’t fit the scout’s image of a quarterback, but that seems to be working out rather well.

When He’s Right, He’s Right

[ 92 ] December 29, 2015 |

GOWDY2Trump’s response to Rubio getting the coveted Trey Gowdy endorsement is actually pretty acute:

Probably not, which is why this is an excellent demonstration of Rubio’s problem, and the problem the GOP is facing as the actual voting approaches. While everyone waits for the voters to finally figure out that they ought to be supporting Rubio, the only candidate who at the moment looks like he might be able to defeat Donald Trump is Ted Cruz. From the perspective of the party’s fortunes in the general election, that would be sort of like being cured of your electoral syphilis by contracting gonorrhea.

On one hand, it’s understandable that the Rubio campaign would try to make a big deal out of Gowdy’s support, since Republican politicians have been stingy with endorsements this year and Gowdy is well-liked among his colleagues on Capitol Hill. But when Trump dismissed the endorsement by saying that Gowdy’s Benghazi hearings were “a total disaster,” you could almost hear Republican voters nodding in agreement. The special committee was just one more iteration of the pattern that has Republican voters so disgusted with their Washington leadership: touted as the vehicle to bring down Hillary Clinton, it ended up backfiring and doing nothing but make Republicans look foolish. So once again, Capitol Hill Republicans overpromised and showed their constituents that they’re ineffectual. It’s hard to imagine that too many base voters, in Iowa or anywhere else, are going to say, “Well, if Trey Gowdy likes Marco Rubio, that’s good enough for me.”

Yup. For many months conservative talk radio listeners were told that Hitlery Clinton personally ordered the attacks on BENGHAZI! to cover up for the murder of Vince Foster or something, and just wait until she has to appear before Congress. Getting Gowdy’s support, if it means anything to a rank and file voter at all, will just remind them that Gowdy’ hearings were an embarrassing shambles. And while it’s not Gowdy’s fault that there was no evidence of any wrongdoing on Clinton’s part, good luck telling that to people who were sold yet another bill of goods and never think to wonder why the promises made by Tea Party leaders never seem to work out. None of this means that Rubio can’t win the nomination, but this isn’t going to help.

Today Among Our Benevloent Local Overlords

[ 55 ] December 29, 2015 |

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You can’t make an omelette without a lot of summary executions, or something:

An Ohio Grand Jury has declined to indict two police officers in the death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was shot dead by a Cleveland police officer last year, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said today.

McGinty said he also recommended that no charges be filed.

After the Grand Jury “heard all the evidence and the applicable law, they were told our recommendation,” the prosecutor’s office said. “But they made the final decision.”

Tamir was holding a toy gun when he was shot by officer Timothy Loehmann at a Cleveland playground in November 2014. The grand jury was hearing evidence to determine if any charges would be brought against Loehmann or his partner, Frank Garmback.

Great Moments In New York Provincialism

[ 72 ] December 28, 2015 |

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Deadspin’s compilation of the year’s worst sportswriting contains some takes hot enough to warm even the coldest winter locations (if any.) But it definitely leads with my favourite, this little item from noted person really bad at arguing Liel Leibovitz:

Others may scratch their heads or wonder out loud about the depravity of the species or man’s propensity for self-inflicted suffering, but not me. I’ve lived this drama before, and I understand its sinister appeal. There’s no elegant way to put it, so here goes: In many ways, including some that are far from trivial, watching the Knicks is a lot like witnessing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Yes, basketball is just a game while the conflict claims lives. Sure, comparing the two in any practical way is ludicrous. But some issues are so thorny that they call for a simpler frame of reference to make us help sense of their intricacies. Contemplating my sadly unwavering devotion to the Knicks in the face of so much misery helped me understand something about the inexplicable dedication so many people—Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, Europeans, and others—have for the peace process, a phenomenon that may be as much of a fantasy as the playoffs are for my home team.

Stop, then, and reflect about the Knicks and about the conflict, and the fun begins right away. Both hopeless narratives revolve in part around a large man with white hair and folksy charm, a consummate politician accustomed to getting his way, a master builder of winning teams. In one scenario he’s called President Bill Clinton; in another, president Phil Jackson. In both cases, the president’s good work is overshadowed by a far more divisive figure, criticized both for those with whom he chooses to engage and disengage: It’s owner James Dolan hiring Isiah Thomas and, later, firing Jeremy Lin; it’s Benjamin Netanyahu dismantling his coalition only to force an election that will likely result in a cabinet that looks much like the one he has now. There are colorful disruptors in this story, men like Mohammed Dahlan or J.R. Smith, who challenge the system by doing things like operating a private army in the Gaza Strip or operating on their own samurai code that includes untying the shoelaces of rival players mid-game. For these reasons, both got exiled from their respective teams. And there is the tragic spirit of squandered hope hovering above it all: It’s the superstar Carmelo Anthony, averaging 23.9 points per game with nothing to show for it; it’s Start-Up Nation, producing miraculous creations yet still mired in terror and bad politics; it’s the young men and women in Ramallah and Tulkarm and Nablus, educated and ambitious yet felled by their leadership’s flight from responsibility; it’s the feeling that we ought to be superstars, but instead we’re a laughingstock. It’s a tough feeling to take.

Leaving aside how ludicrous and offensive the analogy is on its face, and how little sense the comparison makes even if we overlook the first two points, what particularly amuses me about this is the epic solipsism of a particular kind of New York sports fan. (Cf. also “The Brooklyn Dodgers, the only team anyone has ever cared about ever.”) I mean, sure, the Knicks are not a well-run franchise, and have fielded some really bad teams lately. But the competitive structure of the NBA is such that there are going to be a lot of bad teams with not much hope even in the medium term at any given time. Are the Knicks a uniquely bad team with fans that have had to put up with a completely atypical level of suffering? Obviously not. To find the last time the Knicks were a 50-win team who won a playoff series, you have to go all the way back to…2013. And, also, the team has been in the NBA finals as recently as 1999, and has two championship teams that are getting old but remain widely discussed. Knicks fans have had some rough times but Kings or Timberwolves fans, say, would laugh at the idea that Knicks fans are particularly hard done by, and that’s far from an exhaustive list. But a Hornets fan who tried to sell a story like this would be met with hails of derisive laughter even though they’d have considerably more cause.

Allow me to dramatize this with a brief epistolary short story:

My email to editor: “I hope you’ll consider my pitch, ‘The Seattle Mariners are the Climate Change of Major League Baseball.'”

Editor’s return email: “Look, I’m a busy woman.”

Me: “But, like global warming, the Mariners are the result of terrible decisions made by human beings, have never been to a World Series, are a uniquely horrible human tragedy, and for some reason those clowns in Congress won’t to anything about them.”

Editor: “Never pitch me again. Also, we’re deleting all of your articles from our archive in case Tucker Carlson ever releases this email to the public — we have some dignity to maintain.”

My hypothetical editor would have much better judgment, and if Leibovitz had been writing about a franchise located in any other American city I’m pretty confident Tablet’s editors would have shown better judgment too.

THE SUPERGENIUS of Chip Kelly, SUPERGENIUS: A Progress Report

[ 224 ] December 27, 2015 |

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Well, that season of experiment didn’t end well.  

Relevant:

  • DeMarco Murray at least had a per-carry average over five yards. Alas, this was in five carries and included a fumble that essentially ended Philadelphia’s season. Murray concludes the meaningful portion of the Eagles season having averaged 3.5 yards a carry.  Paying a lot of money for running backs coming off high workload seasons is a definitive sign of a bad organization, and this was not an exception to the rule.
  • Sam Bradford’s numbers look superficially respectable.  But the QBR — which adjusts for, inter alia,  short yardage completions in garbage time that improve raw stats while contributing negative value to the team — shows him at a rancid 22.1.  That’s a little unfair, in that his receivers had multiple drops (a mitigating factor all year for Bradford, although not Kelly.)  On the other hand, Rodgers and Wilson and especially Newton aren’t exactly working with the 2000 Rams, and they’re able to run offenses with far greater efficiency; after 5 years of submediocrity it can’t all be the surrounding talent. What’s scary for Eagles fans is that Bradford probably has been just good enough to be not good enough again next year.

Kelly will apparently be back and with his track record I don’t think that’s a bad decision, but one would hope that he understands that he needs a lot of help putting the roster together.

This can serve as an NFL open thread. I’ve heard that Murray Chass has seen Peyton Manning’s back acne or something, which is surely the greatest scandal there absolutely ever was since under-inflated footballs.

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