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Tag: "football"

Tonight’s Professional Sporting Event

[ 0 ] February 1, 2009 |

Straight-up, you obviously have to pick the Steelers; they’re probably the best team in the league, going up against a team that is better than its regular season record but not that much better. If the game was at Heinz Field, I would take the Steelers giving away the points easily. I would be a little reluctant to give up 7 points to take Pittsburgh on the neutral field, though; Tomlin seems very conservative when he has a lead and Pittsburgh’s offense isn’t great. But, if I had to, I would still probably go Pittsburgh -7 — they’re not going to win again if Big Ben doesn’t play well, but I think he will. And I think we’re going to see that while Jimmy “if the blitz is working, blitz. If they’re shredding your blitz with screens and slants, keep blitzin’!” Johnson as a very overrated defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau isn’t. The fact that Pittsburgh can apply pressure while maintaining a decent number of DBs will, I think, be the key difference between this game and the NFC championship game.

And, I mean…it’s the Cardinals. Against the Steelers. I’m just not enough of a nihilist to pick the former…

Deep Thought

[ 0 ] January 13, 2009 |

I sure hope that 98% of EPSN’s news coverage consists of breathless reports about whether and where the 27th best QB in the NFL will play in 2009, just like it did last year.

As Allen Barra points out, the Jets would have been much better off signing Kurt Warner. This isn’t to say that Warner is a “greater” QB than Favre. Durability matters, and while Warner is certainly a better QB at his best and certainly has been better in the playoffs, Favre has had a much longer career at a usually high (if often highly overrated) level of value. But Favre’s durability was irrelevant to what his signing meant in 2008, and his expensive sub-mediocrity couldn’t have been more predictable. Mangini probably deserved to get fired, but if the Jets bring Favre back at the price they have much worse problems.

Charlie Weis, Tyrone Willingham, and structural racism

[ 0 ] December 3, 2008 |

It’s being reported that Notre Dame is going to bring back Charlie Weis for a fifth season, despite the fact the team racked up the most losses in any two-season stretch in the 109-year history of the program in Weis’s third and fourth years.

Weis’s record is, by any reasonable measure, worse than that of his predecessor Tyrone Willingham: he has a worse winning percentage, and he’s been blown out more often (Weis’s teams have lost no less than 15 games over four seasons by two or more touchdowns: Willingham lost a total of 15 games in his three seasons). Weis has never defeated a top 20 team, and Notre Dame’s record against top 50 teams — an extraordinarily liberal definition of what constitutes a decent opponent — is a wretched 8-16.

Yet Weis is getting a fifth year, while Willingham (who is black; Weis is white) got only three.

Now it would be a crude oversimplification to say Weis isn’t being fired because he’s white, while Willingham was fired because he was black. First, Willingham is a crappy coach — a lousy recruiter and a generally low-energy guy — who deserved to be fired. After being fired at Notre Dame, he went on to produce by far the worst team in the University of Washington’s football history.

And it’s not exactly true that Weis isn’t being fired because he’s white: he’s not being fired because his contract contains an absurdly gigantic buyout clause, reported as being somewhere between $10 million and $20 million dollars (Kevin White, the athletic director who negotiated the contract, seems to have been guilty of gross incompetence — no other coach in college football has anything like such a huge buyout).

But racism did play a role in all this, in the following way: Weis signed his preposterous contract extension — for ten years and approximately $30 million not to mention the absurd buyout — seven games into his first season, at a time his team was 5-2, and had just lost a close game to #1 USC (this loss is still by far the most impressive game on Weis’s lousy resume). After seven games at Notre Dame, Tyrone Willingham had a record of 7-0. He didn’t get a ten year fifty trillion dollar extension, however. My guess is that he got a nice fruit basket from Kevin White for a job well done.

See, Tyrone Willingham had to prove he was a good coach. (It turned out he wasn’t). Charlie Weis didn’t have to prove anything. All he had to do was talk a good game and act like he was the second coming of Knute Rockne, and the Notre Dame AD threw piles of money at him and his amazing 5-2 record (Weis had no head coaching experience prior to taking over at ND. He had been the offensive coordinator for the Patriots when the Patriots had below average offenses and were winning Super Bowls with their defense).

Now it turns out Weis is an enormous fraud, but Notre Dame is stuck with him, because they bought his — and their own — hype. They would have been a lot more skeptical about a black guy, because the fact the guy was black would have reminded them that seven games into a head coaching career with what is essentially still someone else’s team doesn’t really mean a thing, especially when you’ve lost a couple of those games.

But Weis just “seemed” like he must be some sort of football genius. There was just something about the guy . . .

Update: To clarify: I don’t think Notre Dame behaved in an unusual way in these situations, and I certainly don’t believe any conscious racially discriminatory thinking was at play. That’s why it’s a structural problem: ironically, unconscious racial bias may have led to Willingham being held to an appropriate standard of evaluation, while Weis ends up being the beneficiary of what ends up being a kind of reverse affirmative action in the worst sense — a ridiculously underqualified clown who falls flat on his face but can’t be fired because he blustered his way into a multi-million dollar sinecure.

On Added Value

[ 37 ] October 8, 2008 |

Gregg Easterbrook declares that Eli Manning is a better quarterback than Peyton Manning:

Eli Manning is now a better quarterback than Peyton Manning. At the current rate, his career achievements will at least match, and perhaps surpass, his big brother’s.

Four games into his fifth season, Eli is 44-30 as a starter and has a Super Bowl ring. At the same point in his career, Peyton was 35-35 and had not won a postseason game. In terms of passing stats, the two players are approximately the same.

Easterbrook is right that Eli currently has a higher passer rating than Peyton, although I wouldn’t necessarily bet that’ll be the case at the end of the year. It’s also true that passer rating isn’t the only metric of quarterback effectiveness. Nevertheless, Eli’s ratings in his first four complete seasons:

55.4
75.9
77
73.9.

Peyton’s:
71.2
90.7
94.7
84.1

The gap isn’t as large as I thought it would be, but it’s still there, and it’s still a more useful metric for evaluating player performance than win-loss record. Peyton Manning was a significantly better QB in his first four years than Eli Manning; it’s very difficult to argue otherwise.

The problem here isn’t that Easterbrook is an idiot, although he very clearly is. The problem is that Easterbrook exemplifies a particular kind of contrarian writing that is dismissive of statistics and of specialized knowledge altogether. The argument goes something like this: Sure, I could write a column making the obvious point that Peyton Manning was a better QB than Eli Manning in their respective first four years, but everyone already knows that; I need to produce something new! I certainly understand the contrarian impulse in writing, because after all a column or article must be about something, and simply noting that Manny Ramirez is a better hitter than Andruw Jones won’t put food at the table.

However, there’s an alternative to the Easterbrookian model; it involves learning a lot about a subject and writing competently for an audience that’s willing to learn. This is, for lack of a better term, the Baseball Prospectus model. The Baseball Prospectus folks write for an audience literate in baseball statistics, but they can also translate their insights into writing for a larger audience. More importantly, they make their audience smarter; read one column, and you’re better able to understand the next. In short, the don’t have contempt for their audience. Reading Easterbrook, whether in his sports, science, or entertainment modes, tends to make one dumber. This is by design; Easterbrook can’t be bothered to learn enough about a subject to add value to whatever basic analysis he’s making. As any reader of Fivethirtyeight will quickly grasp, a good writer with a wide and deep knowledge of his or her subject can add a lot to any basic analysis; it just depends on having a basic level of respect for your audience.

If we let the other team score, then The Terrorists will have won

[ 22 ] October 7, 2008 |

That’s apparently as good an explanation as any for the strange behavior of NFL coaches at the end of games. For instance, tonight Minnesota gets to the New Orleans 14-yard-line in a tie game with 1:10 to go. The Saints have two time outs left, which means that if the Vikings run the ball three times Ryan Longwell will attempt a chip shot field goal with about fifteen seconds left. Longwell has made his last 43 attempts from under 45 yards. Plus this game is inside, so weather is no factor. So unless Minnesota fumbles or commits a dumb penalty New Orleans is looking at close to a 100% probability of fielding a kickoff down by three points with about ten seconds to go — a situation in which the trailing team’s chances of winning are nearly zero.

On the other hand, if they let Minnesota score on the first play of the series, they get the ball back with a minute to go and two time outs down by seven. Not a good situation, of course, but not nearly as bad as what they’ll get if they play it straight up.

And it’s not as if this is an unusual thing — similar situations come up almost every week in the NFL. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen an NFL coach decide to just let the other team score.

A more general problem here is that NFL kickers have gotten too good. As Longwell’s streak illustrates, it’s now to the point where anything under 45 yards is almost an extra point for a lot of these guys. Nate Kaeding has made 49 of 50 career attempts at home from under *50* yards. It’s much, much easier for an offense to get inside the 30 than it is to score a TD, yet getting inside the 30 is now practically equivalent to half a touchdown.

The Overhype Has Landed

[ 0 ] August 7, 2008 |

Do-do-do-dee-do, it’s nice living here in the Capital of Baseball where you can check some scores and news before bed without being subjected to an ESPN-style 24-hour Brett Favre wankfest and…


Oh, Jeebus.

Readers will be happy to know that at least there’s no way I can any longer argue that St. Derek of Pasta Diving is the most overrated athlete in New York. One of the ineffable mysteries of life is that Favre seems to have the media status of a Mantle/Woods/Gretzky immortal when as far as I can tell he’s never (with the very arguable exceptions of ’95 and ’96) even been the best player at his position and has often not even been close. Jeter has a good argument for having been the best player in the league at least twice and was one of the best players on four championship teams, and he was generally an excellent postseason performer in those years. Favre has been a very good player, insanely durable, but not truly great.

Will he help the Jets? If he plays like he did last year, he sure will. If players the way he did in ’05 or ’06, he’s a marginal upgrade over Pennington/Clemens. And I don’t think he has the receiving weapons here he had in Green Bay…anyway, I’m sure we’ll now be hearing all too much about it.

Guaranteed to Bring Some Warmth to Even the Hardest of Hearts and the Direst of Patriots Fans

[ 18 ] February 1, 2008 |

I think that 2 sports-related posts in a single day is a record for me.

Anyway, via commenter Humboldt Blue, an article about the injured Iraq War vet who has inspired the Giants this season and who has become virtually a part of their coaching staff. I double dog dare you to read it and not at least have a tiny tinge of Giants support surge through you.

Getting Ready for the big Game

[ 9 ] February 1, 2008 |

explanation here.

Marcus!

[ 0 ] January 6, 2008 |

Whew, looked like the Racist Nicknames had it in the bag there for a bit, especially after Hasselbeck responded to the missed chip-shot by throwing another awful pass (admittedly, I must have missed the rule change that now permits receivers to be tackled before the arrival of the ball, but you can’t throw that into double coverage), but it turned around quickly. Not that I’m counting on anything yet…

In Non-Defense Of Nepotism

[ 42 ] November 26, 2007 |

I know you won’t believe this if you don’t live here, but on New York talk radio Roethlisberger vs. Eli Manning is treated as if it were a serious topic for debate, when in fact it’s sort of like debating about whether Houston is in fact generally hotter than Yellowknife. Even in 2006, Roethlisberger’s off year, he was better than Manning; the other three years he’s been very good-to-excellent while Manning has been below-average. (See here for the data.) What follows is an exhaustive list of the credentials Eli Manning has to be considered a quality QB:

  • He is related to other, much better quarterbacks.

That’s it. If we were named “Eli Leaf” or “Eli Dilfer” nobody would have thought it was a good idea to effectively trade Roethlisberger and Shawne Merriman to acquire him, let alone think that it was defensible three years later. Or look at it this way — Joey Harrington has (correctly) been seen as a colossal bust; his lifetime QB rating is 69.6. Manning’s is 73.6, and I don’t think that “marginally better than Joey Harrington after 3 years” sounds like a potential elite QB to me; indeed, it doesn’t even sound like a good QB. This year he’s got a 75, playing against a very weak schedule. He’s a lot more comparable to Jason Campbell than he is to Roethisberger at this point.

Total Insanity

[ 0 ] October 29, 2007 |

I lost track of the laterals after about a dozen. It goes without saying that nearly everyone who watches this video thinks he/she could have done a better job of tackling. Not me, though. After about 45 seconds, I’d have said the hell with it. Not worth the effort, really.

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