So I have been reading this week how Calvin Johnson has been tearing up the scouting combine. Awesome, good for him. I am not however, a full believer in the religion of combine workouts. Johnson's stats have indeed been eyepopping:
4.35 40 time
45 inch vert
After looking at these stats for a moment something started to stir in the back of my mind. Something familiar...and then I realized that I had seen these numbers before. Something to the tune of:
4.37 40 time
40 inch vert
So who had those numbers? Well, since you asked so nicely, I'll tell you. Those numbers belong to none other than Matt Jones, Arkansas QB turned Jaguars WR. I guess it just goes to show that combine numbers don't always translate into on the field success. Just ask the Texans, as their workout monster Mario Williams was outperformed in his rookie season by other rookie defensive ends that were either too short (Elvis Dumervil) or too light (Mark Anderson).
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
So I have been reading this week how Calvin Johnson has been tearing up the scouting combine. Awesome, good for him. I am not however, a full believer in the religion of combine workouts. Johnson's stats have indeed been eyepopping:
Thursday, February 22, 2007
In the past few weeks a number of "bracketoligists" have been trumpeting the downfall of the Missouri Valley Conference. They were overrated last year when they got four bids they say. They'll only get two this year they say. The sky is falling they say. Well, I thought it was high time to see what was up with all of the fuss. Is the MVC really going down the crapper? Or...maybe...could it be better than ever?
The first misconception that has to be dealt with straightaway is the belief that the strength of a conference is measured by the number of NCAA bids that a conference receives. This is not true, period. The number of NCAA bids a league receives is more accurately a measure of the number of top teams in a conference, not to be confused with overall strength. The perfect example of this was last year, when the ACC and the MVC both received four bids. Analysts and talking heads everywhere could not believe that the selection committee had allowed such a travesty to occur. I mean, this was the ACC, on principal they should have more teams in the dance than the MVC. Granted, the ACC was a better conference than the MVC, top to bottom. To compare the two conferences, lets look at their respective RPI stats from last year:
AVG RPI Rank: 68
Low RPI Rank: 160
AVG RPI Rank: 93
Low RPI Rank: 233
Two things are obvious in looking at these stats. First, The ACC was better on average. Second, the bottom of the conference was weaker in the MVC. The third stat however, explains why there should have been no argument over the four MVC bids from last year. The top of the MVC was nasty last year, just plain nasty. Looking back, the only controversy around the MVC should have been why they only got four bids, as opposed to the SIX they deserved. Missouri State had an RPI of 21 and a SOS of 46, and Creighton had an RPI of 39 and a SOS of 55. Both teams had single digit losses. The ACC's best candidate from last year for a fifth bid. Maryland, which had an RPI of 49, a SOS of 14 and twelve losses. This does not however, mean that the MVC is a better conference. It merely means it had a larger upper echelon last year.
This year the MVC's RPI numbers are up across the board. The conference's non-conference record improved slightly over last year, while playing a harder schedule. The average RPI rank in the conference has jumped from 93 to 78, and the lowest ranked team in the conference is Indiana State (which beat Butler earlier in the season) at 140. So the MVC has improved their conference overall, so shouldn't that mean they get at least as many bids as last year? Of course not.
Last year the MVC had six teams in the top 40 of the RPI. This year they boast only four. Of those four, only Southern Illinois is a lock to get an at large bid. Bradley already has 11 losses, and only has one top 50 win on the season. Translation: probably not going to the Big Dance. Creighton, though faltering of late, looks good to get in with an RPI of 33 and five top 50 wins. Same goes for Missouri State, with an RPI of 34 and a win over Wisconsin on a neutral court. So the conference looks like they are only going to get three teams in, one less than last year. And that is ok. Mainly because the conference as a whole has gotten a lot better in the past year, whether or not that ends up translating into at large bids.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
The 1984 NBA Draft is remembered for many reasons. It of course featured four of the greatest players in NBA history in Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton. It is also remembered for one of the greatest draft day mistakes in all of sports history, when the Portland Trailblazers selected Sam Bowie with the 2nd pick in the draft ahead of Jordan. (There aren't many people that begrudge the Rockets for taking hometown product Olajuwon with the first pick over Jordan) In perusing the first round of the draft though, there may have been a team that had even worse decision making than the Blazers that day. That team? The Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks held two first round picks in the draft, selections 4 and 15. With the 4th pick the Mavs took Sam Perkins, who would go on to have a solid 17 year career. At the 15 spot Dallas selected Terrence Stansbury, who cannot be considered anything other than a flop, playing only three uneventful NBA seasons. What truly makes these two selections sting in retrospect however, are the two men taken directly after each of the picks; Barkley at 5, and Stockton at 16. Ouch. Kind of makes the Texans taking Mario Williams instead of Reggie Bush not seem so bad doesn't it?
Monday, February 19, 2007
So let me ask; what do you think when you hear that the defensive coordinator of one of the top 4-3 defenses in the NFL interviews for the head coaching vacancy for a team with millions of dollars in cap space committed to players hand-picked to play in a 3-4 defense? What do you think when it happens twice in a month to the same man? Are the aforementioned 3-4 defense teams looking to change course in midstream, and attempting to change their roster and philosophy to the 4-3? Probably not, considering the fact that the first team hired a different defensive coordinator to be their head coach, one that ran the 3-4. So why has this 4-3 coordinator, who logically would seem not to have any chance whatsoever to win the head coaching position of the 3-4 teams, been interviewed for the positions? The answer is a little thing called the Rooney Rule, and it is acting as a disservice to the coordinator in question, Ron Rivera.
The Rooney rule was designed in order to promote the hiring of minority head coaches in the NFL. It stipulates that every NFL team must interview at least one minority head coaching candidate for a head coaching vacancy, or otherwise face fines. Do not get me wrong; I think that in spirit this rule is a very good one, as it is foolish to ignore the discrepancy in the NFL between the number of minority coaches and the number of minority players. It just doesn't add up. The dark side of this rule however, has manifested itself this off-season, as Ron Rivera has conducted a number of head coaching interviews. Ron Rivera is an excellent football coach, and has run one of the best defenses in the NFL in recent years. He is a more than amply qualified head coaching candidate, of that there is no dispute. What does seem strange however, is why two teams, the Cowboys and the Chargers, that seemingly have no use for Rivera and his 4-3 principles, would interview him anyway. This is where the Rooney Rule fails, when a man like Ron Rivera makes the circuit of head coaching interviews merely to fill a spot. It is disservice to both the man and the integrity of the league.
First, it is necessary to understand the fundamental differences between the 4-3, and the 3-4 that the Chargers and Cowboys have been running in order to see that Rivera has no chance when interviewing with these teams. The 4-3 depends upon having four down linemen, whose main task is to occupy the offensive linemen in order for the linebackers behind them to make plays, as well as to play either one or two gap responsibility. (i.e. They are responsible for anything coming through their respective gaps) On a pass the speedy defensive ends are mainly responsible for pass pressure, with the defensive tackles bull-rushing up the middle. Linebackers in this scheme have to be quick on the outside, in order to run down any sweeps off tackle. The main difference between the concept of the 4-3 and the 3-4 lies with playmaking responsibility. In a 4-3 pass pressure comes from the defensive line, and they are also expected to make a large number of tackles stopping the run. In a 3-4 however, the lone nose tackle and the defensive ends main responsibility is to take up as many blockers as possible in order to free up the linebackers to make most of the tackles against the run and provide most of the pressure on pass plays. The true success of the modern 3-4 however, lies in the ability of the defensive coordinator to disguise what his defense is doing pre-snap. One of the major prerequisites to effectively deceiving a defense is having outside linebackers that are fast and strong enough to drop into zone coverage, speed rush the QB, and play the run as a down lineman on any given play. Think Shawne Merriman. Think DeMarcus Ware. Don't think Lance Briggs.
To further show the philosophical difference in defenses, take for example the number of sacks by the linebacking corps of the three teams in question. Rivera's 4-3 defense generated one sack from the linebacker position for the entire season. One. The Cowboys, led by prototypical 3-4 linebacker DeMarcus Ware, had 20.5 sacks from their linebackers. The Chargers had 42.5. To state the obvious, Rivera does not run the type of defense that would fully realize the potential of players like Ware and Merriman. To state something even more obvious, Merriman and Ware are not going anywhere anytime soon. So it begs the question; Did Rivera ever really have a chance to get either of those two head coaching jobs? Or were they merely interviews motivated by courtesy and the Rooney Rule?
The Cowboys job went to Wade Phillips, a defensive coordinator that ran a 3-4, and the Chargers job has just gone to Norv Turner, an offensive coordinator with a reputation for molding quarterbacks. And who might you ask, have the Chargers tagged as their next defensive coordinator? Ted Cottrell who coincidentally is known for running a, you guessed it, 3-4 defense. Hopefully next off-season Rivera will be able to get interviews for jobs that he actually has a fair chance to win, instead of wasting his time due to Rooney Rule interviews.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
So I'm assuming you have seen the dunks from last night's slam dunk contest at this point. And I'm also sure you are really only hearing any buzz over one of them: Dwight Howard's sticker dunk. I mean, Nate Robinson and Gerald Green had some good dunks, but Robinson is just a sideshow and Green, while a great showman, is only doing dunks that we have seen before. You wonder why the contest has been dying? The contestants have been more than content to merely propagate the mythos of the 80's dunk contests, doing throwbacks to the dunks they saw as kids on TV, instead of making their own mythos. Throwback dunks have no place in the contest, unless you add something truly novel. Period. Which is why Dwight Howard's dunk made me sad. Not because of the dunk itself, but because of the scoring from the judges. They gave it a 43 out of 50. Gerald Green's uncreative, dunk over a table dunk in the finals got a 50. It was a travesty, much in the same way that last year Amare couldn't even get out of the first round of the contest. The judges do not seem to appreciate true creativity, or dunks by big men. In fact, Howard would have had an even more show-stopping dunk, but the NBA did not allow him to raise the rim to 12 feet to do it. This why the contest is dead on the vine. The NBA seems content to use the contest as a venue to relive the glory days where Jordan and Dominique went at each other
Now, as always, I am not merely going to offer criticism; I will now prescribe a remedy to what ails the dunk contest. In fact, I'll give you two avenues.
1. GET THE STARS BACK: Kobe won't do it. Vince won't do it. LeBron won't do it. T-Mac won't do it. Now, that would be a foursome that the viewers would want to see, wouldn't it? No disrespect, but the past few years the contestants have been less than stellar. I mean, the recent winners have been Green, Robinson, Josh Smith, and Fred Jones. There hasn't been a truly star studded dunk contest since 2000, when Vince Carter, T-Mac, and Stevie Franchise all threw down. The problem of course is not that the stars are failing to be invited. They just do not want to participate, and I can see a number of reasons why. One obvious one is a risk of injury. The high level stars make a lot of endorsement dollars, which are highly dependent upon performance, and missing games due to a dunk contest injury would be detrimental to one's checkbook. Also, and I think more importantly, the stars do not want to be embarrassed. What if Kobe or LeBron had participated last year, and had been defeated by Nate Robinson? They would have heard about it all year long. Or even without Robinson, I am sure that a Kobe or a LeBron or a T-Mac would not want to lose to each other either. Therefore, to draw the stars back in a couple of things need to change. First, the money needs to go up. This might not solve the problem on its own, but it would help. Also, the dunk contest would need to be comprised of only stars, to avoid the embarrassment factor. No more short sideshows and no more first and second year player's whose only talent is dunking. Even if you are unable to get all superstars, you could still get a group of superstars and notable players. Like, lets say for example the dunk line up was LeBron, Dwight Howard, T-Mac, and Jason Richardson. That would be pretty dang solid. Or Vince, Kobe, Amare, and Andre Igoudala. Again, pretty solid, much more so than the youngsters that have been trotted out recently.
2. NO STARS? THEN GET THE BEST: Since the NBA's secondary agenda in the dunk contest now seems to be hyping up the next generation of not quite yet superstars, they have been missing out on the best dunkers in the NBA. And I am not just talking about the stars discussed previously. Igoudala should be in it every year. Same for Josh Smith. Ryan Hollins of the Bobcats should also get major consideration. (Don't believe me? YouTube him.) Ricky Davis of the Timberwolves is also an elite dunker. Dwight Howard solidified himself as one last night. I think a good solution would be for each team to submit one dunker from their team to the league for consideration It would be awesome to see if other teams have dunking gems like Hollins hiding on their benches. I suppose my point is, if you are not going to have players everyone recognizes, at least have the most exciting nobodies you can get.
Now, there is one final thing that would improve the contest. Someone needs to push the envelope. Dwight Howard is trying. He came out with probably the most innovative dunk in the contest since Vince was in it. But someone needs to really take a chance, and there is one frontier that if broken in the dunk contest, would truly bring down the house. And that my friends, would be the 720. It would be something never seen before in the dunk contest, as it has only come close to being performed in street ball exhibitions I don't care what you need to do to get ready, NBA dunkers, just do it. Hire a figure skating coach. Practice in an anti-gravity room. Do whatever it takes. Especially to those anonymous guys on team's benches who would otherwise have no shot at the contest, I GUARANTEE if you told the people in charge of the dunk contest that you could do a 720, you would be in no questions asked. This is the one sure way to make the contest great again. I mean, there has already been a great deal of buzz over Howard's dunk, just imagine if someone stuck a 720. They would be all over YouTube, all over ESPN, they would probably even make the talk show circuit or get an endorsement out of it. So here is to the hope that next year will be a better contest, with better dunkers and better dunks, and hopefully judges that can truly appreciate a great dunk when they see one.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Last year the NCAA implemented a new series of rules aimed at lowering times of games. Ostensibly this was done to help out the networks televising the games, as the 14 minutes the rules shaved off of the average game (from 3:21 to 3:07) last year was really useful so that...um...CBS could show 14 more commercials per broadcast? So the networks could fit one more episode of Malcom in the Middle into their early evening syndication lineups? To refresh your memory, the two major rule changes last year were that 1. The clock started when the kicking team kicked the ball (In the past the clock started when the receiving team touched the ball) and 2. On a change of possession the clock started when the official marked the ball (In the past the clock started on the snap). These rules changes did lower the times of games (as well as scoring, down five points a game last year), but they also led to a couple of unforeseen consequences. The change of possession rule made it even harder for a trailing team to get back in the game, as an extra 5-10 seconds lost when there are only 40 or so left in a game can crush a rally. (This also spawned one of my favorite Viewer Heckling moments in all of sports: Every time I watched a game last year I would look forward to seeing how many seconds a QB would waste after the official had started the clock. It was one of those rare moments in watching sports where you could honestly say without question "I could do better than that!" It was also super entertaining to see the deer in the headlights look on a QB when he realized the clock was running. Priceless.) The kickoff rules change was a terrible idea that spawned my favorite moment of all of last football season, when Bret Bielma of Wisconsin intentionally ran his kickoff team offsides near the end of the first half. Joe Pa was then left with two choices, take the ball at the 10 on the penalty, or let Wisconsin continue to use the ploy to run out the clock. Joe Pa chose the latter, and Bret Bielma became my Big 10 coach.
So in light of the obvious stupidity of the new rules the NCAA is poised to overturn them. Yay! say college football fans. Yay! say deer in the headlights QBs. Yay! says everyon..what? Wait. What is that you say? There are more new rules coming in with the repeals of last year's mistakes? Oi. Here is a look at the new rules proposed to come into effect next season:
-The play clock would be shortened from 25 to 15 seconds after a timeout
-Timeouts would be reduced from 65 to 30 seconds
-Instant replay reviews would be limited to two minutes
-Kickoffs would be moved back five yards, from the 30 instead of the 35
Now, at first, I really wanted to hate these new rules. I really did. I consider myself a bit of a traditionalist, and any change to the game sets off little alarms in my head. After thinking about the changes though, they just made too much sense for me to hate them. The first rule is rather benign, and I think it is a good one if only because it gives our friend deer in the headlights QB an opportunity to take a dumb delay of game penalty. The second rule also seems fairly simple, and considering that very few timeouts are actually taken for in depth skull sessions as opposed to clock management, I don't think it will detract anything from the game. The replay rule also seems like a fairly simple and easy one, as I know personally I saw way too many 5+ minute deliberations under the hood by college refs last season. Ah, but now onto the most tantalizing of the rule changes, kicking off from five yards further back. The thinking behind this rule is that more returns = more time run off the clock. That is a fair enough assumption, if saving time is your end goal. This rule has the potential however, to do exactly the opposite of what the two rule changes last year did: make the game more exciting and raise scoring. Yay! says everyone. I know that I saw a lot of kicks last year that were touchbacks, but certainly not by five yards. With the added number of returns caused by the rule we are going to see three things; 1. Better field position for the returning team, which inevitably over the course of a game will lead to more scoring opportunities. 2. More return TDs, as it is just common sense that more kicks will be returned all the way when the total number of returns rises and the distance required to score decreases. 3. More big hits on kick coverage, as the more kicks returned means the more licks dished out. Now this is the way to decrease the broadcast time of a game, while not taking anything away from the product on the field. Where were these guys last year when the rules committee was meeting?
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
OMG, have you heard?
There are these two guys, Kevin Durant and Greg Oden, that are really good at basketball. I wonder which one is better?
Alright, now that I've gotten the prerequisite fawning out of the way that is required of seemingly any and all discussions of the upcoming NBA draft it is on to more intriguing things. Because in all honesty, the Oden vs. Durant debate is played out at the moment. They are two entirely different types of players, and any team that ends up with either of them will be very pleased. End of story. What I find to be a far more interesting discussion is one that can be epitomized in two words: Paul Milsap. No, this is not going to be a discussion about pro prospects from Louisiana Tech, or one about the drafting prowess of the Utah Jazz. I am more interested in second rounders, namely ones that are going to contribute on the pro level.
The success this year of Milsap, the undersized power forward that led the NCAA in rebounding for four consecutive years, shines light on a very simple fact; certain traits carry over better than others from the college to the pros. To further examine this point, lets look at some of the most successful second rounders of recent drafts:
Three things jump out from this list. Somehow, good shooters from college seem to be good shooters in the pros (Korver, Kapono, Redd, House, Stoudamire, Arenas). Also, gritty rebounders seem to remain being gritty rebounders in the pros (Boozer, Varejao, Milsap). As well, efficient floor leaders remain being effective on the NBA level (Jaric, Watson, Blake, Duhon, Gibson). So what are the three things here that translate well to the NBA? Rebounding, passing, and shooting. Wow. Imagine that. Those almost seem like, fundamentals or something. I mean, from watching recent NBA drafts, I thought the most important traits to look for in a draft pick were length and size. I mean, why else would a team like the Sonics draft guys like Robert Swift, Johan Petro, and Mouhamed Sene? I mean, they are all tall, and that is what is important, right? (Tangent: If there is one thing in professional sports drafting that is more certain than the Detroit Lions drafting a crappy first round wide receiver at every available opportunity, it is the tendency of the Sonics to draft raw centers. I think I am going to die laughing when they draft Hasheem Thabeet out of Uconn this year. You know it is going to happen. I mean, he is 7-3. That is THREE WHOLE INCHES better than a seven footer! He is obviously going to be a great pro. Obviously.)
You know where this is all headed. So, who are going to be the second rounders that we are going to be talking about at this time next season? Which players working on non-guaranteed contracts will have cracked the rotations and/or starting lineups of their new teams?
Mustafa Shakur, Arizona: Shakur has quietly had a breakout year for the Wildcats, averaging a career high 7.3 assists per game. Looking over the course of his career Shakur's assists, A/TO ratio, and steals have improved every season. He does however, have a tendency to dissapear in the points column. I could definitely see Shakur catching on as a solid backup and eventually a spot starter.
Rashad Jones-Jennings, Arkansas Little-Rock: So a 6-8 power forward out of a mid major school eh? Indeed. Jennings leads the nation in rebounding at 12.8 per contest, despite this being only his second season of Division I ball. He is the type of player that reminds you that rebounding is as much about effort and attitude as it is about height and athleticism. Think Charles Oakley, Dennis Rodman, Ben Wallace, Charles Barkley. They were all undersized, but they wanted the board more than anyone else on the floor. What team wouldn't be helped by having such an effort player coming off the bench for them?
Jarrius Jackson, Texas Tech: Jackson is not afraid to shoot the three, and is hitting a career high 47.6% from behind the arc this season. While there are probably better pure shooters available, Jackson also possesses the ability to take his defender off the ball and score in a variety of ways. Four years of playing under Bob Knight doesn't hurt either. Jackson could provide instant offense off the bench for an NBA franchise.
Now, I'm not saying these guys are going to be stars. Very few second rounders ever are. These players do however, have a solid chance to come in and contribute to an NBA club right out of the gate, more than can be said of many of the raw centers and European experiments selected in the first round of the draft. Now I must be off, I have 273 more articles to read tonight comparing Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. *Sigh*
Every year around this time the sports world seems to turn to discussions of projections. Which teams are going to make the NBA playoffs? Which prospects are going to going to go in the first round of the NFL draft? Which teams are going to be in the pennant race this year? But all of these discussions pale in comparison to one seemingly benign topic: bubbles. NCAA tournament bubbles to be exact. Who is going to get in? Who is staying home? Will it be another year of the mid major, or will the Big Six conferences reign supreme? While every at large team possesses its own unique merits and question marks, I thought it would be interesting to look at the bottom five at large teams (by seed) from the last five NCAA tournaments in an effort to better project who might be sneaking in the bottom of the bracket this March. And the awards for mediocrity went to...
TEAM (W-L, RPI, Top 50 W-L, Rd/Nt W-L, Conference W-L)
Bradley (20-10, 33, 7-6, 7-9, 13-8)
Air Force (22-6, 50, 0-1, 8-6, 12-5)
Texas AM (21-8, 44, 1-5, 5-6, 11-7)
Utah State (22-8, 46, 1-2, 9-6, 13-6)
George Mason (23-7, 26, 2-4, 11-6, 16-4)
NIU (20-10, 37, 2-6, 8-8, 11-8)
UCLA (18-10, 38, 1-7, 6-7, 11-8)
UAB (21-10, 49, 0-5, 10-7, 11-7)
Iowa (21-11, 42, 6-7, 8-8, 9-10)
NC State (19-13, 65, 4-8, 8-7, 9-10)
UTEP (22-7, 46, 1-3, 8-6, 15-6)
BYU (19-8, 31, 2-4, 8-8, 11-5)
Air Force (22-6, 70, 3-1, 9-6, 12-3)
Richmond (20-12, 47, 2-10, 11-8, 12-7)
South Carolina (23-10, 45, 9-6, 9-7, 10-9)
BYU (23-8, 19, 2-6, 10-7, 12-4)
Butler (24-5, 35, 1-3, 13-5, 15-3)
SIU (24-6, 34, 2-2, 10-6, 18-3)
Colorado (20-11, 46, 4-6, 6-10, 10-8)
NC State (18-12, 53, 2-8, 5-9, 11-8)
Mizzou (21-11, 52, 4-7, 8-8, 10-8)
Utah (19-8, 29, 4-3, 7-6, 11-5)
Tulsa (25-5, 30, 0-4, 12-3, 17-4)
Wyoming (20-8, 64, 5-4, 8-7, 12-4)
SIU (26-7, 50, 3-2, 13-7, 16-5)
Avg: 21-9, 43, 3-5, 9-7, 12-6
Looking over the profiles of these teams certain trends and characteristics begin to pop out, and they are about what you would expect. Only two of the twenty-five teams had losing conference records, and only two of the twenty-five had losing Rd/Nt records. As well, only three of the twenty-five had RPIs above 60. One interesting and unexpected note is that the highly hyped “big win” factor does not seem to be nearly as important, as eight of the twenty-five had either one or zero wins against the RPI top 50. Now, taking into consideration that the selection committee has been anything but consistent (For example a team such as NC State in '05 reaching the tournament while last year's Missouri State team (20-8, 21, 4-8, 8-6, 12-7) did not), there are a few teams that would seem to already be in huge bubble trouble based on the trends of the past five years (All stats as of 2-13):
Too Low to Go (RPI deficient)
Wichita State (71)
Home Sick (Rd/Nt deficient)
Michigan State (3-7)
Georgia Tech (2-7)
Full of Cupcakes (Conference deficient)
Northern Iowa (7-9)
Florida State (5-7)
On the other side of the bubble debate are a few teams that seem to exemplify the traits seen of the bottom at large teams of recent years. These teams are probably a little more safe to make the tournament than many people think.
Security Blankets (Top 50 RPI, 2+ Top 50 wins, winning Rd/Nt, winning Conference)
Hopefully this little diatribe was somewhat helpful in better understanding what makes a team an at large contender. And hopefully it also gives you a little fuel for your prognosticating fire, at least until you have to pick your bracket for the office pool.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
So Marty Schottenheimer was fired yesterday. Well, it was obviously going to happen sooner or later, right? I mean, it seems like my entire life every sportscaster and sports analyst I have ever heard speak has had one thing to say about Marty: “He can't win in the playoffs”. Never mind the fact that in order to lose 13 playoff games a coach has to first get to the playoffs 13 times, a feat that only two other NFL coaches have ever been able to match. (Don Shula and Tom Landry) It has been well documented that Marty's career playoff record stands at a disappointing 5-13. It has not been nearly as well documented however, how exactly Marty lost those games. So I decided to do a little digging and find out for myself: how exactly did Marty lose 13 times?
After looking through the annals of NFL playoff history (also known as pro-football-reference.com), one major commonality stood out from among Marty's losses with the Browns, Chiefs, and Chargers: Marty's teams were beaten by teams with better QBs, and in most cases by vastly better QBs. To break it down a little further, Marty has lost playoff games to Dan Marino three times, John Elway three times, Jim Kelly twice, Warren Moon once, and Tom Brady once. That is 10 losses to Hall of Famers. (Yes I am counting Brady as a HOFer...you disagree?) And whom, might you ask, did Marty have going for him under center in these games? Well, since I thought you might ask, here is a list of the QB match ups in all 13 of Marty's losses:
Bernie Kosar at Dan Marino
Bernie Kosar vs. John Elway
Bernie Kosar at John Elway
Bernie Kosar vs. Warren Moon
Steve Deberg at Dan Marino
Steve Deberg at Jim Kelly
Dave Krieg at Stan Humphries
Joe Montana at Jim Kelly
Joe Montana at Dan Marino
Steve Bono vs. Jim Harbaugh
Elvis Grbac vs. John Elway
Drew Brees vs. Chad Pennington
Phillip Rivers vs. Tom Brady
To further compound this point, of the three non HOF quarterbacks that Marty lost to, two of them (Humphries and Harbaugh) had the best year of their careers the year they beat Marty, both making their sole Pro Bowl appearance that same year. Now, the other thing you might notice looking at the list of quarterbacks is that Marty's were not exactly the cream of the crop. Montana was on the downswing of his career when he joined Marty in Kansas City, and with even a depleted Montana Marty was able to go 2-2 in the playoffs with Joe at the helm. The rest of the list includes the overwhelmingly average (Kosar and Grbac), the good but young (Brees and Rivers), and the downright forgettable (Bono, Krieg, and Deberg). Now, let me riddle you this my dear reader. How many coaches do you think would have won those 13 games with those matchups? Especially after the emphasis that has been placed, particularly in this past post season, on needing a talented and experienced QB to win in the playoffs.
The other major trait that stands out in Marty's losses is the margin of the games. Nine of the thirteen losses were by less than seven points. This of course, is where the chorus of sports pundits will begin to sing you to sleep with a steady chorus of “Martyball baby, just run the rock, if we are up, just run out the clock”. Granted, it is a staple of Schottenheimer coached teams to run the ball on first and second down with the lead, and then to throw on third down. Run, run, pass, punt, repeat. But is this any different than the common NFL coaching strategy? Would any other NFL coach this side of Mike Martz NOT run the ball with the lead? And after seeing exactly what Marty had at QB in his playoff runs, would you as a coach trust your hopes to the likes of Kosar, Grbac, and Bono? Perhaps it was not Marty's strategy that was to blame, but rather quarterbacks that he had that were incapable of converting pass plays on third down. In addition, in three of the losses Marty's kicker missed a FG late in the fourth or OT that would have won or tied the game. (Nate Kaeding's 54 yarder against the Pats this past postseason to tie in the 4th, Kaeding's 40 yarder two years ago to win in OT against the Jets, and Nick Lowery's 52 yarder to win against the Dolphins in 1990) Also to remember from the most recent loss to New England was Marlon McCree's fumbled interception on fourth down late in the fourth quarter, followed four plays later by the Patriot's game winning touchdown. No reasonable person can blame Marty for McCree's blunder, or for his kickers missing clutch kicks. Those types of things are out of a coach's hands.
I suppose this all goes to say that you shouldn't always take every stat you hear bandied about entirely at face value. Yes, Schottenheimer has only won 28% of his post season games as a head coach. He has also however, won 61% of his regular season contests and taken 13 different teams to the playoffs. I would prefer to have a coach with that record, who has lost close playoff games throughout his career to some of the greatest quarterbacks of our generation, to some hot commodity coordinator or rising college coaching star. If Marty was ever paired with an elite signal caller, I would dare say that he would break his post season curse. It's a shame Marty won't get that opportunity in San Diego, where Philip Rivers seems to be only a year or two of maturation away from being the stud QB in his prime that Marty has been missing his entire coaching career.