Friday, October 01, 2010

Crawling through the NFL minefield

I want to start today with a random thought unrelated to football. I don't know how many people reading this went to a camp of some kind when they were at school, but if you did I'm sure you took part in a number of activities such as archery or orienteering. One thing I'm pretty damn sure you didn't do was to learn how to diffuse land mines. I know I didn't.
My Nephew has.
His camp is all about learning how kids in Africa live and as a part of the camp they're teaching the kids how to recognise and diffuse land mines. Holy s**t. Makes those crappy "build a bridge using newspapers" team building exercises look tame in comparison.
Now, back to football. The other day the NFL Network crew of Mike Mayock, Solomon Wilcots and Sterling Sharpe broke down some film from the Dolphins/Jets game. The thing they were most interested in was Brandon Marshall appearing to ease up in the final moments of the game as the Dolphins were looking for a TD and a 2-point conversion. According to ProFootballTalk, Brandon was not happy.
I've seen the segment and I watched the game. I was thinking of doing a post about their video, but didn't think it was substantial enough to warrant a full gig. I guess now there is a reason. See I'm backing Marshall on this one for two reasons:
1) On the first play, Henne just didn't throw a good enough pass. On the second Marshall was in the end zone with his hand up looking for the ball. On number 3 Henne doesn't even look at him. On play 4 Marshall actually gets free on the goal line. Calling Marshall lazy is wrong at best. It fails to take into account the other factors involved, not least the actual reality of what Marshall did. At worst it was lazy analysis, picking an easy target because he earns so much money.
2) The Dolphins knew that Marshall would struggle if Cromartie played bump and run. They knew this because they'd seen it earlier in the game and had made an adjustment. By sending Marshall in motion they'd been able to force Cromartie to back off a little and allow Marshall to get a better release. So the blame has to fall at the feet of offensive coordinator Dan Henning to some degree.
I just hate this kind of thing. Sometimes Playbook can be a great show and I tip my hat to Mayocks excellent "Anatomy of a Play" segment this week on the Seahawks two special teams return TDs. But given their collective NFL experience and knowledge, surely the Playbook crew should be able to avoid dumb mistakes like this? Maybe it was just a slow week for film study?
Talking of slow weeks, I can't think of something clever and creative to discuss, so I'm going to fall back on the classic "stat attack" by perusing (yeah, check out the lingo!) the NFLs stat tables to see where everyone stands after three weeks. All stats are lifted from, which should theoretically been the most accurate source.
Shall we begin? What do you mean you want to go and make a coffee? Ah Jesus, ok hurry up....... back? Ready? Good.
We'll start then on offense. Remember I said in the recap of the week 3 games that some teams are clocking up the yards but not getting it done in the red zone? Well the two leading teams in total yardage are the Chargers and Broncos with a combined win/loss record of 2-4. The 1-2 Dallas Cowboys check in at number 5.
Scarily the Chargers are one of the leading teams in almost every statistical offensive category, until you get to third down percentage when they drop to 14th with 38%.
Interesting to look at the turnover rates. Those teams in the top ten are; Steelers, Jets (+6), Buccaneers, Bengals, Eagles, Falcons, Colts (+4), Saints, Bears (+3), Redskins (+2).
In terms of offensive passing, the top ten in passing yards contain just 5 teams with winning records (Bears, Colts, Saints, Texans, Patriots). Conversely the top ten teams in rushing yardage contain 8 teams with a winning record and just two with a losing record (Raiders, Vikings).
Looking at the offensive line - QB hits in particular - it's very revealing to see that some of the worst teams in the league right now are right up there. The Eagles lead the pack, but with the nature of the way that Vick plays it's difficult to really take much from that. Next is the 49ers, Bills, Panthers, Jaguars, Bears, Giants, Bengals, Cardinals, Texans. You could argue that the Bears are the aberration, but then we all know the Bears have had more than a helping hand along the way. And given the amount of rushing the Texans did in week 1, that's a really bad sign that they're up here!
On defense the top ten in terms of least points allowed contains a mixed bag; Steelers, Chiefs, Vikings, Ravens, Titans, Falcons, Packers, Jets, Rams, Bears/Dolphins. Some very good teams in there.
Looking at yards allowed through the air, the ominous signs loom for the Texans and Redskins who come in first and second. Surprisingly the Raiders are the second best team against the pass.
Can't help but laugh that the Buccaneers are joint top in the league for interceptions with Atlanta (6). Signs maybe that Raheem Morris is turning his team around? In joint third is the Panthers, Bengals, Eagles, Steelers and Chargers.
But the question is which team is the best against the run so far? The Steelers? No, third. The Jets? No, fourth. The Ravens? No, twenty second (yeah, I know!). It's the Bears. Followed by the Texans.
The sack leaders thus far are; Packers (13), Eagles (12), Lions (WTF?) (11), Steelers/Titans (10).
Passes defended?; Eagles (25), Panthers/Dolphins/Jets (23), Cardinals/Redskins (22),
Forced Fumbles?; Rams (WTF?) (8), Steelers (7), Lions/Seahawks/Titans (5),
Right, so what have we learnt? Not a lot really. The Steelers and Jets are pretty good. The Ravens might be a little over rated so far this year. The Eagles are creeping up on everyone out of nowhere. Other that, what can I say? It's week 3. As I've always believed, statistics alone when looked at in a closed manner tend to mean very little and say very little about the teams. Only when you actually watch the games and take into account the various factors that go into a game of football does it all make sense.
And so ends this exercise in futility. Tomorrow we have another one, as I make my week 4 picks. Till then,
Have a great day everyone.

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