Friday, January 21, 2011

There's a subliminal message in there somewhere. I don't know why, I just keep getting this image in my head...

So basically I've been pretty busy and as a result my blog has backed up. Well now I've finally found the time to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and the result is a mammoth post. So, coming up (I should really do this as a TV show); - Bad news for Detroit fans, - Evidence that advertising executives might be f**king over paid, - Understanding the value of Big Ben Roethlisberger, - A follow up on the other days post about momentum/psychology, - Why Falcons coach Mike Smith should trust his own instincts more, - A look ahead at both of the weekends Conference Championship games, It looks like a lot less when put into a list. I can assure you it was a bitch to write, consuming many hours/cups of coffee. On that note, time to unashamedly plug the blog and try to boost pageviews by encouraging all readers to spread the word. Tell your friends. Tell your family. Tell your co-workers. Stick the address on your Facebook page. Kidnap your next door neighbours dog and spray paint the URL on it.... no seriously, don't do that. Put the can down. Let go of the dog. Slowly now (but do put the url on your Facebook). Anyway, dog-knapping aside, let's start with the Lions and that bit of bad news. It's Matthew Stafford again. He's now had surgery again on his throwing shoulder after separating said shoulder twice this past season. Recovery time is estimated in the four month region, which should see Stafford back in action by the time mini camps roll around (providing the labor situation has been resolved). But it's another blow for Stafford and the Lions. Injuries don't help in the first place, but repeated surgeries don't help much either. If you can heal naturally, that's usually the best, but it's not always an option. There's honestly not a lot else that the Lions can do but cross their fingers and hope that it all works out ok. It's shame though. Chances are that the cumulative effect of the injuries and surgeries in such a short span will seriously impede his future development and that means the Lions just potentially blew $41 million guaranteed on a kid who has now played a grand total of 13 games in his two year career. Now, I've long been a believer that in the modern world there are a hell of a lot of people who are over paid for what they bring to the table, including a large number of football players. No more is this the case than in advertising, given that most people are driven nuts by adverts as opposed to listening intently to them. Specifically I want to turn my wagging finger of doom on Internet Advertisers, who seem incapable of adapting to the demands of the medium. Take this post for example, from, circa April '09. Basically predicting the mass rise of pre-video ads on YouTube, what's most interesting to me is the comments section. There are a few of the ever useful "well, they have to make money somehow comments," that don't exactly carry the argument on a lot. But what stands out most are three things; 1) The complaints about the ratio of video length to advert length, 2) The suggested effect this has on viewers, 3) The suggested solutions to the problem, The first one just makes me laugh in mild despair, because people are complaining about having to sit through a 30 second advert just to watch 2 or 3 minutes of video. These people should try watching videos on, where a 30 second commercial will be casually slipped in between every other video, even if those videos only happen to last less than the actual advert. Catching up on the game highlights of the games you missed is a nightmare, especially if the combined sound of Steve Mariucci and Deion Sanders forces you to avoid any video labelled "NFL Gameday Highlights". And the autostart function when you first switch to the highlights section = pure, uncapped anger and annoyance. Which brings me to number 2, the effect on viewers. Guess what happens when an advert comes on now? Do I sit and watch it? Hell no!! I hit the rather handy mute button on my keyboard and simply flick to another open tab to find something else to do for 30 seconds. Just at a pure freaking guess, I imagine that probably 95% of the rest of the viewers does the same. One thing we know for certain is that people get driven nuts simply by the mere thought of having to watch a 30 second ad in between two 30 second highlight clips. So why haven't advertisers adapted? Surely all these highly paid ad men are right there at the cutting edge of modern technology trends? Surely they have their target markets by the balls and are skillfully milking them for every last purchase (erm, that was perhaps a poorly chosen analogy)? But no. It would appear not. What's truly interesting then about the comments section of the above mentioned post is that the answer to the problem crops up multiple times; short adverts. 5 seconds. Maybe 10 seconds at a push. Those commenter's who suggest this are hitting the proverbial nail on the proverbial head. This is exactly what the Internet advertising medium needs. Short, sharp adverts that get the point across and/or highlight the brand before the viewer even has time to look away. Think about it for a second. What can you usefully do in five seconds? What about ten? Answer; Jack Sh*t. But 30 seconds? That's more than enough time for me to hit the mute button, open a new tab and piss off to Hotmail quickly to have a look, or to hit up Facebook and see what my friends have been up to lately (like posting the URL of my blog on their profiles. Hint, hint. Nudge. Hint). So this is my rallying cry, my call to all companies that want to get some actual value out of their adverts; pick up the phone. Call your advertising agency. Tell them you want all your Internet video ads cut to 10 seconds or less. And please tell them to specify only one ad per three videos. Remember, it's about quality, not quantity. Grab our attention, don't bore us to death and make us resent you. Also, if you're reading this and happen to be the head of a top marketing agency then may I first praise you for your excellent choice in blogs (did you follow a link from Facebook by any chance?) then highly recommend that you fire anyone in your company who's earning over $50,00o per year while still churning out 30 second ads for your clients online campaigns. But don't fire Big Ben Roethlisberger!! (See that segue? As slick as a bone dry shower mat). I mean it though. I've said before that love or hate Roethlisberger, the guy can flat out play. He's a serious tough guy, he's hard to bring down in the pocket, keeps plays alive long after they should have died, makes good decisions in the critical moments of games and most importantly; he's a leader. Don't believe me? Check out this video from (enjoy the advert by the way). What you see is the hidden value of guys like Ben Roethlisberger. Calming people down when they get too excited. Lifting them up when they get down. But perhaps most importantly serving as the coach among the players, helping the staff to reinforce a team first, team focused message. As divisive as they may be in the public arena and among some fans, it's players like Roethlisberger and Hines Ward who have helped the Steelers to seamlessly integrate many of their rookies into the first team, which allows them to keep rolling year after year, despite a fairly equal turnover in personnel when compared to other NFL teams. I also want to take the opportunity to call on another of's videos, this one to be precise. This is going to serve two purposes. Firstly, as an addition to the post I did the other day on momentum/psychology etc, I want you to watch the video and pay close attention to the Packers players. Look at their body language and demeanor. Listen to their voices, and pay as much attention to how they're saying things as to what they're actually saying. What we see is a progressive rise in apparent confidence as the game progresses. Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm one of the few people who are interested by this kind of thing. But what I see is a fairly clear sign of how repeated success builds the psychological momentum for the Packers players to the point where they almost appear to be playing for fun rather than in a stressful divisional round playoff game against a number one seeded team. The other thing that caught my eye (or rather, ear) watching this video was the moment right before half time when Mike Smith calls for a field goal with 10 seconds left on the clock. His experience and knowledge says "go get the three points before the half and bring this one in close". What happens next is a disaster. Although we can't hear who it is, someone obviously says to Smith that they'd like to take another offensive play and get more yards for the field goal shot, to which Smith fatefully (but to my ears reluctantly) agrees. He makes sure to emphasise the point about throwing the ball out of bounds if it's not there and again re-emphasises the need for the field goal, being a veteran enough coach to understand how valuable those three points can be right before the half. Instead he ends up with a pick returned for a TD and instead of going into the tunnel potentially at 17-21, or even failing the field goal attempt 14-21, the Falcons go in facing a 28-14 deficit with their QB having the wind knocked out of his sails somewhat. What is it I've been saying a lot on this blog lately? "Know Thyself" Smith knew. He knew because of almost thirty years of experience as a coach in one role or another. He knew how much that field goal meant and when you see him throw down his gameplan you can just tell that he realises what has just happened, what a hole his team has just found itself in. Watching Tramon Williams run back that pick for a TD Smith must have been thinking "why didn't I just take the field goal?". And he would have been right 10/10. Trust your judgement Mike. And "Know Thyself"! Right, Conference Championship preview time! Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears Only the second time these two have met in the postseason? Really? Well they picked a hell of a year to match up again! Both teams have had their ups and downs and now it's time to settle an old score. At least until next season. Now, outside of their obvious rivalry is the contrasting light in which these two teams were held prior to the season. The Packers were headed for the Super Bowl we all said. The Bears were not. I for one had the Bears pegged for defeat in Week 1. And 2. And 3. I saw them taking an epic nosedive that would have made any WW2 Dauntless pilot sweat with it's acuteness. But they didn't. The Bears instead scratched and clawed and maybe rode their luck a little on their way to the 2010 NFC North title. For that I have to take my hat off to them. That includes Julius Peppers as well. When the Bears splashed out in free agency for Peppers I thought it might have just sealed their fate. My suspicion was that with the cash in the bag, and given the reports about Peppers coming out of Carolina, that he might just roll into work and do enough to keep everyone sweet without really pushing the boundaries. I was wrong. Peppers has been just the tonic for the Bears D-line. Positioned opposite the annoyingly hard to spell Israel Idonije, Peppers has spent more time in the oppositions backfield than some of their own quarterbacks, wreaking havoc along the way. With solid play from the Bears linebacking corps and sufficient play from the secondary, Chicago has turned itself into a contender. Of course the play of Jay Cutler has helped as well. At first it seemed like a lost cause. Cutler struggled and Mike Martz seemed to be determined to roast him over his own personal spit, throwing in pass play after pass play. Cutler was repeatedly dropping back and staring into the teeth of doom as team after team found it's pass rush swarming home. The culmination had to be the "9 sacks in one half" performance against the Giants. But the Bears still found ways to win games. Somehow, I'm still not really sure how, they managed to hang in there and keep fighting. They managed to win games still, even despite Cutler. Then along the way someone presumably pulled Mike Martz to one side and quietly whispered into his ear; "what the f**k are you doing to my QB?". From that point onwards, the Bears offense has undergone a mini-revival. Cutler actually looks like all the hype we've been hearing for the last few years. He throws more accurately now. He makes much, much better decisions. His O-line doesn't have to block for 40 seconds to stop him getting sacked. The Bears even run the ball more now and they're even half decent at it! So having built Chicago up to such levels, the task of beating them now seems insurmountable. Well, not quite. It is going to take a pretty handy performance to pull it off though. Enter then, the Green Bay Packers. If anyone can do it, the Pack can. Can't they? This is the Green Bay Packers who everybody thought would sweep the NFC North and ride to the Super Bowl in a blaze of glory. When I say everyone I of course exclude the more delusional section of the Vikings fan base, but if you can't bash a division rival then who can you bash? Moving on, the Packers ended up not living up to the hyperbole and came into the playoffs as the sixth seed. A season of key injuries and some disappointing results had seemingly hijacked the Packers season at regular points, but they fought back. Still, this was hardly Super Bowl material. Or was it? When they won, they usually won well. When they lost, they usually did so with that sense of "we could have had that one". Thus the Packers may have entered the playoffs as the lowest seed in the NFC, but they were still being treated as a hot tip to make the Super Bowl. What followed were two games that were not the NFC Championship game but were touted as such by many. The Eagles under Mike Vick were seen as probably having the best shot among NFC teams at beating someone like the Steelers or Patriots in the Super Bowl, purely it would seem off the back of Vick's play making ability. Yet they crashed out at the hands of Green Bay. Then came the number one seed Falcons. For the Packers it was "the real" NFC Championship game part II. And they won it. Which finally means that Green Bay can take on Chicago in the NFC Championship game part III ("The Wrath of Kuhn". Or is it "The Search For Starks"?). Or as it's otherwise known; just the proper NFC Championship game. So who will win? I'm not sure. Personally I think it's going to hinge on the Packers pass rush. I have no worries about their offense. They're good enough that they can protect Rodgers and that Rodgers can get the ball out to his excellent receivers. But can the Bears do the same? Can their O-line handle B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson coming off the edge etc. I think if the Packers can get a sack or two early on, it'll probably be enough to knock Cutler off his rhythm and set Chicago's offense back to a point from which it can't recover. From the Bears perspective I think they have to find a way to slow down said Packers pass rush. The screen game to Matt Forte is an unheralded weapon that they have up their sleeve. If they can mix that in with a solid dose of running to keep Rodgers, Jennings and co. off the field, they'll be in with a shot. A special teams return or two from Devin Hester wouldn't go amiss either. New York Jets @ Pittsburgh Steelers I don't know about anyone else, but I kind of feel a little deflated this week. Last week we had the latest installment of the Steelers/Ravens rivalry, followed by the main event bout between the brash, trash talking Jets and the calm, surgical precision of the hotly tipped Patriots. This week in comparison has been something of an anticlimax. I'm not sure why though. The AFC Championship game promises to be every bit as tantalising as last weeks offering and probably more so than the NFC game. With the defense orientated Steelers hosting the defense orientated Jets, a true tough guy clash is on the cards. Two hitting teams who love nothing more than to get in your face and turn it into a fight. Or as it's otherwise known; a true football game. Any notion that this will be like the Colts/Saints Super Bowl of last year, a "basketball on grass" type game between two offenses, should be buried right now alongside the Jets game ball from "that" Patriots encounter. Of course this is the perfect way to set up a 45-42 thriller, but somehow I doubt that. Not when Rex Ryan will be dipping deep into his playbook for ways to confuse and contain Ben Roethlisberger. And sure as hell not with Mark Sanchez on the field. Period. I'm sorry, I don't trust Sanchez. I know people bang on about his record in the playoffs, but to counter that I would point out that while Sanchez may sound like a tennis player, he's not. He's a football player. Which means that there are 52 other guys who win every game that he wins and probably have more of a cumulative impact. Which on balance isn't that hard. Sanchez has his moments of brilliance. At times he's unlucky with his receivers dropping passes. But it cannot be denied that a lot of the time Sanchez looks like he'd be more at home in the UFL. Now put that up against probably the premier defense in the NFL this season. Sure the Steelers finished behind the Chargers for total yards conceded, but they topped the list for just about every other category going. You name it and the Steelers were leading the way in it. All season long they've been collecting sacks, tackles for loss, pass break ups and fines like they were the latest collectible treasures of the Western world. Now tell me, on any given snap would you really bet the house on Sanchez versus that D? What about LaDanian Tomlinson? There's been a lot of talk about the fact that a Jets win will finally see Tomlinson reach the big game. But how will he match up against the Steelers front seven? That's not just your average run of the mill rush defense right there. It's not the Bills and it's not the Patriots with their weak front sevens. That's the 2010 Steel Curtain, built for a purpose. Honestly, I can't see it happening, not on a regular basis. That then means that the Jets defense has to come up big. If we're looking at maybe one TD and one or two field goals from the offense, then the defense is going to have to truly earn it's money. "Revis Island" and Antonio Cromartie are going to have to lock down Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown over the top, and Hines Ward underneath. The pass rush is going to have to find it's way home to Big Ben, keeping him tucked up nicely in the pocket and finally corralling him before he has a chance to launch a bomb downfield. In other words this is it. It truly is "put up or shut up" time for Rex Ryan. He's done a great job, much better than most people realise, in somehow bringing his team to two consecutive AFC Championship games. But such an achievement will be somewhat swept under the carpet if he can't push his side over the top this time. It's the price you pay for being so brash and attention hungry. It's fine to go out and make ballsy statements, but at some point you've got to back them up or you just look like an ass. Now is the time for Rex Ryan and the Jets. Either way, it should be a hell of show.

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