Happy Tuesday, friends. I have some thoughts, about football and other things, which shouldn’t surprise you unless you’re new to this rodeo. If you are, welcome. Hold on tight, because the bucking is about to start. If you’ve been here before, you know what’s coming next. Ready……. BEGIN!!!!
1. I’m going to tread on potentially touchy ground, so I may as well start right off the bat with it. Do you remember the 2004 Presidential election in the United States? I would imagine that most of us do. I don’t want to make public value judgments about the policy positions of the two candidates, George W. Bush, and John Kerry, but I do have a football point that is germane to that election.
Do you remember the primary narrative that came out of the Bush campaign? There were two manifestations of it, but it was basically one idea. On one hand, there was the Kerry is a flip-flopper narrative, primarily because he initially voted to authorize funding for the Iraq invasion, and then opposed the operation itself. That was the negative version of the other key narrative, which is that you have to stay the course once you decide to take major action like invading a country. You had a positive version and a negative version of the same general concept; it’s not okay to change your mind, even as new information becomes available, or surrounding circumstances change.
Completely independent of the policy question at hand, I think that messaging like that serves only to promote anti-intellectualism, and a denunciation of the concept of trying to understand nuance, or even recognizing that such a thing exists. The decision was made, it is what it is, there’s no turning back, don’t even bother understanding the issue at hand, because it doesn’t matter anyway. I don’t care who employs that type of messaging, or what it’s about, it hurts the public discourse. If that tactic should ever be used to promote a political policy that I personally love, I guarantee that I’ll publicly denounce the promotion of popular ignorance, even as it seeks a good end. The ends sometimes don’t justify the means.
Intelligent people should always be re-evaluating their circumstances, in whatever arena in which they’re making decisions. They should be seeking new knowledge from a variety of sources, and recognizing external events which affect their lives and decisions. The right approach today may not be the right approach tomorrow, and we owe it to ourselves to keep a skeptical eye on everything, and an open mind. Blindly staying the course is for idiots and losers. Adapting to your challenges as they present themselves is for intelligent people and winners.
Which brings me to my football point, which I’ve touched on before. The fat part of the bell-curve bunch (hereafter the fat-parters) which makes up most of the football punditocracy kind of hates them some Josh McDaniels, but they really hate them some Raheem Morris. I mean, come on. He’s even younger than McDaniels, by about 5 months, and he’d never even been an NFL coordinator in an actual game when he was hired as Head Coach. Think of all the salt-of-the-earth scoop-leaking retreads out there who deserved the Tampa Bay job more than he did!!!!! (I’m being ironical, if you couldn’t tell; I’m personally loath to use any exclamation points, let alone six in a row. I’m not that guy, and neither should you be.)
Morris was named Defensive Coordinator in December 2008, when Monte Kiffin decided to leave to go coach with his son Lane at Tennessee. That lasted about three weeks, until the Glazer family decided to relieve Jon Gruden of his duties, and promote Morris to Head Coach. He had interviewed with the Broncos for their Head job, and was reportedly impressive. I suspect that the Glazers were afraid of losing the next Mike Tomlin, so they decided to lock him in a year earlier than he may have been ready, rather than lose him later.
Morris was inexperienced, and had a big learning curve. He hired the experienced Jeff Jagodzinski and Jim Bates as Offensive and Defensive Coordinator, respectively. Jagodzinski had been and NFL Tight Ends and Offensive Line coach, and college Head Coach, but he’d never been a play-caller, and he delegated that duty to Running Backs coach Steve Logan, who had done it for him at Boston College. In the preseason, Morris found the performance of the offense unacceptable, and not just on the field. He observed problems with Logan getting the plays in timely to the field, and he received input from other coaches that Jagodzinski had no idea how to run an NFL offense. Before a game was even played, Morris decided to fire Jagodzinski, and he got absolutely skewered for it.
You can’t change your mind! You hired the guy, you have to live with him!! It’s amateur hour!!!!!!!!!!!
Morris was clear about his reasoning, saying that he’d evaluated Jagodzinski as being lacking as a coordinator, and that he was probably a guy who should either be a position coach or a Head Coach. He said Jags lacked the needed attention to detail to be an effective coordinator. This all makes sense, right?
Morris promoted QB coach Greg Olson, who had previous NFL play-calling experience, and the team promptly got out to an 0-7 start. This kid isn’t ready for prime time! He should have stayed the course!!! How can you believe a guy who’d fire Jags before a game had ever been played?!!!!!!!!!!! Morris should be fired after only one season!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The Bucs beat a good Green Bay team in Week 9, and then lost their next 2 games, to fall to 1-9. At that point, the Bucs had given up 294 points, or an average of 29.4 per game. That’s a very high number. Morris didn’t like what he saw from the defense, so he fired Jim Bates on November 24th. The yelling started again, sometimes reaching the level of a howl.
This is unbelievable! Now this guy is going to call his own plays, when he doesn’t even know how to hire a coordinator?!!!!! (From Warren Sapp and Marshall Faulk on NFLN) All he knows how to do is call Tampa-2!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
So what happened next? In their final six games, the Bucs allowed 20 points to a solid Atlanta team, 16 to Carolina, 26 to the Jets, 7 to Seattle, 17 to New Orleans, and 20 again to Atlanta. That’s an average of 18 points per game, which is much better than the defense was under Bates. The Bucs also won the Seattle and New Orleans games, and were only blown out by the Jets. And for Warren and Marshall, Morris blitzed quite a bit, in among the Tampa-2 stuff he did call. The defense was a lot more aggressive under Morris than it had been under Bates.
After the 2009 season, Morris was not fired, which some fat-parters griped passingly about. The team with the lowest payroll and the youngest roster in the NFL improved as the season progressed, and even won two of its last three games. This year, they won their first two, and got beaten by a Steelers team that’s a lot better than they are. The Bucs are moving in the right direction. They’ve found players who are going to compete to be in Pro Bowls, including Josh Freeman, Mike Williams, Donald Penn, Gerald McCoy, Barrett Ruud, and Aqib Talib, and a lot of others who are going to grow up to be good players. They’re going to be very tough to handle in a year or so. This year, they’ll be competitive most of the time. It’s a process, and the courageous and wise-beyond-his-years Morris is the biggest reason for the improvement they’re seeing.
2. Speaking of not staying the course, the 49ers did the right thing in firing Offensive Coordinator Jimmy Raye Monday. Of course, it’s being misunderstood by everybody, but I’m going to give you the real deal. It’s been widely reported that the 49ers have been struggling to get plays in to Alex Smith on time, and that Raye often forgot parts of the verbiage as he called them from memory. The players and other coaches had no confidence in Raye, who is one of those well-regarded, salt-of-the-earth loser types I mentioned last week. (He’s actually known as a guy who joins staffs of head coaches who are about to get canned.) Mike Singletary had to do something, because allowing the play-calling issues, and near mutiny to continue would be tantamount to voluntarily sabotaging his own team.
Sunk costs are irrelevant to the decisions we face today. Always remember that, because it’s a non-negotiable, undeniable truth of life. If what you’re doing isn’t working, you need to have the courage to change up now. A lot has been made of the fact that the Niners and Alex Smith have now had 6 OCs in 6 years, but we’re not talking about a whole new scheme here. Mike Johnson was the QB coach, and is now the primary play-caller. The scheme is mostly going to stay intact, and the hope has to be that the play-calling will be better and smoother. I’d personally recommend playing more spread-out shotgun looks.
I still think that San Francisco is going to win the NFC West, because they have the best 53 men in the division. What they need, more than anything, is for Michael Crabtree to get it in gear, and start separating downfield. Alex Smith has been criticized for checking down a lot, but it’s not because he wants to. Defenses are bracketing Vernon Davis, and the 49ers’ outside WRs aren’t getting any separation to get them out of it. Crabtree has more ability than he’s shown yet, so you wonder what’s going on with him.
3. The Chiefs are 3-0, and I’m slightly impressed, but not fully on the bandwagon. What I will say is that they clearly hit on a lot of draft picks this year, and they’re a lot better than they were in 2009. You have to throw the ball on the Chiefs, because they’re really stacking the box. In throwing, it’s best to stay away from CB Brandon Flowers, unless you clearly have him beat. You also need to block Tamba Hali on the edge. Beyond that, it’s really doable.
In defending the Chiefs, it begins and ends with the RBs and TE. I’d be playing the Chiefs with 8 in the box all the time, and covering them man-to-man. When Dexter McCluster is on the field, I’d treat him as a WR, and bring in an extra CB to cover him, but still have him in the box. Rookie TE Tony Moeaki looks like a good player, but he’s mostly been beating zone. I’d like to see what he can do against tight man-to-man.
Finally, Matt Cassel’s numbers came out okay Sunday, but he doesn’t pass my eyeball test. He’s late with a lot of throws, and his accuracy is often not good. I think Charlie Weis is a good NFL coordinator, and he’ll help, but Cassel can definitely be forced into making big mistakes, and sometimes, he’ll just make them on his own.
4. Jay Cutler was the same old Jay Cutler Monday night. His talent shone brightly, and so did his penchant for making mistakes. He threw about 5 passes that should have been interceptions, but was rescued by a drop, and a bunch of penalties. Make no mistake, the Bears should be 1-2 right now, not 3-0. Calvin Johnson and the whole Packers team gave them two games they shouldn’t win. I don’t still think they’re going to finish 4-12, and their run defense is better than I thought, but I had the offense exactly right. They’re going to complete some passes, to both teams, and they’re going to get Cutler smashed. I don’t think the Bears are going to make the playoffs, when it’s all said and done. The way they’re winning is simply not sustainable.
5. Marshawn Lynch continues to be the best RB on the Bills, and that’s not going to change. He’s a little more talented than CJ Spiller, and a lot more talented than Fred Jackson. When Lynch is given carries, and he’s physically right, he’s very hard to stop. I expect that his days are numbered in Buffalo, and that he’ll eventually move to a more favorable environment and thrive. The Packers should trade a third rounder for Lynch right now, but they won’t, because it’s not Ted Thompson’s way.
6. And then there’s Peyton Hillis. I’ve always liked the player, going back to his Arkansas days. He’s very unique in that he’s a FB-sized guy with a HB skill-set. He’s a very good runner and receiver, but a below-average blocker. He’s also a bit of a fumbler. Broncos fans know all this, and many still have man-crushes on him. I get all that. Hillis is definitely a guy who can play in the NFL, and be productive. Anybody who makes that point is making a good, solid point.
The counterpoint is that he didn’t really fit the Josh McDaniels scheme in Denver. McDaniels wants speed and versatility in his backs. Hillis really has neither, because you can’t count on him to block well. He needs the ball in his hands to be effective, and that’s not the case with Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter. Sometimes a guy with valuable skills doesn’t fit what your outfit is trying to do. I work for a learning outsourcing business, and we’re not actively seeking to employ any plumbers, attorneys, or chemical engineers. That’s not to say that people in those professions are valueless, not at all; it’s just that their value propositions lie elsewhere than our need area. Such was the story with Hillis in Denver.
When the McDaniels-Xanders regime started pruning their semi-rotten tree in early 2009, they were effectively saying that a lot of the jettisoned players couldn’t play in the NFL. It was true, as more than 30 of them never did again. Now that the Broncos don’t employ any bad players, when they let a solid one go for whatever reason, it’s not analogous to saying the guy can’t play. They often catch on elsewhere, have success, and Broncos fans can wish them well in their future endeavors. Such IS the story with Hillis in Cleveland. I’m here, so I know.
So, in Denver there’s this local TV sports reporter named Josina Anderson. Ordinarily, I’d have no idea who the local hacks are, be it here in Cleveland, or there in Denver. Anderson seems to do a good job with maintaining relationships with the local athletes, and often has good Broncos scoops, so I follow her on Twitter. Tonight, she was seemingly the first to report the Earth-shattering news that Karl Paymah had signed with the Texans.
Anderson tweeted the following on Sunday:
Wow… what could she be shaking her head about? Isn’t the whole fit thing pretty easy to understand. Didn’t Josina, who’s a good looking woman whose Twitter page says that she’s signed to the Wilhelmina modeling agency, ever not want to date a guy that one of her lesser friends liked? When the guy turned out to be a decent husband for her friend, was she filled with regret for passing on him?
I responded to her head shaking:
That makes sense, right? One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, or beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or whatever other cliche you want to use. I mean, I figure Josina knows who I am from my Mile High Report days, and that I’m an independent sort of football thinker, saying what I think. (She probably hates me, like all reporters seem to, but that’s cool. I pretty much ask for it.)
Josina thinks I was making her point for her, when in fact, I was making the opposite point. And since when do legitimate reporters call the team they cover “us?” And why would I follow her thinking about football? Is she suddenly a football thinker? I mean this in a totally non-sexist way, but Josina has never had a football thought that I’ve even noticed before. She’s a player-texter, and news reporter. That’s HER value proposition, and she seems to do well with it. I’m not saying that she’s incapable of having a good football thought, but I’m not holding my breath.
Like my friend Doug Lee at IAOFM, I get annoyed with the whole hindsight phenomenon around Hillis. To me, players and coaches come and go, but the team is forever. That’s true from John Elway down to a (highly over-loved) guy (who never plays a regular season snap) like Carlton Powell. Hillis had some good moments with the Broncos, and some forgettable ones, but in the end, he and the team parted ways. Second-guessing that does no good, and I refuse to do it. Jay Cutler made some good throws Monday night, and Brandon Marshall caught a few passes the night before. Tony Scheffler scored a TD on Sunday. I don’t want them back either. To me, the Broncos of 2010 are the Broncos, and I’m just fine with that.
I’m done for the night, friends. I’ll see you next time I have some time to write.
Originally posted at One Man Football