You Got Served - Welcome to the offseason

Happy Tuesday friends, and welcome to another kicking-it-old-school edition of You Got Served.  As Doug lamented Sunday, we’re now into the extended no-football period, of which this is my third as a blogger.  In the past two, this was the time to get really excited about soon-to-come free agency, and in a parallel sense, the draft evaluation activities such as the Combine and various Pro Days.  It’s been an exciting time, with lots to write about.

This year, of course, rosterbation feels a little strange.  Since we don’t know what’s going to happen on March 4th, we don’t know if this is going to be a boring time, or a really exciting one.  I tend to think that it will be exciting sooner rather than later, and I’m proceeding under that assumption.  In any case, we’re going to keep bringing it to you like room service here at the Fat Man.  While other sites fall off, we’re going to keep getting stronger.  Ready….. BEGIN!!

1.  Two weeks ago, I wrote the most focused article I’ve ever written about football, regarding the clear overvaluation of NFL franchises by Forbes - it’s been a gigantic success in the scheme of this site’s current footprint.  It’s been viewed about twice as many times as the next most-viewed article here so far in 2011, and yet, I feel like it’s just scratching the surface.  I’ve been sort of shamelessly trying to push it to finding critical mass, and really widespread (millions of people, rather than thousands) consumption, and while I’ve gotten some wide-platform people to read and compliment it, it hasn’t yet gotten the push I’m looking for.  (For the record, I almost never push my work anywhere once it's done, but this seems different.  It's like I want to be seen in my Sunday best.)

One of the people I’ve tried to push it to is Liz Mullen, from Sports Business Journal, and she hasn’t bitten yet.  (I’m going to keep trying, and she’ll be getting a tweet when this goes live on Tuesday afternoon.)  I like Liz’s work, and among the journalist wing of people covering the CBA negotiations, I think she’s doing the best job.  She took exception to a tweet from Bay Area-based dork/reporter Ray Ratto over the weekend, and I found the exchange interesting.

Mullen

It seems that Liz is really taking some heat for her reporting, because she reacted very differently than Ratto seemed to mean for her to.  He apologized, and said he was joking, and Liz accepted his apology.  (In his defense, it’s exactly the kind of trouble I get myself into.)  The point, though, is that Liz is treading on ground that’s pissing people off in the NFL, and she’s pretty clearly been feeling some intimidation from them, and from other “journalists” who’ve been avoiding doing any real reporting, presumably, as not to endanger their sources.

I’ve been seeking heat, and I can’t seem to find much of it.  Maybe it’s because I’m such a nice guy, I can’t get over as a heel, like dudes in the WWE.  I’m not done trying though, because I’m right, and it’s important that people come to understand this situation, in terms of reality.  (Yes, people in the George W. Bush administration would roll their eyes at me, and say I’m in the Reality-Based Community, and mean it negatively.  Whatevs… it works for me.)

I’ve decided to shop a somewhat de-blogified version of the story, freelance-style, to a major media outlet, because I believe that the story badly needs to be told on a wide scale.  I’m also frankly a fairly high-ego guy, like any good writer, and I want to elevate my own profile, and that of this site.  Every Broncos fan in the world should be making this site their first stop, because we’re doing the best damn thang here, every day.  There’s presently a major inefficiency in the marketplace of football ideas, where the Denver Post and other Broncos-focused sites have more readers than we do, despite having (often much) lesser content.  I aim to correct that inefficiency directly.

As for where to take my article, I initially thought that SBJ might be interested in working with me on developing this angle, since they compete in some way with Forbes, but I got no response from either Liz or Daniel Kaplan on Twitter.  I got to thinking that I can understand if they don’t want to piss off the NFL as much as I’m itching to, especially if Liz is getting flak for just reporting on readily-available events which are going on day to day.  I mean, she’s reporting that their rookie wage scale is a screwjob for the players (in its current state, it is), and that it’s not a slam dunk.  That’s really innocuous compared to me saying that the value of the 32 teams is only about one-third of what the NFL claims it is, via their auxiliary marketing arm at Forbes.  There’s only $20 billion (of imaginary money) at stake in my case.

I’m thinking, actually, that the way to go is with a non-football publication, which can afford to offend the NFL, and might in fact benefit from it.  I have a few of them in mind, which I’m going to keep to myself for the moment.  My only requirements are that the publication I go with doesn’t dilute the key overvaluation idea, and that it allows me to promote this site.  I plan to start selling this week, and I’ll let you all know how it goes.

2.  As for the current state of the CBA negotiation, I’m not the least bit worried yet.  The playbook is being run, and all the posturing, and walking away from the table, and even the NFL’s pathetic complaint to the National Labor Relations Board are all in the game

I still maintain that both sides know where the sweet spot generally is, and that it will eventually be found, before any games are missed.  The NFL is playing a very hardline game right now, but when the NLRB almost certainly finds that the NFL’s complaint against the NFLPA is wholly without merit, the NFLPA’s sincere threat of decertification will force the NFL to get a lot more reasonable with their demands, and we’ll be in business.

Many haven’t seemed to remember this, but back in 2006, the start of the league year was delayed for a week, but no lockout was declared.  That was because both sides felt that an agreement was close at hand as the deadline approached.  I think there’s a fairly strong possibility that we see a similar coming-together as we approach March 4th, and that a deal gets done right around that deadline. 

Both sides are going to have to realize that they can only get what they can get, and that prolonging the negotiation would be utterly foolish.  For one thing, the NBA is about to go through a lockout this summer, and it promises to be worse than the NFL’s negotiation.  (The NBA is asking for salary rollbacks of around 33%, which would be more than the NHL took 5 years ago.)  The NFL would be blowing a huge opportunity to continue to cast itself as the league which most has its act together. 

Also, the way that these events are covered has fundamentally changed over the last few years, and neither side wants what is ahead of them, if they decide to be obstinate over the long term.  In 2006, there was no Twitter, and even Facebook was at a low-adoption point.  Only true-believing people wrote or read blogs.  Back then, everybody got their news from credulous professional football writers like Peter King, who don’t completely toe the company line, but mostly do.  Now, there are a lot of respected and uncontrolled voices, and through the magic of things like Twitter and the Daily Lard, they’re much more accessible.  Trust me, every day that goes by without an agreement after March 4th is going to ratchet up the pressure on both sides, and it will quickly get to be unsustainable.

3.  My Twitter follower Bryce Schray asked me for an evaluation of Robert Ayers the other day, because he’s been perceiving a lot of hate toward Ayers, with people even saying that Ayers has been a bust.  I’m happy to oblige, because I’ve watched Ayers closely for two years now, so I feel very confident in what I am going to say.

Ayers has not been a bust at all.  He has done exactly what he was hired to do, which is to set the edge in the running game, and to generate some pressure in passing situations, as a strongside DE/OLB.  The key point with him has always been what he does in the running game, though, and he’s been outstanding in that area.

Now, I understand why people who haven’t studied his play say that he’s a bust.  The metric that they’re measuring him on is sacks, and Ayers only has 1.5 in his NFL career.  The average NFL writer doesn’t know how to evaluate Ayers with their eyes, so they rely only upon statistics.  Remember, though, that Ayers only had 8 sacks in four years at Tennessee, and that he was only a starter for his senior season. 

He did lead the SEC in tackles for loss that season, though, and that profiled well for the role he was drafted to play.  I’ve always thought that Ayers is a natural Left Defensive End in an even front, and I think he’s going to find a lot of success at that position in 2011, if he’s able to stay healthy.  He plays with outstanding leverage and lower-body strength, and by having a shorter distance to travel in getting into the offensive lineman’s body, he’ll be able to dominate even more on the edge. 

Believe me - the job that Ayers did last season was thankless and went unnoticed by most, but he did it very well.  Offenses did not often get his edge when they ran the ball.  I thought Mario Haggan had an outstanding season in 2009, but Ayers was even better in 2010.  Jeff Legwold says Ayers is a run-down only player, but he leaves out the part about how excellent he is as a run-defender, and the tone seems to imply that being better against the run than the pass right now means that Ayers is valueless.

As a pass rusher, Ayers is a work in progress, but he improved a lot in his second season, and he got more pressure than his numbers showed.  Offenses focused on Ayers, because the Broncos utterly lacked anybody else who could get pressure, unless it was a blitz.  I don’t think that Ayers is likely to ever be a double-digit sack guy, but I think he’ll always be dominant against the run, and that he’ll get to being a 7-8 sack guy while playing opposite Elvis Dumervil.  That’s not a bust, when you realize that that’s exactly what Ayers projected as, coming out of college.

4.  There’s been a lot of hand-wringing going on lately about Mario Williams, and how he’ll fit into Wade Phillips’ defensive scheme.  I’ve been meaning to write about this topic, and I just haven’t really gotten to it, until today. 

First thing, remember that a Phillips 3-4 is very different than a Fairbanks-Bullough 3-4.  In the Fairbanks version, the linemen are asked to occupy blockers, and position themselves to each be able to play two gaps in the running game.  That’s why it’s often referred to as a two-gap scheme.  For this reason, a lot of times, the DEs will line in a 4-technique alignment, meaning head-up on the Tackle (or as some say, on the Tackle’s inside shoulder, but when my inside shoulder is aligned on your inside shoulder, we’re pretty much head-up.)  The DE will engage the Tackle, and hand-fight himself free enough to be able to move into either the B or C gap.

In the Phillips version, the linemen are mostly one-gapping, which means that they’re each trying to penetrate a specific gap.  There are only 3 linemen, but they almost always line up in odd-numbered techniques, meaning directly in gaps.  They play like 40-front linemen, in that they’d rather get past an offensive lineman than they would engage him.

What I am getting at is that Williams has been a 40-front guy his whole career, and he’s been outstanding in that role.  Now, he’s being asked to switch to a Phillips 30-front, which isn’t really all that different.  Williams will still mostly align as a Right DE in a 5-technique, and he’ll still play going forward into one gap, against a Left Tackle. 

The problem, to Williams, is that 30-front DEs generally tend to have fewer sacks, and most of the football cognoscenti (LOL) measure a DE’s performance on sacks alone.  Williams wants to get paid, and he probably wants to make the Hall of Fame someday, and if the media people only know what a stat sheet tells them, his chances could be hurt.

Divorce yourself from the notion that DEs who don’t get as many sacks aren’t good players.  The question I always ask when I watch games is "Who won each battle?"  Regardless of what you ask Mario Williams to do, he’s going to win many more of his battles than he loses.  He may not want to be double-teamed more, but drawing a double-team is part of good team defense, and it opens his teammates up to make plays. 

I think Williams is still going to be a double-digit sacker, and especially if Houston can find another competent pass-rusher, they’re going to be a lot better on defense for this switch.  Remember, Bruce Smith and Patrick Kerney got a lot of sacks playing DE for Phillips.  Guys with pass rush skills are still going to get to the QB in his defense. 

Ordinarily, I’d frown on a coach whose seat is getting warm hiring a new coordinator that’s changing a whole scheme, but remember, Phillips isn’t teaching new techniques, he’s mostly just teaching new alignments.  It’s still an aggressive one-gapping scheme, and the players on hand (half of whom do need to be replaced) will all be familiar with the tasks they’re asked to perform.

5.  I was thrilled this week to see the brouhaha between Jason Whitlock and Len Pasquarelli regarding the terrible Hall of Fame election process.  You all know that I think that reporters shouldn’t vote for awards, and therefore, that all awards voted on by reporters are inherently less than fully legitimate.  You may not know that I have strong opinions on both Whitlock and Pasquarelli too.

Whitlock is smart, and honest, and as fearless as sports reporters get.  He gets off on racial tangents a little too often, and occasionally they’re a bit gratuitous/misguided, but he’s usually right on with his commentary, about both sports and society.  You know he’s got it working when just about everybody disagrees with him sometimes, but nobody really does all the time.

Pasquarelli is a repulsive Don Vito-looking hack, who knows nothing about football, beyond the surface level.  He’s never had a useful original thought, and mostly, his ESPN.com columns have been about some “trend” that the research department picked up on, followed by a bunch of anonymous axe-grinding commentary.  His sources are known to almost exclusively be agents, who, of course, are advancing agendas with every breath they take.  If any single person ever made me not want to be a reporter who relied upon “sources”, it was the awful Len Pasquarelli.

Anyway, I loved Whitlock’s FOXsports.com article, in which he ripped the Hall of Fame selection process.  FOX Sports is mostly an awful site, and Whitlock is the only guy I really read there, and that article is a gem.  He got it right, and he called out a lot of craptastic reporters for not knowing anything about football.  He’s 100% right, and it was almost as if he’s been reading me for years.  (He hasn’t; he’s another relatively fearless reporter who I’ve tried to push my overvaluation piece on.)

I don’t exactly agree with Whitlock’s solution, and I’m not as gung-ho on Willie Roaf as a first-ballot Hall of Famer as he is, but the key point, he absolutely knocked out of the park. 

Dent has been romanticized by people who think the HOF is a place for fairy-tale storytelling.

Yes, that’s absolutely right.  And then there was the irrelevant Pasquarelli calling Whitlock (his former colleague at ESPN.com) an idiot.  Len either got canned, or marginalized so much that he quit ESPN.com last year.  (It’s not really clear.)  He’s now a refugee at TheSportsXchange.com.  (Yes, I said he’s a refugee.  Look at that site; it’s evidently a second-rate, sports-focused version of the AP, and his crap appears sometimes on the crappy websites of both FOX and CBS.)

Pasquarelli has never had a useful football thought, as I mentioned, and he has no business deciding who should or shouldn’t make the Hall of Fame, especially given his long history of axe-grinding and shilling for certain agents.  While we’re at it, Peter King shouldn’t be there either, but at least his self-defense was quasi-reasonable, and calm, although he did basically invent a racism allegation against himself and Rick Gosselin.  His whole theme that things will never be perfect so we should just leave them alone is kind of silly, though.

Whitlock hit the nail on the head and called out a bad system, and people who get a lot of their personal cachet from that system were very upset.  To me, that’s a fantastic day in football writing

6.  I’m running out of time/energy, it’s midnight, and I still have to study for a test Tuesday night, so I’m going to end here with some Raiders-related hackery, Pork Chop style.  I noticed late in the day that Rod Woodson was hired as CB coach for the Raiders, and I was interested because, for one thing, how many teams have CB coaches?  With as much man-to-man as Al Davis likes to play (and make no mistake, he dictates the defensive scheme, and always has), I suppose it makes sense to have a specialist in the role.

After I read the article on ESPN.com, I saw that Mr. Chop had published a “blog” post with this bit of brilliance:

If being a good NFL player translates to becoming a good NFL coach, Hue Jackson's first Oakland Raiders staff could be a strong one. 

Has being a good player ever necessarily translated to being a good coach in any sport?  There’s some shared knowledge between the two jobs, but they’re very different in the final analysis.  It’s sort of like how some subpar mothers become excellent grandmothers.  There’s overlap, but in the end, we’re talking about different skill-sets, and different job requirements.

The outstanding Denver Post-trained (according to loser/DP editor Greg Moore) Pork Chop (who actually “covered” three other teams before the Broncos) puts out a hypothetical non-sequitur, and it’s hard to figure out what he and his ilk are trying to accomplish by doing that.  There’s no opinion or insight being provided, just a stupid if statement.  I have sometimes wondered if ESPN is nefariously trying to discredit real bloggers by calling their crew “bloggers”, and giving (most of) them ample room to suck, and to add no value.  That’s food for thought, which is another non-sequitur.  Thinking and eating are entirely separate functions, after all, so that expression doesn’t make sense.

I’d better stop.  Have a great Tuesday, friends, and hit me up in the comments if you have any questions or concerns.  Also, check me out on Twitter.

1.  I’m not in the arguing business, I’m in the saying what I think business.
2.  I get my information from my eyes.

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