Prime Cuts

Slices of great NFL content from around the web

Rumor Mongering: Reid eyeing Chargers gig

Source: Reid has his sights set on San Diego
profootballtalk.nbcsports.com

The Los Angeles native wants to coach the Chargers, according to a league source.  Per the source, Reid is making his intentions known as he lines up a potential coaching staff — part of the “multi-level musical chairs” tournament unfolding throughout the league.

Reid rightfully catches a lot of heat for his game-day clock management, and for his role in Philly having committed megadollars to Michael Vick and Nnamdi Asomugha.

But don't forget that Reid's Eagles won seven NFCE titles during his 14-season tenure, had at least a .600 winning percentage in nine of those years, and made it to five conference title games, including four consecutively. Between 2000 and 2011 (omitting his first and last years), Reid coached the Eagles to a .634 winning percentage, which was bettered only by New England, Pittsburgh, and Indy.

Many Broncos fans understandably find humor in the idea of Josh McDaniels taking over for Norv Turner, but Reid? That would be no laughing matter.

Rumor Mongering: Mini Shanny or Son of Marty to the Chiefs?

Five NFL coaches most likely to get fired and their potential replacements
sports.yahoo.com

Kansas City Chiefs – Romeo Crennel deserves a medal for what he has been through this season, particularly the murder-suicide involving Jovan Belcher. Sadly, his work as head coach fell far short of acceptable.
Possible replacements – Bruce Arians, Jim Caldwell, Ray Horton (Cardinals defensive coordinator), Jay Gruden (Bengals offensive coordinator), Kyle Shanahan (Redskins offensive coordinator), Brian Schottenheimer (Rams offensive coordinator).

Jason Cole is hearing that Mike McCoy may be a candidate for the Buffalo gig, along with Mini Shanny. Although it would be strange for Kyle to end up coaching the Chiefs, it's nothing like the possibility we'd all pondered in 2009 of Mike himself jumping straight from Denver to KC. Wherever Mini Shanny ends up, if anywhere, one has to figure he'll bring Chris Simms (who's currently a New England assistant) along with him, what with their coordinated tattoos and all.

As for Son of Marty, how someone with an offensive resume like Brian could be in consideration for a head gig is beyond us. But, bring it on. John Elway would surely be happy to torture Marty's kid just like he did his dad.

Status updates for Holliday, Porter, Kuper, and McGahee

Broncos' Trindon Holliday doubtful
espn.go.com

Kick returner Trindon Holliday is doubtful for the Denver Broncos’ season finale against Kansas City because of a sprained ankle. The injury has sidelined him all week and prevented him from working on ways to cut down on fumbling.

Cornerback Tracy Porter (concussion) was ruled out for Sunday. He was injured last week just three snaps into his first game since Oct. 7. He had been sidelined after experiencing symptoms similar to those he had before a seizure during training camp. “That’s so unfortunate because he’s been waiting for this opportunity to get back in there. And I just hope he’s OK. I think he will be but only time will tell,” cornerback Champ Bailey said.

Right guard Chris Kuper is 50-50 for Sunday after participating on a limited basis for the second straight day. He’s been sidelined with a sprained left ankle and migraines.  Fox said he wasn’t worried about Kuper’s availability heading into the playoffs.  “He practiced for the first time yesterday and then today. I think he’s making good progress,” Fox said. “He’s been out for a little bit. We’re just going to make sure he’s ready to play football and we’ll make that decision day to day.”

Fox said he was pleased with the progress of running back Willis McGahee, who went on recallable IR after tearing the medial collateral ligament in his right knee Nov. 18 when he was tackled low by San Diego cornerback Quentin Jammer.

A few quick thoughts:

  • No big deal on Holliday.  That's why the Broncos have Jim Leonhard.  The bigger question is how Holliday will be mentally after a long layoff in the playoffs.
  • The loss of Porter won't change things much, since he's been out a lot of the year.  On a personal level, Porter has been the victim of some bizarre and unlucky breaks.
  • Kuper won't be 100% until he gets to the offseason, so if the big guy can go, let him go.
  • McGahee will gain three yards on third down no matter what if he's available for the AFC Championship
  • I've never liked Quentin Jammer anyway, now I hate him even more.

Cutler defenders can now add oldest excuse in the book

The Seahawks Now Have Two Victories Thanks To Bad Calls
kissingsuzykolber.uproxx.com

In the past three weeks, Seattle has certainly proven itself a team to be reckoned with as the postseason approaches. That said, without the benefit of some questionable officiating, the Seahawks would be entering Week 17 at 8-7, trailing both the Vikings and the Bears for a Wild Card berth, rather than already having clinched.

It’s somewhat petty that a member of the Bears organization leaked to the media what is supposed to be a confidential communication between the team and the league just because it vindicated the Bears’ gripes. So it’s safe to assume Jay Cutler loves it.

This KSK piece is a better repackage of the original Chicago Tribune story that basically lets us know that the league regularly has confidential communications with teams about disputed calls; further, that the league admits when they're wrong.  In this case, the Bears wanted their fans to know they got screwed as a pre-emptive strike in case they don't make the playoffs.

Does anyone think the Seahawks would not beat the Bears right now?  Additionally, there are calls that have probably gone the other way to balance the scales. 

And if not, it's Jay Cutler, and we're cool with it.

Incentives are rare reason to care about Pro Bowl snubs

Champ Bailey, Julius Peppers top list of NFL Pro Bowl bonuses
sports.yahoo.com

As noted on Thursday by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, some of the 84 players selected for the AFC and NFC Pro Bowl rosters earlier this week earned financial incentives by being “Original Ballot” selections for the annual All-Star game in Hawaii.

Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey earned an additional $250,000 in his contract when he was named to his 12th Pro Bowl.

All week, we've been downplaying the importance of the Pro Bowl and whether certain Broncos got snubbed, since the selection process is so heavily flawed.

But when a player like Demaryius Thomas or Wesley Woodyard misses out on a potential incentive, that's a different story. At the least, we can hope that Thomas's electric season has triggered statistical milestone-based incentives, and that Woodyard has some playing time escalators in his deal.

BMarsh: Hating the Packers > making the playoffs

Brandon Marshall won’t cheer for Packers even though Bears need them to win
larrybrownsports.com

The Chicago Bears may not control their own destiny to secure a playoff spot this weekend, but their formula is fairly simple. If the Bears defeat the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers beat the Minnesota Vikings, Chicago slides into one of two wild card spots.

“I’m not cheering for anybody but the Bears,” Marshall said Thursday according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. “Yeah, that’s how it is. We put ourselves in this position and right now it could be a good position. You never know how things will work out. But all we can do is beat Detroit and sit back and have a cup of coffee and see what happens at that afternoon game.”

We even have a specific roast picked out for Brandon's Packers/Vikings accompaniment - Fair Trade Certified™ Italian Roast - the sweetness of doing nothing, indeed.

The growing influence of stat geeks

Blessed Are The Geeks ...
sportsillustrated.cnn.com

There was a time, not so long ago, when teams were smarter than everyone else. A time when Football Men had all the answers—theirs was a game with as vast a knowledge gap between the insiders and the outsiders as any other sport. But this was before the Moneyball revolution changed baseball and began to seep into other sports; before the rise of fans who began to rethink the conventional wisdom; before those fans began tracking every play with such high levels of precision that teams began asking them for data. This was before Burke sat down in front of his laptop four years ago, in a hotel room in Karachi, Pakistan, and attacked the fourth-down conundrum to create what would become a New Age blueprint for winning games.

On the surface Burke couldn’t have been a more unlikely creator of one of the biggest innovations in football statistics. A Navy pilot turned weapons and tactics expert for a military contractor, he’d only recently heard of the godfather of sports analytics, Bill James. But he was an obsessive football fan who knew the power of numbers; in combat in Iraq between the Gulf Wars he’d put his life in the hands of analytical techniques and probabilistic calculations and come out alive. Holed up in a hotel during a three-week work trip to Pakistan in September 2008 (“We could never leave the hotel [out of danger],” he says; “I had a lot of free time”), Burke hit on the idea of building a statistical model that would yield the odds of a team’s winning a game in every on-field situation—every down-and-distance from every position on the field, for every point margin. Win Probability would tell a team what it should do based on the numbers, a data set that has since grown to more than 3,000 actual games.

Nothing gets passions going more (outside of Tim Tebow) than the stats-geeks-vs-the-world debate.  Raheem Morris famously quipped, "Stats are for losers," and then proceeded to get fired.  Others like Bill Belichick have fully embraced them.  You may even remember during Josh McDaniels's brief tenure, he gave a very statistically-based answer as to why he always deferred the opening kickoff--studies had shown that there was a slight edge to be gained in number of possessions.  Of course, like Morris, he too was fired.

So who's right?  No matter where you come down on the debate, you'll probably find this SI piece interesting.  It reads part history, part statistics, and part biography of the guys who decided to make football statistics part of their very core.

Personally, and I know I'm not alone here at IAOFM, when given the chance to combine the tape with advanced metrics like Burke's, we try and take it (and believe me, I love running regressions as much as the next stat geek).  This was really brought home to us last year after watching how often Haloti Ngata dominated his opponents with god-like swim moves in order to hammer a runner in the backfield.  Since there's no-beaten-by-swim-move stat, the individual performance would be logged to the running back (and his average yards per carry).

One thing's for certain, though: the debate over advanced NFL statistics will continue to rage in an NFL city near you.

But what about Brock Osweiler?

The future is already here: How the Pistol Offense is changing the NFL
www.sbnation.com

And it’s not all about running. The other reason – maybe the major reason – the NFL is now catching on is that they now see the effect these schemes can have on passing. When the quarterback is a threat to run, defenses must stack the line of scrimmage, opening up passing lanes and one-on-one matchups for wide receivers outside. “You do read-option, read-option, read-option and then get them to play seven or eight in the box and you’ve got so many variations of plays and passes you can run off that,” Cam Newton said recently [source]. Indeed, Mike Shanahan thinks that play-action which fakes a zone-read, whether from the pistol or other shotgun sets, is actually better than traditional under-center play-action because of the increased influence it has on linebackers and safeties looking for the run. “Not a little bit more,” said Shanahan. “A lot more.” [source]

There was, however, one more argument against these ideas ever taking hold in the NFL; Griffin was injured and didn’t finish the Baltimore game referenced above (though his injury came on a scramble on a pass play, not a zone read). Critics argue that these attacks create an increased risk of injury to quarterbacks. That is a real concern, and if anything can short circuit these changes to the NFL game, it is this.

I don’t have a firm rebuttal, and to my knowledge there have been no comprehensive studies done at any level of football that measures the risk to quarterbacks in the concepts, so we’re left with anecdotes to judge by. Yet even if it is true – no, especially if it is true – the issue is not really about these spread concepts at all. All quarterbacks – and all NFL players, really – are constantly at risk of gruesome injury. Pocket passers like Carson Palmer, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have missed entire seasons because of injuries sustained while standing in the pocket, and quarterbacks are constantly hit while or just after releasing the ball, a far more vulnerable position than being hit while sliding following a 5-yard gain behind a lead blocker. If the argument is that the scheme is too dangerous to risk injury to Robert Griffin III, then the real argument isn’t to abolish these offenses, it’s to abolish football. That’s another discussion, but if that’s the actual concern then we have much bigger problems than the Pistol Zone Bluff.

Doug and I had an interesting discussion today after reading this excellent story.  Where does Brock Osweiler fit into this, post-Brady, post-Manning future?  Although Osweiler ran the pistol extensively in college and he's pretty mobile for a guy 6-8, he's not on the same level when it comes to running the football as, say Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, RG3, Cam Newton, or even our guilty little pleasure, Tim Tebow.  Or will the next great pocket passer (Andrew Luck perhaps) always trump the others?  Will there ever be another great pocket passer in the traditional sense?

Stay tuned. The next few years should determine the answer.  As Brown notes in the story, if Griffin and the rest prove durable, change is here to stay.

Keen Wolfe

Film Room: Vikings-Packers
www.footballoutsiders.com

Chunk plays are tough to come by against Denver. Not only is Denver’s linebacker corps fast and strong, but the defensive line might be the best in the league at holding ground against double teams. Derek Wolfe and Justin Bannan are terrific anchors near the B- and C-gaps. Further inside, Kevin Vickerson amplifies his 300-pound strength with very good initial quickness. The Chiefs have a lot of size up front, but don’t be surprised if they struggle getting movement in the ground game this week.

It seems as if it's not just Doc, TJ, and Ted who think that Derek Wolfe can play a little football.

Wolfe is under team control through the 2015 season. But Bannan, who will turn 34 next offseason, and Vickerson, who turns 30 on Jan. 8, will be unrestricted free agents after having accepted 2012 salaries that are fractions* of what they had originally agreed to with Denver.

Our thinking remains that the Broncos will use a high pick on a tackle come April; even if the team is happy with the performance of Bannan and Big Vick, it must account for the advancing age of the two players.

* Bannan's 2010 free-agent deal called for him to make $4M in salary and bonus this year, but he was cut last year and spent the season in St. Louis. Vickerson took a cut from $2.25M down to $1.2M.

Another way of viewing “We have to win the game on the field.”

Broncos coach John Fox not concerned with what oddsmakers say
blogs.denverpost.com

With his team preparing for the regular-season finale Sunday against Kansas City, Broncos coach John Fox discounted reports that Las Vegas oddsmakers have now made Denver (12-3) the favorite to win the Super Bowl.

“I grew up in San Diego,” Fox said. “And we went to the horse tracks a lot. There are a lot of favorites, and it doesn’t work out like that all the time. You have to earn this between the lines. (Being the favorite) won’t affect our attitude or mindset moving forward.”

Even if we knew for a fact that the Broncos were the best team in the NFL, that doesn't mean they'd actually win the Super Bowl. Why? Because the game is only played once, and the path to get there is a single-elimination tournament.

This is important to remember when looking at win probability data like that provided by Brian Burke. If his figures say the Broncos are an 87% favorite this week against the Chiefs, that doesn't necessarily predict a blowout, nor does it mean Denver will definitely emerge victorious. Rather, it means that, in theory, if these two teams were to face off 100 times (more if we are looking at the law of large numbers), the Broncos would figure to win 87 times.

So, if an upset occurs, it's not necessarily that Burke's math is wrong - it's just that one of those 13 unlikely outcomes (of 100) has arisen.