Brandon Marshall won’t cheer for Packers even though Bears need them to win
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.
Blessed Are The Geeks ...
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.
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.
Film Room: Vikings-Packers
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.
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.
Broncos coach John Fox not concerned with what oddsmakers say
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.
Veterans like Peyton Manning, Elvis Dumervil keep Broncos in check
Make no mistake: Manning casts a long shadow in the locker room. He’s a future Hall of Famer, one of the most accomplished players in the league’s history, and he plays the most important position on any NFL team chasing trophies — quarterback. He also is a vocal presence in how the team runs its offense on gameday and prepares through the week.
But other players, as well as the coaches, also say he is the hardest worker and the most prepared player on the field each week. When he demands a lot from others, he already has made those demands on himself.
I have to admit - earlier during his career, I thought Manning was vastly overrated - that he was a selfish, overly demonstrative team sport athlete - a modern Dan Marino, or football's Alex Rodriguez.
But having paid him much closer attention over the past several years, and now, watched his every play with Denver, and seen how he interacts with his teammates, it's more than apparent that Peyton is worthy of the intense praise he receives.
Black Monday Primer: Definitive guide to 2013 coaching carousel
If Jacksonville swung for the fences and missed, Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy is a young head coaching candidate who has generated strong reviews for his work the past two seasons with both Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning…Denver’s McCoy, Atlanta offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter or Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell might make the radar screen in Philly.
There’s also a chance New England gets proactive in an attempt to keep McDaniels around as an eventual replacement for head coach Bill Belichick, a move the Kraft family could dangle as enticement to stay put. Some sources say McDaniels’ interest in the Browns has been overstated in the media, because he feels he already has the best assistant coaching job in the NFL, working with Tom Brady and Belichick, and knows continued success will bring other head coaching opportunities…Colts interim head coach Bruce Arians and the Patriots’ McDaniels are two names mentioned in connection with the Chargers job, and both make sense from the standpoint that job No. 1 in San Diego this offseason is to revive quarterback Philip Rivers’ flagging fortunes.
A few thoughts:
Tebow deserves respect, not scorn, for sticking up for himself
Even so, the Broncos wanted no part of Tebow as their long-term quarterback, and that’s fine. You don’t see me ripping the Broncos for that. They didn’t want Tebow, so they acquired Peyton Manning and put Tebow on the trading block.
The Jets and Jaguars made offers, and the Broncos did the classiest thing imaginable—they left it up to Tebow. They told him the Jets wanted him, and the Jaguars wanted him, and that he could choose. So Tebow chose the Jets.
Most of this piece is spent defending the Ultimate Teammate's™ refusal to play in the Wildcat (It's bullshit, of course. If Cam Newton had pulled the same thing, white America would be petitioning Roger Goodell to give Newton a lifetime ban), but the Broncos (as they always do) somehow got pulled into the matter.
In this case, Gregg Doyel thought the Broncos were classy. That might very well be the case, but I would have preferred they had cut a deal with the Jaguars. Draft picks are draft picks, and although they are generally like a roll of the dice, the Broncos restricted--if even by a little--the available pool of picks by cutting a deal with the Jets.
(Note to the UT™ Zombies who continue to email us that we spend too much time writing about Tebow. The more you curse and whine and complain, the more we'll continue giving you what you want but say you don't: more coverage of the Ultimate Teammate™)
The Drive hour 3 12/21/12
“The first drive, I caught a ball on the sideline…it was an eight- or nine-yard completion. I was down by contact. He decided to give me that extra shove, and then he walked over me. And you know, as a player, it’s the ultimate disrespect if you’re going to want to do that…I did take it personal. And it takes a lot for me to get really fired up, but again, you’ve got to control your emotions—not responding back physically as far as throwing a punch or doing something stupid—just proving it with your game.
I knew I was going to have a lot of one-one-one battles with him [Cary Williams] all day, so I just wanted to prove to him that I was the better person…and I got his number a bunch. It felt really good, especially at the end. I caught a ball on the sideline and was able to say something to coach Harbaugh and to him, and just kind of have fun with it…Harbaugh was complaining that I was pushing off all game, so I was like ‘come on, man, you’ve got to take this guy [Williams] out, you’re hurting his ego.’”
I'd been meaning to get this interview down for a few days. Last week, we noted how Eric Decker feasted on Ravens' Cary Williams like he was mashed potatoes. In this interview from December 21st, Decker confirms just that.
If the Ravens somehow find their way to Denver for a playoff game, our advice to Harbaugh is to be nicer to Eric Decker. You might not like him when he's angry. Oh, and play zone. It's possible you'll be in the game a wee bit longer.
Scouting next Chargers opponent: Raiders
Win or lose Sunday, the Raiders are assured a top-10 draft pick for the seventh time in 10 years. How many of those six top-10 draftees went on to Pro Bowl? Zero, a mini-trend within Oakland’s 10-season streak of no winning records or playoff berths
The Raiders invested top-10 picks in all-time bust JaMarcus Russell, the LSU quarterback taken first overall in 2007, and eighth-round choice Rolando McClain (’10, Alabama), a linebacker who sits the bench. McClain sat out two games this year for conduct detrimental to the team.
Overseeing the next draft will be general manager Reggie McKenzie, hired last year after working more than a decade in Green Bay’s front office.
There are some who believe that a strong Oakland Raiders makes for a better AFC West and a more compelling matchup for the Denver Broncos fans.
I beg to differ--a decade of watching "The Violator" look like he's been violated is pretty damn compelling to me.
Merry Xmas, Oakland. Here's hoping Santa brings you another first-round bust.