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THE ARCHIVES (2010-Part 4)

2011 NFL Draft

Now that 2011 NFL Draft is in the books, QC takes a look at which teams are likely to grow as a result of the draft and which teams are not. QC is bullish on some teams' new ingredients; bearish on others. This is not to say that any player will succeed or fail or that any team had a "good" or "bad" draft. It is impossible to do so at this point because the draft is about ideas, not production. QC's analysis is simply a best guess as to which teams may win more games in 2011 (assuming there is a 2011) than they did in 2010 as the result of an improved combination of play design and player productivivity.


1. St. Louis Rams: St. Louis took a highly rational approach to improving itself. In 2010, the Rams biggest weakness was the passing game despite the arrival of Rookie of the Year QB Sam Bradford. St. Louis ranked 30th in QCYPA (5.844) and 10th in turnover margin (+5), which indicates that Bradford can manage risk and likely can improve returns in the passing game if given additional resources. The Rams brought in former Denver head coach Josh McDaniels as offensive coordinator and McDaniels knows how to design plays that generate passing game returns. In the draft, St. Louis loaded up on passig game ingredients with TE Lance Kendricks and WRs Austin Pettis and Greg Salas. If WRs Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton can return from injuries, the Rams should have a deep receiving corps. Finally, coach Steve Spagnuolo excels at designing pass pressure. St. Louis ranked 8th in the NFL in pass pressure in 2010 and first-round pick LB Robert Quinn should make that area even better.

2. Houston Texans: One year after replacing defensive coordinator Richard Smith with Frank Bush, the Texans pass defense fell from 15th in the NFL (6.710 D-QCYPA) to 31st (8.428 D-QCYPA). Houston's pass defense also was hampered by injuries to DEs Connor Barwin (who missed the year) and Mario Williams (who played hurt all year) and a suspension of LB Brian Cushing for 4 games. At first glance, the Texans decision to bring in former Dallas head coach Wade Phillips as defensive coordiator seems curious as the Cowboys' pass defense was the worst in the NFC (7.817 D-QCYPA). But Phillips knows how to pressure the passer and Dallas still ranked 10th in the NFL in putting heat on opposing QBs. The Texans draft provided additional resources for Phillips in DEs J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed. In addition, Houston loaded up with 3 DBs, including highly regarded Brandon Harris.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tampa Bay ranked dead last in pass pressure in 2010, so the first-round selection of ready-to-play DE Adrian Clayborn made great sense. The second-round selection of sliding DE Da'Quan Bowers could immediately fix this area if Bowers is 100% healthy.

4. Atlanta Falcons: Atlanta posted the best record in the NFC in 2010, but it did so by playing beta football that relied on the best turnover margin in the conference (+14). Despite the presence of QB Matt Ryan and WR Roddy White, the Falcons ranked only 22nd in the NFL in QCYPA (6.667). Atlanta's additions of WR Julio Jones and RB Jacquizz Rogers could help in those areas, although QC would have liked to see the Falcons add a young pass-catching TE as well. The real key will be whether offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and Ryan will use their new resources to achieve higher returns in the passing game. If they do, Atlanta's large payment for the right to move up and pick Jones will pay off. If not, he could turn into a wasted asset.

5. Green Bay Packers: Green Bay won the Super Bowl in 2010 despite suffering as many injuries as any team in the NFL. The Packers overcame those injuries because coach Mike McCarthy and QB Aaron Rogers continued to emerge as the best combination in the game. Keeping Rogers from injury is the most important task facing GM Ted Thompson, so the selection of T Derek Sherrod looks like a good one. Thompson also has an eye for quality TEs and he grabbed a pair late in the draft who might contribute (D.J. Williams of Arkansas in the 5th Round and Ryan Taylor of North Carolina in the 7th Round).

6. Buffalo Bills: The Bills loaded up on defense in the draft, despite the fact that QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is neither flashy nor overly productive. Buffalo's pass protection improved considerably from 2009 to 2010 and further improvement in this area can only help Fitzpatrick. The Bills' biggest problem in 2010 was turnovers where they ranked dead last (-17), including a ghastly -12 in the last 2 weeks of the season. An improved defense will help in that area too and Buffalo can continue its responsible approach to upgrading at QB.


1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jacksonville ranked 32nd in the NFL in D-QCYA (8.466), 31st in the NFL in turnover margin (-15) and 30th in the NFL in prass protection, so the decision to trade away draft picks to move up in the draft and reach for a QB could not have been more mystifying. The Jaguars waited until the 4th and 6th rounds to draft any DBs and only took a single offensive lineman.

2. Carolina Panthers: Quite simply, it is hard to imagine putting a first-pick in the draft QB in a more difficult situation than Cam Newtown now finds himself. Carolina ranked dead last in the NFL in QCYPA (4.915) and 31st in pass protection, but did not select any new offensive linemen to protect Newton until the 6th and 7th rounds of the draft. Moreover, the Panthers were receiver starved in 2010 and they did not draft a single pass catcher to help Newton. Even if Newton is a good player, it probably won't show in the record. Concededly, it was a tough year to hold the No. 1 pick in the draft. But given what Atlanta was willing to give up in picks to move up to No. 6 to get Julio Jones, it seems Carolina could have moved the pick as the Panthers simply are not ready to draft (and pay) a QB in the No. 1 slot, particularly one with as many questions as Newton.

3. Dallas Cowboys: Dallas' pass defense ranked 29th in the NFL (7.817) and its pass protection ranked 3rd, but on draft day the Cowboys loaded up on offense (including first-round tackle Tyron Smith) and chose only a single defensive back in the 5th Round. If owner Jerry Jones thought new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will solve the Cowboys' pass defense problems with play design, he may have wanted to consider that Ryan's team last year (Cleveland) ranked 27th in the NFL in pass defense (7.477 D-QCYPA). Unless Dallas receives a windfall of turnovers, the Cowboys look like they will have to outscore their opponents to improve their record in 2011.

4. Baltimore Ravens: Baltimore ranked 29th in the NFL in pass pressure in 2010 but waited until the 5th Round to draft a defensive lineman. The Ravens also ranked 27th in pass protection, but selected only a single offensive lineman. On offense, what QB Joe Flacco needs more than anything is a TE that can consistently threaten the middle of the field and open up the outside for Baltimore's WRs. But after loading up on TEs in 2010 who caught a combined 12 passes, Baltimore ignored the position even in the late rounds.

5. Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings ranked 28th in pass pressure and 20th in pass protection in the NFL in 2010, but did not start addressing their line needs until the 4th Round. To their credit, however, they did make multiple picks in both areas on the last day of the draft. Still, with so much need up front, selecting a QB (Christian Ponder) and a TE (Kyle Rudolph) when the latter position already was in pretty good shape seem like luxury purchases at the expense of solid, every-day nutrition.

6. Indianapolis Colts: With Peyton Manning at QB, the Colts were the least pressured team in the NFL. On the other side of the ball, Indy's pass pressure slipped to 24th in the NFL as 2010 first-round pick Jerry Holmes did not contribute a single sack and nearly all the pressure came from DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Nevertheless, the Colts loaded up on offensive line help and only selected a single defensive lineman. However, Bill Polian may have found a sleeper in 4th-Round RB Delone Carter.

(2010 Archives1; 2010 Archives2; 2010Archives3; 2010Archives4; Archives Home)


Would the NFL be any less competitive without the NFL Draft?

Commissioner Roger Goodell thinks so. In an opinion in the Wall Street Journal, Goodell charaterized the NFL players' lawsuit against the owners as an attack on the draft and claimed "a union victory threatens to overturn the carefully constructed system of competitive balance that makes NFL games and championship races so unpredictable and exciting."

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk agrees. Mr. Florio wrote:

"After the free agency system with restrictions and a salary cap took root in the mid-1990s, ending the Cowboys-and-49ers domination of the league, the NFL became much more competitive, much more compelling, much more interesting, and much more popular.

"Since 1996, 18 teams have rebounded in one offseason from the bottom to the top of their division: the 1996-97 Giants, the 1998-99 Rams, the 1998-99 Colts, the 1999-2000 Saints, the 2000-01 Patriots, the 2000-01 Bears, the 2002-03 Chiefs, the 2002-03 Panthers, the 2003-04 Chargers, the 2003-04 Falcons, the 2004-05 Buccaneers, the 2004-05 Bears, the 2005-06 Saints, the 2005-06 Eagles, the 2006-07 Buccaneers, the 2007-08 Dolphins, the 2008-09 Saints, and the 2009-10 Chiefs. Three of those teams won the Super Bowl, and a fourth (the 2003 Panthers) qualified for the title game. In the fourteen seasons prior to 1997, only five teams pulled off a worst-to-first one-year turnaround: the 1986-87 Colts, the 1987-88 Bengals, the 1990-91 Broncos, the 1991-92 Chargers, and the 1992-93 Lions.

"None won the Super Bowl. (As a reader pointed out, the 1988 Bengals made it there, and almost won.)

"So in the NFL competitive balance isn’t about the top of the league, but the bottom. Even if teams like the Redskins and Cowboys wouldn’t be able to buy annual championships given the unique dynamics of a 53-man locker room with 11 players on the field at all times, an NFL with no draft, no limits on free agency, and no salary cap would make it harder for bad teams to get better — and easier for good teams to stay among the elite. Though there may not be a franchise that wins four straight Super Bowls, there very well could be perennial losers like the Pirates, which would give rise to multiple apathetic fan bases that would, in time, diminish the game. "

However, Goodell's and Florio's claims do not stand up under scrutiny. Rather, the NFL's competitiveness and the ability of a team to rebound from worst to first almost always is attributable to: 1) turnovers; 2) coaching; 3) quarterback play. Here is a summary:

1) Turnovers: Of the 23 teams cited by Mr. Florio, every single one improved its turnover margin (usually dramatically) from the year it finished last in its division to the year it finished first. In the year the team finished last, on average the team was -5.7 in turnovers. In the next year when the same team finished first, on average the team was +8 in turnovers. That's a difference of almost 14 turnovers per year and that's a big difference. As QC's 9th Commandment states, turnovers are essentially random and certainly an improvement in turnover margin cannot be credited to the draft.

2) Coaching: Of the 23 teams cited by Mr. Florio, 7 changed their head coach between the year it finished last and the year it finished first. In addition, 4 other teams made significant coordinator or play design changes. The '88 Bengals let Dick LeBeau implement his zone blitz schemes (and Sam Wyche unveiled the no-huddle offense). The '99 Rams let Mike Martz turn loose "The Greatest Show on Turf." The '09 Saints let Gregg Williams run the defense. The '10 Chiefs let former Patriots' coordinators Charlie Weiss and Romeo Crennell run the offense and the defense, respectively. Obviously, the draft gets no credit for these coaching changes.

3) Quarterbacks: Of the 23 teams cited by Mr. Florio, 11 changed their primary quarterbacks. Mostly, these teams did not install a high draft pick, but rather turned the offense over to a player that any other team could have easily obtained had it wanted to do so, such as Stan Humphries ('92 Chargers), Kurt Warner ('99 Rams), Tom Brady ('01 Patriots), Kyle Orton ('05 Bears), Jeff Garcia ('07 Bucs) and Chad Pennington ('08 Dolphins). Only the '04 Falcons arguably went from worst to first on the arm (and legs) of a highly drafted QB (Michael Vick).

4) Of the 23 teams cited by Mr. Florio, only the '03 Chiefs did not have a signficant change in turnover margin, a major coaching change or a quarterback change in going from worst to first. However, Kansas City's 2003 first round draft pick, running back Larry Johnson, hardly got off the bench his rookie year (20-85-1 TD). Moreover, the Chiefs were not a typical last place team in '02 when they finished 8-8 and tied with San Diego and just 1 game behind second place Denver (9-7). Finally, projected that Kansas City should have won between 9 and 10 games in 2002 and should have won about 11 games in 2003. Thus, if the Chiefs improvement can be attributed to anything, it can be attributed to luck and there is no basis for suggesting that the draft was the reason they finished first after finishing last in '02.

The NFL draft is a day of pure possibility. As a result, the idea of what John Elway or Peyton Manning might be cannot be distinguished from the idea of JaMarcus Russell or Ryan Leaf might be. Because the NFL draft is about ideas about players and not really about players, it is a tremendous marketing tool for hyping the sport. And there is nothing wrong with that. Indeed, it is what makees the NFL draft "must-see TV" even though there is absolutely no live action at any time during the broadcast.

But, while the NFL might not be as enjoyable without the draft, there is little doubt that it would be just as competitive on the field even if 2011 turns out to be the last NFL draft.

(2010 Archives1; 2010 Archives2; 2010Archives3; 2010Archives4; Archives Home)

Would the NFL be less competitive without the NFL Draft? (Use Twitter or the headset to send TRUE or FALSE and your reasons to QuantCoach. Please let QC know if we may post your tweet/message on The Chalkboard.)

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Dear Commissioner Goodell:

You are blowing it.

The NFL's strategy that was designed prior to ownership's decision to opt-out of its collective-barganning agreement with the NFLPA is a smoldering hulk. It is expected that early next week an outsider (Judge Susan Nelson) will define your owners' relationship with its key suppliers (the players). No matter what this outsider decides, you have already lost because it is an outsider (not the Commissioner) who is making the decision.

Sometime after this outsider defines your owner's relationship with your key suppliers, another outsider (Judge David Doty) will re-define your owners' relationship with its key customers (the television networks). No matter what this outsider decides, you have already lost because it is an outsider (not the Commissioner) who is making the decision. If ever there was a time you should be burning the playbook and drawing up a new play on the sideline, it is right now. Really, there is not a moment to lose.

This is not about your legacy. Hell, this is about whether or not you get to keep your job.

The current ultra-successful condition of the NFL is due in large part to the ability of your predecessors to be the right men for their times. A brief review of their achievements may be helpful.

In 1944, when Bert Bell became Commissioner, gate receipts drove NFL revenues. Bell maintained control of those revenues by mastering the art of scheduling. In addition, Bell co-opted the most powerful outside threat to the NFL's autonomy, the All-American Football Conference, by facilitating a merger over the objections of the übertraditionalist, George Halas. Bell's creativity set the stage for the NFL to flourish in the airwaive era.

In 1959, after Bell's sudden death at Franklin Field, the then-unknown Pete Rozelle assumed the commissionership. Rozelle maintained control of the NFL's revenues by mastering the art of the television deal. Like Bell, he co-opted the most powerful outside threat to the NFL's autonomy, Lamar Hunt and the American Football League. But he also knew when to let go of the co-opt play and fight it out. When "Lamar Hunt wanna-be" Donald Trump and the "AFL wanna-be" United States Football League tried to force their way into the NFL in the 1980s, Rozelle (on the advice of Paul Tagliabue) went into the teeth of the NFL's tradition of compromise and prevailed in a "kill or be killed" showdown in the courtroom.

Tagliabue's spot-on recognition that Trump's antitrust case was a sham earned him a crystal sword from the owners and eventually the Commissioner's job as well. Like Rozelle, however, Tagliabue knew when to abandon a play notwithstandig past success with the play. Like Rozelle, Paul "The Conqureror" maintained control of the NFL's revenues (albeit not unilateral control) by quickly reverting to compromise and co-optation after a jury ruled in favor of the decertified players on antitrust grounds.

Today, you stand where Bell, Rozelle, and Tagliabue all once stood and your job today is exactly the same as their job was at those points in time: As much as possible, control the NFL's revenues. If a dramatic break with tradition is necesarry, so be it. Bell, Rozelle and Tabliabue all recognized as much and the rich return on their courage cannot be disputed.

The current threat to NFL control of its revenues is the court. But the court can only control the NFL revenues if someone brings those revenues to them. That someone is the players' lawyer, Jeff Kessler. Reportedly, according to Mr. Kessler, the price the NFL must pay for the return of control over its revenues is no draft and unlimitd free agency.

Take it. Take it today.

Kessler is bluffing. The last thing a union (whether labeled labor or trade), which is by its very nature an anticompetitive restriction on competition, should want is unrestricted competition. Dozens of NFL players recognized as much this week when they attemptd to bring in an alternative lawyer to represent their interests. You could not ever get a clearer sign that Kessler is bluffing than the action of these players.

After the last player is picked in the 2011 NFL Draft next week, walk up to the podium and thank everyone for attending the last draft in NFL history. Sure, the NFL Draft is fun for fans. But so is the NCAA's National Signing Day. There is no reason to think that an NFL Signing Day would be any less compelling television than a college signing day. Just let us know what day it will be. We will tune in.

Moreover, doing away with the draft (which only artificially increases the owners' costs) and permitting unlimited free agency willl not change the nature of NFL competition in the least. Success in the NFL is driven more by coaching and play design than it is by players and play-making. Do you really think that in a wide-open economic market free-spending Dan Snyder's Washington Redskins are suddenly going to dominate tight-fisted Bill Belchick's New England Patriots? That's preposterous. The Patriots, Steelers and Colts usually will be successful and the Bengals and Redskins usually will fail irrespective of ownership's relationship with its players because the former teams are better designed in terms of management and coaching than the latter teams. Random chance will provide the latter teams with enough occaional success (and the former teams with enough occasional failure) to keep things as interesting as ever. This is not baseball and never will be.

The time is now for dramatic change and you, as Commissioner, must lead that change.

Don't call Ochocinco.

Call Jeff Kessler's bluff.

(2010 Archives1; 2010 Archives2; 2010Archives3; 2010Archives4; Archives Home)

Is Roger Goodell doing a good job handling the NFL's labor situation? (Use Twitter or the headset to send TRUE or FALSE and your reasons to QuantCoach. Please let QC know if we may post your tweet/message on The Chalkboard.)

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Super Bowl Thoughts

Super Bowl 45 cofirmed the power of the combination of the costless defensive touchdown and superior offensive play design.

Like both the NFC Championship and the AFC Championship, the Green Bay offense and the Pittsburgh offense each produced 3 TDs, 3 PATs, and 1 field goal. But Packers safety Nick Collins returned an interception of a Ben Roethlisberger pass for a score and that was the mathematical difference in Green Bay's 31-25 victory. On that play, Packers defensive tackle Howard Green hit Roethlisberger's throwing arm as he attempted to pass.

"You have to be able to do something to try to disrupt the quarterback's rhythm," Green Bay's master defensive play designer, Dom Capers, told the New York Times before the game, "and if you can do that, it leads to being able to take the ball away. These games, if you've got a 60-play game, they come down to two, three, four plays and who makes those plays. The more you increase your opportunties to make those plays, the better your chances of winning."

The nerdy sounding priesthood's statistics made Capers look like Nostradamus. As the Cold Hard Football Facts noted after the game, teams that return an interception for a TD in the Super Bowl are now a perfect 11-0. Advanced NFL Stats pointed out in its analysis that Collins' pick-6 alone increased the probability that the Packers would win by 17% and that the Rashard Mendenhall fumble that Clay Matthews forced and Desmond Bishop recovered increased their probability 18%. Overall, the Packers made 5 of the 6 plays that most influenced the game according to Advanced NFL Stats.

The big plays that were not made by Green Bay's defense were made by its QB, Aaron Rogers, and wide receivers Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson. Following coach Mike McCarthy's design instructions to perfection, Rogers (8.154 QCYPA & 0 interceptions) decisively outplayed Roethlisberger (7.025 & 2 interceptions), whose statistics were better than they were in the AFC Championship against the Jets, but not nearly as well received. While Roethlisberger repeatedly tried to invent a play from scratch, Rogers simply repeatedly followed McCarthy's recipes and threw the ball downfield, on a string, to Jennings and Jordy.

To the media, the Packers Super Bowl triumph cemented Rogers status as an elite NFL quarterback and permanently transformed the team from Brett Favre's team to Rogers' team. But QC is sure that for McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson, this transformation occurred long ago on November 29, 2007. On that date, as a little known backup, Rogers took over for an injured and ineffective Favre (3.571 QCYPA & 2 interceptions) with Green Bay trailing Dallas, 27-10. Rogers rallied the Packers to within a field goal, before the Cowboys prevailed, 37-27. Not many people saw the game because only the NFL Network televised it (QC was in the TV audience), but the performance was all that McCarthy and Thompson needed to see and when Favre decided to skip training camp in 2008, McCarthy and Thompson decided to stick with Rogers even when Favre later changed his mind and sought to return to the Packers.

Can McCarthy, Rogers and friends repeat as Super Bowl champions? Green Bay was the second youngest team in the NFL in 2010 and also the second most injured. The fact that the Packers won the Super Bowl despite their relative lack of experience and good health suggests that actually they may have arrived a year ahead of schedule. More importantly, consistent with QC's 4th Commandment, McCarthy and Rogers are on the "same page," as McCarthy observed in his post-Super Bowl press conference.

As the chart below shows, there are no imposters on the list of coaches and quarterbacks who have won back-to-back Super Bowls. Every coach on this list is in the Hall of Fame or will be and the brain of all but one (Shannahan) is being preserved in QC's jar of critical football knowledge. Likewise, every QB on this list is in the Hall of Fame or will be as soon as he is eligible (Brady).

Super Bowl Champions (Years)



New England (2003-2004)

Bill Belichick

Tom Brady

Denver (1997-1998)

Mike Shanahan

John Elway

Dallas (1992-1993)

Jimmy Johnson

Troy Aikman

San Francisco (1988-1989)

Bill Walsh

Joe Montana

Pittsburgh (1978-1979)

Chuck Noll

Terry Bradshaw

Pittsburgh (1974-1975)

Chuck Noll

Terry Bradshaw

Miami (1972-1973)

Don Shula

Bob Griese

Green Bay (1966-1967)

Vince Lombardi

Bart Starr

Can McCarthy and Rogers join the list of back-to-back Super Bowl champions? Are they that good? As one sits here right now, the comparisons seem almost ridiculous. Mention McCarthy in the same breath as Lombardi and Walsh? Consider Rogers on par with Elway and Montana? Right now it sounds preposterous.

But the answer to these questions will be determined, largely, by McCarthy's designs, Rogers' execution of those designs, and turnovers and not by preconceived notions and public perception. Since Rogers took over as the starting quarterback in 2008, Green Bay is the only team in the NFL that has ranked in the Top 10 in both play design differential and turnover margin every year.

The essence of science is the ability to repeat an outcome. Thus, if the Packers repeat in as Super Bowl champions in 2011, McCarthy and Rogers will have earned their place on the list. After all, as Super Bowl 45 just proved, you can't argue with science.

(2010 Archives1; 2010 Archives2; 2010Archives3; Archives Home)

Will Green Bay repeat as Super Bowl Champions in 2011? (Use Twitter or the headset to send TRUE or FALSE and your reasons to QuantCoach. Please let QC know if we may post your tweet/message on The Chalkboard.)

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Super Bowl Preview

Green Bay (-2.5) vs. Pittsburgh

TURNOVER MARGIN: Green Bay 4th (+10); Pittsburgh 2nd (+17)

Just a tick over 1/1000th of a point.

That is all that separated Green Bay and Pittsburgh in play design (HA ) differential during the regular season. It is the slimmest margin between NFC and AFC champions in Super Bowl history.

How close is that? It is as close as the last time these two teams met. In Week 15 of the 2009 season, the Steelers prevailed, 37-36, when Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Wallace combined for a 19-yard TD pass on the last play of the game and Jeff Reed added the PAT after time expired. So it is not just the statistics of geeks bearing formulas that suggest this should be a close game.

But the geeks' stats loudly proclaim that this should be a whisker close Super Bowl. Green Bay's .0013 edge in play design differential is even less than the .0049 edge the New York Giants held over Buffalo in their nailbiting 20-19 win in Super Bowl 25. The Packers -2.5 point spread is the smallest in 28 years and only the fifth time the spread has been under a field goal. The nerdy sounding priesthood says Green Bay has a 50.5% chance to win and the predicted score is 22.6-to-22.

Further, QC's coaching statistics demonstrate that if you judge a team on both its produtivity and its ability to avoid turnovers, the Packers and Steelers are not only the best teams in the NFL, but also the most evenly matched. Here is how the teams rank compared to the other 30 NFL teams using QC's coaching statistics:


Green Bay NFL Rank

Pittsburgh NFL Rank

Play Design (HA) Differential



Player Productivity (HY) Differential









Pass Protection



Pass Pressure



Turnover Margin



So the final score has to be close, right? Not necessarily. As in any game between closely matched teams, a costless defensive touchdown could inflate the final margin or cost a better coached and more productive team a victory. In 5 of the last 9 Super Bowls, such a score has either provided the margin of victory or inflated the final margin of victory in what otherwise would have been a very close game. Both Green Bay and Pittsburgh scored costless defensive touchdowns in their conference championship games. However, in the 2009 game, both teams played turnover-free football, although replay review converted a devastating Roethlisberger lost fumble into a harmless incomplete pass and a defensive holding penalty negated a Roethlisberger interception on the final drive of the game.

If neither team subsidizes the other with a costless touchdown, then it is highly likely the game will be extremely close and decided late in the fourth quarter. QC expects Packers QB Aaron Rogers and his talented receiving corps to have success against the Pittsburgh pass defense. Although the Steelers were the best in the NFL in pass defense during the regular season (6.029 D-QCYPA), they are not the suffocating unit that carried Pittsburgh to the Super Bowl title in 2008 (Miniscule 4.936 D-QCYPA). On average, this Pittsburgh defense gives up 1 yard more per pass attempt than the 2008 defense yielded. That may not sound like a lot, but it is.

Don't look for Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy to make any investment in trying to establish the run. Rather, as former Arizona QB Kurt Warner suggested earlier in the week, look for the Packers to spread out the Steelers, force them to insert multiple defensive backs, and fire away. Such a strategy will put a premium on Rogers protecting himself. Like the Steelers, Green Bay is willing to pay for highly efficient offense (QCYPA > 8) by yielding some sacks. Indeed, the only QC statistic in which the Packers do not rank in the top 4 in the NFL is pass protection. That does not mean Green Bay cannot pass block. It just means the Packers recognize that the return on approaching a first down (i.e., 10 yards) on the average pass attempt is worth the price of some pressure on the passer. If Rogers does not get hurt and does not give Pittsburgh a costless turnover TD, it is likely to be a tough, tough day for master designer Dick LeBeau, NFL Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu, and the rest of the Steelers defense.

When Pittsburgh has the ball, the key players will be TE Heath Miller and RB Rashard Mendenhall. In the 2009, game, Miller destroyed Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers' designs as QB Ben Roethlisberger passed for the 10th most yards (503) in NFL history. But if head coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians think they can do it again, they might want to consider that their pass protection is 28th in the NFL and, in contrast to the Packers, it's mostly because the Steelers injury-ravaged offensive line cannot pass block. Mix in the fact that Green Bay's pass pressure is No. 1 in the NFL and it would be surprising if you see any less harrassment than what you saw in the 2009 game when the Packers sacked Roethlisberger 5 times and nearly sacked him another 5 times. QC expects the outstanding Green Bay front of Cullen Jenkins, B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Clay Matthews to have its way with Pittsburgh on passing plays.

Green Bay's pass coverage also is vastly improved since the last meeting between the teams. The players are now in their second year of executing Capers' defensive designs and they have shown progress on the learning curve. The human capital engaged in production in the secondary is also better. Rookie nickel-back Sam Shields and safety Charlie Peprah are upgrades over their predecessors and Tramon Williams is a much better player at the corner opposite Charles Woodson than he was last year. It will be asking an awful lot to expect Roethlisberger to overcome all that growth merely with his trademark toughness and improvisation. If that is all the Steelers have on offense, they will probably lose.

That brings us to Mendenhall. At times during the regular season, the Packers were susceptible to the run, particularly in two meetings with Detroit. In the AFC Championship against the Jets, Mendenhall was a workhorse and Pittsburgh's best player in the first half. If Tomlin and Arians take a beta approach that is calculated to avoid Roethlisberger getting into a situation where he tries to do too much and commits the killer turnover, then Pittsburgh will have a great chance to win. The Steelers' best chance to win will arise if halfway through the fourth quarter, Mendenhall is Pittsburgh's top candidate for Super Bowl MVP, as opposed to Roethlisberger.

There is one thing that is rather odd about Green Bay. The Packers are probably the most consistent team in the NFL. They are the only team in the league to finish in the top 10 in both play design differential and turnover margin each of the last 3 years. They have never trailed by more than 1 score at any time during the 2010 season and playoffs. But in "black swan games" decided by randomness, i.e., games where the better designed team loses, they are 3-10 in the last 3 years. In other words, Green Bay is just unlucky. Thus, Pittsburgh's best chance may be to feature Mendenhall and not worry about trying to win the design battle with Roethlisberger.

But that's not the way QC sees it unfolding. Rather, QC sees the Packers' LBs A.J. Hawk and Desmond ("TuTu") Bishop controlling Mendenhall well enough that Roethlisberger will have to try to match Rogers play-for-play. That pressure will produce the damaging turnover that Pittsburgh so frequently receives in these games and that will be just enough for Mike McCarthy and his team to carry the Lombardi Trophy home to Green Bay.
QC's Guess: Green Bay Packers

(2010 Archives1; 2010 Archives2; 2010Archives3; Archives Home)

Are Green Bay and Pittsburgh the most evenly matched teams in Super Bowl history? (Use Twitter or the headset to send TRUE or FALSE and your reasons to QuantCoach. Please let QC know if we may post your tweet/message on The Chalkboard.)

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2010 Year-End Awards

The 2010 regular season was ruled by beta designers and teams who avoided turnovers and were solid in the kicking game and cashed in opponents subsidies. While alpha teams with outstanding HA, particularly Norv Turner's San Diego Chargers (9-7), often struggled their beta counterparts New England (14-2) and Atlanta (13-3) soared to the top of their conferences. QC's Year-End Awards reflect beta football's superiority in 2010.

GAME PLAN OF THE YEAR: Cleveland 30 New Orleans 17 (Week 7)
Game plans are about knowledge and the Browns knew exactly what the defending Super Bowl champions were going to do. Much of the credit went to Cleveland LB Scott Fujita, who played with New Orleans in 2009. "I tried to do my best early in this week in practice to prepare our team for what we would face today, as it's no secret I am familiar with the Saints" Fujita said. During the game, Fujita constantly watched the Saints sideline for substitutions, then relayed the information to his own sideline to help with pre-snap adjustments. Once the ball was snapped, Fujita chipped in 1 of the Browns' 4 interceptions and 1 of their 3 sacks. Fellow LB David Bowens returned 2 other interceptions for touchdowns. It was only the second time in New Orleans' QB Drew Brees' career that he threw 4 interceptions. Finally, punter Reggie Hodges ran 68 yards on a fake punt to set up a field goal. In all, Cleveland's knowledge led directly to 17 points and provided the margin of victory.

COACH OF THE YEAR: Bill Belichick (New England)

Quite simply, the Patriots just kept getting better. Belichick's ability to keep his team ahead of the market was uncanny. After a loss to the Jets, he recognized that Randy Moss' value in a beta fooball design that depends on player's doing exactly what they are told and eliminating turnovers would be negative. (Minnesota learned this too, but not before the addition of Moss caused the subtraction of Vikings' coach Brad Childress). With Moss gone, New England's players listened perfectly. After a mid-season loss to Cleveland, the Patriots ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in play design differential. But from that point forward, the Patriots eliminated virtually all their mistakes (1 total turnover), defeated all the teams that reached the conference championship games, usually soundly (Steelers, Jets, Bears & Packers), and finished the season with the fourth-best play design differential in the league. Atlanta's Mike Smith and Chicago's combination of Lovie Smith and Mike Martz also did outstanding jobs with beta designs. But Belichick's work was a true masterpiece.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER Tom Brady (New England)

All the design in the world will not help a team if the players do not follow the instructions and execute the designs. Brady made sure the Patriots software and hardware worked in perfect harmony. Consistent with the 4th Commandment that QBs are both play designers and playmakers, QC considers QBs to be candidates for both Coach of the Year and Most Valuable Player. Usually, QC believes that veteran QBs fit into the Coach of the Year analysis better. But New England's excellence was so tied to Brady's complete elimination of interceptions in the second half of the season that QC believes this is a year where the best QB fits nicely into the Most Valuable Player category. In addition to eliminating interceptions, Brady played his best games against some of the NFL's best pass defenses (Steelers, Jets & Bears).

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: RobAaron Gronkowski-Hernandez (New England)

Prior to the 2009 NFL Draft, New England jettisoned everybody at the tight end position. While most fans don't notice the tight end often, readers of QC know that it is a crucial position. In the draft, the Patriots chose a pair of tight ends, Rob Gronkowski in the 2nd round and Aaron Hernandez in the 4th round. The production the two rookies provided was incredible. Together they combined to catch 87 passes for 1109 yards and 16 TDs. While the raw numbers are impressive on their own, what blew QC away was their yards per catch average, Gronkowski 13.0 and Hernandez 12.5, which demonstrates they were not just saftey valves, but dangerous down the field targets in the mold of former 49ers tight end Brent Jones and current Colts' tight end Dallas Clark. The Ram's Sam Bradford made this a very close race by his willingness to be patient, follow instructions, and avoid turnovers.


No return man has ever impacted the fortune of his team more than Hester. In 2010, he set the NFL for combined return touchdowns in a career with 14. His 10 career punt returns for touchdowns has been matched only by Eric Metcalf. Hester's 60-yard punt return for a touchdown against Green Bay in Week 3 probably was the most significant of all those touchdowns. The score was the difference in the Bears 20-17 win over the Packers that night and that victory, in turn, was the margin Chicago (11-5) needed to edge Green Bay (10-6) for the NFC North Division title.


When an owner's team enjoys unexpected success and reaches the playoffs (as Atlanta did in 2008) and then misses the playoffs the following season (as the Falcons did in 2009) a relatively new owner might be tempted to make changes. (QC is looking at you Dan Snyder.) But Blank did not make any dramatic changes. Since hiring general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith in 2008, Blank has emphasized patience. "We have to build a good foundation and add pieces onto the house as it gets built," Blank said in 2008. "We're in the process of doing that. We're in a good place and we're building a solid foundation with a young team. I think we've got the nucleus of a very young and strong team that will only get better over time." In 2010, the process produced the NFC's best regular season record, 13-3. Although Atlanta went quietly in the playoffs, there is no reason to think that the Falcons will be anything but a consistent contender.

(2010 Archives1; 2010 Archives2; Archives Home)

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