ARCHIVES (2016-Part 3)
The Browns Doctor Is "In" :
Weeks 3 and 4 Therapy Session
Dr. QC apologizes for canceling your appointment last week. But his computer
crashed like the Browns in the fourth quarter.
The good news is the computer seems to have healed itself and is now
functioning smoothly. Hue Jackson could only wish his team could do the
Cleveland fell to Miami in Week 3 and Washington in Week 4 because Jackson's
players violated QC's 8th
Commandment (Special teams involve almost no play design) and
(Turnovers are player-playmaking failures, not play design failures). If K Cody
Parkey had made a field goal at the gun in Miami and the Browns had not
suffered 3 fourth quarter turnovers after rallying to take a 20-17 lead in
Washington, Cleveland could be waiting for New England, including Tom Brady,
with a 2-2 record instead of its current 0-4 slate.
It is true, as Bill Parcells once observed, that a coach is what his record
says he is. But it is still wise to dig down below the most obvious result
statistics--wins and losses--to evaluate whether a team is getting better. (As
an aside, it is rarely mentioned that Bill Parcells' career record was 55-57
without Bill Belichick's play design, but that is a different story, which you
can scroll down to find here.)
Jackson has the Browns ground game in high gear. Cleveland ranks No. 1 in the
NFL in both
yards per carry and
gained on 1st-and-10. As a result, Jackson has kept rookie QB Cody
Kessler out of turnover infested waters. (Kessler's only interception in 2
games came after two lost fumbles by Cleveland running backs left him looking
uphilll at an 11-point Q4 deficit against the Redskins.)
DC Ray Horton's frightfully young defenders also have shown signs of life for
stretches. Despite below average pass pressure (.291 sack yards lost per pass
attempt; .400 is average), the Browns are giving up almost a whole yard less
per pass attempt as measure by QCYPA (7.696 v. 8.517 in 2015, No. 31 in the
Winning and losing in the NFL is separated by a thin line. The Browns' play
design differential, -2.91%, is virtually thes same as it was last year,
-2.34%, when Cleveland was 1-3. And their turnover differential, -1 TO, is
better than it was at this time last year, -3 TO.
Belichick and the Patriots arrive in Cleveland 4.63% better designed, +3 TO,
and with a 3-1 record. But if Arizona K Chandler Cantanzaro had been true on
his FG attempt on the last play of the game in Week 1 and the Houston Texans
had not fumbled away not one, but two, kickoff returns in Week 3, New England
might be 1-3.
A coach is what his record says he is. But it would be imprudent to fail to
recognize that sometimes bad luck (or good luck) plays a formative role in that
record. And, like QC's computer, luck can heal itself.
QC's Week 3 Thoughts
The Patriots, Vikings, Eagles and Cowboys are 12-0 ATS and 11-1 straight up.
What do they have in common? None of them have had the QB that in the
off-season they expected to be their starting QB take a single snap. It is
often said, The NFL is a QB driven league. We often hear that no
price is too great to pay to move up in the draft to pick a potential franchise
QB. Yet, these teams are nearly perfect with Jimmy Garapolo (2RD), Jacoby
Brissett (3RD), Sam Bradford (acquired via trade), Carson Wentz (1RD) and Dak
Prescott (3RD) under center. It would seem that this is pretty clear evidence
that NFL success is driven by more than QB play.
Yes, Bill Belichick is a genius. And this may be the best defense he has had in
quite some time. The Patriots D completely stifled DeAndre Hopkins and all of
Houstons new acquisitions (QB Brock Osweiler, RB Lamar Miller and WR Will
Fuller.) But it was special teams that lost this game. The Texans twice fumbled
kickoffs and the Patriots recovered. The miscues directly led to 10 New England
points. As QC always says, "You can't feed the Patriots. You have to make
Bruce Arians has been getting a lot of well-earned praise for his play design
for the past few years. But the Cardinals play designer delivered a stinker in
a 33-18 to the unraveling Bills. New York Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
shredded Rex Ryans pass D just 10 days ago. But Arizona QB Carson Palmer
could do nothing against the same coverage, less CB starting CB Ronald Darby.
DC James Betchers design on D was even worse. It looked like Arizona had
never seen or prepared for option football. The Bills averaged over 10 yards
per carry in the first half and 6.5 per carry for the game. That was better
than the QCYPA posted by either team. It is rare that one NFL team simply runs
over its opponent. And with the Bills promoting RB coach Anthony Lynn to OC
after firing Greg Roman, Betcher had to know the Bills were going to attack on
the ground. Defending the option is simple assignment football. But the
Cardinals were not prepared.
Regression to the mean is still undefeated. QC 5 Best Guesses were
all against teams that were 0-2 ATS going into Week 3 (Bills, Colts, Giants,
Seahawks, and Packers). Only Green Bay, who jumped to a huge early lead and was
never in danger of losing, failed to cover. This is the problem with
handicapping based on play design. It lures into a very false sense that little
will change when in reality great week-to-week change is a constant possibility
in the NFL. Oh well. Back to the chalkboard.
QC's 5 Best Guesses: Week 3
Since 2012, the Packers, Seahawks, and Colts have made 11 playoff appearances
(out of 12 possible appearances). But in 2016, they are 0-6 ATS. Still, all
three are home favorites in Week 3. Has there been a power shift, particuarly
in the NFC? Or will these teams bounce back to their typical form? If the
bounce back does not occur, this probably will be the last week you can pick
against these teams at bargain prices.
1. Lions +7.5 over Packers. Suddenly, Green Bay looks stale and old.
Only the LA Rams' brutal Case Keenum has posted lower QCYPA than Aaron Rogers
(5.843). And the pass defense has been just as bad (8.343 QCYPA) and has just a
single takeaway. Coach Mike McCarthy's play design differential was No. 2 in
the NFL in 2014, fell to No. 18 last year, and now ranks No. 30 through 2
games. That is evidence of a team in decline and a team in decline should not
be laying 7.5 points, even in Lambeau Field. The Lions have questions on
defense, particularly without Ziggy Ansah. But QB Matt Stafford and a deep
corps of pass-catchers should be enough to reveal the Packers' true
2. 49ers +9.5 over Seahawks. Seattle's defense is still a proud unit.
But the offenses they have shut down, Miami and LA, featue little and no
potency. Moreover, the Seahawks' D has yet to generate a takeaway. On offense,
Tom Cable's O-line has been a disaster. And San Francisco has a front 7 to
prolong the suffering. You know QC loves tall interior pass rushers. The 49ers
have a pair of 6-7 trees that played for Chip Kelly at Oregon, Arik Armstead
and DeForest Buckner. SF QB Blaine Gabbert threw 2 picks last week, but only in
Q4 after the 49ers fell behind and had to pass. Chip and Pete Carroll have met
only once in the NFL. In that 2014 meeting, the Seahawks won by 10 (24-14) by
dominating time of possession (41:56 to 18:04). But Seattle is no longer
equipped to control the game on offense. These look like pretty evenly matched
teams and as long as Gabbert and the Niners offense is not -2 TO or worse the
point spread should provide more than enough cushion.
3. Chargers +3 over Colts. Backing Chargers QB Phil Rivers is not
something QC usually would do even under perfect circumstances and San Diego
will have to go without WR Keenan Allen and RB Danny Woohead who have been lost
for the year to knee injuries. However, 2015 1RD RB Melvin Gordon has given
Rivers a ground threat who can keep defenses in base on first down. Through the
first two weeks of the season, San Diego is tied for third in rushes greater
than 10 yards, second in rushing yards on 1st down, and first in rushing first
downs. That balance is a big reason Rivers is second in the NFL in 1st half QB
rating (126.8) and the Chargers have been able to build big first half leads in
their first two games. The defense has been adequate statistically in most
areas, except takeaways where it has been outstanding (4). The Colts' brought
in Ted Monachino as DC this year, but so far both the pass rush (.111 sack
yards lost per attempt) and the pass coverage (8.722) have been dreadful. If
the coaching situation in Buffalo was not such a hot mess, HC Chuck Pagano
would be the leading candidate to be the first coached fired this year.
4. Cardinals -4 over Bills. Speaking of Buffalo, HC Rex Ryan fired his
OC Greg Roman this week and elevated loyal lieutenant/RB coach Anthony Lynn to
OC. Despite that move, the sharp money loves the Bills this week. QC will jump
in with the public without hesitation. Bruce Arians is the last play designer a
struggling opponent wants to see coming to town because the man in the driving
cap will go for the throat. The Cardinals covered 6 of 8 games on the road last
year by scores of 48-23, 42-17, 34-20, 39-32, 27-3, and 40-17. Arizona is still
smarting a bit from its WK1 loss to New England and Arians will make sure his
players know that they cannot give another game away with all their division
games still in front of them. Meanwhile, Ryan's pass coverage has been
atrocious (9.044 QCYPA). QC speculates that Ryan threw Roman under the bus by
blaming the terrible defense on Buffalo's inability to control the ball on
offense. But Roman's designs turned Colin Kaepernick into a Super Bowl QB and
got Tyrod Taylor a big contract. Reportedly, management canned Roman because of
the Bills' failures on 3DN. But Ryan's teams always have run the ball way too
much on 1DN to keep defenses honest, which frequently leads to OCs and QBs
finding themselves in difficult-to-impossible 3DN situations. It will be
surprising indeed if the 1DN run/pass ratio changes significantly with the
change from Roman to Lynn. It will be almost as surprising if the public does
not get over on the sharps as well.
5. Giants -4.5 over Redskins. New York is an impressive 2-0 straight up
and has looked good on both sides of the ball. But the Giants are 0-2 ATS
because a) they are -4 TO and b) their WK1 line moved from +3.5 to -1.5 after
Dallas QB Tony Romo was injured in the preseason. The focus will be on the
matchup between WR Odell Beckham Jr. and Washington DB Josh Norman, but Eli
Mannig has a deep cast of pass catchers now that Victor Cruz is healthy and
rookie Sterling Sheppard is emerging. Meanwhile, the Redskins pass coverage as
been lousy (8.896 QCYPA) despite the additiona of Norman. It was not long ago
that Washington was among the worst teams in the NFL and through the first two
weeks of 2016 nobody has underachieved more than the Redskins who dropped 2
home games. Strange things happen in this rivalry. But the Giants pummelled Jay
Gruden's team in the Meadowlands in 2015 (32-20) and QC does not see any reason
why this improved version of the G-men who are do for a cover cannot do it
again in 2016.
Last Week: 1-4
The Browns Doctor Is "In" : Week
2 Therapy Session
How tough was the Browns 25-20 loss to the Ravens?
Better designed teams have won 27 of 32 NFL games this season. Hue Jackson's
team was 2.3% better designed than Baltimore. In 4 of the 5 games where the
better designed team has lost this year, that team has lost the turnover
battle. Only the Browns have lost a game when better designed and at least even
in turnovers. (Cleveland was +1 TO until Josh McCown's last desperate heave was
For the season, Cleveland is just .42% worse designed than its opponents and -1
TO. Those stats usually would translate into a 1-1 record. There are 9 NFL
teams that are 1-1 and worse designed than the Browns. The Eagles, who are off
to a positive 2-0 start, are only slightly better designed (-.08%), and can
attribute their record mostly to their sterling +4 TO. Almost every NFL team
wins at +2 TO per game.
The Browns rank No. 5 in
Brian Billick's "Toxic Differential"
statistic, which combines both turnovers and big offensive plays. In
other words, teams that rank high in Billick's statistic are buying risk and
variance and making big plays on offense or defense. This is exactly what QC
expected from a team designed by Hue Jackson.
The reason the Browns are 0-2 and not 1-1 can easily be traced to special teams
breakdowns and penalties against the Ravens. After the Browns jumped to a 20-0
lead behind explosive rookie WR Corey Coleman (5-104-2 TDs), Baltimore blocked
Patrick Murray's PAT and returned it for 2 points for the Ravens. And the last
3 Cleveland drives of Q4 were sabotaged by penalties. An unsportsmanlike
conduct penalty on Coleman pushed the Browns back and Murray missed the 52-yard
FG try. Center Cameron Erving drifted downfield and nullified a miraculous
25-yard gain that occurred when WR Rashard Higgins caught a McNown pass on a
carom. Finally, a suspect taunting penalty on WR Terrelle Pryor nullified
another completion that would have put the Browns at the Ravens 10-yard line in
the last 30 seconds.
All of these events are beyond the control of a play designer like Jackson.
Cleveland now enters the toughtest stretch of its schedule with 4 of the next 5
games on the road. The only home game will mark Tom Brady's return from his
absurd "Deflategate" banishment. And the Browns will have to confront
some or all of those road trips without McCown (painful shoulder injury v.
Baltimore), Coleman (broken hand in practice), rookie 6-7 pass rusher Carl
Nassib (broken hand v. Baltimore), and Erving (bruised lung v. Baltimore).
So brace yourself, it is likely to get rough.
But that was going to happen anyway because of the schedule.
Everybody will get an extended look at rookie QB Cody Kessler, who Jackson
thought enough of to draft ahead of Dallas' rookie starting QB, Dak Prescott.
Higgins and perhaps another rookie WR will get the chance to develop until
Coleman's hand heals. Tyrone Holmes, who the Browns picked up after he was cut
by Jacksonville, may get a chance to fill in for Nassib until he returns. And
big-play WR Josh Gordon is still on schedule to return for WK5.
Hue Jackson's play designs work. If he can continue to design big plays and
Kessler can execute enough of those big play designs to keep Cleveland's play
design differential from ballooning too much beyond -4%, then the Browns may
have a chance to steal a win during this tough stretch.
QC's Week 2 Thoughts
QB playfor better and worsecaught QCs attention in Week 2.
Minnesota mixed Sam Bradford into its offense using Norv Turners
downfield passing recipes and-whoila!Bradford tasted more like a
No. 1 pick in the draft QB than he has at any other time in his
career. Bradford hung in the pocket (1.032 yards lost on sacks per pass
attempt) and fought off an injury (non-throwing hand) to post 8.839 QCYP and 2
TD passes in a 17-14 win over Green Bay. Those are Philip Rivers in his
prime-type numbers. It is just one game. But if Bradford does not get injured
behind the Vikings shaky O-line, this offense quickly will become
Bradfords offense no matter the status of RB Adrian Peterson, who left
the game against the Packers with an injured knee.
Prior to Sunday, Dallas had lost 14 of its last 15 games that QB Tony Romo did
not start. Against the Redskins, however, rookie QB Dak Prescott produced
impressively (9.267 QCYPA; rushing TD) and rallied the Cowboys to victory in
Q4, 27-23. Prescott has now thrown 75 NFL passes without being intercepted, an
NFL record for a rookie QB. A -22 TO +/- was a major cause of a lost season in
Dallas in 2015 (4-12). It looks like the Cowboys may have transmitted the
turnover virus to the Redskins (0-2). Washington QB Kirk Cousins opened the
door for Prescott to rally the Cowboys when he threw a killer pick in the
Dallas end zone with the Redskins leading 23-20 and looking to clinch their
first victory of the season.
In Week 1, Tampa Bay QB Jameis Winston looked every bit an MVP candidate in
throwing 4 TD passes against just 1 interception in the Bucs win over
Atlanta. What a difference a week makes. Winstons numbers were reversed
(1 TD; 4 INTS) as Tampa absorbed a 40-7 beating from Arizona. If that level of
variance continues in Tampa, Jamies may become known as Whiplash
Winston. While a good bit of variance is to be expected with young,
talented passers (especially on the road), Winston has to learn to smooth the
curve some before he can be considered a realistic candidate for MVP.
What is up with Oaklands pass defense? The Raiders invested heavily in
the off-season in their secondary (Sean Smith, Karl Joseph, Reggie Nelson) and
in FA pass rusher Bruce Irvin. But one week after getting torched in New
Orleans by Drew Brees, Oakland was nearly as powerless in its attempts to stop
Atlantas Matt Ryan in a 35-28 loss to the Falcons. On the season,
opposing QBs are infinitely productive (11.461 QCYPA!) and have thrown 7 TD
passes against the Raiders. If DC Ken Norton cannot get the pass defense turned
around quickly, look for HC Jack Del Rio to step in and exert more influence
over the pass defense design as has been reported.
QC's 5 Best Guesses: Week 2
1. Bengals +3.5 over Steelers. People are piling onto the Pittsburgh
bandwagon in the wake of its 38-16 thrashing of Washington. But its seems to QC
the final score was built in part on Redskins underachievement.
Washington punted only once in the entire game and it was from the
Steelers 40-yard line. In Week 1, A.J. Green had a monster game against
the Jets and WRs Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd also chipped in. Cincinnati beat
the Steelers in Pittsburgh last year when Andy Dalton was healthy and he missed
almost all of the next 2 games with the Steelers (both losses) with a broken
thumb. In addition, the Bengals are not nearly as soft as Washington on
defense. And DC Paul Guenther--reportedly a hot HC prospect for 2017--may have
found a player in CB Josh Shaw, who clinched a WK1 victory in New York by
intercepting Ryan Fitzpatrick. Both teams are missing key offensive ingredients
in TE Tyler Eifert and RB Leveon Bell and defensive ingredients in LBs
Bud Dupree and Vontez Burfict. It should be a close game decided by a FG.
2. Giants -4.5 over Saints. New Yorks revamped D was impressive
against the Cowboys, especially against the run. While NY spent money and draft
picks on the D-line and secondary, it was a new trio of LBs that stood out in
Dallas. OLB Jonathan Casillas played particularly well. New Orleans staggers
into the Big Apple after losing the opener to Oakland despite more than 400
yards passing and 4 TDs from Drew Brees. Eli Manning utilized 7 receivers in
the win over Dallas and rookie WR Sterling Shepard (3-43-TD) looks like he will
be a capable complement to uber-dangerous Odell Beckham, Jr. RB Rashad Jennings
can keep defenses honest on first downThis does not look like the time or place
where the Saints can fix their leaky defense.
3. Chiefs +2.5 over Texans. It seems almost certain that Houston will
not subsidize Kansas City with 5 turnovers as it did in a 2015 wild-card
playoff game. Still, Chiefs DC Bob Sutton is quite familiar with new
Texans QB Brock Osweiler from his time in Denver. QC does not expect Osweiler
to escape this game turnover free. Andy Reids teams are usually money on
the road. A team that loses by more than 21 points frequently bounce back ATS
in its next meeting with the team from whom it absorbed the beating. But the
Chiefs were -3 favorites in Houston in that wild-card game. Now KC is a +2.5
underdog? Is Brock Osweiler really a 5.5 point upgrade? QC does not thinks so.
4. Raiders -5 over Falcons. Both teams struggled mightily on defense
last week against top tier QBs. Oakland DC Ken Norton will have to design a
much better game plan than he did in New Orleans where too often his rangy CBs
found themselves all alone with the Saints jitter-bug WRs. The
Falcons wide-outs are talented too, but better matchups for the Raiders.
When Derek Carr has the ball, he should be able to strike downfield as
Tampas Jameis Winston did because Atlanta still has not shown any ability
to pressure opposing QBs. People are starting to wonder if 2015 1RD pass-rusher
Vic Beasely is going to be a bust.
5. Vikings +2.5 over Packers. Minnesota will open its new stadium with a
new QB, Sam Bradford. Mike Zimmer also will field a nasty defense that almost
single-handedly beat Tennessee in Week 1. The Vikings were terrible on special
teams (2 missed FGs, missed PAT), could not run, and had ancient hanger-on
Shaun Hill managing the game at QB. And they still won by more than a TD. That
is a strong D. Green Bay sweated out a victory in the heat and humidity in
Jacksonville. QB Aaron Rogers is still as dangerous as anyone in the NFL in the
red zone, but he averaged only 6.441 QCYPA, which is even less than the 6.654
Green Bay averaged in 2015 (No. 27 in the NFL). The return of Jordy Nelson did
not shock the Packers vertical passing game back to life versus the
Jaguars so it would be surprising if it does so in what is sure to be an amped
up atmosphere in Minnesota.
Last Week: 5-0 ATS
Season: 5-0 ATS
The Browns Doctor Is In: Week 1 Therapy
In 1968, the Steelers went 2-11-1. They fired their HC and hired a new HC.
And promptly went 1-13. But that coach was Chuck Noll. It all worked out in the
After Cleveland lost its first game of the season, 29-10, a cry went up that
the Browns are again on the wrong path because they traded the pick that became
Eagles' QB Carson Wentz. The most noise came from NFL Radio analyst Pat Kirwan,
who called for the Browns to "shut down the Moneyball experiment" and
opined that Cleveland executive Paul DePodesta "doesn't know what he's
talking about" because he told the media Cleveland did not rate Wentz as a
potential Top 20 NFL QB.
QC is here for you Browns' fans.
Not only does QC have a significant wager on Cleveland winning 4 or more games,
but QC is a steadfast believer that Hue Jackson is the man to turn the Browns
into a consistently competitive team.
If you analyze Cleveland's loss to Philadelphia carefully using coaching
statistics, you can see it was not as bad as it looked. That does not mean the
Browns' performance was good. It was not. But it was not as bad as it was in
2015. In other words, although Week 1 may have looked a lot like the same old,
same old, the Browns got a little better in Philadelphia. And for much of the
game it looked like they would get a lot better.
Until C Cameron Erving sailed a snap over Robert Griffin III's head to give the
Eagles a safety, Cleveland trailed only 13-10. At that point in the game, Wentz
was completing only 50% of his passes (11-22-142-TD) and averaging a Trevor
Siemian-esque 6.7 QCYPA. On the other side of the ball, RG3 also was completing
50% of his passes (9-18-176), but he was averaging 9.7 QCYPA and trailed only
because a Philly LB tipped a pass that was aimed at a streaking Cory Coleman
and turned what might have been a big play into a turnover.
It was not until after the safety that Cleveland collapsed. It was not until
after the safety that Wentz caught fire (11-15-136-TD) and averaged 9.5 QCYPA.
With the second half lead, the Eagles' pass rushers zeroed in and the Browns
lost more yards on sacks (22) than they gained passing (8). Moreover, they lost
RG3 indefinitely to a shoulder injury. That will hurt in more ways than one
Still, there were some bright spots. Pro Football Focus graded NT Danny Shelton
as one of the 7 best interior DLs on Sunday. Morevover, PFF graded rookie DE
Carl Nassib's performance as the 4th best of any rookie. Both Shelton and
Nassib (and other young defensive players like Emmanuel Ogbah) are likely to
get better in an area that contributes significantly to NFL success.
When QC backed the Browns before the NFL Draft, he did so on the expecatation
that Hue Jackson's designs would make Cleveland competitive just as they did
when took the wheel in 2010-11 in Oakland, another perenially non-competitive
NFL team. With the Raiders, Jackson designs elevated a team that had been about
7% worse designed than it opponents and -13 TO to less than 1% worse designed
and -2 TO. The Raiders won 8 games.
How did Hue do it in Oakland?
He cranked up variance. He stretched the field with a high risk/high return
vertical passing game and opened up running lanes for backs Darren McFadden and
Michael Bush. Such a high-risk design sometimes results in some pretty ugly
losses. But by increasing variance, an underdog increases the chance that the
outcome will be determined by fewer plays that contain more leverage as opposed
to more plays that contain less leverage. For over a half, Hue's designs kept
the Browns in the game and well within striking distance of a win.
Concededly, it will be harder for Cleveland to execute Hue's high variance
designs without RG3, who could threaten a defense with his legs and throw deep.
Still at the end of the game on Sunday, the Browns were about 4% worse designed
than Philadelphia. That's not good, but it is better than the NFL-worst 5.83%
worse designed figure at which Cleveland stood at the end of 2015.
And the goal for the Browns this season is simply to get better. If you
evaluate Cleveland's performance against that simple standard, Week 1 was a
small step forward for the Browns.
While the Steelers record in their first year under Chuck Noll in 1969 was not
as good as their record had been the previous year, Pittsburgh did get better.
In 1968 under Bill Austin, the Steelers were 7% worse designed than their
opponents and -14 TO. In 1969 under Noll, the team improved almost 3% and
finished 4.18% worse designed and -8 TO. Even with teams that finish as
dynasties, the first steps forward often are so small they are difficult to
QC's Week 1 Thoughts
Although QC does not statistically
separate play-calling from play design, QCs hunch is that play design
usually contributes more to winning than play-calling, although not always. For
example, in Denvers 21-20 win over Carolina that opened the 2016 NFL
season, both Broncos TDs were the result of exquisite play calls by HC Gary
Kubiak. First, Kubiak stunned the Panthers by calling on FB Andy Janovich on
3rd-and-1 in Q2 and the rookie burst 28-yards through a deserted Carolina
secondary for a score. Second, Kubiak caught the Panthers bringing heavy
pressure in Q3 with a perfectly timed screen pass to RB C.J. Anderson. But for
every game featuring a brilliant play-call that you do see, there is at least a
game where a coaching staffs in-week play designwhich is sometimes
harder to detect visually on Sundayprovides the difference. For example,
the Giants were more than 10% better designed than the Cowboys, which was just
enough for New York to overcome a -1 TO disadvantage and win, 20-19.
Here is a hat tip to Oakland HC Jack Del Rio for selling short and
going for 2 points and the win in New Orleans after his team closed its deficit
to 34-33 with less than a minute to play. Del Rios decision paid off in a
35-34 win after QB Derek Carr hit WR Michael Crabtree with pass in the corner
of the end zone. Somewhat inexplicably, the advocates of aggressive risk buying
in ESPNs analytics department calculated that Del Rio should have kicked
the PAT thereby playing the game long (i.e., for OT), rather than
selling short and going for the 2-point PAT. On the other hand, analysts such
as predictionmachine.com applauded Del Rio's decison to go for two, but opined
that to make the right decision an NFL HC must understand: a) expected value;
b) calculate his team was 49.7% likely to convert; c) calculate the Saints D
was 58.2% likely to allow the conversion; and d) conclude his team was 55.3%
likely to succeed and take the lead. That's too much work. When QC is late,
pressed for time, and wants to know what time it is, telling him how a watch
works is neither helpful nor appreciated. It's way too much information to
process in the seconds in which the decision has to be made. Neither group
seems to be familir with Brian Skinners paper entitled, Scoring Strategies for the Underdog: Using Risk as an Ally in
Determining Optimal Sports Strategies. Notwithstanding the
ponderous title, the 1-page paper is as succinct as it is informative. Skinner
states: An underdog should be willing to sacrifice from its expected
final score in order to increase the variance. A favored team should be willing
to sacrifice from its expected final score in order to reduce the
variance. In other words, if your team is the better team, then lengthen
the game. But if your team is not the better team, then shorten the game. Del
Rio played variance perfectly. Here, the Raiders entered the game +1.5
underdogs in Vegas. Moreover, in the Super Dome, Oakland was facing an
infinitely productive QB in Drew Brees, who had not thrown a pick all day.
Every team facing an infinitely productive QB who is not turning the
ball over is an underdog no matter what the point spread closed at kickoff and
should be seeking to shorten the game. Even if Carrs pass to Crabtree had
gone awry, Del Rios decision still would have been the right call. In a
nutshell, Del Rio was selling all his inventory and going out of
business at the very top of the market. If that sale was not enough to win the
competitioin, so be it. Sticking around to compete longer against a more
efficient competitor was not likely to change the outcome. As an aside, those
holding Raiders +1.5 rationally were hoping Del Rios decision would
backfire because the failed 2-point attempt would have sealed an Oakland cover.
Because Carr and Crabtree executed the play and converted the PAT, those
punters had to hold their breath until New Orleans K Wil Lutz came up short on
a 61-yard field goal attempt as time expired. Of course, that brief period of
anxiety was far better than the lengthier period anxiety that an overtime would
have created. In the end, both the Raiders and their backers at the sports
books came out with a W as a result of Del Rios savvy
handling of variance.
A personnel decision cannot be judged on one game. (Sorry Eagles fans. While
Carson Wentz looked good against the Browns young D, master defensive designer
Vic Fangio awaits in Chicago.) But Denver GM John Elway had to feel good when
he went to sleep Sunday night when he compared the statistics of his QB Trevor
Siemian (6.500 QCYPA, 1 TD, 2 Int) to the QB he let sign with Houston as a FA
in the off-season, Brock Osweiler (6.714, 2 TDs, 1 Int). The Texans are paying
Osweiler $12 million this year and have guaranteed another $25 million in
coming years. The Broncos are paying Siemian $525,000 this year. So far, the
return on the field has been about the same. Things did not go much better for
other teams that recently handed their stating QBs significant money. The Jets
fell to Cincinnati, 23-22, as Ryan Fitzpatrick averaged less than 6 yards per
attempt (5.943 QCYPA). Buffalo lost to Baltimore, 13-7, as Tyrod Taylors
production (1.74) did not even reach the JaMarcus Cable, the NFLs equivalent of the
Mendoza Line measure of offensive incompetence. Few pro
personnel managers seem to consider "diminishing returns" when it
comes to signing QBs. But, for at least 1 game anway, it looks like Elway not
only recognized the return paying $12 million or more for Osweiler would
diminish, but he acted on that recognition.
Several HC had to endure the consquences of QC's 8th Commandment. The Jets Nick Folk missed a
PAT and had a 22-yard FG blocked in a 1-point loss. The Cardinals Chandler
Cantanzaro, the Panthers Graham Gano and the Saints Lutzall missed potential
game-winning FGs (albeit QC grudingly will accept that 61-yards is too long to
expect a K to succeed). Minnesota's Blair Walsh misssed 2 FGs and a PAT, but
the Vikings stellar D erased those miscues, defeated the Titans and covered teh
spread by scoring a pair of TDs.
That New England only needed Cantazaro to miss that FG to beat Arizona, 23-21,
demonstrates just how powerful HC Bill Belichick remains. The Patriots played
on the road against the NFC co-favorite without their HOF QB (Tom Brady),
All-Pro TE (Gronk), both starting tackles (Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder)
and their two leading pass rushers from 2015 (Chandler Jones, who suited up for
the Cardinals and Rob Ninkovich, suspended). Don't tell QC that play design is
not the key to success in the NFL.
The web site
538.com reported that the average margin of victory
in opening games through Sunday night--5.1--points was the second lowest of any
week of any NFL season since 1993. The reason for such close games is probably
at least partially explained by the fact that the turnover margin in 10 of the
14 games was 1 or less and in 3 of the 4 games where the margin was 2, the team
that lost the turnover battle fielded strong defensees and won the game
(Patriots, Seahawks, Broncos). Only in Minnesota's 25-16 win over Tennessee was
the TO margin 3. It's just one of those things. The certainty helped bettors
almost get a rare collective win against the linemakers. But Belichick upset
those plans too.
QC's 5 Best Guesses: Week 1
Week 1 is always hard to handicap, but for
some reason 2016 just looks even more difficult than usual. QC can't find a
home favorite to like. Baltimore -3 over Buffalo? Eh, maybe. Rex Ryan's teams
usually get worse not better, but the Ravens still seem old and brittle.
Seahawks -10.5 over the Dolphins. It looks like a monster design mismatch with
polished Pete Carroll/Darrell Bevell v. neophytes Adam Gase/Vance Joseph. But
did you really have to throw the hook on top of the 10? Never mind. There also
are some unexpected new QB starters that have sucked the value out of what for
months looked like value plays. (QC's looking at you Dak Prescott and Carson
Wentz.) So it goes. And here you go. Carpe diem. And remember: All Latin
means "buyer beware."
1. Vikings -1.5 over Titans. Minnesota has been the best team ATS for
the past few years and the Titans have been the worst. You'd think the latter
would improve now that Ken Whisenhunt is gone. And the linemakers almost always
pinch playoff teams when they face non-playoff teams in Week 1. This line sat
at Minnesota -3 almost all spring and summer and had just nudged up to -3.5
when Vikings QB Teddy Bridgwater completely dislocated his knee in practice a
few weeks ago. (QC saw something like this happen from the sideline once at a
HS game. A few minutes later his head started to spin and he had to sit down to
avoid passing out. It's freaky.) The irony is that Bridgewater nearly lost his
leg without a finger being laid upon him when last year he was pummelled by
opposing pass rushers and came through the season none the worse for wear. In
2015, the Vikings lost on average .7 yards every time they attempted to pass.
That's bad. About .4 sack yards lost per attempt is about average. A play
designer who likes deep routes like Norv Turner will incur a little more sack
yards lost than average, but .7 yards lost per attempt is still way too many.
To address this problem, GM Rick Spielman brough in to veterans, G Alex Boone
and T Andre Smith. They are "Plan B" FAs (at best), but they are
better than what Turner had to work with last year. Minnesota went 11-5 in 2015
despite being on average about 1.1% worse designed than opponents. That figure
can be traced nearly exclusively to pass protection. So even though Bridgewater
is out and hanger-on Shaun Hill will start at QB for at least a week until Sam
Bradford is a little more familiar with the playobook, the Vikings should be
OK. Tennessee is turning to Mike Mularkey to try to recover from the Whisenhunt
era. He wants to pound the ball on the ground with DeMarco Murray and Derrick
Henry and take the pressure off of QB Marcus Mariota. But he will need all of
Mariota's elusiveness and some trickery if the Titans are going to control the
ball against a Minnesota defense that features swarms of fast and aggressive
tacklers on every level. The Titans have been the darlings of the sharps in the
pre-season. But QC can't pass on the Vikings with so much room for play design
differential growth, particularly since linemakers provided a 2-point rebate to
compensate for the loss of Bridgewater.
2. Buccaneers +2.5 over Falcons. Despite the fact Atlanta (8-8) won 2
more games than Tampa Bay (6-10) in 2015, the Falcons were just .58% better
designed and +2 TO better than the Bucs. Atlanta QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio
Jones are a dynamic combination, but there is a lot more upside in the Jameis
Winston/Mike Evans combo. The Georgia Dome has not been kind to Tampa over the
years. But on most of those occassions Dirk Koetter and Mike Smith were
designing plays for the home team. They will be performing those duties for the
visitors this time. Winston is a massive talent, but he's an emotional-type in
the Phil River model. QC prefers ice-water-in-the-veins coolness from a
signal-caller. Winston may struggle early and give the Falcons some turnover
subsidies. But the team with Mike Smith on the sidelines usually wins the
turnover battle and Winston has more than enough moxie to pull the Bucs out of
a hole even if he is the one that dug it.
3. Jets +2.5 over Bengals. QC is no fan of NY QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. He
will always throw too many INTs. But Jets OC Chan Gailey loves him (must be
getting a kickback on those mega-buck contracts Fitz signed in the Big Apple
and Buffalo) and its Gailey's opinion that matters, not QC's opinion. On the
other hand, QC is very fond of the defensive designs of Todd Bowles, who has a
speedy new ingredient at his disposal in rookie LB Darron Lee. Cincinnati QB
Andy Dalton will be without (in order of importance): 1) OC Hue Jackson; 2) TE
Tyler Eifert; and 3) WR Marvin Jones. Dalton will be fine in the long run and
QC thinks the Bengals are still the best team in the AFC North. But he also
cannot pass up a non-playoff home team with a crafty defensive play designer
with 2.5 points already in his pocket.
4. Jaguars +5.5 over Packers. Believe it or not, Jacksonville was .15%
better designed than Green Bay in 2015. The reason the Jags were 5-11 and the
Pack was 10-6 was a difference of 15 turnovers (Jacksonville was -10 TO; Green
Bay +5). That's about +1 TO per game. Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rogers will need
at least that margin to cover 5.5. This is another non-playoff team v. playoff
team so you can assume the line is inflated a point and a half or two. Most
people seem to think that the return of WR Jordy Nelson automatically will
restore the Green Bay vertical passing game. QC is not so sure. The Packers
pass protection crumbled in 2015 and with it Aaron Rogers' rock-solid
self-assurance. Unless rookie T Jason Spriggs can grow up fast, GM Ted Thompson
did not do much to improve that area. Meanwhile, Jacksonville took big action
to improve its pass rush and pass coverage with the addition of master D play
designer Monte Kiffin, DLs Malik Jackson and Dante Folwer (returning from an
injury), LB Myles Jack, and a whole new secondary led by DB Jalen Ramsey.
Kiffin is the father of the Tampa-2, which usually slowed Rogers when Lovie
Smith deployed it in Chicago because it is a conservative coverage scheme that
keeps receivers in front of defenders. To play it well, a designer needs fast,
sure tacklers. Tackling is more instinct than acquired skill and the Jaguars
loaded up on that instinct in the off-season. If you are looking for a Week 1
straight up stunner, this is a good place to look.
5. Raiders +1.5 over Saints. Here's the straight dope: New Orleans HC
Sean Payton is hell on defensive coordinators. Since taking over in New Orleans
10 years ago, Payton has gone through DCs Gary Gibbs, Gregg Williams, Steve
Spagnuolo, and Rob Ryan like Brett Favre on a riding mower. Now comes Dennis
Allen who candidly is probably not as good as any of his predecessors. QC is
slack-jawed amazed every time some talking head starts extolling the virtues of
Allen. Other than generating a little pass rush in Denver, every defense Allen
has ever designed has been bad. GM Mickey Loomis tried to improve the situation
by drafting DL Sheldon Rankins and signing some "Plan B" FA's. But
Rankins broke his leg and New Orleans is still so thin that recent signees G
Jahri Evans and OLB Paul Kruger may start Week 1. That's thin. Payton and QB
Drew Brees still may be able to keep up in shoot-outs, but QC has not heard
anything very positive about new TE Coby Fleener and mainstay WR Marcus Colvin
is gone and will have to be replaced by rookie Michael Thomas. Last year, the
Raiders started moving in the right direction under Jack Del Rio after three
lost years under Allen. QB Derek Carr has been good in the red zone and GM
Reggie McKenzie has built a rock solid G-C-G core (Gabe Jackson-Rodney
Hudson-FA Kelechi Osemele) that reminds QC of the cores Payton featured in the
Saints' salad days. With that strength up front, RBs Latavius Murray and rookie
Deandre Washington could find a lot more room to run. On defense, the secondary
received a massive upgrade in CB Sean Smith, S Reggie Nelson and S Karl Joseph.
All kinds of help for extraordinary pass rusher Khalil Mack is also on hand led
by Bruce Irvin. Finally, the +1.5 price is certainly right for a team that is
ascending against a team that is in clear descent.