Vince Lombardi

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THE ARCHIVES

Nonsense and Paul Brown, Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, and Bill Belichick

Some people may think that QC's coaching statistics are utter nonsense. If so, you may be unwittingly getting smarter.

In a recent New York Times story entitled "How Nonsense Sharpens the Intellect," Benedict Carey reports that a recent study suggests that experiences that violate "all logic and expectation" may, paradoxically, "prime the the brain to sense patterns it would otherwise miss -- in mathematical equations, in language, in the world at large."

In a series of new papers, Dr. Travis Proulx, a post-doctoral researcher at UC-Santa Barbara, and Dr. Steven J. Heine, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, theorize that the brain has evolved to predict, and it does so by identifying patterns. When those patterns break down, "the brain gropes for something, anything, that makes sense" and it may turn its attention outward and notice a pattern that was previously hidden. "The urge to find a coherent pattern makes it more likely that the brain will find one," Carey writes.

NFL coaching success would seem to be a good illustration of the Proulx/Heine theory. Here is what the Pro Football Hall of Fame notes about former Cleveland Browns' and Cincinnati Bengals' head coach, Paul Brown:

"Brown had a background of exceptional success as a high school, college and military service coach when he was given his first pro assignment with the new Cleveland team. Immediately, he hired a full-time staff on a year-round basis and he instituted a system for scouting college talent on a scale never before imagined by other pro teams. In his handling of his team, he became the first to (1) use intelligence tests as a hint to a player's learning potential, (2) use notebooks and classroom techniques extensively, (3) set up complete film clip statistical studies and (4) grade his own players based on film study. Brown, always a firm disciplinarian, was the first coach to keep his players together at a hotel the night before a home game as well as a road game.

From the strategic standpoint, he started the practice of calling plays from the sideline by utilizing alternating guards as messengers. He developed detailed pass patterns for the offense that were designed to pick holes in the defense, but then he devoted his efforts to perfecting the kind of a defense that could counteract a pattern passing attack. "

In Michael MacCambridge's classic, America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation, MacCambridge wrote the following of two New York Giants assistant coaches in the 1950s, Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry: "Tactically speaking, the two assistants had much in common. Both were students of the expanding science of film study, not just for evaluating their own players, but for finding clues to an upcoming opponent's philosophy and patterns."

In a well-done story at www.milehighreport.com entitled "Tales from the SunnySide: McDaniels and Belichick," it is noted that Steve Belichick, father of New England coach Bill Belichick and a long-time scout for the Naval Academy, "had an innate love of breaking down film, of pattern and position, that changed the fortunes of every team that he worked for." As www.milehighreport.com observed, "the apple didn't fall far from the tree."

More generally, the "All Experts Football Instruction" web-site answers the question what is the best pass coverage for high school football, landmark drop or pattern reading as follows:

"LANDMARK DROPS
Landmark dropping is the simplest but least effective way to play zone coverage. Teams that defend an areas or spots on the field with little regard for other factors, will find themselves giving up substantial yardage to their opponents with even the simplest of passing offense. The only strong point for the use of this defense is, the 3 deep zone that keeps the other team from beating you deep.

PATTERN READING Pattern reading is used mostly on the college and professional level. Only the top programs on the high school level use pattern reading. That is why some coaches stay away from pattern reading. They feel that pattern reading is for college football programs and up, therefore, too complex for the high school level. Pattern reading is not as complex as some coaches might think and it assures that the defense will always win the numbers games. Here is a simple system you can use to add pattern reading to your defense.

1. Spend some time looking at the game film of your next opponent.

2. Make a list of their pass plays, and place the pass plays into two sets, short passes and long passes.

3. Now make the the groups even smaller by dividing them into sub-groups that include passes by formation, downs, tendencies, and distance. This will give you an idea what to look for in every situation. Now that you know all this you can play the percentages game."

In their most recent paper, Dr. Proulx and Dr. Heine had 20 students first read an urgent, vivid, and nonsensical story by Kafka. They then tested the students' abilities to recognize patterns and compared it to a control group that did not read the Kafka story. The Kafka readers recognized patterns better.

QC finds all of this very interesting, but does not suggest that any readers start breaking down Kafka, unless it is Mike Kafka, quarterback of the Northwestern Wildcats.

YOU MAKE THE CALL: TRUE or FALSE
Is pattern recognition the key to being a successful NFL coach? (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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2009 NFL Season: First Quarter Thoughts

At the quarter pole of the 2009 NFL season, five teams remain unbeaten. The coaching staffs of these teams receive an "A" on their first quarter report card. Here is a quick look at each team using QC's coaching statistics.

1. Indianapolis Colts
No Tom Moore at offensive coordinator. No problem. Quarterback Peyton Manning knows more about play design than anyone Indy could have hired anyway. (See 4th Commandment). Indy has out-produced all of its opponents. The Colts' player productivity has been money ($) twice in four games and their opponents' productivity has never been above 2.16. QCYPA has never been below 8.00 and D-QCYPA has never been above 5.40. As good as Manning has been, Indy tight end Dallas Clark (14 yards per catch) is QC's MVP of the first quarter. Scary good.

2. New York Giants
New York has been extremely consistent. Offensive player productivity has been between 9.35 and 23.08, except against Tampa Bay when the defense stopped the Bucs cold (1.19 player productivity). Only Washington has broken 2.00 player produtivity against Justin Tuck and his defensive colleagues. The Giants have out-produced all their opponents, although it still took a last-second field goal to subdue rival Dallas.

3. New Orleans
It is no surprise the coach Sean Payton's and quarterback Drew Brees' offensive productivity has twice exceeded 50.00. It is a surprise that the Saints have held their opponents to less than 2.00 player productivity twice and a third opponent (Detroit) just barely exceeded 2.00. The Saints have out-produced all their opponents and received a generous amount of turnovers from their opponents, including 2 interceptions that safety Darren Sharper returned for touchdowns.

4. Denver
NBC's Cris Collinsworth officially owes everyone in the Denver organization an apology. During a pre-season game with Chicago, Collinsworth opined that "I personally think there were a lot of mistakes here in Denver over the last couple of months." However, no such mistakes have been identified in the last month when the games have actually been played. The Broncos are another team that is doing it with defense. No opponent's players have been more productive than 3.12. Denver has been more productive than all its opponents, although it took a miracle 87-yard TD pass from Kyle Orton to Brandon Stokely to out-produce and defeat Cincinnati.

5. Minnesota
One of these things is not like the others. It is the Vikings. Minnesota, actually, has been out-produced in 3 of its 4 games, but has emerged victorious in every encounter. The luckiest team in the league last year, Tennessee, was 5-0 in such black swan games that were decided by random events. (See 10th Commandment). At 3-0 in black swan games, you have to assume Minnesota has used up most of the good fortune that it can expect to receive in 2009. But then again, the Vikings do have Brett Favre.

YOU MAKE THE CALL: TRUE or FALSE
Is Indianapolis tight end Dallas Clark is the MVP of the first quarter of the 2009 NFL season? (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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2009 NFL Season: Week 4 Thoughts

Just after Cleveland head coach Eric Mangini had sent in the punt team on 4th and 10 at the Cincinnati 40-yard line with seconds to play in regulation time and the score tied 20-20, MattyX (a/k/a @pulmmatt) sent QC a text message. The following discussion ensued:

MattyX: Justify Mangini punt oh coaching guru.


QC: I am still reeling from the blocked PAT. Productivity is very close. I will have to look closely at the data but this punt might be justifiable. Tough call. [Note: Cleveland had blocked a Cincinnati PAT just a few minutes earlier that would have given the Bengals a 21-20 lead.]

MattyX: 57 yard field goal attempt ... they [i.e., the Browns] are 0-3 and have a terrible offense. When are they going to get closer?

QC: Bengals have given them 2 turnovers. Cincy may be generous again. [Cleveland QB Derek] Anderson has had enough success that he could get Cleveland into field goal position.

MattyX: [Browns' kicker Phil] Dawson's career long is 56. Make the kick and it's over. There'd only be 14 seconds for Bengals if he misses.

QC: Dawson is injured. Cundiff is kicking.

MattyX: They said on the television broadcast that Cundiff had a 60-yarder in college.

QC: On the radio they said Cundiff's long in the NFL is 52 yards.

MattyX: Either way, a makable kick. This OT is sickening. [Cincinnati head coach Marvin] Lewis obviously believes that ties are like kissing your sister.

At this point in the game, the Bengals were at the Cleveland 41-yard line and facing 4th and 11 with just a few seconds to play in overtime and Lewis had decided to punt. But Browns' coach Eric Mangini called a timeout and during the stoppage of play Cincinnati QB Carson Palmer talked Lewis into going for the first down. Palmer then ran 15 yards for the first down and tossed a 9-yard pass to fullback Brian Leonard to get Cincinnati a little closer. Bengals' kicker Shayne Graham then kicked a 31-yard field goal on the final play of overtime to enable Cincinnati to escape with a win, 23-20.

QC: I am at Cap City Diner so I must sign off. I think Bengals [ended up being] a little more productive. So it was never in doubt. Easterbrook (a/k/a @TMQESPN) will have a field day with this. See ya.

MattyX: Enjoy.

QC did enjoy the bleu cheese chips and meatloaf at the Cap City Diner in Columbus. After QC got home, QC looked hard at the data.

This game was as close as it looked. Just prior to Palmer's 9-yard pass to Leonard to set up the final field goal, the Cincinnati (3-1) coaching staff had out-coached Cleveland (0-4) by 1/10,000th of a point (.1589 to .1588). Likewise, prior to that pass, the Bengals' players were 1/100th of a point better than the Browns' players (2.23 to 2.22). Thus, in the end, the just barely better team just barely won.

It is true that at the time Mangini chose to punt, rather than go for the first down with seconds to play in regulation, Cleveland was the more productive team. As QC stats demonstrate, the more productive team wins 75% of all games. Technically, under these circumstances, the data justifies a punt. But QC is not a slave to the numbers. The Browns also had just enjoyed what appeared to be an incredibly good piece of fortune: The blocked PAT. If not for the blocked PAT, Mangini's players would have trailed, 21-20, and may have lost despite their productivity edge because Cincinnati defensive end Robert Geathers had returned a fumble for a TD in the first quarter, a negative "black swan."

In hindsight, the blocked PAT was probably the worst thing that could have happened to Cleveland. If the Browns had trailed by a point, rather than being tied, Mangini would have had no choice but to go for it on 4th and 10 at the Bengals 40. Who knows what might have happened? Alas, the blocked PAT left Mangini with a choice at that point in the game. A choice he probably would have been better off without.

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Denver (4-0) is for real. The Broncos' players were much more productive (7.73 to 2.40) than Dallas' players in a 17-10 win over the Cowboys (2-2).

YOU MAKE THE CALL: TRUE or FALSE
Did Cleveland head coach Eric Mangini make the right call in punting with :14 to play in the game with the Bengals? (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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Mike Tomlin and Jim Mora, Jr.

On the surface, Seattle's 25-19 loss to Chicago last Sunday looks identical to Pittsburgh's 17-14 loss to Chicago two Sundays ago.

In the Seahawks' loss, kicker Olinda Mare missed two field goals (43, 34) that, if he had been successful, may have given Seattle a victory (or at least forced overtime). Likewise, in the Steelers' defeat, kicker Jeff Reed missed two field goals (38, 43) that, if he had been successful, may have given Pittsburgh a victory.

The kickers reacted the same. "Just bad kicks," Mare said. "Just two terrible kicks. It kind of cost us the game.... All the guys in here worked so hard all week, to let it come down to one guy, I screwed it up for everybody."

"I'm just embarrassed, you know, because these guys fight their tails off to win the game," Reed said. "If there is one player that can single-handedly lose the game, I'll take credit for it."

On the surface, the two games seem incredibly identical. But how the head coaches--Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin and Seattle's Jim Mora, Jr.--reacted to the missed field goals and the contribution that these coaches' play designs contributed to the outcome of the games could not have been more different.

As the 8th Commandmentstates, a head coach does not have any control over the success or failure of a field goal attempt. All coaches design all field goal attempts the same. There are no briliant field goal designs. On field goals and PATs and ONLY on field goals and PATs, coaches are just like fans: They are specatators. Like fans, all a coach can do is watch. They are powerless. It is not the usual role for the coach. And it has got to be incredibly uncomfortable and chalk full of infinite frustration. As a result, when a field goal goes awry, we sometimes get a chance to peak behind a coach's mask and see how he handles powerlessness. We sometimes get to see how far a coach will go to accept responsibility (a prerequisite to good coaching) or how far a coach will go to shift responsibility (a prerequisite to getting fired). The reactions of Tomlin and Mora, Jr. should be cast in bronze and maintained side-by-side for all eternity at the gate of Belichick University so that all coaches never forget this lesson.

First, rewind and cue up the Pittsburgh tape.

"I haven't talked to Jeff about why he missed two kicks," Tomlin said in the post-game press conference. "Of course, this is uncharacteristic of him. He just kicked the game winner in overtime last week, and that's what we're used to. We aren't used to what happened with him today."

Tomlin took the supportive with just a hint of ambiguity approach, which emphasized Reed's entire body of successful work, did not focus on the immediate failure, but also did not fully absolve Reed of his responsibility and sent the message that such failure is not what Tomlin expects (or will tolerate for very long) in the future. Tomlin did this despite the fact that he had every justification for putting all of the blame squarely and fully on Reed. QC's coaching statistics show that the play designs (H A) that Tomlin and his coaching staff contributed to the collective effort exactly matched the play designs that Bears' coach Lovie Smith and his staff contributed. Tomlin and his staff put their players in a position where the players' fate was entirely in the hands of the players. On the field, Reed's Pittsburgh teammates out-performed the Chicago players by a tiny fraction. All that Reed's teammates needed to win was for Reed's muscle memory to do the one thing for which Reed is paid. And Reed failed.

Now let's run that Seattle tape again.

"We're not going to fight our asses off and have the field goal kicker go out there and miss two field goals and lose the game," Mora, Jr. said in his post-game press conference. "There's no excuse for those. If you're a kicker in the National Football League, you should make those kicks. Bottom line. End of story. Period. No excuses. No wind. Doesn't matter. You've got to make those kicks, especially in a game like this when you're kicking and scratching and fighting and playing your tail off and you miss those kicks? Not acceptable. Not acceptable. Absolutely not acceptable."

Mora, Jr. focused with laser-like intensity on the immediate failure. Mora, Jr. did this despite the fact that he had (almost) no justification for blaming Mare. This was a game the Seahawks should have lost. QC's coaching statistics show that the play designs (HA) that Mora, Jr. and his staff contributed to the collective effort were infinitely inferior to the play designs that Bears' coach Lovie Smith and his staff contributed. Mora, Jr. and his staff did nothing to help Seattle win. To be precise, in blaming Mare for the loss, Mora, Jr. really was blaming Mare for not saving the team from the Seattle coaching staff's failure to even come close to matching the contribution of the Chicago coaching staff. That is a path that no coach should go down unless he secretly is just using the coaching job as a stepping stone to a career in broadcasting.

Concededly, this analysis is pretty brutal, so let's keep a couple of things in mind. First, narrowly, Mora, Jr. was in fact correct that Mare should have made the field goals that he missed. Mare and everybody else knew it too, which is why Mora, Jr. did not need to say it. Being a master of the obvious is not a distinguishing characteristic of a highly successful NFL head coach. Being a master of the nearly imperceptible nuance is.

Second, as QC's good friend Brother Ron often reminds me, "The apple never falls far from the tree."Mora, Jr. is, of course, the son of NFL network analyst and former NFL coach Jim Mora, Sr., who will live forever on the internet spluttering "Playoffs!? Are you kidding me!? Playoffs!?" You can chalk up Junior's reaction to "like father, like son."

Next time, Mora, Jr. should be like Mike. Tomlin, that is, who has already proven, at the ripe old age of 37, that communicating a patient, broad, long-term view of events (with a just a hint of ambiguity) is a good recipe for hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

YOU MAKE THE CALL: TRUE or FALSE
Was Seattle coach Jim Mora, Jr.'s criticism of kicker Olinda Mare out of line? (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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2009 NFL Season: Week 3 Thoughts

Sometimes the better team loses.

Such was the case in Week 3 when Minnesota defeated San Francisco, 27-24, on a Brett Favre 32-yard TD pass to Greg Lewis with just :02 left in the game.

The 49ers won the game everywhere but on the score board. San Francisco's player productivity (ðHY 6.68) was solidly superior to Minnesota's productivty (ðHY 3.10). The 49ers defense mostly contained Vikings super-back Adrian Peterson. San Francisco QB Shawn Hill's efficient passing (8.320 QCYPA) gave the 49ers the edge over the sputtering Favre (6.587 QCYPA). Even after the teams traded explosive special teams plays (San Francisco's Nate Clements returned a blocked field goal for a TD as the first half expired and the Vikings' Percy Harvin returned a kickoff 101 yards for a score), the 49ers still looked to be in great shape as Favre desperately drove his team to the San Francisco 32-yard line.

But there probably has never been a quarterback in NFL history who has been better than Favre at playing desperately. Sometimes it has seemed that Favre has played virtually every play in desperation. While this style has sometimes caused his coaches fits of madness (particularly Mike Holmgren), it also has made Favre so endearing. Tell the truth: Wouldn't you like to be as comfortable with desperation for even one day as Favre appears to be every day? QC would. Favre's late-game style is markedly different than the icy cool of Joe Montana or the relentless will of John Elway. Favre's desperate style has more in common with the way we often really live our lives in that we often find ourselves in a desperate (or at least unforeseen) situation and acting, not so much on reason, but on hope. Against San Francisco, Favre's desperate style was a joy to behold for all except 49ers' fans (such as @pulmmatt).

However, after Favre made desperation seem cool yet again, one was left with the feeling that the better team lost this game. San Francisco coach Mike Singletary seemed to think so.

"You didn't do anything wrong! OK?" Singletary yelled at his team after the game. "We're going to get better! We're going to get there! We will see them again in the playoffs, all right?" OK. All right.

Response from MattyX (a/k/a @pulmmatt): The better team did not win on Sunday, but more importantly the better player is not being recognized. Brett Favre did an amazing job getting that last through off, but the catch by Greg Lewis was more amazing and no one is talking about it. In less than a second Lewis had to leap over 2 defenders, gain position of a laser throw and get both feet in bounds. I'm guessing 9/10 times the receiver is unable to make that catch and the story is how Favre has lost his magic and the media gushing of the last 2 days would have been avoided. This brings up an interesting point, is Favre really a good clutch QB or does he benefit from playing on productive teams that are generally within striking distance in the 4th quarter? Favre may have ice water in his veins, but if he played for the Browns he would not have engineered nearly as many fourth quarter drives to win (it's tough to throw a last minute pass that erases a 21 point deficit). In baseball, Bill James and others have dimissed "clutch" players over the long-term arguing that over time players will perform at their same level regardless of the situation. So, in football is there truly such a thing as a clutch player or a big-game coach?

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Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger spilled the soup. So did Houston's Kevin Walter and Chris Brown. Clumsy waiters. Why is it so hard to find good help?

QC's 9th Commandment holds that even a single turnover can waste an entire day of superior productivity. The Steelers and Texans violated the Commandment. And incurred its wrath. For most of their game against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh dominated. At the end, the Steeler's enjoyed massive advantages in QCYPA (9.065 to 4.964) and player productivity (16.83 ðHY to 2.00 ðHY ). It is almost impossible for a team with such massive advantages to lose the game. But Bengals' defensive back Jonathan Joseph returned an interception for a score in the third quarter and that one killer turnover was the difference.

Meanwhile, in Houston, the Texans' player productivity advantage over Jacksonville (20.03 ðHY to 4.06 ðHY) went to waste when an offensive pass interference penalty on wide receiver Walter nullified what would have been a game-tying touchdown. Subsequently, Brown fumbled the ball away at the goal line on his way to the end zone. As a result of the miscues, the Jaguars held on for a 31-24 victory.

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So you think coaches should go for it more on 4th down? Consider these two games.

Nursing a 16-10 third quarter lead over unbeaten Atlanta, untouchable Patriots' head coach Bill Belichick instructed his team to go for it on 4th-and-1 at its own 24-yard. Running back Sammy Morris picked up 2 yards and the first down. New England's drive continued and consumed the rest of the third quarter. The drive culminated when kicker Stephen Gostkowski booted a short field goal a few plays into the fourth quarter to give the Patriots control, 19-10, of a game they went on to win, 26-10.

"Well, the short yardage in our own end ... I felt like we could get a yard," Belichick said. "There would have been plenty of criticism if we didn't, but then we were able to get that and basically hold onto the ball. If I'm not mistaken, we were able to hang onto the ball for pretty much the rest of the third quarter."

Belichick's decision to go for it was justifiable because even though New England was winning, the Falcons and their quarterback Matt Ryan were playing more productively. Indeed, Atlanta finished the game with superior player productivity. As QC's coaching stats demonstrate, the more productive team wins about 75% of all NFL games. Thus, it made sense for Belichick to keep the ball out of the hands of the more productive Ryan, who may have had his team in the lead if running back Michael Turner had not fumbled the ball in the second quarter with Atlanta deep in New England territory.

Meanwhile, in Detroit, embattled Washington coach Jim Zorn saw his Redskins stifle Lions' rookie quarterback Matt Stafford on the opening drive of the game. (Detoit's QCYPA on the opening drive was a miniscule 1.5.) Then, Zorn's quarterback, Jason Campbell, efficiently guided Washington to the Detroit 1-yard line where the Redskins faced a 4th-and-1. On the drive, Campbell completed 5 of 7 passes for 67 yards (9.571 QCYPA). A team that enjoys such outstanding productivity is very, very difficult--almost impossible--to beat. And the Redskins were facing the Lions who were riding a 19-game losing streak. But Zorn unjustifiably eschewed the field goal and running back Clinton Portis failed on a 4th down run. Detroit's Stafford promptly guided the Lions 99 yards for a touchdown and control of the game.

"I didn't think we'd be denied getting in the end zone and we were," Zorn said. "But there was no way a team could drive 99 yards on us was my thought."

However, the real damage from Zorn's decision to pass up the field goal and an almost certain 3 points on the first drive did not really accrue until late in the fourth quarter. Trailing 19-14, Campbell guided the solidly more productive Redskins to the Detroit 36-yard line. If Washington had kicked the field goal in the first quarter, the deficit would have been only 19-17 and another field goal would have won the game. All the Redskins would have needed would have been one more completion of 10-12 yards and they would have been in position to win. But because Zorn had done the "manly-man" thing and eschewed the field goal in the first quarter, his players now needed more than just a field goal. His players desperately needed a touchdown. Alas, Campbell is a fine player, but he is no Brett Favre when it comes to making desperation look good. Washington's final desperate play ended in a series of failed laterals and Detroit claimed its first victory since 2007.

Of course, none of the long-term implications mean anything to the nerdy-sounding priesthood that myopically urges NFL coaches to go for it more on 4th down. Advanced NFL Stats analysis is a good example of this frustrating short-sightedness. In Advanced NFL Stats' abstract world of make believe, Zorn's choice to go for it was worth 4.6 points and the alternative choice to kick a field goal was worth 2.4 points. Based on this math, Advanced NFL Stats concludes that: "Despite Portis' failed plunge, this was a slam-dunk good decision by Zorn and the Redskins."

Not so fast, my friend.

In the real world, of course, Zorn's choice was worth 0 points and the almost certain 18-yard field goal would have been worth 3 points. But, for this exercise, we will accept Advanced NFL Stats' accounting methods. We will assume that, despite failure, the Redskins were awarded 4.6 points for Zorn's decision to go for it on fourth down and would have been awarded only 2.4 points if he had chosen to kick the field goal.

Here is the thing that the myopic Advanced NFL Stats overlooks: Washington lost by 5 points, 19-14. Thus, even if the Redskins are awarded their pretend 4.6 points, they still lose (19-18.6) unless they kick a field goal on the last drive of the game. Furthermore, if Zorn chooses to kick the "fraidy cat" field goal, the Redskins lose (19-16.4) unless they kick a field goal on the last drive of the game. Finally, even if Zorn had settled for Advanced NFL Stats' 2.4 points by deciding to kick , the Redskins still could have won the game (19.4-19) with another real field goal on their final drive. So, in the make believe world, Zorn and the Redskins are not in any better position to win the game at the end by going for it on fourth down in the first quarter than they would have been by kicking the field goal and receiving the make believe 2.4 points.

"You play to win the game!" While Advanced NFL Stats does not need to remember this when it mathematically calculates exected point values (which it does extremely well), its football analysis will get better if it remembers this before it draws football conclusions from its math.

ESPN's Gregg "My Wife Hasn't Found Out My Hard Drive Is An NFL Cheerleader Peep Show Just Yet" Easterbrook, who has been known to mischaracterize the underlying data, is even more frustrating. In his Tuesday Morning Quarterback column, Easterbrook wrote: "Trailing the hapless Lions 13-7 in the fourth quarter, facing fourth-and-3 at midfield, Jim 'Dan Snyder Hasn't Fired Me Quite Just Yet' Zorn ordered a punt. Needless to say, Washington went on to lose to a team on a 0-19 streak. So what if a fourth-and-goal attempt failed in the first quarter. That was then, this is now! Fortune favors the bold!"

Fortune favors the bold? No. Fortune (a/k/a luck) favors the prepared, as this designer observed at 1:10-1:50 of this video segment.

In The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, Nicholas Nassim Taleb cautions against predicting the result of an event at the expense of preparing to avoid unecessary dependence on predictions that may determine your fortune. Taleb advises:

"Being a Fool in the Right Places

The lesson for the small is: be human! Accept that being human involves some amount of epistemic arrogance in running your affairs. Do not be ashamed of that. Do not try to always withhold judgment--opinions are the stuff of life. Do not try to avoid predicting--yes, after this diatribe about prediction I am not urging you to stop being a fool. Just be a fool in the right places.

What you should avoid is unecessary dependence on large-scale harmful predictions--those and only those. Avoid the big subjects that may hurt your future: be fooled in small matters, not in the large. Do not listen to economic forecasters or to predictors in social science (they are mere entertainers), but do make your own forecasts for the picnic. By all means, demand certainty for the next picnic; but avoid government social security forecasts for the year 2040.

Know how to rank beliefs not according to their plausibility but by the harm they may cause.

Be Prepared

The reader might feel queasy reading about these general failures to see the future and wonder what to do. But if you shed the idea of full predictabilty, there are plenty of things to do provided you remain conscious of their limits. Knowing that you cannot predict does not mean that you cannot benefit from unpredictability.

The bottom line: be prepared! Narrow-minded prediction has an analgesic or therapeutic effect. Be aware of the numbing effect of magic numbers. Be prepared for all relevant eventualities."

Last Sunday, Belichick was prepared for all relevant eventualities and ranked his belief that his team could make 1-yard on 4th down not according to plausibility but by the harm that failure may have caused. As a result, Belichick's team beat an unbeaten opponent that performed more productively than his players. Belichick was a fool in the right place. That is good coaching.

Jim Zorn was not prepared for all relevant eventualities as he failed to foresee that at the end of the game his team might need the 3 points he squandered in the first quarter and ranked his belief that his team could make 1 yard on 4th down according to plausibility and not by the harm that failure could cause. As a result, Zorn's team lost to a winless team even though his players performed more productively than the opposition. Zorn was a fool in the wrong place. That is not good coaching.

QC does not need any math to know the difference.

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In Week 3, some teams' (Indianpolis, Chicago, Green Bay, and Philadelphia) play designs were money ($), while other teams' (Oakland, Cleveland, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Miami, and Tennessee) play designs were bankrupt (<2 ðHY ). If you disregard the play of the veteran QBs executing those play designs (the incomparable Manning and the journeymen Leftwich, Pennington and Collins), an interesting comparison can be made between the young QBs who are still mastering the craft.

The productive group features one bonus baby (Chicago's Jay Cutler), one late first-round pick who slid in the draft (Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers), and one later round pick (Philadelphia's Kevin Kolb). Likewise, the unproductive group features one bonus baby (Oakland's JaMarcus Russell), one late first-round pick who slid in the draft (Cleveland's Brady Quinn), and one later round pick (Buffalo's Trent Edwards). Two weeks ago, Russell struggled mightily against the same Kansas City defense that Kolb carved up on Sunday. A signficant difference between the groups appears to be that every member of the productive group plays for a stable play designer (Lovie Smith, Mike McCarthy, Andy Reid), while every member of the non-productive group plays for a play designer that is on the hot seat or soon will be (Tom Cable, Eric Mangini, Dick Jauron).

YOU MAKE THE CALL: TRUE or FALSE
Did the better team win the Minnesota/San Francisco game? (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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2009 NFL Season: Week 2 Thoughts

Week 2 offered several interesting results and possible clues to the rest of the 2009 season.

In Chicago, defending Super Bowl-champion Pittsburgh and the Bears got identical contributions from their coaching staffs as each staff's play design contribution (HA) was .1952. In such a game, the players alone decide the outcome. While the Steelers players were a little more productive on average (3.23 v. 3.08), kicker Jeff Reed more than off-set that productivity by missing two field goals while Bears kicker Robby Gould nailed his only field goal attempt in a 17-14 win. Of course, as the 8th Commandment states, such field goal attempts involve no play design or coaching.

"I'm just embarrassed, you know, because these guys fight their tails off to win the game," Reed said. "If there is one player that can single-handedly lose the game, I'll take credit for it." (Reed should not be so hard on himself. The Steelers' 2 turnovers did not help.)

Being an NFL kicker can be tough.

**********
San Diego sure missed three injured starters: RB LaDainian Tomlinson, C Nick Hardwick, and G Louis Vasquez. Chargers' head coach Norv Turner's play designs were money ($)as San Diego moved up and down the field. But the Chargers could not get a tough yard or two when they needed it and had to settle for Nick Kaeding field goals. San Diego also could not stop the Ravens and fell, 31-26. After two games, the Chargers appear just as mercurial as they were in 2008.

**********
Cincinnati showed it first signs of life on offense in more than a year. In a 31-24 win over Green Bay, the Bengals and QB Carson Palmer posted a QCYPA of 8.609 and player productivity (ðHY) of 10.04. In 2008, Cincinnati never reached 8 QCYPA in any game and its average player productivity for the entire year was less than 2. If the Bengals can keep it up and continue to play stellar defense (DE Antwan Odom recorded 5 sacks), the Packers might not be the last team Cincinnati surprises.

**********
It only took a single loss, a 33-31 set-back at the hands of the New York Giants, for folks in "Big D" to go into full panic. The Dallas Star-Telegram said all that needs to be done is that everyone, starting with head coach Wade Phillips, needs to be fired.

It is true that the Cowboys, who were minus-4 in turnovers, looked much like the 2008 edition in their propensity to be generous to the opposition. But there may be a bright side to the loss. Dallas QB Tony Romo posted a 4.724 QCYPA and threw 3 interceptions, while New York counterpart Eli Manning tallied a sparkling 9.211 QCYPA and did not commit any turnovers. In addition, the Cowboys' pass pressure, the best in the NFL in 2008, did not get to Manning once. In other words, it is doubtful that Dallas can play any worse and it is just as doubtful that the Giants can play much better. And New York still needed a field goal on the last play of the game to win. Relax Cowboys' fans, the world is not coming to an end. Sure it is disappointing to lose to an arch-rival in the grand opening of your brand new stadium. But it is just one game. There is still much football to be played.

 

Andy Reid and the "Worst 4th Down Decision of 2008"

Should NFL coaches go for it more on 4th down?

In 2005, respected economist David Romer published a paper suggesting coaches should go for it more on 4th down. (Note: David Romer is not relation to Paul Romer, the author of Endogenous Technological Change, the economic theory upon which QC's coaching statistics is based.) ESPN's Gregg Easterbrook beats the drum for coaches to go for it on 4th down and eschew punts and field goals in virtually every Tuesday Morning Quarterback column. The peerless Advanced NFL Stats now has published a four-part study that finds "coaches normally should be far more aggressive on 4th down." QC is very skeptical. (See 8th Commandment: Discussion of "Kickoffs/Punts").

Advanced NFL Stats goes so far as to identify the "Worst 4th Down Decision of 2008": Philadelphia coach Andy Reid's decision to punt on 4th-and-1 at his own 49-yard line with 1:56 left in the fourth quarter of what would end up as a 13-13 tie with the lowly Cincinnati Bengals.

In doing so, Advanced NFL Stats demonstrates the difference between real NFL decision-making and the fictional, abstract, virtual decision-making of the nerdy sounding priesthood of statisticians. The difference is this: NFL coaches make all their decisions--even their 4th down decisions--from the perspective of what is in the long-term best interest of their team. The nerdy-sounding priesthood makes their 4th down decisions from the perspective of what is in the short-term best-interest of the team on that down alone. NFL coaches see (or at least try to see) the whole field and all the variables simultaneously. The nerdy-sounding priesthood does not bother. As the 10th Commandment states, the nerdy-sounding priesthood's advice "sounds impressive," but it might just be good enough to get you beat.

Andy Reid's decision to punt is a vivid illustration of the perspective difference. By punting, i.e., playing not to lose, Reid helped the Eagles avoid a defeat. Philadelphia finished 9-6-1 and half a game in front of Dallas (9-7), Chicago (9-7), and Tampa Bay (9-7) in the chase for final 2008 NFC playoff berth. Once into the tournament, the Eagles defeated Minnesota and New York before falling just short of the Super Bowl when they lost a close game to the red-hot Arizona Cardinals.

From the perspective of the long-term interest of Philadelphia, it is indisputable that Reid made the correct decision when he chose to punt against the Bengals. By playing not to lose, the Eagles did not lose and at the end of the year the absence of that loss proved the value of his decision.

Furthermore, as Advanced NFL Stats pointed out by implication, the Eagles failed on 3rd-and-1 about 40 percent of the time. Thus, the chance of success on 4th down against the Bengals was in reality just a little better than a coin flip. On the other side of that coin was the Bengals' pathetic offense, which was the worst in the NFL in QCYPA in 2008 (4.905). While it was highly unlikely that Cincinnati could sustain any kind of even modest offensive surge, any team can get lucky on a single play. If Reid had chosen to go for it on 4th down and if Philadelphia had failed (40% chance of doing so), then all the Bengals would have needed was 1 good play and they might have been able to win the game with a field goal. Reid's decision to punt and give his more productive team more time and chances to subdue the inferior foe was exactly the right thing to do. Ultimately, the Eagles were not able to do so, but their ability to avoid short-term defeat ultimately proved to be a long-term victory after all the games were played and choices made in 2008.

How can Reid's deicision, which proved so beneficial to his team in the long-run, be deemed "The Worst 4th Down Deicision of 2008?" The answer is that, on the field, it cannot. Only in the abstract world where form dominates over substance can this absurd conclusion be reached.

In reaching this conclusion, QC relies upon Alfred Marshall, who wrote in 1906 about his skepticism regarding the use of mathematics in economics:

"[I had] a growing feeling in the later years of my work at the subject that a good mathematical theorem dealing with economic hypotheses was very unlikely to be good economics: and I went more and more on the rules - (1) Use mathematics as a shorthand language, rather than an engine of inquiry. (2) Keep to them till you have done. (3) Translate into English. (4) Then illustrate by examples that are important in real life. (5) Burn the mathematics. (6) If you can't succeed in (4), burn (3). This last I did often. "

QC loves the statistical work of Advanced NFL Stats and does not have any argument with the math. But on Sunday, you can have Advanced NFL Stats, David Romer, Easterbrook and all the other short-term, abstract thinkers. QC is taking Reid and his long-term thinking process.

YOU MAKE THE CALL: TRUE or FALSE
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Dick Jauron and Bobby April

How did New England lose its season opener on Monday night against Buffalo, 25-24?

"That was as close as it gets," said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. "There was a lot of situational plays that we needed at the end that we made and had we not made them, we probably would not have won. But we put ourselves in that position."

Upon superficial examination, it appears that Buffalo kick returner Leodis McKelvin lent a large assist to Brady and New England being in that position. With just over 2 minutes left in the game following a Patriots touchdown that cut Buffalo's lead to 24-19, Bills' head coach Dick Jauron and special teams coach Bobby April sent out their "hands-team" and aligned their receiving team in anticipation of an on-side kick. After New England crossed Jauron and April up and kicked the ball deep, things quickly became interesting.

"We had three timeouts and at 2:06 we might have had the two minute warning depending on how much time - say if it would have been a touchback - then we would have had three timeouts plus a two minute warning," New England coach Bill Belichick observed in his post-game press conference.

So Belichick had thought out the situation and coached in the moment. It appears that Jauron and April had not and did not. Neither Jauron or April has stated publicly what their thought process was prior to the kickoff. However, in the situation that Buffalo found itself facing, many coaches probably spend a lot more time hoping that their players recover an onside kick than thinking about what to instruct their single return man--in this case McKelvin--to do in the event the kickoff is boomed deep.

"It was one of those things that happen, but I don't have any problem with Leodis," Jauron said after the game. "He's a guy that plays hard. He's a guy that really could take it to the house."

It is precisely because McKelvin is just such a player that Jauron and April should have forewarned the return man that if New England kicked it deep and McKelvin returned the ball to just go down if confronted by contact. Buffalo did not need McKelvin to "take it to the house." The Bills just needed McKelvin to burn about 7 seconds off the clock so that the Patriots would not receive any benefit from the 2-minute warning.

As Gregg Easterbrook wrote in his ESPN Tuesday Morning Quarterback column: "The killer mistake was when McKelvin struggled to try to gain an extra yard after he was under tackle by two Patriots. Get on the ground! He'd brought the ball back to the 31-yard line -- reaching the 32 was completely irrelevant. He's a super-highly-paid first-round-drafted NFL player -- doesn't he know the desperate Patriots will try to strip the ball? Get on the ground! Often all a football team needs to do is the obvious, and things will be fine. Had McKelvin simply gone to the ground once he was hemmed in, Buffalo's chances of victory would have been good. Instead, it's yet another humiliation for a squad that once operated in the NFL's elite. Buffalo lacks the football IQ necessary to win."

While Easterbrook's assessment is gratuitously acerbic, it is accurate for this game. According to QC's coaching statistics, Buffalo was more productive than New England. The Bills also benefitted from a postive random event or black swan, defensive end Aaron Schobel's interception return for a touchdown. Buffalo quarterback Trent Edwards did not throw an interception. Under these circumstances, it is almost impossible for a team such as the Bills to lose a game. But they did.

And make no mistake: Buffalo probably lost because Jauron and April did not think to instruct McKelvin. As the 8th Commandment holds, special teams involve almost no coaching. Further, the 9th Commandment states that turnovers, such as McKelvin's fumble, are player play-making failures, not coaching failures. So it would be easy to give Jauron and April a pass on their failure to decide what they wanted McKelvin to do if he got his hands on the ball and communicate that design to him. The knuckleheads in Buffalo who vandalized McKelvin's home after the defeat certainly must have seen it this way.

But this would be wrong. QC does not second-guess or Monday morning quarterback the decision of any coach. But in this case Jauron and April appear to have failed to coach as instruction is the essence of coaching. And such instruction is most critical at the critical points in life, particuarly when the coach knows that the one he is coaching has a natural and innocent inclination to do precisely that which is contrary to what the team needs him to do in the situation. QC does not critize coaching decisions, but Jauron and April did not make a decision. Coaching decisions are not subject to criticism; abandonment of players (even if inadvertent) is definitely subject to criticism. Jauron and April are liable for the latter, not the former.

Stated differently, Jauron and April committed one of the most eggregious mistakes a coach can make: They became spectators. What to do if he got the ball should not have been McKelvin's decision alone. He should have received help from his coaches. Apparently, he did not get any and in failing to provide such help Jauron and April let him down.

Of course, even if Jauron and April had instructed McKelvin to get on the ground at the first chance of contact, the guidance may have been in vain. Probably due to the hazardous nature of agreeing to stand all alone under a ball that 11 angry men are chasing at high speed, most good returners tend to be a little on the oblivious side. Heck, super-returner Desmond Howard once failed to show up on time for the second half kickoff in a playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers because he was changing his pants.

Even more incredibly, before a playoff game against the Patriots a few years ago, San Diego head coach Marty Schottenheimer offered some words of wisdom to Chargers' defensive back Drayton Florence. "Hey, Dratyon!" Marty yelled as he jogged up to the young defensive back in pre-game. "Now be sure when you get the interception at the end of the game that wins it, you just go down the ground and the h--- with all that running around, alright."

"Yes, sir," the dutiful Florence responded.

Late in the fourth quarter, a different Chargers' defensive back, the un-instructed Marlon McCree, grabbed a 4th down interception to stop New England's drive. But rather than go down to the turf, McCree ran with the ball and, like McKelvin, fought for extra yardage. Patriots's wider receiver Troy Brown stripped the ball from McCree. New England recovered the fumble, received a fresh set of downs, and went on to the touchdown and 2-point conversion that tied the game 21-21. Ultimately, the Patriots prevailed 24-21 and sent Schottenheimer to the last of a string of incredibly difficult playoff defeats.

But at least Schottenheimer tried to coach his players on the situation. If only Jauron and April had been as helpful.

YOU MAKE THE CALL: TRUE or FALSE
Are Buffalo coaches Dick Jauron and Bobby April more responsible for Leodis McKelvin's fumble than McKelvin himself? (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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2009 NFL Season: Week 1 Thoughts

Green Bay, snake-bitten in 2008 in games decided by random events, discovered it is better to be lucky than good in their 21-15 season-opening win over Chicago. The Bears (4.69) were more productive than the Packers (2.39), but wasted their productivity edge as Green Bay was plus-4 in turnover margin.

The only other more productive team to lose through the end of the first Sunday of games was Cleveland (2.22), which fell to Minnesota (1.73), 34-20. Like Green Bay, Minnesota benefitted from Browns' turnovers (plus-2). If the Vikings do not improve their play design and player productivity, however, RB Adrian Peterson might start seeing a lot of 9 man lines. A super-man runner like Peterson can only carry a team for so long.

On the positive side, the productivity of Dallas ($) and New Orleans ($) was outstanding in wins over Tampa Bay (34-21) and Detroit (45-27), respectively. QC salutes Cowboys' head coach Wade Phillips and his staff and Saints' head coach Sean Payton and his staff.

Behind rookie QB Mark Sanchez, the New York Jets' were very productive (21.11) in a 24-7 win over Houston, although it should be kept in mind that most QBs were productive against the Texans' defense in 2008. Seattle's productivity was much improved over 2008 in a 28-0 win over St. Louis. Alas, the Rams and the Lions, despite hiring new defensive-oriented coaches (Steve Spagnuolo and Jim Schwartz), looked much like they did in 2008. Sadly, Carolina QB Jake Delhomme looked like he did in the playoffs last year against Arizona.

 

"Bad Luck" Packers

Is it better to be lucky than good?

The Green Bay Packers probably think so. Green Bay is coming off a 6-10 year, but the mark could have been better as the Pack was the unluckiest team in the NFL in 2008, going 0-5 in black swan games that were decided by random events. Packers' coach Mike McCarthy, who oversaw a highly productive offense led by quarterback Aaron Rogers, must have felt like the NFL equivalent of "Bad Luck Schleprock."

The bad luck that Green Bay encountered ranged from the traditional (turnovers doomed the Packers against Tennessee and Jacksonville) to the rarely seen. In a 3-point loss to Atlanta, Green Bay lost a successful 41-yard field goal when its long snapper was called for holding. Doh! Really? Holding on a long-snapper? How often do you see that? After backing up 10 yards, the 51-yard field goal attempt was unsuccessful.

Green Bay last saw Chicago late in the 2008 season. The Packers were more productive than the Bears and seemed to have the game won until Chicago blocked a chip shot game-winning Green Bay field goal on the last play of the game. Doh! The Bears then won in overtime.

As QC has noted, coaches have no control over such random events. If Green Bay had enjoyed the good fortune of the Tennessee Titans (5-0 in black swan games), the Packers could have finished 11-5 and in the playoffs. Even if Green Bay had been just mildly lucky and gone 3-2 in black swan games, the Packers would have ended up with a 9-7 record and in the thick of the playoff race. Green Bay ranked in the top 10 in both play design differential and player productivity differential in 2008, so one might expect to see a quick return to a playoff-caliber record in 2009.

That is not to say Green Bay was without flaws. Efficient NFL teams (Atlanta, Dallas, Carolina, New Orleans, and Houston) ravaged the Packers' pass defense in 5 of the games that Green Bay lost. General manager Ted Thompson and head coch Mike McCarthy moved to correct those problems in the off-season by bringing in zone-blitz guru Dom Capers as defensive coordinator.

Capers' new 3-4 defensive designs will get their first test against Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler, who came to Chicago in an off-season trade with the Denver Broncos. Following the pre-season, Chicago fans are giddy about the possibility of Cutler providing a high-powered passing attack in the Windy City.

Green Bay's new defensive designs against Chicago's new on-field designer makes Packers/Bears the most intersting match-up of Week 1 of the 2009 NFL season.

YOU MAKE THE CALL: TRUE or FALSE
Will the the Green Bay Packers reverse their fortunes and defeat their arch-rival the Chicago Bears in their season-opener? (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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Jim Schwartz and Todd Haley

Is new Detroit Lions' head coach Jim Schwartz the next Vince Lombardi?

Certainly, Detroit fans hope that the answer is yes. Of course, given that the Lions were 0-16 last year, they probably would do cartwheels if Schwartz turns out to be merely the next Wayne Fontes.

Every year, after the teams at the bottom of the NFL finish disappointing seasons, their owners look for a sideline savior. Every year a few "hot" assistant coaches step into some of those jobs. Indeed, Lombardi himself was once such a "hot" assistant coach when he was the offensive coordinator of the New York Giants in the late 1950s. But how can an owner tell if he has the next Lombardi or Chuck Noll and not the next Clive Rush?

In 1969, the Boston Patriots finished 4-10 and owner Billy Sullivan terminated coach Mike Holovak. Boston's search for a successor came down to a pair of assistant coaches who were on the different sides of the field for the Super Bowl--Colts defensive coordinator Chuck Noll and Jets offensive coordinator Clive Rush.

"They were waiting to see what happened at the Super Bowl, and then they were going to talk to the two coordinators," Will McDonough recalled in an interview in Jeff Miller's Going Long: The Wild 10-Year Saga of the Renegade American Football League in the Words of Those Who Lived It. "The guy they really wanted was Chuck Noll, from Baltimore. The Colts were going to win the Super Bowl. That's who they had their eye on, but Pittsburgh did as well. I think they even interviewed Noll. All of a sudden, the Jets won. Like the wind, they moved right over to Clive Rush, though Joe Namath called every play in Super Bowl III."

The consequences were disastrous. The Patriots went 5-16 in the next year and half under Rush. "It's kind of a blank memory, the fact that the team was so horrendous," said former Boston kicker and wide receiver Gino Cappelletti. But the former Boston Globe writer, McDonough, remembered as least one bizzarre incident when Boston went to Cincinnati to play Paul Brown's Bengals.

"Clive used to say, 'Paul Brown's the greatest coach that ever lived. I admire Paul Brown. Paul Brown was All-Ohio--Massillon, Ohio State, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati,'" McDonough recalled. "All week, he was talking about Paul Brown, matching up with Paul Brown. This is what he was telling the players all week long. So, we are in Nippert Stadium. Two hours before a game, Clive liked to go out and walk around, wave. He loved it. His team would be in the locker room and he was sitting on the bench, all by himself. Gino Cappelletti was coming around with the special teams. Clive said, 'Gino, c'mon over here. I want to talk to you a minute.' Gino ran over: 'What's up, Coach?' He said, 'Here's what we are going to do today. I don't want to tell the other guys. It's a big surprise. The first time we get in close, we're going to kick a field goal on third down.' Gino said, 'Wait a minute, Coach. Why are we going to do that?' He said, 'Because we are going to destroy Paul Brown's mind. He's a machine. He does everything by the book. And he's going to say, 'Why are they doing that?' I'm going to distract him. I'm going to take him out of his game plan. That's my game plan, to take him out of his game plan.' Thank God they never got to use it."

The simple answer is that there is now way to predict which assistant coach will bring home multiple Lombardi trophies (e.g., Chuck Noll) and which will being looking for employment elsewhere not long after he is hired (e.g., Clive Rush).

Against this backdrop, the two most intriguing new head coaches in the NFL in 2009 are Schwartz and Kansas City's Todd Haley. In a short article in the Detroit Free Press by Nicholas J. Cotonika, former Detroit coach Rick Forzano, a mentor of Bill Belichick and a friend of Belichick's late father who refers to the New England head coach as "Billy," compared Forzano to Belichick.

"They both can see the total field," Forzano said. "That takes special talent. I didn't have it. I couldn't see the 22 players out there. Some people can, and that's a special vision. I think Jim and Billy had the same situation."

As readers of QC know, Lombardi and San Francisco's Bill Walsh also possessed the special talent to see all 22 players simultaneously. This special talent is a power that is quite difficult to grasp.

Schwartz, who holds a degree in economics from Georgetown University, is better known for his willingness to embrace an advanced statistical approach to football. However, at its roots, his statistical approach is nearly identical to the approach Lombardi took in the 1960s. When reviewing game film, Schwartz uses a simple grading system: He gives a plus (positive impact), a minus (negative impact), or a zero (no impact) to each player on each play. Likewise, Lombardi used a ternary grading system pursuant to which he graded blocks with a 0 (for ineffective), 1 (for effective), or 2 (for superior).

Kansas City owner Clark Hunt likewise looks like he is trying to re-create one of the NFL's greatest coaches, Belichick, by hiring former New England player personnel man Scott Pioli as his general manager and Haley as his coach. Like Belichick, whos father Steve was a scout for the Naval Academy for decades, Haley is the son of former Pittsburgh Steelers' scout Dick Haley. As a kid, Todd Haley used to sit in the dark with his father watching game film. Haley's childhood sounds strikingly similar to Belchick's experience with his father.

"Very early on, Bill Belichick, not surprisingly, started seeing the game through the eyes of a coach," David Halberstam wrote in The Education of a Coach. "Studying the game and scouting off film is exhausting, repetitive work, which can quickly turn into drudgery, there is no shortcut: You have to run the film forward, run it back, run it forward again, and run it back two or three more times. To most people, a quick view of what another team did is enough. But for Steve Belichick and soon enough for his son, that quick view was a ticket into a secret world, in which you could find so much more than what was on the surface: the way different players lined up for different plays, the differences in cadences for running and passing plays--all those things might give you an edge. Steve Belichick would be tracking the quarterback on a given play, and he would say, 'Bill, would you check the tight end, and what he runs,' and Bill would answer that he had faked a block and then run a square in, and Steve would chart it on the diagram. 'My kids would come in and see the film being shown and look closely at it and say 'Oh, we've already seen this movie,' recalled Navy coach Wayne Hardin years later, 'and go back out and play, but Bill would be absolutely transfixed; he loved helping his father.'"

It remains to be seen whether Haley's upbringing will give Kansas City an edge, but there is at least one person other than Scott Pioli who suspects it might.

"I always thought he had an aptitude for it," Dick Haley said of his son's coaching ability. "He'd tell me things I wouldn't even think about. He had an eye."

If Haley's eye and Schwartz's eye enable them to see all 22 people on the football field simultaneously, then fans in Kansas City and Detroit may indeed be for some good times real soon.

YOU MAKE THE CALL: TRUE or FALSE
Will Detroit Lions' head coach be the next Vince Lombardi? (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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Josh McDaniels and Jay Cutler

Did the Denver Broncos make the right call in trading QB Jay Cutler when the relationship between Cutler and new Denver head coach Josh McDaniels could not be harmonized?

On the telecast of the preseason game between the Broncos and Cutler's new team, the Chicago Bears, NBC announcer Cris Collinsworth was very critical of the trade. "I personally think there were a lot of mistakes here in Denver over the past couple of months," Collinsworth said. "I can't believe it happened to be honest with you. You just don't see franchise quarterbacks move like that."

However, unlike McDaniels, Collinsworth is not a graduate of "Belichick University." In the aftermath of the game with the Bears, QC went back and examined the seminal Belichick University textbook: David Halbertstam's The Education of a Coach.

At page 193 of the text, Halberstam relates the "Lawrence Taylor Lesson." According to Halberstam, Belichick learned that "if getting a player of Taylor's magnitude was the rarest thing for any coach, let alone a young assistant coach, it also presented a dilemma." The "Lesson" began in New York and ended in Cleveland where Belichick inherited another franchise player, QB Bernie Kosar, albeit one in decline. "When it turned dark in Belichick's tour [in Cleveland], and eventually it turned very dark, it was over a question of a quarterback," Halberstam wrote. Kosar "was loath to admit his waning abilities; he, too, had an ego, and he felt the grasp of the team and perhaps the city as well, threatened by his new coach who was not much older than he was."

Halberstam then set forth the "Lawrence Taylor Lesson" as follows:

"What Belichick decided after he left Cleveland was that if he ever got another head coaching job, there would be one set of rules for everyone, that he would go for players who had both talent and character, and if there was a great player like Taylor, a unique player who created a unique problem, he would deal with it sooner, rather than later." (Emphasis Added)

As QC's 4th Commandment states, a functional relationship between a coach and his quarterback is critical to achieving success in the NFL. Other than the fact that Cutler is a young player rather than a player in decline, the situation in Denver appears to be very similar to the situation that Belichick faced in Cleveland with Kosar. McDaniels is not much older than Cutler. Apparently, Cutler begged Denver owner Pat Bowlen to retain former offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, but McDaniels did not do so. After Cutler met with McDaniels face-to-face, Cutler publicly accused McDaniels of "antagonizing" him during the meeting. Cutler said McDaniels made it clear that he could be traded if McDaniels felt it was "in the best interest of the organization." Cutler told ESPN that McDaniels "basically said that I needed to tell him if we can't work this out, to let him know."

In other words, Cutler, perhaps a unique player (according to Collinsworth), created a unique problem for McDaniels. Cutler made "the grasp of the team" a potential issue.

In the end, most people will grade the trade based on hindsight alone. If Cutler does well in Chicago--a talented Type A quarterback may be a very good fit with Chicago's defense-oriented Lovie Smith (think Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy)--and McDaniels does not win, the trade and McDaniels surely will be deemed failures. But such a judgment would be terribly unfair.

If the trade and McDaniels are to be graded fairly, the only question that should be asked is did McDaniels learn the "Lawrence Taylor Lesson" and did he have the courage to act sooner rather than later in accordance with what he had learned. Unequivocally, the answer is yes. Thus, no matter what the future holds for Josh McDaniels, he will get an "A" at Belichick University.

YOU MAKE THE CALL: TRUE or FALSE
Did the Denver Broncos make the right call in trading QB Jay Cutler when the relationship between Cutler and new Denver head coach Josh McDaniels could not be harmonized? (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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Bill Walsh

"It is important to remember that so much can be learned from the past. When I was at Stanford, I searched for and finally found, in a warehouse, film of Clark Shaughnessy's 1940 Rose Bowl team. Watching that reinforced my feelings about the man-in-motion. Shaughnessy was using plays and formations very similar to those we were running at Stanford nearly forty years later." Bill Walsh, Building a Champion

l

The Wildcat

Can the Wildcat offense be an every-down offense in the NFL?

A week ago, on Monday Night Football, analysts John Gruden and Ron Jaworski debated this question. Gruden passionately wielded his telestrator and talked about one less defender in the box as he argued in the affirmative. "Jaws" disagreed and maintained that while the Wildcat is a nice "change-up" that an offense can throw at a defense, the formation and play design package will never be a base NFL offense.


Actually, Gruden has sounded like Dr. Frankenstein in a lightning storm since Miami drafted spread-specialist Pat White in the second round of the NFL Draft. "It's alive!" Gruden fairly blurted on the NFL Network after the White pick was announced. In a recent pre-season game against Carolina, the Dolphins ran a few plays out of the Wildcat formation and turned White loose on some designed runs. But Miami really did not show anything new. According to Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano, every team in the league has about 95 videotapes of the plays Miami ran.

What Sparano himself does not have videotape of is an option attack--such as the Wildcat or the spread or any other variation of option football--succeeding as a base offense in the NFL. The league has been down this road before. In 1968, Darrell Royal and Emory Bellard got together at Texas and invented the ultimate running technology, the wishbone. By 1971, running produced 57.9 percent of all total-offense yardage gained by college teams. By the end of the year, Sports Illustrated senior NFL writer, Tex Maule, was speculating that the triple option would be the NFL offense of the future as quarterbacks like Detroit's Greg Landry (stop laughing ... Tex Maule said Greg Landry) took to the ground.

While New Orleans (with QB Bobby Douglas) and New England (with former Oklahoma coach Chuck Fairbanks and QB Steve Grogan) joined Detroit in running a little option, ultimately, NFL chefs shunned the recipe. "A coach spends day and night his whole life getting a quarterback so he can play pro football," Sid Gillman said. "Then if he exposes him to option football promiscuously, he has got to be out of his mind."

As ESPN's John Clayton has written, the Wildcat is triple option football. However, not much has changed in the NFL since Gillman made his observation. A starting quarterback's health remains paramount. With 85 scholarships to hand out and the national letter of intent system, college teams still harvest their players. In contrast, with only 45 spots on an active roster and the draft, NFL teams purchase their players as if they were the works of master painters. The two systems are as different as the commodity market at the Chicago Board of Trade and an auction of fine art work at Sotheby's.

At the height of commodity football, when the triple option ruled the college game and coaches could sign prospects to letters of intent without any limits, college chefs like Bear Bryant and Bill Yeoman often used a second quarterback for a series or two just in case anything happened to the first-teamer. Such quarterbacks, like bushels of corn, essentially were fungible. No so a Picasso or a Monet. Such works cannot be replaced. And for that reason, it is unlikely that the Wildcat offense will be come a standard dish in any NFL restaurant.

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Bill Belichick

Will the New England pass defense regain its past form in 2009? The answer may depend more on the coaching of Bill Belichick and an improvement in the Patriots' defensive designs than you think.

Everyone recognizes that New England's pass defense in 2008 was awful, but most pundits attribute those failings to a lack of players and not a failure of play designs. Michael Lombardi and Football Outsiders specifically identify the lack of pure pass rushers as the cause. The Patriots ranked 18th in FO's Adjusted Sack Rate. New England has addressed the perceived player deficiencies by adding DE Derrick Burgess and re-making its secondary with Leigh Bodden, Shawn Springs, Patrick Chung, and Darius Butler.


While Belichick may be the greatest defensive play designer ever, QC speculates that New England's poor pass defense may have been the result of sub-par play designs as much as a lack of play-making players.

"Heresy!" you say. "Burn the witch!" you scream. Well, maybe. But before you stoke the flame, let us take a few minutes to consider some numbers.

According to QC's statistics, the Patriots ranked 6th in pass pressure in 2006. On average, opposing passers lost .504 yards every time they attempted to pass. That is a pretty good number. Four of the five teams that ranked ahead of New England made the playoffs (NY Giants, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Minnesota). Only Dallas failed to qualify and turnovers were the reason the Cowboys did not participate. No matter who is rushing the passer for Belichick, it will be hard for the Patriots to improve on their pass pressure performance.

However, despite New England's pressure on the passer, the Patriots were a dreadful 23rd in D-QCYPA. In addition, the Patriots ranked 22nd in play design differential. Concededly, part of the reason for the latter number was the loss of Tom Brady and corresponding decline in offensive HA, but, as FO has pointed out, New England's offense under Matt Cassell was very good in the second half of the 2008 season.

Beyond the numbers, there a two other things to consider when thinking about the Patriots pass defense. First, a lack of players has never seriously impacted the Patriots production in the past. Under Belichick, defensive backs have been as fungible as corn or soybeans. Heck, Belichick even turned a wider receiver, Troy Brown, into a competent cover man.

The second consideration is that in the NFL nobody ... NOBODY! ... is immune from change. No matter how successful a coach is in the past, eventually the opposing coaches figure him out and if the coach does not change and adapt, his team will suffer. It happened to Bill Walsh. After designing as beautiful an offense as anyone had ever seen and posting a dominating 38-16 victory over Miami in Super Bowl 19, defensive coordinators like Belichick (NY Giants) and Floyd Peters (Minnesota) figured out how to attack the design. For the next three years, their defenses battered, bruised and knocked Joe Montana out of the playoffs. Only when Walsh re-invented himself and his designs did the 49ers regain their dominant form.

Belichick and the Patriots may be at the same fork in the road. Nobody knows the history of professional football better than Belichick so QC expects that things will be back to normal on defense in New England in 2009. But if they are, it will not be just because the Patriots have new players. It also will be because those defenders have new plays. (ARCHIVES)

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Wade Phillips

After the Dallas Cowboys lost their last two games of the 2008 season and missed the playoffs, the Sporting News said it was "bad news for Cowboys fans" that owner Jerry Jones was keeping head coach Wade Phillips in charge for 2009. On NFLfanhouse.com, Will Brinson wrote that Phillips "seriously underperformed" in 2008. Recently, Tim Calishaw wondered "what it is about Phillips that has Jones so excited when the list of those out of the head coaching business this off-season included Mike Shanahan, Mike Holmgren, Bill Cowher and others."

Did Jones make the right call in retaining Phillips as head coach for the 2009 season? Yes, he did.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the Cowboys' problems in 2008 were not related to coaching. Dallas ranked second in the entire NFL in play design differential at .0562. Only Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh was better at .0577. In other words, on average, only the champion Steelers got more of an edge from the play designs of their coaching staff (Mike Tomlin, Dick LeBeau, et al.) than the Cowboys did from Philllips, Jason Garrett, and their assistants. Phillips and his staff clearly did their jobs well in 2008.

The problem in Dallas last year primarily was turnovers, which are play-making failures, not play design failures. (See 9th Commandment). The Cowboys ranked 30th in the NFL in turnover margin at minus-11. For good measure, Dallas became the first team in NFL history to lose a game that started with a kickoff return for a touchdown and ended in overtime on a blocked punt, special teams failures that cannot be laid at the feet of Phillips or his staff. (See 8th Commandment). Finally, an injury to Tony Romo did not help as Dallas' players were far less productive with back-up Brad Johnson under center in losses to St. Louis and the NY Giants.

Of course, just because Phillips and his staff excelled in 2008 does not mean that they will do so again in 2009. Past performance is not a guarantee of future performance in the NFL. But if an owner such as Jones measures his coach based on play design contribution, rather than media-hype and "Q ratings," Jones' decision to keep Phillips in charge for 2009 clearly was the right call.

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Did Dallas owner Jerry Jones make the right call in retaining Wade Phillips as head coach of the Cowboys? (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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