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2009 NFL Season: Week 10 Thoughts

You would expect a game in which both teams' play designs and player productivity was unlimited ($) to be high-scoring. It was. You would expect such a game to be close. It was. But the last thing you would expect was that this game would be between Cleveland and Detroit. But it was. Browns' QB Brady Quinn tossed 4 TD passes, but Lions' rookie Matthew Stafford did him one better when he hit rookie TE Brandon Pettigrew for his 5th scoring pass after a pass interference penalty on the last play of the game gave him an untimed down. Detroit kicker Jason Hanson then provided the winning margin with the PAT that gave the Lions a 38-37 win.

Things did not go any better for the rest of the teams in the AFC North. Baltimore's Joe Flacco threw a late interception that cost the Ravens a chance to steal a win from the mistake-prone Colts. (Recently signed kicker Billy Cundiff booted 5 field goals, but missed a 30-yard chip shot in the third quarter that also proved costly.) Pittsburgh's special teams yielded a 97-yard kickoff return for a TD to Kansas City's Jamal Charles and the Chiefs stunned the Steelers in overtime. Oakland scored 10 points in the last 33 seconds when Cincinnati's Andre Caldwell fumbled a kickoff to shock the Bengals and keep Cincinnati from putting some serious light between themselves and the Steelers and Ravens. (Cincinnati kicker Shayne Graham chipped in a missed 37-yard field goal.)

There are no style points in football. But if there were, Indianapolis tight end Dallas Clark's TD catch in the Colts' 17-15 win over the Ravens would have netted double bonus. Clark continues to be QC's NFL MVP.

Prior to Sunday's game with Jacksonville, Buffalo fired head coach Dick Jauron and installed former defensive coordinator Perry Fewell as the interim coach. The morning of the game, the NFL Network's Steve Mariucci was critical of the decision. "My gripe is during the season," Mariucci said. "What good is it during the season? Coaches getting fired at the end of the season is typical and probably more appropriate."

When the game arrived, the Bills fell to the Jaguars 18-15 when Fewell's defense yielded a late TD pass from David Garrard to Mike Sims-Walker. Buffalo's offense, which had been sluggish all year, appeared much better behind QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, posting excellent QCYPA (9.677) and player productivity (222.04) numbers. But about one-third of that productivity resuted from one play, Fitzpatrick's 98-yard TD pass to Terrell Owens. Take away that black swan touchdown, and Buffalo's QCYPA and player productivity would have been approximately what it was under Jauron, 6.407 and 2.89, respectively.

The answer to Mariucci's question is that an in-season coaching change almost never works. But there is one notable exception to the rule: the 1961 Houston Oilers.

In 1961, Houston was trying to defend its AFL Championship. The Oilers started the season 1-3-1 as head coach Lou Rymkus let a quarterback controversy involving a veteran starter, George Blanda, and a young strong-armed, back-up, Jacky Lee, swirl.

After a 31-31 tie in Boston in which Lee passed for 457 yards and Blanda kicked a field goal on the last play of the game, Oilers' owner Bud Adams fired Rymkus. The head coach was a desciple of Paul Brown, as was the offensive coordinator, Mac Speedie, who resigned in protest.

Adams hired Wally Lemm, who had been the defensive coordinator the year before when Houston won the innaugural AFL championship. However, Lemm did not start the 1961 season on the coaching staff.

With his defensive background and essentially no offensive staff, Lemm had little choice but to stick with the veteran Blanda as his quarterback. According to wide receiver Charley Hennigan, Lemm basically just turned the offense over to Blanda. With total control of the offense, Blanda did what he had always wanted to do: He threw the ball. Alot. And deep.

The veteran signal-caller did not let Lemm down. Blanda lit up AFL defenses the rest of the year in the air. Running back Billy Cannon had his best year on the ground, winning the rushing title, as Blanda mixed in a clever draw play that took advantage of the vertically spread field that resulted from his "bombs-away" approach. The Oilers won their last 9 games of the regular season and returned to the AFL title game.

In the 1961 AFL title game, for a second year in a row, they met and defeated the Chargers, 10-3, despite Blanda's 5 interceptions. Lemm's defense picked up Blanda and the offense by accepting 4 interceptions from almost as generous San Diego QB Jack Kemp. The teams'combined for whopping 13 total turnovers, seven by Houston. For orchestrating the incredible turnaround, Lemm was named the AFL's Coach of the Year. Blanda received AFL Player of the Year honors for his efforts, which stamped the AFL as a wide-open, pass-happy league.

But their collaboration did not last. Before the 1962 season, Lemm resigned to become the coach of the St. Louis Cardinals in the NFL. He was replaced by the former Cardinals' coach, Pop Ivy, who continued to give Blanda a long leash. In 1962, the Oilers returned to the AFL championship game for a third straight time, despite Blanda throwing an unbreakable football record 42 interceptions. But the Oilers fell just short of a third straight championship when they lost to the Dallas Texans, 20-17, in double overtime (the Abner Haynes "We'll kick to the clock" Game.), as Blanda added another 5 interceptions to his incredible total.

As QC often notes, it is tough to be an NFL kicker. Houston's Kris Brown is the most recent kicker on the hot seat after his miss from 49 yards allowed Tennessee to escape from the more productive Texans with a 20-17 win. Of course, as the 8th Commandment states, field goals involve no coaching or play design.

It did not help the perception of Brown that the Titans' Rob Bironas nailed field goals from 53 and 50 yards to provide the Titans' winning margin. "I always feel good down here ... I like Houston," Bironas said. "I don't think Houston likes me too much."

"The frustrating part for me is, we have 44 guys out there, busting their tails, and one guy out there not doing his job, which is me," Brown said, who had missed earlier in the game from 49 yards as well. "That's the reason we lose the game. That's hard. I've got to figure out what the heck's going on, and I need to figure it out pretty quick." (ARCHIVES)

Was the Detroit/Cleveland game the best game of the 2009 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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Bill Belichick Goes For It Against The Colts

What in the wide, wide world of sports could Bill Belichick have been thinking?

To be honest, as he agonized whether to instruct his players to go for a first down on 4th-and-2 at the New England 28-yard line against Indianapolis on Sunday night, Belichick was probably thinking, "It has now come to this. It used to be much easier when I was the teacher and that fellow across the field there, on the other sideline, No. 18, was the student. But that relationship changed years ago. Now, he is the master and I am the subject. His knowledge is greater than mine. He knows it and he knows I know it. We're screwed."

The most underappreciated fact about Belichick is that he is always (always) thinking about how he can help his players. Heck, the desire to help his father, a long-time scout at Navy, help players is what got him into the business (and into this predicament) in the first place. "He loved helping his father," former Navy head coach Wayne Hardin recalled.

Belichick knew that the days when he could use his defensive designs to help his players control a game that featured Manning and his sneaky accomplice, tight end Dallas Clark, ended after the 2004 season. Clark joined Manning on the Colts before the 2003 season. In his first 4 meetings with the duo, Belichick was 4-0, including two memorable playoff victories, 24-14 in 2003 when Manning threw 4 interceptions, and 20-3 in 2004. But, come to think of it, Clark missed that first game with an injury and Belchick flummoxed Manning in the second by having cornerback Ty Law and strong safety Rodney Harrison switch positions.

Belichick became Belichick, "The Gray Hoodie Lord," by wresting control of the game for his New York Giants defenders from the master of control himself, San Franciso's Bill Walsh. More than any other person, Belichick figured out that the key to disrupting Walsh's offense was to disrupt his tight end. To do so, Belichick put Carl Banks over the tight end and coached him into the best strong-side linebacker anyone had ever seen.

Even the greatest football writers fail to grasp how important the tight end is to the passing game. In remembering Walsh, Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman wrote, "once before a Redskins' game, he casually said, 'Watch the tight end tommorrow.' I watched him. He caught his usual two to three passes. Maybe he meant the 'Skins tight end."

QC is certain Walsh did not mean the 'Skins tight end. Dr. Z just didn't get it. Belichick did.

Belichick knows that Manning gets it. As the New York Times' Judy Battista wrote last Sunday, Manning is a relentless learning machine. Belichick also knew that in his 5 meetings with Manning and Clark since the 2004 AFC Championship Game, the Patriots were 1-4. In the 2006 AFC Championship, Manning applied his knowledge and destroyed Belichick's Patriots with passes to Clark down the middle of the field. Later, Manning called Clark the "key to the comeback" in discussing the 38-34 victory.

"[Clark] makes the defense declare what it is doing," Manning said. "If you put your linebacker on him and have your good run defense, then you have pass-defense problems. If you put your nickelback on him, that's probably your third-best cover guy, and then what do you do with the extra receiver."

Quick poll of members of the media: How many of you would say that "declaring what his defense is doing" is something that Bill Belichick enjoys doing? Yeah, QC speculates he would prefer a sharp stick in the eye.

In hindsight, it is clear that the 2006 AFC Championship Game and Belichick's inability to design a defensive solution to Manning and Clark changed Belichick dramatically by convincing him that he could not plan in the future to control a game that included Manning and Clark with his defense. He could only plan to out-gun them at their own game. Out went the balanced and fairly unassuming offensive attack directed by the "game-manager," Tom Brady. In came Randy Moss (and Wes Welker) and the wide-open, throw it on any down at any place on the field attack directed by Slingin' Tommy Brady.

Belichick's new strategy worked in 2007, when Brady's 3 touchdown passes narrowly lifted New England over Manning and Clark, 24-20. The explosive Patriots finished that season 16-0 before falling in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants and Manning's younger brother, Eli Manning. Still, before Sunday's meeting with Manning the Elder, Belichick knew what few others knew: He had not yet solved his problem. What could he design to stop Peyton and Dallas?

ESPN's Ron Jaworski is another person who knew of Belichick's problem. On ESPN's Sunday morning NFL Matchup show, "Jaws" broke down the Colts' passing game against New England by focusing on how Clark got down the middle of the field against Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo. A mismatch Jaworski called it.

To solve that problem, Belichick reportedly intended to have the Patriots defenders, particularly safety Brandon McGowan, play physical with Clark. “They now feel they have the depth in the secondary, where they can match up with all these receivers and all these weapons. They’re not afraid. I’ve talked to them,” Pats-DB turned NBC broadcaster Rodney Harrison said before the game. “They’re not afraid of Peyton Manning. They feel like this is their best chance ever to match up with these guys.”

QC doubts Harrison got the "we're not afraid" line from Belichick, who is smart enough to be plenty afraid.

On the first play that Manning got his hands on the football on the Colts' second possession, he connected with Clark for 25 yards. Five plays later, again on 1st-and-10, Manning connected with Clark for 12 yards. Three plays after that, Manning tossed a 15-yard touchdown pass to running back Joseph Addai. On the drive, Manning was 6 for 7 for 87 yards. Both Manning's play design and the Colts' player productivity were unlimited. Belichick still did not have an answer for the new teacher.

Then, until the fourth quarter, Clark went silent. New England, not coincidentally, built a 31-14 lead.

Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz, another person who was aware prior to the game of Belichick's Manning/Clark problem, observed: "Big reason why the Patriots are winning this game: Dallas Clark always runs wild up the middle of the field against them, catching pass after pass. Tonight, they've got him controlled. Brandon McGowan is playing very well. Through three quarters: two catches for Clark on three passes. Pretty amazing."

But amazing (or was it grace) did not last. Once Manning got his hands on the ball in the fourth quarter, he went back to Clark on 1st-and-10 for 19 yards. Four plays later, Manning hit Pierre Garcon for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 31-21. On the drive, Manning was 3 for 3 for 59 yards. Again, his play design and the Colts' player productivity was unlimited.

After a Manning interception and a New England field goal made the score 34-21, Manning was back at it. His completion to Addai and two more to Austin Collie gave Indy a 1st-and-10 at the Patriots' 13-yard line. Manning then found Clark for 9 yards. Two plays later, Addai scored on a 4-yard run. On the drive, which was aided immensely by a 31-yard pass interference penalty on New England's Darius Butler, Manning was 4 for 5 for 44 yards. If statistics considered pass interferene penalties as completions, Manning's play design and the Colts' player productivity again would have been unlimited.

If you are scoring at home, Manning threw the ball to Clark five times on first down and completed all 5 passes. On those plays, Manning's play design and the Colts' player productivity was unlimited. On the three drives that included those plays, the Colts scored three touchdowns and Manning was 13 for 15 for 190 yards with 2 TD passes (QCYPA 14.00) and his play design and the Colts' player productivity was unlimited. On the Colts' other drives prior to Belichick facing his fourth down dilemma, Manning was 13 for 27 for 121 yards with 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. Manning's QCYPA was a below average 4.602 and the Colts' player productivity was 1.84. (Do not try to tell QC that Dallas Clark should not be a candidate for NFL MVP.)

In other words, on drives when Manning threw passes to Clark on first down, Manning, Clark, and the Colts were unstoppable. On drives when he did not, Manning looked like a losing quarterback who stasistically was the equivalent of Oakland's JaMarcus Russell. Yes, this is true. This is why Bill Walsh told Paul Zimmerman to watch the tight end. If you watch the tight end, you see the game.

Facing that 4th-and-2 at the Patriots' own 28-yard line just before the 2 minute warning, Belichick had seen enough of Manning and Clark.

Meanwhile, 630 miles away in New York City, NBC Analyst Tony Dungy, Belichick's former rumba counterpart in these "Dancing With The Stars" encounters with Manning and Clark should have been counting his blessings. As QC has observed in discussing the 8th Commandment, Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane said in Moneyball, "The day you say you have to do something, you're screwed." In the 2006 AFC Championship, with Indianpolis trailing 34-31, Dungy had narrowly averted one of those "you're screwed moments" when Addai scored the winning touchdown on a third-down run. At the Pro Bowl, Manning said, Belichick asked him, "Would Tony have gone for it on fourth down if Addai had not scored." Manning replied: "Tony said during the timeout, 'Don't make me decide.'"

Manning followed Dungy's instructions.

Belichick was not so fortunate. He really had no choice. He could either go for it or hope that there just wasn't quite enough time for Manning and Clark to kill him and his players. Again. But, as Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz has observed, "Hope isn't a strategy." So, in Belichick's world, hope isn't a choice.

Sadly, most of the media is unaware (or least not conscious) of all of the elements of this great story. Rather, reputable writers like Peter King called Belichick's decision "I'm smarter than they are hubris." Michael Wilbon wrote off Belichick's decision to go for it as "arrogant." Belchick's former player, Harrison said, "The message that he's sending in the locker room is: I have no confidence in the young guys on my defense."

QC could not disagree more strongly with such characterizations. Belichick's choice was the exact polar opposite of arrogance. Belichick was loudly broadcasting that he had no confidence in himself to design a defensive solution to the Manning to Clark "Rubiks Cube."

Belichick's choice was a humble acknowledgment of his powerlessness. Paradoxically, the courage to fully acknoweldge that powerlessness may be what distinguishes him as the NFL's best coach. If so, 4th-and-2 on Sunday night may have been his finest hour. (ARCHIVES).

Did Bill Belichick make the right call when the Patriots went for it on 4th down against the Colts? (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 10 Thoughts

QC greatly enjoyed the success of three QBs that many others wrote off earlier in the year: Tennessee's Vince Young, Washington's Jason Campbell, and Carolina's Jake Delhomme.

In Houston's 41-17 demolition of Buffalo, Young and Tennessee posted impressive QCYPA (8.800) and player productivity (13.17) for a third straight week. It was the third straight week that the Titans' QCPYA exceeded 7.50 and second straight it was above 8.00. Confession: QC just likes to watch Vince Young play and is happy for the young signal-caller (no pun intended) that it appears that he used his time on the sideline to learn and grow. Young will never be Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. But he is a competitor and looks like he might yet be a successful quarterback in the NFL. Good for him.

In Washington's 27-17 win over Denver, QB Jason Campell and the Redskins posted QCYPA of 8.666 and player productivity of 10.59. Washington can win a lot of games with those numbers. Campell has taken a physical beating on the field (which happens sometimes) and a beating off the field from the media and fans (which he does not deserve). Campbell has not complained, but rather simply come to work and tried to get better. He is an excellent role model for workers everywhere and QC hopes he enjoys the heck out of his success. It could not happen to a better employee or more deserving fellow.

In Carolina's 28-19 win over Atlanta, Jake Delhomme did not commit a turnover as the Panthers posted QCYPA of 8.958 and player productivity of 18.94. By all accounts, Jake Delhomme is a very nice person. The NFL is not the most hospitable environment for such a person, particularly when things are going badly, as they were for Delhomme earlier in the year when he was leading the league in interceptions thrown.

Young, Campbell, and Delhomme had one thing in common: They all attempted fewer than 30 passes. (Campbell's 27 attempts were the most). QC believes that their performance is an illustration of what QC suspects is the fundmental paradox of NFL football: Independent of circumstances, passing is a better choice than running. But the more a team runs, the better it will pass.

Upon initial inspection, QC could not find any explanation for how Miami managed to edge Tampa Bay, 25-23. The Bucs were more productive (3.35 to 2.49) and each team committed 2 turnovers.

But then Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris took the blame for a bad officials' decision. With the Bucs at their own 4-yard line late in the first half, Bucs' WR Michael Clayton bobbled a pass and Dolphins' DE Jason Taylor snatched the ball. The throw initially was ruled incomplete, but following a controversial replay review - and a penalty on an irate Morris for unsportsmanlike conduct - the officials credited Taylor with an interception and gave the Dolphins the ball at the Bucs' 8. Miami scored two play later when QB Chad Henne hit the freshly-activated Kory Sperry for a 5-yard score. The replay review helped Miami build a 13-point halftime lead.

"This loss is solely on me," Morris said. "Getting a personal foul as a head coach is totally unacceptable. I'm taking those points; that's how much we lost by. I should take the blame for that. I used the wrong type of language to the official."

As QC's 10th Commandment states, bad officials calls are "black swan" random events that can cost a team a game. Per NFL rules, Morris can not directly question or criticize the officials' call. But QC can. The officials probably cost Tampa Bay a win. (ARCHIVES)

Will Vince Young resurrect his career and become a top-level NFL quarterback? (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: Mid-Season Thoughts

In his November 6 Game Plan column, Sport Illustrated's Peter King wrote that "the Saints, to me, don't pass the smell test of a 16-0 team, at least not now."

So Peter, you have been in a lot of locker rooms, what exactly does a 16-0 team actually smell like? Does a 16-0 team, say the 2007 Patriots, smell any different in the locker room than an 0-16 team, say the 2008 Lions? QC doubts it. Smelly socks and smelly jocks are pretty fungible (and funky).

As the basis for his opinion, King wrote: "Two weeks ago, New Orleans was down 24-3 to a decent Miami team. If the Saints get to 11-0, then we'll talk ... because then they'll have beaten the Patriots, and will have only two serious challenges the rest of the way. By the way, New England's margin of victory after eight perfect weeks of 2007: 26.4. New Orleans' margin through eight weeks: 17.0."

But nobody cares about margin of victory except gamblers. New Orleans' deficit against Miami and the fact that it is only blowing teams out, but not blowing them out by as many points as New England blew out its opponents in the first 8 games of the 2007 season, likewise tells us nothing. So QC compared the 2009 Saints and Colts (also 8-0) to the 16-0 Patriots and the 14-0 Miami Dolphins (1972) using QC's coaching stats. As Tables 1 and 2 below demonstrate, both the Saints and Colts measure up and appear capable of running the table.

New Orleans' QCYPA, play design, and player productivity exceed the 2007 Patriots by a little bit and exceed the Colts and the 1972 Dolphins by a larger margin. Defensively, the Saints' opponents have been just a little more productive (2.44) than the 2007 Patriots opponents (2.32). The Colts have been even stingier as their opponents productivity (1.97) is below the "JaMarcus Cable" (2.00)--football's Mendoza Line--and just a little higher than the 1974 Dolphins (1.80).

Truly dominant teams are characterized by a sytematic play design edge. In terms of play design differential, the Saints are comparable to the 2007 Patriots and the Colts are even better, comparable to the 1974 Dolphins. New Orleans has enjoyed a "decided schematic advantage" in every game. Indianapolis has enjoyed the same advantage in every game but one. The Colts' tight end, Dallas Clark, is on pace for a record-breaking season. Clark, not Peyton Manning, remains QC's MVP for the first half of the season. (In Peter King's mid-season report in Sports Illustrated, Indy GM Bill Polian said of Clark, "I'd argue he's our MVP.").

Of course, as readers of QC know, turnovers can waste superior play design and player productivity. In their undefeated seasons, the Patriots were plus-16 in turnover margin and the Dolphins were plus-18. Currently, both the Saints (plus-8) and the Colts (plus-7) are on a similar pace, although there is no guarantee that either team will maintain that pace in the second half of the season.

The bottom line is this: Because plays are non-rival, partially excludable ideas that can be studied on film and costlessly copied, some randomness always exists in an NFL season that makes it highly unlikely that any team will win (or lose) all of its games. Thus, it is more likely than not that somewhere along the way both the Saints and the Colts will suffer a defeat. In their undefeated 2007 season, the Patriots were out-produced by both the Eagles and the Ravens, but still managed to prevail because they won the turnover battle in those games. Last Sunday, the Houston Texans out-produced Indianapolis (whose secondary was crippled a few days before the game when cornerback Marlin Jackson was lost for the season to a knee injury), but lost because of turnovers and special teams breakdowns. New Orleans has out-produced each and every one of its first 8 opponents and beaten two respectable teams, Atlanta (5-3) and Miami (3-5), even though it lost the turnover battle. In other words, in those games, the Saints had to beat both their opponent and themselves and they did so. Not easy.

For all of these reasons, although the odds say it will not happen, both New Orleans and Indianapolis are good enough to finish unbeaten, no matter what Peter King's nose may be telling him. (ARCHIVES)







New Orleans Saints (2009: 8-0)










Indianapolis Colts (2009: 8-0)










N. England Patriots (2007: 16-0)










Miami Dolphins (1972: 14-0)















New Orleans Saints (2009: 8-0)




Indianapolis Colts (2009: 8-0)




N. England Patriots (2007: 16-0)




Miami Dolphins (1972: 14-0)




Will the New Orleans Saints go 16-0 in 2009? (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 9 Thoughts

It was another tough week for powerless NFL coaches who had to suffer through special teams breakdowns across the league. (See 8th Commandment)

In New York, the Giants drove smartly down the field on their opening possession against San Diego. On 4th down at the Chargers 22-yard line, coach Tom Coughlin sent in the field goal team. The snap was not quite perfect, the hold was not quite perfect, and kicker Lawrence Tynes aborted the attempt. The gaff came back to haunt New York as San Diego rallied to win in the closing seconds, 21-20, despite the Giants oh-so slight edge in play design and player productivity.

In Indianapolis, coach Jim Caldwell called a timeout as Houston's Kris Brown attempted a 56-yard field goal at the end of the first half in order to put a return man under the goal post. Caldwell's attempt to design a return in case Brown missed blew up in his face as Indy blocked Brown's attempt, but Caldwell's timeout nullified the block and Brown delivered on his second chance. With just :01 to play and the better designed/more productive Texans trailing 20-17, Brown attempted a much more reasonable 42-yard field goal. Caldwell abandoned any attempt to design a play. Brown obliged Caldwell's acknowledgment of his powerlessness and missed wide left.

But New York and Indy paled in comparison to the special teams and turnovers disaster that befell Green Bay in Tampa. The Buccanneers blocked a Green Bay punt that Ronde Barber returned for a TD. Tampa Bay's Clifton Smith returned a kickoff 83 yards to set up another TD. The Buc's Elbert Mack returned an interception to the Green Bay 8-yard line to set up a third TD and Tanard Jackson returned another interception all the way for a fourth TD. If you are scoring at home, that is 28 points, 25 yards, 1 first down. As QC's 7th Commandment states, first downs are resources. The Bucs essentially produced 28 points without spending almost any resources. Tampa Bay's 28 points were virtually costless. Finally, to top it all off, an A.J. Hawk interception that would have thwarted the Bucs on their go-ahead drive was wiped out by an illegal contact penalty on Hawk.

After the game, former Packers defensive tackle Gilbert Brown blamed the loss on Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy. "It's the head coach's fault," Brown said. Wrong. As QC's 8th Commandmentstates, special teams involve virtually no play design and, as QC's 9th Commandment states, turnovers are player play-making failures, not play design failures. The blame for this loss rests squarely on Green Bay's players, not the coaches.

Two weeks ago, before his Patriots met Tampa Bay, Bill Belichick warned that the Bucs were capable of big special teams plays and forcing turnovers. The Patriots players did not beat themselves and steam-rolled Tampa Bay. The Packers players, not the Bucs players, beat the Packers.

Don't blame Washington's 31-17 loss to Atlanta on QB Jason Campbell. The Falcons pass rush pummelled Campbell, sacking him 5 times in the first half. However, if Campbell had not been sacked, the Redskins' QCYPA would have been an outstanding 9.36. The point differential between the teams was the result of a fluke interception that bounced off a Washington receiver's hands to Atlanta defensive back Tye Hill, who returned the carom 62 yards for a score and a late 58-yard TD run by Falcons RB Michael Turner.

While unknowledgable sports-talk radio callers continue to blame Campbell (incorrectly) for Washington's woes, his teammates stand with him. "Jason's a tough guy," wide receiver Santana Moss said. "We know that by now, just seeing some of the things he's been enduring for other years that he's been our quarterback. I just feel like it's one of those situations that you hate to see him go through that. But when you see him get up and say, 'Let's go again,' you kind of applaud him for just being the guy he is. " (ARCHIVES).

Is Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy the one to blame for the Packers loss to Tampa Bay? (Use Twitter or the headset to send TRUE or FALSE and your reasons to QuantCoach. Please let QC know if we may post your tweet/message on The Chalkboard.)

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Dear Dan Snyder:

Here is why your football team, the Washington Redskins, has had so much trouble winning since you bought the team in 1999 and how you can turn the situation around and become a consistent winner in the NFL.

First, remember that football is not baseball.

QC has made a cursory review of your history in business and it appears that the only play you have ever excecuted well is what is known as a roll-up strategy. You find valuable assets, buy them, find additional valuable assets, buy them and add them to the existing assets ... find additional assets, buy them and add them to the existing assets ... , and continue to follow this formula.

"I bought everybody," you told in September of 2006 in explaining how you made your marketing company, Snyder Communications, such a success. And make no mistake: QC acknowledges that Snyder Communications was a tremendous success.

This roll-up strategy works great in marketing, where you made a fortune, and sports, if you are the New York Yankees. If you own the Yankees or any other baseball team, all you can do is change the players. You cannot change the plays. As a result, you can create a consistent winner simply by buying finished assets such as C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and A.J. Burnett on the free agent market (as New York did this past off-season) and adding those assets to the prior assets (Alex Rodriguez, Hidecki Matsui, etc.). Addition is commutative, meaning order does not matter, and it is associative, meaning that when you add more than 2 numbers, the order in which addition is performed does not matter. Hence, in baseball, you can simply add or "stack" better players in any order and be pretty sure that your team will be playing deep into October when the profits are the greatest.

But football success is not determined solely by adding better players. Football success is primarily determined not by stacking, but by mixing. The mixing instructions are known as plays and unlike in baseball where the batting order and pitching rotation are pretty much fixed, order and sequence are highly variable in the NFL and are critical to success. Mixing is a very different and much more complex operation than mere stacking. This is why your team struggles even though you are willing to buy finished assets in free agency, such as defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.

Because the order and sequence are highly variable in the NFL and critical to success, a roll-up strategy not only will be unsuccessful, it actually will cause harm. It does not help that many, many people will reinforce the notion that a roll-up strategy is the path to NFL success. For instance, ESPN's Adam Schefter recently said, "Well, a lot of people say, 'Oh, Redskins, Dan Snyder, Vinny Cerrato, undesirable' and I would take the flip side of that. I would tell you that we are headed toward an uncapped year. What's MORE desirable than the Redskins situation, where Dan Snyder is going to spend whatever it takes in a market where there are no limitations on what one owner can spend? So to me, the Redskins job has some serious attractions to it."

Do all you can to do the opposite of what Mr. Schefter and anyone else who sounds like him suggests. You have proven that simply throwing money into NFL player human capital does not produce success on the field. All that you will do if you follow Mr. Schefter's instructions is create unjustifiable expectations that will be turned upon you personally (by John Riggins and others) when your team fails to meet those expectations. Mr. Schefter's instructions are a sure-fire loser for both your team and you personally.

Likewise, do all you can to do the opposite of what ESPN's Michael Wilbon advised: "Get out of the way and leave the football to a 'football man.'" And pay that football man roughly $30 million. Please. What self-respecting billionaire is going to "get out of the way" when it comes to his billion dollar investment? Yeah, QC wouldn't either. Wilbon's suggestion that you should heed advice to hire someone who will intentionally treat you like a fool has got to be the most insane suggestion that the 'ol QuantCoach has ever heard. Besides, you have hired excellent football minds in the past: Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, and Joe Gibbs. These gentlemen did not suddenly become imbeciles the day you hired them.

Wilbon believes that resorting to pure madness is necessary because "football isn't instinctive to you and it's never going to be." Guess what, football isn't "instinctive" to any of the other 31 NFL owners either. You want proof? Two words: Mike Brown. If football should be "instinctive" to any owner, you would think it would be to the son of the great Paul Brown. But, based on the last 20 years of Bengals' performance, QC is guessing it's not. Rather, QC is guessing that football knowledge, like all other knowledge, can be learned.

You need a new play. You need to do the opposite of what you have always done and what Messrs. Schefter and Wilbon have advised you to do, which is really just what you have always done: Try to buy someone who will make it work for you, rather than making it work yourself. You, my friend, need to get better.

You need to grow. You need to stop being a spectator and learn the nuances of an NFL team so you can recognize those guys who are trying to fool you into just thinking you are involved and avoid them and so you can recognize when the team is getting better. Total commitment to personal football growth must be your new play. There are no short-cuts. Both the great Army coach Red Blaik and the great economist Paul Romer have recognized, "You have to pay the price." Endogenous growth is the only play that works in the NFL where success is determined solely and completely by such organic growth, and never by rolling-up somebody else's success. No "owner's exception" exists.

Fortunately, a template exists that you can copy. His name is Dan Rooney, the Pittsburgh Steelers' owner emeritus. The good part is that copying is not cheating. The bad part is that copying is not easy.

As soon as Rooney began working in Pittsburgh, he learned immediately that an owner cannot blindly trust the "football men." In 1955, he got a degree in accounting from Duquesne and went to work for his father in the Steelers' front office. That summer, the Pittsburgh "football men" had the chance to evaluate an undrafted free agent from Louisville named John Unitas. In America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation, Michael MacCambridge retells the story:

"Steelers head coach Walt Kiesling found little to like in Unitas, particularly since competition was so intense on the thirty-three-man roster, and with starter Jim Finks, versatile Ted Marchibroda (who also handled the punting duties), and fellow rookie Vic Eaton, Kiesling paid Unitas little mind. Through five exhibition games, Unitas never took a snap.

Meanwhile, Art Rooney's sons were going crazy. 'His accuracy was incredible,' recalled Dan Rooney, who by then was overseeing the training camp while his father spent the month of August at horse tracks. 'I'd watch him throw for hours and it made me sick to think Kies wasn't giving him a look. My brother, Timmy--he was fifteen then--wrote my father a letter telling him Unitas was not only the best passer in camp but probably the best passer in football but the coaches weren't giving him a fair shot. My dad wrote back from Aqueduct or someplace and said, 'Why don't you leave the coaching to the coaches?'

Kiesling's mind was made up; he found Unitas thick and withdrawn, too slow to grasp the Steelers' playbook, that he set up too slowly in the pocket, and couldn't find secondary receivers. On September 5, a full three weeks before the beginning of the regular season, Unitas was cut. When Kiesling called him to his office to tell him he was being released, a bristling Unitas was defiant, openly challenging the decision. "Y'know, it'd be different if I screwed up,' Unitas told him, 'but you never gave me an opportunity to play.'

'Unitas was totally ignored,' said Dan Rooney. 'They never did anything with him. It wasn't a question of misjudging him. They would have had to judge him first. But they never did a thing with him.'"

When the fall arrived, Pittsburgh got off to a surprising 3-1 start behind Finks' passing. However, the Steelers soon returned to earth and finished 4-8 and in last place in the East. The next spring, Pittsburgh held the first pick in the 1956 NFL draft. Again, Dan Rooney was forced to rely on the "football man," Kiesling, as MacCambridge re-told:

"Head coach Walt Kiesling, a longtime Steeler on his third tour of duty as coach, had received a rousing recommendation from a fellow coach about a Colorado State player named Gary Glick, projected to be a defensive back in the pros.

As the scouting continued, in meetings with Steelers owner Art Rooney, and his sons Dan and Tim, Kiesling kept returning to the recommendation. 'Kiesling kept pulling this letter out,' remembered Dan Rooney, 'and he keeps saying, 'We need a defensive back. This kid would be terrific.' It's a bonus pick! And we never send anybody out to see him. We never did anything. Talked to him on the phone, the kid was wonderful--you know, why wouldn't he be? I mean, he might have been a good fifth-round pick, but to take him as the first guy in the country ...'

In the aftermath of the draft, Dan Rooney called the school to get film of the player, something the Steelers' coaching staff had neglected to do. When it arrived a week later, Dan invited his father up to the Steelers' scouting office to watch the film with him. 'But my father wouldn't go. He said, 'I'm busy.' So we go off to the eighth floor, where we've got our personnel office, and we put the film on. And it's like the smallest college that you can imagine, dogs running out on the field. So we come back down into my dad's office, and nobody says anything. And I remember my father saying, 'He didn't look very good, right?'"

Dan Rooney had all of these lessons and then some under his belt when he became Pittsburgh's general manager in the mid-1960s. The first coach he hired was Mike Nixon. He fired Nixon after only one year (2-12). He then hired Bill Austin, who managed to last three dismal years during which the team got progressively worse, not better (5-8-1, 4-9-1, 2-11-1).

As a result of the Steelers' on-field failures, the public turned on him. "His years of involvement and intimate understanding of the organization's operations were not a matter of public record," Joe Horrigan wrote in a brief, but excellent, biography of Dan Rooney. "So, as the team with a woeful past continued to frustrate its fans, they began to question whether Dan Rooney, the team's vice president and general manager, was the right man for the job or just a benefactor of nepotism. As the public looked for someone to blame for the team's lamentable state of affairs, Rooney, quite unfairly, became the target."

Against this back-drop, in January of 1968, while searching for a replacement for Austin, Dan Rooney interviewed the most humiliated assistant football coach in the history of professional football: Baltimore Colts defensive coordinator Chuck Noll.

"I interviewed Chuck Noll the day after his team, the Baltimore Colts, lost Super Bowl III to the New York Jets," he recalled. "It was right after the game, so there was no way he could have prepared for the interview. It struck me right then. Here is an extremely bright person who has his feet on the ground, knows what he is doing."

So embattled Dan Rooney hired the disgraced bum. For the first three years, on the surface, the team continued to lose just as it had under Austin. But with one important difference: The team kept getting better and its record kept improving from 1-13 to 5-9 to 6-8. In 1974, Rooney and Noll hit the jackpot in the NFL draft, landing future Hall-of-Famers Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Jake Lambert, and Mike Webster.

The rest of the story everyone knows: Six Super Bowl titles (and counting), 24 playoff appearances (and counting), the most popular team in the NFL in its local TV market, one of the most popular teams in the NFL in the national TV market, and a massive fan base that will simply take over rival stadiums when the Steelers play an away game.

Several owners have hired an outstanding coach and struck it rich. Eddie DeBartolo stumbled upon Bill Walsh in the backyard of the Bay Area. Bob Kraft slid Bill Belchick out through a mail slot in New York. But only one owner has ever been able to turn finding a Super Bowl quality coach into a "mix and repeat" recipe: Dan Rooney.

As we sit here today, there is no reason that you cannot be the second owner to do this. But in order to do so, you will have to start with yourself and commit yourself to personally growing your football knowledge.

Just do it.


Can Dan Snyder learn to be a successful NFL owner as measured by Washington's on-field success? (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 8 Thoughts

"Special teams involve virtually no play design"--QC's 8th Commandment.

On Sunday, the NFL served up two great illustrations. In the first illustration, Ted Ginn's pair of electrifying 100-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns almost single-handedly lifted the Dolphins over the Jets, 30-25. Ginn became the first player in NFL history to accomplish the double century feat in a single game.

And Miami needed both of Ginn's returns (and defensive end Jason Taylor's return of a fumble for a TD) to win because New York dominated. The Jets were much more productive than the Dolphins (4.95 to 1.33). New York coach Rex Ryan and his staff contributed much more play design than did Miami coach Tony Sparano and his staff (.2279 to .0830). The Dolphins' offensive attack, including the Wildcat, went nowhere after shredding Ryan's defense just a few weeks ago.

"[S]ometimes things just don't make sense," Ryan said. "Statistically, this game is not going to look close. I truly feel that our football team is good enough to beat anybody in this league, but we also can lose to anybody in this league if we spot a team three touchdowns."

Pro Football Talk took issue with Ryan's comments and offered the following sermon: "It's also dangerous to continuously point out your own flaws instead of explaining that maybe, just maybe, the better team won. Indeed, eventually, folks will begin to conclude that the inability of the superior franchise to emerge with a victory flows not from bad luck, but from bad coaching."

Sorry PFT. Any time a team achieves victory because it does something on special teams that no NFL team had ever done before and that something involved no coaching or play design, the victory flows from luck, not bad coaching. As QC's stats demonstrate, the better coached/more productive team was New York, not Miami.

Meanwhile, in Detroit, St. Louis took advantage of the lack of play design in special teams to get its first win of the year, 17-10, over the Lions.

Confronted with fourth down at the Detroit 36-yard line, Rams' coach Steve Spagnuolo sent in the field goal team. But rather than attempt the 53-yard field goal, holder Donnie Jones pitched the ball to kicker Josh Brown who tossed a perfect pass to tight end Daniel Fells who raced for a touchdown. "A well-designed play," NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci said.

"We had watched tape and they came every single time when they were set up that way," Brown said. "It was ours for the taking."

Two teams and two quarterbacks who have been severely criticized for the past two years gained some redemption on Sunday. In Tennessee's 30-13 win over Jacksonville, Vince Young and the Titans posted solid QCYPA (7.50) and player productivity (4.92) numbers. In Carolina's 34-21 upset of Arizona, Jake Delhomme was not quite as productive, but he did not turn the ball over and enabled a strong running game to capitalize on the Cardinals' 6 turnovers. Like Delhomme, Young did not commit a turnover.

Tennessee and, to a lesser extent, Carolina were opportunistic teams that thrived on opponents' turnovers in 2008. Tennessee ranked 2nd in the NFL in turnover margin (plus-14), but only 16th in player productivity differential. Carolina ranked 7th in turnover margin (plus-6) and 4th in player productivity differential, but was at its best when Delhomme only threw 17-to-22 passes in a game, as he did against the Cardinals. For at least one Sunday, the Titans and Panthers looked like the 2008 versions of themselves. (ARCHIVES; ARCHIVES2)

Was New York the better team in their 30-25 loss to Miami? (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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Often, NFL coaches are criticized by the media for communicating in a non-sensical language known as "coach-speak." But, if you listen carefully, coach-speak is not too difficult to decipher. The key to cracking the code is that you have to pay as much attention to what a coach does not say, as to what he does say.

For example, last Sunday, the then 4-2 New England Patriots met the then 0-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a game in London, England. The game pitted the NFL's most knowledgable head coach, three-time Super Bowl winner Bill Belichick, against arguably the league's least knowledgable head coach, 33-year-old, first-year boss Raheem Morris. Here is what Belichick said about Tampa Bay before the game:

"They have a lot of young players. They're very dangerous in every phase of the game. They get a lot of turnovers on defense. They're an explosive return team. Good coverage team on special teams. Offensively, they have a good set of backs, a couple of outstanding tight ends, a very mobile quarterback, good receivers and a good offensive line. So we don't really care about last week any more. We're on to trying to defend and move the ball against Tampa and handle their kicking game, so that's our challenge this week."

Belichick was criticized and lampooned for his assessment of the Bucanneers. But what was he supposed to say? Raheem Morris is a very inexperienced head coach and his staff has not been together very long. Consequently, they have very little football knowledge. It is virtually impossible to fathom that Tampa Bay could design plays that their inexperienced quarterbacks could execute efficiently and/or without making fatal errors that cause their entire design to crash like a Vista operating system. As a result, it is more likely that I will turn into a werewolf and terrorize London and the English countryside than it is Tampa Bay will be more productive than my players on Sunday. For this reason, I expect that the only team on the field that will be capable of beating the Patriots will be the Patriots themselves. As long as my players do not beat themselves by giving away turnovers and falling asleep on special teams, which (according to QC's 8th Commandment and 9th Commandment) involve little to no play design, we should fly back to the New Country with the spoils of victory.

Of course, Belichick would never actually say something like this. Rather, he simply and honestly stated that what concerned him most was random events (turnovers and special teams) and left you the listener to fill in the rest from what he did not say. Such an approach does require the listener to do some thinking for himself or herself. But that is a small price to pay for the preservation of both honesty and good sportsmanship. (ARCHIVES).

Is superior football knowledge the New England Patriots' biggest advantage over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? (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 7 Thoughts

If you consider style and apologize to Denver (6-0), New Orleans (6-0) and Indianapolis (6-0) appear to have separated themselves from the rest of the NFL as the favorites to meet in Super Bowl 44 in Miami. (How delicious would a Super Bowl match-up of Archie Manning's son and his old team be?) But who might the Saints and Colts want to avoid on their way to Miami?

Here's a hint: Don't mess with Texas!

Both Dallas (4-2) and Houston (4-3) have shown signs that on any given Sunday, when they are not beating themselves with turnovers, they can play with any team in the league. This past Sunday, the Cowboys throttled Atlanta (4-2), 37-21. The Dallas offense, designed by Jason Garrett and executed by Tony Romo, was money ($). It was the third time in 6 games that Garrett's offensive play designs and Dallas' offensive player productivity was unlimited.

The other side of the ball also impressed and pressured (.686 QCAPY) previously unpressurable Falcons' QB Matt Ryan."He [Ryan] looked like a young quarterback who wasn't sure what he was seeing out there," XM NFL Radio analyst Randy Cross said of the Ryan. The goal of any defensive coordinator is to create uncertainty. Clearly, Cowboys' head coach/defensive coordinator Wade Phillips did an excellent job against one of NFL's hardest-to-confuse quarterbacks.

Many people in the national media confuse a failure to dominate every week with struggling. On twitter, Sports Illustrated's Peter King (@SI_Peter King) described the Cowboys' season prior to the Atlanta game as "floundering." Really? Dallas' only 2 losses were by a combined 9 points to teams (New York Giants and Denver) with two of the better defenses in the league and a combined record of 11-2 (.846 winning %). Suddenly, the Cowboys are only 1/2 game behind the Giants in the NFC East and look dangerous if they can continue to avoid beating themselves with turnovers.

Another team that fits that description is the Texans. While Dallas was rolling over the Falcons, Houston was busy holding off San Francisco, 24-21.

The Texans have had a well-designed, explosive offense for some time now. Since being shut down by the Jets in the opener, Houston's QCYPA has exceed 8.8 and its player productivity has exceeded 12.00 in 5 of 6 games. The defense remains suspect, so untimely turnovers and offensive break-downs (such as occurred against Jacksonville and Arizona) must be avoided. But when Houston plays mistake-free football on offense, it can compete in a shoot-out with any team in the NFL.

After losing its opener to San Francisco and getting drilled by Indianapolis, Arizona (4-2) has been a somewhat foregotten team. But after beating the Giants, 24-17, on Sunday night, that might change.

In their last 3 games, the Cardinals have out-scored a scoring team (Houston), man-handled a pretending team (Seattle), and out-defended a defensive team (Giants). During that stretch, the only game where Arizona enjoyed a surplus of turnovers was against New York (plus-2). In contrast, during their 3 game surge through the NFC playoffs last year, the Cardinals were at least plus-2 in turnover margin in every game.

Arizona's ability to win in a variety of ways with little assistance from their opponents bodes well for the future. So does a soft schedule which includes St. Louis (twice), Tennessee, Detroit, Carolina, and Seattle again. Even if the Cardinals lose to Chicago, Minnesota and Green Bay, it seems likely they will repeat as NFC West champions if they defeat the 49ers in the re-match in Week 14. (ARCHIVES).

Could Dallas beat New Orleans in the Super Dome in an NFC title match-up? (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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United Football League

Dear Commissioner Huyghue:

Here is why your new football league, the United Football League, will fail.

Football is not baseball.

Baseball is a very appealing and entertaining, yet odd, game in which the defense (i.e., the pitcher) initiates the action. Name another sport in which the defense gets the first move. Better yet, name a single successful revolution where the defense of the establishment got the first move. American Revolution? No. Russian Revolution? No. Giving the establishment the first move is not conducive to a successful revolution.

Moreover, baseball does not permit the revolutionaries--known as the hitters--to develop new designs or plans of attack. The rules of engagement require that the revolutionaries' approach be fixed and rigid. The rules of engagment call this the batting order. If Alex Rodriguez overthrows the establishment with a home run, the Yankees' manager cannot send him right back up to the plate to hit again as soon as he circles the bases. Rather, the manager must first suffer through 8 lesser players before he can re-arm Rodriguez and send him to the plate to attack.

Because baseball so favors the establishment and does not permit the revolutionaries any new designs of attack, the only thing that a baseball team can do is develop its players. A team cannot develop new plays. As a result, minor leagues, where players grow and develop on their way to the major leagues, make sense.

But, despite what some have said, minor league football does not make sense.

Unlike baseball, football's rules of engagement not only give the revolutionaries the first move, but the rules permit the revolutionaries to attack in just about any way they choose with a limited number of restrictions. If your defense is unable to stop a Jim Taylor sweep or a Joe Montana to Jerry Rice pass, the coach can (and will) keep attacking you with it. There is no rule that says after Montana and Rice burn you for 25 yards, that on the next play Tom Rathman must run the ball. Sorry. You can expect Montana-to-Rice again. (Unless you are Jerry Glanville, former coach of the Atlanta Falcons, who still couldn't figure it out after Montana and Rice torched cornerback Charles Dimry for 4 TD passes. Glanville still needed to see a fifth.)

In football, the research and development division focuses on developing better plays, not better players. An extremely popular and free of charge player development system already exists. It is called college football and it is fantastically entertaining. Unlike UFL players, who were released before the start of the NFL season, the college players are moving toward the NFL. The college players are going in the forward direction. The college players are growing and getting better. The UFL players are going in the reverse direction. A quick look at the UFL rosters, which contain such names as Brooks Bollinger, J.P. Losman, and Quinn Gray, confirms this fact. How can a league that has players going in the wrong direction be considered a developmental league? It simply cannot. All that such a league can be considered is a league of players who no longer are eligible for college football and not good enough to play in the NFL. It is a football limbo: The edge of the football abyss.

Revolutionaries who do not get the first move and are limited in their ability to design an attack have little chance of success. Revolutionaries whose troops are going in the wrong direction have no chance.

Look, QC has a football saturation point that is as limitless as any person you could hope to find. QC was a loyal viewer of the United States Football League and still misses spring professional football. QC was a loyal Arena Football League season-ticket holder and still misses winter indoor football. QC watches the Canadian Football League whenever he gets a chance. Until your league came along, QC (and his wife) did not think he had any football saturation point. But that point has now been found. (ARCHIVES).

Will the United Football League survive beyond 2011? (Use Twitter or the headset to send TRUE or FALSE and your reasons to QuantCoach. Please let QC know if we may post your tweet/message on The Chalkboard.)

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2009 NFL Season: Week 6 Thoughts

The South has risen.

For the past several years, the East Divisions of the AFC (New England) and the NFC (NY Giants, Philadelphia, and Dallas) have been considered the home of more power teams than any other division in the NFL. Not any more. With New Orleans' stunning dismantling of the Giants and Atlanta's gritty outlasting of Chicago on Sunday, it is clear that the South Divisions of the NFL are now where most of the power teams reside.

After six weeks of NFL play (which included several byes), South Division teams New Orleans, Atlanta, and Indianapolis and honorary South Division team Minnesota (in honor of QB Brett Favre, who resides in Mississippi), are 20-1. What do all of these teams have in common? Simple: All four teams possess explosive offenses led by outstanding quarterbacks (Favre, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Peyton Manning) who follow instructions and do not beat themselves. These teams have achieved double-digit player productivity 10 times and each has received more turnovers than it has given (New Orleans +9, Atlanta +5, Indianapolis +3, Favre +4).

Oakland wide receiver Louis Murphy threw the greatest individual block in the NFL this season when he took out two Philadelphia Eagles to spring tight end Zach Miller for an 86 yard touchdown. The play proved the difference in Oakland's stunning 13-9 upset of Philadelphia.

Afterwards, Murphy did receive some credit for the effort, but much of the post-game punditry also gave credit to Raiders' QB JaMarcus Russell and claimed that Russell played a much better game than he had in past weeks. However, if you take away the 50 or so yards that Miller gained as a result of Murphy's blocks, Oakland's QCYPA falls from 7.821 to 5.908 and their player productivity is cut in half from 5.19 to 2.52. While these levels clear the NFL's Mendoza Line, the QC-named JaMarcus Cable (ðH Y > 2), the latter levels are not nearly good enough to win in the NFL on a consistent basis, while the former levels are plenty good enough.

Neither the mainstream media nor the specialized NFL media understands blocking well. Last year, NFL Films ran a 1-hour segment on the "Top 10 Innovations" in the NFL. Not one of the innovations that made the list was a blocking design even though Vince Lombardi won 5 NFL championships with his innovative option blocking/run to daylight play designs.

Perhaps this is because blocking is little more than strategically getting in the way and the "look test" and "good face" mean nothing. The "skill," as it were, does not lend itself readily to hype. NFL Radio's Pat Kirwan put it best when he said on Movin' The Chains, "We're not looking for athletes [on the offensive line], we're looking for blockers. And some of them come in really bad bodies."

Nevertheless, in QC's view, Murphy's block was every bit as spectacular and as meaningful to the outcome of the Raiders/Eagles game as Brett Favre's touchdown pass to Greg Lewis was to the Vikings/49ers game in Week 3.

Which play do you think NFL Films will be showing 20 years from now?

Carolina ran over Tampa Bay, but did little else well in a 28-21 win over the Buccaneers. The Panthers were less productive than Tampa, were minus-1 in turnovers, and yielded both a kickoff return and interception return for touchdowns. It is almost impossible to win under these circumstances, but John Fox's players simply out-muscled the Bucs. Four other teams this year have run for over 250 yards in a game, but lost the turnover battle (Miami, Dallas, and Tennessee in Week 2 and the New York Jets on Sunday). All four lost the game.

Simply, Tennessee's performance in a 59-0 loss to New England was the worst performance statistically in the history of the NFL. QC's coaching statistics literally cannot describe how bad the Titans were.

Tennessee posted a QCYPA of negative 1/2 yard even though Kerry Collins was not sacked in the game. The Titans also gave the Patriots 5 turnovers. As crazy as it sounds, this game was not as close as the final score indicates. Remember, New England did not score any points in the fourth quarter. (ARCHIVES)

Is the NFC South home to more power teams than any other NFL division? (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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The Myth of NFL Parity

In the New York Times this week, Greg Bishop reported that many people around the NFL are perplexed that parity seems to have dissappeared. "Does it surprise me that so many teams are terrible this year?" Jets fullback Tony Richardson asked in the story. "Yeah, it is kind of strange."

Do not count QC among the surprised.

Paul Romer's Growth Theory predicts dominance (known as monopolistic competition), not parity (known as perfect competition). On the positive side, it is not unusual for a dominant team like the 1960s Packers, the 1970s Steelers, the 1980s 49ers, the 1990s Cowboys, or the 2000s Patriots to emerge during a 3-5 year window.

Dominance results from the non-rival, partially excludable nature of ideas. In the NFL, those ideas are the plays that coaches design. Those plays are derived from knowledge, which is non-rival because, ideally, more than one person can use knowledge and ideas at the same time at no additional cost. While eventually the NFL catches up to every genius and uncovers and copies their new ideas and knowledge (it is a "copy-cat league"), it is possible for a Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh, Jimmy Johnson, or Bill Belichick to dominate when he has a new design that is still secret or at least not completely understood (i.e., when the designer is excluding others from using the new design) and a core of playmakers in their primes.

Likewise, the converse is true. All of the NFL teams that are struggling right now suffer from a serious knowledge shortage. In some cases, such as Kansas City, Tampa Bay, and Buffalo, that shortage at least was partially self-inflicted by the canning of an offensive coordinator just prior to the start of the season. In other cases, such as St. Louis, Detroit, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, and Cleveland, the explanation may be that new coaches simply have not had enough time to get to know (and perhaps replace) their playmaker resources. In some cases, such as Tennessee (which lost defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to Detroit) and to a lesser extent dysfunctional Oakland, the knowledge void is somewhat inexplicable.

Romer recognized that any intervention designed to move a team from one growth path to a better growth path "must consider the transition dynamics along the way, and an explicit analysis of these dynamics is beyond the scope of this paper." In other words, an intervening owner that is hiring a new coach or an intervening coach that is designing a new system of plays must consider what is between the team and its goal of success and dominance. It is fairly easy for a coach to see what is currently between the team and success, but it is virtually impossible to see what will be between the team and success in the future.

In the NFL, these "transition dynamics" include the play designs of the opposing coach. For example, for intervener Bill Walsh to improve the 49ers in the early 1980s, he had to consider how his West Coast Offense play designs would interact with Tom Landry's Flex Defense play designs. Dallas and Landry's designs were between Walsh's team and success. For Walsh, this was pretty straightforward because he could gain knowledge of the Flex Defense play designs by studying Landry's team on film. But Walsh could not consider how his play designs would interact with Bill Belichick's tight end-jamming, two-deep zone defense designs. Walsh could not consider the "transition dynamics" presented by Belichick's designs because Belichick had not yet invented his designs. Obviously, Walsh did not have any film of defensive designs that did not yet exist.

Because success and failure in the NFL is so dependent on non-rival ideas and knowledge that opponents can only be partially excluded from using, it is almost impossible for a team to lose all its games, notwithstanding Detroit's performance in 2008. A coach can never be completely certain how his designs will interact with the opposing designs of the opposing coach. As a result, a certain minimum amount of randomness (a/k/a black swans) should be expected over the course of an NFL season. Even the winless Lions were more productive than two of their opponents last year. (Similarly, in 2007, the 16-0 Patriots were out-produced in two games, Philadelphia and Baltimore, but still managed to win because random events were in their favor and fortune usually favors the prepared.) "You could see a lot of teams in the two-win area at the end of the [2009] season," analyst Charley Casserly said in the New York Times story.

As this discussion attempts to illustrate, extreme success and extreme failure in the NFL primarily are the result of better ideas and superior knowledge, not overwhelmingly superior playmaker ability and certainly not scheduling, salary caps, free agency, or the draft. The NFL could do away with all of these artificial constructs and the results on the field would not change significantly because ideas and knowledge--plays--are non-rival. As Romer noted, labor and capital do not enter into the production of such new designs or knowledge.

So what are owners and fans of the teams that are struggling in 2009 to do? The answer is simple: Hang in there. Be PATIENT! As Paul Romer observed in his seminal paper on growth, "an increase in patience will increase research and growth. This implication follows directly from the assumption that the benefits of research come largely in the future and that the costs are incurred immediately."

If this is too much to think about with your Saturday morning coffee, just remember this: The combined first-year records of Tom Landry (0-11-1), Chuck Noll (1-13), Bill Walsh (2-14), and Jimmy Johnson (1-15) was 4-53-1 (.078 winning percentage). But currently, their collective estates possess 11 Super Bowl rings (more than enough for every finger on both hands), which represent more than 25% of all the Super Bowl rings ever won by NFL head coaches. (ARCHIVES).

Is non-rival knowledge of a coaching staff the primary determining factor of extreme success or extreme failure in the NFL? (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 and Kenny

It is difficult to express what QC was feeling as he watched Denver head coach Josh McDaniels leap into the arms of Broncos defensive end Kenny Peterson after Denver defeated New England, 20-17, in overtime.

There is, QC believes, a misconception about the son of a football coach. The misconception is that all sons of football coaches, such as McDaniels and the coach on the opposite sideline in Denver on Sunday, want to grow up to playfootball for their fathers. This is false. The son of a football coach wants to grow to be his father.

At an age so young that one cannot put a number on it, the son of a football coach learns that his father loves his players as if they were his own sons. For the son, there are really only two ways to respond. The son can imagine himself as a player. The son can see the father's players as competition for the attention of his father.

Or the son can imagine himself as a coach. The son can join in and love the players too.

The powers and authorities can keep the son of the coach from playing football until a certain age or grade. (In QC's case in Cincinnati, Ohio, that grade was first grade and I distinctly recall thinking it was terribly unfair to prohibit me from playing before then.) But those powers and authorities cannot keep the son from joining his father and loving the players immediately. There are no age restrictions on caring. QC has absolutely no doubt that McDaniels joined in his father's feelings for his players at an extremely early age.

What made McDaniels' leap into Kenny Peterson's arms so genuinely goose-bumpy was that not that long ago Peterson was one of those players that McDaniels' father, Thom McDaniels, coached. Today, Kenny Peterson is a 30-year-old, journeyman defensive linemen just trying to make his way through the NFL and home. He quietly contributed 3 tackles to Denver's victory on Sunday. But this was not always his role.

In 1997, Peterson was the best and most sought-after football player in Ohio as a senior defensive end at Canton McKinley High School. The Bulldogs' quarterback was Ben McDaniels, the younger brother of the Broncos' head coach. McKinley's coach was Thom McDaniels, the McDaniels boys' father. In late November of 1997, Peterson led the Bulldogs into the Division I state championship game against Cincinnati Moeller. QC was there in the stands (with a good friend and Canton McKinley alum) at Paul Brown Stadium in Massillon, Ohio.

This was the father's second shot at Moeller in the state championship. In 1985, QC's senior year at Moeller, he had been denied by QC's teammates. This time it would be different. Led by Peterson, the Bulldogs scored a 31-16 victory over the Crusaders and claimed not only the state championship, but the USA Today mythical national championship. It was the crowning achievement of the father's career. And QC is sure that after Josh McDaniels has coached his last game in the NFL Kenny Peterson still will have a special place in the son's heart for the part he played in delivering that moment to the father.

It is seldom that the world permits a family such a beautifully blessed moment as it did the McDaniels family on Sunday when the high school football coach who had lifted up so many sons got to see one of those sons lift up his own boy. As McDaniels clung to Peterson's neck, his feet dangled like a small child, and the son became the father. This, I think, is grace. (ARCHIVES).


2009 NFL Season: Week 5 Thoughts

There were some really bad match-ups in Week 5. And most lived down to expectations.

Five of the worst teams in the NFL (Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Oakland, Kansas City, and Detroit), who were a combined 2-18 coming into Week 5, all came through with another loss and in each case the opponent's play designs were money ($). Tampa Bay, St. Louis, and Oakland all continued to look dreadful. Dallas turnovers (no surprise there either) allowed Kansas City to get into overtime and another pick-6 from Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger (again, we have seen that before) made the final margin respectable for Detroit. Based on QC's coaching statistics, all of these teams have a long way to go before one can expect any of them to become consistently competitive.

In a battle of perceived under-achievers, Carolina QB Jake Delhomme threw an interception (his 8th of the year) that helped stake the Panthers to an early 17-2 deficit against Washington. But late in the game, the Redskins regained their focus on getting embattled coach Jim Zorn fired and muffed a punt that set up Carolina at the Washington 12-yard line. Panthers' RB Jonathan Stewart's subsquent touchdown run enabled the Redskins to secure the dramatic fall-from-ahead defeat and kept Zorn's bottom hotter than a Volvo passenger seat in Sasketchewan in mid-February. Toasty.

But it would be hard to imagine that a team has ever produced less and still failed to emerge with a defeat than Cleveland did in somehow overcoming Buffalo, 6-3, for its first victory of the season. The fact that Browns' QB Derek Anderson managed to complete as few as 2 passes, the fewest completions since the Bengals Akili Smith managed the feat in 2000, only begins to tell the story. (Like Anderson, Smith fell victim to the unusual as Cincinnati RB Cory Dillon rushed for a then NFL record 278 yards to undo Smith's ineptitude in the Bengals' 31-21 win over Denver.)

Cleveland managed to somehow stumble to victory despite player productivity below 1.00. You have heard of the Mendoza Line in baseball. Well, the Browns' offensive production against the Bills was below the JaMarcus Cable, so named for Oakland coach Tom Cable and QB JaMarcus Russell who floundered their way to 0.52 player productivity in a 24-0 loss to Atlanta in 2008. (In the Raiders' inspiring debacle against the Falcons, Oakland finished with just 77 yards for its worst total since getting 58 in 1961 against the Chargers, when Al Davis was an assistant in San Diego and wore pants. It was the lowest total in the NFL since Cleveland gained 26 on Dec. 12, 2004, in a comfortable 37-7 loss to Buffalo. Oakland's three first downs were tied for the third fewest since the merger in 1970, with Cleveland twice being held to two in 1999 and 2000.)

On Sunday, the Browns mustered only 0.91 player productivity. But sometimes, even such a feeble team cannot avoid an opponent that is doing the little things wrong. Such was the case when Bills' return man Roscoe Parrish muffed a punt late in the fourth quarter, which pinned the Browns only 16 yards from the Buffalo end zone. Anderson then needed only 7 plays to drive Cleveland 15 yards to the Buffalo 1-yard line. From there, Browns' kicker Billy Cundiff could not help making the 18-yard field goal that prevented Cleveland from remaining winless. (ARCHIVES).

Was Week 5 of the 2009 NFL season the worst week of NFL football, top-to-bottom, since the NFL/AFL merger? (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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