I’m still here. New content coming soon. For now, here’s a picture of Joe Theismann from 1988.
I’m not a X’s & O’s guy, but most reading this already know that. I do statistical analysis and watch a lot of games to pick up on trends and how certain teams/players perform on the field.
What I think I have is a common sense approach to how the game should be played. Part of my educational background is studying how to limit motions to improve efficiency for various processes. Leaving a team’s best receiver wide open is probably a terrible decision no matter if the defense that was specifically called was done correctly to the coaches’ wishes. Now this is a rant that literally just popped in my head so this may get branched out into a legitimate article later, but for now, just bear with me.
In preparation for the AFC Championship between Denver and New England, I have been pointing out how limited the New England passing game is without any tight end threat or even a real vertical threat at this point. It’s basically all Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola (Austin Collie when they need a breather) running short routes, often from the slot, and yet no one has really found a way to shut it down yet. Shane Vereen can catch passes out of the backfield, but he’s not Marshall Faulk. New England has mostly worked on the running game lately, but the passing game will be crucial for the remainder of the postseason and it has to be these same receivers.
So when coaches who get paid millions of dollars like Chuck Pagano, John Fox and Jack Del Rio sit down to prepare for this Rob Gronkowski-less offense, how can they not see the same things I see from my home? I’m not going to get into the statistics for the increase in short passes, but we know most teams throw shorter more often today. Yards per completion are down as the spread/shotgun offense is used more. Yet we still see defenses play this archaic style of trying not to get beat deep, even when the very best vertical passing games will be lucky to hit 30 passes more than 20 yards down the field in a given season.
Tom Brady, for example, is 14/58 on passes thrown 21+ yards this season. Is that really something to fear? That’s in line with his previous seasons too. You can even leave a guy open and there’s a decent shot he will miss him, like he missed Amendola against the Saints this season. With the way offenses are setting records for points and yardage these days, giving up a quick strike is hardly the burden it used to be. But alas, I’m ranting again and need to get to what I saw in Saturday night’s game against Indianapolis.
Edelman caught 105 passes this year. He’s clearly Brady’s No. 1 target, so the Colts naturally should counter with putting their best starting cornerback Vontae Davis on him. That’s smart. But look what happens on this play early in the first quarter. It was 2nd-and-9 with Brady in the shotgun so there’s no reason not to expect a pass. You can see Davis lined up on Edelman at the snap:
Here’s what I would have done on the play as a defensive coordinator (and yes, I only have Paint and not Photoshop):
I shadow Edelman with Davis so he would pick him up on the crossing route. I let my linebacker, who has no chance with Edelman here, come up to prevent the running back having open space in the left flat. There, those two players are taken care of with the proper matchup for their skill talent and you can see the right side is matched up well already too.
What did the Colts do?
Davis took a few leisurely steps backwards and ended up covering nothing on the play because Brady’s pass was already out and easily caught by Edelman, who had a lot of open field to run after the catch and turn it into a 25-yard gain.
How can any coach justify Davis’ defensive assignment on that play? It’s not like Brady’s going to pull it down and run and make Davis the last line of defense. That’s not Kaepernick out there. Is RB Brandon freakin’ Bolden out of the backfield worthy of Davis’ coverage? You mean to tell me your best corner isn’t better off covering the guy with 105 catches? Is Darrelle Revis, under Rex Ryan at least, really the only cornerback capable of covering a guy all over the field? Even that performance was probably overblown.
Say what you want about the late Al Davis, but that concept of playing tight, bump-and-run man-to-man coverage makes the most logical sense. Throw off all these timing routes with the contact you’re allowed to have within five yards. Why are coaches leaving a team’s favorite receiver wide open or letting him breeze past linebackers that have no hope of covering him? Yeah, you can mix it up with man and zone, but what value does leaving Davis where he was on that play have for the defense? What in the hell is he going to limit there that a linebacker can’t?
It’s hard to play defense now, but a lot of that is self-inflicted when guys, by instruction or not, are letting receivers go and watching action they have no shot of doing anything about.
If you think I’m freaking out over one play, consider what happened in the second quarter. This time Davis did stick with Edelman out of the slot, but Edelman just beat him on the catch after a play-action pass. Still, the defense was there to limit this to a 12-yard gain instead of a 25-yard gain like the earlier crosser. You can see the defense in great position to wrap Edelman up at the 40:
Well, Edelman broke tackles and gained 15 more yards to turn it into a 27-yard gain. So it’s poor defense either way, but it’s a hell of a lot better to live with the designed coverage on that play than the free release and easy 25 yards on the first play.
Then again, for a coach who thought punting on 4th-and-1 in the fourth quarter down 43-22 was the right call, is it even a stretch he would think having Davis spy the running back would be better than following the guy most likely to get the ball?
George Orwell probably could have envisioned a TV feature where propaganda is fed to the masses all under the disguise of “Sport Science.”
Oh, they used science, so us simpletons can’t possibly dispute it!”
ESPN airs Sport Science segments and it just so happens that Monday Night Football has had the two most controversial endings since the 2012 season. Last year it was the Golden Tate play, which of course prompted a Sport Science feature. The NFL supported the call the whole way, but the general public was outraged over the touchdown. Naturally, the feature flat out lied to say M.D. Jennings “made first contact with the ball” even though it’s clear he did not.
Jump to this week and the game-ending play between the Patriots and Panthers. Luke Kuechly certainly makes significant contact with Rob Gronkowski in the back of the end zone, but the pass was underthrown and intercepted in the front of the end zone by Robert Lester. A flag was thrown, but picked up and the game was over.
The NFL official said Monday night the pass was deemed uncatchable as it was underthrown. On Tuesday, the NFL added that the officials felt the contact on Gronkowski occurred at or about the same time as the pass was intercepted. Once a ball is touched, even by the smallest of fingertips, there is no pass interference.
Hardly the same negative reaction as last year’s play, but many (most?) people think a penalty was warranted. Once again we got a Sport Science feature on the play.
Again, their “scientific analysis” goes against the NFL call (and rules), satisfying the public in the process. Scientific? Hardly. Just as I did with the Golden Tate play last year, I took a copy of the game and broke it down with video editing software.
The first problem is Sport Science (SS) uses this spot for when Kuechly makes contact:
That’s not a penalty. Players touch each other all the time down the field, often considered incidental contact, but for it to be pass interference, you have to do one of the following from the NFL rule book:
Actions that constitute defensive pass interference include but are not limited to:
(a) Contact by a defender who is not playing the ball and such contact restricts the receiver’s opportunity to make the catch.
(b) Playing through the back of a receiver in an attempt to make a play on the ball.
(c) Grabbing a receiver’s arm(s) in such a manner that restricts his opportunity to catch a pass.
(d) Extending an arm across the body of a receiver thus restricting his ability to catch a pass, regardless of whether the defender is playing the ball.
(e) Cutting off the path of a receiver by making contact with him without playing the ball.
(f) Hooking a receiver in an attempt to get to the ball in such a manner that it causes the receiver’s body to turn prior to the ball arriving.
Now you can say Kuechly did a few of these at some point on the play, but SS determines it was a penalty as soon as he touched him, which is wrong. Also, there’s some very interesting language in the NFL rules about what is not pass interference:
Actions that do not constitute pass interference include but are not limited to:
(a) Incidental contact by a defender’s hands, arms, or body when both players are competing for the ball, or neither player is looking for the ball. If there is any question whether contact is incidental, the ruling shall be no interference.
(b) Inadvertent tangling of feet when both players are playing the ball or neither player is playing the ball.
(c) Contact that would normally be considered pass interference, but the pass is clearly uncatchable by the involved players.
(d) Laying a hand on a receiver that does not restrict the receiver in an attempt to make a play on the ball.
(e) Contact by a defender who has gained position on a receiver in an attempt to catch the ball.
The part in bold is most interesting as the involved players are Gronkowski and Kuechly. Since Lester intercepted the underthrown ball, it’s no stretch to say neither Kuechly or Gronkowski could have caught the ball, so it’s uncatchable and there’s no penalty. We see end-of-game defense played like this all the time with contact in the end zone. That’s why we’ve seen one pass interference on a Hail Mary in the last 15+ years, and that wasn’t even a good call.
So starting from the wrong time frame, SS concludes “the contact in dispute happened two-thirds of a second before the ball was intercepted.”
So they’re saying 0.667 seconds and the argument would be that’s enough time for the refs to see it before the interception. However, it wasn’t 0.667 seconds. We need to find the point where pass interference actually happened.
This element of the play is what I called “patty-cake” on Twitter. It’s just two guys touching hands; not a penalty by any means.
At the end of the patty-cake, Kuechly reaches his left hand to Gronk’s shoulder, which is still not a penalty. The restriction comes when he reaches his right arm and makes that bear-hug that has been captured in many still images this week:
Now we start to have enough contact where one can call it PI should they feel it was catchable, but look where the ball’s at. It’s nearly arrived, underthrown, and Lester is reaching out to make the impending interception.
If we take the time from where Kuechly gets his right hand around Gronkowski to the point where Lester touches the ball, that’s at most 0.43 seconds (about a “one-miss-is”). It took 1.33 seconds for the ball to leave Brady’s hand and be intercepted by Lester, so the meaningful contact came on just under the final third of the play when the ball was in the air and pass interference was possible.
That’s not 0.667, and in live action with an underthrown ball and the defender already motioning to make the interception, it’s easy to see why the referees would declare the contact happened at roughly the time of the interception.
SS did play up the “Gronk’s superhuman, he can catch the ball!” — no really, that was spoken on TV by someone on another network yesterday — angle, but by botching the point of any infraction, there’s no scientific evidence he could have made a play on the ball had he not been contacted. He clearly never expected the pass to be underthrown and was not headed in the direction the ball ultimately did.
So it’s a good no-call, because the last thing we need is an offense getting a second chance for poor execution. This ending also adds to the overwhelming proof that referees would rather go with the result on the field (interception) than to make a critical, game-changing call. It happened with Golden Tate, it happened with Michael Crabtree in the Super Bowl and it will continue to happen. Maybe Gronkowski should have learned from Greg Olsen on how to sell it better.
The only reason a call like this gets so much attention is because it was a prime-time game between two good teams, it was a great game and the final play was everyone’s favorite meathead tight end trying to catch a pass from a golden boy quarterback.
If this was Rams at Panthers in a 1 p.m. Sunday setting on FOX and Kellen Clemens underthrew that pass to Jared Cook, you’d get no outcry over the ending. You would get NBC’s Dan Patrick reading the following over a highlight of the play: “Last chance for the Rams. Kellen Clemens, uhh, not quite enough air. Robert Lester with the interception. Carolina has won six straight. Stay tuned for Hines Ward’s ten words of analysis…”
And you know this, man.
Update, 11/22/2013: It was brought to my attention that the link to the Sport Science video on ESPN no longer works. One link says “NOT FOUND” while clicking on the one I used in this article takes you to this video page:
Twenty million human lives watched football played by quarterback machines on October 20, 2013. The survivors of the game called it Judgment Day. They were exposed as either a Peyton Manning fan or an Indianapolis Colts fan.
Irskynet, the computer which controlled the machines, sent two terminators back through time. Their mission: to destroy the leader of the fourth-quarter comeback statistic revolution…John Elway.
Johnny Unitas, the first machine model, was the premiere quarterback in the two-minute drill. How else can you explain his machine-like efficiency under pressure? But Unitas never received any credit for his record number of comebacks.
The first terminator was programmed to strike at John Elway in April 1983. This way he could never make fools of the Colts in the NFL draft and never set the franchise back for years. The T-800 terminator was…too smart for his own good. He seized the opportunity to became the new comeback king.
The attack failed…so the team relocated to Indianapolis and eventually wound up with Jeff George.
The second was set to strike at John after his retirement. This advanced T-1000 model was established as a student at Stanford, which is Elway’s alma mater. He even had help from another Irskynet machine, code name “Captain Comeback”. The two machines became more interested in winning games and growing a neck beard, so this too failed.
The Resistance was able to send a lone warrior. A protector for John. He proved to be…unreliable.
Little did Jim Irsky, owner of Irskynet, know that the first terminator was reprogrammed by John to become his protector in 2012. This took place shortly after Irskynet shut down the T-800 model due to a neck malfunction. John wooed the T-800 to Denver to find success he could never dream of under Irskynet’s watch in Indianapolis.
Each side had an expensive terminator. The T-1000 was given another shot by Irskynet. Some modifications, perfected by a stroke of luck, like added mobility and shape-shifting to take the form of Peyton Manning. John Elway, Andre the Giant or any solid metal object made the new model a favorite in town. However, as Judgment Day approached, many in Indianapolis were torn over how to react to the event. The football game was one thing, but either John Elway or Jim Irsky were going to perish given the outcome. This war would end here.
Who plays football next to a steel mill anyway?
October 20, 2013 came and went. The T-1000 put up a good fight early, but you can’t keep the original down for long. The T-800 led a record-tying 51st game-winning drive, which sunk Irsky into a vat of molten steel, silencing him once and for all. (The choice of molten steel was an Abby’s hat pick, by the way).
It was not until hours after the game that everyone realized the two could still meet in the playoffs to really settle things, but the reign of Irskynet was over, and the world was a better place for it. The T-800 protected John for two more years before shutting down for the last time, going out on top. The T-1000 aged rapidly, playing the football coach in the 2028 remake of The Faculty.
Analysis: There should be three great quarterbacks in the building on Sunday night. There are not three great films in the Terminator series.
I’ll be back, unless you hated this.
Short on ranting this week with some Saturday research to do, but let’s quickly look at the passing touchdown record. It seems to be the one in most jeopardy from the potential season-long juggernaut in Denver. Of course it would be Peyton Manning reclaiming the record from Tom Brady (50), which he would have already had if the Colts did not pull him after one series in Week 17 2004.
To earn a touchdown pass, you must have possession of the ball. So I took the drive stats for Manning ’04 (and four games into 2013) and Brady ’07 to see how many drives each had and how many they sat out. Kneel down drives are excluded from all stats.
(QB1 = Manning or Brady)
The numbers are eerily similar with Brady throwing one more touchdown on one more drive. Manning did sit out twice (16) as many drives as Brady (8) that season. It’s still very early, but he’s actually had 11 drives per game this year, which could give him a better shot at record volume. The 2007 Patriots were more efficient at scoring than the 2004 Colts, though you can see the Colts had more missed field goals and Manning’s skill players fumbled five times compared to none for Brady, who had 12 total turnovers (Manning with 11). The 2013 Broncos are scoring TDs at a better rate than the record-setting 2007 Patriots, but again, it is still very early.
The 2013 Broncos have already punted 7 times (BAL) and 5 times (Giants) in games, which did not happen to the 2004 Colts until they had 6 punts against the Ravens in Game 14. So it hasn’t been all perfect in Denver, though if Manning continues to get closer to 11 possessions per game, then you can see the potential this offense has. The best defense against Denver has often been itself. Cut down on some of the mistakes and some records will likely fall this season.
2013 NFL Week 5 Predictions
The Thursday streak continues at 5-0 with my pick of Cleveland. This week’s schedule looks very enticing.
Winners in bold:
On November 13, 2011, the Saints and Falcons were playing in overtime. This was the game where Mike Smith went for it on 4th-and-1 at his own 29 and failed. This graphic from FOX came up about Drew Brees and his game-winning drives:
The fact I have this saved in a folder means I probably ripped them for this in Captain Comeback that week. For one, the semantics are ugly as “game-tying” should never appear in the text. As for the number, it even says including postseason, yet it should have been 27 instead of 25.
Indeed, Brees picked up his 28th game-winning drive that day. Flash forward to Sunday between the Saints and Buccaneers, and FOX had this graphic at the end of the game:
Now it’s up to 31, and Brees was in fact going for his 32nd game-winning drive, which he got after a dagger to Marques Colston to set up the field goal. Notice it also kept the language much simpler and accurate.
So it took a few years, but maybe FOX has it sorted out now. Or maybe I’ll just watch a different game with a different production staff next week that tries to use the same “game-tying” mess I’ve seen in the past.
But I’ll try to be optimistic for a change.