The Whistleblower No. 1 – Mark Kriegel and the Most Worthless Stat in the NFL

I had my heart set on doing a weekly “Captain Comeback” column ever since December 2010. Had that idea fail, I was going to do a series called “The Whistleblower”, where I keep my eyes and ears open for media people who use significantly inaccurate and/or misleading statements in their coverage of the NFL, and then I would expose them by stating the facts.

I know, the list could be huge depending how much NFL content one is willing to digest.

It finally crossed my mind that I could use this blog as a forum for “The Whistleblower” every so often, and here is the first edition. You could print it out if you want, but I’m sure it won’t be worth anything like a Batman No. 1 would fetch.

Perhaps it’s fitting my first edition would involve the NFL Network and Dallas Cowboys. That was motivation for my first article at Football Nation a little over a year ago.

Rather than Jamie Dukes and Tony Romo, this time it’s NFL AM’s Mark Kriegel and DeMarco Murray. On Tuesday morning, Kriegel mentioned that the Cowboys need to use their workhorse back DeMarco Murray more, and cited arguably the most useless statistic in football: “the Cowboys are 5-0 when he has 20-plus carries!” Surprised he didn’t support it with “and 2-6 when he’s under 20!”

To quote Kriegel from Monday: who cares?

Does something magical happen when a running back hits 20 carries? Is this to say Murray is really valuable when he gets a lot of carries? No, it just means it’s later in the game, and his team is likely leading and trying to ice the game. I’ll prove it in a second for Murray.

Beyond Murray, there have been 194 running backs with at least 10 career games (incl. playoffs) of 20+ carries (see link here).

Of those 194 running backs, 179 of them have a winning record when they get 20+ carries. Damn, that’s a lot of valuable running backs. And I thought this was the “dime a dozen” position?

Five more have a .500 record, and only an unlucky 10 have a losing record. Most notably, Steven Jackson is 27-30 (.474). Of course the Rams are 37-91 (.289) since 2004, so it’s not like Jackson has had a great opportunity to win no matter what he runs for.

Gerald Riggs (17-25-1, .407) and James Wilder (11-23, .324) are the only other players with a losing record in 20+ games.

Know who had the best records? The immortal group of Leroy Hoard (11-0), Edgar Bennett (18-1), Rob Carpenter (18-1-1),  Mike Alstott (12-1), and Craig James (12-1).

Even Joseph Addai was 15-2 with the Colts. If only Peyton Manning delegated more of the offense to him…

And what about Murray specifically? The five teams he did it against were 26-54 (.325) for starters. The defense allowed 14.0 PPG in the wins. Romo was very good.

And when Murray hit that nice, round number of 20 carries, it was always in the second half, and all but one time with Dallas leading (often by double-digits at that).

If your team is even just average, check your running back’s record when he gets 20 carries and chances are it’s respectable. Likewise, check your QB’s record when he throws 25 passes or less. It’s the same thing. A ton of winning records, because that means the team has taken the air out of the ball and are (literally) running out the clock.

This isn’t just Murray. This isn’t just Kriegel.

It’s the general lack of NFL fans understanding carries are a product of winning, and not the other way around. That is why “RB X’s team is [insert great record] when he gets 20-plus carries” is the most worthless stat in the NFL.

The whistle has been blown. It’s time to put an end to the use of this stat.

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NFL: Once Upon a Time in the AFC West

The 2012 AFC West is being billed as a very competitive division where just about any of the four teams can win it. Last season three teams finished 8-8 with Kansas City at 7-9.

It may end up being a very competitive division, though it’s still a highly flawed one, and a great source of myths.

First there’s last season. I updated the regression model and in today’s article at Bleacher Report, I looked at 2011’s biggest overachievers and underachievers, where the 2011 AFC West cleans up the overachiever category. Denver, Kansas City and Oakland are the top 3,and it’s easy to see why when you look at these interesting graphics:

They may have been 7-8 win teams, but they are easily among the three worst in NFL history when you look at the scoring differential.

You can check the pulse of a team by what they have at QB and head coach.

Denver – John Fox brings stability in year two, and if healthy, Peyton Manning brings HOF QB play back to Denver. Of course I like the Broncos as a 10-6 division winner, assuming Manning is what he used to be. What I don’t like is the myth that Denver has a great defense. Elite offenses like Detroit, New England and Green Bay destroyed this unit last season. The Broncos have a strange tendency for allowing 40+ point games, and Manning should know this well from his days at New England. He’ll make the defense better by giving them more rest and keeping them out of bad field position, but there’s still a lot to prove from this unit.

San Diego – Major stability with Norv Turner and Philip Rivers. The problem is it’s Norv Freakin’ Turner, and his neck wrinkles are beginning to suck in the rest of Rivers’ career. This team has become very NORVOUS in the clutch the last two seasons, as evident by a 2-11 record at 4QC/GWD. Combined with red zone problems, and that’s part of the reason why I think Rivers had a very overrated season in 2010. San Diego’s had a lot of success against Manning, but we’re talking a ton of changed parts since 2010 and beyond compared to this season.

Oakland – It’s probably been five years since a lot of people thought Carson Palmer was a top-tier quarterback, and rightfully so. Had it not been for Jason Campbell’s season-ending injury last year, we’re likely not even talking about Palmer in a Raider uniform. Dennis Allen comes from Denver as a rookie head coach. This team has the potential to field a decent offense if Palmer plays better than last year, though the defense should find little answers for a lot of the strong offenses they’ll be playing. Looks like the non-winning season streak will hit 10 for Oakland.

Kansas City – While the win over Green Bay was great, it may have duped Chiefs fans into a year or two of a bad head coach. Romeo Crennel was not the answer in Cleveland, and he’ll be relying on the healthy returns of Cassel, Charles, Moeaki and Berry. There is talent on this team, though Matt Cassel has proven he can’t do anything unless he plays a ridiculously soft schedule like he did in 2008 and 2010. He also had better offensive coaching in those years (Josh McDaniels, Charlie Weis). Personally, this is a team I think Manning should have explored ahead of a destination like Denver. There’s more talent here than in Denver, though just based on who the QB is, I’d choose Denver to win the division for that reason alone.

Next week I’ll take a look at the plight of Denver’s offense.

NFL: Elite QB 4th Quarter Comeback Records

After writing the Green Bay Packers equivalent of “You Can’t Handle The Truth” yesterday, there is nothing else to say now about the topic. That was my definitive take on that team until the season starts. (Note: even 300 kind words towards Joe Flacco made it into that lengthy piece).

Here is an exclusive table of career data on 4th quarter comeback opportunities broken down by season for Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Peyton Manning.

The 1’s at the end of the record for Brees and the Manning brothers are not ties. They are “no decisions”, or games where the QB had a 4QC opportunity, but the team still won the game on a return touchdown. It’s not a comeback win, not a game they lost, so it’s a no decision. They were not included in calculating the win percentage.

  • Rodgers has a losing record in each season.
  • Everyone else has multiple winning seasons except for Brees, who has one.
  • Only the Manning brothers have had consecutive winning seasons; Eli in 2007-08; Peyton in MVP years of 2008-09.

This was only for comebacks. Adding game-winning drives would help boost everyone, but Rodgers would still be well behind.

QB SUCCESSION PLANS

Finally, here is today’s article on the draft failure the Denver Broncos exhibited in taking Brock Osweiler with the No. 57 pick. Lots of history of franchise quarterbacks and their often failed successors in this one.

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1262751-nfl-draft-futility-brock-osweiler-and-qb-succession-plans

Rest of week: Enough Rodgers, time to put Brett Favre on blast. It wouldn’t be July without Favre.

Joining Reality to End Perception’s Dynastic Hold on the NFL

If conventional wisdom is what most people believe to be true, and if most people are stupid, then what does this say about conventional wisdom?

Writing an article that goes against the grain is one of the toughest things to do, but is also my favorite. This week has shown some good examples of that, and I’ll highlight some others I’ve done in the past.

Perception is one hell of a difficult thing to shake out of people’s minds. I like to dig into how these perceptions are built in the first place, and then expose them with the facts, or the reality of the situation.

So much of what happens early on in a player’s career shapes their long-term perception. Even if years go by and that player is far removed from his past success, the perception could still be so strong that they get a pass anyway.

For example, people still think Tom Brady is a great postseason QB, even though he hasn’t put together consecutive quality starts since his last Super Bowl win more than seven years ago.

Cam Newton instantly received a lot of hype in 2011 because he started the year with back-to-back 400-yard passing games. Never mind the fact Carolina lost both games or that Newton did not even play well against Green Bay, it was the simple fact that he had a ton of yardage (volume) as a rookie that made people go wild.

Problem is little did we know at the time that 2011 would be a record-setting season where passing yards were never gained at a higher rate. League records were set for 300-yard and 400-yard passing games, and three quarterbacks went over 5,000 yards. It was the season with the most points scored and highest yards per pass attempt since 1965. We didn’t know how badly the lockout would hurt the defenses.

But stats like passing yards will only take you so far. Super Bowl rings and playoff success still drive the biggest perceptions of players.

When Tony Romo bobbled the snap on the field goal in the 2006 Wild Card game at Seattle, he started a perception that follows him to this day.

Romo is known as a choker because most of his biggest failures have come in nationally televised games. It happened again at the start of last season when he lost to the New York Jets on Sunday Night Football. He fumbled and threw a late interception in the fourth quarter.

Romo is today’s player who “fails in the clutch every single time”, even though facts clearly show otherwise. He fares just as well as Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach did in similar situations for Dallas, but he doesn’t have rings like those players. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t have the teams they had either.

While a lot of the perception is a matter of selectively choosing what to remember, maybe the worst kind is using flat-out lies to build someone up.

How about when a team popularizes a stat for their quarterback, does not research it properly for other team’s quarterbacks, claims they have the record, and manages to shape  a legacy over it?

That happened in Denver.

Aaron Rodgers’ Hidden Flaw

Imagine being in the presence of the most beautiful woman in the world. But as you get closer and things are heating up, the dress rises and it’s The Crying Game all over again. She was hiding something deep between her legs all along.

That’s basically the equivalent of Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers.

Yesterday I wrote another article about Aaron Rodgers in the fourth quarter, and the stat that no one ever talks about in regards to Green Bay.

  • Aaron Rodgers is 3-18 (.143) at fourth quarter comeback opportunities.
  • Bill Kenney was 3-27 (.100), and may be the closest comparison in record.

Kenney is a forgotten Mr. Irrelevant from the 1980s Kansas City Chiefs. Rodgers is the league’s latest superstar QB.

Yet because he has one postseason that earned a ring (one-and-done the other two times), Rodgers gets the pass here.

Someone like NFL Network’s Jamie Dukes will even go as far as to say (multiple times on the air) that Rodgers had the best game of his MVP season in the Packers’ playoff loss to the Giants.

This is the same person that will remind you that Romo missed Miles Austin on a third-down pass against the Giants in December.

That night Romo played a fantastic game, a game that no other QB has lost with that kind of performance, and yet some will only focus on that one play.

It’s fine if certain players are held to different standards than others, but make sure players are still being held accountable. What you did a couple of years ago should not change the reality of how bad you screw up in the future.

I love writing articles in support of the players/teams getting unfair criticism. I love writing articles that take the shine off the overrated players/teams.

I will continue to call it like I see it, guided by the way of facts and real, tangible evidence.

If you’re curious about any other relevant, active quarterback with a record like Rodgers in the fourth quarter, well there’s this one to bring the week full-circle:

Cam Newton is 1-8 (.111) in fourth quarter comeback opportunities.

Club 53: The Active NFL Players Most Likely Headed to Canton

Here’s to humble beginnings, and the start of week two of this blog that I’m still not 100% sure what I want to become. So far I have categorized “Article Recap” and “Well Allow Me to Retort” as the two types of posts I want to write.

Today’s article: a well-researched, but still very subjective article that picks out 53 active NFL players most likely to make the Hall of Fame will somehow be less contentious than Monday’s article about cold, hard rushing stats and indisputable concepts of volume and efficiency.

That’s just how it is.

Today was a dreaded slideshow, but don’t worry. I dread them more than readers, because I know I won’t be able to stop myself from writing X articles in one (where X = number of slides). So there are over 8,000 words included on the 53 players I picked.

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1254538-the-nfls-53-most-likely-future-hall-of-fame-players

Stat I love: 23 defensive backs in the HOF, and all of them have at least 40 career interceptions.

Stat I hate: there are only 23 defensive backs and 23 linebackers in the HOF.

If you want a peek at the 7 quarterbacks I chose, then just see a classic here:

I have yet to hear a San Diego fan say anything bad about this, because quite frankly, what can they say? It is what it is.

Carolina Panther Fans: You Can’t Handle the Truth

Though becoming much preachier in recent years, Aaron Sorkin delivered gold with this line from A Few Good Men, and Jack Nicholson immortalized it on the screen.

Not only was it a classic moment in film history, but the line itself can be thrown back at many people out there who clearly can’t handle the truth when it comes to hearing valid criticism of their favorite athletes.

Since I started writing football articles, I have received almost zero criticism from anyone. There was one Saints fan that was probably just drunk at 3 a.m. and mistakenly thought I put down Brees, but that was about it.

People that know my work know I turn in-depth research into quality writing as well as anyone out there. I have established a standard for myself, and refuse to put out something in my name that does not live up to that standard.

Enter my articles on Cam Newton (one, and two), and I saw how the other side lives. There was a huge negative response, but it was concentrated from the Carolina fan base. Look at this gem from Twitter. People like that led the way that day.

In other words, it was a homer attack that I could give two shits about. I know what I wrote, and I know what research I had to write what I did.

It is easy to see what’s going on here. Carolina fans have zero experience in having a franchise QB to root for. Steve Beuerlein’s one year of greatness? Jake Delhomme’s solid play for a few years? No. This is different with Newton.

The Panther fans have their binky now, and they love their binky, and will say anything to protect him.

THE SECOND WAVE

So after Monday’s article, the second wave came, but this time it was different. Now I had other writers responding to what I wrote with their own article. This takes it beyond “random Twitter asshole.”

First, Jimmy Grappone put this piece together last night on Bleacher Report. It really doesn’t refute my articles, and I noticed he made mention of Jaworski’s QB ranking ofNewton as No. 15 in the league. That is fine, but my beef is with the other lists and much higher rankingsNewton was given from other sources. Jaworski’s ranking is more in touch with reality. Contributor Hank Kimball’s comment at the bottom sums up the rest of my feelings towards this one.

Then I awoke today to find someone I never heard of on a site I never visit call me lazy.

L-A-Z-Y.

That’s a new one. You can call me a lot of things, but lazy is not one of them. At least not when it comes to researching and writing.

He didn’t mention me by name, and I will offer him the same courtesy here.

You can choose to read the article here. Or, you can just allow me to demonstrate how the pot called the kettle black, and show just how lazy this piece was.

(Guess starting this blog last week was good timing)

I’M LAZY?

This is not something I normally will plan to do – I normally never would have to – but if you are going to attack my work, I will make it a point to show just how bad yours is. Just how lazy the research, or lack thereof, was.

First, he even begins his article with “As a writer there are few things more important than holding your tongue if you haven’t done the adequate research needed to cover a topic.”

The “I watched every play” defense is always laughable. Great, you were a fan and watched your team’s 16 games each week. Welcome to the club of millions that did the same.

Now did you go back and watch the game again? Did you supplement the shaky eye test with indisputable data? Or are you just going all by memory of a game you saw one time with a biased interest as a fan?

Lazy Statement No. 1 – “As the season progressed we saw Jonathan Stewart given more and more short-yardage carries.”

This is exactly what I’m talking about with hard data versus fluffy memories. This was in response to me saying Newton’s rushing TD record was a fluke. Jonathan Stewart was not given more carries near the goal line as the season progressed.

Inside the 10-yard line last year, Newton had 23 carries to 10 for Stewart. I think a logical split would be the first eight games vs. last eight games (not to mention Carolina had a bye after the 8th game).

In the first eight games, Newton had 16 of the 25 carries (64%), and Stewart had 8 (32%). In the last eight games, Newton had 7 of the 16 carries (43.8%), and Stewart had two (12.5%).

Those TWO goal line carries Stewart had in the second half of the season must have really resonated with this fan.

The player that actually was given more carries was DeAngelo Williams, who had six carries in the second half of the season, after just one in the first half.

Either way, Newton was still the No. 1 option for Carolina in this situation.

Misconceived Statement No. 2– “There’s no single statement that makes blood shoot out of my orifices faster than reading pieces that refer to Cam Newton as a ‘running QB’. That statement alone should be a bellwether than the writer didn’t watch him play.”

What we have here is a failure to understand averages. A running quarterback does not mean it is someone who has more carries than pass attempts (or close to a 50/50 split). A running quarterback is someone who is more likely to take off and run than the average (pocket) quarterback.

Newtonhad 126 carries in 2011, which are the second most in NFL history for a QB. Not even Michael Vick has topped that number.

Meanwhile your pocket passers like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees average well under 40 attempts a season, and many of those are kneel downs to secure a win (not many of those included in Newton’s season).

When someone is much more likely to take off and run, not to mention have the most designed running plays in the league, then it’s clear they are a running quarterback.

That does not mean they can’t throw or don’t throw. Only an idiot would take that angle from it.

Last season Matthew Stafford ran on just 3.1% of his drop backs. Newton ran on 18.6% of his drop backs. Big difference.

Same thing in basketball with outside shooters.

LeBron James averages 4.0 attempts per game from 3-pt territory in his career. That’s almost as many as Kyle Korver (4.1). So why is James not considered a 3-pt shooter like Korver? James makes .331 of them, compared to .413 for Korver. He is inefficient at doing it, and it is a much lower percentage of his overall attempts.

And while I never specifically said running quarterbacks are figured out quickly in the NFL, there is no denying players like Michael Vick, Kordell Stewart, Aaron Brooks, and Vince Young were successful early, but failed to improve their game. Players like Randall Cunningham and Steve McNair played their best when they stayed in the pocket later in their careers.

I think Newton has a better chance than those players, but there is zero to suggest he’s going to automatically be a better passer this year.

Lazy Statement No. 3 – “It’s the same thing we saw from Ben Roethlisberger his rookie year, when he ran 56 times (a mark he’s never matched again). Like Roethlisberger it’s likelyCam will take that next step where he’s more willing to stand in the pocket and look at every single read before leaving, rather than taking off before every option is examined.”

If you know about Ben Roethlisberger, then you know he hates to scramble. He always wants to throw the ball, and looks downfield for the big play first and foremost.

Roethlisberger was not often scrambling in his rookie season. He was kneeling down on his way to a 13-0 record as a starter.

27 of Roethlisberger’s 56 runs in 2004 were kneel downs. That means he attempted to throw the ball on 8.2% of his drop backs. That is more than a pocket passer like Stafford, but still nowhere near the level of Newton.

Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers use their legs, but still look to throw.Newton is more likely to run at this point of his career.

You cannot call Newton a typical pocket passer, so he gets the earned distinction of a running quarterback.

Lazy Statement No. 4 – “The Panthers Newton-led offense managed to eek out six wins in spite of an atrocious defense.”

This is a common mistake many writers make. They take a team’s bad statistic and apply it to the full season, completely ignoring what happened in said wins.

For example, the 2006 Indianapolis Colts had a very poor regular season defense, but they played great for 3.5 of the playoff games, and that helped the team win Super Bowl XLI.

Newton never overcame an atrocious defense for a single win in 2011.

When the team allowed more than 20 points, they were 0-10. They were 6-0 when allowing 20 points or fewer, and they only managed that against bad offenses with an inexperienced quarterback starting.

Considering Josh Johnson, Curtis Painter and John Beck are a combined 0-20 in the NFL as starters, Newton better have led his team to a win in those games.

Five of the six quarterbacks Carolina beat in 2011 were making their 1st-to-8th career start in the NFL Only Josh Freeman (39th start) was experienced, and he had a bad season.

The Panthers also only won when Newton took on more of a game manager role. They were 5-1 in his games with the fewest passing yards.

  • If you have, at best, league-average passing stats (pick any site and metric)…
  • If you have an absurdly inflated rushing touchdown record…
  • If you fail more often than you succeed in the clutch…
  • If you can only win when the defense shuts down subpar offenses…

Then clearly, you are not the greatest rookie ever, and far from a top 10 (or higher) quarterback in this league.

You are overrated.

Conclusion

It’s a new age for Carolina Panthers football. But their fans are going to have to start accepting the truth. Your quarterback is far from perfect. Far from being accomplished in this league too.

I did not have to pull things out of thin air or fabricate anything to make my points. The facts are the facts. If Newton has a great 2012, then fine. He’ll no longer be overrated (unless of course people start putting him even higher than he deserves again).

But what he does in 2012 will not change the fact his 2011 was a vastly overrated season.

People that rely solely on the eye test are always going to be lacking in the facts department. That’s the whole problem with the eye test. You see what you want to see, and it’s even worse when you are a fan of that team.

While you should supplement watching games with the data, some people seem to think their eyes and memories are all they need. Facts? Well we will just make some generalizations and that should work for most of the sheep.

Now that’s being lazy.