Home » Best of
Category Archives: Best of
We’re not going 13-3 next year.
Can’t disagree, Jimmy. That fate seems well-settled now. With the league’s smallest salary cap number and a draft that failed to address any team needs, there is indeed little chance for thirteen wins.
But with a team who has been speaking down to us about building through the draft, and that we should avert our eyes from the Mike-Brown-esque payroll… the trading out of this year’s draft is the NFL equivalent of Berea dragging their ass on our carpets.
Haslam-Banner preaching practice is fine and dandy but, if you don’t mind, let’s not act like striving for the Super Bowl this year would have been so absurd. Let’s challenge the premise of ‘We must suck more before we can be good.’ There is plenty of precedent for poor teams to improve year-over-year. Hell, here’s a list of sub .500 teams* who won the Super Bowl in the following year.
- 2000 Pats, 5-11; 2001 SB Champs
- 1998 Rams, 4-12; 1999 SB Champs
- 1980 Niners, 6-10; 1981 SB Champs
Even a Super Bowl appearance would be a goal worth having:
- 2002 Panthers, 7-9; 2003 SB loser
- 1999 Giants, 7-9; 2000 SB loser
- 1997 Falcons, 7-9; 1998 SB loser
- 1995 Pats, 6-10; 1996 SB loser
- 1987 Bengals, 4-11; 1988 SB loser
- 1980 Bengals, 6-10; 1981 SB loser
Just wanted to set that straight. No. We don’t have to suck in order to build and grow. We do, though, need to address problem areas on the roster during the off-season.
What were the team needs and how were they addressed?
We’ve bludgeoned all these in earlier posts:
- Cornerback is manned by Buster Skrine and his size limits his abilities.
- Free safety was handled ineffectively by Usama Young.
- Guards include competent Jason Pinkston whose health is still questionable and below average Sean Lauvao. 2014 UFA, journeyman John Greco shapes up as the top guard.
- Tight end has unproven Jordan Cameron.
- Fullback has no starter.
- And the [needless] adoption of Horton’s 3-4 created a need at ILB, now covered by undrafted FA Craig Robertson.
That’s six positions of need. And we’re not even dealing with MKC’s assertion that we need two starting WRs or other noise about kickers and punters and quarterbacks.
How have the needs been addressed?
- Ignored dozens of CBs in free-agency, including at least ten who would be taller than any currently on the roster. Signed 5’9″ Chris Owen to one year contract. Drafted 5’9″ Leon McFadden in the third round who is equally short and considerably slower than the current liability at CB, Buster Skrine. (No offense Buster.)
- Cut Usama Young. Ignored safeties in FA. Selected a safety in the sixth round who is currently re-habbing a blown Achilles.
- Drafted Tackle** Garrett Gilkey with pick #227.
- Signed two back-up tight ends in FA, neither of whom are known to exploit the center seam which is sought after now for the tight-end-as-a-weapon role.
By my math, that’s zero success at upgrading positions of need. (more…)
#1: ^^Far and away the best highlight of yesterday’s home opener.
We’ll return to salty observations on sports soon.
But today, can’t help but be struck by the overwhelming evidence supporting our working theory that Cleveland is tops.
#1: Dad muffs foul ball; Clevelander rights potential disturbance in The Force.
In the clip above, Dad and seven year old brought their gloves to the stadium and why not? Seats on the third base line, prime foul ball spot. In fact, we can’t rule out that Dad and son snuck down to open seats on the line late in the blow-out game explicitly for just such opportunity as they would meet.
But with the miracle of a slicing foul ball coming straight at Dad — lifetime memories on the line — .. we have to score it: E-Dad. Patrons a couple rows away reflexively raise hands in exasperation at Dad’s gag. Adjacent fan contributes obligatory and deserved “Boooo.”
But thanks to being in Cleveland with Clevelanders around him, all was made right.
Lifetime memories? Oh yes, this story will be retold by one person in this picture for 60-70 years if all goes well.
#2: Terry Francona confirms the difference between Cleveland and Boston.
“Cleveland is officially the nicest people I’ve ever met,” he said. “Everybody I did walk by said, ‘Hello.’ That’s a little different than I’m used to.”
In fairness, it is confusing to walk from the Residence Inn to the Jake/Q complex. Hopefully the lesson was learned and our manager remembers to use his modified Rascal for his next commute to the field. And anyway, we want Francona-on-scooter to become another thread in Cleveland’s fabric.
Back before MIT introduced analytics to the sports lexicon. Before data warehousing got renamed Big Data and recognized as a tech trend. Even before AWS offered Elastic Map Reduce in the cloud… Kanick was doing number crunching on this question:
What NFL Draft first round selections are most likely to wash-out?
So that was about two years ago.
The context was that going into the 2011, the usual suspects in Cleveland media were pounding the table for drafting ‘a playmaker.’ As though it’s a position. As though the line of scrimmage just takes of itself. As though the coaching and game planning and play calling don’t have an effect on ‘plays’ being ‘made.’ Draft playmakerz. You can’t escape it if you’re a Browns fan. You may hear ‘quarterback driven league; get a QB’ more these days and while both are laughably simplistic, ‘draft playmakers’ is never completely out of most conversations.
Anyhoozles, I suspected that drafting a ‘playmaking’ WR was a dicey proposition and personally, I was fed up with the ongoing problems finding a right tackle and wanted it fixed with a high pick. So I set out to see if we could find trends from past data.
I went through all the first round picks going back to 1985* and tried to determine these things:
- What positions had the highest percentage ‘miss?’
- What positions offer the greatest ‘home run’ potential?
- Do the numbers change markedly when looking at top-10 picks versus overall first rounders?
I am defining ‘wash-out’ as follows: if a player stayed in the league less than five years, he is a wash-out. So, for example, notable bust Tommy Vardell (taken 9th overall by the Browns in 1992) is not a total wash-out because he managed to stay in the NFL eight years. I wanted to use an empirical measurement and thus avoid letting my judgement play a role. (I *did* attempt to rule-out injuries here.. e.g., Jerome McDougle, Bo Jackson, Sean Taylor = not wash-outs. I may have missed some players in doing this.)
Definition for ‘home run’ is wholly touchy-feely and can be the subject of debate. I just looked through the list and asked myself if that player was a stud in the league for an extended time-frame.
Then, as a kludgy way to measure risk/reward, I married the two values in an HR:BUST ratio. This tries to normalize, for example, the risk associated with drafting a RB against the probability of gaining a hero.
Here’s the spreadsheet. The summary page is up front; raw data for each position is found in tabbed worksheets behind it. It’s all sortable. I think I’ve shared it as editable; don’t worry about changing anything, I have a master copy.
The easiest way to work through the numbers is to go position by position. I’ll give a rating for the position then ID a notable bust and homerun. Let’s go.
Back in 2011, in the aftermath of the LeBron super team thing, the NBA owners locked out the players because there was no Collective Bargaining Agreement in place. The CBA talks broke down over ‘player movement’ issues. Basketball Related Income distribution to the players was settled on with a band around 50% and thus a revenue sharing partnership was agreed upon. Rookie contracts are slotted. Max contract frameworks are defined.
The problem was player movement.
The NBA wanted a franchise tag; the players didn’t.
To me, it seemed the biggest issue. Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard were all playing the franchise shopping game using LeBron’s template. In so doing, they were holding their current teams hostage and alienating countless NBA fans/customers. But ‘player movement’ as a blocking point in negotiations was diminished as a minor point. Or at least that’s how I read the reporting at the time.
When it was discussed, the prevailing wisdom that I saw reported/tweeted/blogged ran like this: why shouldn’t players be entirely free to work where they want.. just like you and I are?
I’ve got a different viewpoint on this, interested in your thoughts. I’m using the 2011 NBA lock-out as a context. But I’ve seen the larger player movement issued applied in the NFL and NHL. MLB players are of course quite happy, but the macro outlook of a ‘have and have-nots’ league is dim.
The debate over ‘righteousness of free player movement’ and the ‘responsibility of a union in partnership with an enterprise’ is in hibernation but still current. In my opinion, the NFL’s franchise tag strikes a fair balance between the sides and deserves some acclaim.
‘The NBA is a business.’ Ok. What does that mean exactly?
First, I think it’s useful to define the ‘business’ of the NBA.
The NBA is in the entertainment business. Their product is ‘competitive sporting event.’ Their competitors are not Cavs vs. Heat vs. Knicks, etc. Their competitors are NHL, NCAA Men’s Basketball, NCAA Men’s Hockey, UFA, PGA Golf, NASCAR… any other competitive sporting event that occurs in Winter and Spring.
When you look at the NBA as a singular business entity with a common goal, then it becomes easier to view the 30 teams as franchises of the NBA brand. As the brand grows, the all the entity’s partners benefit.
As with any franchise model, the brand’s value derives from the delivery of a consistent product where ever the franchise is located. The Big Mac I get here in New Hampshire is the same as the one you get in Elyria.
What if Dunkin Donuts offered Super Columbian Supremo in Miami and Sanka in Cleveland?
Emmitt Smith’s 164 rushing TDs are the most in NFL history. His 175 TDs are second only to Jerry Rice’s 208. (Smith’s eleven receiving TDs in 15 years says something unkind about his versatility but we don’t intend to go there.)
He also brought the NFL’s most classless touchdown celebration to all 175:
After every touchdown, Smith trotted behind the Cowboys bench and carefully tucked the touchdown football into a secured locker.
From Jeff Pearlman’s Boys Will Be Boys (p. 227):
“Emmitt would score a touchdown from the two-yard-line, keep the football, and sell it at his souvenir shop back home in Pensacola,” says Dale Hansen, the Cowboys radio announcer. “I thought it was both odd and selfish.”
Me too Dale. Me too. Glad I wasn’t the only one.
I always thought he should give the ball to Larry Allen. Mark Tuinei. Nate Newton. Jay Novacek. Mark Stepnoski. Erik Williams. Moose Johnston. Ray Donaldson. Flozell Adams. Andre Gurode. Hell, add Michael Irvin to the list, he was a great blocking WR.
All of these blockers in front of Smith went to multiple pro-bowls, many all-pros, and Larry Allen is now in the Hall of Fame.
They’re why Emmitt Smith gets to append his signature with ‘HOF.’
It was painfully obvious just through the eye-ball test that Emmitt Smith was the beneficiary of one of the greatest offensive fronts ever assembled. But his 175 incidents of douche-baggery prompted me to dig in and prove this thesis: Emmitt Smith is the least special running back in the HOF and owes all to his offensive line.
[Here’s the link to HOF by position and by my gut take, in the RB group, I think it’s Smith and Thurman Thomas in the, ‘Really?’ category.]
After looking at the Cowboys’ impressive o-line, I started looking for other great lines with a view toward seeing whether other running backs benefitted as magnificently. I didn’t find that. But I did notice that great offensive lines were, generally, attached to a dynastic team.
That led me to a greater thesis which I first shared with Frowns in an email a couple years back:
“If you find a team with 3 probowl OLs, they’re pretty much in the SB; probably a dynasty. The 90s boys were incredibly stacked. ALL FIVE on the line plus TE and FB. (This is why i never dug Emmitt Smith’s act.)”
To put a finer point on it, the postulate being proposed is this:
If you assemble an offensive line with three or more pro-bowlers, you’re likely going to a Super Bowl and probably more than one.
Or, more safely:
A great offensive line is an excellent indicator that you have a playoff team.
It’s 2007. You and I were enthralled with a 10 win Browns team. But there was another big story in 2007. There was a team that went undefeated in the regular season. Their average score was 37 to 17. They scored no less that 34 points in their first eight games. They had 50 TD passes. Averaged over 300 pass yards/game. One of their receivers had 24 TDs. Their QB had a 117 rating. They’re 18-0 going into the Super Bowl. It was the Brady-Moss Pats.
How do you stop (arguably) the best offense of the modern era?
You go back to basics. You do what has always worked and what will always work.
You bring the heat with a four man front.
Because if there’s no blitz, there’s no obvious coverage to exploit. Because if there’s no obvious coverage to exploit, even the best QB has to hold the ball longer. And because even the best QBs start making mistakes after five sacks.
That’s how the Giants front four kept their team in it long enough to pull out the 2008 Super Bowl.
Fooling the Quarterback? With a defense created in 1972? With a defense used by 15 teams? Really?
What separates Brady and Manning and other elite quarterbacks from the pack? Not arm strength, not accuracy — though both need to be good. But Philip Rivers has those traits when given enough time in the pocket. It’s clearly not mobility.
It’s their reads, both defense and progression. They’ll recognize a blitz and punish it. You give them time to go through their progression, they’ll find the open guy. The thinking of ‘we can disguise where the rush is coming from with a 3-4’ is questionable. Most teams play a 3-4; all QBs have seen it, good QBs can read it. Doesn’t that ‘fool the QB’ premise need to be challenged?
Instead of trying to trick the QB and the offense, how bout this:
CHALLENGE THE OFFENSE.
4-3 defense says this:
We’re rushing four with simple man-to-man coverage with press corners.* We’re not blitzing. Our LBs are playing up and taking your slant routes away. No tricks. We’re gonna own your line of scrimmage and we’ll have seven back in coverage. What’s your play, offense?
Can the offense then provide answers to these questions:
- Can your five man o-line give your QB three peaceful seconds?
- Do you dare release your TE?
- Is your RB willing and able to stay and protect?
- Are your WRs good enough to show separation five yards into their route?
- How fast can your QB go through his reads?
- Does your QB show fear under pressure and so is prone to make mistakes?
- If your QB has known tendencies is he more likely or less likely to break tendency when being rushed?
- The deep crossing routes might be there, can you stand in the pocket long enough for it to open up?
- Is your QB a stare-down-his-target guy? If so, will he be more likely or less likely to do this under pressure?
- Can you run the ball? Or have you sold out your entire offense in favor of the current prevailing thinking of ‘It’s QB-driven-league,’ and ‘you have to pass first today.’
A 4-3 with a great front creates all these dynamics. (more…)
Decent Super Bowl last night. I had the Ravens and called Flacco playing well. Yay, I got one right. (In fairness, I credit to Colin Kaepernick for steering me toward the Ravens because, this.) My picks overall this year were horrendous so you’ll not hear crowing from here for having a solid pick at the end.
Super Bowl game recap is not on the docket today. But the fact of the Super Bowl and Worlds Most Viewed
Sporting Event serves as a perfect setting for today’s theme:
- The NFL gives
no shits‘the minimum amount of shits required to head-off lawsuits’ about head injuries.
- Everyone from Obama to Goodell to the $5,700,000,000/year TV networks are conspiring to construct a talk track about awareness and concern but without meaningful action.
- We hate being spun. It’s the height of disrespect to assume we-the-viewers can’t figure this one out without the help of more (NFL sanctioned) experts inveighing on the subject for us.
Because the solution couldn’t be easier: you can either make targeting heads illegal or require players to sign waivers accepting that they’ll have some level of brain damage after leaving the game. (more…)
One item that has been strangely absent from the Modell HOF talk is Modell’s documented relationships with many … how shall we say it?
We’ll just say it: Modell was connected to many mob guys.
I don’t know why this hasn’t been brought up earlier. I only stumbled onto the subject by accident. There are 39 HOF voters and all them are journalists, right? Not to mention the legions of media types currently asking the same questions over and over again on Media Row in New Orleans this week.
Why has not this data been discussed in the months since Modell was named a Hall-of-Fame finalist?
Let’s just agree that sports journalism’s reliance on its subjects as also sources creates a conflicted (parasitic?) (it’s not symbiotic.) relationship that generally precludes real investigative journalism and certainly no muck-raking — effectively cheerleading — which results in the reflexive log-rolling and dulled ‘Question Authority’ impulses that make sports media people unworthy of the title Journalist and wholly un-respected by the readers they purport to serve and we’ll quietly move on from that question.
While surfing google today (looking for any info on how Modell fell out with Gries), I found an except from Interference: How Organized Crime Influences Professional Football from Dan Moldea, published in 1989. The book is long out of print but of course you can a hard copy online. Chapter 11 was excerpted; here is the link.
Moldea’s book is not Modell-centric. The excerpt I read begins with Clint Murchison (Cowboys), touches Modell, then moves onto William Clay Ford. It’s all interesting. For example, we documented earlier that Modell and Murchison hung out together on Murchison’s private island in the Bahamas, but we haven’t talked much about Murchison’s bankruptcy in the 80s. Nor have we discussed Murchison’s ties to Carlos Marcello. But Moldea does in the linked excerpt.
I spoke with Mr. Moldea on the phone. He was great. He’s ok with my sharing what I found it here. So let’s get started.
Here’s a review Modell’s known gambling ties.
Casino operator in Havana and Fort Lee, NJ (The Riviera). In 1931, Marden bought a hotel just north of the NJ anchor of the GW Bridge. Ft. Lee resident Albert Anatasia was an investor, Meyer Lansky an associate. Retractable roof to dance under starlight, revolving stage so acts were on continuously, and the neon sign was visible for miles. Acts included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Martha Rae, Sammy Davis, Jr., Pearl Bailey. (more…)
We knew this was coming. I guess.
Ozzie Newsome wrote a pro-Art opinion piece for the The Plain Dealer today.
Let’s just work through this and see what we find. Ozzie’s words are in grey.
Although I love the Baltimore Ravens and am proud to be the team’s executive vice president and general manager, I never played for this team. I am a Brown.
And I believe Art Modell should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
My reasons are the same as most of the voters for putting any person into the Hall of Fame: Can you write about the history of the game without using that person’s name?
What a convenient, bizarre, absurd, subjective metric this is. We’re supposed to play “Let’s Pretend” in order to make the case for Art. Can we play dress-up too?
[Other names you can’t write NFL history without: Pisarcik, Norwood, Pardee, Jackie Smith, Earnest Byner, Bart Scott, Drew Bledsoe… if you’ve got more, log em in comments here.]
You can’t write the NFL history without Art. He was an architect of the game we love today.
Architect is a large word. And there are good architects and bad architects. True enough, Art was the architect of:
- a .500 record post Paul Brown in Cleveland;
- the money-first NFL TV policy;
- ransoming regional taxpayer bases for public funds to subsidize a monopoly.
Fair. Agreed. Art was an architect.
The first person who recognized that television and football were perfect for each other was Art Modell. He did that in the 1960s, became the chairman of the NFL’s TV committee and had that job for 31 years.
O RLY? (more…)
I really don’t want to get busy with a uniform thing here but the above happened today.
I do say, God Bless You handmade uniform designer. You care, you’re invested, welcome to the brotherhood.
But count me among the smaller and smaller number of people who see the uniform talk as a metaphor for form-over-substance talk but real.
Here’s where I’m at on this: I love our uniforms.