Thursday, January 30, 2014

QB Corner - Russell Wilson (SEA @ SF)

Congratulations to the 2013 Seattle Seahawks who have become the 2nd youngest team to make the Super Bowl. They even have a coach that looks young (despite being 62). Crucially, they are led by a young, dynamic QB, a player that has surpassed all expectations and taken the league by storm. In only his second year, Russell Wilson has exhibited tremendous command of the offense and perhaps become the league's most valuable player due to his absurd cap number of only $681 thousand. Peyton Manning may be better, but with a cap hit of $17.5 million, is he really 25x better? I think not.

First, the numbers:

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Richard Sherman Show

A 49ers fan's honest letter to @RSherman_25


It is now a few days after last Sunday's NFC Championship game. In the internet age, societies are more and more preoccupied with rapid reactions to complex events, often inciting severe feelings on just a few sides of a multi-faceted issues. I felt the need for a more nuanced reply that took time.

I first want to say: "I'm sorry." You've written and spoken that after the game, you have received insults (including racist ones), threats, and the like from a legion of internet users and others with whom you're not acquainted. I apologize for this; I feel qualified to do so as I am one of the faceless mob that hide behind a Twitter handle and write without heed to consequence. No one should be the target of belligerence and belittlement. Criticism, yes, but only when used to build, and only when delivered from a trustworthy source.

I wanted to write to you about my son. He's a handsome 1 year old boy that doesn't know what he's seeing, only that he loves watching the moving pictures on the television with his dad for a few moments before he's distracted by a toy that catches his eye. I hope that as he grows and understands more, he will find mentorship and guidance from those close to him: family, friends, neighbors, teachers, church members, and the like. I wish he would be less affected by professional athletes not because I believe such to be bad influences, but because I am wary of his looking to people that he does not know well and may not take their association with him seriously. I think real role models are invested in the lives of the people they touch.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Rushing to the Super Bowl

You hear it all the time: The NFL is a passing league. The spread is revolutionizing the passing game. Teams are scoring more than ever. Matthew Stafford can throw for over 5,000 yards in a season. Joe Montana never threw for 4,000 yards in a season. Those who study football know that these things come and go in cycles: the Single Wing (shotgun) turned into the Wing-T offenses of the 50s, the open passing attacks of the 70s, the blitzing defenses of the 80s, the West Coast of the 90s, and the throwback runners of the early 2000s. The 2010s have been about throwing the ball short (screens), middle (seams), and deep (Megatron). 

Then, the playoffs. New England, once the gold standard for passing touchdowns, rushed for 234 yards and 6 TDs in their Divisional win over the Colts. The Patriots ran 46 times to only 25 passes. The Saints rushed for over 100 yards in 2 straight games (against playoff defenses) after doing so only 5 times during the regular season. The Chargers rushed 40 times against the Bengals, manhandling Cincinnati to the tune of 196 yards. San Diego have not run for so many yards since 2011. The Seahawks set off earthquake monitors on their way to 174 rushing yards. Pass-happy Green Bay and Denver ran for 124 yards and 133 yards, respectively. The Packers were done in by a 49ers team that ran for 167 yards on a ridiculous 5.57 yards/carry.

In other words: what in the hey is going on?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

QB Corner - San Diego at Denver Flashback

I know, football isn't all about the quarterbacks. Many have (rightfully) written/said that you can't simply point to a quarterback as the reason for a team's success/failure. Notably, there are 52 other players available for each game, a bevy of coaches on the sideline (Kansas City has 23), trainers, doctors, etc. I get all that. On the other hand, when a player takes roughly 10% of the team's salary cap (as Peyton does), or 7.7% (like Phillip Rivers), I think it's fair to hold that player more responsible for a team's performance. And also - they're freaking quarterbacks!

So it's not incorrect to label today's Chargers @ Broncos (#SDvsDEN) match as a contest between the two QBs. One fact that has been brought up ad nauseam is that these two teams have played before by virtue of being in the same division, and more importantly, the Chargers won one such game in Denver. They did so by holding the Broncos to 48.8% fewer points than their average from the other 15 games. This included a stretch in the middle of the game where the Chargers held the Broncos, and then picked off Peyton for good measure. I took a look at the game tape of the two quarterbacks to see how the Chargers were so successful:

First, I wanted to analyze the stretches where the Broncos struggled, but given I couldn't help throwing these passes in from the Broncos first drive:

Two deep crosses with a go on the left side. The Chargers have man coverage on the outside and cover-2 safeties.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

QB Corner - Cam Newton (NO @ CAR)

What an exciting time to be a Panther's fan! This year's teams exorcised multiple demons on its way to earnings a first-round bye, winning multiple close games against strong competition, including one-score victories over the 49ers, Patriots, and Saints, all teams still alive in the playoffs. That must feel good after losing seven games by one score last year, including one overtime game and two others decided by three points or less.

Perhaps the biggest win of the season was the 4-point victory in Week 16 versus the rival Saints. Winning that game helped Carolina clinch its bye and home game; lose, and the Panthers likely would have traveled to Philly, then to Seattle this weekend. I'm not saying that Panthers can't beat the Seahawks in Seattle, but I can't imagine wanting to go there unnecessarily.

In many ways, that win over the Saints was a microcosm of the Panthers' season, and especially that of star QB Cam Newton. He has finally put things together this year, and in that game, delivered the game-winning TD drive with less than a minute on the clock. That's one reading. Another is this: that Sunday, Cam Newton and the Panthers were bailed out by their defense which intercepted Drew Brees twice and sacked him 6 times, killing several promising Saints drives. The Panthers won despite Cam throwing for only 181 yards, completing only 59% of passes, and taking 4 sacks for 40 yards. In fact, Cam's QBR of 16.6 was his second worst of the year.

So which is the real Cam Newton? In almost all cases I've examined on #QBCorner, the answer is somewhere in the middle. I went through an exhaustive post on his performance in the 49ers game, finding that he is a talented though sometimes inconsistent QB. I again analyzed every pass from the last Saints game and while I won't go through that much detail on him again, here's list of things I liked and didn't like:

Greg Olsen

After the 49ers game, I noted that the Panthers coaches called a lot of deep passes and didn't really take advantage of the middle of the field. Notably, Greg Olsen saw only 3 targets, catching one for 14 yards. There's a big difference between throwing against Navarro Bowman / Patrick Willis and and Junior Gallette / David Hawthorne / Curtis Lofton / Parys Haralson. But the Panthers coaches made the right choice to get Olsen involved in the intermediate areas where he presents a big target for his young QB. On the day, Olsen was targeted 7 times (next most was Ginn with 4 targets), catching 4 balls for 35 yards. Olsen gives the passing game a much-needed extra dimension given the backs aren't involved at all (see below).
Cam does a great job getting his feet aligned to the right. It's harder to do this going right than left for a right-handed QB because you need to adjust both your front and your back foot. Throwing left often only requires a simple step with the front foot to open the hips.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

QB Corner - Andy Dalton (IND @ CIN)

So far, QB Corner (#QBCorner) has looked at five starting NFL quarterbacks (Newton, RG3, Kaepernick, Luck, Foles) and found good things to say about all of them. But my job isn't to be nice; it's to be fair and have good judgment. Take this as a warning, #Bengals fans - you may not like everything you see here.

In my last post, I analyzed Andrew Luck's performance in the loss to Cincinnati. While losing by 14 points may not qualify as much of a performance, I found Andrew's fundamentals to be supremely sound and that he was victimized by poor play from the rest of the offense. Of course, tight coverage and decent pressure from the Bengals defense had something to do with that as well. Today, I will analyze the other QB that played in that match.

Andy Dalton threw for 275 yards and 3 TDs against Indy, both statistics part of a career year for him. The Bengals enter the playoffs having scored 34 or more points in 4 of their last 6 contests. They play the Chargers, a team that used 3 4-leaf clovers, a rabbit's foot, some horseshoes, and a bucket of voodoo to make the playoffs. It's all good, right?

Not exactly. Dalton had a good year, but he ranks only 18th in Football Outsiders QB DVOA. Of the 206 points scored by the Bengals in their last 6 games, 35 were scored by the defense/special teams. Dalton was notably horrible in the last game of the season, a win over the Ravens despite his 4 interceptions. Let's take a look at Dalton compared to some of his peers:

All stats pro-rated for a 16 game season

Friday, January 3, 2014

QB Corner - Andrew Luck (IND @ CIN)

In anticipation of this weekend's games, QB Corner (#QBCorner) will be working overtime to provide analysis on the game tape of young playoff quarterbacks. Many young quarterbacks have made it back to the playoffs for a second year, including Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and Cam Newton. In fact there are as many young signal callers (including Nick Foles in his first playoff appearance) as older ones: Manning, Brady, Rivers, Smith, Rodgers, Brees.

One interesting game from this last season that made one team look a lot better than the other was the Week 14 Indianapolis at Cincinnati match. The Bengals won 48-28, kicking off a hot streak of 4-straight 30+ point games to end the season. That win, along with home wins over Green Bay in Week 3 and New England in the driving rain of Week 5, were the the Bengals only victories over playoff teams this season.

For the Colts, the blowout loss happened in the middle of a 4-4 stretch when the offense caved without Reggie Wayne and the defense looked solved as teams figured Robert Mathis as the only potent pass rusher. During these 8 games, the Colts were outscored by a whopping 63 points, including losses to the Chargers, Rams, Cardinals, and of course, Bengals. In fact, the Colts' season-long point differential of +55 is worse than every playoff team except Green Bay (for obvious reasons) and San Diego.

Of course, there are extraneous reasons for those losses, including the aforementioned Wayne injury. But the Colts' young signal caller, Andrew Luck, has not been above reproach. Despite posting a decent win total for the second straight year, Luck was only 16th in Football Outsiders DVOA. Look at some of the stats:

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

NBA Trade Machine - Part 4

Happy New Year! This has gotten a little ridiculous, yeah? A 4-part post on fake trades? Maybe. But analyzing the statistical effect of these trades is some heavy work. Well, at least as long as you're not the Jacksonville Jaguars. In Parts 1 and 2, I used the ESPN Trade Machine to conjure some fantastic trades that either pushed teams closer to playoff contention or to more lottery balls. In Part 3, I provided the statistical backdrop for projecting team wins based off PER. Below are the projected records of each team post-trade: