Dallas Cowboys


It is difficult to get a feel on Dallas fan sentiment, which tends often to sound a bit like Linus of Peanuts, convinced he’s missed the Great Pumpkin. Are they happy with their team? Are they dissatisfied? Are they one of those folks convinced that only Jerry Jones can save the situation by firing himself? Let’s see what the numbers say about the first six games of the 2013 Dallas campaign.

Dallas Cowboys 2003-2013
Year Team W L T SRS OSRS DSRS MOV SOS
2003 DAL 10 6 0 -0.46 -5.04 4.58 1.81 -2.27
2004 DAL 6 10 0 -7.77 -3.94 -3.83 -7.00 -0.77
2005 DAL 9 7 0 3.16 1.79 1.37 1.06 2.09
2006 DAL 9 7 0 3.66 5.90 -2.24 4.69 -1.03
2007 DAL 13 3 0 9.47 7.62 1.86 8.12 1.35
2008 DAL 9 7 0 0.57 0.65 -0.08 -0.19 0.75
2009 DAL 11 5 0 7.15 1.31 5.84 6.94 0.21
2010 DAL 6 10 0 -2.15 3.06 -5.21 -2.62 0.47
2011 DAL 8 8 0 1.63 1.13 0.49 1.38 0.25
2012 DAL 8 8 0 0.28 2.62 -2.34 -1.50 1.78
2013 DAL 3 3 0 4.93 7.45 -2.52 5.17 -0.24

 

The closest comparable, so far, appears to be the 2006 Dallas campaign. The defense is playing at about the same level, the offense is a little overrated because of turnovers on defense and excellent special teams play. That bodes well, giving the team a shot at a playoff berth. For now the Philadelphia Eagles appear to be the major obstacle in the path to a NFC East playoff berth. The conclusion to be drawn is that the play in the two Eagles games appears to be key so far. That and the health of Dallas players, which has been pretty awful for Dallas linemen the past couple years.

I’ve been lucky recently. Bill Arnsparger’s book tends to cost closer to $100 than a penny, but an inexpensive copy appeared and I grabbed it (even the Kindle version is around fifty dollars). Compared to Homer Smith’s book, this is less a compendium of diagrams, concepts and ideas and more of a handbook on how to organize and play football defense. It is at times synoptic, at times terse, something of a densely annotated outline. Bill is fond of capital letters, acronyms, and motivational slogans. He also needs to learn to spell “Wilkinson”.

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As a defensive handbook, it’s full of fronts, pass defenses, pithy comments, and a fair amount of defensive gold. He talks about which pass defenses should be paired together. He’s good at finding ones whose reads would be the same to a QB but whose collective actions would be quite different (Cover 2 with his Two man coverage, for example).

As befits a handbook, nothing is beyond the ken of the curious mind. It’s in the depth of the material where it can be daunting. It feels like those sophomore survey courses where the instructor tries to teach everything. Clearly, a lot of time and effort have been poured into the collection of material in the book to make it a cohesive and workable system.

His approach to the history of defenses is pretty original. He starts with the wide tackle six, and between what Jones and Wilkinson have said about the wide tackle six, what Jones and Wilkinson have said about four and five spoke contain, what Homer Smith said about the evolution of the 8 man line, and this delightful Rod Rusk quote from Doctor Z’s tome:

We had trouble with Atlanta’s one back. I was very tempted, but I didn’t have the guts, to line us up in an old fashioned wide-tackle, six-man line, an old 6-2 defense. It keeps going around and around in my head. You can do it with nickel people. The defensive ends are strong safeties, then you’ve got four linemen inside them, then the two inside linebackers are, well, inside linebackers. I still might do it. You might see a lot of people going back to old ideas next year.

Is this the time when the modern 4-2-5 was conceptualized? I’m really intrigued by this train of thought.

Later he points out that the wide tackle six, if you put one of the linebackers at the nose on the line, becomes a kind of seven-diamond.

Seven-diamond, as it stems from the wide tackle six. Pull the right tackle and replace him with a linebacker, and you get something incredibly similar to the later 46 defense.

Seven-diamond, as it stems from the wide tackle six. Pull the right tackle and replace him with a linebacker, and you get something incredibly similar to the later 46 defense.

And then talks about how similar this seven-diamond is to the 46 defense.

It's interesting that Bill spends most of his time re: the flex defense discussing the play of the offside (flexed) end.

It’s interesting that Bill spends most of his time re: the flex defense discussing the play of the offside (flexed) end.

Later, he talks about the Tom Landry flex defense, and rather than focusing on the tackle up on the line, he discusses a flex strong and the pursuit play of the weakside defensive end. He never outright says it, but considering that he later discusses the development of his 53 and over/under 4-3 and 3-4 defenses, it’s hard to lose the impression that the weak side end, often handling the weak side A gap in pursuit, was a factor in his later 3-4 setups. Did he see it as a step towards a 3-4? Was the weak side flexed end a poor man’s “3-4 linebacker”?

With the notes I’ve shown so far, I’m really only scraping the surface of this book. I get the feeling a good coach could, in many ways, start and end with this book, and not suffer very much. If you’re a fan, the book is expensive enough that you should wait for an inexpensive copy. A defensive coach might actually find reason to buy this one as an ebook, and keep it around.

An early 4-3 from the 1956 game between the Rams and the Bears. The Bears tie the game at 7-7 on this play.

LA Rams in an early 4-3. Note the flexed defensive tackles.

LA Rams in an early 4-3. Note the flexed defensive tackles.

Though Zimmerman suggests extensive widespread adoption of the 4-3 in 1957 after the Giants championship, perhaps some clubs were jumping on the bandwagon a little earlier than that. The flexing of tackles, similar to Tom’s Landry’s 4-3 inside, may have been borrowing via film study. Sid Gillman was a well known film junkie during his days with the Rams (1).

We’ll continue with three interesting quotes from Paul Brown’s 1979 autobiography (2).

The first quote covers the 5-2 Eagle..

Neale had built a fine, wing T running attack around Van Buren, the NFL’s rushing champion, who had gained nearly 3,000 yards in three seasons. He had also designed the Eagle Defense, a concept that had become very popular in the NFL. It was built with a tight five man line, two linebackers to jam the ends as they tried to release downfield, and four defensive backs, which was innovative in pro football at the time.

The thing to note is the role of the two linebackers. So, in comparison to Eagle defenses today, very often you’re going to find linebackers in Earle Neale’s defense playing a 6 or 7 technique, instead of a 50 (See the image in my previous 1950s article).

Next, Steve Owen’s 6-1.

…we noticed that if we kept our two setbacks in to block when their ends came on a pass rush, their only linebacker, Jack Cannady, could not effectively cover the short passes. Conversely, if their ends did not come in on a pass rush, we could release our two backs into the short areas away from their coverage. The key in either case was to throw short and not to try and challenge them with our deep passes.

And of Tom Landry’s defenses circa 1958.

New York, under its defense coach, Tom Landry, had built its great defense utilizing the same “flex” concept Landry still uses with the Dallas Cowboys. Its key is the great discipline it exacts from each lineman and outside linebacker. They must control and stay with a defined area – whether or not the play comes to them – long enough for the middle linebacker and defensive backs to give support making the tackles

I’ll note that Paul Brown is assuming that the “flex” concept is identical to gap control, a common element in all the major Landry defenses. We discuss the differences between Tom’s New York defenses, the 4-3 inside/outside, and his later 4-3 flex, here.

I’ve read big chunks of the two Sam Huff autobiographies out there. The later book, “Controlled Violence”, affirms that the 4-3 inside and 4-3 outside were in place by 1956, though in this book Sam suggests that he convinced Landry to have the defensive tackles make sure he was protected (3).

At first, he wanted me to play off the center and then pursue, but that caused me to get caught up in traffic, and wouldn’t allow me to make the tackle. I came up with an idea, and asked Landry to try it out.
“Why don’t you let Mo and Rosey Grier take care of the middle and let me go with the flow of the backfield?”
Tom liked the idea and put them both in a four-point stance. Neither one of them was happy about the move, but it worked.

He also suggests that Tom was in on the ground floor of the keying defense.

In the old days, a team would line up in the 4-3 and focus solely on the ball. The genius of Tom Landry changed that. He told us to watch the way the backs lined up and to watch which side of the field the tight end and flanker were lined up. These became the keys to what the offense would do once the ball was snapped.

I’m not certain how quickly knowledge of Tom’s keying practices became widespread. But even in 1964, Huff’s understanding of the 4-3 inside and 4-3 outside made him valuable when traded to the Redskins, and his coach was having him teach the defense to his peers.

Detroit and their adoption of the 4-3.

Detroit in a 4-3,  1957 Championship game. Note DTs in a 3 technique, unlike the New York Giant's 2 technique.

Detroit in a 4-3, 1957 Championship game.

Joe Schmidt says (4)

The New York Giants were the first ones to play the 4-3 defense.

The Lions are supposed to have taken up the 4-3 in 1955 (5), and the best description of why comes from Rand

Though coaches realized the 5-2 left a hole in the middle, that posed no problem as long as the strong-side linebacker jammed the tight end.

“Then they started pulling the tight end off the line of scrimmage and using a slot situation,” Schmidt recalled. “I’d just pound the tight end — then you were allowed to do that. As a result, they pulled him off the line to give him more freedom so he could escape and get into the pattern more.  What happened then is they started pulling me back once in a while and we’d go into a 4-3. It evolved from necessity.”

So how could the Lions have  followed the Giants if they adopted the 4-3 in 1955? The forward to Sam Huff’s first biography, written by one Tom Landry, provides clues (6).

Middle linebacker was a new position in pro football in the 1950s. I had been developing the “4-3″ defense for the Giants in those couple of years before Sam’s arrival.

Sam Huff was drafted in 1956. A couple years before that would be 1953 or 1954. So, if Detroit saw film of the Giants in 1954 playing a 4-3, perhaps that spurred their adoption as well.

~~~

Notes and References

(1) Katzowitz, Chapter 8.

(2) The three Brown quotes are from Brown and Clary, Chapter 9 page 197, Chapter 10, p 218, and Chapter 11, p 253.

(3) both quotes from Huff, Clark and Gifford, Chapter 2.

(4) D’Annunzio, Chapter 15, page 152. I’d love to give more of this quote but it is relatively incoherent.  I think what Schmidt is trying to say is that Detroit was using a 6-1 from the day he arrived. Schmidt  then notes that he had played middle linebacker in high school and college. Further, the quote would suggest that the 6-1 experience made the switch to 4-3 middle linebacker relatively easy.

(5) D’Annunzio, Chapter 4, page 51 and Rand, Chapter 4, page 36. If Detroit thinks they adopted the 4-3 in 1955, what to make of the Brown’s claim that Detroit was playing a 4-3 in 1952? Perhaps the Lions thought they were playing a 6-1 at the time.

(6) Huff and Shapiro, page ii.

Bibliography

Brown, Paul and Clary, Andy, PB: The Paul Brown Story, Atheneum, New York, 1979.

D’Annunzio, John A When the Lions Roared: The Story of The Detroit Lions 1957 NFL Championship Season, CreateSpace Publishing, 2011.

Huff, Sam and Shapiro, Leonard, Tough Stuff, Saint Martin’s Press, New York, 1988.

Huff, Sam, Clark, Kristine Setting, and Gifford, Frank Controlled Violence: On the Field and In the Booth, Triumph Books, 2011 [ebook]

Katzowitz, Josh, Sid Gillman: Father of the Passing Game, Clerisy Press, 2012 [ebook]

Piascik, Andy, The Best Show in Football: The 1946-1955 Cleveland Browns – Pro Football’s Greatest Dynasty, Taylor Trade Publishing, 2006 [ebook]

Zimmerman, Paul, New Thinking Man’s Guide to Professional Football, Harper Collins, 1984.

Rand, Jonathan Riddell Presents: The Gridiron’s Greatest Linebackers, Sports Publishing, 2003.

The NFL draft is a kind of auction, with auction-like dynamics. It’s also akin to a marriage. It only takes one, not a crowd, to get married and the opinion of the one outweigh the many. When analyzing the draft, I’ve been known to say things like between three players of the same true value, the one that gets drafted is the one whose value is most overestimated (1). I’ve also said things like one scouting opinion isn’t important, but the envelope of opinions is. The distribution of those opinions is crucial to knowing when a player can be drafted (2).

The distribution of player rankings can affect the possible draft positions of a player.

The distribution of player rankings can affect the possible draft positions of a player. Hand drawn curves on a brand new pen tablet, so they’re not perfect curves. Imagine the purple curve with more extensive tails.

In the diagram above, there are three distributions, with different peaks, means and spreads. Player A, in black, has a tight distribution of values and barring any issues with uniqueness of position, there is a consensus where he will be drafted. Player B, in red, has a broader distribution, but is unlikely to suffer more than half a round of variance in draft position. Player C, in purple, has an envelope encompassing two whole rounds of the draft. It’s the player C types that create a lot of controversy.

Did_Dallas_Draft_A_Player_Or_A_Band_Im_Not_So_Sure

Travis Frederick and ZZ Top: Separated at birth?

The player the Dallas Cowboys drafted in the first round, Travis Frederick, is exactly one of those types. He was highly ranked before the combine, but suffered because of his bad 40 time. People like Gil Brandt, who had him ranked 27th best at the time, dropped him because of his 40 time. Perusing various links, such as this one, you see rankings ranging from 31 (Gary Horton) into the 90s. Now please note that draft pundits really don’t count, NFL teams do. But for the sake of argument, we’re using media scouts as an estimator of the envelope of NFL opinions. And that envelope of values encompass two whole rounds of variance.

So, what happens when you must have a player whose valuation envelope is a broad distribution? This player must be taken pretty far from the mean, in the tails of the “high value” side, or else you risk losing him (3). What is guaranteed though, is that the pundits on the other side of the mean from you will undoubtedly scream bloody murder. That’s because a draft pundit’s opinion is his life’s blood, and they make their money validating and defending that opinion, usually in print, and sometimes on television. That it’s one of many doesn’t matter if that’s how you make your living. So of course pundits will scream.

2013 was a draft with few good players. If estimates are valid that there were only 16 or so players truly worth a first round pick, then by default you’re overdrafting your quality by a half round by the middle of the first round. If the span of Frederick’s valuations really ran from, say, mid second to the beginning of the fourth, then the so-called overdraft is not, it’s entirely the function of three things: first, the perceived need for the player and second, such a broad valuation envelope that Dallas had to draft him in the tails of the distribution. Third factor, the lack of talent overall in the draft that led to overdrafting in general.

~~~
Footnotes

1. Jonathan Bales, before he became a New York Times contributor, favored this comment (common sense, IMO) and used it to help validate a pet drafting theory of his. I never saw enough rigor in his theory to separate it from the notions of BPA or need, as it was more a collective efficiency concept. IMO the notion hardly led to the invalidation of BPA or needs based drafting.

2. In the early 2000s, I wrote a Monte Carlo simulator of the draft, which explicitly used those distributions to estimate where players would be drafted. More discussion of that code, released as a Sourceforge project, is here.

3. Let me note that in “must have” situations, teams whose draft record no one complains about .. New England say .. will draft players above their worth. Belichick’s rationale, given in the link, is instructive. An excerpt is:

Now, the question is always, “How much do they like him and where are they willing to buy?’ I’m sure for some teams it was the fourth round. For some teams it was the third round. But we just said, ‘Look we really want this guy. This is too high to pick him, but if we wait we might not get him, so we’re going to step up and take him.’

PS – tskyler, a Cowboys Zone forum contributor, has a very nuanced fan analysis of the Frederick draft here, one worth reading.

I haven’t done many Xs and Os articles recently, and this one isn’t going to be explanatory in and of itself. Instead, its going to be a set of links pointing to Tampa 2 and Cover 2 resources. I’d like this to be a living document, at least over the short term, which means I reserve the right to rewrite, amend, and add to this list. If you are a coach or interested amateur, feel free to let me know more sources and resources that I can add.

What you’ll see here in order is a link, perhaps a short summary of the scope of the link, and perhaps a short quote from the link. I might borrow a diagram or two from the link, if I think it will help the reader.

Obviously this is driven by the hire of Monte Kiffen and Rod Marinelli by the Dallas Cowboys. Rob Ryan was fired recently. The reasons are part of still heated discussions, but given subsequent hires, it’s easy enough to suggest that the powers that be among the Cowboys want better execution all round. That the Cowboys offense was more prone to penalties and miscues than the defense is a position many Cowboys fans take, and that faction treats the firing of Ron Ryan as a kind of scapegoating.

Whether true or false, we’re just trying to gather under one roof, resources on this defense, notes useful to fans and coaches alike.

Before beginning, we’ll mention some things that should be any any defense aficionado’s bag of tricks: the multipart articles on defense by Jene Bramel, a copy of the Jaworksi, Cosell and Plaut book, and of course, Tim Layden’s quality introduction to modern football concepts. If you have never seen the Smart Football blog, you should, and if you’re looking for information on stunts and modern zone blitzes, the Blitzology blog seldom disappoints.

A variety of other Xs and Os links are on the sidebar.

Football Times on the Tampa 2

Scope: introductory. Diagrams may not be accurate, as they display an even front.

From Football Times article. Yellow regions are holes in the zone of a stock cover 2. Tampa 2 lets MLB drop deeper, covering middle yellow, and allowing safeties to move zone coverage closer to end lines, helping close intermediate gaps.

Inside the Playbook on the Tampa 2

Scope: Introductory. Matt Bowen was a NFL defensive back, and knows coverages well.

Matt’s diagram of a Tampa 2 coverage, 4-3 over, with a stunt on the strong side.

Wikipedia on the Tampa 2

Scope: introductory. Article is self contradictory on the history of the defense.

The personnel used in the Tampa 2 are specific in position and required abilities. All positions in this defense place a premium on speed, and often the result is that they are all undersized by league standards. The defensive linemen in this scheme have to be quick and agile enough to create pressure on the quarterback without the aid of a blitz from either the linebackers or the secondary, with
the defensive tackle in the nose position having above-average tackling skills to help stop runs.

The Fifth Down Blog on the Cover 2 and Tampa 2

Scope: Introductory. Jene Bramel’s coverage of the Monte Kiffin system.

Daily Norsemen on Minnesota’s Tampa 2

Scope: nicely done introductory level discussion of the back 7 responsibilities in the Tampa 2

While they will generally all be tailored to one gap attacking from the 4-3 front … the back seven will have to display a wide variety of skills in order to execute the full defense.

This is distinct from some 3-4 systems (and other 4-3s), where the varied looks and confusing schemes imply a high degree of
flexibility from all players, but in fact does not require as much individual diversity at key positions.

ESPN News Article: fewer and fewer Cover 2 teams

Scope: news article, reporting teams moving away from Cover 2 because safeties can’t hit as hard anymore.

The Core Positions in the Tampa 2

Scope: Introductory, newspaper blog. Bears-centric. Reporter repeating what a coach has told him.

Stampede Blue on the NT position in the Tampa 2

Scope: Introductory, with emphasis on the Colts and their history with 1 technique DTs in the Tampa 2.

Bryan Broaddus on the Tampa 2

Scope: Introduction. Some discussion of where current Cowboys fit into a Tampa 2 style scheme. Historically accurate.

In terms of the Tampa Bay personnel compared to this current Cowboys squad, think of DeMarcus Ware as Simeon Rice, Bruce Carter
as Derrick Brooks, Sean Lee as Shelton Quarles and Barry Church as John Lynch, with Jay Ratliff as Warren Sapp. I don’t believe
the coverage part will be a problem for Carr and Claiborne, but how physical they can be trying to do those things I spoke of
in funneling runs inside or playing the run when he gets to the outside will be important.

How to coach the MLB drop in Tampa 2

Scope: coaching thread on message board.

That middle position isn’t manned by the true MLB type that the Miami 4-3 was predicated on. Like these guys have said, he’s 6 yards back and has different responsibilities too.

Pass Coverage in the Tampa 2

Scope: Coaching blog, and article. MLB, CB, and S responsibilities.

General coaching thread on the Tampa 2.

It is not a viable every-down coverage, due to the fact that you basically are giving up the entire 0-10 yd zone from hash-to-hash without resistance, so if a team just hits the TE & RB’s over the middle, they can kill you with 8 yd gains every snap.

Tampa 2 versus the spread

I was surprised when I found out that The Tampa 2 wasn’t the same thing as the 4-3 Over Cover 2. Went to a COY clinic in Orlando a few years ago and Monte Kiffen was the speaker. It looked more like a version of the WT-6(*) than a version of the 4-3 Over. I’m still not real sure about that thing.

Not Tampa 2 specific, but interesting in contrast

On Pete Carroll’s Seahawks 4-3

Scope: Introductory to intermediate.

Shakin’ the Southland on the Miami 4-3 and descendents.

Scope: Intermediate.

Offensive Football, busting the Cover 2

Shakin’ The Southland  (Clemson football blog) on the Cover 2.

Scope: intermediate, with plenty of video.

Almost any article by Chris Brown of Smart Football has football coaches as its primary audience. Advanced fans can glean some insight as well.

Chris Brown on Peyton Manning’s favorite play: Levels

Delayed Slant from the  Smash

Beating Cover 2 from Trips.

~~~
* presumably, wide tackle 6.

We got the Split-60 from Coach “Erk Russell” in 1984. It was the WT-6 on the Strongside and the Split-4 on the Weakside. They called it the “Junk Yard Dog” defense. Coach Russell said that it took the best of the WT-6 and the Split-4.

We got it, squeezed down the Strongside into a 50 that we were more used to and I’ve used it every since as a Gap 5-2. Wish I’d put it in print, but I was just a coaching pup then and just thought it wasn’t anything special.

Now they call it the 4-3 Under and say that Monte Kiffen is credited with it. Same defense that Coach Russell ran at Georgia with a few little wrinkles. I guess some things never change.

I believed, in the immediate aftermath of the 2011 season, that with Jason Peters at left tackle, the least of Philadelphia’s worries would have been the tackle position. Instead, he was injured in the off season. In September, Philadelphia center Jason Celce went down with a season ending injury. In the New Orleans game, Todd Herremans suffered a season ending injury, and going into the Dallas game, starting guard Danny Watkins had been out with a sprained ankle.

Losing Todd Herremans: deal breaker for the Eagles? (Image from Wikimedia).

So, in week 10, the Eagles had one healthy starting caliber player, and 4 backups playing on the offensive line. This loss of talent was profound, even in comparison with Dallas, which had 1 backup on the line – though Dallas RG Mackenzie Bernadeau has been pretty marginal as a starter. Simplified, losing tackles is much worse than losing a guard and a center. Result? A markedly ineffective Vick, a thoroughbred offense reduced to dog-sled pace.

No wonder announcers were hyping this as the “end of a season” for one of these teams. Most any cold blooded announcer could have figured out what was about to happen. The only question was how best to pitch it so people would actually watch.

Atlanta: I’ve been comparing the 2012 Atlanta Falcons to the 1976 Oakland Raiders, to make the case that Atlanta has a chance. But the 1976 Raiders had made it to three previous Conference Championship games, while the Mike Smith squads have never gone that far. They lack the deep playoff experience of those 1970s Raiders squads.

The fact is, all scoring stats suggest Atlanta has benefited from plenty of luck. I think, because of a better Julio Jones, that this is a better Falcons team than the 2011 team, but the coaching changes in New Orleans markedly benefited this squad. Yes, Atlanta can be beaten.

Week 9 scoring stats:

Week 10 scoring stats:

If we use the median point spread as a measure of how good Atlanta is, and select the teams within 2 points of their value, you end up with a group that includes San Francisco, New England, Minnesota, and the New York Giants. That’s a talented group of teams, but perhaps not as terrifying as Green Bay, Houston, Denver, and Chicago. Pythagoreans point out three elite teams in Houston, Chicago, and San Francisco, while simple rankings prefer the quartet of Houston, Chicago, Denver and San Francisco.

At this point, perhaps the more appropriate past comparison for the Falcons would be the 1973 Oakland Raiders. Atlanta needs to make some noise in the playoffs first.

Should anyone be worried about the Giants mid season slide? No. They always do this. The question is, will they fully recover in time to make a playoff run. That’s not something that will be entirely answered until week 17.

Keith Goldner is active this season both on Advanced NFL Stats and his own blog, Drive By Football. As he has updated his Markov Chain model (see also here), I’d suggest finding Keith’s new articles on either of these two sites. In my opinion, Keith’s work on his expected points models is a must read for anyone who wants to learn analytics, because he’s perhaps the best at making sure that readers can understand how he sets his models up.

Jene Bramel is a good follow if you like in game analysis on Twitter. After the Cowboys 24-17 victory over the Giants, this tweet caught my eye, where Jene mentions a Bear front.

A Bear you say?

I never found that Bear, but at 5:18 in the second quarter – one of the more interesting drives in the game, from the standpoint of a defensive front junkie – we see this:

Two down linemen, but six players at line depth and two at linebacker depth give this front a Bear like feel.

Diagrammatic representation of the front at 5:18, 2nd qtr. Bruce Carter is the linebacker between T and TE.

Though this is formally a nickel front, and there really isn’t a 3-0-3 diamond here, there are a couple things of note. There are six players across the line. Bruce Carter is in the gap between the RDE and the R (rush linebacker), just inside the tight end. Sean Lee is at the 50 behind Bruce (a few yards in front of the left offensive tackle), and another player is in the other 50, a few yards in front of the right offensive tackle. The “lineman” in the two point stace, to the left of the nose guard in this view, isn’t playing a 5 technique as much as he is playing a 3, and the whole front looks as if Rob Ryan is guessing a run to the left side of the line.

That’s exactly what happened. The Giants ran left. Bruce Carter defeated his block and the run gained almost nothing. And it’s almost pure stubbornness to run a running back into the heart of this kind of formation.

Otherwise, I saw plenty of 2 and 3 man fronts, and at one point, perhaps a 4 man front.

After the game, I found that the day of the game, Chase Stuart had this article online, comparing the relative skills of Eli Manning and Tony Romo. And no, it isn’t the usual media fawning exercise.

Update: for more Rob Ryan fronts, this thread has screen shots of the first 10 Ryan fronts of the season.

Frank Dupont wrote another nice letter again. He has a blog called fantasydouche.com, and on it there are  a pair of links (here and here) useful to draft analysts. In the first, he introduces a value chart based on average number of starts per draft slot. In the second of the pair, he assesses the value of the first round 2012 trades using the new value chart. This is a different metric from the Jimmy Johnson trade value chart or approximate value, and you draw different conclusions with this metric  than through AV analysis  (compare links above with my previous analysis). Worth a read.

Image from Fantasydouche.com. Note the difference in slope in the “games started” curve and the Jimmy Johnson trade value chart.

Chris Brown of Smart Football thinks this article on LonghornDigest.com is well worth a read. It shows the influence of modern analysis on college level defensive coordinators, with exhibit #1 being Manny Diaz of the Texas Longhorns.

For Dallas fans, Jonathan Bales of the Dallas Cowboy Times has an article on DallasCowboys.com assessing the success of first round trade ups.

Update: fixed the J Bales link.

There were eight trades in the first day involving the first round of the 2012 NFL draft. Most of them involved small shifts in the primary pick, with third day picks added as additional compensation. The one outlying trade was that of the St Louis Rams and the Dallas Cowboys, which involved a substantial shift in  the #1 pick (from 6 to 14) and the secondary compensation was substantial. This high secondary compensation has led to criticism of the trade, most notably by Dan Graziano, whose argument, boiled to its essence, is that Dallas paid a 2 pick price for Morris Claiborne.

Counting  picks is a lousy method to judge trades. After all, Dallas paid a 4 pick price for Tony Dorsett. Was that trade twice as bad a trade as the Morris Claiborne trade?  The Fletcher Cox trade saw Philadelphia give up 3 picks for Fletcher Cox. Was that trade 50% worse than the Morris Claiborne trade?

In order to deal with the issues raised above, I will introduce a new analytic metric for analyzing trade risk, the risk ratio, which is the sum of the AV values of  the picks given, divided by the sum of the AV values of the picks received. For trades with a ratio of 1.0 or less, there is no risk at all. For trades with ratios approaching 2 or so, there is substantial risk. We are now aided in this kind of analysis by Pro Football Reference’s new average AV per draft pick chart. This is a superior tool to their old logarithmic fit, because while the data may be noisy, they avoid systematically overestimating the value of first round picks.

The eight first round trades of 2012, interpreted in terms of AV risk ratios.

The first thing to note about the 8  trades is that the risk ratio of 6 of them is approximately the same. There really is no difference, practically speaking, in the relative risk of the Trent Richardson  trade, or the Morris Claiborne trade,  or the Fletcher Cox trade. Of the two remaining trades, the Justin Blackmon trade was relatively risk free. Jacksonville assumed an extra value burden of 10% for moving up to draft the wide receiver. The other outlier, Harrison Smith, can be explained largely by the noisy data set and an unexpectedly high value of AV for draft pick 98. If you compensate by using 13 instead of 23 for pick #98, you get a risk ratio of approximately 1.48, more in line with the rest of the data sets.

Armed with this information, and picking on Morris Claiborne, how good does he  have to be for this trade to be break even? Well, if his career nets 54 AV, then the trade breaks even. If he has a HOF career (AV > 100), then Dallas wins big. The same applies to Trent Richardson. For the trade to break even, Trent has to net at least 64 AV throughout his career. Figuring out how much AV Doug Martin has to average is a little more complicated, since there were multiple picks on both sides, but Doug would carry his own weight if he gets 21*1.34 ≈ 28 AV.

Four historic trades and their associated risk ratios.

By historic measures, none of the 2012 first round trades were particularly risky. Looking at some trades that have played out in  the past, and one  that is still playing out, the diagram above shows the picks traded for Julio Jones, for Michael Vick, for Tony Dorsett, and also for Earl Campbell.

The Julio Jones trade has yet to play out, but Atlanta, more or less, assumed as much risk (93 AV) as they did for Michael Vick (94 AV), except for a #4 pick and a wide receiver. And although Michael is over 90 AV now, counting AV earned in Atlanta and Philadelphia, he didn’t earn the 90+ AV necessary to balance out the trade while in Atlanta.

Tony Dorsett, with his HOF career, paid off the 96 AV burden created by trading a 1st and three 2nd round choices for the #2 pick. Once again, the risk was high, the burden was considerable, but it gave value to Dallas in the end.

Perhaps the most interesting comparison is the assessment of the Earl Campbell trade. Just by the numbers, it was a bust. Jimmie Giles, the tight end that was part of the trade,  had a long and respectable career with Tampa Bay. That, along with the draft picks, set a bar so high that only the Ray Lewis’s of the world could possibly reach. And while Campbell was a top performer, his period of peak performance was short, perhaps 4   years. That said, I still wonder if Houston would still make the trade, if somehow someone could go back in to the past, with the understanding of what would happen into the relative future. Campbell’s peak was pretty phenomenal, and not entirely encompassed by a mere AV score.

The biggest fish in free agency was Peyton Manning, and now that fish has been landed, by the Denver Broncos. Peyton arriving now leads to speculation about Tebow leaving, and some Dallas media sorts have suggested that he might land with the Cowboys. My general feeling is possibly, if he ends up being cut, but since Dallas already has a serviceable backup in Kyle Orton (one of their first free agent pickups), I’m not sure I see the need.

Peyton Manning is now a Denver Bronco. Image from Wikimedia.

However, Tebow has what former Falcons QB David Archer calls “no off switch”. He doesn’t quit, even under conditions where most people give up.  This “never say never” attitude will land him a job somewhere. His will to win, will to work, and totally improbable ability to win games will land him somewhere. I’m sure of it.

It seems to me the team that could handle Tebow best would be the Carolina Panthers. With Cam Newton already using spread and zone concepts, it would be much less effort for that team to accommodate Tim. The question, of course, is whether they would want to.

Important in the NFC East scheme of  things was the Redskins trade for the #2 draft choice. They are almost certainly going to draft RG3 with that pick. For some years now, the Skins have lived with an unsettled QB situation, and now that is over. The question on their plate is how to accumulate talent with the draft deficit  they face.

The Eagles signed WR DeSean Jackson to a long term contract, and if I recall, have traded for DeMeco Ryans as well. Is this the end to their linebacker woes?  Now, the free agency linebacker market, as noted by such sources as Pro Football Focus, has been stolid. The general consensus is that the best linebackers had very high salary expectations. Clubs are just waiting for the talent that is there to be affordable.

Dallas, of course, faces the same issue on their offense as they did before free agency. If their biggest problem is Phil Costa at center, what have they done to fix that? They have picked up two free agent  guards, Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau, neither of which is regarded as a great player, but then again, they didn’t pay much either. The most important pickup was CB Brandon Carr, who replaces Terrance Newman. Also useful was QB Kyle Orton, and the LB Dan Connor (insert Terminator joke here).

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