### Indianapolis Colts

Enough data has been published previously on Denver and Indianapolis to do a direct comparison, but what do they look like historically?

Denver’s data set looks like this:

Denver Broncos 2005-2013
Year Team W L T SRS OSRS DSRS MOV SOS
2005 DEN 13 3 0 10.79 6.30 4.49 8.56 2.23
2006 DEN 9 7 0 1.32 -0.72 2.04 0.88 0.44
2007 DEN 7 9 0 -3.95 -1.57 -2.38 -5.56 1.61
2008 DEN 8 8 0 -5.79 1.15 -6.94 -4.88 -0.91
2009 DEN 8 8 0 0.32 -1.09 1.41 0.12 0.20
2010 DEN 4 12 0 -8.91 -0.54 -8.37 -7.94 -0.97
2011 DEN 8 8 0 -5.30 -2.87 -2.43 -5.06 -0.23
2012 DEN 13 3 0 10.10 7.08 3.02 12.00 -1.90
2013 DEN 6 0 0 13.95 21.22 -7.26 17.83 -3.88

And Indianapolis’s data set looks like this:

Indianapolis Colts 2005-2013
Year Team W L T SRS OSRS DSRS MOV SOS
2005 IND 14 2 0 10.80 6.82 3.98 12.00 -1.20
2006 IND 12 4 0 5.88 7.31 -1.43 4.19 1.69
2007 IND 13 3 0 12.01 6.44 5.57 11.75 0.26
2008 IND 12 4 0 6.49 1.58 4.91 4.94 1.55
2009 IND 14 2 0 5.93 3.65 2.28 6.81 -0.88
2010 IND 10 6 0 2.88 5.15 -2.27 2.94 -0.06
2011 IND 2 14 0 -11.28 -6.99 -4.29 -11.69 0.40
2012 IND 11 5 0 -4.71 -2.39 -2.32 -1.88 -2.84
2013 IND 4 2 0 8.89 1.72 7.18 8.33 0.56

Using SRS, you would say that Denver has a slight advantage. Let’s look at three different predictive techniques and what they say about point spread and odds of winning the game. (1) These three, for the Denver-Indianapolis game, yield very different results.

Odds of Denver Winning and Predicted Point Spread
Pythagorean Expectation Simple Ranking System Median Analysis
Pct Points Pct Points Pct Points
0.48 -0.6 0.57 2.1 0.77 9

The two techniques I trust more, Pythagoreans and SRS, yield different results for the winner but both say the game will be decided by less than three points. With games this close, small factors – a single turnover, a great punt return – can decide the results. I add the median prediction largely as a comparison. I don’t trust it as much as the other two methods in terms of predicting results.

All three predictions include a home field advantage effect.

Notes:

1. For a simple relationship between point spreads and winning percentages, look here. A different approach is given in the book “Mathletics“, worth reading if you’re into betting football.

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”.

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.

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.

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.

There is a sense of embarrassment that pervades Frank’s book, one that could perhaps be explained by the fact  that David Halberstam was planning on writing a book about the 1958 NFL championship game. But it seems deeper than that. He talks about the salaries the pros made in the 1950s, the failures on the field, the sense of embarrassment that he couldn’t win for his dad, his peripatetic childhood. As a focused study of the game, well, it isn’t. It’s an older man’s book, broad in scope, a little rambling and talkative.

And in that is the strength of the story, which captures a snapshot in time that doesn’t exist anymore. No, I haven’t read extensively about 1950s football, and for someone who hasn’t, it can be a fascinating glimpse at their lives, the character of 1950s New York City. Further, Frank talks candidly about the failures in leadership of the period, strips away common myths about the way the champion Giants worked, and in doing so, exposes the growing character of two towering football figures, Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry.

Cowboys fans might find this bit of text fascinating:

For my first two years , I played defense more than offense, which meant I was playing with Landry, who was even then a player-coach. So I knew how rigid, strict, and unyielding he was as a coach.

Actually,  in  one game against the Redskins, I made an interception and lateraled the ball to Tom, who ran it in for a touchdown. On the following Tuesday, we watched the film.

“Gifford, was that the coverage?”

“I know, Tom, but they were in a Brown right, L-split,” I started to explain, “and-“

“There are no ‘buts'”

“But what if –“

“There are no what-ifs”

If you didn’t play the defense Tom’s way, end of conversation.

“He had a computer mind”, is how Huff remembers Landry. “He studied the opposition’s offensive frequencies in various situations, and he taught them, and you studied them. He’d always say, ‘You have to believe, You  gotta believe. I’ll put you in position to make the play, trust me.’ If you weren’t in position, and making the moves he’d given you, he’d give you ‘The Look’. He didn’t have to say anything: you could read his mind, and what he was saying was ‘You dumb-ass.'”

Vince Lombardi? Gifford expresses a great deal of skepticism about Lombardi’s portrayal in Maraniss’s book, because Frank never saw Lombardi as dictator.  Lombardi was, Gifford claimed, a much more approachable man when Vince was their offensive coach.

And so it goes. The book is peppered with those kinds of details. As an example, Lenny Moore always kept a miniature bible in his thigh pad. Perhaps the most evocative writing is a description of the 1950s New York City night life, dominated by saloons, and the search for places where someone could pick up some or all of the player’s tab. After such a fine bit of work on the times, the setting, the game itself tends to fade into the background. Perhaps, this game has been so intensely covered that most of us in the hard core fan category could recite the ebb and flow of the game by heart.

Please note there is a coauthor, Peter Richmond. It’s a tribute to Peter that the book sounds as if Frank is narrating the text.

I’ve had this book a while, but really haven’t had a chance to show it off.

Hail Victory” is an oral history of the Washington Redskins, written by Tom  Loverro, a writer for the Washington Times. It’s smaller than Pete Golenbock’s oral history of the Cowboys, by a few hundred pages, and as a consequence, coverage of certain periods can be spotty.

But to give an example of the kinds of insights this book does have, here is a quote from page 180 talking about the beginnings of the 1982 season.

Gibbs made it clear he was going to use youngsters over veterans who didn’t produce. He cut running back Terry Metcalf, whom  he had been close to from their days in Saint Louis. He made backup linebacker Rich Milot a starter, as well as rookie cornerback Vernon Dean. He cut receiver Carl Powell, a top draft choice, in favor of unheralded Alvin Garrett. He brought in veteran defensive end Tony McGee to replace Mat Mendenhal and shore up the pass rush.

I bought “Hail Victory” initially to help answer the question of George Allen’s five man line back in 1972, but it was no help there. It’s going to be a terrific help as I chase down information on my next element of interest, Bobby Beathard. And he’s interesting because Washington is the ultimate counter example of the group “A” teams I’ve been so fascinated by recently.

What’s a  group “A’ team?  It’s one of the four I’ve circled on this plot:

I’m thinking now there are clusters of teams with draft strategies. The four in group “A” are New England, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia. I spoke about their apparent habits here. The groups “B” and “C” are unstudied so far. Group B  teams are Denver and Indianapolis. Group C teams are Minnesota and the New York Giants. Left of group B are a cluster of 8 teams, that might as well be named group D for now. And down by its little lonesome, right at the 6.5 player/year line, is Washington.

My guess is that Bobby Beathard, the former general manager of the Washington Redskins, is the ultimate counterexample for the type “A” team.

Some things to note. Bobby was quarterback in college, and then a scout before he entered the NFL. He scouted for Kansas City in the later 1960s, was the director of player personnel for the Miami Dolphins during their peak, and in 1978, when Jack Kent Cooke was the majority owner of the Skins, he became their general manager.

There is an excellent interview of Bobby Beathard on the site Burgundy and Gold Obsession. There is a section from that interview that really stands out, and it’s the same kind of emphasis  that Bill Billick  has attributed to the Belichick era with New England. Bobby is responding to a question in this excerpt (emphasis is mine).

There should be a relationship where the personnel people and the coach are really together. We knew exactly what type of player each Redskin position coach wanted. We knew what kind (offensive line coach) Joe Bugel wanted, we knew what kind (linebackers coach) Larry Peccatiello, (defensive coordinator) Richie Petitbon wanted. I think on our first Super Bowl team we had 26 kids who weren’t drafted, we just signed them as free agents. It didn’t matter who we brought in. Those guys coached the dog out of them. When I was with (head coach) Kevin Gilbride in San Diego, he’d make up his mind before he even got to minicamp, `I don’t want that guy, I don’t want this guy, I don’t want that guy.’ And it became impossible to satisfy him with anybody. The exact opposite was Joe and his staff. Having a staff like that really helps the organization.

What’s very intriguing is this emphasis on the “back end” of the draft, or in this case, post-draft free agents. It’s also the notion that the coaches tell the scouts what kind of players to get, and the scouts go out and  get them exactly those kinds of players. The fit helped make the Redskins of the 1980s successful. And in another form, it’s the same back end emphasis you see in the type “A” teams.

With regard to the best possible athlete versus need question, Bobby said this:

Sometimes you get into that situation when you have the philosophy which we did, you have to take the best one on the board, regardless of position. We always hoped when we picked there would be two or three good players available at different positions, so you’d at least get to take closer to your need. But if there’s just one there, and he’s outstanding, and you have a great grade on the guy and the next athlete on the board doesn’t have that kind of grade, you have to go with the highest-graded player.

And that seems to be a common theme, BPA of course, but need when there are two or three attractive alternatives.