NFL Notebook (2018-2019)

Yes, I have another thread about the 2018-2019 season, but I want to use this thread more for random thoughts and ideas, specifically about football in general. For example, the first idea I want to write about involves evaluating pass protection. With that, here’s the idea:

The Range of Pass Protection–From Good to Bad

I can’t remember if I’ve written about this before, but I would like to see categories for different types of pass protection. Here, I’m referring specifically to the quality of pass protection, from the worst to the best. Good and bad pass protection have certain qualities, qualities that can be measured by time to throw and the space of the pocket. The qualities also can be seen–good pass protection looks a certain way, bad protection looks a certain way, and the quality of pass protection in between also looks a certain way. For example, if the pass rushers seem stuck at the line of scrimmage for a relatively long time, creating big space between the QB and the pass rushers, this is probably the best type of pass protection. If one or more pass rushers get in untouched or virtually untouched (and not be design), that’s really bad pass protection. Pass protection ranging from competent to great almost always involve the OL starting in a straight line and bending into a “U” or a pocket. The O-linemen are in front of the defenders. In the best pass protection, the line bending into the “U” occurs gradually or even slowly. Pass protection that bends quickly isn’t good, but it’s still not the worst. In the worst pass protection, the O-linemen often look like a mass of bodies. Now, sometimes good pass protection can look this way, maybe if the defense has a really unbalanced line or something funky. But generally, good pass protection involves the orderly formation of a “U.”

After identifying the various types of pass protection, I’d like to count how often each of these occur in a game and then look at the performance of the QB. In the ideal situation, I’d control for the QB and the WRs–that is, they would be good. If you gave them good pass protection, you’d expect the passing game to be successful. What I’d like to examine is if there is a minimum number of certain type of pass protections in order for the QB and WRs to perform well. For example, maybe you at least 10% of the passing plays to have great pass protection. And if you have this you could expect a really good game. Or maybe the situation is more complex. For example, 10% may not be enough if 10% of the pass plays involve the worst pass protection. In that case you would need 15% of the pass plays to have great pass protection. Additionally I suspect the distribution of the various type of pass protection might also make a big difference as well. For example, here’s a possible sequence, with the numbers representing the order in which the pass plays occurred: 1(terrible), 2(decent), 3(terrible) 4(great), 5(decent), 6(great),….

My hypothesis is the quality of pass protection and the sequence of this has a huge impact on the QB’s confidence and ability to get into a groove. If a QB gains confidence and gets into a groove over a few games, that can be hard to shake. Such a QB can be more resilient to when bad pass protection occurs. On the other hand, a series of games with bad pass protection can damage a QBs confidence and they can get into a rut–a rut that can be just as hard to shake.

Bend Fast But Don’t Break Defense?

We all know about the bend-but-don’t break principle in defense, but watching the Seahawks made me wonder about another twist on the concept. What if your defense allowed an opponent to move quickly down the field, but you were really stout in the red zone, and was also good at creating turnovers? Wouldn’t that be better than allowing your opponent to run a lot of plays and eat up a lot of clock? The former will lower the number of snaps and time on the field for the defense, while the latter does the opposite. If you’re offense is good at controlling the clock, then your defense will have even more time to rest than if they had to play a lot of snaps in a long drive. If you could build a defense like this, would this be a desirable thing?

I’m not sure about the answer, but I wonder if you could design a defense like this. How would you allow the opposing offense to bend quickly while also preventing them from scoring TDs? That is, if the offense is making a lot of explosive plays, would have a lot of control over preventing from scoring on these plays. And if part of your strategy is allowing opposing offenses to get down the field quickly, I would think you’re forgoing three and out opportunities. You would also be losing the field position battle as well.

Why does the running game require so much committment?

(Note: I wrote the above a while ago. I want to start this thread because I want to talk about some other things first. Hopefully I’ll answer the question about the running game at some point.)

40 thoughts on “NFL Notebook (2018-2019)

  1. Have Teams Figured Out How to Defend the Rams?

    Robert Mays, from the The Ringer, mentioned that since the Lions basically have ignored jet sweeps and running game when playing against the Rams, basically daring them to run on both those plays, and that other defenses have copied this, and it seems to have been effective. I don’t know if this is true, but if it is, it raises some interesting questions.

    For one thing, it supports the claim that McVay is a more of a pass-first guy, even though he’s running a more pro-style offense. If teams are going to dare you to run, well then run the dang ball! If he doesn’t, it strongly suggests he’s not really a pro style guy. To me, most pro style coaches, while they may lean toward the running game, they’re ultimately about taking what the defense gives you. Even for these run-first coaches, if the defense dares you to passs, I feel like most of them will pass. Pete Carroll, one of the more conservative coaches, fits this mold in my view.

    Another question I have relates to whether an uptempo offense can truly be run-oriented. Running was a crucial feature of Chip Kelly’s offense as well, and he set up the offense so that both the running and passing would augment the other. But I always got the sense that the offense was predicated on the passing game, and that Kelly preferred to pass. I sort of have the same feeling about McVay. Additionally, I have the sense that uptempo offenses are mostly used to enhance the passing game. I don’t think I’ve seen or heard of a uptempo offense that runs the ball for 30 times. If that’s accurate, I’m curious to know exactly why that is.

    1. Now that we’re finished with the playoffs, I’d like to revisit some of two questions I raised above–namely, 1) is McVey ultimately a pass-first guy, and 2) can a team that relies heavily on no huddle/quicker tempos also be an effective run oriented team?

      Let’s take the first question. My conclusion is that McVey is a more pass-first guy. That is, he’s going to be very reluctant to run 30+ times, just because that’s not how he likes to play. Now, I believe this was not the case against the Cowboys, but my sense is that this is an exception that proves the rule. While McVey likes the pro style offense, he’s in line with coaches who have a more pass-first mindset (e.g., Don Coryell, Denny Green with the Vikings, maybe even Joe Gibbs with the 3 WR, 1 RB offense).

      As for the second question, at this point, I’m skeptical that a team that relies a lot on no huddle and speeding up the tempo won’t be consistently good at running the ball, especially when they need to (e.g., the four minute drill) or in the playoffs.

      If this is true, what’s the reason for this? Off the top of my head, I’d guess that playing fast is difficult in high stakes situations. When players feel pressure, playing at faster speed can be harder. Pressure also tends to slow players done, making them more hesitant and cautious (because they’re afraid to make a mistake or worried that the play will fail).

    2. As for the second question, at this point, I’m skeptical that a team that relies a lot on no huddle and speeding up the tempo won’t be consistently good at running the ball, especially when they need to (e.g., the four minute drill) or in the playoffs.

      Okay, just to be clear: when you say “I’m skeptical that a team relying a lot on no huddle … won’t be consistently good at running,” is that what you mean? Or do you mean you’re skeptical that a fast-tempo team will be consistently good at running? From past conversations I’m guessing the latter, but I don’t want to bite back unnecessarily.

      1. Or do you mean you’re skeptical that a fast-tempo team will be consistently good at running?

        I meant the above–and I meant running consistently well in the playoffs and/or predictable moments (e.g., when the offense needs to protect a lead). Chip Kelly’s Eagles could run the ball and run well. They seemed to run less well to protect the lead in the second half.

  2. Is It Critical for a QB to Throw Well From the Pocket?

    For a long time, I have believed this to be the case. I’m fine if a QB runs the ball in option offenses or even relies on improvised scrambling–IF the QB can play well from the pocket (not only complete passes but protect the football as well).

    Why is that? The main reason is that, at some point, especially in the biggest of games, the QB will have to throw from the pocket. On a related note, the QB will have to pass the ball in predictable passing situations–e.g., when his is down at the end of the game or in two minute drills. If a QB can’t perform well in these circumstances, their value diminishes greatly because the chances of this type of QB taking a team to the Super Bowl and winning it is extremely low.

    In 2018, a few QBs are likely to put this theory to the test. I’m thinking specifically of Lamar Jackson and MItch Trubisky, and, to a slightly lesser degree, Patrick Mahomes. (I guess I could add DeShaun Watson as well, as we’ve never seen him perform in the playoffs.) What’s interesting about these QBs is that they play in an offensive system that relies on misdirection, schemes that can really help the players. The thing is, at some point, against the best teams, these teams won’t be able to rely on these schemes–the QBs will have to play well from the pocket. The plays from the pocket may not be a lot, but they often will be decisive.

    Right now, based on what I’ve seen, I don’t think Trubisky and Jackson will pass this test. I tend to think Mahomes can do this, but I’m less certain–and I could see committing crucial turnover. I’m most confident about Watson at this point.

    By the way, what I’m talking about is the difference between QBs like Russell Wilson and Cam Newton and QBs like Tyrod Taylor, Colin Kaepernick, and RGIII.

  3. Thought Experiment: What if games were decided by who scored a predetermined number of points first?

    Pick-up basketball games are usually won when when team scores a certain amount of points first. What if football games were decided that way, and eliminate the game clock. (Actually, you could also keep the game clock and allow two ways to win–either score the predetermined number of points first or have the most points at the end of regulation time.)

    I don’t have the time and energy to flesh this out, but I think the value of this exercise would be to show how important the clock is and how it impacts the way teams play. I suspect this could also reveal the importance of running and defense.

  4. You would need a clock and a whichever-comes-first rule, or you would for sure see your clock-chewing teams ditch that strategy. Without the clock wouldn’t it looks like arena football, or those touch football games we played in 8th grade PE?

    You might also need a clock just as a mercy in those 12-9 games where neither team seems able to get the ball in the end zone. No clock works in volleyball and golf and (to a lesser extent) baseball because those games aren’t as brutal on athletes’ bodies.

    I can see why this setup might appeal to you; you hate turnovers, and turnovers in a first-to-30 game (or whatever) would be a lot worse than they are in the current game.

    Would speedy players be even more valuable than they are now?

    1. You would need a clock and a whichever-comes-first rule, or you would for sure see your clock-chewing teams ditch that strategy. Without the clock wouldn’t it looks like arena football, or those touch football games we played in 8th grade PE?

      It sounds like you think I’m advocating for getting rid of the clock, but I’m not. I actually think this thought experiment is one way to show the value of running and ball control.

      You might also need a clock just as a mercy in those 12-9 games where neither team seems able to get the ball in the end zone.

      If you did something like this, I think you need a clock, in a whichever comes first situation. But I wasn’t really thinking about the brutality of the game, although that is a valid point. I was just think the game might take too long to finish. Think about two really bad offensive teams, or two really good defensive teams. Now, while the game might be brutal in some situations, I could see it being far less brutal in others. You mention 8th grade football, and my guess is that the pass-first offenses would shorten games. Think about the Rams, Chiefs, and Saints (at least early in the season). Then again, not all teams are going to have that kind of explosiveness, even if they want to.

      I think, in some ways, there would be less pressure on the players, which doesn’t appeal to me. Part of what separates great players from good ones is the ability to perform under duress.

      I can see why this setup might appeal to you; you hate turnovers, and turnovers in a first-to-30 game (or whatever) would be a lot worse than they are in the current game.

      Could you flesh out your thought, here? I’m not sure what you’re thinking.

      Would speedy players be even more valuable than they are now?

      I tend to think speed would be more important than power. When the winner scores a certain amount of points first, ball control becomes far less important. Because of the clock, one win to win is to prevent a team from scoring more than you do. For example, a team can by scoring on only a safety, if they don’t allow their opponent to score any points. But that approach doesn’t work if the winner is the first to score “x” amount of points. Even if you have a time limit, the win by defense and ball control doesn’t seem like a good strategy.

      Having said all this, I think the running game would have to play a role in order to allow an offense to be balanced and not one-dimensional. (I think if running is important in this scenario, that can help show why running is important under the current rules.)

      In closing. my sense is that a lot of the analytics guys under value running, and they’re almost completely blind to the importance of ball control. And yet explaining why both are important is really difficult. This thought experiment might be a way to show this.

  5. Is this a Good Way to Evaluate the Whether the Quality of the Run Game Impacts the Effectiveness of the Play Action Pass?

    I don’t think it is, but I don’t have time to explain my reasons, now. I’ll try to come back and do so later. In the meantime, I’d be interested in hearing what you guys think. Also, do you guys think the quality of the run game does have an impact on the play action effectiveness? On this question, my position is that while the play action pass can be surprisingly effective, even when the run game isn’t great, I do think a really good run game can make the PA more effective. From what I understand Baldwin’s position is that it has no effect.

  6. How do you know when to credit or blame the players or coaching (scheme)–especially in the trenches?

    There has been a lot of discussion about the way Belichick’s/Flores’s defensive scheme/gameplan shutdown the Rams offense in the Super Bowl. I don’t doubt that this had a big impact, but how do we know that the players–their talent, execution, and effort–weren’t more decisive? That is, maybe the Patriots defenders were just better, at least on this given day, than the Rams offensive players.

    My sense is that pundits and fans, for whatever reason, attribute success or failure to the coaching, more than to the players. Offensive coordinators often seem to be frequent targets of this. “If only the OC called better plays, the offense would have been successful! But what if the opponent just had better players? Or what if the opponent’s players just outplayed and out-executed your team on that day? Is it me, or does this explanation seem rare? And how can we know when this is or is not the case?

    I don’t have any clear answers to this, but here are some thoughts off the top of my head:

    If know that a team has a significant weakness in a specific area, and this aspect of the team seems to have been instrumental in a loss, then I would tend to go not blame the coaching. This is especially true if the opponent had superior players in a team’s weak position group. For example, prior to McVay, the Rams strength was their front four, and the Seahawks weakest part of the team was their OL. I could argue this, not coaching, would be a big reason for the Seahawks struggling or losing to the Rams–especially if indeed the Rams DL overwhelmed the Seahawk OL.

    On a related note, if a team has superior talent in the trenches, compared to an opponent, that seems like the whole story there–no other explanation seems necessary. Now, if a team with superior talent plays poorly or a team with inferior talent plays well, I think that suggests the coaching deserves more credit.

    Let’s go back to the Super Bowl. Patriots DL didn’t see that great. The Rams OL did seem great. Using what I said above, that suggests we should credit the Patriot coaching. However, maybe the Rams OL wasn’t as talented as they seemed–maybe McVey’s coaching, especially the use of no huddle and changing of tempos (which he didn’t seem to do a lot of). Still, even if that’s true, I wouldn’t conclude that the Patriots DL was significantly more talented than the Rams OL. That takes us back to crediting Patriots coaching (and/or blaming Rams coaching).

    Now, I should point out that this is a rather crude, and imprecise way to answer the question. A better way would rely on specific details about the scheme as well as having an accurate assessment of the talent and knowing techniques. And this information should be used to make a case attributing coaching or the players for a team’s success or failure.

  7. Is Paying a Great QB a lot Justified When You’re Installing a Run-first Offense?

    A lot of Seahawks fans like to point to Wilson’s great passing this year, and then make a snarky comment about an offense that doesn’t pass much. They seem to think this is inexplicably dumb; and it’s even more foolish to pay a lot for such a QB with this type of offensive philosophy.

    You guys probably know that I disagree with this, and I’m pretty sure Don is with me. (I’m not totally sure about Mitchell, as I don’t recall him expressing strong opinions about this.) I’m planning to write up a case for my position, and what I’d like to do is quickly list the reasons for my position, and also the way I’ve arrived at it. What I’d really like to know if you guys have the same reasons and arrived at them in similar ways. I’d also would love to hear other reasons and ways you’ve arrived at your position. And if you disagree, I’d love to hear the reasons for this as well.

    OK, agree or disagree with these observations:

    1. Watching Marino, Elway (early in his career), Moon with the Oilers, Jim Kelly, Fouts, Warner’s Rams, Manning, Rodgers, 2007 Patriots, now the 2018 Rams and Chiefs–all pass heavy, explosive scoring offenses–I’ve concluded that these teams can do great in the regular season, but not very well in the playoffs.

    2. Physical run based offenses, with good QB play–best offense for winning in the playoffs and Super Bowl. Jimmy Johnson’s Cowboys probably best example of this that I can think of.

    3. (Side note: I’d give slight advantage to Cowboys style offense over Bill Walsh West Coast offense.)

    4. In support of run-first offenses, consider when Elway, Manning, and I think you could argue for Romo, finally had the best playoff success? It’s when they moved away from a pass-first offense. Also, Marino never did this and never had great post-season success. (I’d argue that Brady’s teams that were more run-based and defensive oriented had better post-season success.)

    5. Pass-first explosive scoring offenses can lose or struggle to run-based offenses that aren’t necessarily great. Examples: Giants beating Bills in the Super Bowl; Titans vs. Rams; Patriots beating Rams (twice); Jets beating Patriots (AFC championship, twice); Ravens beating Patriots (2010?).

    6. Pass first explosive offenses can win the Super Bowl if they’re facing that type of opponent–either because run-based/defensive team not that good, non-existent, or gets knocked out of the playoffs. (I would consider moving away from run-based approach if great defense and/or great run-based offenses became extremely rare).

    Agree or disagree on these reasons for paying a great QB in a run-first offense:

    1. Limit QB throws which increases ball security. Ball security is critical to winning the Super Bowl. Pass heavy teams has greater exposure to turnovers, which puts them at a disadvantage.

    2. Winning in the playoffs/Super Bowl comes down to a handful of key plays, critical moments–say 4-7 per game. QBs often play a key role in these plays. More than throwing for a lot of yards and TDs, to win a Super Bowl, you need a QB to be able to make these plays and avoid disastrous ones. When you have a QB that can do this, this, not the volume stats, is what ultimately makes the QB worth paying a lot of money.

    One way I think this became clear is to compare the careers and playoffs of Troy Aikman and all the other QBs I mentioned above. Would anyone argue that it wasn’t worth paying Aikman big money? People who argue this either don’t realize the importance of being able to make those handful of critical plays, or they think finding these QBs isn’t so hard to find. My sense, over the years, is that these QBs are almost as hard to find as a QB that can put up big numbers.. (Generally, if they can make the handful of plays in critical situations, they usually have the ability to put up big numbers as well.)

    3. In some ways a great QB who is willing to hand the ball off a lot is even more rare and more valuable than a QB that is a great passer, but unwilling to accept low pass attempts. Normally, a great QB wants to throw the ball a lot, and won’t tolerate handing the ball off a lot. I point to Marino, a young Elway, Manning (until his last season), Rodgers. All these QBs are great, but would you want their post-season success? It’s not a good post-season formula.

    Wilson seems to be like Aikman in the sense that he’s genuinely comfortable with minimal pass attempts. (To be fair, Wilson is not as good a passer as Marino, Manning, Rodgers, and a young Elway, but I don’t think there many QBs of Wilson’s caliber that would be content with minimal pass attempts per game. Or am I missing someone?)

    4. Being able to accept minimal pass attempts is crucial because this allows the run game to flourish. I don’t think you can have a really good run-first offense without this–that is, the offense has to be willing to run the ball a lot.

    Summary:

    It’s worth paying big money for a great QB, even with a run-first offense because

    A. Run based (defensive oriented) teams have best chance to win Super Bowl;
    B. Winning the Super Bowl depends on a QB making a few plays in the crucial moments

  8. I don’t know where to put this and it’s possibly not worth a new topic, but have you guys seen any of the new AAF league? The ratings were good, but that’s a first week bump (the XFL killed in its first couple of weeks and then it was out of business after one season). I hear it looks like triple-A football, and I’d be down for that, since I enjoy triple-A baseball.

    Didn’t watch the games, but I have time this weekend so I think I’ll try and check it out.

    1. I watched good amounts (half) of the San Diego, San Antonio game. Mike Martz coaches San Diego, but they were far from the Greatest Show on Turf. What would make this more enjoyable at least for me, would to put the players draft position (if there was one) as part of the graphics? Then the “fans” would know which players were highly drafted and which players they should watch. I would also be curious to know which players were drafted first by each team. Did every team draft a QB with their first pick? I’m pretty sure they said the San Diego QB was the second overall pick. He was pretty good… The winner of the league should then set up a game against Alabama. Haha

    2. I think the winner of the league should play Jacksonville or Arizona, but no way would the NFL allow that. There’s nothing to be gained by an NFL team playing a semi-pro team.

      Did you enjoy the football?

      The teams didn’t draft the players. Bill Polian and his people assigned players regionally, so stars in the SEC, for example, are playing in Memphis and Alabama. Makes sense — the local fans will know who these guys are. I looked at the rosters on the west teams and didn’t see any Hawaii guys, although I guess I didn’t look that carefully. Also, I probably wouldn’t recognize our recent guys anyway. Any chance Jeff Sydner is still around? 🙂

      Oh, I read this on Wikipedia:

      Quarterback skills training camps were held at the Alamodome in San Antonio on November 12 through 14. On November 27, the league held a four-round “Protect or Pick” quarterback draft in the Esports Arena at Luxor Las Vegas and broadcast on CBS Sports Network.

      and

      The 2019 AAF QB Draft was the inaugural draft of the Alliance of American Football (AAF) for the 2019 season. The draft was a four-round quarterback draft where clubs were allowed to “protect or pick” from the selection. It was held on November 27, 2018, at the HyperX Esports Arena at Luxor Las Vegas and broadcast on the CBS Sports Network.

      Draft rules
      The draft lasted four rounds with a preset draft order. The first round included a “pick or protect” method, where if a team elected to protect a player, they selected their player before the teams electing to not protect a player from their region. The second round kept the original selection order with the third and fourth rounds being the reverse order selection.

      “Protect or pick” rules
      Quarterbacks were allocated by region based on where they played college football or last played with a NFL or CFL team. If the player went to school outside of an Alliance team’s area, the player will essentially be a free agent. Teams were given the option to “protect” any player from their area, and would become that team’s first round selection. Teams electing not to “protect” a player would then “pick” from the entire pool of eligible quarterbacks based off draft order for their first round selection. Any quarterback that was already signed to an Alliance team was eligible to be selected in the draft.

      1. I thought it looked more like NFL football than college football for sure, but it could just be the coaching styles. I liked it enough to watch half of it. I fell asleep during the half and third quarter (and maybe part of the fourth), but that’s why I miss a good portion. I would definitely watch it again.

        The worse NFL team should kill the best AAF team. I would think Alabama would be a better match up. Or do you think Alabama has no shot? Alabama probably has like one third NFL players, so I would think it should be close…

  9. Idea for Changing OT Rules

    1. Same as it is now, except if the team that receives the ball first scores a TD, they have to kick to the opponent, giving them a chance to score a TD. If the opposing team fails to score a TD, they lose. If they score a TD, they kick off and the next team to score any points wins.

    The idea here is to minimize the importance of the coin toss.

    2. The other idea was far more complicated. First, I thought OT would be additional time, with the teams just continuing where they left off. For example, let’s say if team A scores a TD at the end of regulation to tie the game. OT would begin with Team A kicking to Team B–and the next team to score wins.

    That seems reasonable, right? But then I thought of problematic scenarios. For example, suppose the score is tied with 1:00 minute left, and Team A has the ball. They could try to consume as much time as possible until OT begins, and then try to score.

    One way to address this is that the team with the ball last at the end of regulation would have to kick off to the other team at the beginning of OT. In the scenario above, Team A would try to score, otherwise they would have to give the ball up in OT.

    But here’s a problematic scenario. Say there’s 1 minute left in a tied game. Team A has the ball on their 10. They can run a few plays and punt the ball before the end of regulation. Then Team B would have the ball for possess the ball without enough time to win, and would also have to kick off to Team A in OT.

    Proposal #1 is simpler, and I can’t see too many problems with it.

    1. I don’t like #1. But #2 is decent. What if the rule is simply whomever has the ball last in regulation will receive the kickoff in OT. That could change how games end. So if Team A had the ball with the score tied, they might not be able to just sit on the ball at the end of the game (ie: playing for OT) because Team B could call timeouts. Essentially it could add a little bit more drama and strategy to the last couple minutes of regulation of a tied game.

      1. I don’t like #1. But #2 is decent.

        What? Huh, I’m a little surprised at this. I feel like there are several scenarios where this can be problematic, and rules to mitigate this are too complex, almost ridiculous.

        So if Team A had the ball with the score tied, they might not be able to just sit on the ball at the end of the game (ie: playing for OT) because Team B could call timeouts.

        But what if Team B didn’t have timeouts, with under 2:00 minutes, and Team A is on their 20 or less? In that situation, they’re trying to run out the clock so they can get it in OT, right? That would be a lame way to end regulation.

        This wouldn’t be as bad if Team B came from behind to tie the score with under 2:00 minutes and now they’re kicking off to Team A. It seems reasonable that Team A can drain the clock and going into OT with the ball. But it would be less appealing if the game was tied for a while and Team B just punted the ball…Or would it?

        1. But on the other hand what if Team B did have time outs in your scenario, do they call time outs? Because Team A still can score with two minutes left. I’ll just point out, no team with two minutes runs out the clock with the score tied. Would they be more willing with these rules that they would get the ball in OT? I doubt it. I think the team with the ball first wins only like fifty something percent of the time, that’s not good enough odds to play for OT.

          1. But on the other hand what if Team B did have time outs in your scenario, do they call time outs? Because Team A still can score with two minutes left.

            That’s a good point. It seems like Team B is in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation, which doesn’t seem very fair.

            I think the team with the ball first wins only like fifty something percent of the time, that’s not good enough odds to play for OT.

            But my modification would be that the next team that scores wins. That is, the team receiving the ball first in OT could just kick a field goal to win the game.

            I guess the rule could be that the first team with the ball in OT would now have to score a TD to win it (same as it is now). I wonder if this would solve the problem? So, if Team A has the ball with the score tied with 2 minutes, starting on their own 20, they’ll probably want to go down and kick the field goal, versus run down the clock, receive the kick, and have to score a TD.

            But here’s one problem. Say Team is down by 7 and the tie the game at the end of regulation. They had the ball last–do they get the ball first in OT? That doesn’t sound right. I think we could just make a rule that if a team ties the game at the end of regulation, the other team will get the ball. (But the OT rules would be the same now–first team with the ball has to win by TD on the first drive.)

            Is there a scenario that would make these changes problematic? (I can’t think of any, off the top of my head.)

    2. Don,

      What about this idea: If tied at the end of regulation, add five minutes and continue playing. Do you see any problem with that?

      1. So no sudden death? Add five minutes and even if a team scores, just keep playing until the five minutes runs out? If that’s correct, five minutes gives way too much advantage to the team that gets the first, first down in OT. Because the other team will not have much time with the ball.

        1. So no sudden death? Add five minutes and even if a team scores, just keep playing until the five minutes runs out?

          Yes.

          If that’s correct, five minutes gives way too much advantage to the team that gets the first, first down in OT. Because the other team will not have much time with the ball.

          Would it really be a big advantage? And would that advantage be inappropriate? Let’s try one scenario, off the top of my head:

          Team A ties the game, basically at the end of regulation. Team B now gets the ball with 5:00 minutes. Does Team B have a huge advantage? I guess if they could move the ball down into FG range quickly enough and then milk the clock, they would have an advantage. But that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.

          What would be a scenario where a team that got the first first down in OT would have an unfair advantage?

          (By the way, I’m assuming there’s a big problem with my suggestion–otherwise the league would have implemented this already. I just can’t think of the problem.)

          1. I think the team that has the ball first now has like a 57% (kind of guessing, but it’s close) to win (and maybe tie) with the rules now.

            My guess is that the team that gets the first, first down with the five minute added rule, would win or tie in the 80 to 85 percent range. You add a second first down to that, and the team would probably be in the 90 to 95 percent range to win or tie. If you asking if it’s unfair, maybe, maybe not depending on the scenario (I’m sure you could make a case for either, but same with the current rules.).

            No telling if this would solve the problem of the Chiefs, Patriots overtime game because the end of regulation would have changed, but on face value I would think if New England scored in OT, Kansas City would have had less than a minute left to do anything (if that much).

            I think I like the current rules over the added five minute rule if between the two.

  10. An NFL Legends League Could Fill a Growing Niche of Players

    In the older v-i, I wrote about starting an NFL Legends League, one that would be comprised of great players who can still play, but not for much longer, especially at a high level. Initially, I thought of just playing one game, as a replacement for the Pro Bowl, which I think is not very good. Players not wanting to play hard and risk injury seems to be the main problem. If you played a game with recent retirees, I think that could solve the problem. This idea morphed into a small league, with a short season, comprised of maybe four teams; they’d play a few games and have a championship game.

    I thought of the idea recently, after hearing comments about players like Eric Weddle and Michael Bennett–namely, that while these players can still play fairly well, teams don’t want to sign them for a third contract due to injury concerns. Weddle is supposedly thinking of retiring.

    The league I mentioned above would seem to fill a growing niche–i.e., older players who can still perform, but can’t get a satisfactory contract. While the league I have in mind wouldn’t be able to pay more than NFL teams, this would be offset by shorter season and fewer games. Some players might see his as getting the best of both worlds. That is, they can still get some money, still play the game they love, but devote far less time (and therefore have far more time to do other things). From a fan perspective, the league might be appealing because these players may actually perform at a high level, since they’re only playing a few games.

    The one problem I see is that teams seem to need time to prepare and play a few games before they find their groove. That might not be possible in this scenario, and that may hurt the overall quality of play. However, this league could field four teams with really good players, I would be very interested in watching the games, especially the final championship game.

    (The quality of play may also increase if players retire a little earlier than they normally would. Additionally, this might be an avenue to alleviate head injury concerns. For example, a player could shorten their years in the NFL, and play in this Legends League for several years, which should reduce exposure.

    I could see this hurting the current NFL, so they may not like this idea at all. But maybe the NFL could oversee this league?)

    Just for fun, I’m going to brainstorm some current and recently retired players that could be good candidates for this, off the top of my head:

    Offense:
    Tom Brady/Drew Brees/Carson Palmer
    Frank Gore (esp if he did this after leaving the Niners)
    Megatron/TO (several years ago)
    Jason Witten
    Joe Thomas
    Andrew Whitworth

    Defense:
    Eric Weddle
    Michael Bennett
    Dwight Freeney (a few years ago)

  11. What Trade Deal Would Justify Trading a Great QB?

    I don’t think any team has traded a franchise QB in their prime, but is there a trade deal that could make this happen? Or is such a deal something would be foolish to every offer? What about a 1st round pick for the next three years? Or 1st and 2nd for two years? Are these too much or too little?

    I think one of the main issues with trading a franchise QB is the likelihood of being able to replace that QB. If you get a team’s 1st round pick for three years, depending on the team, this could give you three chances at a good QB.

    Another way to look at this question: How good could your team get, other than at QB, if you got a lot of picks from another team? Could you build a great defense and running game, and would that be worth giving up a great QB? Off the top of my head, I don’t really like this plan. I’m not sure building a great defense or run game would be easy enough, even if you got a lot of picks. And even if you did, I’m a little skeptical how long you could maintain this level of dominance.

  12. Are There Any Examples of Teams with Dominant Defense in the Regular Season That Lost to Unimpressive Pass-First Teams in the Playoffs? Are There Also Examples of Good Teams built on Defense and Running Game That Got Lost Badly to Teams Built on High Scoring Passing Offense?

    I can think of several examples of passing teams that looked dominant in the regular season, only to lose to so-so team in the playoffs. Same with a good run-oriented team blowing out a good pass oriented team. But what about the reverse? I’m especially interested in non-Super Bowl examples.

    1. Dallas’ two best teams in recent years lost to Green Bay in the playoffs, but Dallas didn’t have a great defense and they didn’t lose badly.

      I’m guessing New England isn’t an “Unimpressive Pass-First Team”.

      1. I know the Cowboys lost to the Packers in 2014 (the non-catch call), but when was the second time? Was this in 2016?

        I’m guessing New England isn’t an “Unimpressive Pass-First Team”.

        I think it depends on which year we’re talking about. What year and game did you have in mind?

        I wonder if Elway’s early Bronco teams would qualify–e.g., beating the Browns in the AFCCG.

          1. Oh yeah, I vaguely remember that pass. Cook had a real good game ovearall, right. I think the Cowboys blitzed more than they usually did, too. Other than that, I don’t have a good sense of the game. Did the Cowboys not do a good job of controlling the clock? Anyway, like you alluded to, I wouldn’t really count this.

            Going back to the Patriots. I don’t think they were a great passing team in 2014, when they beat the Seahawks, so maybe that’s an example. At the same time, they had the best defense they had since the early 2000s, I think–especially in the secondary. I can’t remember how good they were offensively. A part of me feels like many would perceive that as really good offensively, but they may not have been as good as their reputation. I tend not to think they were the passing version of the run-first teams like the ’99 Titans or ’90 Giants. Also, those teams were solid defensively, but not real impressive. Is there a worse team to win the Super Bowl than that Giants team. (They won with their backup, too.)

  13. Random Thoughts on How the NFL Has Evolved

    I was watching the 1982 NFCCG between the Cowboys and Redskins. (I wanted to see if the Redskins were a run-first team. I knew they had Riggins and that they went to the Super Bowl, but I knew that at some point Gibbs switched to a 3 WRs, 1 RB offense, and the offenses with similar position group that came after Gibbs seemed more pass-based (e.g., ’98 Vikings, 2018 Rams). I also didn’t realize the ’82 Redskins mostly ran a one back offense. But they used 2 TEs, not 3 WRs. I also thought the 2 TE set came in because of LT.)

    But I digress.

    While watching both teams, some thoughts relating to differences between the game then and now came to mind. Here are some of them:

    1. I feel like the older style relied quite a bit on really good offensive line play, both in terms of run and pass blocking. In general, I think this is one of the things that distinguishes pro style offenses from college and high school ones. You can’t really run a pro style offense effectively unless you have an OL that can block and pass protect really well. (I think good TEs are also important. You also need QBs who can play from the pocket and get the ball to all parts of the field.) I think this is why you don’t see this offense run at college and pros. And the good teams that do, are able to get a lot of talented players. If this is possible, I think this is the best style. It’s balanced–the plays, formations, and players allow for effective running and passing, from each specific play.

    Anyway, now think about the salary cap era. Getting all these players, plus a good QB, RBs, WRs seems extremely difficult, something that would be rare. The NFL is like college and high school in that one team can’t really get all the players to make a good pro style offense–at least not the way it was played in the past. Now, every NFL offense incorporates the spread offense, blending it with the pro style offenses, at least to some degree. Does the spread offense offset the need for the level of talent that was needed in past NFL offenses? I tend to think so, at least to some degree. You don’t need the same type of great OL, WRs, or RBs that you did in the past to be good spread offense. (Being great is another matter.)

    Still, where does that leave the pro style offense? To what extent should NFL teams incorporate and be good at this? (I don’t know the answer.)

    2. At some point I became aware the offenses I saw were ones that hadn’t experienced the 46-0 defense and the subsequent crazy blitzing (e.g., zone blitzing)–which reached it’s apex in the Patriots-Eagles Super Bowl (which I think of as the “blitz bowl”–Jim Johnson the Eagle’s DC and even the Patriots blitzed a lot). I feel like this blitzing style really changed NFL offenses–forcing them to find a way to neutralize it–which they did. Now, blitzing plays a smaller, complementary role, as I think it did in before the ’85 Bears.

    Why is this relevant? I feel like the spread offenses played a key part in neutralizing the blitz. And I say this because I heard Bill Belichick say something like this. If this is true, then spread offenses have an important role to play in today’s NFL. In other words, even advocates of older pro style offenses should embrace spread offenses–i.e., it should be part of all NFL offenses

    3. But I think for some (like the analytics crowd), they’ve embraced spread offenses too much, and been too dismissive of the run-first, pro style offenses. I think current NFL offenses need to be able to run the ball especially in short yardage situations, and to protect a lead. Spread offenses or pass-first pro style offenses can have decent running games, but I tend to think they can’t run well in these situations.

    4. A part of me feels like the ideal offense is one that is good at both the spread and pro style offense, and does a good job of balancing the two. And when the offense needs to use one over the other, it can and will. (I really liked the way Tom Coughlin’s best teams did this. I also think the Patriots did this fairly well, at least in the Super Bowl.)

  14. Is Running the Key to Ball Control?

    I get push back from this claim from the analytics folks. Their argument is that making first downs is the key to extending drives and eating up the clock. They seem to imply several things from this–either running isn’t critical, or that passing is actually superior way for making first downs….

    …Actually, if I can pause here for a moment to make an observation: The issue isn’t strictly about running or passing, but the nature of the offense. I believe a good offense built on a physical run game (Note: such an offense would have a good QB and WRs) would be better than a good offense built on an aggressive passing game. (A dink-and-dunk passing offense is a different matter, and I’ll get to that later.)

    OK, back to my original thought. The analytics advocates also seem to believe that passing is just more efficient than running–the average amount of yards per attempt is a lot higher. Therefore, passing more or an offense build around passing can be just as good, if not better, at extending drives–and thus be good at ball control.

    On some level, the logic is sound, but I disagree. If you guys disagree, too, how would you explain this? I’m really interested in hearing your ideas, because I’ve been struggling to articulate the reasons I disagree.

    Here’s what I have so far:

    1. An aggressive offense will almost never be good at ball control. If the offense is really effective, by nature, they will be hitting on a lot of explosive plays and thus move up the field quickly. If the offense isn’t effective (i.e., they’re not getting a lot of explosive plays or throwing incompletions or turnovers), they likely won’t consume as much of the clock.

    2. Good running will lead to manageable downs and distances. Suppose that every running attempt literally gained 3-5 yards. If you have competent QB and WRs/TEs, if not better, chances of converting first downs should be fairly high. If the offense is running quite a bit, that should also keep the clock running and also provide better ball security.

    3. Aggressive passing is bad for certain situations–namely, protecting a lead in the second half. Acting as if running, passing or different types of offenses are essentially the same, regardless of the situation seems like a blind spot for analytics advocates. If a team has a two possession lead going into the second half, the importance of ball control (and defense) become more important than scoring, and this importance increases as the game gets closer to the end. An aggressive pass offense is unwise in this situation, and becomes more inappropriate as the game moves towards the end. Think of playing an aggressive passing style in a four minute drill.

    But why is this the case? Off the top of my head, I’d say the throws are risky and not necessarily high percentage throws–the approach increases the chances of turnovers and clock stoppage, the two things you want to avoid the most. I should add that pressure on the players can decrease the likelihood of completion. When the pressure is intense, I think completing a pass is more difficult than running the ball. Additionally, the rationale for aggressive passing is to score points. But four minute situations, the goal is to consume the clock.

    4.Physical, run-based offense is best prepared for situations when ball control is an important goal. In situations where ball control becomes more important than scoring, the opposing defenses often realize this. As a result, they expect more running or conservative passing. A run-based offense with a physical mindset is best prepared to run effectively in this situation. I say this under the assumption that these offenses tend to emphasize execution over tricking their opponent. In other words, they want to be able to run in spite of the opponent knowing this. This approach is perfect for situations when ball control is important. (It’s also good in short yardage situations.) Now, consider an aggressive or even a more ball-controlled passing offense. Those offense can run the ball in these situations, but they’re less likely to run effectively–because a) they’re built on the passing game, and b) they tend not to employ a physical running style that imposes its will on opponents.

    Now might be a good time to say more about ball-control passing offense. I think one of the best I’ve seen are Mike McCoy’s Chargers (2013-2014?)–especially when they had Danny Woodhead at RB and Ken Whisenhunt as OC. They were great at draw plays and shallow crossing routes. Anyway, in these type of offenses, the productive running (e.g., 2-5 yards) is still critical. Passes won’t often lead to a lot of explosive plays, so I think the offense needs productivity from the run game. If the passes did lead to explosive plays, then it’s likely not a ball-control passing offense. For example, I think the Packers offense relied quite a bit on what seemed like aggressive slants. The play design and personnel was such that these plays could be explosive. I don’t think calling them a dink-and-dunk offense was appropriate. Here’s another way to think of it: The passes are more like run plays.

    But not only is running important in these offenses, it’s also tends to be more complementary. These offense are built on the passing game, not the run. The offenses aren’t designed to impose their running via physicality and execution. Because of this, I tend to think their ball control isn’t as effective when they really need it. (I could be wrong, though.)

  15. The Tension Between a Great Coach and a Great QB

    I enjoyed “A Football Life” feature on Roger Staubach. (Don, if you haven’t seen this, I recommend it.)

    I want to talk about one thing that stood out, and it involves what I think is a double-edged nature of having a great QB, especially a great passer. The positives are obvious. What could the drawbacks be? Generally, great QBs are phenomenal at throwing the ball, and they’re confident in this ability. Such a QB is going to want to throw the ball a lot, and will likely have less patience with running the ball. I thought of this, when hearing several comments in the film. At some point, Coach Landry took over the play calling, and you get a strong sense Staubach didn’t like this. Staubach comments that Landry thought more about ball control when it came to the offense, and Staubach didn’t. At another point in the documentary, Mike Ditka said they were good for each other. If Landry favored ball control and Staubach wanted to throw a lot more, then I agree with Ditka.

    But getting back to my earlier point–it sounds like Staubach, like other great QBs, wanted to throw and was impatient with ball control. I think this is a problem. I also think the problem becomes worse if you have a coach that goes all in with an aggressive passing style–which will please the QB. Think of Shula and Marino. Warren Moon and Kevin Gilbride. Fouts and Coryell. QBs like Montana may be great, but they don’t have the arm talent like Elway and Marino. Maybe it’s easier for them to accept a more run-oriented offense. Also, back in the day, a more conservative style was the norm, so even QBs with strong arms might accept this. However, at some point that changed. Now, a great QB who tolerates a conservative offense seems rare.

    The other thing that stood is the tension that exists between great QBs and great coaches. There’s a clash of egos or even who deserves more credit. I think this happened with Walsh and Montana as well. it sounds like some of this occurred with McCarthy and Rodgers. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were fairly common–except we don’t hear about it.

    One last thing. There are anecdotes in hear that support the way bulletin board material can impact players. (Go to 30 minute mark–I really enjoyed the Staubach’s remarks.) Also, there are indications of the “it” factor. I’d like to go back and re-watch him play, but my impression of Staubach, from watching him as a kid, was that he had this charisma about him (although I could have been influenced by the media, more than perceptions formed by watching him).

  16. I thought this article, but Rich Gosselin, was interesting. According to him, he’s been ranking special teams for 38 years. I would have loved to have read his top ten list of the best special teams units. But in the article, he chooses his all-time all start type of special teams units. What’s interesting is that he discusses and describes specific positions on special teams, like the holder, protector (the last blocker for punters), etc.

    By the way, has NFL films or ESPN ever done a show on the greatest ST units of all time? Here’s one I found on one of the greatest ST units:

    Watching this makes me think of how to evaluate ST. Obviously, if ST blocks punts and scores TDs, that’s a very good. But I’m not sure if that’s the best way to evaluate a ST unit. It’s like defense. Sure if the defense generates turnovers and points, that’s great, but if they don’t score, that doesn’t mean they’re not great (or does it?).

    My sense is that we could create a list of objectives for special teams and then rank them. For example, consisting creating bad field position for opponents would be important. Being great at extra points, and pressure FGs would also be important to me. Obviously, not turning the ball over, getting kicks/punts blocked would also be critical. I’ll try to write more later.

  17. OT rule change–extend game by 5 minutes (Con’t)

    Don said,

    My guess is that the team that gets the first, first down with the five minute added rule, would win or tie in the 80 to 85 percent range. You add a second first down to that, and the team would probably be in the 90 to 95 percent range to win or tie. If you asking if it’s unfair, maybe, maybe not depending on the scenario (I’m sure you could make a case for either, but same with the current rules.).

    The thing is, the team that had the ball first be natural outgrowth of the game up to that point. Compare that to a coin toss. OK, maybe this scenario might be problematic:

    Team A ties the game with 2:00 minutes left. Team B starts from their 20. They essentially have 7:00 minutes to score. Then again, they should want to score, leaving little or no time on the clock. But if they don’t score before end of regulation time, they just have 5:00 more minutes. Is this too much of an advantage? I’m not entirely sure, but it kinda seems that way. Of course, if they score in OT, Team A will have a chance to score as well, and they may have a reasonable amount of time to do so (i.e., leaving little time for Team A might be really difficult goal to achieve).

    No telling if this would solve the problem of the Chiefs, Patriots overtime game because the end of regulation would have changed,…

    I can’t remember what happened at the end of regulation. Did the Patriots tie the game at the end?

    …but on face value I would think if New England scored in OT, Kansas City would have had less than a minute left to do anything (if that much).

    Unless we’re talking 10 seconds, I think Chiefs fans would take this.

    1. The thing is, the team that had the ball first be natural outgrowth of the game up to that point.

      I wasn’t saying the team with the ball first but the team with the first, first down would clearly be in the drivers seat. You may be right, fans may be more acceptable to this knowing it wasn’t a result of a coin toss. But my take is once a team gets a first down, and if I’m right their chances are 80 chance of winning or tying, then it gets less exciting especially if your team is the one that didn’t get the first, first down.

      Unless we’re talking 10 seconds, I think Chiefs fans would take this.

      I guess in comparison to what happen, but without that comparison and if there was nothing to compare it to or if there were other alternative rule changes, I don’t think they would be all that accepting of this five minute rule either.

    2. But my take is once a team gets a first down, and if I’m right their chances are 80 chance of winning or tying, then it gets less exciting especially if your team is the one that didn’t get the first, first down.

      How would this differ if the score were tied in the 4th with 5:00 minutes to go, and the team with the ball gets a first down? I don’t see how the game would be more exciting in this situation. In the OT situation, the team that gets the first down still has to score, and they’re going to want to score–because if the game is tied, an extra 5:00 minutes would be added. (Maybe in the regular season, the game could end in a time at that point.)

      I guess in comparison to what happen, but without that comparison and if there was nothing to compare it to or if there were other alternative rule changes, I don’t think they would be all that accepting of this five minute rule either.

      I’m not sure what you mean. If the Chiefs fans could choose between the current rules now or adding an extra 5:00 minutes, you think they would prefer the current rules?

      I wonder how many fans would prefer the current rules to the one we’re talking about. I’d like to know the reasons for this (as I’m struggling to come up with many).

      1. The Chiefs wanted the rule to be changed to be that both teams gets a chance at scoring, that would be preferable to them over the five minute rule, I’m sure.

      2. Oh OK. But did the Patriots score late in the game to tie? If so, I’m not sure the Chiefs fans wouldn’t want to have the ball with 5:00 minutes, versus both teams getting one possession.

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