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24 Nov 2011

The Game Charters Speak

compiled by Rivers McCown

As most of you know, this is the seventh year of the Football Outsiders Game Charting Project, where a group of volunteers (and FO staffers as well) charts every game of the season to track things that the play-by-play does not track, as well as create new statistics. This is where we get our numbers on defensive coverage, or how often teams blitz or run play-action fakes. Occasionally you'll see these stats during the season, but the turnaround time is slow, so our database is usually behind the actual games by a couple weeks.

Then again, we don't need the database to learn something from the game charting project, because all that tape-watching turns us into scouts as much as statisticians. We asked a few of our game charters to share their thoughts on the games and teams they've charted so far this season. The comments below represent their opinions, not those of any FO writer. Most charters concentrate on a specific team or two, so not every team is represented. But if you want to know not just which teams are winning, but why, the insights are quite interesting.

Bin Lee

Oakland Raiders

The Good

  • While rookie Denarius Moore has deservedly grabbed the headlines with some breakout games, I'm actually a bigger fan of a different Raiders wideout: the once heavily-mocked Darrius Heyward-Bey. I once named my fantasy team DHB: Davis Hates Bin. This year though, he's actually having a sneakily solid season, particularly when he is put into the slot. I'm not saying he's worth that ridiculous draft position, but as a fan, I'd like to imagine that he used all the ridicule as motivation to improve, and now has turned into a dependable receiver with solid hands. He's shown much more awareness at sitting in zones this season. I used to shake my head at him -- now, I honestly root for him to have a successful career, because he's earned my respect. To me, this is where Jason Campbell's injury could have the biggest impact; now these young receivers will need to adjust to a new quarterback.
  • The running game has been superb. I'm surprised because of the loss of Tom Cable, Robert Gallery and Zach Miller, but at the same time, I'm not surprised because history has shown that even when a "mastermind" leaves, the old team tends to does well the year after. Mostly because they still have the same personnel and philosophy (see Bill Callahan's first year). It's the second year where things start to deteriorate (see Callahan's second year). Michael Bush and Darren McFadden have been fun to watch.
  • As for Campbell, he looked significantly more comfortable in the offense, and the running and passing game clearly benefitted. The Raiders had a functioning offense! I agree with FO majordomo Aaron Schatz that he's the perfect example of an average quarterback (though interestingly enough, he's currently ranked 14th in DYAR and sixth in DVOA). But after suffering through the likes of Aaron Brooks and JaMarcus Russell ... man, it was nice to have an average one, even if it was just five games. I will now pull a Bill Simmons and commit bodily harm to myself.
  • Rolando McClain. Before his injury, he was making gigantic leaps. There is some awesome potential in this kid: he's smart, he's disciplined, he's athletic. I don't recall seeing him get washed out or losing gap control. Occasionally, you'll see him pull off the Brian Urlacher in Madden move -- where he looks like he's sitting too shallow in the short zone, so a quarterback throws to the tight end on the skinny post -- and McClain will just streak or leap into position to knock it down.
  • Pass Rush. Even with Matt Shaughnessy hampered by injuries, there are times when these guys can flat out dominate. Lamarr Houston is definitely not having a sophomore slump, and they've been getting great production from the rotation of Desmond Bryant and former-bust Jarvis Moss. Yes, Moss has enjoyed the speed pass-rushing role so far. They're not completely consistent as a unit yet, but going into the season, I was looking forward to seeing this group, and so far they've been very fun to watch.

The Bad

  • Tight Ends. I knew Kevin Boss wasn't Miller, but he can't stay healthy. Meanwhile, the rest of the group can't get open, and they blow too many run blocks for my liking.
  • Outside linebackers. Kamerion Wimbley's a fantastic pass rusher. But outside of McClain, no one else is able to cover, blitz, tackle, or generally do anything that could be recognized as "playing defense". Quentin Groves played like the epitome of a replacement player, so they traded for another reclamation project in former bust Aaron Curry. This isn't really a scouting report, but I never knew how small Curry is! I cursed him so many times for making me redo my charting, thinking he was a defensive back.
  • Corners. Stanford Routt's been solid, but ever since the other Chris Johson went down, it's been a facepalmapalooza with these lost rookies.
  • The Raiders don't have run-stopping tackles, and are thin at linebacker. Coincidentally, they currently rank 26th in defense DVOA.

The JaMarcus

  • The Carson Palmer trade. It's not a facepalm, it's a massive face-desk. Remember the depth issues Raiders have? I'm not looking forward to what's going to happen the next few years, so they better start winning now.

I know this has nothing to do with game charting, but I was part of the Nation who couldn't wait for the late Al Davis to give up control. I'm still shell-shocked that it actually happened. I joked about it for so long, and now here we are. That reality is here. It just feels weird to not have a once-great maverick-turned-sea-monster lurking from afar.

The Raiders have been a respectably mediocre team, and the advanced metrics back that up. But they're currently in position to win the AFC West, and if they smell playoffs, do they start playing out of their minds for their deceased owner and buck all mathematical projections? With the front office drinking the Hue Jackson Kool-Aid and making that stupid trade, I'm hoping they do something ridiculously good this year, because I'm legitimately scared for the subsequent years. It's been a bad ten years here. I guess it can't get any worse ... right?

Oh, one more thing. Breaking news: Tamba Hali is really good.

Chris Berney

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens have been a really interesting and frustrating team to watch this year as a fan. It’s hard to say they play to their level of competition, because realistically they’re playing above the competition in games against good teams, and playing below it in games against bad teams. That makes for a lot of fans saying "This team should be undefeated, like Green Bay!" That’s of course not realistic, but it’s at least easy to understand where the typical Ravens fan with this view is coming from, after having beaten Pittsburgh twice, the Jets, and the Texans by a combined 121-58 score.

Charting the Ravens has been equally frustrating, because at times it’s glaringly obvious what’s behind a lot of the poor play. The problem is I don’t believe it’s for the reasons I hear most of my fellow Ravens fans exclaim. Most of the blame follows some form of "Cam Cameron isn’t running the ball!" or "Joe Flacco isn’t a good quarterback!"

Okay, Flacco’s having a bad year. That’s almost indisputable. And I’ll delve into that more in a bit. But the constant that I’m seeing while charting lies with the battles in the trenches.

Offensively, in the games the Ravens are winning, the blockers are doing a better job protecting Flacco. Part of that has to do with Flacco getting the ball out quickly in some of the halves I’m charting. For instance, I charted the second half of the Cardinals game, and much of that second half was spent with Flacco taking shotgun snaps, making a quick drop, and getting it out to a receiver. In their losses –- for the halves I’ve charted -– the offensive line, backs, and tight ends are blowing blocks at nearly 2.5 times the rate that they’re blowing them in Ravens wins. That’s unquestionably one of the contributing factors to why Flacco’s quarterback rating is 82.9 in the games they win, but 61.1 in the games they’ve lost.

Similarly, the pressure the defensive front is applying to the opposing quarterbacks is dramatically different in the halves I’ve charted. The Ravens are putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks at over three times their rate in losses when they win. Their base stats for the season are impressive. But in the games they’ve won, they are generally making the lives of quarterbacks miserable. The only exception was Ben Roethlisberger’s impressive game in Pittsburgh. This team wins games when they rattle their opposing passer. In their three losses, the opposing quarterbacks probably didn't even need to wash their jerseys.

One of the lines Ravens management is towing seems to be that Flacco’s quarterback rating and completion rate are down because they’re throwing deep more, so he should be expected to complete fewer passes. I do believe they’re going downfield more, but I don’t believe that is causing the drop in completion rate, because I don’t think they’re going downfield a lot more than they were in previous years. Yards per completion would show a difference if they were, and Flacco’s 11.6 yards per completion this season matches the 11.6 yards he produced over his previous three years.

I haven’t seen his DVOA on these throws down-field, but I would bet he’s far less effective this year than he was last year. Just watching him, I’m seeing a ton of misses down-field. The most common sight for me is seeing him drop back, rainbow a nice-looking pass downfield, watching the camera pan to a shot of Torrey Smith streaking downfield with a yard or two separating himself and the nearest defensive back, only to jump and fall flat on his face stretching for a ball that lands three to five yards in front of him. For years, Ravens fans have ached for a receiver that can get behind defenses and take advantage of Flacco’s big arm -- it turns out that once the Ravens find said receiver, Flacco is having an off-year with his deep accuracy.

Van Gutenson

Arizona Cardinals

Calais Campbell, DE -- He dominates at times. No offensive guard can handle him one-on-one in pass rush situations, and he's also solid against the run. Campbell sometimes gets too high, so he can get moved around in the run game. He's also blocked three field goals already.

Daryl Washington, ILB -- Washington has great speed and instincts; he makes decisions and flies to the ball. He could have a couple of touchdowns if he had better hands.

Patrick Peterson, CB/PR -- Peterson is still very rough around the edges, especially in zone coverage. He gets lost in bunch or combo route schemes when responsible for zones rather than man coverage. The talent just oozes though. He can be a bit too physical at times, and gets called for a lot of penalties because his hands are all over wide receivers.

Larry Fitzgerald, WR -- He's caught three tipped passes this year for touchdowns. Tipped passes.

Levi Brown, OT -- I can't imagine that there's a worse offensive tackle starting in the league right now. He simply gives up way too many easy pressures and sacks. Brown can be a very good run blocker at times, but he just seems to lose focus on the field.

Brandon Keith, OT -- If there is a worse tackle than Brown, it's Keith. He's slow out of his stance, has bad technique, and generally plays lazy. Not a fun watch.

Kevin Kolb's Pocket Presence -- It's really fun to watch him when his panic mode is activated. Any kind of pressure will immediately lead to him running backwards (who teaches that?), and he has practically no awareness of where the rush is coming from and where the pocket is.

A.J. Jefferson, CB -- Jefferson's not very physical at all, and has no ball skills. He's a good athlete who gets into decent positions, but he simply can't make plays on the ball. Watching him try to cover Anquan Boldin was ugly, Boldin muscled him out of position for three or four back-shoulder balls in one quarter.

Other notes:

Ken Whisenhunt really wants to be a deep passing team, closer to the Martz-era Rams than the running reputation he brought from Pittsburgh. There are a lot of deep combination routes, and long-developing plays in the passing game. Whisenhunt will abandon the run game after a poor play or two -- almost as if he throws his hands up and says "oh well, I tried." He has a goood run-blocking offensive line that is poor in pass protection, but he seems to want to fight that.

Arizona has had three defensive coordinators in four years, and they're all trying to run variations on the LeBeau/Steelers 3-4. The personnel seams more suited for a 4-3 front, using Darnell Dockett as a penetrating three-technique player, but Whisenhunt is desperate to force the Pittsburgh-style of defense on this team. Which would be less of a problem if he had Dick LeBeau, or the Lamarr Woodley/James Harrison-type outside linebackers that make the system work.

Ryan Marsh

Chicago Bears

Watching the Bears this year, I can say with a good amount of confidence that Tim Jennings is the most underrated defensive player in the NFL. He is solid in coverage, and a great fit for a Cover-2 team, but his best ability is his tackling. He is listed at 5-foot-8, 185 pounds, and I think that might be a stretch: However, through Week 11, I cannot remember Jennings missing an open-field tackle. He's made a couple of tackles in space as well, and some of those are stops that prevent a first down. Just last week, Mike Tolbert, who runs over people weekly, had Jennings in his cross hairs. Jennings wrapped up and stopped Tolbert two yards short of a first down. I was not a fan last year, but he has played great this season.

Frank Omiyale is the worst lineman in the NFL. By far. Watch the first Lions game, and you will know exactly what I am talking about. He was terrible when the Bears signed him, and he has regressed from there. When Jerry Angelo makes excuses about how no team did more to improve their offensive line play in the offseason, remember that he kept Omiyale -- which really undid all that positive momentum.

Mike Martz should be be commended on how much he has changed his play calls to fit what the Bears have. Their offense if running great now, and has been ever since be changed things up after the Saints game. HOWEVA (/Stephen A. Smith voice), you can still see the old Martz come out every once in awhile. For instance, when the Bears are up late, yet still have five or six pass plays in a row. Or when they get down early, and he totally abandons the run. Martz is doing much better, but he still needs his fix.

The Bears run the most vanilla defense in the league: they have their base set, their nickel set, and that's about it. All that changes is D.J. Moore comes in for Nick Roach in their nickel package. They will sub along the defensive line (usually a seven- or eight-man rotation), but the linebackers and defensive backs stay on throughout the game. It makes them great for charting though, so I am not complaining. It does, however, make it hard to chart teams like the Packers and Texans, with their 1-3-7 & 2-2-7 defensive alignments.

I totally understand and believe in the thinking that running backs can be found on the cheap, and that there is no need to overpay for them. To a point. There are a couple of exceptions, or you could say anomalies, that deserve any and all the money that is given to them. These backs can do everything (run, catch, block), are durable, and can play in a variety of offenses. I really feel there are only four of these backs in the NFL today: Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, LeSean McCoy, and Matt Forte. McFadden, Frank Gore, and Steven Jackson can never stay healthy. Michael Turner is getting old, and is not great is the passing game. We all know about Chris Johnson.

Jerry Angelo, please pay Matt Forte. You don't have to break the bank. But you have to keep him on the Bears. He makes your offense go. Marion Barber has been playing well in spot duty this year. But there is no way he could fill in fulltime and give the Bears all that Forte does. Please do the smart thing here.

A couple of observations from other teams.

  • I only got to chart one Jacksonville game, but from what I saw, they ran the most trimmed-down, boring offense ever. I know you have a rookie quarterback, but so do the Vikings, Bengals and Panthers, and they run a regular offense. Again, easy for charting, but mix it up a bit. If you trade up to draft a guy tenth, you can open things up a little bit.
  • Houston (pre-Matt Schaub injury) is a fun team to watch. They have some versatile and underrated tight ends (Owen Daniels, Joel Dreessen, James Casey), and use them in many different ways. Also, they will line up with all three of them on one side of the line, run it that way, and accumulate yards. I wish I could have charted them with Andre Johnson and Mario Williams in the lineup, but they are fun to watch, and have a lot of talent.
  • I got Atlanta in the first game of the season, but have watched them a couple of times this season, and am not a big fan of Matt Ryan. Elite quarterback gets thrown around a lot with him; he is not elite.

Vince Verhei

My charting schedule has been pretty wacky this year, so this will be a list of quick notes on several different teams, rather than a detailed breakdown of any one squad.

Atlanta Falcons: I don't see much of Atlanta, so I didn't know a lot about left guard Garrett Reynolds going into this year. He was abysmal in the half I charted. One of the worst performances I've ever seen from an offensive lineman. I looked him up afterwards, expecting him to be a last-ditch injury replacement, a taxi squad guy forced into action. No, apparently Atlanta planned on using him as a starter, even though he was a healthy scratch for every game in 2010. He has since been benched for 2010 fourth-rounder Joe Hawley.

Dallas Cowboys: DeMarcus Ware's quickness off the line borders on superhuman. In Week 1, there were a few plays where he was in the backfield before the Jets' linemen even came out of their stance. And that game was in New York.

The Cowboys guards (Kyle Kosier and Bill Nagy, who is now on IR) have played pretty poorly. Felix Jones and Tashard Choice (now with the Bills) are both very good at picking blitzing defenders on pass plays. That said, when they do get beat, Tony Romo has a tendency to throw up ugly passes. Witness the interception he threw to New England's Kyle Arrington in Week 6, set up when Brandon Spikes used a great spin move to get by Choice. It wasn't Romo's fault there was a rusher in his face, but his response -– chucking up the ball like it was raw meat and Spikes was a hungry wolf -– was, um, not smart.

Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs' offensive line is not very good, so Todd Haley tries to compensate with cutesy personnel groups and motion. On one goal-line play, he had an extra lineman on the field, with a tight end and running back motioning out to wide receiver, just so Kansas City could run a dive play on first-and-goal from the 1. He also uses a lot of three-wideout sets, but almost always with one of the receivers lined up off the tackle's hip, in almost an H-back position. He also uses more seven- and eight-man protection groups than any other team I've ever charted. Problem is, the backs and tight ends can't predict which linemen are going to get beat, and often find themselves helping out where they're not needed while Chiefs quarterbacks are on the ground. It's not working, so they may as well start sending those extra blockers out as dumpoff receivers once in a while.

The Chiefs have also used cornerback/kick returner Javier Arenas as an offensive surprise. He's lined up at receiver and taken end arounds or fake handoffs, but has also lined up as a Wildcat quarterback for a rushing touchdown.

The Chiefs' defensive stars, meanwhile -– Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, and Brandon Flowers -– have played just as well as you'd expect.

New York Jets: This is the first year where we've noted defensive personnel. I expected to see plenty of nickel defenses, but New York took it to extremes, routinely going to 2-2-7 personnel groups on third downs in the second half.

Oakland Raiders: Only charted one half, but center Samson Satele looked very bad, sometimes getting beat one-on-one, sometimes appearing to miss simple assignments.

On one screen pass against Kansas City, 325-pound Khalif Barnes tried to block the 197-pound Arenas -– and somehow got moved backwards.

Pittsburgh Steelers: I haven't watched the Steelers much, but it looks like Troy Polamalu is missing more tackles than he has in the past.

Maurkice Pouncey's ability to chip one defender, then fire out to the second level, really is outstanding.

Seattle Seahawks: Red Bryant is a 320-pound former tackle playing strongside end, and he lines up very wide sometimes. When you chart games, you realize how often tight ends wind up blocking defensive ends one-on-one, and what a bad idea that usually is against Seattle.

Seattle's young offensive line is still mistake-prone and unreliable, but when they work in concert, they're capable of great things. Marshawn Lynch's 11-yard touchdown against Atlanta in Week 4 and his 47-yard run against the Giants in Week 5 were textbook cases of picture-perfect run blocking.

John Scappini

New England Patriots

It seems absurd that Bill Belichick is currently presiding over one of the worst defenses in the league. I mean, the man stopped the Greatest Show on Turf, right? There are issues at each level of the unit, from the line, to the linebackers, to the defensive backs, and it would appear that any team with an above-average passing attack can score enough points to beat the Patriots (see the Steelers, Bills, and Giants). While people are drawn to the cognitive dissonance between Belichick the Defensive Genius and his team’s poor defensive performance, the real issue is Belichick the general manager.

Going back a few years, the signings of Shawn Springs, Albert Haynesworth, Derrick Burgess, and Adalius Thomas yielded practically nothing -— not to mention Leigh Bodden and Tully Banta-Cain, who at least had one good year. Shaun Ellis can’t get on the field, and Chad Ochocinco is a non-factor. The draft busts have mounted the last few years, and it seems to be (hopefully?) (finally?) reaching rock bottom in 2011. The recent hits, Jerod Mayo, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Devin McCourty, and Patrick Chung, are drastically outnumbered by the misses. Ron Brace and Jermaine Cunningham, who combined for a total of seven snaps against the Jets (Cunningham’s four came in garbage time), have yet to make any impression. Outside of Mayo and Matt Slater, a special teams player, the rest of the Patriots 2008 draft class is no longer with the team (BenJarvus Green-Ellis was signed as an undrafted free agent).

The Patriots persona revolves around the "next man up" mantra, where each player is a cog in the greater New England Panzer —- forged from steel in the fires of Mount Doom by Belichick, designed to run up the score and make the nation at-large hate them -— and everyone is replaceable. But there gets to be a point where the next man up playing slot corner is ... wide receiver Julian Edelman. Ten undrafted free agents started for the Patriots in that game versus the Jets, and after McCourty went down with an injury, all four starting defensive backs were UFAs -— an insane, insane position to be in, and one that also illustrates just how thin the Patriots are.

It reminds me a little of the free-wheeling, free-agent shopping Redskins days, where a solid unit would be crippled after a few injuries due to lack of depth. Except, you know, without all the big spending. You can scheme all you want, but at some point Phillip Adams (who?) has to make a play. Injuries have played a major role as well. Mayo and Spikes have both missed time due to injuries. Ras-I Dowling, who had been starting over Bodden, is on IR. McCourty and Chung are both currently injured. All of this has contributed to the Patriots' famed "No Video Intro Defense."

Watching New England play makes me wonder what could have been had even a handful of the recent picks panned out. I suppose the scary thing is that the Patriots still could be the team to come out of the AFC at the end of the season. Their weak remaining schedule is well-documented, and should leave them with a cushy seed in the playoffs. Not everyone has the personnel to stymie the Patriots multi-faceted attack, and not everyone is going to be able to hang the 28 points on them needed to win. Still, another year of Brady’s prime will soon be up, and, barring some type of defensive revelation, the ever-closing window for him and Belichick to win another title continues to be pushed down.

Bo Hurley

Atlanta Falcons

Matt Ryan looks very comfortable running the no-huddle, which has been used more regularly as the season has gone on. Overall, his accuracy has looked a little off this season. He's not known for throwing a great deep ball, but some of his mid- to short-range throws have been head-scratchers. It should be interesting to see how the Falcons utilize their running backs during the second half of the season. Michael Turner continues to break tackles and churn out 100-yard games, but in the back of their minds, the team has to be worried about him wearing down like he did last season. Jacquizz Rodgers is very intriguing. The Falcons mostly use him on pitches to the outside to take advantage of his quickness. Both he and Jason Snelling are good pass-catchers which brings a different dynamic to the offense because Turner is not a threat at all. Julio Jones is obviously going to be a special player, but he doesn't seem to have much idea of what he is doing with the rest of the offense just yet (the lockout and injuries may have something to do with that). Some believe that the Falcons are a better team without Julio in the lineup because they get to go back to focusing on the running attack. It does seem that they force a lot of passes to the rookie, and may be trying to get him the ball to the point that it disrupts their gameplan. Tony Gonzalez looks fresh and has not played like a 35-year-old. After a very rocky start, the offensive line seems to have settled down. Joe Hawley has been very up-and-down, but looks like he has potential. Sam Baker had been awful at the beginning of the season, so his injury was probably more of a blessing. I think, other than nearly shattering Ryan's ankle, Will Svitek has done a good job filling in. It'll be interesting to see who the starter will be once Baker is healthy.

While the offense has the big names and the majority of the fanfare, Atlanta's defense has quietly played very well in my opinion. In their past six games, the Falcons have held opponents to an average of 18 points, and that stretch includes the explosive offenses of Green Bay (ranked No. 1 DVOA through Week 10), New Orleans (No. 3) and Carolina (No. 8). The defensive line does a pretty poor job of getting to the passer, but they do have good athletes along the line. Atlanta sends zone blitzes several times a game, typically bringing a safety (usually James Sanders) and a linebacker and dropping John Abraham back into coverage. I've also seen Ray Edwards, Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters drop into zone. Peters has played really well this year (even taking into account his costly offsides penalty in Tampa). Sean Weatherspoon looks like he is ready to break out: If it seems like he is involved on every play, that's probably because he is. Both he and Curtis Lofton play every down, no matter the situation. They have been very solid against both the run and the pass and it looks like Brian VanGorder is trying to get them to the passer more as the season progresses. Thomas DeCoud, who was benched earlier in the year, continues to struggle. He seems confused at times and has missed a lot of tackles. Having followed VanGorder at the University of Georgia and his four years in Atlanta, he deserves some credit for this defense and not just for his epic, "every month should be Movember" 'stache.

Mike Bonner

Philadelphia Eagles

One of the most surprising aspects of this year’s team has been just how effective the running game has been. I am giving most of, if not all of, the credit for their improved running game to the coaching of Howard Mudd. With his arrival, the Eagles have started using the stretch play and trap plays to a greater extent, and with greater results then in years past. Each of these run plays perfectly suit Eagles' leading rusher LeSean McCoy. The stretch play extends the defense horizontally allowing McCoy to pick which holes to rush through or to cut back against the flow of the play and test a defense's backside containment. The trap play is used to attack a run defense vertically, by allowing a defensive lineman to rush into the backfield only to find himself blocked by a pulling tackle or tight end, while the guard or center that pulled extend their blocks to the second level of the defense. On trap plays, once McCoy gets past the defensive lineman who is rushing into the backfield, he has a clear path all the way to the third level of the defense. McCoy has also shown an uncanny ability juke away from defenders and run through arm tackles this season.

Alex Schaefer

Even with all the Raiders injuries, it is interesting how willing they are to throw six defensive backs on the field. Usually this means moving OLB Kameron Wimbley down to end and putting Tyvon Branch at the middle linebacker position next to regular linebacker Rolando McClain. The backup and nickel corners have fared pretty well too. Their effectiveness correlates to the effectiveness of the Raiders pass rush. When they are getting to the quarterback, their defense can play with a lot of teams and their cornerbacks, most of the time, are not liabilities. The decision to play Branch at the middle linebacker position is interesting considering another option they have: former first-round pick Aaron Curry. Curry has proven himself worth every penny of the seventh-round pick they gave up to get him. He could probably fill this role, but I suppose the team probably wants to bring him along slowly.

As far as Carson Palmer, I’ll just gloss over him since he’s been so talked up by analysts lately, but he has been throwing the ball surprisingly well. You could see it even during his first start against Denver: he threw some very pretty balls. He got careless at times, and probably wasn’t sure what his arm could do just yet, but he did show glimpses of what was to come in the next few games.

I’ll get to the Packers more at the end, but one thing that has stood out about their defense is that Desmond Bishop has been exploited by most teams this year. He is a very capable linebacker and is near the league lead in tackles, but teams have been able to effectively isolate him on tight ends and running backs.

Chris Johnson, in all but maybe two games, has been an embarrassment to the running back position. The running back role was already becoming a position where it was much harder to get your payday, and he has done his fellow backs a great disservice with his play this year. Watching Johnson play is like watching a child who’s being forced to hang out with kids that he doesn’t want to play with. He’s given the lowest amount of effort necessary for him to still appear like he’s playing in a football game.

I was given the "pleasure" of charting the Colts one week. I’ll give Curtis Painter credit for having decent athleticism for a quarterback. More importantly, he has an unbelievable throwback haircut. I think that about covers the positives in Indianapolis this year.

Charting has really made me realize how critical a pass rush is to a defensive effort. As a Packers fan (and more importantly) as a part owner of the team, I watch and rewatch every one of their games. I think their weakened defense is due, quite obviously, to their largely-average pass rush. They have not been able to get consistent pressure. Teams have recognized that Clay Matthews is the lone true threat to the quarterback and they have focused all their attention on him and allowed the rest of the defenders to try and beat them. A middle linebacker (Bishop) leads the team in sacks. I’d be very surprised if Green Bay doesn’t make a more concerted effort this offseason to find Matthews a running mate, be it a defensive end or a fellow outside linebacker.

Dave DuPlantis

Detroit Lions

On offense, there is a noticeable difference with a healthy Matthew Stafford in the lineup. When things are going well, he can complete passes that would be very difficult for an average quarterback to hit; when the running game is working too, the offense looks like the fantasy-football-caliber offense we've been led to believe it can be. Even with Jahvid Best out, having a full complement of receivers gives Stafford a lot of choices on most plays, and on the plays where he's got only one or two options, one of them is typically Calvin Johnson, and he can make a difference on just about any throw.

What hasn't changed, though, is offensive line play. The Adjusted Line Yards are up a touch from last year (3.35 to 3.65), but the Adjusted Sack Rate is worse (4.5 percent to 5.7 percent), and that's with Stafford getting rid of the ball more often. Scott Linehan and Todd Downing have put in a lot of work with Stafford on getting rid of the ball quickly: it was especially apparent during the first couple of games, when he would get rid of the ball almost immediately if pressured. From what I've seen, the increase in sack rate stems from weaker play at both tackle positions. Jeff Backus has 170 consecutive starts at left tackle; he's done all that he is able to do at that position, and certainly deserves a great deal of credit for enduring the entire Millen Era, but he's just not capable of holding off the better defensive ends in the league. All too often, Stafford ends up hit before he even knows there's pressure from that side. Gosder Cherilus is much worse on the right side: Detroit's 0.92 ALY around right end is the second-worst figure for any team in any direction (Pittsburgh somehow has -0.59 around left end), and Cherilus is a big factor in that. He's been replaced by Corey Hilliard occasionally over the last season or two, and if the Lions are going to be serious contenders, he'll need to be replaced by someone better on a permanent basis. The other linemen are serviceable, although Dominic Raiola, like Backus, is reaching the end of his career.

Defensively, the line is a solid unit, They run eight or nine deep with Nick Fairley recovered from his injury (although perhaps not completely up to speed on the scheme). This is especially notable at end, where Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young will fill in and not miss a beat while Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril rest for a couple of plays. Teams continue to run up the middle on the Lions despite the fact that yards simply aren't there to be found: Detroit's Power Success and Stuffed rates match well with what you see on the screen. Over and over again, opposing coordinators run dives up the middle and end up with a yard or two at best, despite the fact that the Lions do have a weakness to the right side, which is typically Avril and Ndamukong Suh. This is the side to which teams have been running wham plays, letting the two defensive linemen come in and redirecting them out of the play.

Acquisitions at linebacker have made a big difference: Stephen Tulloch and Justin Durant read plays well and generally don't overreact, giving the Lions a front seven to rival most in the league. Their one big weakness is covering tight ends. Detroit's fifth in the league in DVOA against tight ends, but I suspect that's more from the plays when Louis Delmas comes up and covers them ... it could also be that it's guys like Tony Gonzalez who are burning the linebackers.

For the most part, the secondary has been adequate -- in particular, they've been good at catching errant passes forced by pressure. The corners are undersized, though, and teams with taller wideouts have had success isolating them in one-on-one coverage and throwing passes over the smaller defensive backs. I think neither Gunther Cunningham nor Jim Schwartz see this as a strong unit: I'm not sure I can recall more than one or two plays where the Lions went to a dime package this year, which tells me they'd rather risk a linebacker on a slot receiver than send out Brandon McDonald or Anthony Madison for a number of plays.

Jason Hanson seems completely recovered from last year's injury and is once again nailing 50-yard field goals. Detroit was hoping Ryan Donahue would be an upgrade over Nick Harris at punter ... well, he hasn't been, and his coverage team hasn't helped out. We don't chart special-teams plays, but it doesn't take a practiced eye to see the mistakes Detroit has made over and over again on coverage, both during punts and kickoffs, and they've made a difference on a number of occasions.

This is much more like the Lions team that won their last four in 2010 than the team that started 2-10, but they still have some significant issues, and they likely will struggle both to make the playoffs and to win once they get there until they get those issues worked out. Expect Detroit's first-round pick (and perhaps another one) to go toward shoring up the offensive line.

Jon Sullivan

San Francisco 49ers

Having charted the 49ers for most of the season, the most interesting thing to me has been seeing the progression of Jim Harbaugh's offensive play calls. Early in the season -- presumably because the lockout gave him little time to implement a full offense -- the team mostly ran conservative, two-tight end sets. It was clear that their focus was on risk reduction and ball control, which worked because their defense played really well and they scored enough to win some close games. However, in the past few weeks Harbaugh seems to have become much more comfortable with opening up the playbook. They are running many more three-wide receiver sets, putting more men in motion, and even splitting out Kendall Hunter as a receiver sometimes. For a team that already has a fantastic defense, implementing a more dynamic offense could really help them come playoff time.

As for their defense, the biggest thing I've noticed is that they get consistent pressure on the quarterback -- often from only rushing four men. There seem to be a lot of throws that are hurried, which has led to a lot of stalled drives. Also, Navorro Bowman has been a great pick; Patrick Willis rightfully gets a lot of credit, but Bowman has made a lot of big plays for them and has really helped solidify their linebacking corps this season.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 24 Nov 2011

84 comments, Last at 28 Nov 2011, 8:08pm by Jon Sullivan

Comments

1
by TheSlinger :: Thu, 11/24/2011 - 12:58pm

". These backs can do everything (run, catch, block), are durable, and can play in a variety of offenses. I really feel there are only four of these backs in the NFL today: Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, LeSean McCoy, and Matt Forte."

No Ray Rice?

3
by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 11/24/2011 - 1:03pm

Frank Gore?

Since when could AP catch or block?

5
by Marko :: Thu, 11/24/2011 - 2:25pm

I had the exact thought about Peterson. He is not a good receiver, and when I've seen him he gives absolutely no effort when he is supposed to block.

As for Forte, can we please stop the tired and misleading "Jerry Angelo, please pay Matt Forte" sentiment? Angelo can be criticized for many things, but not for this. The implication that he doesn't value Forte and doesn't realize how important he is to the Bears is ludicrous.

Angelo knows what Forte means to the Bears. He also knows that he has leverage, as he can franchise Forte for the next two years if they can't agree on an extension. That's the key word: agree. It takes two sides to agree to a deal. Angelo and the Bears tried to extend Forte's contract before the season. They negotiated in good faith and offered him a good deal (which reportedly included about $13 or $14 million guaranteed) when considering all of the facts and circumstances (including the fact that the Bears have leverage). However, Forte thought he deserved more, especially after other backs like Chris Johnson and Frank Gore signed their extensions. Many people think that Forte got bad advice from his agent and should have taken the deal (or at least lowered his demand, which was for far more than what the Bears were offering). So it's not that Angelo doesn't realize that Forte is really good. It's that the sides simply couldn't reach an agreement. Forte isn't going anywhere for at least two years, and I fully expect the sides to reach an agreement within the next year or so.

47
by commissionerleaf :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 11:17pm

Peterson's sack allowed to Clay Matthews in the GB game was e most pathetic non-block I have ever seen. He is a terrible liabili when he doesn't have the ball, and from what I have seen this year, overrated when he does. Replacing his name with Foster makes sense. Peterson is not a top five guy. He is one dimensional and not particularly elusive... Wich is odd since I think I remember being impressed by his work in space a couple of years back.

6
by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 11/24/2011 - 3:36pm

OK, I can't really disagree with how the charter had categorised Gore, that's what you get for only reading half a comment.

13
by battlered90 (not verified) :: Thu, 11/24/2011 - 8:40pm

Arian Foster?

21
by Mr Shush :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 6:32am

I think a lot of people don't watch the Texans regularly, hear about how good the offensive line is, remember the (actually somewhat mythical) days of Insert Running Back Here in Denver, see Tate's rushing numbers, and assume that Foster is largely a product of the system.

If you are one of those people, let me assure you that you are very, very wrong.

2
by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 11/24/2011 - 1:02pm

Clearly I'm not cut out to be a game charter because I don't have a really cool name. The triple-capitalled Dave Duplantis, Bo Hurley, Bin Lee, good names.

7
by parttimemovieguy :: Thu, 11/24/2011 - 3:55pm

Heh, I never thought my name was that cool. Most people just think I'm called "Ben", but I'll take the name compliment!

BTW, I agree with Vince's thoughts on the Raider O-line. Veldheer's been solid, but pretty much everyone else had caused me to facepalm because of bad reads or simply getting blown off the line that happen more than I'm comfy with.

Go Raiders!

@ptmovieguy

10
by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 11/24/2011 - 4:59pm

Well Dr Z once wrote that he'd never come across a shorter first + second name combination than Amos Oz and you are in a tie with him. (You do seem to write facepalm quite a lot, that's your third use of it on this page)

19
by Jerry :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 3:43am

Ed Ott leaps to mind.

40
by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 5:46pm

But Ed would be short for either Edward or Edmund. Or maybe Edard, as in Edard Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North. But disqualified anyway.

12
by Danish Denver-Fan :: Thu, 11/24/2011 - 8:24pm

Not if your name really is Karl Cuba - I think thats an awesome name.

14
by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 11/24/2011 - 9:20pm

It's a Ron Mexico alias. (google ron mexico name generator, derived from Mike Vick using Ron Mexico as an alias when checking into a hotel with a teenage girl who gave him herpes)

37
by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 4:10pm

Karl Cuba seemms like coocl name. Was that name you got from Ron Mexico name genetartor circa 2006?

Waht is Bin Lee FO name? Never saw Bin Lee post beforoe. must go by dififent handle.

Heyward-Bey becoming good now. Alwasy knew would happen. Al Davis knew exactly what he was doing that day when draft Heyward-Bey.

4
by TheSlinger :: Thu, 11/24/2011 - 1:42pm

By the way, this is always one of my favourite features, you should do this more often.

8
by Doug Farrar :: Thu, 11/24/2011 - 4:48pm

Always a big favorite of mine. Well-done, gentlemen.

9
by Shattenjager :: Thu, 11/24/2011 - 4:52pm

This is my favorite non-Tanier feature every year and I enjoyed it just as much this year.

11
by wertzuztrewertz (not verified) :: Thu, 11/24/2011 - 7:37pm

@Scappini
Sorry, gut the part about the Patriots ist just flat out a waste of space. I know you guys here are a little too obsessed with statistics and believe they can tell you anything, and you and nobody else truly understands the game. First of all, all the things mentioned have been mentioned before, Belichick has been accused of being a shoddy GM before.
The defense he plays is not geared towards boasting great stats, its geared towards creating turnovers and preventing tds, two things which they are effective in. Interceptons are not pure luck. Hence, the defense (as does the offense of the Jets, on which your famed dvoa crap fails too) creates very volatile stats. It generated the most takeaways last season, led the Pats to a 13-3 record on a ultra-tough schedule last year. The remaining schedule isn't tissue soft, the Pats play the Eagles and Dolphins. the Patriots held the Steelers to a 8 pt game despite being greatly (statistically) outplayed by them.
Kyle Arrington Is leading the league in INTs, he is an Ufa.
Yeah, Belichick has done a terrible job. Other teams make bad roster moves as well. Comparing the Patriots with the Redskins is a bit off based on track record, even if your stats don't seem to be able to tell you why the Patriots still have success - while completely overhauling the roster - and the Redskins fail each year, despite players like Orakpo, Kerrigan, and a strong secondary.

I could vent some more, but ... yeah, you guys get it. You know football.

15
by majordunbar :: Thu, 11/24/2011 - 9:23pm

I wrote the explosive and controversial Patriots section, and I don't work for FO, though I'm flattered you think so.

I'm a huge Patriots fan, but I don't really understand where you are coming from. Where was this vaunted defense you're referring to in the second half of the Bills game? Or during that allegedly tight Steelers matchup? Or the final drive in the Giants game? The Patriots can beat good teams but not the elite.

Both of Arrington's interceptions against the Chiefs were off of tips, to go with one against the Bills, his pick against the Giants was due to a boneheaded Manning throw, his INT against the Cowboys was thrown right to him, etc etc. But keep believing he's a lockdown corner.

Thanks for extrapolating my tiny observation about the Patriots having no depth, similar to the Redskins megabucks free agent spending days, to both organizations top to bottom.

I could vent some more, but...yeah. Also, the Patriots went 14-2 last year, a year I wasn't writing about, but thanks for the heads-up.

16
by slam (not verified) :: Thu, 11/24/2011 - 11:03pm

I was under the impression that this column was to write about observations people would have about a team that they could only have by watching the games closely, rather than the same rant everyone has about the Patriots. Maybe you could have written stuff about issues like:

Was Haynesworth dogging it?
Why is Ochocinco struggling? Why is he kept while Haynesworth was cut?
Does Brady look injured this season?
What was McCourty doing this year that he wasn't doing last year when he was defensive rookie of the year?
Are people starting to figure out how to defend Wes Welker?
Is Gronkowski the best TE in football right now?
What's up with the slow offensive starts?
What did they do to adjust to the Jets to beat them twice this year?
Are Andre Carter's and Mark Anderson's sack totals an indication of real pressure?
Why does the OL, a strength of the team, look inept in some stretches?
How does a secondary comprised of complete unknowns look vaguely competent for every recent game except for the Pittsburgh game?
Will the return of Chung and McCourty matter?
What's up with Kevin Faulk having a bigger role than expected?
Why do they choose which running backs to play when?
How does this team with so many apparent flaws hold the #1 seed in the AFC right now?

These are questions that I as a Patriots fan don't know the answer to that I wish you'd have spent your time on rather than what you actually submitted. I wanted to know what you thought about the players and play on the field, not about Belichick's drafting strategy.

17
by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 11/24/2011 - 11:46pm

He hasn't been asked to do a complete rundown of the state of the Pats, he's been asked to give whatever input he likes because he's been voluntarily charting the plays for that team. If you don't like it, then start charting yourself. Personally, I'm happy to read whatever these folks have to say, they've put their own time in.

18
by Alex K (not verified) :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 2:56am

I will do my best to answer your questions (As many as I can) as someone who has obsessively observed each one of their games/ personnel moves over the years.

Was Haynesworth dogging it?- Yes and no. Haynesworth (both in practices the public could see and in game situations) had moments where he looked like Albert of old, but his conditioning has been poor, and if he played 15 snaps a game he tended to get stood up straight on about half of them (especially run plays to his side).

Why is Ochocinco struggling? Why is he kept while Haynesworth was cut?-The excuse for Ocho's struggle has been that the Patriots offensive playbook is complicated, but Welker and the other interior receivers (Gronk, Hernandez) have more option routes than the outside guys. It seems that he is operating at the same speed he did last year in Cinci, when he caught 67 of 125 targets and put up much of his 831 yards in garbage time against semi-prevent coverage (same goes for T.O.)
He doesn't have the speed to beet guys off the line of scrimmage and doesn't look physically strong out there at all, always timid in his short inside cuts. I don't know if he is upset by his position as a fourth wheel or just has completely lost "it" physically but he just looks like an old receiver who can't get separation, a la Troy Brown's waning years. As for why they don't release him? The wideouts below him are Slater, Price, and Edelman. Slater is Bethel Johnson 2.0 at this point, and when he and Price are in the game they can be counted on only to run clear-out go routes to tire out DBs or sell a draw. However much Ocho's skills have deteriorated, an injury to Branch or Welker would require more than what they have to offer. Edelman is an enigma. When he first started playing it looked like the patriots could play 4 wide with him and Welker in the slots and annihilate everyone, but either he has regressed or Belichick just doesn't like him on offense because he gets very few snaps there.

Does Brady look injured this season?- No more so than any other season. His deep balls have more wobble to them than in years past, but considering the fact that he isn't tossing the ball out of bounds to avoid hits I don't think it's a big problem.

What was McCourty doing this year that he wasn't doing last year when he was defensive rookie of the year? McCourty was playing with a different backfield, bracketed by James Sanders over the top. The level of safety play in the passing game has dropped greatly this season, exposing McCourty against larger recievers and offensive coordinators who don't have to scheme for that coverage. Also, Darius Butler and Jonathan Wilhite were on the team last year and they were more attractive targets to QBs when on the field.

Are people starting to figure out how to defend Wes Welker?
Is Gronkowski the best TE in football right now?-These two questions have to be answered together. The Patriots passing game is a "pick your poison" type deal. Teams can effectively eliminate Welker with a strong bump at the line and either zones keying on him underneath or a safety in the immediate proximity. However, to do this, especially when both TE's are on the field, is to guarantee that Brady will ignore Welker and go to them, usually with great success. Hernandez has dropped a number of catchable passes this year, but he has been open a lot, especially when they run trips and he's inside. This ties in with Gronkowski, who cannot be covered by almost any linebacker. Early in the year teams tried to take him away from Brady by sliding a safety over, with some success. Others have used a CB on him. The Jets did this with Revis in their second game as has been noted, but if he is covered it means Welker or Hernandez probably won't be. So he has benefited from the abilities of his peers in terms of getting targets. When he gets the ball, he is something else entirely. He isn't Vernon Davis fast but he makes up for it with better lower body strength than anyone else at the position. Given his size the best comparison would probably be a Brandon Jacobs who could catch the ball like Witten.He nearly always pulls guys for a few extra yards. His blocking is great too, as they've used him to help with Light and Solder and when he is split out wide. He isn't Brandon Manumaleuna but he holds blocks longer than most TEs. I don't know if he's the best, as he still has some drops here and there, but I couldn't categorically say that someone else is better, if that's any help.

What's up with the slow offensive starts?-The Patriots seem dedicated to using the running game early, especially with BJGE, and this puts them in a lot of 3rd and long situations to open up. A number of line penalties have also stalled drives early. While it is difficult to pinpoint one thing in particular, there are a few culprits that seem consistent: 1. The center position had been their most stable up until this year, and Koppen has truly been missed, as Connolly struggles to diagnose some defensive fronts (especially early against KC last week) and DTs/ interior LBs have come in lightly blocked because of this, leaving little time to set up anything other than dink and dunk passes. 2. The running game. The Patriots line up with Green-Ellis more in the first quarter than the rest of the game combined, and this eliminates the threat that is Danny Woodhead, whose playing time has shrunk considerably this season. The Patriots trust Law Firm to get them 3 yards and a cloud of dust, but with the line injured and Hernandez in most plays and not providing a lot of blocking support, this sometimes isn't even the result.Usually when they abandon the conventional running game and the power set the offense begins to click almost instantly, and the draw plays and off-tackle runs from 3 wide are much more effective. 3. Defenses have come out with dedicated scripts against the Patriots more this year than ever before. The Jets, Chiefs, Steelers and Giants all used odd fronts and bump and run coverage which the Patriots adapted to in some cases but could not in others. The reason those scripts become much less effective as the game goes on is because New England adjusts more than most defenses do and have enough weapons that usually they can do something almost completely different so long as it doesn't require throwing a lot of deep passes and be effective. This did not work against the Giants because the offensive line could not provide time to do anything even against a 4 man rush, making it a basic personnel problem.

What did they do to adjust to the Jets to beat them twice this year?- They took Bart Scott and David Harris out of the game by using the hurry up and going to Hernandez and Gronkowski inside. The Jets defense is not as good at creating a passrush this year, Wilkerson being a downgrade and the linebackers all seeming to lose a step.

Are Andre Carter's and Mark Anderson's sack totals an indication of real pressure?-No, these are isolated incidents that make me remember Richard Seymour's coverage sacks from days past. At least 3 of Carter's sacks this year came when multiple O-Linemen were blocking air. These sacks happen because opposing teams count on the New England secondary to be terrible, script long developing plays, and then sometimes those plays do not work. Against New York Holmes and Burress couldn't get any separation so the Jets had to either keep Keller in to block or send him on intermediate routes, they did neither, sending him deep over the middle a number of times or out into the flat where cover-2 blanketed him.

Why does the OL, a strength of the team, look inept in some stretches?- The OL is injured, Vollmer and Solder have not been at full strength, and the center position has been a big problem as well. Matt Light has been a human turnstile against speed rushers for the better part of the decade, but with Gronkowski's emergence as a receiver and Welker being shut down at times, there is little that they can do to help him out, other than their throw-back 6 man line with Solder reporting in as tackle eligible (happened a number of times against KC on runs and passes). The line looks good when teams drop 8 and don't send speed off the edge. Due to the strength of the passing game, the weakness of the run and the number of 3-4 defenses they have faced, this seems to happen more to the Patriots than any team other than maybe Detroit (haven't watched enough of their games to say for sure). So the short answer is that the line really isn't a strength right now.

How does a secondary comprised of complete unknowns look vaguely competent for every recent game except for the Pittsburgh game? They have looked good when running basic coverage out of favorable down and distance, when play calling has been relatively vanilla. Pittsburgh threw a different gameplan at them than expected, not running 2 wide sets and with no clear number 1 receiver there was nothing to really key on. However, they still gave up only 25 points on 55 attempted pass plays and with the Steelers holding the ball an incredible 39:22.

Will the return of Chung and McCourty matter? Yes, because no matter how much he is struggling, McCourty is a big upgrade over Molden, who will move to the slot and be a big upgrade over Phillip Adams who will move to the dime and be a slight upgrade over Julian Edelman.

What's up with Kevin Faulk having a bigger role than expected?
Why do they choose which running backs to play when?-I cannot answer these questions, nor can anyone other than Belichick. Ridley and Vereen both are clearly more skilled backs than BJGE, but he is more reliable in their minds. Faulk should not see playing time because he is clearly not as good as Woodhead at this point and should probably be given a shot elsewhere or with the coaching staff. 5 running backs on a team that cannot run the ball is excessive, so unless they are planning on unleashing the Maryland I in the playoffs as a surprise tactic, it makes no sense.

How does this team with so many apparent flaws hold the #1 seed in the AFC right now? Ravens and Steelers beat up on each other, injuries to Manning/Schaub/ Johnson, whatever is going on with Rivers/Gates' declining health, the regression of the Jets pass rush and the Bills re-collapse back into being the Bills.

22
by Mr Shush :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 6:44am

Great post, though I would point out that the injury to Schaub has absolutely nothing to do with the Patriots being #1 in the AFC, as the Texans have yet to play without him. The injuries to Johnson, Foster and Williams, on the other hand . . .

30
by Alex K (not verified) :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 12:56pm

Can't believe I wrote that. My brain extrapolated to the end of the season when it will be difficult for anyone outside of the Baltimore/ New England/ Pittsburgh group to get the #1 seed and then immediately blamed Matt Leinart for a decline in the Texans play that hasn't occurred yet.

38
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 4:48pm

I have to admit that I disagree with a large amount of this.

46
by jonnyblazin :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 9:33pm

Um how are the Patriots the #1 seed? Because they've played one more conference game than the Ravens? If all 7-win teams win out, the Ravens would be #1: they won head-to-head matchups with PIT and HOU, and they would have a better record vs common opponents than the Patriots (4-0 vs. 3-1 against PIT, NYJ, SD).

48
by commissionerleaf :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 11:25pm

Amazing and much appreciated.

56
by armchair journe... :: Sat, 11/26/2011 - 2:03pm

thanks for the insight and the effort. don't think i've seen a post that long before that wasn't written in anger.

23
by FooBarFooFoo (not verified) :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 7:51am

I never said it was "explosive and controversial", I said it was a waste of space because it doesn't contain any (new and or non-polemic and superficial) information.

First of all, no, I never liked Arrington, because many times in the past seasons it looked like he couldn't cover very well and gave up many long gains. Statistically, he is clearly in the top 10 corners when thrown at. His INTs lead the league, and INTs are not pure luck, even when ball is tipped.

I always here this "one of the worst defenses in the league". It is actually not very easy to score TDs against this defense, because they are effective at generating turnovers and are good in the red zone. Far from being one of the worst in the league.

Adalius Thomas and Bodden played clearly above average in their first years with the team. Bodden was hurt in the second. No, Adalius was a bad acquisition. Well, as was the contract extension to Corey Dillon.

Well, I think that Jerod Mayo has been and is overrated.

The game against the Steelers, the Patriots were vastly outplayed statistics-wise (just looking at the time of possession makes you wanna vomit), yet, it was a one-score game with a chance for the Patriots to tie in the end. The offense failed to move the ball in this game. Under these circumstances, even when giving up many yards, the defense was certainly not crappy. The whole team did not play well this game, no doubt about that. But it's not like the Pats defense was blown out of the stadium. In neither loss, all one possession games with as many flukes on offense as on defense. And when you think "the Patriots defense is not good enough to take over a game when the offense is sputtering" ... they are clearly not an elite defense, but the defense bailed out the offense more than once the past two seasons, mostly through creating turnover(s).

On the "too many UFAs on the team" ... please show me stat that shows that UFAs perform worse than players who were drafted (you need to adjust for the fact that it is much easier for a drafted player to start or get playing time and much easier to make a team). I am unbiased on this one, and would accept if drafted players are better. And if you like to be polemic, I can be too: Jeff Saturday, probably the best center of the past decade ... undrafted.

So, you basically used five paragraphs to say "Bill is a bad GM" yet they still win. Show me some _insight_.

27
by Mr. Guest to you (not verified) :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 9:33am

Another well worn fallacy.

Average draft position of 2004 Patriots starting defense: 58
Average draft position of 2010 Patriots starting defense: 41

2010's defense actually only started one FA: Arrington (2010 is being used because the 4-3 base is still in flux, as is the season).

49
by commissionerleaf :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 11:34pm

Um, the Patriots defense allows plenty of touchdowns and Has acquired interceptions mostly because teams are so eager to throw, and throw deep, against a secondary that can't cover. Also, Jerod Mayo is a very good linebacker, ,albeit not a Patrick Willis style superstar. You can't convincingly pan Mayo and talk about one good year from Adalius Thomas. even independent of lock room issues, Mayo is now better than Adalius ever was for the Patriots.

Also , and this is not a criticism or comment on anyone else s stuff... Julian Edelman is a very decent DB.

There just is no denying that the Pats, like the Colts, are a declining team that has drafted poorly coasting on the abilities of their quarterback and top couple of receivers. I only wish my colts had drafted Hernandez....

53
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Sat, 11/26/2011 - 11:24am

Wow. About the only thing that is accurate in this post is that the Patriots have struggled to stop the pass. The picks are due to good play, for the most part. Sure they have their share of tipped passes but no more than the rest of the league. And you can't really build a solid case around, "they make game changing plays because they suck".

The Patriots draft was poor and they did have a dip after 2007, but they are firmly on the rebound with quality youth on the OL, DL, TE, LB and DB positions.

Sorry, but the Pats aren't declining, they declined and are getting better again.

25
by Mr. Guest to you (not verified) :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 8:40am

He doesn't have to be a lockdown corner. What he is, is almost a perfect clone of Samuel. He did alright.

24
by Mr. Guest to you (not verified) :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 8:38am

Heh, I was going to write something similar. I didn't because, even though what he wrote is more narrative than I would like, he's a volunteer. I tend to let volunteers alone.

Your response is also no better than his writeup. While he repeats a tired narrative, seemingly unconcerned about what the root cause is, your defense draws from your inner fanboy. No, the Patriots do not have a good defense. It's good enough to win, but it's not what someone should describe as "good".

Anyway, I wanted to bring to John's attention that the Patriots of a decade ago had more than a fair share of games started by DB's off the street. When injuries occur, that can happen (did you forget '05, when Harrison went down?). Also that Wilfork, MCcourty, Mayo, Spikes, Chung, Ninkovich, Arrington, et el, is not a bad foundation at all. Belichick "the GM" did not blow his drafts, as implied by John.

To me, the most most obvious difference between the two defenses is really just two things: 1) Seymour and McGinest, who can not be replaced without a top 5 pick 2) The average years experience of the two groups:
2004 defense - avg of 7 years
2010 defense - avg of 3 years

That's it in a nutshell, IMO. The defense will get better with playing time.

26
by Mr Shush :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 9:24am

"Seymour and McGinest, who can not be replaced without a top 5 pick"

Here are some recently drafted rush OLBs, and the slots they went at:

2011: Aldon Smith (#7)
Ryan Kerrigan (#16)

2009: Brian Orakpo (#13)
Clay Matthews III (#26)

2007: LaMarr Woodley (#46)

2006: Kamerion Wimbley (#13)
Tamba Hali (#20)
Elvis Dumervil (#126)

2005: DeMarcus Ware (#11)
Shawne Merriman (#12)

Elite 3-4 pass rushers usually go in the first round (though not always) but they are not generally top 5 picks. The Patriots, without trading up, could have selected Matthews (they actually traded down out of the pick that would have let them do this), Woodley or Dumervil. Admittedly, they were unlucky to see Kerrigan and Hali chosen by teams picking immediately in front of them. Not to mention that the Patriots could always have chosen to use some of their inevitable extra draft ammo to move up for a guy they liked.

As for Seymour, he is/was a somewhat unique player, but the other great 3-4 DE of his generation, Aaron Smith, was picked in the fourth round, and Seymour himself was not a top 5 pick. Antonio Smith and JJ Watt have been outstanding in the much-improved (and much better than the Patriots) Texans defense this year, and were chosen #135 and #11, respectively.

Reports of Belichick's personnel ineptitude are greatly exaggerated, but don't pretend it's impossible to acquire elite players without picking at the top of the first.

28
by Mr. Guest to you (not verified) :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 9:53am

"Elite" is relative. Thomas was considered elite, until he signed here. As was Colvin. Bodden was a real nice player, until again.. (yet critics expect rookies to "get it" their first year)

There also exists much evidence that most of your listed linebackers wouldn't even start here at LB. One-trick, pass rushing linebackers are not assets very appealing to Belichick, apparently.

29
by Mr Shush :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 10:58am

If Colvin was considered elite before he signed in New England, why had he never been selected for a pro bowl? Thomas was a 30 year old coming off a career year.

If Belichick wouldn't love to have most of the players on the above list (not post-injury Merriman, obviously), he is a fool. I do not believe he is a fool. I do think it's possible that while he would value such players very highly, he does not value them as highly as other coaches, and is therefore unwilling to pay what the free agent or draft trade market would demand to acquire one.

In any case, I was responding to a post that claimed the reason the Patriots didn't have a replacement for McGinest was because they never had top 5 picks with which to select one. Who are the recent top 5 selections you think meet the criteria that DeMarcus Ware and Clay Matthews don't? In fact, since McGinest himself only one top five pick has even been used on a rush linebacker - Von Miller. He looks like a nice player, but you can't tell me there's a team in the league, whatever system they use, that wouldn't rather have Ware.

Either McGinest is essentially irreplaceable (in which case Belichick was incredibly fortunate to inherit the one player in two decades who could play that spot in his defense when he took over the team, and should probably have re-thought his approach as soon as he retired) or, more likely, it should be possible to replace him without a top 5 pick.

35
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 3:34pm

Colvin was the premier pass rusher on the market in 2003. You may not remember this, but it is absolutely the case. The reason he had an unremarkable career with NE was because he fractured his hip in his second game and was never the same guy afterward.

BB would take Matthews, but he was absolutely correct in passing on him. Clay was a one year starter who accumulated a grand total of 4 sacks and also had loads of steroid questions. Prior to the combine he was viewed as a 4th round prospect.

Hell, even with the benefit of hindsight, I'd still pass on him. Clay is abominable against the run and he's been slowed down a great deal since teams figured out speed was his only asset. One of the picks acquired for passing on Matthews was used on Gronkowski, who is a vastly superior player.

That isn't to say the Patriots didn't make mistakes. They waited too long into the Colvin/Vrabel/Willie timeline to start replacing them, and then screwed up by making choices like Crable and Adalius. It is important to note that the Patriots are playing with a back seven filled with guys who have only been on the team for 2-3 years, most of which that is their time in the league as well. Guys like Vrabel/Tedy/Willie/Colvin all had at least that amount of time in and still needed a couple years to fully get BB's system. Replacing them isn't a single step of acquiring the right player, you need to invest 2-3 years into them as well.

Who knows, someday we might be talking about Ninkovich/Fletcher/Mayo/Spikes etc. the same way.

44
by Mr. Guest to you (not verified) :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 9:10pm

Your second paragraph bothers me to no end. All I ever hear about this defense is how everything would be resolved if Belichick would just sign a few pass rushers. Forget everything else about the game, I guess, just find QB-centric guys (like Smith, Orakpo, Matthews, Wimbley, Hali, Dumervil... etc, etc, etc) who can bring some heat. Because, you know, there's only aspect of defense that has any value.

Let them be blown away when an opposing coach isolates them, running the ball up their gut, or be continually burned on flat routes. But I guess that doesn't matter. Just hit the QB, boyz!

I hate that.

I wasn't being specific about "top 5 pick", I was generalizing. Generally, a GM is not going to draft a stud DL (a position which begins a defense) without a top pick. Seymour was a stud DL. You're right that Mcginest wasn't exactly that, but he wasn't a one-trick pony either.

50
by commissionerleaf :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 11:45pm

Not having a pass rush is ok if it is nineteen seventy eight, or even two thousand four. It is not in two thousand eleven. Clay Matthews would be more valuable to today's patriots than Gronkowski is, right?

52
by dryheat :: Sat, 11/26/2011 - 10:54am

You don't really believe that last part, do you? Clay Matthews in the Patriots 3-4 scheme more valuable than the guy who's not only caught 20 TDs in his first 26 games, and is a receiving threat all over the field, but is a devastating run blocker as well? No. No he wouldn't be.

I've said it before, and been called delusional, but whatever...in Belichick's defense Matthews would be a slight upgrade over Tully Banta Cain at OLB. He's a better pass rusher, and they're about equal moving in reverse, but while TBC was merely adequate as a run stuffer, he's much better than Matthews has been to this point in his career. I'm not sure Matthews would be on the field on first and second downs.

Credit to Matthews for having a great start to his career, but Belichick would have been insane to draft him in the first round. He was considered a fringe 6th or 7th round pick before the season, almost exclusively on bloodlines, was a middle round prospect after the season, and Mamula'd himself to 1st round consideration after the combine. Belichick even coached his dad...and he usually loves those legacy guys (Andre Carter, Matthew Slater on the current roster) and there was no way he was going to spend a first round pick on a guy with absolute minimal NCAA production.

Now, if you want to argue that Belichick should modify his scheme a little bit more to account for the explosion of NFL passing attacks, you could make a very good argument.

57
by CaffeineMan :: Sat, 11/26/2011 - 2:07pm

I'm with dryheat on this. I also think Belichick's mistake is that he didn't adjust his schemes soon enough to account for the passing explosion. However, drafting OLB's that didn't fit his scheme wouldn't have worked either.

And particularly, Matthews would have been way less valuable to the Pats than Gronkowski is. Regardless of any of the "ranking" arguments about where he is with respect to other TE's in the league, Gronkowski is critical to the Pats offense. As stated somewhere above, he makes the "pick your poison" thing work. He's not as effective a poison as 2007 Moss, because Moss was a deep threat. But, I wonder how effective a deep threat would be with the current O-line anyway.

Thanks to all for the good Pats discussion.

42
by IamAnAsshole (not verified) :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 7:38pm

"I tend to let volunteers alone" You are so nice, it almost made me cry.

20
by Jerry :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 4:04am

Thanks to all of the charters for their observations. Thanks for the charting, too.

A couple of notes:

Van: Whisenhunt is desperate to force the Pittsburgh-style of defense on this team. Which would be less of a problem if he had Dick LeBeau, or the Lamarr Woodley/James Harrison-type outside linebackers that make the system work.

Porter and Haggans have been exactly those guys in the past, with rings to prove it. Of course, the major reason they're in Arizona now may be Pittsburgh's sense that they're far enough past their peaks.

Dave:

When he was in Pittsburgh, Anthony Madison was on the roster to play special teams. Any time he got playing DB was either garbage time or absolute necessity. He apparently hasn't stood out enough on the Lions' special teams to earn a note.

Bin: It's been a bad ten years here. I guess it can't get any worse ... right?

Sadly, this headline says it all.

80
by zlionsfan :: Mon, 11/28/2011 - 11:14am

That's a good note about Madison, and of course now that he's been released, that's pretty much confirmation of his relative lack of importance to the Lions. If they had healthier RBs, they could probably afford to keep on the roster - special teams obviously need all the help they can get - but they don't.

31
by Danny Tuccitto :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 1:03pm

Great job, charters...and Rivers for putting this together. Also, folks, John Scappini is a volunteer charter, not HISTORY'S GREATEST MONSTER (that would be me).

32
by Alex K (not verified) :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 1:24pm

I would say at most you are a close second to History's Real Greatest Monster, and that is Matt Millen on draft day.

41
by Danny Tuccitto :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 6:17pm

I'll take it. Get me into an NFL war room, though, and I'll take Millen down (figuratively, of course).

33
by Trust Doesn't Rust (not verified) :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 1:42pm

Regarding the 49ers, I've seen a few of their games this year and it's struck me how "soft" Michael Crabtree is. The announcers, of course, never mention it, but he seems to rarely extend his arms for tough catches, rarely outmuscle a defender for the ball, and never ever fights for yards after the catch. Just wondering if the charter has noticed the same thing.

51
by Jon Sullivan (not verified) :: Sat, 11/26/2011 - 3:54am

I wouldn't say that I've noticed that particular trait about Crabtree, but I'd also mention that it's my first year charting and I'm still learning. He's a good athlete, and clearly the best non-Vernon Davis pass-catcher on the roster. At this point, I think the issue has been one of perception: fans expected him to be a dynamic, Pro Bowl-caliber WR and he hasn't been that type of a player. Granted, part of that are the unique circumstances that have surrounded his career (the 49ers foolishly playing hardball with him as as rookie, then him having to deal with a new head coach during a short offseason before his third year) but it's fair to start wondering if he will ever be an elite talent. He hasn't been particularly sure-handed - never posting a catch rate over 60% - and he hasn't been a great downfield threat either (his first two seasons saw him post yard/catch averages that place him around #40 for qualified WR's).

It's tough to call the guy a bust - especially considering the more conservative offenses he has played in - but it's looking more likely that he'll settle in as a #2 WR than a guy that defenses gameplan for.

58
by armchair journe... :: Sat, 11/26/2011 - 2:14pm

not to be all pro-establishment or anything, but I think in general, diva rookie hold-outs are the foolish ones. Particularly in that saga.

60
by Jon Sullivan (not verified) :: Sat, 11/26/2011 - 3:40pm

In general, I think the player is in a difficult position. The signing bonus on one's rookie contract is the only payment the player can count on receiving from one's team, so it's a point that needs to be carefully negotiated. If the team plays hard ball, a player is left in a tough spot:

- If one settles for what he believes is a below-market deal, he's leaving money on the table that he will likely never recoup (since most players are out of the league within a couple years). For a group of workers that have a specific skillset that doesn't easily transfer to other industries AND erodes completely by age 40, contract negotiations have a huge economic impact on a player's future.

- If he decides to negotiate for what he believes is his proper market value, he subjects himself to a well-organized propaganda attack from management-friendly sportswriters (many of whom are middle-aged, college-educated men) suggesting that the player is selfish/a diva/doesn't care about the team.

Additionally, the negotiation is ultimately taking place between an independently wealthy team owner and a player that likely is from a low-income or working-class family. After years of honing his skills and avoiding a catastrophic injury, he only has the ability to negotiate with a single employer who effectively has the ability to prevent him from starting his career as a paid employee. It's a system stacked in favor of management, so I usually side with the player during holdouts.

62
by Karl Cuba :: Sat, 11/26/2011 - 5:09pm

While I agree with your supposition that the player tends to get slammed in the media for holdng out and that it's the player with more to lose considering that they only get one career, I can't agree with your stance on Crabtree.

His 'market value' was determined by where he was drafted, it was the other teams that passed on him, not San Francico. Then the 49ers offered him a slotted contract before going further and offering him a contract that was extremely close to Raji's contract instead of taking the normal stance of offering a contract that bisected the difference of the contracts offered to players seected above and below them in the draft. If the niners had busted the slotting system than they would have faced a holdout from every player who felt he should have been taken higher, which would mean practically all of them. I think Crabtree was badly advised. If you look at that draft and the needs of the teams that followed, there would have been a good chance that he could have fallen quite a few spots. Had he then held out for a contract matching the DHB deal, it would have been absurd.

70
by Jon Sullivan (not verified) :: Sat, 11/26/2011 - 11:44pm

Karl,

I think that's an inefficiency of the draft rather than a problem with Crabtree specifically. Going into the draft, he was the consensus #1 WR of his draft class. The Raiders were universally panned for taking DHB ahead of Crabtree - and I'd argue rightfully so, as DHB hasn't posted a positive DVOA yet while Crabtree looks to be settling in as at least a solid complimentary WR. The fact that Al Davis was foolish enough to take an inferior player ahead of Crabtree doesn't change the fact that he was the best player available at his position.

While it's true that players drafted in lower slots tend to receive smaller contracts, this implicitly assumes that talent is allocated in an orderly fashion. If there are times when talent is allocated inefficiently - where less talented players are selected ahead of more talented players - it seems arbitrary to penalize an individual because the team who passed on him wasn't very good at its job.

In my opinion, Crabtree deserved the salary that was normally given to a guy projected to be a Pro Bowl-caliber WR. The fact that Heyward-Bey was selected a few spots earlier than him didn't change his projected value, so it shouldn't have affected the financial reward he received either.

73
by Karl Cuba :: Sun, 11/27/2011 - 10:56am

Part of the reason that Crabtree fell in the draft was his inability to work out because of his inured foot. He felt that this was unfair but this problem has cropped up again this year. Potential injury is a cause for players to slip in the draft and players aren't rewarded after the draft as 'projected pro bowl calibre receivers', they picked on that basis and are then compensated according to their slot. Crabtree was a potential pro bowler with a big risk factor as a result of his bad foot, so he slipped.

I also feel that the niners could not break the slotting system and that any other team other than the Raiders would have negotiated in the same way. It is possible that we simply aren't going to agree about this.

76
by Jon Sullivan (not verified) :: Mon, 11/28/2011 - 1:55am

Karl,

You're probably right; I get that people see the economics of the draft in different lights, and that's OK. The main point I was trying to get across is that I believe Crabtree was subjected to two separate artificial impediments to his market value (a management-favored draft and Oakland's foolish selection of DHB), and that I don't think it's Crabtree's fault for wanting to maximize the economic benefit he would receive from what could be the only contract he ever signs.

I understand that's a minority point of view though. Thanks for the feedback!

78
by tuluse :: Mon, 11/28/2011 - 2:27am

There's no guarantee the Raiders would have taken Crabtree if they didn't take DHB. If they didn't want Crabtree they didn't want him. There is no use going into hypotheticals there.

Now as for the draft being an impediment to market value, I don't think anyone will disagree with you, but it's one that every player has to deal with. Why should Crabtree think he would be one to break the system all on his own?

82
by Jon Sullivan (not verified) :: Mon, 11/28/2011 - 6:07pm

tuluse,

Certainly, you're right that there's no guarantee that the Raiders would have selected Crabtree if they didn't choose DHB. However, projecting him as the #1 WR off the board wasn't a stretch, or even very controversial; most projections had him going as the first WR off the board, often as high as #4 to Seattle. Mel Kiper's mock draft can be found here; I realize he's not the definitive draft forecaster by any stretch, but it's one of the few 2009 mock drafts I could dig up.

As for Crabtree breaking the system, his actions were ultimately successful: he convinced the 49ers to tack on an extra $8 million - though also with an additional year on the deal. Even factoring in the extra season, it increased the average annual value of the deal by more than 30% per season. You can argue about whether he will play out the entire deal or not, but he's made it through 60% of the deal so far; it's tough to argue that he wasn't successful by holding out.

Finally, I'd argue that the only way to see any progress on restrictive rules like draft slotting are to have guys like Crabtree try to buck the system. I just think it's too bad that sportswriters vilify guys for trying, when it ultimately means that more money ends up in the hands of an independently wealth ownership group rather than the players who sacrifice their physical well-being.

83
by tuluse :: Mon, 11/28/2011 - 6:30pm

Well, with the CBA we won't have to worry about this kind of thing happening again.

I wasn't trying to vilify Crabtree, although I did think was initially stupid for holding out. I didn't realize how much more money he got.

The only way to make progress on restrictive rules like draft slotting is for the union to make it a priority. However, the incentive isn't there, and I'm not sure I want to get rid of things like draft slotting. As a fan they work in my favor.

84
by Jon Sullivan (not verified) :: Mon, 11/28/2011 - 8:08pm

It's an issue that pops up in any industry with collective bargaining: memberships are made up of current employees who don't stand to gain much - and in many cases lose out - if concessions are made for incoming employees.

I understand that, but I wish that the NFLPA would use hard slotting as a better bargaining chip for improved working conditions (expanded health care coverage, pension benefits for retirees, etc.). Rookie salaries are something that owners make a pretty public stink about, and I wish that the union would extract more value out of it.

Thanks for the feedback!

75
by greybeard :: Sun, 11/27/2011 - 5:51pm

He has not been to pro bowl and has not played anything close to that quality. He has not been the best reciever on 49ers that has been Josh Morgan. Whatever his assumed draft position does not matter he was selected #9. He asked for more, and held out, cost him snd 49ers and that is entirely in him.

77
by Jon Sullivan (not verified) :: Mon, 11/28/2011 - 2:25am

greybeard,

My apologies if I didn't make this distinction clearly enough, but I was arguing that since he was projected as a Pro Bowl-caliber WR coming out of college, he was deserving of a salary commensurate with that type of talent level (since players sign their first deal based on how they are projected to develop, rather than how they will develop. As for him being drafted #9, I'm not of the opinion that a player should be forced to accept a slotted salary; this is often a player's only chance to earn a financial reward from his football skills, and I believe that he ought to be able to negotiate with his employer until an agreement is reached that both sides find acceptable.

As for the notion that Josh Morgan has been a superior player than Crabtree, the data just doesn't bear that out:

Michael Crabtree
2009: -47 DYAR, -19.08% DVOA
2010: 120 DYAR, 2.8% DVOA
2011: 32 DYAR, -6.5% DVOA

Josh Morgan
2009: -36 DYAR, -12% DVOA
2010: 59 DYAR, -3.9% DVOA
2011: only had 20 targets before going down for the season, so the sample size isn't indicative of anything

Morgan provided more bulk "value" (based on DYAR) in 2009, but he also appeared in 5 more games due to Crabtree's holdout; Crabtree was better on a per-play (DVOA) basis and likely would've had a higher DYAR if given comparable playing time. He was superior on both a DVOA and DYAR basis in 2010, and has been a just below average this season while Morgan went down for the season in Week 5.

With the data we have, there's no timeframe where you can reasonably assert that Morgan was a superior player than Crabtree.

79
by greybeard :: Mon, 11/28/2011 - 2:47am

I do not really care about what DYAR or DVOA says for individual players. But let us not get into whether Morgan has been the better WR for 49ers or not. It really does not have any bearing on Crabtree's contract.

Your argument that he was projected to be pro-bowler and that should have been part of his contract value. Obviously he has not been to pro bowl, or player like a pro-bowler and that is an example of why you are incorrect on "players sign their first deal based on how they are projected to develop". Players are drafted at the slot they are drafted based on the projection of the team for that player. But they are paid based on which slot they are drafted. The projection of success is already built into that.

Crabtree was projected to be the 10th best player that year. NFL teams thought there were 9 better players than him. So he shuld have been paid as the tenth best not as a projected pro bowler. If teams were projecting him to be consistently going to pro bowl he would have been drafted in top 3. Obviously Green Bay projected Raji to be better player and they were correct. Even Raiders might have been correct. DHB has been terrible the first two years but he has been better than Crabtree this year.
BTW these are the WRs selected after Crab: Maclin, Harvin, Nicks, Britt. Draft is no science. Teams know that and pay based on the slot.

81
by Jon Sullivan (not verified) :: Mon, 11/28/2011 - 5:43pm

greybeard,

I'd argue that when teams draft players, they are making their best estimate as to how the player will perform over the life of the contract. Whether the player fulfills that forecast only has bearing on his next contract, as an employer would only be paying for future production and would use a player's recent performance as a way to project how he would do over the course of the new deal.

Viewed through that lens, the consensus opinion on Crabtree at the time that he was drafted - many saw him as the best WR in his draft class, and a potential Pro Bowler - is very relevant to his rookie contract, in my opinion. I understand that draft slotting is part of the NFL Draft, but it's an artificial mechanism that team owners have put in place as a way to reduce rookie salaries.

Additionally, if the 49ers were convinced that Crabtree was only worth slot money, they didn't have to pay him an extra $8 million more than their initial offer. They did - though it included an extra year on the end of the deal - so it would appear that the 49ers also agreed he was worthy of a higher deal than what his draft slot indicated.

I don't agree with the argument that Crabtree was projected as the 10th-best player in his draft class solely because he was drafted #10 overall. Each team has different personnel needs, and thus approaches the draft with a different strategy; as such, it's not as if players are chosen in a vacuum and their projected talent level can be directly inferred from the order they were chosen in. If the NFL Draft was conducted in some sort of auction where teams bid on specific players they wanted, it would be easier to argue that they guy who fetched the highest price had the highest projected value. The fact that the Lions already had Calvin Johnson but no QB probably played a big role in why they would value a guy like Matt Stafford more than Michael Crabtree.

Finally, I'm certainly not arguing that the draft is an exact science - or even that pre-draft projections are. They are very, very tough things to get right but I'd argue that draft slotting has nothing to do with reducing the uncertainty around how a player develops. Draft slotting exists to give teams a way to hold rookie salaries down, as it gives each team a pretty strong argument for why it can't exceed a certain dollar amount for a specific player.

59
by Passing Through (not verified) :: Sat, 11/26/2011 - 3:18pm

I think there's definitely something wrong with the Smith-to-Crabtree exchange. A lot of it probably has to do with Smith, frankly. He's overthrown Crabtree several times. I don't remember any situations where Crabtree has fought particularly hard for yards, but in space he's pretty deadly. Did you see how he juked out Patrick Peterson twice on the same play against Arizona? Got loads of YAC that game.

Based on limited sample size, I REALLY like what I've seen from Kyle Williams. Next year I bet we'll lose Braylon Edwards and go Joshua Morgan and Crabtree as our starters with Kyle Williams as #3. Not sure what we'll do with Ted Ginn. He hasn't been a very good WR but as a P/KR he's been great. I don't know if that's enough to keep someone.

Finally - although Alex Smith has been average this year - here's to hoping that Kaepernick is able to surpass him next off season. It's frustrating to see a 49er team so good with such a blah QB. I don't want to watch Harbaugh "manage" Smith, I want him to own with a talented QB.

61
by Jon Sullivan (not verified) :: Sat, 11/26/2011 - 3:57pm

I think the Arizona game is a good example of how frustrating Crabtree has been - he's electric at times, but looks pretty average in other games. Given that most teams are probably game-planning for Vernon Davis as their top receiving threat, that's a tough thing to stomach.

As for Smith, it's tough to lay much blame at his feet this season. He's running a 62.4% completion rate (9th in the NFL) and a 15.7% DVOA (similar to Matt Ryan and Matt Stafford this season). He needs to be in a specific system to excel and this season's probably a right-tail outcome for him; nevertheless, he's been an efficient QB that hasn't made many mistakes. I'd agree that the 49ers shouldn't hesitate to upgrade in the future, but they should wait for a good opportunity to come along as Smith has turned into a competent QB the last season and a half.

34
by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 3:26pm

I see the same rhetoric about the Patriots regularly and, while it is true, it misses the point.

The poor drafting that created this situation actually occurred from 2006-2008. Those were the years when the prior generation was aging and an infusion of talent was required. From those years, only Gostkowski, Mayo, Slater and Guyton (UDFA) remain, which has left a void of 4-5 solid contributors who should be entering their prime.

Additionally, NE changed their defensive system for this season, placing additional stress on the roster. Prior to this year, NE's CBs were smaller, smurf guys known for agility. Other than Arrington, who is probably only second to McCourty in run support, all of those guys were purged from the roster. Wilhite and Butler are seeing minutes elsewhere, so they are clearly NFL caliber, they just didn't fit the new mold.

Back to the point about the GM, since 2009 things have improved dramatically. Yes, there have been a good deal of Tate, Butler, Brace type picks, but that is the cost of doing business when you select 13 rookies and bring in additional UDFAs. The object isn't to avoid misses, it is to acquire an adequate number of hits.

2009 - Chung, Vollmer, Pryor, Edelman, Brace

This isn't stellar, but getting two above average starters and very good interior rusher with health issues, an elite PR who also provides depth at WR and DB as well as one more guy still hanging around is actually no worse than average as far as drafts go. A "B" grade is probably accurate.

2010 - McCourty, Gronk, Hernandez, Mesko, Spikes, Deaderick, Cunningham, Price

This is unquestionable an "A" draft. Two elite starters and one more who was one as a rookie but is struggling as a sophomore, and an above average punter. Then add two more 2 down starters at ILB/DE and two guys who have shown flashes. Cunningham has been a non-factor in the 4-3, but he was about as good a rookie 3-4 strongside OLB as you could hope for.

2011 - Solder, Vereen, Ridley, Mallett, Dowling, Cannon

Clearly it is too early to judge, but both Vereen and Ridley have demonstrated physical ability. Solder is a starting quality OT as a rookie, Dowling was perhaps the best DB against Miami but is on IR. Most had Cannon in the early second before his diagnosis so he and Mallett are promising figures lurking.

As for UFAs and UDFAs, Waters, Carter, Anderson, Love, Arrington, Moore, Warren, Woodhead and Ninkovich are all acquisitions made since 2009 and are clearly NFL caliber.

Essentially, NE's first rebuild of their championship defenses failed miserably necessitating another that they are 2 years into. It is no surprise they've struggled, but it also shouldn't surprise anyone that they are improving as the year goes along.

39
by dryheat :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 5:10pm

Thank you. People (primarily New England fans for some reason) love to pile on Belichick's drafting and free agency misses while ignoring the hits. I think expectations are a little bit out of whack. How many jobs are expected to be available year to year on a 12+ win team? Between the draft and free agency, they have over 20 new guys in camp every year....is it really shocking that over 50% get let go? Plenty of folks pointed out that Merriweather and Gostkowski were the only draftees from their draft year to be on the team a year later. Nobody points out that besides Meriweather, their top pick was a fourth rounder, or that in spite of this every single one of their cut draftees was on the roster of another team at the time.

Sure, blast him for Chad Jackson, or Terrence Wheatley, or Albert Haynesworth (really? He wasn't worth a gamble for 1 million and a 5th round pick?). But let's give him credit for Andre Carter, Rob Ninkovich, Kyle Arrington, Stephen Neal, and Sebastian Vollmer too.

Nobody bats 1.000

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by Mr. Guest to you (not verified) :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 9:20pm

Nice post. However, I would like to add that Belichick didn't exactly do himself any favors by moving to this base 4-3 without much forethought. Because of that, Brace, Deaderick, Cunningham, and maybe even Spikes are at least semi-misplaced. Your observation about his DB's works, maybe. I'm not keen on the difference between 3-4 and 4-3 DB's. Is there one? Has this been McCorty's issue?

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by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Sat, 11/26/2011 - 11:37am

I don't agree that he didn't have much forethought about the switch, it seemed to be one born out of an entire offseason of contemplation. Not that you aren't correct that some players have been affected by the change (I'd add Mayo and Wilfork to your list). The fact that even the better guys on the team have had their struggles gives me hope that there is more talent on the defensive side of the roster than fans realize.

As for DBs, I'm not sure if it is a 4-3 thing or just a change regardless. The smurf DBs just haven't been much of an asset lately, getting hurt and being beaten by better, bigger receivers. There was also a change in scheme, going from mostly zone to more man which precipitate the early season coverage. One the team started working more zone in against Oakland, they've improved a great deal, with only one terrible game against Pitt.

On top of that, there was a 2005-esque search for a safety to play alongside Chung, and NE seems to have found a comfortable rotation (even in Pat's absence) that has solidified things as well.

All told, this defense isn't going to be a top 5 unit by the end of the year, but as long as NE's offense puts up more than 3 first half points like they did against NY last year, they will be good enough to win in the playoffs.

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by Alex K (not verified) :: Sat, 11/26/2011 - 1:00pm

It looks to me like general turmoil has been the culprit in the defensive backfield rather than a 4-3 switch. A DB has been hurt during the game in at least 4 of their games and missed some snaps (The Jets used the opportunity to go into the hurry up after injury, compounding the issue). I would like to agree wholeheartedly with your assertion that Wilfork has not been negatively affected, but Mayo has been injured much of this year so it is difficult to get a read on his comfort level.

The defensive line, though it cannot get a great pass rush, is still the deepest part of that unit and their personnel is actually better suited to the 4-3 other than Wilfork, who eats space either way. Brace, Love, Deaderick, Warren, and even Pryor in a couple games have all contributed well, as the 4-3 front is better suited to their size/ style. Love especially has played well, and is probably the lineman getting the most consistent pressure on the pocket, if not the quickest. When Mike Wright comes back next year and Cunningham has had a year to get used to the 4-3 (I know, I know, it looks unlikely) the front 4 should be even better.

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by Mr. Guest to you (not verified) :: Sat, 11/26/2011 - 7:30pm

I'm pretty sure he's saying that Wilfork is not as effective in the 4-3. Which I agree with, but it's not as if we should expect another down year from him in 2012. He was a great NT, but he also has the ability to be just as great at DT. He just needs time. Same with Mayo.

Agree with your comments about the 4-3. Belichick was once able to take advantage of market inefficiencies by trading for or drafting 3-4 personnel, but that advantage no longer exists because, it seems half the league now lines up in a 3-4. Now he would be better served by drafting college trained 4-3 players because of the abundance of them. Of course, picking the right one's is paramount.

The defense as presently constituted does support the 4-3 though, and not only that, we should assume that one of Brace, Love, Deaderick, or maybe even Wright, will emerge soon as a force, be it at DL or DE.

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by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Sat, 11/26/2011 - 9:02pm

Wright is done. If he takes another snap, I'll be blown away.

Pryor is someone who would be monster in this defense, but he's been hurt now in all three seasons. Not a great indicator of future good health.

You are right about my comment on Wilfork. He's been a terrific run defender, but up until the Jet game he wasn't getting much push against the pass. I'm not sure if his improvement is opponent related, but he's been better of late.

Love, Deaderick, Pryor and perhaps even Brace were why I didn't feel the need to draft a stud DT in the draft that most fans coveted. The first three of those look every bit as promising as most late first/early second round lineman taken in the past few years.

That said, if they stay in a 4-3 they absolutely need another DE to work into the rotation and another OLB. I suppose Cunningham (or even Markell Carter) could surprisingly emerge to take one of those spots, but relying on that seems like little more than wishful thinking. Even if he does, how much longer can Carter keep it up?

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by Mr. Guest to you (not verified) :: Sat, 11/26/2011 - 9:46pm

Regarding Wright; I think your comment is a little severe. He'll play again, but I do wonder about his ability to be a 3 down DE. He'll most likely stay a situational pass rusher, which is fine, but also not worth his 2012 contract. He'll be released and the decision to return will be on him.

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by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Sat, 11/26/2011 - 10:23pm

I'd bet $100 on it that he has taken his last snap. A concussion (not his first) takes over 7 months to recover from, then he gets another within his first 20 snaps back on the field. Then he and the team wait 6 weeks to let him try again and he has another setback after two practices.

I'm not pleased about it, but all signs point to Mike retiring.

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by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Sat, 11/26/2011 - 10:23pm

I'd bet $100 on it that he has taken his last snap. A concussion (not his first) takes over 7 months to recover from, then he gets another within his first 20 snaps back on the field. Then he and the team wait 6 weeks to let him try again and he has another setback after two practices.

I'm not pleased about it, but all signs point to Mike retiring.

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by Mr. Guest to you (not verified) :: Sun, 11/27/2011 - 10:05am

Does that mean you would bet $200? :)

Idk, I wish him the best.

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by Anonymous1 (not verified) :: Sun, 11/27/2011 - 1:01pm

No, just ethernet issues. ;-)

I wish him the best as well, I just think that the best for him is off the football field. Reading between the lines, BB and Mike himself agree.

36
by jebmak :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 4:03pm

"where each player is a cog in the greater New England Panzer —- forged from steel in the fires of Mount Doom by Belichick"

I lol'd. At work. Well done.

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by nat :: Fri, 11/25/2011 - 8:32pm

This is sort of like Godwin's Law on steroids turned up to eleven.

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by LionInAZ (not verified) :: Sat, 11/26/2011 - 6:56pm

Apparently, no one has noted that the Packers operate with the same "next man up" philosophy, except that they don't bother with free agents. Hence, the dumpings of Nick Barnett, Cullen Jenkins, and Al Harris. It's not apparent that their defense has gotten better as a result. Will their offense suffer likewise when they decide to dump Ryan Grant and Donald Driver for the Next Man Up?

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by TomC :: Sat, 11/26/2011 - 7:14pm

I enjoyed this feature very much (as always), so thanks to the charters and to FO for running it.

The bad part of me also thoroughly enjoyed watching certain Pats fans turn on each other, with the "your observations do not match mine; ergo, you are a useless waste of space" rhetorical strategy that the rest of us have grown to know and love.

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by PackerFanInOrono (not verified) :: Sun, 11/27/2011 - 12:45am

The next man up worked pretty well for the Packers last year, when they won it all with 15 guys on IR. It has worked on offense this year with Newhouse replacing Clifton (not a rookie, as he was listed on the MNF graphic a couple of weeks ago - that was embarrassing - 5th round pick in the 2010 draft).

GB will get much better and younger next year on offense - Grant replaced by Alex Green (D3 2011, on IR) and Brandon Saine (UDFA 2011) - Driver replaced in the slot by Randall Cobb and his roster spot replaced by Tori Gurley (UFDA 2011 on practice squad - do not be surprised if someone puts him on their roster before the end of the year). Clifton may be done as well at LT, and he will be replaced permanently, either by Newhouse or Derek Sherrod (D1 2011). As of next year, only John Kuhn on the entire offensive roster will have spent any time with another NFL organization (Grant was with the Giants).

They could probably spend their entire draft (probably 9-10 picks, all of their original picks plus 2-3 compensatory) on defense - given their depth across the board on offense. They will probably draft 2 OL, a RB and a QB prospect to replace Matt Flynn (Russell Wilson would be a good developmental backup QB).

My guess is 6-7 draft picks on D next year, with a need to find someone who can pressure the QB consistently.