Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

17 Jan 2006

TMQ: The Football Gods Go Mainstream

In the latest TMQ, Gregg Easterbrook sees the football gods get famous, the Redskins blitz too much, the Steelers outthink the Colts, and the Patriots completely collapse.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 17 Jan 2006

39 comments, Last at 19 Jan 2006, 5:50pm by Peter

Comments

1
by fyo (not verified) :: Tue, 01/17/2006 - 11:53pm

Patriots collapsed? What game did Easterbrook watch? The Jags showed what collapsing is against the Pats in the Wild Card round.

2
by roomservicetaco (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 12:10am

Re: Chaney and Levy hiring themselves, the same was the case with ML Carr when he was with the Celtics. Carr was appointed Dir of Basketball Ops before the 94-95 season, fired Chris Ford at the end of the 95 season. He then went on an extensive search, eventually settling on himself as head coach. Led them to 33-49 and 15-67 records.

"A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client"

3
by fyo (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 12:18am

Disregard #1. Turns out Easterbrook didn't say that the Patriots collapsed. He did note that they made numerous mistakes, but the only references to collapsing are with regards to the Colts. Aaron, whom one can usually depend on for a pro-Pats spin (although not NEARLY to the degree of Will Carroll in his latest Black and Blue Report - see link), must still be in shock after this weekend.

4
by Chris (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 1:47am

What about his comment that the Colts game plan was to establish Edgerrin James and the run? If that was the plan, it didn't survive contact with the first series. The Colts ran on 3 of the first 14 plays over their first 4 drives. Then, they went 96 yds on 15 plays, with 8 of those plays runs, including the first three. I normally like TMQ's commentary, but what game was he watching? This makes his other analysis seem less credible. I don't have TiVo (and as a Colts fan, I would pull out my own eyeballs before I would rewatch it) so I can't confirm his blitz analysis. Anyone think he was right about the blitz frequency?

5
by Kibbles (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 1:50am

Hey Greg Esterbrook... the two teams that blitzed the most in the NFL are playing this week in the AFC Championship game. In fact, the team that blitzed the most in the entire NFL this year just beat the team that blitzed the least in the entire NFL this year. Perhaps it's time to put that "stop me before I blitz again" schtick to bed.

A note: Denver has blitzed more than anyone except Pittsburgh... and they've BIG-blitzed more than anyone (frequently sending six, seven, eight, or even NINE defenders after the QB). Meanwhile, they've allowed the 4th lowest completion percentage, the 4th lowest QB rating, and the 6th lowest yards per attempt in the entire NFL. Again, let's put this tired old horse out to pasture.

6
by Observations From the Couch (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 2:10am

Are you certain The Steelers blitzed that often? I haven't seen enough of them to know, but I do know that rushing 3 linemen and a cornerback is not a "blitz" (nor are 2 linemen, a LB and a CB), as announcers call it. I suspect they called more exotic rushes than actual 5+ man blitzes.

7
by Grabthar (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 2:16am

Does anyone else find those Peyton Manning grocery store, D-CAF ads to be arrogant or condecending? When he acts all excited after getting the apron, I feel like I should apologize to him for all of his fans. Is that what we look like to you, Peyton? I'm sorry people idolize you. Must be rough.

8
by Kibbles (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 2:27am

Re #6: According to Stats Inc, which I'm assuming knows the difference between a blitz and a zone-blitz, the Steelers blitzed more times per game than any other team in the league (about 20 times per game, compared to 18 a game for Denver).

9
by David (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 3:01am

Easterbrook defines a blitz as a play in which five or more defenders attack the offensive line. Since Pittsburgh plays a 3-4 defense, it has to rush at least two DBs and/or linebackers before TMQ considers the play a blitz. Therefore, their plays that send a just one extra rusher don't qualify. It makes sense to me, especially since Easterbrook's argument is that the blitz takes too many players out of coverage. A "blitz" that leaves as many players in coverage as a standard 4-3 rush just doesn't mesh with that argument.

Also, am I the only one surprised that he didn't resurrect "You'll rue the day you didn't miss" for this column? It seemed obvious to me.

For people who weren't following TMQ two years ago, during Vanderjagt's record streak of made FGs, TMQ had a running item called "you'll rue the day you didn't miss," which exhorted Vanderjagt to miss a meaningless kick to end the streak before karma ended it for him by making him honk a crucial attempt in a big game. True to the prediction, he ended the streak by missing that game-tier against the Pats in the 2004 season opener.

10
by Tom (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 3:14am

Re #9
And don't forget he also lost the Pro Bowl for the AFC that year in a similar sort of situation.

11
by tunesmith (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 3:32am

I mentioned this elsewhere, but just throwing it out there again to keep bending people's brains until they accept it:

Number of times NE started a drive inside their 20: 6
Number of times DEN started a drive inside their 20: 0

Field position matters. Maybe NE imploded because Denver kept putting them in desperate situations.

And none of those times that NE started deep in their own end were because of bad calls or NE turnovers.

12
by tunesmith (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 3:39am

By the way, average starting field position for drives that started for reasons other than turnovers:

DEN: 31
NE: 18

(Average starting field position for all drives:

DEN: 45
NE: 17
)

13
by Kibbles (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 8:19am

Re #9: TMQ had a running item called “you’ll rue the day you didn’t miss,� which exhorted Vanderjagt to miss a meaningless kick to end the streak before karma ended it for him by making him honk a crucial attempt in a big game. True to the prediction, he ended the streak by missing that game-tier against the Pats in the 2004 season opener.

That was my favorite TMQ prediction. It looked like it was a bold prediction, but it was really blatantly obvious. Basically, he was saying "Vanderjagt, either miss a meaningless kick, or you're going to wind up missing a meaningful one". If the first kick Vanderjagt missed was a meaningless one, TMQ could congratulate Vandy for not tempting fate... and if the first kick Vandy missed WASN'T a meaningless one, TMQ could pat himself on the back and point out how he predicted it.

Really, it was a no-lose prediction. Really bold. Like saying that in every season Denver has beaten Pitt in the playoffs, Denver has advanced to the superbowl... and then "predicting" that that streak will continue this year.

14
by Scott de B. (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 11:32am

Field position matters. Maybe NE imploded because Denver kept putting them in desperate situations.

Yes, field position matters, and that is one reason the Patriots took a while to get going. But that isn't why the Patriots turned the ball over. I don't think you can link any of the turnovers to poor field position.

15
by Bowman (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 11:47am

14.

The Patriots got unlucky recovering fumbles, much like they were lucky the week before. That doesn't explain Brady's INTs, but the Patriots recovered 3 of 6 non-aborted snaps over their 2 playoff games.

The Patriots fumbling was not a new situation in these Playoffs, as they did muff a punt and fumble on Offense the week before - it just ended up not mattering.

16
by MJK (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 12:07pm

Of the 5 Pats turnovers:

#1 - Faulk's fumble. Faulk has a known problem protecting the ball. He picked a bad game for it, but it was him--nothing to do with field position. Then, bad luck not recovering it.

#2 - Ellis Hobbs' Fumble. This might have had to do with field position, in the sense that Hobbs was desparate to improve it after a series of unfortunate events. The Pats had just surrendered a TD after an unfortunate fumble and a blatantly horrible PI call in a close game and had less than 2 miutes to answer. Hobbs was fighting for a "big play" rather than protecting the ball, and that contributed to the punter of all people knocking the ball out.

#3 - Brady's interception. Horrible protection, horrible decision, horrible throw, excellent blitz, excellent play by Champ Bailey. This had nothing to do with field position--just good play by the Broncos and bad play by the Patriots.

#4 Troy Brown's fumble - Not really his fault. The Pats had no one deep in order to rush and try to block the punt, again because of desparation. Brown had to frantically backpeadal to get under the punt and tried to catch it while running backwards. Also, someone brought up in one of the threads that there may have been illegal interference with the fair catch that went uncalled... but I won't get into that. Basically, desparation caused this one.

5 - Late in the game, the Pats down by a lot, Brady hurls it deep and up for grabs on a high down number, hoping for PI. This worked once during the regular season. This turnover doesn't really count, since the game was all but decided, but again, desparation.

So of the five, one (the most critical) was exceptional play by the Broncos, and one was just bad luck and a fumble-prone back. The other three were caused in some measure by desparation on the Pats part, which may have been influenced by the field posiiton battle...

17
by MJK (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 12:09pm

I've noticed that sometimes teams will have a kind of a "delayed blitz option" (I don't know the technically correct term) where a LB will be assigned to cover a RB or a TE, but if the RB or TE stays back to protect, the LB will then bring the blitz after all the blockers have committed, but will not if the RB/TE runs out as a reciever. Is this considered a blitz?

18
by ToxikFetus (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 12:14pm

Re 16:

The fumble by Troy Brown may have been an act of desperation, but it was still the fault of the coaching staff for not having someone back to catch the punt. Either that or Troy Brown crapped the bed in his assignment.

19
by rb75 (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 12:46pm

Am I the only one who noticed that New England made the playoffs only because they won the AFC East, possibly the single weakest non-NFC West Conference in the NFL? They had no business making the playoffs, but the Jags weren't good enough to expose them in Foxboro, whereas the Broncos were good enough to expose them in Denver.

#13: You should remind TMQ about his Vanderjerk prediction

20
by azibuck (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 1:05pm

I agree with the person that noted his being factually incorrect on some things might cause doubt of his other analysis. Like "Bettis fumbled because he was struggling for an extra yard."
No he wasn't, that's not at all what happened.
"But replay showed the (Champ Bailey) fumble rolling into the end zone."
Wha..? This one's just crazy. The ball flew out of bounds by several yards. And replays didn't show anything conclusive in my universe. Perhaps my lack of having HD makes flying balls out of bounds look like rolling balls through the end zone.

And yeah, enough with the blitz. Ignore the consecutive blitz sacks on 3rd and 4th down preceding the Bettis fumble. Ignore the overall effect of completion percentage because of the blitz (see Denver v. Brady). Sometimes an incompletion is a really effective play. Instead, cherry pick examples where it didn't work.

21
by Dan Riley (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 1:44pm

#19 has an interesting suggestion...eliminate the winner of the weakest division from the playoffs. Brilliant.

22
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 1:52pm

Wha..? This one’s just crazy. The ball flew out of bounds by several yards. And replays didn’t show anything conclusive in my universe.

The blimp angle was pretty conclusive, actually. What's frustrating here is that if you take two of the angles *together*, it's conclusive, but any one angle isn't conclusive enough. It's the whole "three dimensions" thing. (A pure top-down view would've been conclusive, though, because the height doesn't matter - which is why the blimp view was pretty good).

I'm waiting for someone to take the 4 camera angles shown, throw them into a 3D reconstruction, and say "yah, here was the ball." There's enough information in the tapes to do it fairly easily.

23
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 1:58pm

whereas the Broncos were good enough to expose them in Denver.

Uh, while the Broncos did play well, a good part of New England's failure was luck. There were 3 New England fumbles in the game, and 1 Denver fumble, and New England recovered none of them. While the Broncos deserve credit for causing the fumble, it is bad luck for New England that none of the balls happened to bounce back toward the fumbling player (and that the Champ Bailey fumble went up so high at the angle that it did).

Not saying the Broncos shouldn't've won - but a few different bounces of the ball, which the Broncos really can't control - and New England's facing Pittsburgh.

And I'm not really sure where you're going with this, anyway. The Giants won the NFC East - one of the strongest divisions in the league - and yet they got demolished in the opening round. The strength of your division doesn't determine your own strength.

24
by FizzMan (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 1:58pm

Re #7:
I have to disagree on the Manning commercial. If anything, I think it shows a healthy ability to laugh at himself. It's perhaps also poking fun at us fans for taking ourselves (and our sports heroes) too seriously.

25
by cjfarls (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 1:59pm

I'll chirp in with what many of us have said... blitzes can work if they come at unexpected times, or in an unexpected direction. Denver and Pittsburg both do a good job of bringing lots of different players (no one on the Broncos had more than 4 sacks, Pitts' 3-4 allows lots of flexibility).

I think having a good base rush is also critical, because it gives you the option of NOT blitzing... If the offense knows you have to blitz to get pressure, they can scheme to exploit it (e.g. Denver's DEF last year). If you can get good base pressure, only then will bringing the 5th man overwhelm the O-line and work.

That being said, blitzing is high-risk-high-reward... and if you don't have the 2 points above, the risk is likely to outweigh the reward overall. And the Donkeys do give up occassional big pass plays. Not that complex, and it definitely explains the success (and occasional failures) of Pitt and Denver.

26
by EJP (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 2:59pm

Re: #24 - I agree 100%, and that is why it is funny! #7, do you really think Peyton is trying to mock people? Come on. That is the most ridiculous comment I've seen in a long, long time.

Of course, this is from a guy who still laughs every time I see the Nextel commercial with the office guys dancing to Salt N' Pepper.

27
by EJP (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 3:01pm

Oh, and I too am sick and tired of TMQ's blitz analyses. It's just plain awful and tedious.

Ooh, baby baby! Ba-baby baby!

28
by Judy B. (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 3:17pm

#19- If the Pats are the team that "had no business making the playoffs", then what does that make the Jags, the team that "wasn't good enough to expose them"?

29
by pcs (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 4:16pm

I'm going to start a Thread for Irrational Manning-for-Mastercard-vs.-Brady-for-Visa Arguments. Now, Jake Plummer for Discover? That'd be the long bomb.

#20/#22: reasonable people can disagree on whether the ball went out in front of the pylon or behind it, but I think we can all agree that TMQ is wrong when he says: "it sure looked like the ball rolled into the end zone and out of bounds." Wherever the ball went out, it did so in midair, not rolling. I read TMQ because he usually points out at least one thing I didn't see -- but this is something I didn't see because it didn't happen. Similarly, in his hee-hee-cheerleaders-have-boobies shtick, he says that the Broncos cheer squad came out wearing too many clothes and thus Denver "immediately fell behind." Game time before Denver actually fell behind: 26 minutes, 8 seconds.

To say something in TMQ's favor, I agree with his assessment of Dungy: Good man, good role model, good regular season coach, bad playoff coach.

30
by HLF (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 4:52pm

I am shocked -- just SHOCKED -- to read all these comments above from folks who can't stand GE but felt under an obligation to read him this week and tell us all what "schticks" they find "tired". Who'd have guessed it?? And here, at FO even??

I like my writers to write just for ME, and to be endlessly creative, always infailable, and most importantly to never lose sight of who they write for -- ME!

Hopeless Lions Fan,
Seattle

31
by Mshray (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 5:15pm

Thank you cjfarls.

It seems that many of the people getting on TMQ's case aren't reading him very carefully. His main point is, and always has been going back to his Slate days, that blitzing in obvious blitzing situations is less likely to succeed than playing one's base defense. He has never said blitzing is always wrong. In fact he often spotlights when teams get good results from blitzing creatively because this further supports his theory, which is hardly revolutionary. He maintains the same basic criticism for play-faking in obvious passing situations or when one's rushing offense isn't scaring anyone. If you find TMQ's commentary to be repetitive, well it is, because he puts it in every column by design. But some of the folks complaining about being tired of it seem to have gotten tired of it without completely understanding it.

I always think TMQ doesn't do enough of the detailed analysis in the regular season, and many of his readers question his actual knowledge of games. But compare his analysis of these four games to that of anyone else on a mainstream football site. I think it's pretty good stuff.

32
by DGL (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 5:57pm

HLF - The phrase is "to never lose sight of who they write for — me, Al Franken."

33
by Björn (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 6:54pm

I did enjoy how Easterbrook seemed to imply that Denver's blitzing didn't work because they got no sacks, even though Brady spent most of the game on his keester.

"But replay showed the fumble rolling into the end zone."

The ball didn't even hit the ground until it was 10 feet out of bounds, and replay didn't show anything conclusively. I really do wonder where TMQ gets off writing a phrase like this.

Also, to all the TMQ hater haters, when you work in an office, you sometimes have nothing else to do but read lousy football articles. And TMQ is nice and time consuming.

34
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 6:59pm

His main point is, and always has been going back to his Slate days, that blitzing in obvious blitzing situations is less likely to succeed than playing one’s base defense.

Exactly - and the reason is fairly obvious. Because if you know a blitz is coming, and adjust to pick it up, there's now a big hole in your opponent's defense.

So, stated more obviously, "blitzes suck when they fail, and they tend to fail when they're expected." This should be fairly obvious.

I also agree with TMQ that it's amazing how poorly blitzes are identified by announcers. The Steelers/Colts game looked so similar to last year's Pats/Colts game that I was getting flashbacks. "Oh, look, all 7 guys are crowding the line... and there most of them go, back into coverage, and look, there's Peyton Manning, throwing the ball away because his line couldn't handle a three man rush since they were trying to block air instead of people... where have I seen this before...?"

I also thought it was brilliant of the Steelers to actually start blitzing in the second half, because I was positive that the Colts would adjust at halftime. Now I'm not really so sure, since it certainly didn't look like they did.

35
by JeffS (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 9:00pm

Not that it isn't topic worthy, but the Pats-Denver game is history. Nothing worse than the losing side talking about a lot of "what ifs" and "a few bounces the other way". Besides, isn't this how New England won many of their games the past few years? Close games, a few breaks, a couple of good plays, etc... It's not exactly like the Pats kept trouncing teams left and right. So, when they lose that way it just needs to be left at that - they didn't make the plays, they didn't get the bounces, and they lost. Done.

Steelers-Broncos should be a good game - two worthy opponents for a title game that earned the right to be in it. I, for one, look forward to the game.

36
by HLF (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 9:04pm

#33,

No offense, but you're criticizing how someone does their job using the rationale that you are at work and bored, and it kills time. So, TMQ/GE should put the diligence into his job that you put into yours (presumably?)?

What a pretty shade your kettle is.

37
by Björn (not verified) :: Wed, 01/18/2006 - 10:22pm

Hopeless Lions Fan;

Please refrain from commenting on my work habits, of which you have no hope of being properly informed.

On another note, I do appreciate the irony of the Broncos-Pats game. Denver was the last team to try for a super bowl threepeat, and they are the team to end New England's chances of the trifecta.

38
by Stevie (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 12:19am

Bjorn Im with you consuming my time reading any half interesting articles from around the web and amidst the banality I look forward to TMQ

39
by Peter (not verified) :: Thu, 01/19/2006 - 5:50pm

In this weeks Reader Animadversion TMQ writes that the Rose Bowl can be downloaded from ITunes, but I can't seem to find it. Any tips, if someone has seen it there?