Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

26 Aug 2014

FOA 2014 MEDIA: SB Nation (NEW: JAC, SD)

It's time for our annual SB Nation tour where each of the 32 SB Nation blogs gets a chance to ask us about their team's forecast in Football Outsiders Almanac. This year, they'll be running somewhat spread out, not all on the same day, but we'll keep a running set of links here and you can discuss all the interviews below.

August 5
Pittsburgh Steelers (Scott Kacsmar)

August 6
Indianapolis Colts (Rivers McCown)
Minnesota Vikings (Mike Tanier)

August 7
Dallas Cowboys (Scott Kacsmar)

August 8
Cleveland Browns (Robert Weintraub): Part I and Part II

August 11
Atlanta Falcons (Vince Verhei)
Philadelphia Eagles (Scott Kacsmar)
St. Louis Rams (Aaron Schatz)

August 12
New Orleans Saints (Vince Verhei)
Baltimore Ravens (Scott Kacsmar)

August 13
Denver Broncos (Tom Gower)
Green Bay Packers (Mike Tanier)
Seattle Seahawks (Scott Kacsmar)
Kansas City Chiefs (Scott Kacsmar): Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV

August 15
Miami Dolphins (Scott Kacsmar): Part I, Part II

August 16
Buffalo Bills (Aaron Schatz)

August 18
New York Giants (Scott Kacsmar)

August 19
San Francisco 49ers (Aaron Schatz)
New York Jets (Vince Verhei/Aaron Schatz)

August 20
Carolina Panthers (Vince Verhei)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Vince Verhei)

August 23
Arizona Cardinals (Aaron Schatz)
Jacksonville Jaguars (Rivers McCown)

August 26
San Diego Chargers (Aaron Schatz)

That's the last one!

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 26 Aug 2014

35 comments, Last at 26 Aug 2014, 10:15pm by Scott Kacsmar

Comments

1
by PaddyPat :: Tue, 08/05/2014 - 10:41pm

I was nodding right along with this piece, thinking another good piece of analysis until you got to the bit where you say that you've never been a believer in Marvin Lewis as a head coach...

In the decade previous to Marvin Lewis becoming coach of Cincinnati, the Bengals averaged worse than -20 DVOA per year with a gouge-your-eyes-out nadir of back-to-back season at worse than -32. Marvin Lewis came to town and had the Bengals at 13.2 in year 2, almost double the highest single-season DVOA that the team had enjoyed in the previous 10 years. In 11 years at the helm, he presided over only 1 truly bad season, 2008, and gone to the playoffs 5 times with multiple 8-8 seasons. The Bengals have sometimes under-performed their DVOA, but they have virtually never embarrassed under Lewis.

Bear in mind that Cincinnati has long been a laughingstock franchise with an embarrassing scouting department and a cheap ownership that accepted the horrific product status-quo and refused to become professional. It was a franchise comparable to Detroit or Arizona. Laboring at a job that no one wanted (when he was hired, it was widely hinted that he could only get the Cincinnati position because no one else would hire him, ostensibly because he was black) Lewis has not only fielded a consistently competitive squad, but made huge strides in reforming the front office and the professionalism of the entire franchise. The Bengals now field a deep roster with significant talent and have a coaching staff so widely respected that both coordinators earned head-coaching jobs after last season, a season in which many picked the team to be Super Bowl contenders.

So why the hate?

I can understand someone indicating that they've never really believed in, oh I don't know, Mike Tomlin... After one good year as a coordinator in Minnesota, Tomlin scored the plush job of Pittsburgh head coach, a position that enjoys one of the steadiest ownership and front office support networks of any franchise in the league. Moreover, he held together much of a coaching staff that had just won a Super Bowl and consistently excelled under Bill Cowher. He also inherited an excellent franchise quarterback and a very talented squad. He's done well in the role, but he's had so much support!

I guess my point is, what's the foundation for your long-held incredulity over Marvin Lewis' competency as a head coach? The flip statement in your article seems ridiculous to me.

2
by jonnyblazin :: Wed, 08/06/2014 - 1:30am

I'm very impressed with Marvin Lewis's ability to manage and develop players who other teams wouldn't touch due to character concerns. Nobody touched Burfict in the draft and he's turned into an excellent LB, and for all his escapades Pacman Jones has settled into the nickel role and can reliably return punts.

28
by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 8:12am

I'm not sure how much credit to give him for Pacman, who was an excellent corner and punt returner long before he came to Cincy. But I see your point about managing players with character concerns.

29
by RickD :: Fri, 08/15/2014 - 12:35pm

Lewis doesn't get credit for Pacman's skill as a CB, he gets credit for keeping him out of prison.

Based on how he started with Tennessee and Dallas, I thought he'd be out of the NFL long ago.

3
by Waverly :: Wed, 08/06/2014 - 8:18am

Maybe he's just adjusting the message for the local audience.

4
by Daniel2772 :: Wed, 08/06/2014 - 11:26am

Maybe the fact that after 11 years he is basically a .500 coach with no playoff wins. I don't think he is terrible, but I think he has gotten a pass in Cincinnati for being a mediocre performer. I don't understand why all the negative traits associated with the Bengals fall on ownership or a few players, and not on the head coach. Not only is he immune from criticism, he gets the lions share of the credit for the few successes the Bengals have enjoyed. Yes Mike Tomlin inherited a good team with a franchise QB, but Marvin Lewis had Carson Palmer long before Andy Dalton. And I would point out that the front office has done a decent job of drafting players for over a decade, and almost all of those players have been signed and in camp on time. Lewis has had some really talented teams that have basically won nothing. Why does he get a pass?

5
by coboney :: Wed, 08/06/2014 - 11:57am

Daniel - part of it is the coaches for the bengals do a lot of the scouting as well. My understanding of the situation is that more or less Lewis has slowly gotten more power from Mike Brown and functioned more and more as Coach/GM working in a tougher spot than most.

6
by Daniel2772 :: Wed, 08/06/2014 - 1:11pm

The result is still 8.5 wins per season. What do you see that indicates it will be substantially better over the next 3-4 years? I believe it was Bill Parcells who famously said, "You are what your record says you are." After 11 years Marvin Lewis is what he is, a middle of the road coach. Even if the Bengals have a "great year," it is more of an outlier than the rule.

7
by tuluse :: Wed, 08/06/2014 - 1:33pm

"I don't understand why all the negative traits associated with the Bengals fall on ownership or a few players, and not on the head coach"

Probably because this is a team where the owner's brother was serving as GM despite no qualifications so they could keep a few bucks in the family.

8
by PaddyPat :: Wed, 08/06/2014 - 2:14pm

My sense is that only after Lewis' most recent stare-down with ownership, which I believe happened after the last season when he was supposed to be fired, around 2010, did he achieve the kind of scouting and draft improvements that he felt were necessary for him to have a legitimate shot with the team. That was more or less the gist of the articles at the time. In other words, for almost a decade he coached a team that was so hamstrung by ownership that he himself didn't feel it was realistic to try and keep the club competitive. I think one has to look at his body of work over the past 3 years and say, well dang, building from 9-7 into consistent slightly above mediocre play is an incredible change of pace for this moribund franchise, now let's see what he can do for the next few years.

9
by Scott Kacsmar :: Wed, 08/06/2014 - 4:11pm

Marvin Lewis is a great coach...if you're satisfied with mediocrity.

He's a poor man's version of Jeff Fisher and Jim Mora -- defensive-minded coaches with a lot of average seasons and little-to-no playoff success. At least Fisher twice had the best record in the league and did reach a Super Bowl. Even if you don't want to credit him for the Music City Miracle, then he got to the AFC-C in 2002.

The Bengals were bad? Mora took over a worse situation in New Orleans, and he made his mark with a great defense (Dome Patrol) and won with an undrafted quarterback (Bobby Hebert). Lewis' first draft pick was Carson Palmer No. 1 overall, and Dalton was a high second-round pick. At least Mora had some late leads in playoff games. Lewis hasn't led past the 6:00 mark of the third quarter, and the Bengals haven't scored more than 17 points in any playoff game (0-5).

There was a time before Lewis when the Bengals were winning 7-8 games with Jeff Blake and Carl Pickens. Lewis had better talent with Palmer, Chad and Housh, but still kept winning 7-8 games outside of that 2005 season.

Lewis was supposed to turn around the defense, but they weren't good on that side of the ball for years. He tried to win with offense and has nothing to show for it but one year and Palmer's torn ACL as a fair excuse. The shift towards a good defensive team started after Mike Zimmer arrived, and I believe Zimmer had a huge impact on the past few years.

Lewis hasn't turned around a huge amount of the talent accumulated in the draft. Johnathan Joseph didn't matter until he went to Houston with Wade Phillips. Chris Perry was a major bust. Drafting some troubled characters did not always pay off (Chris Henry, Odell Thurman and Frostee Rucker). We're still waiting for Dre Kirkpatrick to do something.

Isn't Lewis known as one of the worst coaches when it comes to challenges? He's had 27 overturned, 39 upheld. Maybe someone can check PFR for comparisons. That's part of game-day coaching.

Eleven years in one place, and still nothing better than an 11-5 record, and 0-3 at home in the playoffs. What am I supposed to be impressed with here?

EDIT - Btw, challenge records should be better now since they took a lot of the difficult plays (turnovers and scores) out of the coach's control. Lewis had his best year ever last year, winning 7/9 challenges. He was 1/11 in 2007.

10
by PaddyPat :: Wed, 08/06/2014 - 4:41pm

First, I have yet to see any data suggesting there is a meaningful correlation between challenge success and winning. I mean, it makes sense that there would be, but clock management and short-yardage offense also should be important, and yet we see coaches fouling those things up year in and year out and still consistently posting winning records.

Admittedly, I was but a child when Mora took over the Saints, but he did so consistent with a change in ownership, which presumably meant a front office change as well. That makes a huge difference.

I think the big point of contention here is one of context. I am suggesting that a team that averaged -20 DVOA for a decade, with 6 seasons out of 10 at worse than -25 is not a blank slate, malleable to a new coach, especially not when ownership and the front office played such a huge role in that sustained failure. Lewis has averaged 3.03 DVOA during his tenure as head coach. Of course that's mediocre, but I think it's a very respectable performance in an intolerable position, and I would be willing to wager that most coaches would have performed far worse.

It also seems to me that there's a certain difference of opinion here over what makes a reasonable NFL coach. For example, I would say that Marty Schottenheimer was a good coach. His teams consistently competed and performed well, irrespective of a terrible playoff legacy. I think Jeff Fischer was pretty decent in Tennessee. Was he a grand coach? Well no, but did I believe that he could get to the playoffs a third of the time or more, and keep his team competitive in the off years, well of course. I guess Schwartz taking Detroit to the playoffs wasn't impressive either? What does it take for you to believe in a coach?

12
by Daniel2772 :: Wed, 08/06/2014 - 11:49pm

"I would be willing to wager that most coaches would have performed far worse."

I don't think you could be any more wrong about this. Great teams/franchises are great because they understand what success really is and they do whatever it takes to be successful. I think if you switched the coaching staffs of the Bengals with the Ravens or Steelers and played the teams against each other, Marvin Lewis' team would lose those games. You want a coach that can, to quote Bum Phillips, "take his'n and beat your'n and take your'n and beat his'n."

Earlier in the off-season Mike Tomlin made the statement that he thought his job is on the line after two 8-8 seasons in a row. You are praising Marvin Lewis for being 8-8 his whole career. If Bengal fans are satisfied with 8-8, then why would the team ever think to do anything differently?

13
by mehllageman56 :: Thu, 08/07/2014 - 8:39am

Not with that front office they wouldn't. The success of a franchise starts with the owner. Why do you think stable franchises like the Steelers (who rarely fire coaches), the Ravens and the Pats keep winning?

Marvin Lewis isn't a great coach and has some things to work on. But this idea that you keep firing or recycling coaching staffs until you find the right guy who wins every year doesn't seem to work in Washington, Dallas or Cleveland.

16
by tuluse :: Thu, 08/07/2014 - 11:11pm

I'm not sure you know what "most coaches". Pretty much, most coaches are bad because good coaches don't get replaced. So there are a lot more bad coaches (or at least unsuccessful coaches) getting shuffled in and out the NFL each year.

15
by Scott Kacsmar :: Thu, 08/07/2014 - 5:51pm

I'm merely suggesting challenges are something we have to judge coaches on. I wouldn't imagine a great correlation to winning, but it's part of game management.

I think Schottenheimer was a very good coach with horrible luck in the playoffs. I'll believe in a coach with consistent success, especially if he makes his mark on a team, even in some cases if it's just one side of the ball. Payton and McCarthy do that for their offenses. Belichick has created a team that's plug-and-play at every position under his guidance. I like the Harbaugh brothers a lot. I've been souring on Tomlin, and that would be even more evident if you were to read the first draft of my FOA chapter. I think Rex Ryan should be a DC and not a head coach.

Marvin Lewis is a defensive guy, but I think Zimmer is the one who put his stamp on the recent success.

I'd like to do more research on this, but Lewis probably has had a slightly above-average career given today's coaching tenures (or maybe Cleveland & Oakland are just killing the averages). But in 11 years, the Bengals are average at best and I'm really surprised he survived that 2010 season. Imagine if the Bengals fired Lewis, hired Harbaugh and drafted Kaepernick in 2011. Instead it's San Francisco in three straight NFC-C games.

17
by PaddyPat :: Fri, 08/08/2014 - 7:02pm

Slightly above average is a compromise I would be happy to shake on. I just think that Lewis has had a tough job in Cincinnati. I agree about most of the other coaches you listed. I also think Pete Carroll has done a commendable job, excepting the supplement scandals. Andy Reid is also a pretty good coach with some clear and consistent flaws, and one could say something of the same for Coughlin. I wonder if there's any way to really look at Coughlin longitudinally throughout his career, because fast starts and terrible finishes were often a feature of Jacksonville teams, much as they have been in New York, although the New York trend has often been explained away by scheduling. I think Marvin Lewis is probably a bit better than Norv Turner, but weaker than all of those listed above, which puts him somewhere around 10th to 11th best coach in the league? Better than average but not by much.

Thanks for all the back and forth, and keep on bringing the content! It makes the offseason bearable!

18
by PaddyPat :: Fri, 08/08/2014 - 7:02pm

btw, is there anywhere on the Internet where replay challenge statistics are tabulated? I can't find them.

19
by mehllageman56 :: Fri, 08/08/2014 - 9:10pm

Scott, I'm not sure if I agree with all of your judgements on current coaches (If Belichick's team is plug and play, why have his defenses been so substandard lately?), but I am most interested in why you believe Ryan should just be a DC. If its within the 2014 FOA, I'll find it there (I haven't bought it yet). That said, all of your coaching examples have franchise quarterbacks. You can argue about the Harbaughs' quarterbacks, but none of them have had anything like the poor QB play Ryan has dealt with.

Replacing Lewis with Harbaugh would have been an upgrade, but I'm not sure he goes to the Bengals for all the reasons posters have mentioned: bad history, bad front office, etc. I'm also not sure Kaepernick ends up working out well in Cincinnati, since he would have started from day one.

I agree with you about Zimmer, and I think he's a major reason the Vikings are a team to watch right now.

20
by PaddyPat :: Fri, 08/08/2014 - 9:22pm

For one thing, at least, Ryan certainly behaves like a defensive coordinator. All of his bravado, the swagger and braggadacio he encourages in his players, seems a lot more like defensive culture than offensive. Over the years, one gets the sense that he exercises relatively little control over the offense. That said, one might have leveled a similar criticism (for different reasons) at Bill Belichick in the mid-90s.

21
by mehllageman56 :: Fri, 08/08/2014 - 9:52pm

I'm not sure if he doesn't wield too much control over the offense; wanting to ground and pound, ball control, etc. I'm not sure if Belichick had the same issues in the mid-90s, or if the situation in Cleveland sabotaged him. They both were negatively effected by the fanbase and city they coached in; the Dawg Pound never saw Belichick as one of them, and turned on him every chance they could. In New York, it's the media, not the fanbase, but it is still a problem. If you put one of the Harbaughs in New York, they would have some of the same issues. My fear is that the Jets will can Ryan, and he'll find real success down the line.

22
by PaddyPat :: Sat, 08/09/2014 - 1:39am

What do you think about how Coughlin handles the same media? Or is there an appreciable difference in the way the media approaches the Jets vs. the Giants?

23
by mehllageman56 :: Sat, 08/09/2014 - 3:34am

There totally is. New York media slants towards the Giants, because they were there first, and have a more successful past. This has been true since before Parcells or Lawrence Taylor got to New York. That's probably part of the reason the Jets play the media the way they do; they're fighting for inches on the back page, partially because they're always considered the second fiddle, even when they are better than the Giants. The thing is, I'm not sure how much any of the media relations actually matter in terms of helping or hurting the team's play, only ticket sales.

Coughlin does play the media better than Ryan, in that he's like Belichick and will give them nothing. He also has more teflon from the two Super Bowl victories. But those same media people helped destroy Mangini, who took the Belichick approach. The way to survive New York is to win, and to be honest, Ryan hasn't had the quarterback to win it all the entire time he's been in New York. Even the Harbaughs have had much better quarterback play. Still, Ryan has only had one losing season the entire time he's been there, so firing him if they have a rough year may be a pretty foolish decision.

24
by PaddyPat :: Sat, 08/09/2014 - 11:35pm

Is there anything to the notion that the two teams have significantly different fan bases in the New York area? I always get the sense of the Giants as being more of a Manhattan yuppy crowd, more monied, while the Jets are more Jersey and soccer mom culture, but, admittedly, that might have a lot to do with how the media plays it...

26
by mehllageman56 :: Sun, 08/10/2014 - 11:38am

Actually, and I hate to say this as a Jets fan, the Jets fans have traditionally been much more boorish and outspoken than the Giants fans. I remember fans booing Ken O'Brien when he was injured on the field (not a majority, but still), and there was a 1988 Monday Night debacle where the Bills blew out the Jets so badly the fans started fights with each other so they wouldn't suffer any boredom. At one point the teams just stopped playing and watched the insanity.

33
by theslothook :: Wed, 08/20/2014 - 5:14pm

A similar facsimile could be made about the bay area teams - though oakland has been such a decayed mass for so long that they are more or less irrelevant when it comes to the national scene. From a fan perspective, oakland raiders appear to more blue collar people while 49er fans are more of the yuppy crowd - though location definitely plays into it.

11
by Jerry :: Wed, 08/06/2014 - 9:33pm

Jim Mora did win a couple of USFL championships.

30
by whateverdude :: Sat, 08/16/2014 - 4:27am

Mora was a good coach. I've never understood the attitude that anything less than a Super Bowl win is not a memorable accomplishment. He took a couple of laughingstock franchises and made them respectable. That alone elevates him above probably 90% of the coaches in NFL history.

14
by theslothook :: Thu, 08/07/2014 - 3:12pm

My problem with judging coaches is...unless they have multiple sbs, everyone looks worse as time goes on. Think of what Shanny's legacy is right now. Or Reid's, or Homlgren, or Seifert...

IF you ever read some of Dr.Z's old coach of the year winners, its amazing how many of them ended up fired.

I submit, we have really NO Criteria on judging coaches beyond little things like replays, coaching challenges, and aggressiveness.

27
by RickD :: Thu, 08/14/2014 - 12:54am

I wouldn't be too hard on Shanahan. The game moved on and the newer coaches were better at beating him. That's evolution in process. It's why Landry and Shula were no longer winning playoff games in their last few years. The same goes for Reid and Holmgren.

As for Seifert, he didn't really prove that he could do anything other than win with Bill Walsh's team, just as Barry Switzer won with Jimmy Johnson's team (and, to be honest, Jon Gruden won with Tony Dungy's team and the Bill Callahan's idiocy.)

As for the "challenges won" thing - coaches challenge for different reasons. Some coaches throw the flag whenever they see a play that they think is wrongly called. Others save it for key situations, regardless of their likelihood of winning. Belichick would rather save the flag for a key situation, even if he has a 33% chance of winning that challenge, than use it to correct the spot of a ball with a much higher chance of winning the challenge, when they're likely to get a 1st down anyway.

25
by JoeyHarringtonReigns :: Sun, 08/10/2014 - 8:35am

Rivers McCown has been getting ripped apart for his pieces on Indy (q&a) and Washington. Mostly trolls making fun of his name on Colts site. I'm just glad he didn't write the Lions chapter; as I didn't have any extra percocet to numb me from another painfully uninspiring experience.

31
by mehllageman56 :: Wed, 08/20/2014 - 2:08am

I think Vince and Aaron overlooked Trevor Reilly in the Jets Q and A, about possible steals in the later rounds. Reilly was projected to have 18.2 sacks through year 5, with a rating of 55.7%. Of course, that rating reflected him being drafted in the 3rd round, not the 7th round.

32
by jklps :: Wed, 08/20/2014 - 1:54pm

No Washington interview?

34
by LionInAZ :: Tue, 08/26/2014 - 7:36pm

"That's the last one!" ? I only count 24 teams on the list.

35
by Scott Kacsmar :: Tue, 08/26/2014 - 10:15pm

Not every team participated. We answered all the ones that did. There should be a few more parts coming to the Giants.