Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

06 Feb 2006

Quick Reads: Super Bowl XL

Learn just how much Tom Rouen sucks. Plus my feelings on the officiating, edited for the general public. If Pittsburgh fans want to continue to take issue with that in this thread, that's fine, but don't expect a response. I'm sick of trying to convince people that I'm not a Seahawks fan.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 06 Feb 2006

86 comments, Last at 09 Feb 2006, 3:35am by Cody

Comments

1
by B (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 5:20pm

At least nobody's accusing you of an East Coast Bias anymore.

2
by Devin McCullen (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 5:21pm

Aaron, the recievers table has Cedric Wilson's name in place of Hines Ward.

Also, on the FG issue, while I understand the numbers are in all conditions, I'd strongly suspect there are fewer 50+ field goals in bad conditions than normal - you're not going to try that unless you have to.

3
by Adam (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 5:23pm

When Tom Rouen was an emergency signing for the Steelers a couple years ago I swear he punted every ball 24 yards. Last night he was kicking like the ball disrespected him. It was really quite shocking to see him actually get some distance on the ball.

4
by Vash (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 5:23pm

In the #1 slot for receivers, you have Cedrick Wilson's name where Ward's should be.

5
by Vash (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 5:27pm

You can't fault all four touchbacks on Rouen, just three.

On one, a coverage man got all the way down to the goal line before the ball, let it bounce on the two and go straight up, and then STEPPED INTO THE END ZONE as it fell about a yard beyond the goal line. I have never seen an opportunity to down the ball at the one blown that badly in my life.

6
by pawnking (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 5:29pm

This short article is almost certainly the most concise, best, and most accurrate synopsys of what actually happened and how the heck Seattle lost a game they nearly dominated. Excellent breakdown of the relative value of the players, and although there was no direct slam on the MVP award, it was clear your feeling about the winner.

I don't think I have to read another article about the Superbowl. This is pretty much the definitive one, as far as I'm concerned. Excellent job, guys.

7
by CA (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 5:35pm

Aaron, you mention that Roethlisberger's performance was the worst ever by a Super Bowl winning QB. Do you think that the Steelers' team performance was the worst ever by a Super Bowl winning team? (Perhaps you've already answered this in the Audibles thread, but at about 200 comments, I doubt I'll read it all).

8
by B (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 5:45pm

I think superbowl 5 is the wors t offensive performance by a winning team. The Baltimore colts gained 329 yards offense on 56 plays, (two less than this years Steelers, on the same number of plays) gained an abysmal 2.2 yards per rush, had 3 interceptions 5 fumbles and were 3/11 on third downs).

9
by jack (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 5:47pm

A couple of years ago, the Patriots figured out that officials didn't like to call penalties in playoff games. The resulting play forced some adjustment in the way officials approach the games. But now they've overcompensated, and the officials are all too eager to call penalties. So, without even being there, the Patriots once again dominated the super bowl.

10
by B (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 5:54pm

Looking at bad offense, SB 35 is up there too, 240 yards offense, 3.4 yards per rush. No interceptions though, and "only" 2 fumbles.

11
by David (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 6:03pm

The standout stat to me is that Willie Parker, who broke a record-setting touchdown run against a high-ranked team that doesn't allow long runs, has 1.1 DPAR. Doesn't speak well for the rest of his day, does it?

12
by Neptune1 (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 6:08pm

Why is Jerame TUMAN the goat of the game?

13
by Sean (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 6:08pm

I continue to think the bad call angle is being overplayed simply because the game didn't provide much else to talk about. All that said, I think the punt coverage team play essentially crystalizes what the game was all about. Seattle had about four or five chances to pin the Steelers deep and they whiffed on every single one of them. Pittsburgh had one chance to do so and, thanks to a poor decision by a Seattle player, they succeeded in pinning the Seahawks inside the five.

Seattle kept on putting themselves in position to make a play but never did. The Steelers had very few chances to make a play, but took advantage.

14
by Kal (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 6:09pm

I'm surprised vaguely to see DJac have a bad DPAR for the game, but I guess I understand it. He was on fire but with all the other things that went on...yeah, makes sense.

And it makes sense that Stevens doesn't have that bad a DPAR either, given that he did fairly well half the time.

In general, no one really excelled or did that horribly, did they? Interesting. I don't think I can remember a superbowl where no single person really stepped up and made big plays all day.

15
by MDD (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 6:18pm

Alright, these comments from neutral fans rooting for the Seahawks as the game went on just have to end before it starts to have an impact on my Seattle sports Xenophobia.

Testaverde Helmet Touchdown!
East Coast Bias!
The Refs conspired against us!

Okay, I feel better now.

16
by Trogdor (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 6:42pm

Rouen's punts are said to have all had worse value than league average from that position, yet one of his touchbacks came from a spot where league average puts it at the 21. On the one hand, let's not bash Rouen more than he deserves. On the other hand, his best punt (by far!) was one yard better than average, so yeah, he had a pretty horrible day.

After hearing so much (from Seattle fans) about how Alexander really is a good receiver but Seattle just doesn't use him that way for some reason, was anyone else somewhat amused to watch him botch those easy swing/screen passes that might've gone for big plays?

What would Jackson's DPAR have been if that PI hadn't been called? How about if he had any idea where on the field he was, and that the sideline is out of bounds?

17
by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 6:50pm

Trogdor:

He wasn't out of bounds on the TD catch. One foot in bounds, one foot on the pylon is in bounds. That rule changed about 3 years ago.

After hearing so much (from Seattle fans) about how Alexander really is a good receiver but Seattle just doesn’t use him that way for some reason, was anyone else somewhat amused to watch him botch those easy swing/screen passes that might’ve gone for big plays?

FOMBC all the way. I don't know what happened to him, but he's not a good receiver anymore. Maybe they just don't use him that way, and so he's rusty, but he's just plain bad as a receiver.

18
by MDD (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 7:00pm

I certainly thought Alexander would be able to perform better on screen passes than he did. Maybe not 'good' but at least 'average'. The Seahawks sure were sloppy at key moments of the game.

That being said, to my dying day I'll cry with righteous indignation that the Seahawks were robbed by the refs in XL, probably following it up with a comment on Testaverde's helmet TD.

Ahhhh, few things in life are better than righteous indignation.

19
by Ryguy (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 7:01pm

Just a thought... Maybe it is time that the Officials have a press conference (especially at the Super Bowl) if they're the best of the best.

20
by David (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 7:02pm

Rouen’s punts are said to have all had worse value than league average from that position, yet one of his touchbacks came from a spot where league average puts it at the 21

That is odd. Maybe a disproportionate number of punts from that spot are fumbled?

21
by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 7:09pm

Well, it now appears Jackson knew that grazing the pylon would act as his second foot (follow discussion beyond 240 in the other thread).

It doesn't look like anyone is interested in the game results at all. I really liked the way the Seahawks were setting the pace on the ill-fated drive in the 3rd-4th quarter. Hasselbeck had them in and out of the huddle, and they even ran a play with time running down. At that point I thought Seattle was taking control of the game. I can't remember how many times they ran with Alexander on this drive, but it was definately the key drive of the game... starting from the 2 and driving down the field, only to throw an interception. I'm not so sure Cowher calls a gadget play if they are 15 yards more away from the end zone on the next possession.

Kevin Hench wrote his article based on my postings to this board! I'm the one who has been predicting the zebras would ruin a Super Bowl!

22
by Jim P (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 7:11pm

So, let me get this straight. Rouen's worst punt was only five yards worse than an average punt, his four touchbacks combined represent a total loss of 11 yards of field position, and HE's one of the biggest goats of the game?

23
by admin :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 7:12pm

re: 20, the negative value is based upon past seasons, the "average end of punt" on 2005.

re: 12, no, there's supposed to be an ellipsis there, the goat of the game is ... Jerramy Stevens.

re: 22, well, if Rouen had punted it to the 5-yard line, but the coverage couldn't tackle and Randle El returned it 50 yards, Rouen isn't the goat there. Those average "end of punt" locations are also based on average returns. A touchback doesn't give Seattle's coverage unit the chance to make a good play or a bad one. (Yes, I know, one of those touchbacks was the coverage unit's fault.)

And it's 21 yards of field position when you include the two returned punts.

24
by Fnor (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 7:22pm

Aaron: I can understand you getting angry at all the hate-mail you're recieving, but you know none of us are stupid enough to say something like that. We just either disagree or don't feel as strongly about the penalties as you do, which from this board seems to be pretty average.

MDD: Testaverde Helmet Touchdown would be an awesome name for a band.

25
by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 7:22pm

The two returned punts were Rouen's fault, though. They were long, quick kicks. The coverage never had a chance to get there. Randle El had 10 yards before anyone hit him on one.

26
by DJAnyReason (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 7:25pm

Interesting to see that the MVP had the highest overall DPAR of any player in the game.

27
by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 7:32pm

#21:

Eh. Keep reading. Looks like it might've been that John Clayton interpreted the rule incorrectly. Looks like all that rule does is stop you from being out of bounds hitting the pylon. Which makes sense.

28
by Kal (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 7:33pm

#24: clearly you haven't been reading the audibles/superbowl threads.

29
by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 7:35pm

Re: 22
I think it's the fact that he had a 1 in 515 chance of not pinning the Steelers inside the 20, yet that's exactly what he did.

When Rouen lined up to take the punt he shanked, I thought he would hit it to the 10.

ABC gave us a great live shot on that one... you could see Rouen aiming the kick to his left, the kick go off the side of his foot, and Randle El initially moving to where Rouen was aiming.

30
by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 7:54pm

Re: Seattle throws at the end of the half
I was more shocked that neither receiver made an attempt to stay in bounds on the play. Contrast that to Hines Ward attempt at an end zone catch... it looked like he concentrated too hard on the footwork and couldn't hang onto the pass.

It seems strange we can only find it written up by John Clayton in a 3 year old column. I had read on a 'Skins forum that it only came into play after possession was established, but Clayton is clear that one-foot inbounds + one foot on pylon = possession. Do you doubt the professor?

31
by Countertorque (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 8:08pm

Does this bring Pit's 3rd down conversions back to normal for the postseason? Or are they still abnormally high? I know, I could do the math myself. But, I am a lazy individual.

32
by Joel Dias-Porter (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 8:40pm

Clayton is wrong, the key question here is possession, if no two feet (or other body part) then no catch. It's that simple, the pylon determines the beginning of the end zone and is extremely important for determining TDs. It is irrelevant for determining possession on a catch.

33
by Joel Dias-Porter (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 8:40pm

#31, No

34
by Independent George (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 8:56pm

#28 - the Super Bowl thread got pretty heated, but the audibles thread seems civil and rational. There are exceptions, of course, but the name-calling and ad-hominem attacks are the exception, not the rule. There is (a) a reasonable case in defense of the officiating, (b) not all of which is coming from Steelers homers, (c) of whom very few have been engaged in either smug gloating or crass name-calling.

35
by Kal (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 9:02pm

#34: saying 'none of us' (presumably referring to Steelers fans) is wrong. Many posts were in the vein of 'Seahawks fans are just whining about the officials and making excuses'.

The comment Aaron made in the article came from that thread, where he was responding to someone who had just said that.

So while FO is much less problematic than, say, ESPN's boards, there are still those who do it.

36
by MadPenguin (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 9:23pm

FO staff: You guys do a great job year round. Since I found this site I keep coming back. Please continue the analysis, I enjoy it (though I admit I sometimes skim the stats, not a stat monkey me). :-)

37
by Independent George (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 9:43pm

#35: I think Fnor was referring to the FO regulars who were defending the officiating. Lord knows, there's enough idiocy to go around, but it seemed like rational debate generally outnumbered insults. I was actually more bored by the endless repetition of identical points than I was irritated by the amount of trolling/flaming.

All I'm saying is that that sort of thing was comparatively rare, and Aaron's comment seemed to be a blanket implication of homerism of everybody on the other side. In other words, I reject blanket implications of homerism regarding claims of homerism against homers on homerism...

Oh, forget it. Let's just both say, "Stop disrespecting me!" and move on, shall we?

38
by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 9:51pm

Joel Dias-Porter,
I want to make it clear. I agree that it would make more sense that the pylon is in bounds once possession is established. In fact I'm 75 % sure that's how the rule is.

It;s just odd that Clayton wrote that blurb with all authority at the time he wrote it.

39
by CaffeineMan (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 10:04pm

First, congrats to the Steelers. No "Tomorrow" commercial on the NFL Network for Big Ben this year. :D

Second, thanks for the great work this season, FO, and for your upcoming work in the offseason.

Third, I might as well go on record: I thought the officiating was fairly bad. All the arguments about each individual call have been made already, though. :D However, in general I think the important goal for officiating is consistency in the judgment calls like pass interference and holding, rather than strict adherence to the letter of the rulebook. If it's consistent from one ref to the next, teams can deal with it. But pass interference especially seems a bit like a lottery these days.

And Fourth, have we started an offseason thread yet? Where do I ask what's going on with Whisenhunt and the Raiders?

40
by AMD (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 10:13pm

Two things:

1. Thanks for your work this season, FO guys.

2. The Steelers fans in the Audibles and SB threads are even more rude than the Atlanta fans we were invaded by, a while back, and I didn't think such a thing was possible. They're making wide generalizations (they seem to think that if you have a problem with the officiating, you must believe in some unrealistic conspiracy theory) and calling people idiots...

41
by Fnor (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 10:47pm

AMD: I really take offence at that. There was a lot of rancor on both sides. No one wanted to talk about things, they mostly just wanted to yell.

And there was no way that it was worse than the Atlanta Invasion.

42
by putnamp (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 10:49pm

#41,

Agreed, though a few Steelers fans seemed rather smug at times last night. It's an emotional game, it happens.

43
by Matt Weiner (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 10:52pm

40: I just searched the Audibles thread for the word 'idiot'. It occurs in:

comment 63, where DJAnyReason is using it to refer to other Steelers fans
comment 123: "Roethlisberger's idiotic interception"
comment 188: A Redskins fan, referring to ESPN, in a comment critical of the officiating
comment 263: Roethlisberger again
comment 325: Pittsburgh fan JRoth talking about Joey Porter

I think as much incivility is being directed at the Pittsburgh posters in the Audibles thread as is coming from them.

44
by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 10:53pm

Caffienman,
I'm breaking the story that he will agree to coach the Raiders, and right now he is negotiating a contract.

An announcement will be made after the Steelers victory celebration.

If that's not true than my alter ego John Clayton will report that Al Davis wants Russ Grimm.

45
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 11:23pm

Now, wait a second. You're not implying that calling Roethlisberger's throw to Herndon idiotic is somehow an attack on Steeler's fans, and demonstrative of general incivility, are you? Geez, Roethlisberger would tell you it was an idiotic throw! That isn't incivility, that's just an accurate description.

46
by DJAnyReason (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 11:34pm

Re: 45

I think his point was in reference to #40's assetion of "calling people idiots". His point was that people aren't being uncivil and that #40's characterization was inaccurate.

Of course Will, oh ye of the asterisk, you, personally, shouldn't be arguing that there is not incivility directed towards Steeler fans

47
by Matt Weiner (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 11:41pm

DJAnyReason is right; I was just pointing out that Steelers fans weren't calling other posters idiots, at least not by that name.

48
by admin :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 11:43pm

Yo on 39.

Click on this link to go to the open discussions page, where we've started the 2006 draft discussion thread as well as the 2006 free agency discussion thread. Direct buttons will appear on the front page shortly.

49
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Mon, 02/06/2006 - 11:50pm

Alright, alright, I apologize for the *. Geez, can't a guy have any fun?

50
by RowdyRoddyPiper (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 12:58am

Will, I think the Asterisk is pretty funny to be honest and actually have a picture of my dog in a Steelers jersey (the illness runs deep, with strange manifestations).

I blew my top at two posters and I should make an effort to be more civil. However, I get the impression that a lot of people are just stirring the pot and not adding to the discourse. I guess I feel like a Denver fan after the NE game. Everyone is saying, hey you guys didn't win, the refs gave it to you. Do I think if the calls went the other way that the Steelers would have won by 11. Absolutely not, do I think that they would have ultimately won? I think it's better than even odds.

Both teams played poorly and the poor officiating was highlighted by this. It wasn't a very good end to a great post-season for my team, but given the choice, I'll take the win and the trophy.

51
by RowdyRoddyPiper (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 1:02am

PS. One of the reasons I think the Asterisk is funny is this Barry Bonds Jacket (link in my name, 3rd item on the page). I guess if I can give it, I can take it.

52
by Nick (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 1:20am

Am I the only one who saw the holding call. Little hint, when Madden is talking, turn off the sound and determine for your dam self what's happening.

On the initial play you could clearly see the hold, then, on multiple replays, all from behind the QB it was difficult to see because the hold occurred with Locklear holding the blitzer with his right hand on the blitzers right (upfield) arm - the side away from the camera. Basically, if you watch from one angle (the original from the left side of the field) you can see it, but when you show 29 replays from a different angle (end zone behind the QB) you cannot. How can people cannot understand how the angle from which you view something might obscure what you see!

I guess I'm just so upset because it's yet another sign that most (even the pros (???) at ESPN have checked heir brains at the door to let John the Omniscient (Boom and Ass Sweat) Madden tell them what's happening.

53
by DGL (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 2:31am

I would also like to add my compliments to the Unsung Outsiders (you know who you are) for the website migrations and recoding that brought the performance up to its current level in time for the Super Bowl. You're the offensive linemen of FO. (And I feel about offensive linemen like Dr. Z does.)

54
by Luke (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 2:51am

#50 yah, but one team played poorly with all the breaks going their way while the other team had their momentum stolen from them time and time again.

It was a dud game because of the dud officiating. It could have been a memorable game if they had just let both teams play.

I dunno what choice you're talking about, but wouldn't you rather your team won its own merit rather than biased umpiring?

On another point, Bob Casullo (seahawks special teams coach) has to get the sack, right? Seattle ST have sucked all year. He got rid of Donnie Jones and Chris Kluwe in favour of Leo Araguez who was even worse than Rouen.

55
by Israel (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 3:17am

Darrell Jackson -0.3 DPAR and for crying out loud learn where the sidelines are

The Steelers radio guys said that Ike Taylor was playing the position the way it is taught, by making sure the receivers stay too close to the sidelines to make a catch inbounds.

56
by Israel (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 3:31am

Amen to #53!

57
by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 8:07am

"NFL kickers will hit 55 percent of field goals from 50 yards out and 49 percent from 53 yards out — and those rates are in all weather conditions.

Is this not a statistic somewhat skewed by the fact that many NFL kickers will never attempt a 50-plus yard field goal? It seems to me that a guy who will hit even, say, a third of 50+ yard field goals has positive value over one who doesn't have the leg to try.

On a sidenote, why do elite offences, especially those with an awesome power running game like the Chiefs or Seahawks, attempt PATs? If the league average for 2PCs is in the high forties, surely Johnson or Alexander could be expected to find the endzone from the two more than half the time?

58
by Paulo Sanchotene, Brazil (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 9:41am

#39 You hit the Bull's Eye. The problem is not if the referees were right or wrong. After all, controversial calls are... controversial. The problem was that the same play was called in different manners through the game. The problem was that every time the officials were in doubt they've punished Seattle. When there is consistency, the players can adapt to the "rules of the moment": "this" is always a "tackle"; "that" is always "holding"; "this" is always a "catch"; "here" is always "inbound"; etc. We never saw this on Sunday...

59
by cthoover (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 9:57am

The debate about the Refs is not gonna stop but I have a question. Has anyone else seen an NFL game before? You get games every week where a few tight calls end up giving a boost to one team. Hey, did you hear how the Patriots mugged the Colts' receivers in the AFC Chanpioship game a few years back? That's what happened here. Heck, it's what happened to The Steelers in the Colts/Steelers game a few weeks ago. I get it that this was not a game with a lot to talk about after but the harping on the tight calls just seems way out of proportion.

60
by James Gibson (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 10:21am

Aaron -

I don't think you're a Seahawks fan. But just like the BP guys and statheads root for the Oakland A's, I can't help but think you were slightly in favor of the Seahawks. First, your system picked them to win. Second, and more important, I think you always want your system to do well player wise. Among Seahawks players, Matt Hasselbeck, Joe Jurevicius, and Bobby Engram are among the favorites of DVOA and are hence way underrated my most of the national media. Among Steelers, I can't think of anybody similarly underrated. Bettis is severely overrated by the media and Roethlisberger, while good according to DVOA, is also highly rated outside so doesn't meet the underrated criteria. On Seattle's side, only Alexander may be overrated, but even he had a really good DVOA/DPAR this year.

That makes me think that even though you are neutral outside of the Patriots and do a very good job of providing even analysis even with the Patriots that you would have had at least a slight preference for the Seahwaks, espeically with the near coronation of the Steelers. Heck, I was rooting for the Steelers in this game and yet the buildup to the SB almost turned me into a Seahawks fan.

I guess I just don't see the problem with refs in this game. I haven't watched my tape yet, but there were only 3 calls in the game that I thought were horrible - penalty on Hasselbeck, PGH not getting called for delay of game, and the non-fumble by Stevens. 2 against SEA, 1 against PGH. And yes, the call against PGH had no bearing on the game, but I think it helps demonstrate that the refs weren't biased towards the Steelers.

61
by Paulo Sanchotene, Brazil (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 10:21am

#59 That's what the SuperBowl does to regular people... But, I might desagree with you. The poor officiating wasn't a surprise. Every week, there was awful calls after awful calls. When the playoffs began, there - almost - wasn't other issue to be discussed. We must talk about this because something must change. Simplified rules, less penalties, I don't know. But this is, to me, the most important subject in offseason.

62
by Ben (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 12:55pm

I went back and viewed the superbowl a second time. The key play, and bad call, in my opinion, is the holding penalty in the 3rd quarter against the Seahawks right tackle. This negated a 20 yard completion to Jeramy Stevens to the Pittsburgh 1 yard line, and instead landed Seattle near the 40 on 3rd down. The score at the time was 14 - 10.

63
by DGL (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 1:05pm

Some thoughts on the teams that actually played a game Sunday, colored by the "Moneyball" prism (hey, if The Outsiders can use it for their tagline, so can I).

The Seahawks play small ball. Their "classic West Coast Offense" is based on 6-7 yard outs, consistent 4-5 yard runs, and 8-yard slants with the possibility of YAC. I recall a comment, which by its nature almost had to come from one of the Outsiders, that the Seahawks had more "long drives" during the season than anyone else. This is small ball -- you're not swinging for the fences, you're consistently making plays to "move the runner" and get the score.

(Interesting aside: whereas the Moneyball philosophy undervalues small ball, DVOA likes it. Given how DVOA has been tested for correlation with W/L success, this says something to me about how the nature of football differs from baseball, but that's a digression for another time.)

The advantage to small ball is that you're executing high-probability plays, so your success rate is going to be high. (Seattle had the fewest third down situations in the regular season.) The problem with small ball is that you have to execute a lot of them. When you fail to execute one (or worse, two in a row), you're less likely to have a successful drive. (Seattle wasn't particularly good on third and long in the regular season.)

Seattle moved the ball well, but their first three drives broke down when they were stopped on first down:

1-10-SEA 46 (13:28) 37-S.Alexander left end to SEA 47 for 1 yard; result: Punt

1-10-PIT 45 (7:46) 8-M.Hasselbeck pass to 37-S.Alexander to PIT 47 for -2 yards; result: Punt

1-20-PIT 26 (2:00) 37-S.Alexander right end to PIT 25 for 1 yard; result: FG

In the second half, Seattle again had a number of drives stall out when they failed on first down.

1-10-PIT 37 (12:44) 8-M.Hasselbeck pass incomplete to 86-J.Stevens; result: missed FG

1-10-SEA 27 (4:38) 8-M.Hasselbeck pass incomplete to 86-J.Stevens; result: Punt

1-20-PIT 29 (12:08) 8-M.Hasselbeck sacked at PIT 34 for -5 yards; result: INT

1-10-PIT 49 (7:19) 8-M.Hasselbeck pass incomplete to 87-J.Jurevicius; result: Punt

(Yes, I am leaving out the penalties. There's enough discussion of that elsewhere. Certainly an offensive penalty makes picking up a first down harder, but the play after the penalty was unsuccessful in the above cases.) Again, I'm excluding the two-minute drill from my analysis, because Seattle was (or at least should have been) running a different offense.

Excluding the two-minute drills, Seattle had 25 1-10 situations. In 11 cases (44%) they gained four or more yards; in every one of those cases they converted the first down or scored a touchdown on that series of three downs. In nine of the 14 cases where Seattle got three yards or less on first down, they failed to convert (36% success).

By contrast, the Steelers ended up playing a home-run hitter's game (whether intentionally or not, I can't say). A home-run hitter can strike out a lot, because when he connects, he connects big. The Steelers had three home runs (the pass on 3-28, the Parker 75-yard run, and the Randle El pass). They also struck out a lot (only 33% - 14 of 21 - first down plays got four yards or more, not counting 1-G), but they converted 50% of the failures on first downs into first downs or scores, compared to 36% for the Seahawks.

So when Seattle succeeded on first down, they did well; when they failed on first down, their drives tended to stall out. When Pittsburgh succeeded on first down, they also did well (6 of 7 sets of downs that started with a four-yard gain or better resulted in a first down or TD), but when Pittsburgh failed on first down, they were more likely to convert.

Is this a sustainable, long-term approach to success? On defense, perhaps - if you're making the other team go 70 yards, 5-6 yards at a time, and if one stop is going to significantly impair their ability to keep the drive alive, then you can give up 6 straight five-yard plays, because when you stop the seventh and eighth, you have a good chance of stopping the drive. In that case, I think LeBeau's game plan worked. On offense, I don't think it's a viable long-term strategy to count on a bloop and a blast -- I think DVOA is correct in being "biased" in favor of sustained competence over flashes of "brilliance".

I think if Seattle can develop a better vertical passing game next year, and Alexander can work on his pass catching in the off-season to give them the ability to get him the ball in the flat with blockers and break some big plays (assuming the Seahawks can keep him), they'll be tough to beat next year. The addition of a big-play capability will go a long way to offset what hurt the Seattle O in the SB.

Pittsburgh, well, I think they need to be more consistent running the ball and be as consistent passing as they were in the playoffs (as opposed to the SB). I don't think Parker is consistent enough to be a feature back -- you may want to give him 10 carries a game in hopes he'll break one big, but I don't think you can live on 22 2-3 yard runs and one or two big gainers. I think you need a big tailback to carry the load and Parker as a change of pace. I think Duce is the big wild card. He certainly got a lot of rest this year, but he'll be 31 next season - how much of a RB's decline is due simply to age and how much to wear and tear? And can the Steelers take the feature back role away from Parker after he's the first Steeler in, what, 12 years to gain 1200 yards rushing?

64
by Ben (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 1:09pm

I also noticed that Hasselbeck was an excellent short and medium range passer, but his accuracy on the long ball was horrible.

I also think he was the problem with the ineffective 2:00 drills.

65
by Dman (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 1:15pm

amen #61. Whether or not you agree with the result of the game or you think that the refs gave the game to pittsburgh, I think this game shows that there is a serious problem with NFL officiating. Is there any reason why they can't hire these guys full time? I never understood there are so many professional players/coaches in the NFL but the zebras have to go back to bagging groceries in the offseason. I think we should have professional refs with professional accountability.

66
by DJAnyReason (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 1:15pm

Re: 63

An interesting contrast is with Pittsburgh's defensive philosophy, which is perfectly willing to allow the other team to play "small ball." LeBeau and Cowher believe that if they force the other team to "dink&dunk" down the length of the field, than at some point either the other team will make a mistake, or one of the Steelers defenders will make a big play.

I'm pretty sure that the Steelers do intentionally play home-run football. Roethlisberger has, for two years, led the league in yards/attempt, despite not being at the top of completion percentage (he's been in the low-to-mid 60%'s, which is good, but not at the caliber of the top QB completion%). Moreover, the switch to Parker tends to reinforce this philosophy, as he's clearly not as good as Bettis or Deuce at getting consistant short yards, but is the big homerun threat (as we saw Sunday).

The Steelers offensive philosophy, to me, seems to be to throw downfield, run Parker a few times, and try to hit enough big plays to get a big lead. Then, shut the game down with a power running game, just killing clock. This works well with their defense too, as the zone-blitz scheme is yet more effective when the other team is forced to pass.

Of course, in games like the loss to Cincy, that all changes if the other team can run up as many points as you, or, like in the loss to Indy, if you can't run up a big lead.

67
by Matt Weiner (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 1:23pm

63: Great analysis!

And can the Steelers take the feature back role away from Parker after he’s the first Steeler in, what, 12 years to gain 1200 yards rushing?

Bettis actually gained 1341 in 2000 (only 3.8 average though). I don't think Cowher will overcommit to Parker; he gave Kordell Stewart a fairly quick hook in 2002 after Stewart got MVP votes in 2001.

68
by White Rose Duelist (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 1:27pm

Is "poor officiating" the new "Manning vs. Brady"?

69
by DGL (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 1:28pm

Whoops. In 63, it should say that 33% - 7 of 21 - first and ten plays for the Steelers got 4 yards or more. 14 of 21 got less than 4 yards (or other bad things like a pick).

The perils of recasting the sentence after you've put the numbers down...

70
by Zach (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 1:30pm

#64 To me, the biggest issue was the fact that Hasselbeck seemed to get impatient with attacking the Steelers in the short and intermediate passing game. The deep ball is the weakest part of the Seahawk attack, both because they don't really have any deep threats (outside of Hackett, who's rarely on the field), and because Hasselbeck's accuracy drops a lot on those throws.

As a Seahawk fan, it reminded me of the Hasselbeck that drove Holmgren nuts for years, because he'd complain that Hasselbeck would get to impatient with the play calls and try to hit home runs too often. Clearly, the Steelers were giving up plenty of yards in the short and intermediate game, which is why it surprised me that Hasselbeck threw deep as frequently as he did.

71
by DGL (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 1:31pm

#68: As Aaron said in one of the other threads, only if it starts to dominate all the discussion coming later that has nothing to do with the Super Bowl.

The Texans should draft Vince Young and give up on Carr.

No, the Texans should trade down and get some OLs with draft picks.

No, the refs stole the Super Bowl from teh Seahawks!!

Then we'll see an FO Irrational Bad Officiating thread.

72
by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 2:02pm

Pittsburgh, well, I think they need to be more consistent running the ball and be as consistent passing as they were in the playoffs (as opposed to the SB). I don’t think Parker is consistent enough to be a feature back — you may want to give him 10 carries a game in hopes he’ll break one big, but I don’t think you can live on 22 2-3 yard runs and one or two big gainers.

Yeah, I have to agree. Parker just struggled massively early in the game, before that long run. Without that run, he had 9 runs for 18 yards.

When the Steelers were running out the clock, however, Bettis was... just flat out incredible. Jeez. It was ridiculous - the Seahawks had to stop them, and ... whoops, there's Bettis for 6 yards... and 4 more... and 3 more. You get the picture. Pittsburgh got two first downs on that "had to stop them" drive, and they only had one pass.

It's not often you say "that team's going to be a lot, lot worse off without their backup running back" but this is one of them.

Staley? Staley's 31 this year. He hasn't been fully healthy in two years. Maybe Staley can pick up Bettis's load, but I really doubt it.

73
by cthoover (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 3:17pm

Re 63 - Good stuff. I think you pinpointed what the Seahawks need this offseason which is a true deep threat. Hasselback will never be Favre (although he's damn good right now) so he is going to need a real difference maker at WR.

Re 61 I agree with you that a discussion about how to improve officating would be a good discussion to have but this isn't that discussion. This is just gong back & forth over whether Jackson's pushoff should be called or not and uping the volume each time.

As for that officating discussion, the major off-season rule change I would like to see happen is for an establishment of two offensive pass interference penalties with one being a flagarant foul at the spot of the ball and another being a 15 yarder for incedental contact. Too many ticky-tack pass interference calls pick up fifty yards under the current system.

74
by David (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 3:24pm

#73: I think you mean defensive pass interference there, and I agree totally. It doesn't make sense to have a dicey judgment call (I refuse to use the phrase "ticky-tack") carry the same weight as outright tackling the receiver.

75
by cthoover (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 3:31pm

#74: You were right on defensive pass interference and on the use of ticky-tack.

76
by Kal (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 4:05pm

Having two penalties would be a good idea. I thought they already had a penalty that had to do with something like 'clear impedance illegal'. Which means that if you break a rule and it is judged that the person would have gotten to the endzone unimpeded except for you doing something bad, they can award a TD.

As long as that philosophy works, I'm fine with it - because 40 yard penalties are way too swingy. College doesn't have DPI as a spot foul and DBs don't mug receivers there.

Seattle's rookie receiver Hackett is supposed to be their speed deep threat, and he was in a couple of games. But he's new and inexperienced. Still, give him time. Normally DJac fills that role but he wasn't back enough to do it this time. It kind of goes against Holmgren's idea.

I secretly hope they replace Alexander with a back that can catch the damn ball.

77
by cthoover (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 4:16pm

Link on my name for King Kaufman's Salon column on the officating controversy. Best article on the controversy by far

78
by Israel (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 5:51pm

Yet more pro-Steelers bias from the NFL. On their Visa Play of the Week, they offer the voters four Steelers plays and only the Herndon interception for Seattle. What about the other Seattle plays, such as ... umm... uh...

79
by Paulo Sanchotene, Brazil (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 7:00pm

#78 ... the touchdown? That play made Polamalu look like a College rookie...

80
by Cody (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 11:11pm

I think Parker will get better. He's got the raw talent. This is practically his first year of football since high school. To me it looks like he tries to run like a big back would, running into tacklers, not trying to make too many moves, which actually is what the tarheels wanted him to do. Maybe the O-lines block scheme is geared more towards a big back too, they didn't really seem to "mesh" well with Parker. One thing he has going for him is a decent ability to keep the big play going though. Once he gets into the secondary he does pretty good at avoiding any tacklers. I think what we might see is another year of Parker with Krieder getting more carries. Although, one thing that I could stand to see is Micheal Turner behind that line. Anyone know what his contract situation is? If he comes available this year or the next I bet you'll see him starting somewhere. (Just for the record, I liked him before the SD colts game.)

81
by thad (not verified) :: Tue, 02/07/2006 - 11:28pm

DGL,
that was excellent.

82
by thad (not verified) :: Wed, 02/08/2006 - 12:25am

re James Gibson
first all I am glad you started posting here again.
But just to play devils advocate for a moment you may be that biggest stathead of all the non FO writers here.
I did go back and read your old site, and totally enjoyed your analysis of the Denver-Green Bay Super Bowl.
You have links to Bud Goode, who is like the grandfather of football statheads. You review a book by Pete Palmer, so you know what DVOA is based on(and a fine review too).
You analyze drives with the Matrix function on excel for gods sake!
None of which is intended as remotely critical of course.
I have not noticed Aaron showing any favoritism towards Seattle. If anything, I have noticed a tendancy on this site to not want to slam the Colts in the playoff previews.
I will leave you with this question.
You have probably read the belman equation floating around on the net. Aaron has probably read it too. Think Mike Holmgren has read it?

83
by James Gibson (not verified) :: Wed, 02/08/2006 - 10:21am

Thad - thanks for the comments on my page. I must give credit to Michael O'Connor for the matrix calcualtions, however. As far as I know I've never seen him post here, but I think he's still active on rec.sport.football.pro (a forum I must admit I've given up on now).

I agree that Aaron does a good job maintaining neutraility and that prior to the game, he had not shown favoritism to Seattle. Part of it is me - I have always picked a team to root for in the Super Bowl. I can watch regular games with complete neutrality. In the SB, I always have a side (in part that's because I came alive as an NFL fan during the NFC streak and wanted so bad for it to be broken that I'm heavily in favor of the AFC team come Super Bowl time).

I guess the thing that bothered me was 1) I didn't see the officiating to be nearly as bad as everyone else and that's because I though the DJax PI and Roethlisberger TD were totally legitimate, while holding is a strangely called penalty that I won't begin to get into and 2) the other comments in Audbiles about the # of Steelers fans and the commercials. And I think a backlash against Pittsburgh among fans who watch all the hype was virtually inevitable unless you clearly wanted Pittsburgh to win in the first place.

The thing about the # of Pittsburgh fans, the terrible towels is that I just think PGH fans really are more intense. I'm a Denver fan and there were articles in the Denver Post leading up to the PGH/DEN game about multiple Steelers bars in Denver and articles after the game about the number of people in and around Mile High rooting for Pittsburgh. Admittedly, I'm biased because I'm marrying into a huge black and gold family and their crazines and the craziness of the Pittsburgh area is well beyond what I'm used to either growing up on the edge of Denver rooting territory or the 4 years I spent in Seattle and noting the lack of Seahwaks pride. Ok that's a digression, but that's why I had a problem with some of the comments in Audibles.

84
by Malene, cph, dk (not verified) :: Wed, 02/08/2006 - 11:29am

re: #71, #68:

it will, oh it will...

The Texans should draft Vince Young and give up on Carr.

No, the Texans should trade down and get some OLs with draft picks.

No, because Young has the swagger of a proven winner, just like Brady. Carr is a choker like Peyton.

Hey, Brady doesn't have the swagger of Big Ben. He's only a winner because of the tuck rule and 1000 uncalled illegal contacts by #37 against the colts

Hey, wanna talk about bad officiating?...

85
by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Wed, 02/08/2006 - 2:34pm

Kal, I have seen college DBs do take advantage of the difference (15 yards instead of spot foul). However, there still seems to be a pretty good balance in college football between intentional interference and attempts to make plays. I'm not so sure that 15 yards would be a significant deterrent in the NFL, but 50+ yards for what some of us might call incidental contact sure seems like overkill.

Did anyone find a place where you can view the sacred Book of Rules? (I just discovered that if you transpose two letters, that becomes "scared." Interesting ...) I'm afraid to look in the other thread to find out.

86
by Cody (not verified) :: Thu, 02/09/2006 - 3:35am

RE: 83

Pittsburgh fans are pretty intense. They travel well, I'd say that in every superbowl the Steelers have been in, the crowd was more than half Pittsburghers. I think you could have had that SB in Seattle and you would still have at least half Steelers fans. Of course, this leads to the occasional rock through the window and street fire. The crazy fans also explain why you rarely hear about the Steelers on the radio (unless its all positive stuff). One of the guys on ESPN said over the air that it was just understood among football broadcasters that you don't talk about the Steelers, because the fans would start calling in and ruin the show by being totally irrational. So in summary no, it's not just you, Steelers fans are a lil crazy.