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21 Jun 2012

Freeney and Mathis Meet the 3-4

Guest Column by Kyle Winslow

After ending the Peyton Manning era, there are many questions about the Indianapolis Colts heading into 2012. Most of them center around the potential of first overall pick Andrew Luck. The other major topic of conversation this offseason is the team's conversion to new head coach Chuck Pagano's defense.

The media has frequently pointed out that one of the keys to success next season is how well Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney adapt to the new scheme. It's common to see the question "How will Mathis and Freeney will fare playing outside linebacker?" without the writer actually taking on the question. The only useful attempt at answering that question that I've seen was from ESPN blogger Paul Kuharsky who, when posed the question in a chat, said, "They are good players who will be used smartly and will still be good players."

That's a very simple answer, but probably a pretty intelligent prediction. Can it be that simple? In order to take a deeper look, I wanted to investigate what outside linebackers will actually be doing in the new hybrid 3-4 scheme.

Since Pagano was Baltimore's defensive coordinator last season, I analyzed every clip of the Ravens defense available on NFL.com in three games: one game against a run-oriented offense, one game against a balanced offense, and one versus a pass-heavy offense. (These were the clips available free, not the entire games via Game Rewind.)

Houston ran 52 percent of the time according to Football Outsiders, the second-highest number in the league. They played the Ravens in Week 6. The Pittsburgh Steelers were fairly balanced, running 41 percent of the time, which placed them 16th in the league. The Patriots are obviously a pass-heavy offense and faced Baltimore in the AFC Championship game.

In total I looked at 22 plays, noting the alignment, personnel, and post-snap activity of the defensive line. Since Pagano has stated that Freeney will play a similar role to Terrell Suggs in the new scheme, I payed particular attention to his role in Baltimore's defense.

Three of the plays were goal-line situations, and one play was a Hail Mary at the end of a game. I did not include the goal-line and prevent defenses in the statistics I use for discussion below, but rather focused on the other 18 plays for the purposes of this article.

One of the first things that jumped out at me after reviewing these plays is the versatility of Pagano's defense. Unlike the rigid and predictable Tampa-2 scheme, which was totally dependent on execution, this scheme can attack the quarterback from any direction, through any gap, at any time.

The Ravens' version in 2011 was a gambling man's defense and, at times, Pagano gambled wrong. Yet, the team finished with the best passing defense in the league by DVOA. Pagano and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky might not have the same risk-taking leeway with the Colts though, at least until the team has more experience and more talent.

If Freeney is designated as the Suggs of the Colts' defense, then his transition shouldn't be extremely difficult. Rushing the passer is Freeney's expertise. Suggs rushed the passer in 17 of the 18 plays that I reviewed, and 13 of those 18 times it was from the right defensive end position, which is Freeney's natural position.

Moving him away from the right side on occasion will be an option for Pagano. The Ravens didn't have an elite pass rusher playing opposite Suggs. Rather, they rotated between Paul Kruger and Jarret Johnson, and moved their standout pass rusher around to target weaknesses in opposing offensive lines. That may be unnecessary for Indianapolis since they have an additional Pro Bowl-caliber pass rusher in Mathis.

Suggs lined up on the line of scrimmage in every play. It is doubtful that Freeney will be roaming around and actually "backing" the line. He will probably only be asked to drop back into coverage after feigning a pass rush, as Suggs did in the only play I reviewed where he didn't rush the quarterback.

Both endbackers (for lack of a better term) pass-rushed simultaneously 75 percent of the time in the plays I reviewed. When either endbacker in the Ravens defense was asked to cover a tight end, they did so by jamming them at the line of scrimmage. This was highly successful in the plays I analyzed because they were aided by surprise. Usually this resulted in the tight end getting thrown way off his route and, thus, he was much easier to cover. In one play, Kruger took Owen Daniels completely out of the play with a jam. Daniels is a very good tight end, and Freeney is much more athletic than Kruger.

The one significant change for Freeney may be his stance. Suggs was in a three-point stance for half the snaps in my analysis, and he was upright for the other half. When an endbacker is in a three-point stance, it tips the offense that he is going to be rushing the quarterback. Even though Suggs ended up rushing 94 percent of the time, the possibility that he could drop into coverage is one way this defensive scheme keeps quarterbacks guessing. However, almost all of these plays had one of the Ravens' endbackers in a three-point stance at the snap. If Freeney isn't comfortable rushing from a two-point stance, the Colts will have to lean on Mathis to line up standing more often.

The Ravens were in a nickel defense 72 percent of these plays. The NFL is definitely a passing league, and I can understand why the Colts have been rumored to be looking at players like Mike Jenkins to bolster the secondary.

The good news for Freeney and Mathis is that when this scheme used five defensive backs last year, one of the three defensive linemen (the nose or one of the five-technique ends) leaves the field. The outside linebackers essentially become defensive ends, leaving a more traditional front four, the same thing the Colts defenders are used to from the past. The gap assignments are often different in Pagano's defense, but the outside pass rush is the same. Freeney will be able to use his patented spin move, and all the other moves he's developed over the years, when the Colts are in the nickel defense.

It is this component of the defense that puts the "hybrid" in hybrid 3-4. Other 3-4 defenses, such as those utilized by the Cowboys and Steelers, frequently keep a true three-man front with a player lined up at nose-tackle when deploying a nickel package. The defense Chuck Pagano is installing will not require Freeney to line up as a five-technique end or come off the field in passing situations.

The glaring missing piece for the Colts is Haloti Ngata. Ngata was double-teamed on most of these plays, but managed plenty of penetration anyway. Ngata is listed as a nose tackle, but didn't actually spend much time there last season. When the Ravens used their base defense, Terrence Cody or Brandon McKinney played over center and Ngata played five-technique defensive end. Occasionally, Cody would show up in the nickel package as well.

Ngata was on the line for every snap, wreaking havoc. McKinney joined the Colts in the offseason, as did Cory Redding, but Redding is more an edge-setting type of defensive end at this point in his career. He's not going to be penetrating into the backfield on every snap.

The Colts might not have that kind of player on the roster. Drake Nevis and Fili Moala likely won't replicate Ngata's penetration. If they can't, that position might be the first piece to address in next year's draft, even before addressing the secondary.

Kyle Winslow is a fiction novelist and former featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @KyleWinslow. If you have a unique perspective on an NFL or college football story, feel free to submit your guest column idea or rough draft at mailbag-at-footballoutsiders.com.

Posted by: Guest on 21 Jun 2012

51 comments, Last at 10 Jul 2012, 5:50pm by chemical burn

Comments

1
by Theo :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 11:46am

Did he (Suggs) rush from the right side and changed to the left, or did the strong side change and did he move accordingly?

19
by K.Winslow :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 3:19pm

Excellent question. 4 of the 5 times that Suggs lined up on the left side, it was the weak side. It makes perfect sense for Baltimore to have moved Suggs around to whichever side of the formation where a tight end can't chip him, because he was by far the best pass rusher on the team.

I can't tell you whether or not that will make sense for the Colts, because, at this point, I'm not sure who is the better pass rusher between Freeney and Mathis. Freeney has said that he will move around a little more (and actually he did line up on the left side on rare occasions in the Tampa-2 scheme), but the coaching staff will have a lot more freedom in that regard.

If one of them turns out to be a real liability in coverage (or conversely if one of them turns out to be really good at it) then it'd make sense to put the pass rusher on the weak side any time that the play call is for just one of them to rush. But if you do that every time, it tips off the offense.

I would expect Freeney to line up on the weak side more often than not, but there's probably a lot of other factors that will go into it based on specific game plans and match-ups.

2
by chemical burn :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 11:49am

I like the observation about Ngata - I truly think he's as much a piece of Suggs' success as Suggs himself. He just blows up whoever has the unfortunate task of trying to slow him down - there's no DT in the league who I'd rather have playing for my team. And obviously, the Colts don't have anybody even mildly like that. I think the idea that Mathis and Freeney can both transition to a new position so late in the careers and most likely not be given the same kind of "only attack QB, running game be damned" assignments means that this will be a bit of debacle for the Colts defense. They demonstrated last year how little talent they have on the squad and reducing the effectiveness of two already limited players like Freeney and Mathis just doesn't seem wise. Neither had double-digit sacks last year (because they weren't playing with a lead like they have for most of their careers) and Freeney didn't even make to a measly 15 tackles (worst Pro Bowl selection of All Time?) It seems like it would be a miracle for either of them to even produce their mediocre 2011 numbers in 2012. If Luck struggles, I think they're looking at another 3-13 season, especially if the Jaguars display any amount of competency in the passing game this year.

3
by tuluse :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 11:55am

You might be right, but at the same time why cobbled together a mediocre defense out of aging players? Seems like a good time to blow everything up.

4
by chemical burn :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 2:30pm

Very true. But what evidence is that they're blowing anything up on defense? I guess they drafted with 3-4 in mind, but they only took 2 defensive players in the whole draft - 5th rounder and a 7th rounder. Also, why not pick up some 3-4 veterans (even mediocre ones), draft a few real prospects for LB/DE hybrids and off-load Mathis & Freeney while you could still get a couple picks for them? Instead, they're taking an under-sized, under-talented batch of Tampa 2 nobodies and attempting to turn them into an attacking Ravens-style unit while minimizing the talents of the only 2 players on their defense that could be considered above average? They seemed to have drafted and approached the off-season with scarcely any plan beyond "Luck will another Peyton Manning, so who cares, right?"

5
by tuluse :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 2:32pm

Well the whole team is talent poor, so they could have drafted anything.

Basically my point is "who cares if they suck this year, they were going to regardless."

6
by chemical burn :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 2:41pm

Come on: their offense has plenty of pieces and they certainly didn't need 2 TE's so early in the draft and their o-line is hardly one of the worst in their league or even their own division. They're also above average at WR. They wasted picks trying to give Luck "weapons" when they should have been figuring out how to do a total rebuild of a defense that was putrid with weaknesses up and down the board that have been covered up by their offense's excellence for at least several years. Plus, Luck will most likely take a while to develop - defense was the way to go this year, they need more help on defense than offense and they only did things to make the def worse. If Luck is Manning 2.0, they could have gone 8-8 in that division with a subpar defense. That's how you build a team and keep the fans/players enthusiastic about what you're doing: aspire to mediocrity when everyone expects you to terrible, get confidence in the young guys, get your record on an upward path, etc. And 8-8 is in play for the wildcard these days...

16
by Mr Shush :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 6:41am

Defenses can be rebuilt a lot more quickly than offenses, which means when you have to rebuild everything it makes sense to start with the offense. That counts double when you're going to be starting a highly drafted rookie quarterback who you need to avoid breaking. And I really don't think the receiver group is much good. They have an ageing Reggie Wayne, who is probably an average WR1 at best at this point, an injury-prone Generic White Wide Receiver who Peyton Manning made look a lot better than he is, and nothing else. The Colts can't realistically be a contender before 2014, and even when they are it will be offense-lead. I think they're taking basically the right approach, though I agree if they could have got real trade value for Freeney or Mathis they should have.

22
by LionInAZ :: Mon, 06/25/2012 - 8:57pm

The Lions did something similar in 2009 -- drafted the QB of the future in Stafford, a couple of TEs (Pettigrew and the 3rd Gronkowski), and defensive players in the middle rounds. Although I think the Colts weren't quite as smart drafting TEs in both the 2nd and 3rd rounds -- one of those might have been better used on a defensive player, depending on what was available.

The idea of giving your rookie QB a couple of TEs as safety valves and some extra blocking if necessary is not such a bad idea. With Dallas Clark gone, the Colts didn't have much to work with.

9
by dryheat :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 4:05pm

I would classify the Ravens as a 3-4 in name only. In reality, with the exception of one year which led to the complete ineffectiveness of Ray Lewis, it's much closer to a 4-3. I don't think the Colts have to worry about changing the types of players they have as much as changing the quality of the players they have.

17
by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 8:38am

I agree, they're a 46 defense or something very close to it. Suggs rushes 95% of the time and plays 'hug the running back' on most of his drops while Ngata lines up exactly where you'd expect a right defensive tackle to line up in a 46 base. They also make good use of the 'Single' defense where all the linebackers are on a red dog assignment (they destroyed the 49ers with that defense on thanksgiving).

Trevor Pryce and Cory Redding are precisely the two way, run-pass defenders that you need for the left end, where Dan Hampton set the standard.

To make the case even more convincing the back end is characterised by the heavy prevalence of man-free coverages that the Ryan family defense relies so heavily upon, with Ed Reed baiting quarterbacks by pretending to bail into a cover two at the snap.

As for how this will affect Freeney and Mathis in the base defense, one of them will be fine. Both are suited to playing the right end position but the other will have to get used to dropping to their landmark in the passing game. This probably won't be a major issue as most teams play nickel at least half the time when they will get plenty of snaps as conventional defensive ends.

7
by AJ (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 3:31pm

I disagree on some levels:

I think when you draft a qb you should build talent around him. The tight ends were best available and while I personally would've preferred they go wide receiver like Randle or someone else, they had the right idea.

Idk why you think the colts receivers are average; they are pretty sub par to me. Reggie wayne i have felt is enormously overrated but even if you happened to be a big fan of his, hes clearly older now. Which brings us to the rest of the roster, who else at their receiving core do you like? collie has a history of concussions and hasn't shown he can be good without manning throwing him the ball. Garcon(another manning product imo) is gone as well, leaving a mediocre group thinner than before.

As for the defense- tbh, the colts defense was never great, but getting pass rush wasn't the issue and frankly, its not like the ravens pass rush is as ferocious as other teams(see the vikings, eagles, giants,etc). The reason they keep ranking in top in dvoa is because their pass defense, especially their secondary, is significantly better than those other teams. Thats the dirty secret about the colts. For years they got away with bad run defense but once their corners and safeties became horrible, then the defense really became abysmal. Manning did what he could to cover it up, but theres only so much he could do. Once he was out, it got exposed for the tire fire it was. And thats why i semi feel like the defense will suck regardless of mathis and freeney, simply because they never addressed the secondary and it still sucks. But hey, rome wasn't built in a day.

8
by neoauspex :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 3:59pm

Grigson wanted to draft Casey Hayward with the early 3rd round pick, but GB traded up to grab him. So they did want to address the secondary, but at that point he had to trust his draft board and take the best available player.

10
by Ranccor :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 5:04pm

Offense is way more predictable year to year than defense, at least where DVOA is concerned. If you want to rebuild a team that sucked on both sides of the ball (like the Colts did last year), I think it is better to build the offence first. Once you have the ability to score some points, you can win a lot of games with just shootouts or on those weeks you defense randomly decides to show up. Finally, you can work on building the defense to make an all around good team. And most fans find high scorning games more exciting to watch (I personally like a good 10 to 14 slugfest).

I think the Colts are doing this right. They are trying to load up the offense to give their rookie QB a fighting chance and will spend the next year evaluating all the young guys on the other side of the ball to see if they fit into the new defensive scheme. There might be a pro-bowler or two among those undersized no-names.

13
by AJ (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 5:28pm

And lets face it, so much of this boils down to luck(no pun intended). Ppl love to find some magic formula that determines a winning team; like great scheme, good drafting, right personnel etc. Thats all bullshit. What separates the colts from the browns, the packers from the jaguars, and the saints from the dolphins comes down to hitting on your draft picks. The rest is overrated. If luck turns out to be a bust, not even bellichick could spin that team into a winner. The same is true for their other picks as well...hopefully...they get a few diamonds in the rough and hit on their players.

14
by tuluse :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 5:48pm

Any average or better player is going to help the Colts. They're talent poor enough I don't think they go deeper than 2 players at any position with average talent.

So they were pretty much free to do what many GMs claim to do, which is simply draft the best player available.

11
by rfh1001 :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 5:23pm

'fiction novelist' - ugh.

15
by catch12 (not verified) :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 12:31am

you're obviously not a golfer...

18
by Dean :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 10:09am

hopefully he's at least housebroken.

25
by Spludge :: Wed, 06/27/2012 - 4:39am

Edited - content irreparibly dumb.

12
by Ben :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 5:27pm

Grigson has mentioned that he narrowly missed out on a couple of DBs in the draft. He stuck to his board and took the BPA since the Colts had holes pretty much everywhere.

He is trying to patch up the O-Line and defense with various cast offs, since you have to field something, but this wasn't going to be a one year turnaround. It looks like the Colts are going to take the year to evaluate the younger talent, and probably draft a bit more for need next year. Since they'll likely have a top 5 pick next year, they should be able to pick up some solid talent. They might even be able to contend for the (weak) division by 2014.

20
by Jimmy :: Sat, 06/23/2012 - 2:30pm

The issue with the change of scheme for Freeney for my mind is that possibly Freeney's greatest asset at DE was how ridiculously fast and low he could explode out of a three point stance. I don't know if he would be as good from a two point stance because I have never seen him do it. The solution might be to line up the base defense more like the 85 Bears with Freeney lining up wide on the weak side all day long with his hand in the dirt.

Also while Freeney might be more athletic than Kruger, Kruger is a lot taller and has longer arms, both of which are important traits for linebackers trying to cover TEs.

21
by Basilicus :: Sun, 06/24/2012 - 9:52am

Even if this works out as intended, the Colts are going to be even more fun to run against. In a division with Arian Foster, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Chris Johnson.

There's no winning formula to build a defense given the pieces the Colts have right now, but you've still got to build to contend in your division. Anything less is ill-advised.

23
by Mr Shush :: Tue, 06/26/2012 - 6:25am

But the 2012 Colts aren't contending for anything, in any division. Obviously their defense will be putrid this season - the question is, can it be average by 2014, when the offense may be really strong.

24
by LionInAZ :: Tue, 06/26/2012 - 10:37pm

I agree with this. Despite what's been happening in the NFL the past few years, people overestimate the importance of the running game. The two Super Bowl teams last year were 23rd and 24th ranked in rushing yards per attempt. The Colts were already average in run D last year, and they probably won't get worse. It's their pass D and offense that really need help right now.

26
by chemical burn :: Fri, 06/29/2012 - 5:52pm

Nice try the Patriots were 4th in DVOA in rushing the ball. You can argue about why they were good at it, but don't try to argue that they weren't good at it.

Also, I'm surprised by how many people arguing about the lack of talents on the Colts - I'm glad to see that the world has apparently come around to my POV that Mathis and Freeney are two of the most over-rated players in the game, but I never heard anyone agree before this off-season. I always heard "2 Pro Bowl DE's who are just terrible at the run because of their scheme! They totally could stop they run if they wanted, they just don't want to." And two Pro Bowl DE's is a hell of a lot more to build a defense around that some teams have.

Anyway, at the end of the day, they did nothing to "build" their new defense and switched to a base formation that undercuts the only talent they have. I'm not saying they should have striven to become the Ravens overnight, but they probably shouldn't have gone out of their way to make the defense worse. If they HAD committed to treading water while offense comes together, I coudl believe it, but instead they made no personnel moves and ruined any chance for Freeney/Mathis to make an impact. There's looking forward and then there's moving backwards - the Colts certainly moved backwards on d this year...

27
by tuluse :: Fri, 06/29/2012 - 6:41pm

They won 2 games last year. There is no reason to do anything the same way they did it last year.

29
by chemical burn :: Mon, 07/02/2012 - 12:40pm

There's always a reason to build to your talent's strengths or GET SOMETHING OF VALUE FOR THE TALENT YOU NO LONGER PLAN TO UTILIZE. You don't think they could get a pick for Mathis or Freeney and free up some cap space? I don't even think high picks but mid-rounders and then you have their money off your books. What you shouldn't do is waste them in a horrible scheme, do nothing to build a defense around them and waste their final years in the re-building phase. A pair of 3rd rounders is worth way more to this team than Freeney/Mathis in a 3-4 for this late in their career. And again, that gives you money to import a few veterans more properly suited to your system. Bad management is bad management. Because they were 2-14, they need players all-around and because they were such a specifically built defense, they need EVEN MORE warm, capable bodies than the average terrible, terrible team.

So, their options are: a) Build around their most capable players - a pair of 4-3 DE's or b) unload those expensive players and bring in new guys to fit their system. They did neither. This is a team that barely added anyone to their defense and switched to a (apparently) 46 style attacking defense from a bad undersized Tampa 2 defense. They don't have the players to make the change and did almost nothing to improve. It's a perfect plan to continue winning 2 games a year.

30
by tuluse :: Mon, 07/02/2012 - 12:46pm

I think the plan is to switch to a new scheme, and have a solid veteran presence to help young players. Very rarely does trading away all veterans and relying solely on very young players work out.

Also, I bet even with the scheme change Freeney and Mathis are better for the team next year than 2 3rd round picks.

31
by Mr Shush :: Mon, 07/02/2012 - 7:14pm

I think the first point's the important one. Even very talented young players will struggle if thrown out there with no quality veterans around them - and not just struggle in the short term, but acquire bad habits and generally suffer even in the long run. Players don't develop in a vacuum.

32
by AJ (not verified) :: Mon, 07/02/2012 - 8:29pm

How much of this is actually proven vs anecdotal? Sure it sounds great in theory, but its not as if existing players are able to train subs to play like them. I mean, that much seems kind of obvious right? And remember, what talented veterans did the detroit lines retain once they went 0-16 to now 10-6? They essentially gutted the roster after that season, ditto for the falcons when they hired mike smith.

The truth is, I suspect you keep veterans around if they come with the right pricetag just because you don't want to field an absolute garbage team and you don't want to put all the pressure on your qb

33
by tuluse :: Mon, 07/02/2012 - 9:23pm

Not counting Jason Hansen or Chris Harris the Lions had 17 players more than 5 years of experience.

"what talented veterans did the detroit lines retain once they went 0-16 to now 10-6"

That's a different question. The point here is that veterans in 2008 taught the players who are veterans now, well maybe.

I'm not sure there is any proof of this, but I don't think it's a bad theory to work upon when building a team. I think the odds of higher of veterans helping young players being true is higher than the likelyhood that 2 3rd round picks will significantly impact the Colt's future.

As a good example of a team deliberately shedding veterans and it not paying off there is the Rams.

34
by AJ (not verified) :: Mon, 07/02/2012 - 10:15pm

I just don't buy. This feels alot like the arguments i kept hearing about teams needing a veteran qb to mentor the young draftee, which btw, is an entirely different argument than using a veteran qb to take the beating so your young qb isn't scared for life. Put it this way, no one is rushing to sign curtis painter or start jim sorgi despite their "learning" from the great peyton manning. Veteran qbs don't teach their young backups anymore than veterans in other positions teach their young subs, or at the very least, id like to see compelling evidence before i believed such a claim.

Frankly it all sounds like the usual footballisms you hear like time of possession, establish the run, don't beat yourself, be mentally tough etc etc. Mike singletary's entire press conferences were a referendum on this type of coaching mantra and i doubt it made their team any better.

The other issue to remember is theres no real answer on how long veterans can be effective so you again, if price is correct, you should retain them because some can last a really long time. The other thing is rebuilds are much shorter than most people think because a qb or a few really stellar players can really turn a program completely around. The lions were 0-16 in 2008 and it took 2 years of losing before they made the playoffs, so its not inconceivable that the reggie wayne's of the world survive the losing for the return, like a donald driver, hines ward, or michael strahan.

40
by Karl Cuba :: Tue, 07/03/2012 - 4:25am

This smells faintly of smouldering straw. Sorgi and Painter might have been in the NFL for a while but they have hardly played, their availability is not an indictment of the utility of a quarterbacking mentor.

41
by AJ (not verified) :: Tue, 07/03/2012 - 5:38am

LoL, ok maybe,

but do you really want me to cite examples of the so called veteran qb effect? I doubt there are many successful case studies outside of the aaron rodgers brett favre dynamic, which itself is debatable about exactly how much Favre "mentored" rodgers.

45
by chemical burn :: Tue, 07/03/2012 - 1:53pm

Yeah, veteran QB effect has always seemed phony to me - what makes you think Peyton Manning would be a good teacher or even wants to help out his eventual successor? Favre, by all accounts, did everything he could to undermine Rodgers and that's the rare case I can think off where a back-up sat behind an all-time great and came into the game on an amazing level. There's a dozen cases of stuff like Mark Brunell adding a veteran QB presence behind Mark Sanchez to no discernible effect. In general, I think veterans mentoring young players is overstated - veterans are valuable because they come knowing how to play and not having to be taught the speed of the game. They're also known quantities and you don't have to waste years developing some one who always seems on the verge of not sucking (the Alex Smith effect.)

48
by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 07/04/2012 - 5:08am

Well if you're going to mention Favre and mentoring then I could point out that Aaron Brooks, Mark Brunell and Matt Hassleback all learned under Favre as well as Aaron Rodgers. I would expect that has more to do with Holmgren's coaching and Ron Wolf always drafting qbs though.

Steve Deberg was in place as a mentor for Joe Montana, John Elway, Steve Young and Vinny Testaverde.

While I would agree that the concept of a veteran mentor is sometimes a trope thrown about by lazy media hacks, it is such a vaguely defined idea that I find it spurious that you and AJ think yo can dismiss it. Is a mentor's role to teach good film study habits, to help to learn to command a huddle, to be a sounding board for the young players frustrations, a stopgap in the case of the young quarterback not being ready or as has been suggested to take the hits in a substandard offense to protect the development of a young prospect? Any of these things could be true in any particular case and you have no way of knowing as you lack the necessary access. So how can you refute the idea in its entirety?

50
by AJ (not verified) :: Wed, 07/04/2012 - 3:00pm

I have always held this principle when it comes to arguing: Those who make a claim, must provide the evidence. The natural reaction should always be skepticism first, especially when i feel like the argument is purely anecdotal.

Like you said, can we KNOW whether it was holmgren or favre? Can we know it was Deberg or any other veteran stopgap thats teaching the new kids? This is especially true when the team hires head coaches, offensive coordinators, qb coaches, weight and conditioning trainers and film analysts. Can we KNOW any of this for sure?

The other pt i want to add is i get really tired of hearing anecdotal arguments in the first place. its not that they're all wrong, but so many of them I find lazy without any evidence. Sure, mental toughness, grit, and clutch COULD be the difference, but evidence seems to suggest it isn't. I don't believe clutch exists(see tom brady), nor do i believe choking exists(again see tom brady). Great players get to superbowls and sometimes they win because their team backed them up that day and sometimes they lose because they didn't catch that many breaks and sometimes they just didn't play well on that particular day.

The truth is, football is so goddamn complicated and the difference between success and failure can come down to the smallest things like a dropped pass, a miss timed route, coming up just short etc. None of this is sexy to sell to mass audience so its largely ignored.

the pt about veterans is that while it might make sense, i think its overrated because much of this stuff often is. Is it possible this is the lone exception where the evidence MIGHT actually back it up? Maybe, but why would I have faith in this particular narrative when so many others have come up false?

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by chemical burn :: Tue, 07/10/2012 - 5:50pm

I dismiss the idea that Favre helped Rodgers because it is well-documented that he did everything he could to undermine him. It's a well-covered and oft-discussed story. Now, maybe Rodgers had the opportunity to merely observe a man who refused to speak to him and demanded to coaches that he not upstage him in practice, but I find that pretty doubtful. I'm sure veteran presence has a purpose, but I'd like some proof. There's a strong history coaches producing good players and I can even buy your Deberg concept - but, again, that seems like luck. There's no reason to think Peyton Manning will be a good mentor because great players and great teachers are simply not the same thing. Experienced players are also not the same as great players.

42
by Mr Shush :: Tue, 07/03/2012 - 6:58am

I don't think it's primarily about mentoring, though that may be a marginal factor. I think it's far more similar to the (mooted) QB-wrecking effect: playing as part of an absolutely awful unit is apt to instil bad habits in young players, because assignment discipline is not rewarded due to the ineptitude of team-mates.

I have no idea how you would even begin to measure (let alone prove) such an effect, but I strongly suspect it's real (and as a Texans fan I spent plenty of time watching units bereft of quality veterans with lots of recent draftees).

35
by LionInAZ :: Tue, 07/03/2012 - 12:40am

In 2008, the only veterans on the Lions defense worth keeping were Paris Lenon, Leigh Bodden, and Cory Redding. Lenon was a FA and didn't stay, Redding ended up on IR and was traded, and Bodden was released and hasn't done much since then. The rest of the veterans on that team were pretty awful and proved it after they were released. There was no one on that D of the same calibre as Mathis, Freeney, or Antoine Bethea, so it made tons of sense for the Lions to dump everyone but the rookies (meaning Cliff Avril and Andre Fluellen).

In 2009, the Lions started wholesale dumping of personnel, and brought in veteran FAs to fill in important starting positions. Most of them didn't work out very well, but it showed that the new management was determined to shake things up until they could make some really significant moves in 2010. That started with getting some capable veteran FAs (Corey Williams and Kyle Vanden Bosch) to anchor the DL).

The Lions in 2008 did not have anyone on defense as capable as Freeney or Mathis, or even a decent safety like Bethea. It makes sense for the Colts to retain all of these guys as a nucleus around which to build the DL and the secondary. Beyond that, all three of them have won a Super Bowl, which is not the kind of experience you throw away lightly. The Colts are going to get more very high draft picks next year anyway, which they may need for more dire positions, like CB, DT, or WR.

37
by AJ (not verified) :: Tue, 07/03/2012 - 2:13am

I hate to nitpick here, but this really feels like access to the results. Lets say the colts had gone winless, what would your opinion on freeney, mathis, and bathea have been? Furthermore, and by the way this is a colts fan saying this, its hard to know how much of the reputation of freeney mathis and anyone else you choose to name isn't the result of P F Manning.

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by chemical burn :: Tue, 07/03/2012 - 1:45pm

Having two veterans playing out position helps no one transition. They're going to be entirely re-learning how to play the game. It wouldn't be crazy to think they have less confidence and knowledge as DE/LB hybrids than rookies who are playing their natural position. In fact, you might have noticed I have been emphasizing that the Colts should AQUIRE CHEAPER VETERANS used to playing in the 3-4 scheme. I know you love to disagree with everything I say, but please pay some fucking attention. And again, what the hell are you even trying to argue "Freeney and Mathis are better for the team next year than 2 3rd round picks" - if they argument is for them to be better in 2012, then don't switch to 3-4 and dull the impact of their best players. If the idea is to be better in 2013 and beyond, then draft young players. Please, please, please try to make SOME sense.

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by tuluse :: Tue, 07/03/2012 - 2:08pm

I very rarely notice who I'm replying to. Though I do like to play devils advocate sometimes.

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by Akirp001 (not verified) :: Tue, 07/03/2012 - 5:02pm

They tried to shop freeney but no one wanted his huge contract. Mathis i would argue probably should not have been but that was probably a bit of fan favoritism and home town discount more so than prudent team building. Sometimes i think teams just bite the bullet on certain players in order to sell the rebuild better.

39
by Karl Cuba :: Tue, 07/03/2012 - 4:21am

They were shopping Freeney before the draft and they couldn't get anything for him because of his salary remaining on the final year of his deal. You could probably argue for freeing up cap space but there's nobody to spend it on. I don't see the harm in having two pass rushers to help the defense get off the field on third down.

44
by chemical burn :: Tue, 07/03/2012 - 1:49pm

What evidence is there that Freeney or Mathis will be useful in 46 and be able to help them out on 3rd down? Anyhoo, I was just trying to find that research that showed that an abnormal majority of Freeney's sacks came on first down because he played pass all the time, but it's not coming up. Was that done for FO or am I confused?

As for cap space, they need warm veteran bodies at literally all positions on defense - they could have found plenty of inexpensive guys that would have been useful for the money they're spending on Freeney/Mathis. Again, they need to start building and they didn't. They just didn't - no free agents, 2 lower round draft picks. Good luck being decent on defense in 2013.

49
by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 07/04/2012 - 5:14am

Firstly, I think that their skill sets fit Richard Dent's role at right end and Mathis could possibly play SAM in that scheme too. On third down they'd need two pass rushing ends so I doubt that would be a problem.

I thought that perception of Freeney was a truism, however, if there is evidence I'd expect to find it on 18to88.com.

36
by LionInAZ :: Tue, 07/03/2012 - 12:58am

DVOA tells me that they were good at what they did run, not that they were good at running the ball in general.

I suspect that high DVOA is largely the result of (1) the Pats having a high number of rushing TDs, and (2) their low number of fumbles running. Compare that to the Jaguars, who had similar rushing production but far fewer TDs and more fumbles. DVOA really punishes teams for turnovers.

The moral is that the Law Firm rules the day in NE.

38
by AJ (not verified) :: Tue, 07/03/2012 - 2:14am

True i do want to add, a great passing offense is not all you need for a good run offense- see the colts, 2010 saints, and the chargers as proof of that!

28
by AJ (not verified) :: Fri, 06/29/2012 - 9:23pm

Yeah I can understand partially what Chemical means, but he's forgetting that they are aging now and the real issue is just a lack of talent. the scheme the colts ran on defense wasn't even that good, it basically relied on manning to do everything because the colts were fairly terrible at defensive tackle, linebacker, and corner for years.

As much as we recognize the defense is now full of holes, the fact was that this team was full of holes, both offensively and defensively and you only have a limited number of picks to fill them.

I say this as a colts fan, despite the colts perennial winning ways, did anyone really like their talent all that much? Im talking after their 2007 season, who was actually that great on the team? I looked over much of their roster and idk how much of it looks like real talent in retrospect. The receivers feel like system guys, the o line and dtackles were pretty bad, the corners and then safeties were horrendous, the special and linebackers were their usual piss poor, and by then even the coaching had fallen off a cliff. Its amazing this team was so competitive for so long when you consider how many times they had to face real powerhouses like pittsburgh, ne, and baltimore.