Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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» Scramble for the Ball: Quarter Pole Projections

Mike and Tom weigh the chances of this year's class of receivers, running backs and tight ends who are on pace to break the magical 1,000-yard mark for the first time.

13 Jan 2010

Walkthrough: Combo Coverage

by Mike Tanier

There's a matchup I will be watching this weekend more closely than any other.

It's not Darrelle Revis versus Vincent Jackson. It's not the Ravens tackles against Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

It's David Buehler versus Percy Harvin.

Buehler is the best kickoff specialist in the NFL. Thanks to him, Cowboys opponents start their average drive on the 25.6-yard line, the worst field position in the league.

Harvin is the best kickoff returner in the league. The Vikings start their average drive on the 32.2-yard line, the second best field position in the league.

A difference of 6.6 yards don't sound like a lot, so let's look at some specific examples of how field position made a difference for both teams this season.

The Vikings faced the Packers, who had awful special teams, in Week 8. The Packers forced a punt and a turnover on the Vikings' first two possessions. Nursing a 3-0 lead, the Packers gave up a 77-yard return to Harvin. The Vikings scored a touchdown seven plays later. After a failed drive, the Packers punted, allowing a 20-yard return by Jaymar Johnson. The Vikings drove 51 yards in seven plays. The score was 14-3, even though the Vikings' longest play on their two scoring drives was just 12 yards.

The Vikings drove just 37 yards for a field goal before the end of the first half. They got the ball at the 37-yard line after a short kickoff and a 24-yard Harvin return in the third quarter. They scored a touchdown four plays later, though the big play was a 51-yard Harvin catch-and-run that had nothing to do with field position.

The Packers came back, as they often do. They cut the score to 24-20. Then they kicked off to Harvin. The Vikings got the ball on the Packers' 38-yard line. The Vikings scored seven plays later. They eventually won, 38-26. Fourteen of those points came as the direct result of long kickoff returns, seven more came from a long punt return.

When the Cowboys faced the Chiefs in Week 5, their offense was playing poorly. They accomplished nothing in their first few drives, and when Patrick Crayton muffed a punt and Tony Romo fumbled, the Chiefs scored 10 points on 11 yards of offense. It took an 83-yard Cowboys drive to make the score 10-3, but Buehler's kickoff to the goal line left the Chiefs with the ball on their own 12-yard line. The Chiefs could only muster 36 yards on nine plays before halftime.

The Chiefs managed a 38-yard field goal drive in the third quarter, but after a Cowboys touchdown made the score 13-10, Buehler pinned the Chiefs at their 20-yard line. The Chiefs drove nowhere, and the Cowboys tied the game.

The Chiefs got the ball at their 27-yard line after one of Buehler's "short" kicks only traveled 63 yards. They then began to drive, and drive. The Chiefs needed 15 plays to travel 43 yards. Their 52-yard field goal attempt to end the drive and take the lead was blocked. The Cowboys quickly scored the go-ahead touchdown. There was some late-game tomfoolery, but the Cowboys held on to win 26-20.

It's not hard to imagine the Chiefs scoring six more points if they got the ball at the 30-yard line instead of the 20: three before half, three more on the kick that might not have been blocked from 42 yards out. Those six points would have changed the whole game. Heck, they might have gotten Wade Phillips fired.

These are extreme examples, but time and again the Cowboys and Vikings were helped by their kickoff and kick return units, respectively. Kickoffs and field position played a major role in all three of the Cowboys victories over the Eagles; the first game might have ended differently if the Eagles were able to start a few drives at midfield instead of their own 20-yard line. The Vikings offense often gets bogged down in station-to-station football, as Brett Favre takes all the underneath throws he's given and Adrian Peterson battles unblocked defenders. That kind of offense can be very effective when the first station is on the 38-yard line.

Buehler led the league with 29 touchbacks and added three more last week, so chances are he will neutralize Harvin just by kicking over him. If that happens, it will change the complexion of the Vikings offense. Neither team wants to have to battle for field position, but the Cowboys have more big-play capability on offense. If the Vikings must drive 60 yards for every field goal, they are going to lose.

So that's the matchup I am looking at: Buehler versus Harvin. There probably hasn't been a Twitter battle. There should be.

Same Time Next Year

January 2, 2006

Chat Host: Welcome to today's Live Chat with Mike Tanier, who writes for Football Outsiders and makes his weekly picks in the Rundown column on the network that brings you The Simpsons!

Tanier: Happy New Year! This is a great chance to take a break from my three-year old son and pregnant wife. Can't wait to field your questions!

Host: First Question: Mike, with the Eagles coming off a 6-10 season and Donovan McNabb trying to come back from both an injury and the Terrell Owens debacle, is this the end of the Reid-McNabb era? I feel like the window of opportunity is closing.

Tanier: I think you have to be patient. McNabb is just 29, and I think he has some productive years left. I think Reid has proven he can run a sound organization, and you don't blow a team up that has won as many games as these guys have.

January 14, 2007

Radio Host: We're chatting with Mike Tanier today. Mike is a writer for Football Outsiders and a co-author of Pro Football Prospectus 2006.

Tanier: Great to be here. I may make mistakes, but I know what it takes to win, just like Rex Grossman. Can't wait to field some football questions!

Host: First Question: Mike, with the Eagles coming off an ugly playoff loss and the team clearly rallying around Jeff Garcia, is this the end of the McNabb era? And if Reid can't see that, shouldn't he go too? I feel like the window of opportunity is closing.

Tanier: I think you have to be patient. McNabb is a better quarterback than Garcia, and I think this season proves that Reid can put the right pieces together. You don't blow a team up that has won as many games as these guys have.

January 1, 2008

Chat Host: Welcome to a Live Chat with Mike Tanier, who writes for Football Outsiders and did a great job breaking down the Giants blitz packages in ESPN The Magazine a few weeks ago.

Tanier: Yep, those were some great diagrams. In fact, I have a feeling those blitzes will be good enough to beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl in a few weeks. Can't wait to field some questions!

Host: First Question: Mike, with the Eagles coming off a disappointing 8-8 season, haven't we seen enough of Reid and McNabb? I feel like the window of opportunity is closing.

Tanier: I think you have to be patient. I ... I have the strangest feeling of déjà vu.

January 11, 2010

Chat Host: Today's chat is with Mike Tanier, who writes for Football Outsiders and puts together those confusing capsules in the New York Times that no one really understands.

Tanier: As always, I'm thrilled to be here. Let 'er rip!

Host: First Question: Mike, with the Eagles coming off two straight losses to the Cowboys ...

Tanier: Stop for a second. I've been answering this question for four years. In the time since I was first asked it, I've seen six playoff games, three of them wins. I saw an Eagles-Cardinals NFC title game go to the wall. I've seen about 90 percent of the roster turn over, but I haven't seen a losing season.

I've been frustrated, angry, disappointed, and disillusioned as a fan at times, and I've scratched my head at some of the decisions that Reid has made and passes McNabb has thrown. But I have never seen any evidence that the team would have been better off changing horses after 2005, 2006, or 2007. I still don't see the evidence. Heck, if they fired everybody after the 2005 season, they would probably be firing all the new guys this year!

You have to be patient. You don't blow up a team that has won as many games as these guys have. And you have to take 10-6 and 11-5 seasons for what they are: exciting four-month periods where you look forward to the game, even if the end result is a little bitter.

So yes, I am ready for one more year of Reid and McNabb. The window really is closing, very soon. But someone has kept it propped open for four years. Two someones. Guess who they are.

January 18, 2013

Chat Host: Our guest today is Mike Tanier, who tweets for Football Outsiders, twiddles for ESPN, whimpers for the Virtual New York Times, and used to work for something called a "newspaper."

Tanier: Boy, how about that election! Has Florida been decided yet? Don't blame me, I voted the Runyan-Deen Buttermilk ticket! Let's field some tweets, chirps, yips, and twaddles.

Host: First Question: Mike, with the Eagles coming off a disappointing 11-7 season, don't you think ...

Combo Coverage

The over-under for Cardinals-Saints is 57. It should be 157.

The Cardinals are coming off a 51-45 overtime win. The Saints offense tailed off at season's end, but the team still scored 510 points this season. Drew Brees is the best quarterback in the conference, and the Saints are loaded at receiver, running back, and tight end. The Cardinals cannot expect the Saints to be as flat as they looked in December, and they can't afford to play defense the way they did in the third and fourth quarter on Sunday.

I watched tape of the Cardinals-Packers game to determine what the Cardinals did right defensively in the first half, what went wrong in the second half, and how the Cardinals will try to cover the Saints receivers. The Packers and Saints pose similar offensive problems: spread formations, multiple weapons at wide receiver and tight end, and a quarterback that can pick you apart when he's on. The Cardinals couldn't match up in simple man coverage with the Packers, and they won't be able to do it against the Saints. Blitzing, which was effective against the sack-prone Packers, is a riskier proposition this week. The Cardinals need a coverage scheme that will give a four-man pass rush time to pressure the quarterback.

The solution? The Cardinals used combo coverage to great effect in the first half, mixing man and zone coverage in a way that confused Aaron Rodgers and took away easy underneath reads. The Cardinals will use similar tactics this week.

(A quick disclaimer: there is much, much guesswork in figuring out coverage based on television tape. I do my best here to explain where certainty ends and educated guesses begin.)

Figure 1: Cardinals Combo Coverage

Figure 1 shows the Packers in a trips-left formation on third-and-5. The Cardinals are showing soft zone coverage in their pre-snap read. Notice how deep the safeties are; one of them wasn't even visible on television, but he was back there somewhere. This is a Cover-3 shell, but the Cardinals aren't in a typical three-deep zone. Instead, they are in a man-zone hybrid.

It is clear on tape that Bryant McFadden (25) has man coverage on Jermichael Finley (88), who is split wide right. Finley appears to be Rodgers' first read, but Finley has no chance of getting open against McFadden and safety Antrel Rolle (21), who creeps forward when Rodgers looks that way. Adrian Wilson (24) has man coverage on Greg Jennings (85), while Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (29) takes on James Jones (89). Jones appears to be Rodgers' second read, but DRC has him covered. At this point, the pocket breaks down, and Rodgers takes off.

What's interesting is that linebacker Karlos Dansby appears to have coverage responsibility on Donald Driver (80), a true mismatch. On the tape, though, it's clear that Dansby trades Driver off to the deep sideline safety once Driver runs his corner route. Dansby then slides back into an underneath zone.

Here's what I think was really happening on the offensive left: DRC, Dansby, and Wilson executed a kind of banjo coverage on Jones, Driver, and Jennings. No matter what the receivers did, DRC was responsible for the receiver closest to the sidelines, Wilson for the one nearest the middle of the field, and Dansby the receiver in between. If the receivers crossed, the defenders would switch off. And any receiver that went deep would be traded off to one of the safeties.

This kind of banjo coverage is similar to zone coverage in some ways, but there's a key difference: the defenders don't play as far off the receivers. DRC and McFadden maintain tight coverage on the outside receivers instead of dropping off and preparing to stop other players threatening their zones. This tight coverage takes away some of the easy reads and throws a quarterback gets when an opponent plays four-under, three-deep zone. It's a very good strategy to use against the Saints: the banjo principle negates some of the advantages the Saints get by stacking and crossing their receivers, and the three-deep coverage reduces the risk of a Devery Henderson bomb.

Figure2: Cardinals Man Zone

Figure 2 shows another man-zone combo principle the Cardinals used against the Packers. It's the second quarter, and the Packers are again in a trips-left formation. The pre-snap read here suggests some kind of two-deep zone. Rodgers has to like what he sees, because Finley and Driver are very good at getting open underneath in zone coverage. Unfortunately, the Cardinals aren't in zone coverage -- not in the middle of the field, anyway.

Finley once again draws man coverage, this time from Wilson. Driver also draws man coverage. The outside receivers, however, aren't covered man-to-man. DRC rides Jennings about 10 yards downfield, then flattens in underneath zone coverage. McFadden does the same to Jones. The safeties then pick the deep receivers up. My guess here is that the safeties weren't assigned to deep halves: they were probably covering deep thirds, with the middle of the field "open". I base that on their pre-snap spacing (they are spread much wider than typical two-deep safeties) and by the way the cornerbacks flatten out in front of the receivers. Rodgers sees Jones flash open, but the passing window is too small, and Rodgers is under duress from a stunting five-man rush. Rodgers overthrows the receiver.

Just to clarify: Had an outside receiver run up the middle of the field, the safety to his side would pick him up and cover him. Assigning the safeties to "thirds" instead of "halves" takes them out of position for that kind of throw, but it's a calculated risk. The interior receivers, the ones most likely to work the middle, are in man coverage, so there's less risk that they will get free in the middle of the field. The Cardinals let the running back leak out of the backfield uncovered on this play, which is another calculated risk. DRC and McFadden are in good position to tackle the back for a modest gain, and running backs are a very small part of the Packers passing game.

Defensive coordinators design coverage combinations like these with predetermined strengths and weaknesses. The strengths of this defensive call are its ability to take away easy throws over the middle, the deep protection it provides against sideline routes, and the pressure applied on the quarterback. The weaknesses are the fact that a sideline receiver could flash open over the deep middle and that the back could leak out for a 15-yard gain. Those weaknesses represent a fair trade against the Packers. If Reggie Bush is in the game, the Cardinals will probably make an adjustment to make sure that a fast safety or linebacker picks him up in coverage.

In the second half, the Packers started to figure out the combo coverage, and the Cardinals began to suffer execution lapses. During the Packers' first touchdown drive of the third quarter, Cardinals defensive backs can be seen waving each other off and shouting in confusion as they line up. On one play (not diagrammed), Driver gains 13 yards on a simple flat route because the Cardinals didn't shift their coverage to respond to Packers motion: Driver's defender, deep safety Rolle, was about 15 yards off the ball at the snap.

Figure 3: Jennings Burns the Zone

Figure 3 shows one of the Packers' biggest plays of the game, a third quarter catch-and-run by Jennings. The Packers are again in a trips-left look, and all indicators suggest that this coverage is similar to the one in Figure 2. The inside receivers are covered man-to-man, and the back is allowed to release into the flat, so McFadden is probably responsible for him. DRC has deep help, and it's clear by the way he sets and reads Rodgers' eyes that he's in underneath coverage. That leaves him free to gamble for an interception. This time, Jennings runs a hitch to the sideline, away from the coverage, and Rodgers puts the ball on his outside shoulder, away from the defender. DRC's gamble is excusable; with the score 31-10 and a safety behind him, it's a worthwhile risk. When nickel defender Ralph Brown slips, this turns into a huge gain for the Packers.

Despite the second-half lapses, the Cardinals can use similar principles against the Saints this week. They will use man coverage on underneath receivers like Shockey and Marques Colston. They will give their corners extra help along the deep sidelines. They will use banjo coverage to protect against rubs and moving picks. And they will usually rush four or five defenders, because blitzing the Saints too much is a bad idea. They'll have to modify their plans somewhat; they must protect the deep middle and pay more attention to the backs. And of course, they cannot confuse themselves in their haste to confuse Drew Brees.

The combo coverage packages won't be 100 percent successful. But the Cardinals don't need to shut the Saints down completely to win. They need to think in basketball terms: a turnover here, a stop there, and suddenly the score is 28-17 Cardinals instead of 31-28 Saints. The plan worked very well against the Packers. For about 35 minutes, anyway.

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 13 Jan 2010

67 comments, Last at 16 Jan 2010, 1:16am by Spoilt Victorian Child

Comments

1
by commissionerleaf :: Wed, 01/13/2010 - 7:02pm

The moral of the story: You can play a very different style of defense when your quarterback is Kurt Warner. Also, given that Brees won't even be the best quarterback in this game, saying he's the best in the conference is a stretch.

2
by billsfan :: Wed, 01/13/2010 - 7:18pm

You're right. Brees only leads Warner in Yards Per Attempt, Passer Rating, Yards, Completion Percentage, Touchdowns, Interceptions, DVOA, and DYAR.

Edit: Brees was also sacked fewer times.

(I also like the Eagles)

3
by 2468ben :: Wed, 01/13/2010 - 7:24pm

That Q&A section really sums up the pain and pleasure of all 'good but not great' teams.

People even started to call for Dungy's and Cowher's playoff-choking heads until they won the Super Bowl. Coughlin I vividly remember escaping the chopping block (almost solely because his D-line escaped so many chop blocks). Billick, Shanahan and Gruden rode their early rings all the way to the grave/newsbooth (Omar Tomlin very well might do the same), and Belichick has only this year started to cast doubts on his ability to eternally shit rainbows. Aside from the beautiful man that is Dick Vermeil, those are your last dozen champion coaches, all getting fans or sportswriters wary at some point.

As someone who roots for the Eagles (more than others), I wish for a Super Bowl like every other loving brother in our city. But as an objective sports fan, I'm so happy that every season we have a chance, and every December things get as exciting as possible.

I'm never publicly thankful for a team with a decade-long foundation like Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid. I will be now to distract myself from our shit-tastic loss, but I would rather lose in the playoffs than not make it.

I would rather my quarterback throw up in the Super Bowl than run out of the end zone en route to an 0-16 season.

I would rather my coach never convert 3rd downs THE RIGHT WAY than call for 71-yard field goal attempts as a sign of defiance to the Cryptkeeper.

I would rather my stadium be full of smart-asses than poor fans with season tickets who wear a brown bag.

And I would rather my owner stick with what's almost working than refresh the coordinators every year, threaten to leave the city, or worry about how to hang the world's biggest television.

In other words, blue balls seem worse than no sex at all, but I'm grateful that I at least get a chance to show off my erection.

6
by Jim B. (not verified) :: Wed, 01/13/2010 - 7:52pm

I don't know - I think I'd rather root for a team like Tampa Bay or the New York Giants: mostly mediocre teams the past decade, but each with one special year in which they get really hot and win it all.

I mean, the definition of success in the NFL is a Super Bowl victory. Just being "good enough" to get to the playoffs consistently really isn't all that much fun. Wouldn't you rather be able to say that your city has a Lombardi trophy? After McNabb is too old to play, and Westbrook is finished, and Dawkins has left town, and Reid is washed up, what will you be able to look back and say they accomplished? A bunch of winning season? Woopee. What do people remember more: all of the amazing San Diego winning seasons over the decades with their talented rosters, or the few stretches of Super Bowl caliber teams the Dallas Cowboys have seen amid their long playoff droughts?

I'd personally much rather be able to say "My team has won a Super Bowl that one magical year and I was there to see it" than "Well, my team has had a bunch of pretty good seasons and I was there to see them all".

11
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Wed, 01/13/2010 - 8:39pm

After McNabb is too old to play, and Westbrook is finished, and Dawkins has left town, and Reid is washed up

Here's where you're making your mistake: Reid is the head coach. He's only washed up when he starts fielding bad teams. McNabb and Westbrook will age and get traded or retire. That will happen, and it will happen soon.

But Reid doesn't have to start fielding bad teams, and he's shown no signs of doing so. The guy's still in his 50s, and the Eagles were one of the absolute youngest teams in the league, and went 11-5 with a slew of injuries. This is why I don't understand Mike Tanier's "the window is closing" comment. The window is closing on McNabb, and I feel bad about that. But Reid? Yeah, nowhere near. Again - crazy young team.

I can actually understand the fans who want to get rid of McNabb. He's over 30, he has stretches of absolutely awful play, and because his best skill's the deep ball, he's never *really* good unless everyone around him is, too - that is, he's not very 'forgiving' to the rest of his team. But fans who want to get rid of Reid just baffle me.

31
by Mr Shush :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 10:29am

I agree completely. I don't see the Eagles stopping being competitive any time soon, which is precisely why I think they should deal McNabb while he still has value. Kolb's looked pretty decent so far. Find out what you've got before you have to give him a second contract. He may not be as good as McNabb next year (though it wouldn't surprise me if he was), but he'll benefit from the experience and the team will benefit from the extra draft picks. McNabb's 33 coming off a thoroughly mediocre season. You have the prospect of a horrific schedule next year (NFC East plays AFC South = good news for every other division in the league), meaning it's less likely to produce a championship or even a playoff spot than most in any case. This strikes me as the right time to make the change (of McNabb only, obviously, not of Reid).

13
by zlionsfan :: Wed, 01/13/2010 - 8:56pm

I think that all depends on your perspective. Sure, if the assumption is that a different coach (or QB or whatever) would have led the Eagles to a title, then those people are disappointed. Choosing between playoff losses and a Super Bowl win? Easy pick.

But as we've seen on several occasions recently, a Super Bowl win isn't entirely up to your team. You also need the other teams to "cooperate". What if it would have been between several playoff runs and several .500-or-worse seasons with no playoff appearances? Would you rather be an Eagles fan or a Lions fan?

Particularly in leagues the size of modern leagues, putting all your stock in championships is going to lead to disappointment most of the time for most of the teams. There just aren't enough to go around. No, the Eagles haven't reached their ultimate goal yet, but it could be a lot worse. I'd rather have been able to say "Yeah, they didn't win a title during that stretch, but they were competitive" instead of "well, they thought they needed a few more pieces, so they switched some things around, and 10 years later they still haven't recovered."

Say, what is this Super Bowl thing people keep talking about anyway?

16
by billsfan :: Wed, 01/13/2010 - 10:00pm

The more interesting comparison is with a team like the Giants. On the decade, would you rather 8 playoff appearances with only one first-round loss and one losing season, or one Super Bowl victory and several awful seasons? Personally, as a fan, I'd prefer the eventual playoff disappointments to the one Super Bowl in a sea of mediocrity.

(I also like the Eagles)

46
by Bjorn Nittmo (not verified) :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 4:37pm

Why is everyone holding up the Giants' 2000's decade as the anthithesis of the Eagles? I understand the juxtaposition of the lucky team that got hot at the right time vs. the consistently strong team that consistently came up short in the playoffs, but the Giants didn't have "several awful seasons". Besides '07 won the division 3 times, made the playoffs 5 times, and went to the Super Bowl in 2000 to go with 2 terrible seasons ('03, '04) and two very disappointing but mediocre ones ('01, '09). Much more like the Ravens or Bucs than the Lions.

49
by Jim B. (not verified) :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 5:29pm

You're missing the point. We are debating whether it's better to be a fan of a consistently good team year-in and year-out (Eagles) or a mediocre, average team that has one great year (Giants). No one is saying that the Giants had a terrible decade, or that the Giants are similar to the awful Lions. They were merely an average, mediocre team for the 2000s with a single great Super Bowl year.

53
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 7:38pm

They were merely an average, mediocre team for the 2000s with a single great Super Bowl year.

Yeah, not going to buy that analogy. Philly had 8 playoff appearances in the 2000s, and New York had 6. This isn't a huge difference. The only real difference between Philly and the Giants is that the Giants had two bad years (2003, 2004) and the Eagles had one (2005). Would I trade one bad year for a Super Bowl victory? Uh, yes? Sure?

A closer analogy is Tampa Bay, but even in their case, not really - 5 playoff appearances, 3 bad years - but the only reason I wouldn't trade places with Tampa Bay fans is because their team's on a downward spiral. Possibly an even better analogy would be Oakland, had they won in 2002.

But, see, that's kindof the thing: there hasn't been a "mediocre, average team" who had one great year in the 2000s. Which just kindof stresses the point: you don't get rid of a coach who fields a consistently above-average team. It will happen. It just takes time.

55
by Jim B. (not verified) :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 8:02pm

New York Giants this decade:

2000: Great year and went to the Super Bowl
2001: Decidedly mediocre 7-9 year, no playoff appearance
2002: mediocre 10-6 team, one-and-done in the playoffs
2003: awful 4-12 season
2004: awful 6-10 season
2005: mediocre team overachieved to get 11-5 season but got destroyed in the playoffs by Carolina
2006: mediocre team that backed into the playoffs at 8-8 and then one-and-done
2007: mediocre team during the regular season that got really hot in the playoffs and won the Super Bowl
2008: great regular season but collapsed down the stretch
2009: awful season wherein the team played alot worse than their 8-8 record would indicate

New York Giants, to any football observer, have been the picture of mediocrity with 2-3 spikes of brilliance over this past decade.

Compare that to the Philadelphia Eagles:

2000: The first year of the Reid/McNabb dominance. Got to the conference championship but lost to the Giants.
2001: One of the top 5 teams in the NFC that year, lost close NFCCG to the #1 team in the NFL, the Rams.
2002: Probably the #1 or #2 team in the NFC that year. Upset at home by Tampa Bay in the NFCCG despite beating them in the regular season
2003: Again, one of the top 3 teams in the NFC. Upset by an inferior Carolina team during the NFCCG due to injuries to key players like Westbrook and McNabb
2004: Clearly the best team in the NFC by a wide margin. Lost close Super Bowl to the #1 team in the NFL at the time, the Patriots
2005: Awful year due to TO drama and whatnot.
2006: Again one of the top 5 teams in the NFC that year, and the best in the NFC East. Lost close game to Saints in the divisional round.
2007: mediocre 8-8 season
2008: Arguably the best team in the NFC that year despite mediocre record, upset by inferior Arizona Cardinals in NFCCG
2009: Solid 11-5 season but dominated by the superior Cowboys in the playoffs

So the Eagles have had 8 very good years of NFC dominance, each year falling flat in the playoffs, 1 year of mediocrity (2007), and only one downright awful year (2005).

56
by t.d. :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 9:14pm

two super bowls, one championship, six playoff appearances
vs
one super bowl, no championships, eight playoff appearances?

I'd take the Giants decade, thanksverymuch

/Cowboys fan

57
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 9:20pm

Yes, but are you really asking if people would prefer "mediocrity, plus a Super Bowl" to "above average/very good, no Super Bowl"? I don't think that's really in doubt. What really sucks as a fan are the seriously losing years, and the Giants haven't had many of them.

You can still root for a mediocre team. Has a bit more ups and downs, but they still end up in the playoffs often enough to get your hopes up.

52
by billsfan :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 6:28pm

Because we're constrained by the teams that have won the Super Bowl this decade.

Patriots 3x
Steelers 2x
Giants
Bucs
Colts
Ravens

The Patriots, Colts, and Steelers all won over 100 games this decade, just like the Eagles, so they're out. That leaves the Giants, Bucs, and Ravens. Only one of those teams has Peyton's little brother at QB, was given an extra home game because of Hurricane Katrina, and is also in the NFC East.

(I also like the Eagles)

17
by Jim B. (not verified) :: Wed, 01/13/2010 - 10:15pm

Eagles vs Lions is obviously not a fair comparison. I don't think anyone in his right mind would relish being a Lions fan.

The best comparison is obviously Giants vs. Eagles. One team (Giants) was a mediocre NFC East pushover in the playoffs the past decade, yet went on a magical playoff run in 2007 and won the Super Bowl despite the odds clearly being stacked against them. The other team (Eagles) has been the best team in the NFC East for the better part of a decade, and a perennial playoff force for that same period of time, but has always fell slightly short of having that one magical year in which they win a Super Bowl. Came close, very close, but could never seal the deal.

54
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 7:47pm

One team (Giants) was a mediocre NFC East pushover in the playoffs the past decade

Psst - the Giants went to the Super Bowl in 2000, as well. I think 'pushover' is a bit much.

19
by John Doe (not verified) :: Wed, 01/13/2010 - 10:38pm

As a Giants fan I understand your envy of Big Blue, but I feel I need to point something out.

The Giants won a SuperBowl in 90-91, went to the SuperBowl (and lost) in 00-01, then won the superbowl in 08-09. That's almost 20 years between SuperBowl wins. I remember the 90s following LTs retirement, it was a sad joyless time, you knew the Giants had no shot at making the playoffs (or going very far) by midseason.

Reid has coached the Eagles for 11 seasons, Bill Cowher took 15 to win a SuperBowl. When it comes down to it your best chance to win a SuperBowl is to make the playoffs consistently, and Reid has done that with the Eagles. You can't say he can't make it to the big game, because he has. Winning a SuperBowl involves a lot of factors (injury luck, team talent, coaching, weather, quality of competition, etc) Reid and McNabb are not the reason the Eagles haven't won a SuperBowl during the Andy Reid Era.

22
by DGL :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 1:09am

"I don't know - I think I'd rather root for a team like Tampa Bay or the New York Giants: mostly mediocre teams the past decade, but each with one special year in which they get really hot and win it all."

This is a false dichotomy, though. In order to win the Super Bowl, you first have to be good enough to make the playoffs. And even if you're good enough to make the playoffs -- even if you have that one magical season where you're 70% likely to beat another playoff-caliber team on -- you've still got no better than a 1 in 3 chance of winning the Super Bowl.

The team that is consistently good enough to make the playoffs 8 years out of 10 is a lot more likely to win the Super Bowl than the team that has "one special year" and nine others where they don't make the playoffs. I'd rather root for the team that's going to consistently make the playoffs, trusting in the law of averages to win the occasional SB.

(Of course, if you're talking about hindsight -- would you rather have been a fan of the team that made the playoffs 8 times a decade but never won the SB, or the team that was mediocre nine times and won one SB -- well, I reject both your options and take the 1970's Steelers.)

50
by Jim B. (not verified) :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 5:31pm

Yes, I was talking in hindsight about the 2000s. And now, you are not allowed to take the third, Steelers option. :)

29
by Dean :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 10:03am

Spoken like someone who never had to suffer Rich Kotite.

58
by I Am Brian Dawkins (not verified) :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 12:20am

"Wouldn't you rather be able to say that your city has a Lombardi trophy?"
"...and Reid is washed up, what will you be able to look back and say they accomplished?"
"I'd personally much rather be able to say..."

I know this isn't exactly what you mean, but I don't root for a team so that I can say things. I don't want the Eagles to win a Super Bowl so that I can talk about it later.

"What do people remember more: all of the amazing San Diego winning seasons over the decades with their talented rosters, or the few stretches of Super Bowl caliber teams the Dallas Cowboys have seen amid their long playoff droughts?"

Why would Chargers fans care if other people 'remember' the Cowboys successes?

59
by Eddo :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 1:18am

If you don't root for any team, you really can't answer the question. It's not about Chargers fans remembering the Cowboys teams, it's about which fanbase feels happier about their team's success: the Chargers, who have fielded some excellent teams without a Super Bowl win, or the Cowboys, who won a few Super Bowls, but had a bunch of crappy seasons otherwise?

21
by young curmudgeon (not verified) :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 12:12am

"In other words, blue balls seem worse than no sex at all, but I'm grateful that I at least get a chance to show off my erection."

Now that's some good writin'! I don't think I'd actually ever chortled before, but that sentence made me do it.

23
by Chip :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 1:11am

Great post. Just a great post. Unfortunately, I cheer for the wrong team. Guess which one:

- The GM has no talent left on the roster from the 2006 draft, which should be the backbone of the team in 2010.
- The Coach has fired 6 coordinators, including himself.
- The GM loves trading out of the first / second rounds (No one told him that most of the talent is in the top rounds).
- Ownership hired a non-football guy as team president who hired a league recommended consultant who recommended the GM. The consultant also worked with several other league teams, all of who have already fired the consultant's recommendations.
- The team founder, who named the team in honor of another local team and chose the team color based on his college alma matter, is rolling over in his grave at the state of the franchise.

My team is?

24
by Marko :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 1:58am

. . . a team that has won one Super Bowl (as well as numerous NFL championships before the Super Bowl existed). That Super Bowl championship team is generally considered one of the best teams of all time, and the defense is often cited as the best and most dominating of all time. That championship team is the most colorful and memorable team in NFL history. Teams are still compared to that championship team.

I'd rather be a fan of that team (which I am) than a fan of a team like the Eagles, Browns, Lions, etc., that has never won a Super Bowl. Especially the Browns, whose fans used to root for a team that moved to another city and then won a Super Bowl.

By the way, there still is some talent left on the roster from the 2006 draft, but the two primary contributors left have not been utilized properly. Their greatest value by far is or was returning punts and/or kickoffs.

25
by tuluse :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 2:36am

Rivera wasn't fired, he was not retained when his contract ended.

Also, 4 players are still on the team from the 2006 draft. 2 were starting at the end of the year, 1 is a important backup who gets lots of play time.

34
by Chip :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 11:13am

Apologies - meant the 2005 draft. Literally not a soul on the team from the 2005 draft.

The 2006 draft consists of a kick returner, a nickel corner, the 6th OLB on depth chart and a nickel pass rusher. Two, possibly three of these guys will not be on the team in 2010. None are north of the Mendoza line. And none will make a meaningful contribution to the team's overall performance. So yeah, 2006 was not a good draft.

35
by Eddo :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 11:23am

Devin Hester isn't a starter? That's news to the team.

So really, the 2006 draft has resulted in a starting wide receiver (Hester), a kick returner/nickelback (Manning), a backup linebacker that played well in a few games and contributes a ton on special teams (Williams), and a part of the defensive end rotation (Anderson).

It wasn't a bad draft; not a great one, but not a bad one, either.

EDIT: Just saw your edit. Who won't be on the team next season (seriously, I don't know the contract situations)? Hester assuredly will be. I can't see them cutting Manning. Anderson's replaceable, probably, as is Williams, but it wouldn't surprise me if they're both back in 2010.

You sure are down on the Bears. This reminds me of when fans were claiming, after they beat the Rams, that the Bears were a "terrible" team. No, the team they just beat was "terrible". The Bears had a very disappointing year, no doubt, but they're still a better franchise to root for than at least half the league.

47
by Chip :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 4:50pm

I am down on the team because of one person: Jerry Angelo. He needs to go. His drafting is awful:
(1) His misses are historic. Dan Bazuin – not a single regular season snap in the NFL. Ditto Michael Okwo. Garrett Wolf will be cut this year. Michael Haynes, yeah he was the 14th overall pick in 2003. Rex “F’it I’m Going Deep” (my fantasy football team name) was the 22nd.
(2) He roles the dice on high draft picks with injury histories (Harris, Bradley, Williams…).
(3) He trades down when he just should just sit still and pick someone (2007 & 2003 drafts) – no one must have told him that all of the talent is in the first round.
(4) He ignores obvious roster holes (e.g. O-line) until it’s too late (over a 5-year period (2003-2007), the highest drafted O-lineman was in the 4th round).
(5) He drafts the wrong type of players for a given scheme. Benson – a power RB for a West Coast offense? Really? Lovie then decides that he wants to get bigger on the O-line to execute a power-running game, so they draft an athletic tackle that’s a better fit for a zone blocking scheme. Huh?
(6) Not only that, but he’s from the Al Davis school of drafting. Draft an athlete and then make him a player. Exhibit 1: Daniel Manning (he’s a FS, no a SS, no a nickel CB, how about KR?, no FS), Exhibit 2: Devin Hester (listed as a CB when drafted, then KR, then WR). Exhibit 3: Jarron Gilbert DT, he can jump out of a pool so let’s make him a DE. Exhibit 4: Henry Melton, a converted RB-FB, drafted as a DE will play the 3-tech this year.

Who on the team younger than 27 (a player’s peak age) gets you excited (e.g. likely to make the pro-bowl in their career)? Cutler is 27 so he doesn’t count. Forte looked like just a guy last year. Johnny Knox can’t run routes but has speed to burn. Olsen can’t beat bracket coverage, can’t make route adjustments when the play breaks down, fumbles and doesn’t block well. Chris William, the LOT of the future, has trouble with bull rushes. Oh and he has a bad back to boot.

It’s clear that the talent level is slowly eroding. They can’t reload in the draft because they won’t have a first and second rounder for two consecutive years on the Cutler and Gaines Adams (!!!) trades. Free agency will be weak this year. And they play both the AFC East and NFC East this year. Yeah, 5-11 or 6-10 is staring us in the face. I don’t how this can be “a better franchise to root for than at least half the league”.

51
by Jim B. (not verified) :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 5:35pm

Here's the thing: Jay Cutler is an elite top 5 quarterback if you give him a better O-Line and better WRs. I'm sure of it.

You saw glimpses of that with Devin Aromashadu at the end of the season. If they can trade for one more solid WR, like a Brandon Marshall, or a Randy Moss, or an Anquan Boldin, I will guarantee you that Cutler/Aromashadu/X will be an effective offense for years to come.

60
by tuluse :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 4:25am

(3) He trades down when he just should just sit still and pick someone (2007 & 2003 drafts) – no one must have told him that all of the talent is in the first round.
Saying he shouldn't have traded down in the 2003 draft is really revisionist, as is saying Grossman was a bad pick.

Getting Grossman with the 22nd pick was good value, no one could have foreseen all the injuries he had, and I think his development would have been a lot different had he stayed healthy.

Who would you have taken with the 4th pick? I think Jordan Gross would have the best pick, but no where near the value of a QB and DE if they work out.

(6) Not only that, but he’s from the Al Davis school of drafting. Draft an athlete and then make him a player. Exhibit 1: Daniel Manning (he’s a FS, no a SS, no a nickel CB, how about KR?, no FS), Exhibit 2: Devin Hester (listed as a CB when drafted, then KR, then WR). Exhibit 3: Jarron Gilbert DT, he can jump out of a pool so let’s make him a DE. Exhibit 4: Henry Melton, a converted RB-FB, drafted as a DE will play the 3-tech this year.
I don't see a problem with this if it works out. It has with Hester, Manning wasn't the worst pick ever, and Gilbert and Melton are both rookies, lets give them 2-3 years before we kick them out the door.

63
by Chip :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 12:09pm

I am not trying to be revisionist. I'm simply saying that the Bears do not have a good front office. They can't evaluate talent. Good teams don't miss in the first rounds. Take a look at the Colts and Steelers drafts over the last decade. Each draft pick averages 3 probowls over his career and is a primary starter many more. Maybe one miss per decade at most. Now look at the Bears' drafts under Angelo. One probowler and a bunch of meh.

Year Pos PB St
2007 Anthony GonzalezWR 0 1
2006 Joseph Addai RB 1 2
2005 Marlin Jackson DB 0 2
2003 Dallas Clark TE 0 6
2002 Dwight Freeney DE 4 7
2001 Reggie Wayne WR 3 8
2000 Rob Morris LB 0 4
1999 Edgerrin James RB 4 9
1998 Peyton Manning QB 9 11
1997 Tarik Glenn T 3 10
1996 Marvin Harrison WR 8 12
1995 Ellis Johnson DT 0 5
1994 Marshall Faulk RB 7 11

Year Pos PB St
2008 Rashard Mendenhall RB 0 0
2007 Lawrence Timmons LB 0 0
2006 Santonio Holmes WR 0 2
2005 Heath Miller TE 0 4
2004 Ben Roethlisberger QB 1 5
2003 Troy Polamalu DB 5 5
2002 Kendall Simmons G 0 5
2001 Casey Hampton NT 4 7
2000 Plaxico Burress WR 0 9
1999 Troy Edwards WR 0 1
1998 Alan Faneca G 8 11

Year Pos PB St
2008 Chris Williams T 0 0
2007 Greg Olsen TE 0 0
2005 Cedric Benson RB 0 2
2004 Tommie Harris DT 3 5
2003 Michael Haynes DE 0 0
2003 Rex Grossman QB 0 2
2002 Marc Colombo T 0 3

64
by tuluse :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 12:57pm

And those Colts drafts from 94-97 were good enough for them to end up with the #1 pick.

Examining Angelo's drafts

2002 Colombo is a rather nice RT, he just suffered one of the most terrible injuries ever and after waiting 2 years for him to get healthy it didn't appear he would, and they cut their losses. Not a problem of talent evaluation there.

2003 Grossman is solid pick without 2020 hindsight, I personally think he has been undone by injury.

2003 Haynes, this is a bad pick in a draft with a lot of talent, so you get that one.

2004 Tommie Harris, all-pro HOF potential, undone by a neverending knee injury.

2005 Benson. Not a very good player, but not horrible either also 2005 draft was a really poor draft. Got rid of him because of legal issues.

2007 Greg Olsen, no problem with this pick. Olsen is loaded with potential, we just need to get it out of him.

2008 Williams, took a chance on him with his back, assuming the surgery renders this a moot issue for the rest of his career, I don't really mind him missing his rookie year. He looks OK at left tackle, if not spectacular.

That's two bad picks by my count (Benson and Haynes), but Benson was in a terrible draft. Two good picks (Colombo and Harris) and a "meh" pick in Grossman, and two undecided.

Ignoring the offensive line seems to have been a much bigger problem than talent evaluation, and it seems like their might be a medical staff issue as leg injuries keep occurring to our players.

I'll give you than Angelo is no Polian, but it's unrealistic to expect the very best.

65
by tuluse :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 1:03pm

For fun I decided to compare to our division rivals that made the post season this year.

Green Bay:
2009 B.J. Raji DT 0 0
2009 Clay Matthews LB 0 0
2007 Justin Harrell DT 0 0
2006 A.J. Hawk LB 0 3
2005 Aaron Rodgers QB 0 1
2004 Ahmad Carroll DB 0 2
2003 Nick Barnett LB 0 6
2002 Javon Walker WR 1 3

Minnesota:
2009 Percy Harvin WR 0 0
2007 Adrian Peterson RB 2 2
2006 Chad Greenway LB 0 2
2005 Troy Williamson WR 0 1
2005 Erasmus James DE 0 1
2004 Kenechi Udeze DE 0 3
2003 Kevin Williams DT 4 6
2002 Bryant McKinnie T 0 7

I'm curios about the 0s after Williams and Olsen. I assume the numbers are probowls and years starting, Williams was a starting this past year, and Olsen has been a starter for 2 years.

66
by Jimmy :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 1:45pm

Angelo isn't perfect, nobody is but all you seem to have done is point out that some of his draft picks haven't turned out. I think you actually have unrealistic expectations of what you are likely to receive when your team spends a draft pick.

If you go and look through the players every team received in the 2005 draft there are hardly any teams that come out of it with more than one starting calibre player (Dallas - ie Parcells - had a great draft but are the exception). I wouldn't want the Bears to draft Benson again as he had the maturity of frogspawn but he does now seem to have become the player Angelo thought he could see on the tape at Texas. Maybe just avoid guys from Texas as they often seem to take three or four years to realise that the sun doesn't shine out of their fundaments. In addition to a good RB Angelo got a starting calibre QB in the fourth round (there were some excitable idiots that thought he was an MVP candidate at the start of last year) along with Chris Harris in the sixth. It is a shame that the Bears traded Harris and kept Archuleta but that one really seems to be on Lovie who wanted his guy from St Louis and had tried to recruit him the previous off season. Three starting quality players would put that draft in the top ten in 2005 (if you don't beleive me go back and look at the whole draft, it was a stinker). Yes in hindsight I wish the Bears had taken Ware or Brown but the guy who they did take instead was a good football player, even if he is a spoiled brat.

It is also possible for draft choices to get injured. This may affect their productivity. Baziun tore up his knee in one of the rookie camps and was never able to get back to full strength. Bradley was playing great as a rookie until he tore his ACL diving past the first down marker without getting contacted. Grossman was supposed to have good mobility but looked very slow following another ACL tear suffered diving without getting hit and a shattered ankle in a preseason game. Nathan Vasher looked like one of the steals of the 2004 draft until he got hurt and was never the same player.

You don't seem happy with Manning and Hester, would you rather they had stayed where they were and taken the player the Bills traded up to get because John McCargo has done nothing for the Bills.

Drafting is largely luck dependant, if you don't beleive me then look at the Colts 2007 draft. If you include Ugoh (as they had traded the first round pick for him the previous year) then the list goes; Ugoh, Pollack, Wheeler, Tamme, Howard, Santi, Justice, Hart, Garcon, Richard. Ten draft picks and the sum of these parts seems to be a WR with questionable hands and a tackle that can't play tackle. Please use this information for your soon to be published polemic against Bill Polian.

Angelo's successful draft picks:

2003- Tillman, Briggs, Scott, Wade, Gage.
2004- T.Harris, Johnson, Berrian, Vasher.
2005- Benson (on talent alone), Orton, C.Harris.
2006- Manning, Hester, Dvoracek, Williams, Anderson.
2007- Olsen, Wolfe, Beekman, Payne, Graham (I like Wolfe, don't care if you don't).
2008- Williams, Forte, Bennett, Harrison, Steltz, Bowman, Davis.

You may not love every player on this list but there are some undeniably good players there. There are also 29 guys on the list in six years which is a very good rate. I haven't just lumped every waste of space who played specials on there too most of the guys on the list have started or are major specials contributors who also contribute on offense or defense.

36
by MCS :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 11:33am

I thought 3rd and 4th year guys formed the core of an average NFL team. Anybody know the facts?

43
by Chip :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 3:36pm

Players peak athletically at age 27-28. The 2005 draft class is in the 27-28 sweet spot.

42
by Marko :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 1:30pm

That's true regarding the 2005 draft, although they did draft Kyle Orton, without whom they probably wouldn't have been able to trade for Jay Cutler.

4
by Key19 :: Wed, 01/13/2010 - 7:30pm

David Buehler is such a beast!

5
by AnonymousA (not verified) :: Wed, 01/13/2010 - 7:44pm

While it was short, the interview section was fantastic. Huge props for the 18 game schedule joke, which no one else seems to have noticed...

27
by debilliet (not verified) :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 7:16am

I thought he meant 10-6 and 1-1 in the playoffs... an 11-7 regular season surely wouldn't be considered "disappointing" in itself?

40
by jebmak :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 12:40pm

I'm pretty sure it was a joke. At least that is how I took it. I also thought that it was pretty funny.

7
by Dan :: Wed, 01/13/2010 - 8:03pm

"Adam Jennings"? Greg, perhaps?

8
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Wed, 01/13/2010 - 8:25pm

You have to be patient. You don't blow up a team that has won as many games as these guys have. And you have to take 10-6 and 11-5 seasons for what they are: exciting four-month periods where you look forward to the game, even if the end result is a little bitter.

Looking at Seattle vs. Philly - both of whom got equally close to winning the Super Bowl in a two-year span - makes me realize exactly how well-run the Eagles are. Seattle could easily be en route to a many-year train wreck, and Philly, the youngest team in the league, just went 11-5 after suffering a bajillion injuries.

One of the most-injured playoff teams loses to one of the healthiest playoff teams, and I'm supposed to think that Reid needs to go? How does that make sense?

10
by ammek :: Wed, 01/13/2010 - 8:36pm

Out of interest, how many teams claim to be the youngest in the league? I know Green Bay does, and Indy does; Philly too?

Which leads to another question: do young teams actually stay together and improve (as is implied)? Do they have a better chance of remaining competent as they age? Or do they just twitter more?

12
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Wed, 01/13/2010 - 8:51pm

Out of interest, how many teams claim to be the youngest in the league? I know Green Bay does, and Indy does; Philly too?

Depends on how you define 'youngest' - youngest in the preseason, youngest at the beginning of the season, youngest at the end of the season, youngest starting lineup, etc. The Chargers probably win one of those as well.

Which leads to another question: do young teams actually stay together and improve (as is implied)?

You have to be careful there - you want "young and good," not "young in general." A young, bad team you don't want to stay together. And it's not that you care that the players improve. What you care is that a young team has more time to build on.

But yeah, it's an interesting question. I think the preseason DVOA projections include a fair number of age variables, which would seem to suggest that being young and good is a good thing.

32
by Mr Shush :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 10:38am

Certainly Houston claims to be the youngest team in the league. Whether they are or not on any given measure I don't know, but I don't think they have a single starter on offense or defense over the age of 30 (aside from Chester Pitts, who was on IR throughout 2009 and is now a free agent), and the vast majority of the team was drafted in 2006 or later. The defense in particular is incredibly young.

15
by nuk (not verified) :: Wed, 01/13/2010 - 9:49pm

The Colts are always young because they cut all their defensive players loose when they hit 27 and want to be paid (Logan's Run?). So I don't think it's an indication that they're going to improve, necessarily.

18
by peachy :: Wed, 01/13/2010 - 10:18pm

Logan's Run Defence?

20
by Marko :: Wed, 01/13/2010 - 11:12pm

There is no Sanctuary.

28
by Mike B. In Va :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 9:57am

Angerman was filled with fury, he the judge and he the jury...

Say, Ray Lewis could have said that.

9
by ammek :: Wed, 01/13/2010 - 8:31pm

You're right about Harvin and Buehler. As teams score more points on fewer possessions, the value of punting (and punt returning) decreases, but kickoffs (and kick returning) become ever more important. Projections like this one overvalue the 2009 Steelers in large part because they don't place enough value on kickoffs.

Most teams don't seem to cover kicks well. 2009 saw the fourth-highest proportion of kick return TDs per game ever; 2007 had the highest of all time; and the five-year period 2005-2009 saw three times as many kickoff return TDs per game as 1980-1984.

30
by DeltaWhiskey :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 10:03am

Statistical fluke or result of wedge rule change?

41
by The Other Ben Johnson (not verified) :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 1:22pm

So the wedge rule change actually IMPROVES return distances? I could see that being true, although it seems counter-intuitive.

Here's a question: will Wade have the balls to pull a surprise onside? It could be as devastating as a Roger Clemens split-finger circa 1988.

14
by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 01/13/2010 - 9:32pm

Fig 1 is interesting, as it appears to suggest that the cards decided to alleviate their coverage problems by playing two Adrian Wilsons, one in the deep middle and another in man coverage on Jennings (either Adam or the more well known Greg).

It's a decent plan but does raise the issue of how clones of players count against the cap.

26
by bubqr :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 5:37am

A top 10-15 QB is fine in a run-first offense. A top 10-15 QB, who is very likely to decline/get injured soon, on a pass-first, pass-second, flea flicker-third, onside kick-fourth, run-fifth offense is not acceptable. Either Reid adapts his gameplan (which he won't do), or you hope another QB can run this offense. I believe in Kolb, and people who watched him regularly in practice believe in him too (see Harbaugh quote last year, Adam Caplan's statements). I'm willing to roll the dice on him rather than watch a slow,painful death of this offense.

39
by jebmak :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 12:36pm

Are you saying that if a team doesn't have a top 9/10 QB then they need to be a run first offense? Only so many QBs can be in the top 10.

61
by bubqr :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 6:03am

Well, for a team that wants to win a SB, I'd say that the 12th best QB in the league, probably #1 in variance, is not good enough to run a 60+/40- pass offense.

48
by Jim Z. (not verified) :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 5:21pm

I don't know if they have to be a run-first offense, but at the very minimum, they need to concede the fact that the option to run the ball actually even *exists*.

No one is asking Reid to turn his team into the Ravens or the Jets - they're simply asking him to balance the run/pass ratio so that it even *begins* to approach the norm, OR conversely, plug in a quarterback who is far more accurate and consistent than the streaky "Bombs Away" type of quarterback McNabb is.

62
by pouringlizards (not verified) :: Fri, 01/15/2010 - 9:18am

I've defended McNabb a lot over the years and kept the faith quietly to myself, but I think his time is definitely drawing near. That said, I expect that this year will be his best chance to win a Superbowl. I say that because his O-line should actually have a chance to play together, plus the D should make up some of the ground that a million injuries and the death of Jim Johnson last year cost them. I'd also say he'll have the best set of skill players around him he's ever had, especially if the Westbrook/McCoy situation resolves itself ok.

I'm clinging to this argument, even though part of is 'things can't get THAT bad with injury in 2010 again, can they?' Hope is important, I think.

33
by Dave51 (not verified) :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 10:55am

McNabb has 1 year left on his contract. If we keep him beyond this offseason he'll either leave as a free agent and we get nothing for him, or we extend him and probably lose Kolb (our QB of the future) in the process. With so many needs to fill on defense and possibly the O-line, can we afford not to trade him now?

37
by bremo (not verified) :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 11:45am

Honest question: to whom and for what do you trade McNabb? Is trading him for, say, a 3rd round pick worth it?

38
by Crushinator :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 12:23pm

For a third rounder, no, but QBs tend to be valued highly and McNabb isn't so old that some West Coast, QB needy team wouldn't at least a 2nd for him. (If Favre winds up retiring again, him going to Minnesota would make a ton of sense)

45
by EaglesFan999 (not verified) :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 4:33pm

I'd take a third rounder. I just want to see him gone. The problem with McNabb is this - if you don't follow the Eagles closely and watch his highlights only, he looks awesome. You may see 5 great plays that only a handful of QBs can make..... but you don't see the other 15 lousy plays. We don't need a QB who's great and then lousy, and you don't know what you're getting play to play or week to week. We need someone who is consistently good, conceding the great plays for the overall consistency. Especially for this offense. Kolb already looked good this year. Garcia was good several years back. Many QB's could have been had for nothing in recent years (Brees & Warner leading the list). Getting a winning QB is not as impossible as everyone makes it seem to be, especially for an already good team. I think it's more fear of change than anything.

Andy Reid has designed a good offense - just need someone to consistently operate it. McNabb has proven he can not consistently. (And although McNabb has "won" a lot of playoff games, many times it was Westbrook of the D carrying the team, and not once did they beat a team they should have lost to. Even the year they got to the SB was kind of lucky drawing relatively weak Minn & Atl teams.

Plus I don't think his teammates like or respect him, so he brings no leadership qualities. I betcha they were cringing with his pregame moves (and making fun of him afterwards) just like me. He's also selfish - I won't go into it all, but I'll just say he cares more about his passer rating and not being outshined by teammates than winning games. Trust me on this.

About 5 years ago I was saying the Phillies needed to get rid of 2 of their best veteran players if they wanted to win it all - Abreu and Lieberthal. Was it risky? Sure. But it allowed the younger stars to blossom and take control of the team. We are at that point with the Eagles (actually, we're a year or two to late). Time to go. The more I think about it, I'd take a 6th rounder and a case of beer for McOverrated.

67
by Spoilt Victoria... :: Sat, 01/16/2010 - 1:16am

"Plus I don't think his teammates like or respect him, so he brings no leadership qualities. I betcha they were cringing with his pregame moves (and making fun of him afterwards) just like me. He's also selfish - I won't go into it all, but I'll just say he cares more about his passer rating and not being outshined by teammates than winning games. Trust me on this."

This is certainly the stupidest thing I've seen written here.

44
by Fisher King (not verified) :: Thu, 01/14/2010 - 3:44pm

You can't play cover 2 versus a 3-1 set. (trips and single receiver.) I actually think they were playing a version of a cover 4, after shifting to the trips side. I am sure the d coordinator was happy to leave his cb on finley for a 1-1, with the safety sliding over to help the trips side. Unfortunately he got beat with a double move with the safety having to try to clean up his mess. (fig 3).

The cover 4 would have the safety's playing a match up zone(covering whoever came their way). Single wr matched up 1-1 with cb, and 4 (lbs and cb)underneath. Other cb (to trips side)has widest receiver unless he crosses shallow to inside then he sits and waits for work or follows qb look. If all three(wr's in trips) go deep cb will stay with widest receiver.

Unless you are playing a 1 or 2 man free it is hard to stay in a traditional cover 2 or 3 vs. trips. You will be outnumbered to one side as well as in the deep zones on all verticals.