Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

07 Jan 2006

Scouts' Take on Playoff Teams

I was excited when I saw that SI.com had interviewed an NFC scout and an AFC scout to ask them for their insights on the playoffs. Then I read the scouts' insights. To say I was underwhelmed would be an overwhelming understatement.

Did you know that Seattle has a tremendous back in Shaun Alexander? Did you know that the Colts aren't very big on defense? If not, you might find this informative. What disappointed me most was the way offensive linemen were almost completely ignored. Exactly two linemen were mentioned by name. We learned that Indianapolis tackle Ryan Diem is injured, and that Seattle loves to run behind Walter Jones. Other than that, the scouts SI.com interviewed didn't have a single thing to say about any of the 60 linemen who will start in the playoffs this year.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 07 Jan 2006

18 comments, Last at 14 Feb 2006, 3:20pm by Jasmin Doss


by princeton73 (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 5:48pm

am I the only one who suspects that SI has (for a long time) used "scouts" as a front for their own reporters' opinions?

by Michael David Smith :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 5:53pm

SI doesn't exactly have the best record when it comes to journalistic credibility.

by James Thrash (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 6:15pm

I think you're dead right #1 - I refuse to believe actual scouts could be as shallow as they always come across in their SI comments. Either they're fake or the scouts just don't bother to actually make insightful comments.

by Balaji (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 6:36pm

Ferg: "By the way, did you know that the Colts execute the heck out of their plays?"

That may be, but do they have swagger?

by The Phil (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 7:04pm

I like the secondary comments for the Steelers -

"On defense, they're not as talented at cornerback as they have been. A guy like Ike Taylor can get exposed by good offenses. The Colts exposed him in the Monday night game."

Hmm. Yes, I guess the Steelers miss the "talent" of Chad Scott and Dewayne Washington. Oh, and Ike Taylor? Only the best CB on the team - a very good young corner. He was "exposed," though. I guess one bad play (the long TD pass to Harrison) is getting "exposed." This truly is top-notch insight.

by kachunk (not verified) :: Sat, 01/07/2006 - 9:30pm

The other piece of top notch insight I like was this :

"Troy Polamula is obviously a game-changing guy, and their defensive scheme helps him play"

Who's Troy Polamula? I haven't heard of any such person...

by FastEddy (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 1:51am

Troy Palamula? He's this long haired guy that they just put out on the field because he's the owner's son or something. No talent hack. Don't worry about him, he'll be "exposed" soon.

It just ticks me off, ticks me off I say, that there's so many no talent hacks in the NFL these days that are being exposed.

by Theo (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 1:55am

Who's Troy Polamula?
About that Steelers defense:
Ike Taylor is a great fit in that 3-4 defense. Hope is doing fine and Townsend is doing great things no one notices.
Troy Polamalu is a rover who can line up everywhere - outside and middle backer and as a rusher, with being the normal deep safety or cover one SS - and that is a positive thing, but plays way too sloppy.

by NF (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 1:59am

Isn't Troy Polamu on Seattle?

I'm thinking of Lofa Tatupo. Never mind.

/Didn't read the article
//Wants more good articles in Extra Points

by Bobman (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 2:53am

I haven't read it yet--and frankly probably won't waste my time, but maybe, just maybe, they are writing to the level of their readership?

There are a lot of casual fans out there, and general sports fans who are suddenly focusing on the NFL playoffs, and maybe the editors said "we need something to get these people primed."

And face it, FO's approach is NOT for them.... unless you want to see a sizeable chunk of the populace running from their living rooms with their hair afire.

I bet if they used real scouts, the scouts are just as pissed to see their insights watered down.

You now what might be nice: a soft/generalist article like this one (especially if it spells the tough names right!) with an insider/behind the scenes sidebar for each team that focuses a bit more on the technical details and analysis ala FO, to go along with it. This way the geeks are sated to some extent, the casual fans can skip the shaded parts of the page without risking brain seizures, and the folks in the middle might just expand their perspectives. Let the free market decide on which is better with the reader responses. Maybe the readers will write in complaining of mental cramps, maybe they'll be hungry for more.

Painful as it is, we have to remember that SI is a product, with a broad customer base, advertisers to please ("You idjits! I want to sell watery light beer, but instead you're making my brain hurt with DVOA, whatever the hell that is!"), and is probably approaching the world with a goal to offend the least amount of people. Controvversy might sell one issue, but might also result in a lot of cancelled subscriptions, then advertiser pull-outs, then lowered income, then fired editors.

Think of sports you are less rabid about: tennis or golf or auto racing or curling or volleyball. Now think of the articles you might have read in SI about it... how technical were they? Did they feature the "human interest" crap that makes the Olympics coverage to horrible as opposed to complicated, technical nuts and bolts? How offended/challenged were you? How about your neighbor? The folks at the dentist's office?

Okay, let the arrows fly at me. Please remember, I am defending (mildly) the business decision, not the integrity of one article I will not read.

Maybe it's time for the FOsters to get an agent (if they have not yet) to pitch articles like this, expand their sphere of influence, etc. All it takes for evil (bad articles) to win, is for good men (us) to do nothing. Cripes, in two sentences I just talked myself into changing the world, one article at a time. Glad I'm no longer in publishing!

by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 3:37am

Another possibility: the scouts get paid for giving their best insight to teams and coaches.

SI gets the leftover crumbs.

by pcs (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 6:33am

"Plaxico Burress has come up with some big catches" ...
"Julius Peppers can make a play for you at any time." ... "Santana Moss has made plays all year." ... "Chris Cooley just makes plays." ...

See, these are the kind of insights that you stat geeks can't get from your computers and your formulas.

by James Thrash (not verified) :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 10:42am

You're right, Bobman.

by Michael David Smith :: Sun, 01/08/2006 - 10:59am

"Think of sports you are less rabid about: tennis or golf or auto racing or curling or volleyball. Now think of the articles you might have read in SI about it."

That's a fair point. If I read a really technical article about hockey, a lot of it would probably go right over my head. But the thing is, if I saw a headline that said, "A scouts' take on the NHL playoff teams," I probably wouldn't click the link. I think the people who would click the link would be the types of people who know enough about hockey that they want to read more than just basic information about the big names.

by John Gach (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2006 - 5:19pm

I subscribed this year to SI's War Room. To say the least, their predictions were underwhelming and sometimes zany. The analysis and discussions of the upcoming games were interesting, but not close to FO's level of sophistication.

Which leads to the question, why is FO's statistical approach so clearly superior to impressionistic commentary?

1) When one watches games one is trapped by the now of perception.

2) Since a high percentage of what happens is redundant (repetitively recurring events that are highly similar), we attend consciously to the anomalous and nonrecurring events. For example, if one were asked to recount as exactly as possible what happened in a football game, one (without recourse to tape or film) would usually take about as long to tell the story as the highlights on NFL prime time. The brain just isn't designed to remember the redundant.

3) When we watch games live, we see with all our built-in biases and prejudices. Without considerable special training we have little chance of being more accurate than uncorroborated eyewitness testimony in court trials, for we tend to see what we want to see, what we already expected to be the case.

4) FO's statistical approach allows one to eliminate most of the hindrances outlined in #1-3, for one can now retrospectively see the patterns that were inherent in the live action, but difficult or impossible to detect while watching live. Of course, one still has to interpret the patterns and make inferences based on them (which may be wildly wrong, as was Mr. Schatz's prediction that the Giants would defeat Carolina). By following the DVOA changes week to week and reading the posted FO articles (many of which are extraordinarily insightful & enlightening), one begins to gain an understanding of the structure that underlies the manifest phenomena -- to put it differently one begins to be able to see the games (at least in retrospect) somewhat the way a coach does.

by putnamp (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2006 - 6:05pm

The tough question here is: Of the 5 or so times that people spelled names of various Hawaiian players in the NFL, exactly how many of them were correctly spelled, and how intentional was this phenomenon, in light of the original article?

by Björn (not verified) :: Mon, 01/09/2006 - 11:09pm

Well said, #15.

by Jasmin Doss (not verified) :: Tue, 02/14/2006 - 3:20pm

Troy Polamula is a sexy man. He can play no matter if he gets the tackle or not, he always make it down the field where the ball is. Stuff like that yall need to give credit for.