A look at the upcoming week in the NFL, from the players on the field to the fans in the stands

Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Mike Tanier

D.J. Williams tweeted an image of the Broncos playbook late last week, sparking an outcry from fans who feared that he betrayed precious Broncos secrets, as well as the usual "how dumb are you?" snark from those of us who trade in such things.

Williams deleted the picture and tweeted an apology, but you cannot erase the Internet.

Williams probably did not realize the image resolution was that good. He was making a joke about how he prefers writing out index cards to thumbing across a newfangled iPad when learning a new system. (Defensive system, not technological system.) He may have thought the image would be blurry, or guessed from the tiny thumbnail on his phone that the playbook would be unreadable. Or, judging from the page he photographed, he may have assumed that the plays he selected were no big deal.

Let’s take a look at those plays. "Sink Sam 1 Tite" is a simple blitz by the strong side linebacker. He is "Sam," and you can see him labeled with an S and lined up outside the tight end’s shoulder in each of these variations. The "1" stands for the type of coverage: man-to-man, with one deep defender, the free safety. Sink Sam 1 Tite starts with a five-man defensive line and two deep safeties, but the strong safety creeps forward and the free safety shades to the middle of the field. They can do this either pre-snap or at the snap.

Sink Sam 1 Tite

This is a pretty basic defense, something you might find in a high school playbook. The "adjustments" describe who covers whom when the offense goes in motion. In the base concept, the middle linebacker has the fullback, the weakside linebacker the halfback, the strong safety the tight end, and the corners lock down on their receivers. If the fullback motions right, outside the receiver to that side, the weakside linebacker follows. If he motions left, creating a "Trio" on that side, the strong safety picks him up, with the middle linebacker taking the tight end. By "right" and "left," I mean strong and weak side, since all of these concepts are probably mirrored.

None of these adjustments are particularly unique. There are probably about two more pages of them, covering empty backfields, spreads, and trips formations. The "Trio" motion in the middle right is the most interesting, as it forces the defenders to switch off. You can imagine an overmatched middle linebacker getting into Jimmy Graham trouble if the fullback motions left like he does in that diagram. When you see offensive coaches like Norv Turner use a lot of fullback motion, this is why: it can create favorable matchups by forcing the defense to make an adjustment it does not like.

Every system has its own little wrinkles. Williams is learning a new position and switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3, so he needs to study and review. He must also comb through all of those adjustments looking for variations unique to Jack Del Rio’s system. He probably won’t find them on the page that covers things like I-formations, but on the page that covers shotgun-bunch-right, back motioning to the left slot. That page was added 10 years ago, not 30 years ago. All of the adjustments are based on predictable patterns (the eligible receivers are numbered, based on their spacing from the quarterback), but Del Rio may have assigned the safety to cover a motioning H-back that Dennis Allen assigned to the middle linebacker. Finding these needles in a haystack is part of what a player goes through when he learns a new system.

So Williams did not tweet any top secrets. He did violate a non-disclosure agreement that players usually sign before getting their playbooks, and the Broncos may fine him and make him run some gassers. But no one in Oakland is cackling evilly and preparing to break the code of the Broncos defense based on this image. Williams might as well have been Tweeting the cover page, or a Madden screen shot.

The most interesting thing in the picture, for this long-time teacher, is the 75 cent pencil sharpener Williams uses. Anyone who knows pedagogy knows that the act of hand-copying those plays as study guides is the most important element of the studying itself: engaged note taking is so good for understanding and recall that it makes later study irrelevant. Keep those pencils sharp, D.J., and by September you will know the Broncos defense better than we now do!

Patriots Top Five Running Backs

1. Sam "Bam" Cunningham

Cunningham is another example of a running back who had the misfortune of playing his entire productive career between 1973 and 1977, the NFL’s Dead Ball Era. We have encountered a few others, like Chuck Foreman. Cunningham was not as good as Foreman, but his 1,000-yard 1977 season, and his 800-yard 1974 and 1976 seasons (with 4.8-to-4.9 yards per carry and some receiving value), would have been 1,100-1,300 yard seasons a few years later.

Outside of New England, Cunningham is most famous for a) having a nickname that Howard Cosell loved to say/mangle (calling him "The Bam" often), and b) being Randall Cunningham’s uncle.

2. Kevin Faulk

A long-time utility player for a great team, Faulk does not have many historical comps. Paul Hornung is one, but Hornung was a much better player. Dub Jones, the rusher-receiver-return man for the Paul Brown Browns, was another comp, and a closer fit. Faulk was probably more valuable to his Patriots than Dub was to his Browns.

In 18 postseason games, Faulk has rushed for 425 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per carry, caught 51 passes, scored two touchdowns, and added two two-point conversions. His postseason performance is essentially an extra season of third-down back play against the NFL’s best competition, and it is a very good one.

3. Jim Nance

A bruising fullback who is listed at 235 pounds on Pro Football Reference but as high as 260 pounds elsewhere, Nance was the AFL MVP in 1966, rushing for 1,458 yards. He had another 1,000-yard season in 1967, then had ankle surgery in 1968 and was never the same player. His yards-per-carry crashed from the high fours to the middle threes, his yardage dipped, and so on.

Two other interrelated factors affected Nance’s post-injury decline. First, the common draft started in 1967, and the AFL went from being a very skilled minor league to one more-or-less equal to the NFL quickly in the 1967 through 1969 seasons. Second, the Patriots went from a pretty good team to a miserable one, in part because some AFL franchises (the Raiders) were better run and better able to take advantage of the common draft than the Patriots.

Nance went on to be the all-time leading rusher in the World Football League.

4. Curtis Martin

Bill Parcells’ staff gleefully overused Martin as a rookie, ordering 368 carries from him. They toned it down to 316 carries in Martin’s second year, but with 48 catches it was still quite a workload. He posted negative DVOAs in those two seasons (-0.9% and -2.4%), as nearly any back would when plowing the whole field himself. By the time Pete Carroll took over, Martin’s DVOA was down to -7.3% and he missed several games. We will pick up the story again in a few paragraphs.

(Ed. Note: I will note that Mike is still using the currently posted DVOA ratings in these top five running back lists, not the new normalized DVOA v7.0 that we'll be unveiling in about a month. With the new DVOA, Martin's 1995 and 1996 seasons end up slightly above 0% rather than slightly below. All of the players Mike has written about from the mid-90s will see their rushing DVOA ratings go up by a couple percentage points. -- Aaron)

5. Mosi Tatupu

Tatupu was one of the all-time great special teamers, up there a notch below Steve Tasker and Bill Bates, on a threshold with players like Gary Stills. I am making that up, of course: there is no way to compare special teamers across eras. But Tatupu was very good, and if people can seriously suggest that Tasker was Hall of Fame-worthy, then I can suggest that Tatupu was the fifth-best running back in Patriots history. His qualifications include: a) a Pro Bowl berth as a fullback in 1986; b) two productive seasons as a change-up runner in 1983 and 1984; c) a long late career as the Kevin Faulk of his time; and d) a buried mention on The Simpsons.

Who ranks behind Tatupu? Don Calhoun shared the backfield with Cunningham for several seasons. Larry Garron made a bunch of All-AFL teams but played during the grain-of-salt era. Tony "Turbo" Collins had fine seasons in 1982 and 1983, but they weren’t outstanding years, and he fell off quickly. John Stephens led the team in rushing for several years during one of the Patriots hapless periods. All of them were better rushers than Tatupu in their primes, but none contributed so much that it obviously offsets over a decade of special teams service.

Antowain Smith and Corey Dillon were both productive for Super Bowl teams, but both were replaceable-part veterans for a team that was rapidly outgrowing the very concept of having a running back. Again, both deserve honorable mention, but they are stuck in a quagmire with the players listed above because their coaches clearly felt they were nearly disposable. And so, Tatupu.

There is one other, of course, but I shudder to type his name on the Internet.

Split Decision

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As a thought experiment, let’s imagine what would happen if football were scored like boxing.

The teams play without knowing the score. Fans know that touchdowns, field goals, and safeties are worth points, but they are not sure exactly how many points. Announcers have to guess which team is winning based on their experience.

Teams vie to win quarters, not the full game. The score of most quarters is 10-9. Sometimes, there is a 10-8 quarter, like the second quarter of the Falcons-Buccaneers game in Week 17 (28 unanswered points by the Falcons) or the third quarter of the Packers-Lions Thanksgiving game (the Lions docked a point for Acts of Suh). But generally, the team that scores more gets 10 points, the team that scores less, nine points. Ties are scored 10-10, but just because both teams score the same number of touchdowns and field goals in a quarter does not mean the result is a tie. Judges could decide a quarter by other criteria, as we will see in a moment.

NFL judges work their way up through the ranks, from college and the CFL. They are experts, and there are rules and oversight, but there is a lot of subjectivity and wiggle room in the judging system, and the oversight is a legacy from an earlier time in sports history when scrutiny was not as harsh. No judge can make it through the ranks thinking that touchdowns don’t count, or that field goals are worth more than touchdowns, but little quirks can go undetected for years as a judge climbs from the FCS to Conference USA to the SEC to an alternate for Rams-Cardinals games to the Super Bowl. After all, the whole 10-9 system places most of the subtleties of the game inside a black box; all the judge has to be able to do is determine which team played better in a quarter. In this system, there is no objective reality to compare that judge’s choices to except the consensus of other expert opinions.

Let’s create three hypothetical football judges, each with his own criteria. They are all male, for the sake of pronouns.

Judge A uses our real football scoring: six points for a touchdown, seven with the extra point, three for a field goal, and so on. If a quarter ends in a tie, he marks it 10-10.

Judge B awards yardage bonuses. Twenty-yard touchdowns are worth seven points, 40-yarders eight, 60-yarders nine. Fifty-yard field goals are worth four points. Safeties are worth three points. He rose through the ranks with this system because a) he could judge dozens of quarters without anyone noticing he did it, and b) others use very similar systems, so his results matched theirs often enough that no one thought it was odd. And again, since our scoring system only exists in Judge A’s mind in this universe, there is no reason to think Judge B is being odd. He thinks of long touchdowns like basketball three-pointers. He scores a tie a tie.

Judge C thinks like a yardage-bonus, points-per-reception fantasy owner. Touchdowns and field goals are worth their standard values, but he awards a point per reception, a point per 50 yards of offense, a point to the defensive team for a sack, and two for an interception.

Now, let’s look at how this year’s Super Bowl would go, as judged by our expert panel.

By Judge A, the Giants won the first quarter, the Patriots the second and third, the Giants the fourth. He declares a draw. Judge B also declares a draw, even though he awarded three points for the Giants’ safety. There were no long touchdowns or field goals in the game.

Our third judge gives the game to the Giants by a score of 39-37. I did a quick estimation from the play-by-play, and the Giants won the first quarter (18-5), third quarter (15-13), and fourth quarter (18-6) by this fractured scoring. The Patriots took the second quarter 20-4. You may get slightly different results if you replicate; I did it in a rush, the way someone might if their "rules" are really just their own subjective guidelines.

So the Giants still win, except for one problem: would the game have played out differently if neither team knew the score?

If the Patriots thought they might be winning, or that the game was very close, they would not have attempted the Hail Myra. If the scoring was subjective, they might have played for a field goal. Similarly, the Giants might not have attempted a two-point conversion, which failed. Late-game strategies in this version of football would be a matter of guesswork.

Let’s add one more boxing element to football: the knockout. In this version of football, a Pick-Six or a kickoff return touchdown counts as a knockout. This wrinkle takes some of the wind out of Bill Belichick’s sails if his strategy is to pile on as many points as possible at all times. If he feels he has a commanding lead, he will not want to throw as often, and he will have incentive to slow down the pace of scoring so he does not give the other team kickoff return opportunities. This is like a boxer becoming defensive when he thinks he is well ahead in the scoring. In this style of football, you could imagine teams becoming ultra-conservative when leading against the Bears, a sloppy fighter with an incredibly dangerous left hook.

It would not take much juggling of rules to award the Super Bowl to the Patriots by decision. Or, for that matter, to change the whole complexion of a season by finding games that would have been decided differently if football were scored like boxing (Niners-Saints, for example). The point is not to change the outcomes of games, but to show just how bonkers boxing scoring is. Our Judge C is likely to inappropriately score many games, especially games in which one team completes a lot of passes to catch up to an opponent. Yet it would only take a few flukes for Judge C to slip into the NFL playoffs. I picture him as a top judge in the Big 12, where teams throw regardless of the score, whose high-profile judging in BCS games (and a connection or two) lands him in the NFL. It would take two of him to skew a result from the "true" scoring, anyway, or one of him and some other idiosyncratic scorer whose methods happened to line up with his for a particular game.

Thank heavens football is not like that. No one wants to wait around until five minutes after the Super Bowl to figure out who won. Or to learn that the game turned out completely different from the way you thought it did.

Jets Top Five Running Backs

1. Curtis Martin

Martin arrived in New York just in time to be reunited with Bill Parcells and run into the ground for a few more seasons. Martin’s 1998 season, in which he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry, registered negative DVOA and DYAR. DVOA often frowns on grinding, high-carry seasons because it is a percentage stat tied to league averages. DYAR usually gives the grinder his due, crediting him for all the mileage he racked up that your replacement-level back could not have produced. By either count, 1998 was a bad year.

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Martin had a 30-carry, 42-yard game in 1998. He also had a 20-for-38 and a pair of games in the 22-for-58 range. He was the only running back to carry the ball for the Jets in many of these games. The Jets running game was counterproductive in many of those games. Bill Parcells, bless him, made a career out of supplementing his or Belichick’s defenses with the kinds of offenses that make stat guys like us cringe.

Martin somehow plowed through the Parcells years and earned a slight reprieve when Al Groh and Herm Edwards took over. Martin’s DVOA and DYAR improved, in part because of circumstances, but in part because Martin became a unique running back in history, a Hank Aaron who defied age curves and usage curves. Martin somehow registered his highest carry total (371) at age 31, and recorded the best statistical season of his career to boot. Rising offensive averages helped a little, as did an offensive shift that fit his slashing style.

Martin’s career is backwards. Most great backs build their Hall of Fame resumes in their first six seasons, then accrue hang-around value. Martin hung around and had his butt worked off early in his career, becoming a Hall of Famer between 2001 and 2004, his seventh through tenth years. He would have been a much better per-carry back early in his career if Parcells were not so set in his ways.

2. Freeman McNeil

McNeil was a Tony Dorsett-caliber runner who only played one full 16-game season in his career because of injuries to his ribs, ankle, elbows, and any other body part you can think of. He was also the lead plaintiff in the court case that struck down Plan B free agency in the mid-1980s. "Plan B" allowed teams to reserve the rights to 37 players per season, meaning that about eight bottom-of-the-roster guys could become free agents. It was essentially Veteran Kicker Free Agency: teams figured they could let their kickers walk and just sign some kicker another team let walk. The league seriously operated under these conditions for three years and called it "progress."

In a 1989 game against the Colts, McNeil blocked low on linebacker O’Brien Alston. Alston’s knee audibly cracked, and the defender was carted off the field. McNeil was so shaken that he blew a few assignments, then took himself out of the game: the thought that he may have ended another man’s playing career weighed so heavily on his mind that he could not concentrate. Coach Joe Walton responded to McNeil’s human emotions by criticizing him to the media. Even after McNeil had a face-to-face meeting with Walton to explain his reaction, Walton reprimanded him and expressed disappointment.

Some of these old coaches can be sons of bitches, can’t they?

3. Emerson Boozer

Boozer was a nifty-shifty back early in his career. After knee surgery in 1968, he became a tough 195-pound slasher known for his ability to run, catch, and block. He shared backfields with Matt Snell and John Riggins, regaining some of his big-play ability in the early 1970s. He was a vintage Other Back from the glory days of two-back offensive strategies.

4. Matt Snell

Snell was the true MVP of Super Bowl III with 161 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. Traditionalists like to scoff at this blatantly obvious assertion, talking about how Joe Namath called plays and subsumed his ego by handing off to Snell, thereby earning the award. This is a simple example of an ad hoc justification: for Namath and only Namath, "subsuming ego and handing off" is given as criterion for a Most Valuable Player award.

Other arguments take a quasi-DVOA approach by combing through the play-by-play and noting the importance of many of Namath’s 17 completions, an approach which again is applied ad hoc to Namath and does not have any connection whatsoever to how voters actually made their decision (i.e. giving the award to the famous quarterback). Snell had 161 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in a win. The Jets used a ball control offense, and Snell controlled the ball. It’s open-and-shut stuff, folks.

Snell ranks below Boozer because his best years were concentrated in the mid-1960s AFL, which was a wild and wooly era when the league was not quite on footing with the NFL.

5. John Riggins

Early Riggins was a 1970s fullback who shared carries with Boozer in a two-back offense and caught his share of passes. He was nothing like Famous Riggins, the one-man gang who plowed out 3.something yards per carry behind the greatest offensive line in history a few seasons later. Early Riggins, as discussed weeks ago, was probably a better player than Famous Riggins, though he played in poor conditions instead of ideal ones.

Johnny Hector was McNeill’s partner and stunt double for many years. He was very good. DVOA loved Thomas Jones in 2008 but was lukewarm to his other, similar-looking Jets seasons. Jones is something of a Ricky Watters, and the fact that he now has over 10,000 rushing yards shows just how important it is for us to reset our standards of NFL greatness.


88 comments, Last at 24 Jun 2012, 2:40am

1 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

Outside of New England, Cunningham is most famous for a) having a nickname that Howard Cosell loved to say/mangle (calling him "The Bam" often), and b) being Randall Cunningham’s uncle.

And c) leading USC to a 42-21 win over an all-white Alabama team in Birmingham in 1970, hastening the integration of the SEC.

2 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

"There is one other, of course, but I shudder to type his name on the Internet."

I'm completely missing the joke here.

4 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

Yeah same here. Some knucklehead named Tony Collins is the only guy of note on Wikipedia that was not mentioned in the Walkthrough.

Please, Mike, explain away the funny.

16 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

That isn't true at all he a an awfully good year in '85 when they went to the SB against the Bears and a pretty productive rookie season (he averaged 4.9 YPC) Then John Hannah retired after the '85 season and the pats couldn't run the ball at all anymore, and I mean at all, they went from averaging 4.1 YPC as a team to 2.9 YPC.

edited for spelling and clarity.

26 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

James was one of many Patriots to have one impressive season than fade away. Mack Herron, Andy Johnson, Vagas Furguson, Tony Collins (although he hung around as a pass-catcher), John Stephens, Leonard Russell, Robert Edwards, who I guess didn't fade as much as explode.

51 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

Proof that comment threads can go off the rails quickly and in spectacular ways (which I shall further as well): a good chunk of them are about whether "internet" should be capitalized.

I learned that any interconnected group of computers is an internet, while the specific network I'm using to write this comment is the Internet.

Also, I did notice that no one actually said during that interview that James didn't kill five hookers.

3 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

McNeil was so shaken that he blew a few assignments, then took himself out of the game: the thought that he may have ended another man’s playing career weighed so heavily on his mind that he could not concentrate. Coach Joe Walton responded to McNeil’s human emotions by criticizing him to the media. Even after McNeil had a face-to-face meeting with Walton to explain his reaction, Walton reprimanded him and expressed disappointment.

I think the proper response from McNeil would have been to cut Coach Walton at the knees, and thank him for helping him see things in the proper perspective.

5 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

Is the other back Craig James? If it is, to understand the funny just google his name.

7 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

Wow, that group of the "best" New England backs might be the worst of all the team's lists. Off the top of my head though,no Tony Collins? No Craig James? Off to look up their stats...

11 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

It's certainly unconventional. Faulk of course is the 3rd down type, and after a dozen years of mostly excellent play, he'd probably be on most teams' lists. And Tatupu, translated: The blue-haired lady will make a good sacrifice, was a reliable short-yardage back, in addition to a special teams stud (the top special team player in the NCAA gets the Mosi Tatupu award). I think the Pats have a solid top 3.

It's interesting the bloodlines in this one. Besides the Cunningham brothers, Mosi's son plays in the league, Faulk's cousin Marshall is a Hall-of-Famer, and Faulk's son is regarded as a future NFLer by many scouts.

83 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

I'm sure that once you look up their stats, you'll see that Tony Collins and Craig James really weren't all that much.

Corey Dillon has an interesting claim, as he has the single season rushing record for the team. But he only played 3 seasons, and only the first was really impressive.

The collapse of Craig James after Hannah's retirement was really spectacular.

The thing is, the Pats really did have an elite rushing offense during the Hannah years. They just didn't have elite RBs.

87 1978 Pats own the single-season rushing record

In fact, the 1978 team still holds the all-time NFL single-season team rushing record of 3165 yards, without a single 1000yd rusher:

Cunningham 199-768
Johnson 147-675
Ivory 141-693
Grogan 81-539
Calhoun 76-391
McAlister 19- 77
Tatupu 3- 6
Morgan 2- 11
Jackson 1- 7
Westbrook 1- (-2)
Wilson 1- 0

88 Re: 1978 Pats own the single-season rushing record

Just in case anyone else got curious from reading that, here is the list of the all-time highest team rushing totals: http://pfref.com/tiny/bZnBw

The '76 Patriots also make the top 10.

Note: That list does show the 1948 49ers at the top of the list, but that is in the AAFC, so PatsFan is right that the '78 Patriots do hold the record. I didn't want to limit it to the NFL and take them off, because it's still interesting to see them there.

12 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

I've use the same argument against the closed system.

One possible nitpick, I believe that if the judges have it as draw/draw/team b, the result is a majority draw and not a team b win. I've seen it done that way, but it could have been wrong.

15 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

1. Great Smiths reference.
2. Even greater Simpson's reference. As soon as I saw Mosi Tatupu's name, the chant started in my head and I prepared to post a reference to it, but then I saw that you'd made the reference yourself--Good going!
3. Boxing judging illustration is kind of fun, but does anyone still care about boxing? Or even pay any attention to it? Seems like a lot of words to devote to the issue of boxing judging being subjective, which strikes me as kind of "dog bites man."

22 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

Well UFC is quite popular and I believe it is judged the same way (correct me if I'm wrong).

With submissions, I don't think near as many UFC fights go to the judges.

34 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

I don't watch much UFC, but I was under the impression that most fights end with submissions or TKOs. 45% going to decision is higher than I expected.

Looks like about 20% end on submissions, which boxing of course doesn't have.

48 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

"Looks like about 20% end on submissions, which boxing of course doesn't have."

I don't watch enough boxing to know, but is "throwing in the towel" not a thing anymore? Creed/Drago comes to mind as an example where throwing in the towel should have been employed. I also vaguely recall an incident where a fighter refused to get off the stool and start the next round, which is effectively the same thing as submitting.

50 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

We're talking about semantics here, but that type of submission isn't the same thing as an mma submission (some kind of hold that causes the opponent to give up or have their bones/tendons snap or go unconscious).

59 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

Not semantic at all. Throwing in the towel is a TKO, and is no more a submission than knocking your opponent into next week with an uppercut. Submissions don't occur in boxing, for the simple reason that you can't put your opponent in any kind of hold. Professional wrestling, however, had quite a few.

41 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

Agreed on both the Smiths and especially the Simpsons references--when I'm acting like a primate chasing my toddler around the house I often say "Mosi Tatupu, Mosi Tatupu" with the same intonation the...headhunter? had in the Simpsons episode.

On a tangentially related, obscureish-80s-music-reference-in-a-sports-article note, did anybody catch the espn.com lead "And the Heat Goes On" when the Heat won game 7 a few days ago? I presume it's intentionally lifted from Talking Heads' "Born Under Punches" but it's so natural I can't be sure.

47 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

I would have assumed that you actually are a primate . . .

Sort of like the above poster, the first thing that would come to mind for me is "This Beat Goes On" by the Kings, but I would assume that's too obscure to be referenced like that.

71 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

It's funny, I thought about inserting a disclaimer that I realize that I am in fact a primate since on this board I figured somebody else would point it out, but I couldn't do so in a non-clumsy way. Nice to see that I was right about someone pointing it out, though :)

72 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

You could have been one of the Crab People


80 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

[D]id anybody catch the espn.com lead "And the Heat Goes On" when the Heat won game 7 a few days ago? I presume it's intentionally lifted from Talking Heads' "Born Under Punches"

I thought of the Glenn Fry song "The Heat Is On" from the Beverly Hill Cop soundtrack.

17 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

Have to say that Freeman McNeil is the answer to one of my favourite trivia questions - who was the rushing leader in the 1982 strike-shortened season?

29 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

I HATE that question. I always get it wrong because in my mind I am dead set convinced the answer is Andra Franklin. No matter how many times I'm proven wrong, it just doesn't sink in.

21 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

Speaking of playbooks, does anyone have recommendations for books that elucidate different coaching strategies, playbooks,trends, etc.?

I'm familiar with Chris Brown's work and the books he references on his site, but my impression is that he is more interested in college football. I've also found a few NFL playbooks online. That's all I know. I'm interested in learning the NFL side, although any help is much appreciated.

23 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

Books like Chris Brown's are especially hard to come by. There are other (more expensive) books that are directed at coaches - check out authors Dan Gonzalez, Bill Arnsparger, and Fritz Shurmur.

For more accessible but less comprehensive info, here's some blogs I keep tabs on:
fastandfuriousfootball.com <- playbook scans out the wazoo
and their associated blogrolls

Once you digest everything from these guys, the best way to continue to learn is to just watch game film. Rewind and slow-motion are your best friends.

As far as the difference between college and the NFL, it's rather overblown if you ask me. College displays a much, much wider range of strategies; the NFL, in comparison, is much more about teams trying to manipulate each other into poor matchups. A clumsy analogy might be college:NFL::UFC:Olympic judo.

24 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

Derp. Forgot to mention two books that are quite good: The Games that Changed the Game, by Ron Jaworski and Greg Cosell, and Blood, Sweat and Chalk by Tim Layden. Also you should definitely follow Greg Cosell on twitter, or bookmark his blog on nflfilms.com

31 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

I've suggested this many times - as have many others here - but one thing I'd LOVE to see FO do is add a "library" section. A list of the essential reading for the NFL. Moneyball would be on there even if it's not NFL related. Games That Changed The Game. Dr. Z's book, of course. Jerry Kramer's book. Paper Lion. Steve Belichick's book. Tim Layden's of course. One Knee Equals Two Feet. Brian Billick - More Than A Game. Bob Carroll - The Hidden Game of FOotball.

I'm sure there are more.

32 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

As soon as I hit send, I started thinking of a bunch more. Thse are all titles which have appeared in the comments section previously. I just think it would be great if FO made it a permanent reference section. THey would, and should of course, include all of the FOAs.

Also The Blind Side.
Bill Walsh's book.
Bringing The Heat.
War Room, by Michael Holley.
The Early History of Professional Football.
When Football Was Football: The Chicago Cardinals and the birth of the NFL
The Man Who Built The NFL: Joe F. Carr
Spread Formation Football, by Dutch Myers
Football For Coaches and Players, by Pop Warner
Run And Shoot Football, by Glenn Ellison
A Few Seconds of Panic, by Stefan Fatsis
Coaching Football's 46 Defense, by Rex Ryan
Everybody Poops, by Taro Gomi

Feel free to add on as you wish. I've probably read at least 2/3 of these and intend to read the rest.

25 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

Corey Dillon was more replaceable than Kevin Faulk? Don't get me wrong, I like Kevin who was consistent and had many good but not flashy qualities that made him fly under the radar. However, he was certainly never as big of a part of the pats game plan as guys like Marshall Faulk or Brian Westbrook were for their teams, just an injury prone guy with good hands and good pass blocking who came in for a couple of plays a game and could run a draw. I guess you could say Corey Dillon really only had 2004 as an undeniably elite season for the Pats, but he was never worse than above average in his other years, and for a team with such little running back talent over the years, you would think the guy with the single season franchise record would be on the list.

54 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

I agree that they are underrating Dillon. Maybe he only had one "great" year with them, but that year he was scary. He made that team scary.

1738 total yards (1635 rushing) and 13 TD's is hardly a replaceable part on a team that was "abandoning the rush". The Pats that season (according to PFR) had 538 pass attempts and 524 rush attempts.

Really the last time they had a truly balanced offense. Also the last time they won the Superbowl.

27 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

The boxing scoring system is an interesting exercise. The 2006 Bears would have scored a knockout in the Super Bowl on the opening kickoff. Maybe the Suh-stomp could be Tyson biting Holyfield's ear off.

35 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

Could you explain more about the Patriots "Hail Myra" play? I assume Myra is some kind of football goddess, fit to be hailed?

38 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

1. Martin
2 McNeil
4 Snell
5 Riiginz or Hector. Probably go Riggins. Hector longer jets career but not lot of starts. Riggins starter moist of time during 5 year jets career.

39 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

Any discussion of Curtis Martin should mention somewhere that he had one phenomenal skill that always gets overlooked when talking about running backs: He never fumbled.

See http://www.pro-football-reference.com/blog/?p=8592
"There are 69 players in league history with 1500 carries. Martin has by far the lowest fumble rate of the group. Martin fumbled on just 0.82% of carries, with Priest Holmes (0.90%) being the only player within shouting distance."

53 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

Matt Forte is just over 1000 carries right now, he has a fumble rate of 0.97%, but half his fumbles came in one year. If we assume that year is a fluke and the rest of his career will resemble the other 3 years, he's got a 0.79% fumble rate going for those years.

60 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

What makes Martin's rate so special is that a) You don't have to disregard "off" seasons to make it impressive and b) He played forever, meaning that number isn't a fluke. Law Firm's number is amazing by any standard, but Forte's is already mugh higher than Martin's and I'm not sure I believe that in a four year career, any one season can be treated as a "fluke" - it's 25% of his freakin' career.

63 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

1) I'm not asking anyone to disregard an off season, I'm trying to predict the future. It's very possible Forte's true fumble rate or future fumble is lower his current career rate, and I think it's likely he has another 4 product years left which will double the sample size.

2) The fact that Forte's career is so short is exactly why you have to be careful of flukes.

65 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

"I'm not asking anyone to disregard an off season" Uh, that's exactly what you're asking people to do as you "predict the future." It's easy to make a player's numbers look amazingly good when you disregard the worst 25% of them.

If Forte plays another 4 years and has another "fluke" season - 1 fumbly season every four years, just what he's done so far - then his fumble rate won't compare to Martin's. It will still be good, but not on the level with Martin. And that's the only even halfway interesting/credible prediction you could make at this point. Everything else thing is magical thinking.

69 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

Come on, if every player who has above average numbers on some aspect of their game were allowed to disregard the weakest 25% of those numbers, then they'd all be right on track to be the best of all time.

(You do now have me curious where Forte ranks on the overall list, like how different the top rates are - is he in the top 20 or top 3?)

70 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

His career rate if continued would make him tied with Bettis for 13th best.

Edit: I actually miscalculated his fumble rate above. It's 1.18% which is the same as Bettis.

64 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

Exactly--that's why, in the link, Chase limited the list to players with 1500 rushing attempts (an admittedly high bar).

Martin is the greatest of all time when it comes to avoiding fumbles at this point. There are actually a number of backs who have gone entire careers and rushed a significant amount without fumbling, like BenJarvus Green-Ellis, led by Clarke Hinkle's 1171 carries from 1932-1941, but none of them had even one-third of the carries that Martin had: http://pfref.com/tiny/LXs2U

Bigger sample sizes are almost always better than smaller ones, even though people always want to argue that they aren't.

73 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

While not fumbling certainly is important and can be overlooked, I am always skeptical of fumble rate comparisons for running backs from different eras. Current running backs generally have much lower fumble rates than running backs from 30+ years ago. I can immediately think of several reasons for this.

First, botched handoffs these days are classified as fumbles by the QB, not by the RB. However, that was not the case years ago. I don't know if all such botched handoffs were classified as RB fumbles in the past, but at a minimum many of them were. So a play that in the past was called a fumble by the RB now is not classified as a fumble by the RB.

Second, the use of instant replay now wipes out many "fumbles" that upon further review are determined to not be fumbles. Before the advent of instant replay review, once a play was ruled a fumble, that was it; there was no chance to overturn the call, no matter how egregious it was. Off the top of my head, I can clearly recall one such egregious call resulting in a "fumble" being wrongly charged to a running back. In 1978, the Bears were playing the Falcons in Atlanta. Walter Payton carried the ball and was tackled inside the Falcons' 5 yard line. As he often did, he placed the ball on the ground after the play and then got up. But the official incredibly ruled that he fumbled (and that the Falcons recovered). It was one of the worst calls I have ever seen. (I think it was worse than the call on Vinny Testaverde's phantom touchdown on his QB sneak against Seattle in 1998). It was such a bad call that when Payton realized what the official had ruled, he ran up to the official and touched his forearm. To add insult to injury, the official then ejected Payton. Long story short, had there been instant replay review back then, the Bears would have challenged the call and it would have been reversed. But it goes in the books as a fumble by Payton. How many "fumbles" that would have been overturned on video review were charged to RBs of yesteryear?

74 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

The point regarding fumbles being assigned to the QB instead of the RB on a botched hand off is a good point.

The instant replay one less so ... it is just as likely that things that weren't ruled as fumbles in the past now are due to replay. I'm inclined to think they tend to even out over the long term .....

75 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

While I get what you say about replays, we simply don't know whether or not they would even out. Also, keep in mind that there often is no point in challenging a play ruled down by contact that should be called a fumble because the defense didn't make a clear recovery. If there's no clear recovery and the play is whistled dead, why bother challenging? As a result, many fumbles incorrectly called down by contact are not reviewed by replay.

40 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

One good thing (good, that is, from one specific perspective) about the way boxing is scored: if two guys are virtually even through 15 rounds, the match is judged a tie, which is preferable (again, from one perspective) to the way all non-soccer sports are scored.

The Giants-Pats SB referred to in the article is a good example; did we walk away from that game thinking that the Giants were clearly the superior team? Of course not, because the two teams were evenly matched. An even better example is any game decided by a last-minute FG, particularly a long one. From one standpoint, calling Team A better if the ball slips inside the left upright but Team B better if it hits said upright is a bit ludicrous, no? Really, the fairest, most accurate way to characterize the relative abilities of the two teams is to say that they're about equal.

Let me be clear: calling evenly-played matches ties is only "good" if our primary goal is to truly evaluate the relative effectiveness of those two teams. If we also care about drama, emotion, bragging rights, closure, etc (and we do) then the way we do things now is preferable. I just feel that it might be healthy to keep in mind that the result of one specific game--especially a close one--doesn't have as much meaning as we tend to ascribe to it.

42 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

Doesn't basketball achieve a similar result with teams being tied for all intents and purposes without any of the subjectivity of judges.

In fact doesn't it do a much better job of this than soccer where one lucky goal can radically change a game's result?

55 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

"Subjectivity of the judges"--you've obviously never watched an NBA game. I've seen "make-up" calls in these two (so far) games of the Finals, not to mention other playoff games. In almost every basketball game where the margin is 5 points or less, the refs have a part in the outcome. One missed call, or a borderline call that could pretty much go either way, and the result is changed.
The only thing that basketball has going for it is that there is enough scoring that usually one bad call won't kill a team--they almost always will have dozens of possessions (combining offensive and defensive) to make up the difference.

61 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

I think you constantly over-estimate the possible levels of objectivity in officiating. Every game there are multiple calls that are in a grey area, in every sport no matter how hard the definitions, how clear the rules. There's no rule written that doesn't have exceptions or borderline instances or toss-up calls. Officiating is best used as a way of preventing one competitor or another from gaining an unfair competitive advantage - sure, sometimes that entails blatantly breaking the rules, other times it means exploiting the grey areas (this is actually one of Belichick's signatures.) Sometimes it means correcting players who don't realize that they're on the border and occasionally crossing the line (as the ref sees it.) But it all comes down to how the ref sees it.

But that's difference between boxing and most of the other major sports - the other officials in basketball and hockey are regulating unfair competitive advantage. In boxing, the officials are deciding who played better. That's actually the reason I can't stand baseball - the whole subjectivity of the strike zone drives me nuts. It's officials judging quality of play as opposed to regulating competitive advantage.

62 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

Look, I don't want to argue about this.

The point is that basketball achieves the result of teams playing a virtual tie by having the score reflect it without all the shadowy nonsense that boxing has.

77 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

Several things are at work here:

1. In sports where the scoring is well-defined, like football, the score is still only a proxy for determining who the best team was that day. We understand that it's not always correct, and we accept that the lesser team occasionally scores more points and wins.

2. Boxing judges determining the result of a fight are different than the referee (in boxing or other sports) enforcing the rules. There's going to be subjectivity when humans officiate, but even a penalty call than negates what would be the winning touchdown is not an attempt to determine the outcome.

3. Mike's football judges are all using "objective" systems, however silly they may be. It would be worse if the three judges just decided who they thought looked better in each quarter, maybe giving extra consideration to the favorite who's supposed to be better the way figure skating judges do.

44 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

If subjective ties were officially part of football (for close games), then the nature of those games would change as well, since most coaches would play more conservatively and go for the tie. Similarly, blowouts would mean much more than a single win on the season record. Such a system would be quite insane. Or more accurately the BCS.

45 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

Look kids, a base sam blitz.
It does give away though that they've slanted their defensive line to the weak side.
The strong End has a strong B, the Nose has a strong A, the T a weak B and the weak end contain.
Even though it's a fairly common play, it's not smart to give away really.

81 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

"Anyone who knows pedagogy knows that the act of hand-copying those plays as study guides is the most important element of the studying itself: engaged note taking is so good for understanding and recall that it makes later study irrelevant."

It's important, but it does not render later study irrelevant. I'm not sure if you're being serious here.

82 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

For a lot of people, hes exactly correct.

In college, I almost never looked at my notes, it just wasn't helpful. If I'd taken notes on something, I knew it pretty well. It was the act of taking them that made the difference.

In the same vein, if I missed a class and had to get notes from someone else, they just weren't useful at all.

Taking notes is essentially an excercise in rephrasing and condensing what has been said, and to do that, you need to understand it.

84 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

I found note-taking to be quite detrimental. It draws some attention away from the lecture. Focus on what is being discussed and taking notes, rephrasing, condensing, and later review are redundant.

That doesn't apply on things like foreign language where drill is important.

85 Re: Walkthrough: Hang The D.J.

I sometimes felt that way, that taking the notes ingrained it in my memory, but I found it helpful to go over the information anyway before the tests. I'm pretty sure he's quite wrong about this as it applies to the general population.