Saturday, September 27, 2014

Packers-Lions Tape Tales: One Personnel Package to Rule them All and Other Stories

Once upon a time, Mike McCarthy used to be known as the king of swapping out personnel to find the most advantageous matchup; he'd go with an inverted wishbone, two-fullback look one snap, and split four wides and a TE out on the next snap. At least against the Lions, those days seemed to be over with. Except for a brief period in the third quarter when they went with four wides, the Packers ran their three-WR, one-TE, one-RB package exclusively. Not once did anyone go in motion before the snap, Cobb was always the slot WR and was never alone on a side, and the main variation seemed to be whether the TE was split out or tight; it was almost always shotgun. No two-TE sets, no fullback on the field (kuuuuuuhn?), no bunches or stacked WRs, nothing. I mention this not as a criticism necessarily--after all, if it worked, who would complain--but it was very jarring to see on tape.

-Speaking of the offense, there was much blather this week about Rodgers focusing too much on Nelson, but I really didn't see that on tape. He was targeting Quarless and Cobb with decent results right up until the bitter end.

-Ndamukong Suh, he of ill fame, *abused* Lang and Linsley inside. Another much-ballyhooed topic this week was Lacy and his lousy 3.1 yards per carry. Well, a lot of those runs were out of the shotgun, and I counted three times where Lacy wanted to take it straight upfield but Suh had destroyed Lang inside--and I mean destroyed; the first time it happened, Suh's initial punch turned Lang completely around, putting him perpendicular to the line of scrimmage. When that happened, Lacy inevitably bounced it outside and got strung out, since he lacks great speed, and smothered. This happened to Harris as well. Starks seemed much better at picking his way through trash and turning upfield, perhaps because he committed to the inside runs more beyond the initial read.

-The Packers ran some really weird blocking schemes in an effort to control Suh, Nick Fairley and their comrades. Here's an example. First and 10 in the first quarter.  Ezekiel Ansah is the RDE, Fairley the RDT. Opposite them are Bakhtiari, Sitton and Richard Rodgers, tight to the line next to Bakhtiari. At the snap, Sitton immediately pulls to the second level, Rodgers takes the DE, and Bakhtiari turns and blocks Fairley from the side as he flies upfield, effectively trapping him out of the play. (The play went south because of Suh's crushing Lang as previously mentioned, but that had little to do with this blocking pattern.) The Packers pulled Sitton, Lang and Linsley quite a few times, mixed in cut-blocks on passing plays, and once double-teamed both Suh and Fairley while leaving Ansah unblocked (which somehow worked). It looked like a lot of time and effort went into controlling Detroit's defensive front, but with one TE and no FB, I saw a lot of DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch flying into the line and getting past a guard or center whose job it was to deal with him. Corey Linsley, bless his heart, looked very unaware on the second level when trying to pick up LBs.

-I think we get spoiled by Rodgers’ ability to make something happen outside the pocket; usually, it’s a first down to Cobb or some other big play. Today, Rodgers always seemed to be facing very tight coverage when he rolled to the right, and ended up throwing into coverage or throwing it away. I think this was because of the ubiquitous Suh and Fairley, who several times shot into the backfield on passing plays and forced Rodgers to move sooner than he’d have liked to. Because the receivers didn’t have as much time to lose their coverage, as they usually do on a Rodgers rollout that takes 4-5 seconds to develop, the rollouts didn’t look nearly as good.

-On defense, the Packers had no answer for Reggie Bush. Whenever the Lions wanted Bush, or third-down back “The Chronicles of” Theo Riddick, the back would circle out of the backfield, wide-open, and catch the ball for an easy five yards before the CB or S wrapped him up. The Packers’ ILBs were either too slow to get over to Bush from the middle of the field or were looking at beautiful butterflies, but almost every time the Lions tried it, it worked.

-The Lions never had an answer for Peppers. He had several hits on the QB in addition to his sack, all of them after flying around the corner against the Lions’ woeful RTs. He shared partial responsibility for Neal’s sack, forced another two incomplete passes with QB hits, and was as responsible as anyone for keeping Green Bay in the game.

-Two depressing things to close. One: No matter how many Packers are on the field, third-and-short for the enemy always feels like a foregone conclusion, whether they’re running against the nickel or a four-DT line. Two: Tramon Williams and Micah Hyde delivered some solid hits, and the D-line was generally able to cover people up, but man, our linebackers. Neal, Hawk, Lattimore, Barrington: when they’re not bouncing off backs or receivers and letting them churn forward for more yardage, they’re getting driven backwards for extra yardage even when they make the tackle. You watch footage from the 2010 team, like the Redskins game in Week 5: when someone catches a ball over the middle or runs up the gut, they get stopped. It doesn’t have to be a blow-up hit, but the ballcarrier generally stops moving forward when hit. Must be nice to be the Seahawks or somebody and take that sort of thing for granted, because we can’t do it consistently.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sammy Baugh's Weird, Wonderful Wikipedia Page

Sammy Baugh's Wikipedia page has a weird historical quirk--scratch that, a million weird historical quirks. He was a QB, a Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee in 1963 and is one of the Redskins' greatest players. But check this out:
-Baugh was a three-sport athlete at TCU, and was offered a job as a football coach at TCU after his senior year. Instead, he signed a minor-league contract with the St. Louis Cardinals before getting discouraged and turning to football. He was then drafted sixth overall in 1937.
-As the sixth overall pick, he got a one-year contract.
-Per Wikipedia, on being drafted by the Redskins, he said "I didn't know what they were talking about, because frankly, I had never heard of either the draft or the Washington Redskins." I will pray every day from now until the 2015 draft that someone says this during the pre-draft craziness.
-He also said this: "I didn't know how much pro players were making, but I thought they were making pretty good money. So I asked Mr. Marshall for $8,000, and I finally got it. Later I felt like a robber when I found out what Cliff Battles and some of those other good players were making. I'll tell you what the highest-priced boy in Washington was getting the year before—not half as much as $8,000! Three of them—Cliff Battles, Turk Edwards and Wayne Millner—got peanuts, and all of 'em in the Hall of Fame now. If I had known what they were getting I'd have never asked for $8,000."
-The government's CPI inflation calculator runs that to about $132,140.00 in modern dollars. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION.
-Playing both ways, he once threw four touchdown passes and picked off four enemy passes IN THE SAME GAME. In 1943, which might as well be 943, he led the league in completion percentage (55.6%), interceptions (11), and punting average (45.9 yards); the top in the NFL in 2013 was 48.9 by a guy who plays in Oakland, so, you know, not bad. He also holds the best all-time single-season average, 51.4 yards.
-On Halloween 1943 vs. the Brooklyn Dodgers, he became the first player to ever throw for six touchdowns; he did it again on "Sammy Baugh Day" in 1947 vs. the Cardinals, amassing 355 yards. In 1947.
-Weirdest of all: he was a five-time All-Star, five-time All-Pro, two-time Player of the Year (some kind of primitive MVP award) and led the league in passing six times, which only Steve Young has ever matched, and is in the Hall of Fame... but only made one Pro Bowl in his career. (It was discontinued in 1942 and revived only in 1950.) Also, the Pro Bowl used to be the defending champions against the rest of the league's all-stars, which, why can't we have that nowadays????? That'd be amazing!

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Short, Wonderful History of the College of Wooster in the NFL

·       On a whim, I decided to see if any Fighting Scots have ever played in the NFL. The answer is yes: six of them, four in the league's early days. Hank Critchfield, a 5'10", 207-pound center, played for the Cleveland Indians in 1931. Wilson "Willie" Flattery, a giant for his time at 6'0", 220, was a two-year guard for the Canton Bulldogs in '25-'26. Johnnie Layport, a preposterous 5'9", 170-pound guard/tackle, actually switched teams in his three-year career; he spent 1924 with the Columbus Tigers, and 1925-26 with the Dayton Triangles. 

      Ben Roderick, who was born in the nineteenth century and attended Columbia and Boston College along with Wooster, played for four teams as a 5'9", 175-pound FB/HB/QB. In 1923, he played four games apiece for the Buffalo All-Americans and the immortal 11-0-1 Canton Bulldogs, who won the championship that year. (The 1972 Dolphins can suck a dick: the 1920, 1922, 1923 and 1929 (Packers!) champions were all undefeated.) After two years away from football, Roderick returned to the Bulldogs in 1926 before playing a final season for the Buffalo Bisons, surely the worst team name in NFL history, in 1927.
Dan Callahan was the only Wooster player to grace the major leagues between 1931 and the glory days of the 1980s, playing one season as a 6'0", 230-pound guard for the New York Titans under Sammy Baugh.* But he was merely setting the table for--are you ready?--the legend of Blake Moore.
Feast your eyes upon him. Blake Moore towers above the greats of Wooster football, a 6'5", 267-pound colossus. All men feared him. Defying all odds, he played in 77 games as a guard/center for Cincinnati (1980-83) and Green Bay ('84-'85), eclipsing the careers of his five predecessors combined. But that's not even the zenith of the monumental career of Wooster's greatest warrior. 

E. Blake Moore, giant of the Wooster graduates, has done something no one else had ever done, except for maybe Ben Roderick: he scored an honest-to-God NFL touchdown. Two of them. In each of his years with the Packers, who obviously saw something in him that Cincinnati didn't, he lined up as an eligible receiver and caught one three-yard touchdown pass. Two catches, career, two touchdowns: the greatest ratio in NFL history.
Moore is currently an Executive Vice President at Mackenzie Financial Corporation; he was a history major and fourth-generation Fighting Scot. He went to Harvard Law School after football, practiced law for four years, then became a money manager. He also wrote the world's worst-titled autobiography, Through a Pigskin Prism

*The legend of Sammy Baugh will have to wait until next post.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Ruthlessly Editing Tyler Dunne, Part III

I really didn't want to keep doing these, Tyler. I thought you had learned the error of your ways. (You even stopped posting articles for a couple of days, which was nice.) And then you posted your article of 9/2/14, findable here, and made me wonder if the Journal Sentinel even has editors anymore. Here's Part I and Part II

Let's begin. 

Seattle Energy exudes throughout the Seattle Seahawks' practice facility. A glass case holding the team's 2013 Super Bowl rings greets you in the lobby. Loud rap music later blares in the locker room. General manager John Schneider — unlike his former boss, Ted Thompson — bounds off the field as if ready to take a Student Body Sweep Right himself.
(I am forced to admit that your first sentence is not grammatically incorrect. However, it's still painfully awkward to read. A person can exude energy, or a place, but you've written it so that the energy is the subject of the sentence instead of the object. It just looks bizarre. Also, why is the word "later" necessary?)
And, of course, at the podium is Richard Sherman. In pure form.
Through the NFL's obsessive embrace of fantasy football-driven, patty-cake defense, Sherman would seem to be Culprit No. 1. The league is cracking down on illegal contact.
(Would it kill you to say something simply. "The NFL is cracking down on illegal contact in 2014, and it's likely to hit the Seahawks hardest." You don't have to pretty it up with stupid little phrases like "patty-cake defense". News flash, Tyler: newspaper reporters are paid to be clear and concise. You are neither. Why are you getting paid, again?)
Seattle, Sherman says, plays within the rules and always has.
"We're happy the emphasis is there," Sherman said, "because it'll give people less excuses."
And does it affect his style?
"Obviously not."
With that, he snaps his head to a new question. This is the player who has become the emblem of Seattle's rise. The swagger starts with Sherman, the trash-talking Stanford grad fresh off a four-year, $56 million contract extension. When the Green Bay Packers enter CenturyLink Field on Thursday, he'll cast the most intimidating shadow.
(He "snaps his head to a new question"? Think about that for just a second, Tyler. Just think about that. What are you saying? Why is that sentence even necessary? And why isn't the second sentence "Sherman has become the face of the Seahawks" or something like that? It's so unnecessarily wordy, so... clumsy. I don't like the wordiness of "cast the most intimidating shadow", but at least it sort of works. That doesn't.)
From riding that new fine line in coverage to a looming "chess match" with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Sherman is central to Seattle's unparalleled bravado.
"He's had his best camp, his best off-season work. Clearly," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He's so disciplined about what he's doing. His attitude has been perfect. He hasn't missed a minute of practice. He's done everything, taken all the reps, done everything we've asked him to do.
"I think he's been his most focused. He's been on it the whole time."
On Monday, Sherman called the practice field a personal "sanctuary." This off-season capped a rise to celebrity status — he checked all the necessary boxes. A new deal. A high-profile Twitter feud (with Arizona's Patrick Peterson). A Madden cover shot. Back to the field, to practice, he said you can "free your mind of all the distractions" and improve.
(It's a little weird that you don't mention the thing that catapulted him to celebrity status, namely the pass breakup vs. Michael Crabtree in the NFC Championship Game and his subsequent interview with some reporter, but I guess that's forgivable--you're only a reporter, you're not expected to know things.)
He's forced to be near-perfect because opportunities on game day are so fleeting.
It can get lonely for Sherman. Lining up at left cornerback for 15 of 16 games last year, Sherman often was treated like Barry Bonds at the plate. Quarterbacks simply walked him, choosing to test other cornerbacks. And blanketing his deep third of the field, the 6-foot-3 Sherman still managed eight interceptions and 16 pass breakups in 2013.
(The Bonds analogy is tiresome, but this paragraph has a deeper problem than that. Tyler, it's 2014, and ProFootballFocus exists. You can't be a football reporter in 2014 and not know about it, right? You can use numbers from that site to bolster the point you're trying to make: that QBs avoided Sherman last year. The number of targets he got and the number of completions he allowed is something you can find out. You don't need something as asinine as "Quarterbacks simply walked him", you can provide data! Why don't you? Hell, for the stats you do use, you could say that that was the best percentage of picks/breakups compared to his number of targets in the league, or something. The resources are available for you to be so much better than this.)
So he has a message to all quarterbacks. Don't leave him hanging.
"I hope I get a lot of action," Sherman said. "Hopefully, teams come at me all the time. It's fun. It makes the game very fun for both teams. I don't expect any of that, though."
Thus, the Richard Sherman-Jordy Nelson duels may be sporadic, if existent at all. Green Bay used Jarrett Boykin on its right side (Sherman's left) most of last season. Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn does expect to see Sherman on Nelson at times because, he said, the Packers "move him around a lot."
Quinn did call this summer one of the best "technical times" Sherman has had since Seattle drafted him in 2011. When opportunities are sparse — and they probably will be Thursday night — Sherman must know when to strike.
"Staying on it, every day, locking out," Quinn said. "You have to stay really disciplined to do that down after down because the one time you 'Ah, I'll just take a shot here,' that's when the bad one happens. So he's been disciplined this training camp."
The last time the Seahawks faced a prolific, no-huddle offense, they embarrassed the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning, 43-8, in the Super Bowl. Afterward, Sherman revealed that players were able to jump routes by deciphering Manning's pre-snap hand signals.
In that chess match, Sherman shredded the chessboard before Manning even touched a pawn. This one? In the deafening decibel levels that await, Rodgers probably will be relying on non-verbal (and non-everything) communication, anyway.
Sherman also notes that these are two different quarterbacks.
"It's dissimilar because the offenses they run are a little different," Sherman said. "Obviously, they both get the ball out quickly. I think Aaron is more dynamic in his movement and being able to get out the pocket and be able to step up or step through, and create more time for his receivers to get open.
"Peyton," Sherman continues, snapping his fingers, "makes his decisions and he's going. He takes his hitches and he's getting the ball out. He's not going to scramble and try to create more time. So I think they're different in that respect."
(It's the little things, but you're so shitty at the little things, Tyler. A minute ago, we were in the past tense. Now we're in the present. Why? It was the same interview.)
Bank on Sherman, right cornerback Byron Maxwell and nickel cornerback Jeremy Lane staying aggressive.
In one Monday sequence, Carroll praised his players for consciously adjusting to the league's points of emphasis, for taking it "right to heart." And moments later, there was Sherman saying, "We didn't change anything. We were playing by the rules before, and we continue to play by the rules."
Either way, officials will be watching. Rodgers jokingly told Ed Hochuli's crew early this summer in Green Bay that they'll need them Week 1.
Two years ago, the Seahawks cornerbacks bullied Green Bay's receivers in the first half. They tested the 5-yard limit Hochuli vowed this summer officials would crack down on.
(Vowed is nearly as bad as "insisted", your favorite word, but at least it accurately connotes the intent of Hochuli. You're doing decently well... although, on second look, your second sentence is pretty awkward.)
Don't expect any attitude adjustment here.
Cliff Avril's eyes scowl in semi-disgust. No, the Seahawks won't need to tone anything down.
(And then, this. You have this annoying habit of assigning agency to things--great plays from Part II, energy in the opening paragraph, now Avril's eyes--that don't have agency. The eyes did not decide to do anything. Why on earth not "Cliff Avril scowls in semi-disgust?")
"They made these new rules to slow us down and guys have adapted and gotten even better," the defensive end said. "I don't think it'll slow us down one bit. You want to be aggressive. You want to make the plays you're supposed to make.
"Hit the people you're supposed to hit as hard as you can."
Again, Sherman will be the one leading the movement.
(Tyler, this article is okay. It has, for you, a pretty small number of errors. I previously reviewed a Packers Plus column and an extensive feature story on Myles White. This is a more typical pre-game story, so you're more bound by word limits and less free to gallivant through the phrasebook of clichés and hyperbole that I imagine you must have. But it isn't good. You use eight words when five would do, hype up everything you can, confuse tenses, fail to make use of helpful resources, and write poorly. Where are your real editors? Am I the only one that sees this crap that you do? Seriously, the tenses thing is the kind of error that editors are paid to catch. What is the review process like at the JS these days? Does anyone look these things over before you submit them? Are they inured to your errors?
I realized today why your over-reliance on clichés bothers me so much. I mentioned in a previous post that instead of reporting what you see, you draw your own picture and invite the reader to see that... with the implication that your own picture rarely corresponds to the things that are actually happening. Thinking about the implications of that is kind of appalling. Take the sentence from your last article, "White pretzel-knots a cornerback". We are presumably supposed to infer that White metaphorically tied him in a knot, i.e. confused him. But the words you used bear no resemblance to a thing that happened on the field--say, Myles White cut inside, turned the cornerback around, then cut outside and ran up the sidelines, leaving the CB in his wake. You're not describing the actual play in a way that gives us any indication of what happened. Instead, you're summing up the play with an image, from which we're supposed to guess at what happened in the actual play. Your use of metaphor doesn't make the events you're describing clearer for the reader, it makes it harder to understand what happened. And it's maddening because only you have the perspective--you were right there and you were watching--to show us what actually happened. We rely on you, especially for something like a practice that most people can't physically see, and when you describe something obtusely or confusingly it lets the readers down.)