Friday, October 11, 2013

Stupid Things NFL Teams Do When They Are Really Bad

Taking a break from public policy, politics, and other weighty matters today to throw cold water on NFL doings and widely accepted myths.

They pick a quarterback before anything else.

Why is this dumb?

It's a familiar sight.  A team plumbs the depths of horridness, winning one or two games.  Defense plays like 11 fence posts.  Offensive line blocks slightly less effectively than water vapor.  Starting wide receivers and backs wouldn't even be on some teams' rosters.

And they think now is the time to draft a top quarterback.

So let me get this straight.  You want to draft a quarterback, pay him scads of money, then put him back there to get beaten like an old rug for two years.  At that point, the fans are calling him a bust so you draft the next human sacrifice and send the old one to the glue factory (or to be the backup of some other terrible quarterback on a bad team.)

Yes I am looking at you Cleveland Browns.  And quit trying to hide behind your neighbor to the west, Oakland Raiders.

What should be done?

Build the team first.  Then get the quarterback.  For a few franchises this is counter-intuitive because HOLYCRAPTHATISTHEBESTQUARTERBACKEVERANDTHEREWILLNEVERBEANOTHERONESOPERFECTFORUS, at least until this one is dead and the next one gets drafted.  They also seem certain that great quarterbacks only appear in the top five selections, so if they get a shot at one there, they must take it.

Great football operations understand that talented quarterbacks are not creatures mostly of myth that only appear at rare multiple planetary convergences.  Every draft has at least a few that range from capable to good.  Many, given patience on the part of the team and themselves, can develop over time into decent contributors.

Almost no quarterbacks can survive years of pulverizing without some effect on physical well-being or mental state.

So start by building the offensive line.  A great offensive line has magical powers.  It can turn the average into good and the good into stupendous.  Some bad offenses happen to have great quarterbacks.  Currently Ben Rothliesburger, absent a murder conviction, will go to the Hall of Fame no matter what else happens in his career.  He has the same abilities as he had when the Steelers actually won games.  A lot of bad offenses have one great wide receiver, many of whom live in double coverage but still cry for the damn ball.

But all bad offenses share one characteristic.  They have bad offensive lines.  A bad offensive line is why the aforementioned Steelers quarterback will be riding a cart through Wal Mart in a decade.  He has almost zero chance to do great things because he has linebackers hanging off of his shoulders.

So build an offensive line.

Amazingly, if you build it, they will come.  Offensive players will want to play for your team.  Offensive line emphasis shows that a team has an actual serious intent to win, instead of simply shoving a top draft pick out there to sell tickets and die.

This leads neatly into the second stupid thing.

No balanced offense?  No title.

The National Football League holds onto cherished myths, one of which is that offenses heavily dependent upon passing are the "future."

But those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  That should be the NFL's motto.

Look at every Super Bowl winner in this century.  Almost all of them relied heavily on a balanced offense and strong defense.  Despite the fact that the NFL promotes rules that help the passing game (and, consequently, lead to more high speed collision injuries) titles are still won using the age old formula.

Evidence?  Look at the Pittsburgh Steelers.  When they ran the ball effectively, they dominated the post season.  Running the ball keeps your defense fresh and tires the opponents.  More importantly, it reduces the quarterback's exposure to risk.  Not many bad things happen to a quarterback when he hands off.  the offense also does not become overly dependent on a single guy to carry them.

A few quarterbacks can carry a team through a season passing all the time and be consistently successful.  It takes hard work and a lot of mental toughness.  Tom Brady and Peyton Manning can do that.  That's it.  It doesn't mean that a quarterback is not great if he runs a balanced offense.  Joe Montana quarterbacked a team that ran the ball effectively.  Shoot, they even gave the fullback the ball a few times per game!  Troy Aikman almost played second fiddle to his running back, but no one would say he was not one of the great ones of his era.

But think about Peyton Manning.  How many rings does he have?  Remember his one Super Bowl win?  It came when he was handing the ball off quite a bit to Edgerrin James.

How many rings does Tom Brady have since Corey Dillon left the Patriots, was cut, or retired, or whatever happened to him?  Zero.  He has had amazing season and playoff dominance, but then runs out of luck when a team gets pressure on him.  Brady will be interesting to watch this year because he operates an offense built out of duct tape, coat hangers, and second hand shoestrings.  And looks very human.  And tired.

Conversely, John Elway could not win the big one until lassoed into Mike Shanahan's system.  His zone blocking scheme used lightweight and brainy linemen.  It enabled Denver to put anyone it wanted at tailback and get a thousand yards out of them. Terrell Davis running over people shocked no one.  Olandis Gary gaining a thousand yards convinced some that the Shanahans dealt in some form of black magic.

So do your quarterback a favor.  After you get a good line in place, bring in about four guys who can get some yardage consistently.  And don't be like the teams who . . .

Avoid giving the ball to the fullback based on some warped principle

This is really a thing.  When Andy Reid had nearly finished serving his time in Philadelphia (of course Philly fans thought they served time with Andy Reid) one constantly saw a bizarre sight.  Fullback Owen Schmitt, a 240 lb freak of nature who could run almost a 4.5 in the 40 would run short pass routes.  About every third game, Michael Vick tossed it to him and he rumbled for 16 yards.  Then wait another three games.  Defenses knew he'd rarely get the ball so they never covered him.  Reid evidently preferred that Vick throw it 50 yards downfield into double coverage.  Because we wanna be aggressive!

No, no, no!!!  NFL coaches seem to think that putting the ball into the hands of guys who usually block means that they eschew a chance to get more yardage somewhere else.  Which means that the defensive coordinator says "Whew, that's one less guy I have to account for!"

So for all that is decent and right, let the fullback have the ball!  At least once or twice.  And not just on third and 1 when 11 guys are within five yards of him.  Imagine, just imagine the shock IF THE FULLBACK GOT THE BALL ON FIRST, DARE I SAY FIRST DOWN???  Broadcasters would scream themselves senseless.  Defensive coordinators would fall over in shock.  Fantasy players would be apoplectic!

But best of all, you force the defense to account for one more guy who might get the ball and run with it.

Fullbacks used to get four or five carries per game.  Tom Rathman actually gained a few hundred yards a year in the 49ers glory days.  Dallas' Darryl "Moose" Johnston sent Cowboys fans into shrill delight.  Defenses in the 1990s stopped expecting the fullback to get carries, so Moose averaged about seven per.

If we give the ball to the fullback to fool the defense, surely we need a running quarterback.  They are the wave of the future, right?

No, running quarterbacks are not the wave of the future

There's nothing wrong with running quarterbacks.  But seriously, every generation acts like they discovered the running quarterback first.  That all who came before were just sticks in the mud who had boring old pro style guys.

Stupid teams want to go for the latest fad.  They usually end up doing what the fad was last year just in time for good defenses to adjust to it.

But just like the present generation forgot the "Run n' shoot" and "Fun n' gun" offenses of prior years, the present generation has no idea that running quarterbacks are nothing new.

All quarterbacks used to do was either hand off or run!  Just like the best home run hitters in World War I usually jacked out about 10 per season, quarterbacks used to not pass all that often.  And so, needing to contribute something, they often ran the ball.

By the 1950s and 60s, quarterbacks grew steadily more immobile, either handing off or throwing farther and farther downfield.  A fast quarterback became an anomaly.  When forced to, a quarterback running the ball looked awkward and unnatural, like wearing a clown suit in your wedding.

Some, however, ran and ran well.  Roger Staubach in the 1960s and 70s.  Randall Cunningham in the 1980s.  Steve Young and John Elway in the 1990s.  All of these guys ran well.  And, of course, their arrival heralded the new era of the "mobile quarterback."  Meaning that those old fuddy duddy quarterbacks who could not run ten feet in twenty minutes were doomed to irrelevance.  Or golf.

The best pro style quarterbacks save their teams a lot of grief because the quarterback tries to get rid of the ball in under three seconds.  Most offensive linemen can stay in a guy's way for three seconds.  Because they can't get anywhere else very fast, they stay in the pocket, deliver the ball accurately, and don't get clobbered all the time.

A great running quarterback is as rare as the guy who can throw fifty times per game, every game, and still win all of the time.  Attrition wears these guys down.  They play through a lot of pain because they are the quarterback.  Many cannot endure the constant beating they take.

Most adjust, except for Michael Vick who seems perfectly content to spend the rest of his career running through a brick wall and only playing 9 games a season.  The key is to rely less on athleticism and more on judgment.  The aforementioned Steve Young and John Elway transformed from great runners/good passers into great passers/good runners.

Of the current crop, Robert Griffin III should really look the hardest at the career track of Young.  Like Young, he entered the NFL as a great runner who could pass accurately.  Young carefully transformed his game and managed to survive in the league several years because he only broke out his runs when he had to.  The rest of the time he deconstructed defenses with his arm.  Griffin is very reminiscent of Steve Young in physical abilities and intangibles.  Which reminds me . . .

Stop only comparing black quarterbacks to other black quarterbacks

Honestly, that really is racist.  And ridiculous.  Many moons ago, as Byron Leftwich prepared for the NFL draft, Mel Kiper compared him to Daunte Culpeper.  They were both gigantic, had strong arms, and happened to be black.  The difference?  Culpeper ran like a fullback.  Trucking people was part of his game.

 Byron Leftwich ran like he was chest deep in molasses.  But he did have accuracy and a quick release.  At the time, Leftwich looked more like the next Bernie Kosar.  Get drafted by a middling organization, have some pretty solid years, make the Pro Bowl a couple of times, then drift away.

Sometimes an up and coming black quarterback is like a white predecessor.  Sometimes an up and coming white quarterback is like a black predecessor.

This may not have anything to do with teams, per se.  But it's still dumb.

And Lastly, Stupid Teams Constantly Want Other Teams' Backup Quarterbacks

This tactic almost never works.  Team A, a winning franchise, has an amazingly awesome quarterback. Probably going to the Hall of Fame.  They also have a backup who gets to start maybe two games per year.  When he plays, he is lights out.  Throws for 300 plus yards, a couple of touchdowns, and has a winning smile.

By golly, he might be a great starter!

Back in the 1990s I had a friend who was really into fantasy football.  Every year he drafted Jason Garrett, who backed up Troy Aikman.  He knew that the inevitable one or two games that Garrett started, he'd shine.  And he did.  Like Frank Reich of the Buffalo Bills or Gary Kubiak of the Denver Broncos.

But as often as they had memorable games, none of these guys would have starred as starters.


Some quarterbacks have a few gifts that shine in rare chances to play.  Many of these guys also play for good teams with real live linemen instead of fenceposts.  They shine specifically because they rarely play.  A guy who plays once a year gets no scrutiny.  Conversely, some of the brightest minds in our nation constantly examine the play of Eli Manning, Tony Romo, and others to find the glistening flaws.

Example.  Tony Romo is the best quarterback in the world when he faces no pressure, like when down 20 points in the 3rd quarter.  Blitzes make him average.  Eli Manning has definitely revealed a flaw at some point recently, because defenses now steal from him early and often.

So your talented second stringer comes in almost as a tabula rosa as far as the defense is concerned.  they know very little about him.  Which is why second stringers often have surprisingly good games.

Then they go elsewhere.  Often to bad teams.  Matt Cassel was a second string supernova with one glorious year in New England after Brady went down.  Then faded to black in Kansas City.  Matt Flynn showed some promise in Green Bay.  Oakland just released him.  You know you have hit the wall when Oakland doesn't want your quarterbacking services.

Know the difference between the second stringer and the heir apparent.  One is fodder, the other is the Prince of Wales, waiting on or scheming for the throne.  In any event, the heir apparent scenario often works out well.  The old quarterback gets tossed out before he is done, usually to play well for a couple of years with another team.  The new one often establishes greatness in his own right.  Montana to Young, Favre to Rogers.  Unfortunately, no team has ever figured out how to handle that transition with grace.

What Should a Bad Team Do?

Avoid the backup quarterback as a long term plan.  It's like Elsa reaching for the Holy Grail in the third Indiana Jones movie.  Go after the guy who is near the end of his career (and understands this reality.) If you get one of these while developing a young draftee, that becomes a bonus.

Don't do this in the middle of the season and expect the new guy to come in and light up the world. Yes, I am talking about you, Oakland Raiders.  Carson Palmer was actually a good move, except you gave up too much and you expected miracles right away.  He settled into Arizona, like a lot of old people, and is doing all right.

Great teams draft their stars and build depth through free agency.  Bad teams often do the opposite.

Great teams have a vision that serves as the foundation of what they plan to do.

Bad teams have no plan.  They follow fads and draft who their fans want.

Running an NFL franchise is like a lot of other endeavors.  There are few short cuts to success, but there are tried and true formulas that require hard work, effort, good judgment, and, often, luck.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Obama's Company Town

On Monday, Salon compared Republican resistance to the Civil War.  It called the GOP rebels without noting that it currently fights, as it did then, for liberty.

We can make historical comparisons, too.

Obama's entire administration has resembled the worst examples of the old coal company town in Southern West Virginia.  How so?

In company towns, all aspects of life were provided for by or otherwise controlled by company authorities.

The company hired the teachers and controlled curriculum in the schools.  Obama's Department of Education seeks more and more control, removing local government and parents from the equation.

The company provided the health care that it thought you deserved.  Like Obamacare.

Many company towns actively monitored and suppressed dissent. They especially feared organized labor. Obama's NSA, IRS, DHS, and other agencies collect information on and/or harass groups whose influence it fears.

Reporters coming into coal towns to find the truth were routinely threatened and beaten. Obama's administration has secretly monitored the Associated Press and who knows who else.

Rising tuition costs and easy credit have trapped college graduates into a cycle of debt control.  They do not make enough money to pay their debts.  Just like the set up in the old company town stores.

In one infamous incident, striking miners living in houses on company land near Matewan were evicted by mine guards from the Baldwin and Felts Detective Agency.  This violated local law that said any evictions must go through the courts and be carried out by the sheriff.  Obama's administration evicted elderly families from homes they had lived in since the 1970s because they were on federal land.

The company towns were a bad development because they placed all power over a community in the hands of one central authority.  Even if it had good intentions, absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is a good thing that Congress has stood up for its role in our system of government. Obama has been corrupted enough already.

A Casualty of the Big Government Nanny State Remembered

The Calamity Cafe has returned, if only on Facebook.

Most in the Potomac Highlands would have no reason to have heard of it. But the Calamity Cafe for a decade was a Huntington icon.  It sat on the corner of Hal Greer Boulevard and 3rd Avenue, right across from Marshall University's Old Main.

Mostly college faculty and students packed it for lunch, dinner, and live music on weekends.  It featured a southwestern, hippified atmosphere with Indian blankets and cow skulls as decor. The food was incomparable. Recipes were created on site, using farm fresh ingredients well before that was all the rage.

Like I said before, this place was pretty hippified.  And that made it a fun place to go at any time.

The Calamity did an amazing business. It served as a center of college life and was never empty. Yet it has not been there for almost 10 years.  Why?  Big government, of course.

Two rooms separated by a narrow hallway formed the restaurant.  One side served non smoking customers, the other had the small stage and catered to smokers.  Cabell County in the late 1990s wanted to join the anti-smoking regulation fad and required restaurants to have a physical barrier between the smoking and non smoking sections.  This was meant for places that allowed smoking at the bar and not elsewhere in an open floor plan.  But it was applied to the Calamity as well.

Chains like Outback and Applebees complied easily, constructing expensive barriers.  The Calamity could not afford to reconfigure its restaurant so it closed. Chains picked up the business.

That is why small businesses close.  Unnecessary and stupidly written regulations.

Now the Calamity Cafe only exists in memory.  It was a small restaurant, but there were those who loved it.  And Big Government crushed it.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Naturally Changing the World Balance of Power

America's "gas revolution," combined with stepped up domestic oil production could undermine a US foreign rival.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia relied heavily on its natural gas production to rebuild its economy.  By the ascension of Vladimir Putin to the presidency, Russian dominance in gas production helped to steady its economy while Europe, Japan, and the United States experienced uncertainty.

Gas revenues helped Russia to rebuild its state and military over the past decade, but the country's inability to diversify its economy could lead to disaster.

Europe for decades relied heavily on gas exports from first the USSR, then Russia, to help satisfy its energy needs.  Now, as Washington Free Beacon reports, a sudden upwelling of gas exports from the United States has forced prices to drop worldwide.  Russia feels the pinch as their gas revenues decline.

The IMf, according to the story, revised down its estimates for Russian economic growth in 2014.  Though three percent still qualifies as fairly robust, it pales in comparison to the expected seven.

All this comes as the federal government considers dropping many of the remaining gas export restrictions.  This could help to open the markets in South Central Asia as well as Europe, hurting Iranian exports as well as Russia.

A hundred years ago, President William Howard Taft pioneered "dollar diplomacy."  He tried to use US economic power instead of force in pushing other states to act more in line with American interests.  The US has been stung many times by energy diplomacy from Russia and the Middle East.  Increasing output, raising exports, and becoming self-sufficient is the right call for US jobs and national security