January 25, 2012

Does Defense Still Win Championships?

Defense wins championships. The age-old aphorism, entrenched within the analysis of the NFL for as long as we can remember, seems to have faded away in the past few years. With the emergence of elite quarterbacks and the reinstitution of the pass-first offense, it is getting more difficult for defenses to stand a chance.

The spread offense.

There are three quarterbacks I can personally define as "elite" with no argument: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning are right on the border and I see Matthew Stafford as a borderline "elite"guy in years to come. Peyton Manning would be in this exclusive group, but the extent of his neck injury on the rest of his career is...

Best picture ever?

To give you an idea of how unstoppable these three quarterbacks, and their offenses, were, I will shoot a simple stat at you. Four teams in the NFL scored more than 406 points this season: Detroit (474), New England (513), New Orleans (547) and Green Bay (560). So the highest scoring team outscored the fifth-best scoring team by almost 10 (TEN) points per game.


Unfortunately for the top four scoring teams, their defenses were not up to par with their offenses. New Orleans was the 13th ranked defense, New England 15th, Green Bay 19th and Detroit 23rd. But despite their shoddy defense, these teams were able to outscore their opponents to win the majority of their games. The combined record of these top four scoring teams was 51-13 and all four made the playoffs. This record includes going 4-4 in games played in-between those four teams, so their record against the rest of the NFL was 47-9.

Meanwhile, there were only four teams which allowed fewer than 307 points this season: Houston (278), Baltimore (266), San Francisco (229) and Pittsburgh (227). However, these teams' offenses were a little better overall compared to their defenses. San Francisco and Houston tied for the 10th ranked offense, Baltimore 12th and Pittsburgh 22nd. Meanwhile these teams had a 47-17 combined record, 41-11 record not including games in-between those teams.

There were three games played between these elite offensive teams against the elite defensive teams. New Orleans defeated Houston 40-33 in Week 3, San Francisco beat Detroit 25-19 in Week 6 and Pittsburgh ousted New England 25-17 in Week 8. These results are a bit irrelevant, but just something to consider.

That's enough talking about defense because DEFENSE IS STUPID!


Okay, overwhelming majority of football fans, settle down...

So how does a team with a seemingly unstoppable offense ever lose a game? New England lost three games this season. One to the Bills where they turned the ball over four times and lost by three points. One to the Giants where they turned the ball over four times and lost by four points. One to the Steelers, who held a 39-21 advantage in time of possession and out gained the Pats 427-213.

Green Bay lost one game this season to Kansas City by a score of 19-14. The Chiefs held a 36-24 advantage in time of possession and out gained the Packers 438-315.

Discount Double Check(?)

New Orleans lost three games this season. One to the Packers where they were simply outscored, 42-34, and stopped at the goal line as time expired. One to the Bucs where they turned the ball over four times and lost by six points. One to the Rams, 31-21, in which I could find no glaring reason that they lost...

Man, the Rams suck.

As for the playoffs, Green Bay lost to the Giants by a score of 37-20 when the Packers turned the ball over four times. New Orleans lost to the 49ers 36-32; the Saints turned the ball over five times. New England is still going, having beaten the Broncos and the Ravens so far, setting up a matchup with the Giants to determine Super Bowl XLVI.

Woo! Only two more weeks!

What have we learned here today? In order to beat an elite offensive team, you need to accomplish at least one of these three things:

1. Force a lot of turnovers.

2. Win time of possession by a lot.

3. Out gain them in yardage by a lot.

But that is a lot easier said than done...

Even if you do execute one, or more, of these (#1 being the most effective), it is very difficult to blow out a team that can score. As you see, of the nine losses these teams suffered, only one was by more than 10 points. Because even if they make mistakes or have limited time of possession, the offense can really score at any time. In order to defeat a high-scoring team, it takes a nearly-perfect team effort.

Does defense still wins championships? Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. But it seems recently that the team who makes the most game-changing plays in a Super Bowl ends up winning:

The Steelers in 2006 with Willie Parker's long run and Antwaan Randle El's pass to Hines Ward.

The Colts in 2007 with Kelvin Hayden's interception return.

The Giants in 2008 with David Tyree's absurd catch.

The Steelers again in 2009 with James Harrison's interception return and Ben Roethlisberger's game-winning pass to Santonio Holmes.

The Saints in 2010 with Tracy Porter's interception return.

The Packers in 2011with Nick Collins' interception return.


I guess most of those are defensive plays, huh? Well, maybe the new saying should be: Defense wins championships... If that defense can score points.

*Mind blown*

January 17, 2012

Ode to the Orange

Now that Syracuse has beaten Pitt at the Carrier Dome for the first time in a million years, now seems like the appropriate time to give an outlook of what the Orange can do the rest of the season. As the #1 team in the country and the only remaining undefeated team in a power conference, Syracuse is clearly a force to be reckoned with as the team finishes out its final 11 regular season games.

A perfect season on the horizon? Probably not.

Since its 2003 National Championship, the Orange have not been past the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament, and Jim Boeheim is looking to change that this year. This March Madness ineptitude is hard to believe for such a storied program and a storied coach, who just tied Adolph Rupp for fourth all-time Division I NCAA basketball wins, with 876.

RARE: Picture of Jim Boeheim NOT picking his nose.

People may look at Syracuse's 20-0 record with a little bit of skepticism. Of its 20 wins, only five have been within double-digits and only six have been away from home. Not to mention that only two have been against ranked opponents, both of those coming at home. But Boeheim has always been known to schedule the majority, if not all, of Syracuse's non-conference games at home, so that is no different than usual.

Dome, sweet dome.

Skeptics aside, the Orange have a lot of things going for them. First of all, they have great depth; no player averages more than 30 minutes per game and 10 players average more than 12 minutes per game. Judging from the game last night, Boeheim substitutes very well and uses his strong bench to gain an advantage over the opposition. The run-n-gun style of play that Syracuse likes to implement goes well with a deep bench because the players can give short bursts of high-level intensity.

Some may say that Syracuse's lack of a "takeover" player or a "go-to" scorer is a weakness, but so far it has been the team's strength. Seven players average more than seven points per game and the team's leading scorer, Kris Joseph, averages just 13.6. Two others, Dion Waiters and Brandon Triche, average in double figures with 13 and 10 points per game, respectively.

Yay, teamwork!

The Orange's 1.5 assist/turnover ratio is tied for the second-best mark in the nation, their 17.3 assists per game is 10th, their 7.8 blocks per game is third and their 10.6 steals per game is the best in the country (stats courtesy of Fox Sports). These intangible statistics, paired with the oddity of the 2-3 zone, give teams a unique challenge when they face off against Syracuse.

Fab Melo leads the way on the glass... Although he is SUPER ugly.

In the great atmosphere of the 30,000+ seat capacity Carrier Dome, Syracuse has a great home-court advantage, which the nation saw last night when the Panthers got down 13-0 in the blink of an eye. After the initial spark, however, the Orange let Pitt within striking distance for most of the game. Syracuse had a difficult time keeping Pitt off the offensive glass and struggled to execute in the half-court offense.

Awesome atmosphere.

It was a good test for the Orange, who had not beaten Pitt in the regular season since 2004, and they exercised a lot of demons, if you will. Even though the Panthers were 0-5 in conference and losers of six in a row, they always give Syracuse their best game, and last night was no different. This win was one of their biggest so far this year and the Orange learned a lot about themselves from what Pitt exploited.

Speaking of seven straight losses...

In order for Syracuse to be a National Championship contender, they will need to get better quality shots in the half-court offense and have their guards do a better job of grabbing defensive rebounds that come from the 2-3 zone. Easier said than done, of course, but with a coach like Boeheim and the amount of talent on that team, expect Syracuse to be ranked in the top five all season and have first dibs at a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

And hopefully not get upset by Vermont...

If you take a look at the Orange's remaining regular season schedule HERE, there is no reason why they cannot escape Big East play with three or fewer losses. Potential losses may come from either matchup with Louisville, a home game v. Georgetown, a trap game at St. John's and possibly one of the games against UConn (although I think the Huskies are a bit overrated this year). Three losses should be able to win the regular season Big East Championship and clinch a #1 seed in March.

...Or Butler.

January 3, 2012

Off the Cuff Quarterback

The quarterback always gets the most attention before, during and after a football game. During the TicketCity Bowl and Outback Bowl yesterday, there were two specific instances when the television crew had some comments to say about the quarterback. One was handled very well and one pissed me the hell off.

At some point during the TicketCity Bowl between Houston and Penn State, there was a short cut away from the broadcast to a recorded piece. We see Case Keenum’s girlfriend and she is taking us on a “tour” of her and Case’s tiny, small, yet cozy, apartment. It had a cool setup; a front door which leads directly into the living room, which is so small that there is “no room for a coffee table” and the couch is about four feet from the underwhelming television, and a kitchen a little bigger than a phone booth, which separated from the living room only by a counter space.

Like 1/3 of size of this beautiful set.

Alright, so why are they showing this? Oh yeah, so ESPN can cut back to the game and the announcers, Clay Matvick and Danny Kanell, could make jokes about the star quarterback's residence. They commented on how compact it was and how "sometime after April they should be able to upgrade." Of course the draft is in April and the yappers were eluding to the fact that he will be drafted and be able to pay for a legitimate home.

We know that ESPN and the NCAA exploit college athletes, and a player with Kennum's talents and status should not be playing football at Houston for just the price of attendance costs per year. We know that Keenum has been the main part of the team's success and, in turn, revenue. ESPN knows this too, and if we sit and think for two seconds, we know they know. But can they at least pretend to hide that fact?

If he got paid $1 for every passing yard yesterday, Keenum would have made... $532!

The second case, which you can probably guess at this point was the one that was handled well, was during the Outback bowl between Georgia and Michigan State. Near the end of the game, when Spartans' quarterback Kirk Cousins was in the process of leading his team to a comeback victory, Mike Tirico asked John Gruden if Cousins would be a good pro prospect. Gruden, of course, knows a good bit about draft status and potential, especially in quarterbacks.

Even though Cousins is not a great prospect, he is projected to go somewhere in the third round at this point. Gruden knows this, and it is his job to know this, so when Tirico asks the question, Gruden could have easily said, "He is about the #10 quarterback in my rankings," or something along those lines. That would not be disrespectful at all, but in this unique situation, all the Michigan State fans and Cousins' friends and family deserve to hear something a little more positive.

No, YOU da man!

Gruden pauses for half a second and says, "He has great physical tools, great leadership qualities, great intangibles you like to see at the quarterback position..." etc. He also goes on to say that he saw Cousins in some quarterback camp over the summer and was really impressive in person. By saying that, Gruden not only gave Cousins some well-deserved props, but may have raised his draft stock in the process. If he would have just said, "He will be a third round pick and a decent backup in the pros," it probably would have been accurate, but not as flattering.

It just goes to show how in one case, someone can go out of their way to put down a player and in the other, someone can go out of their way to praise a player. Both were in the spur of the moment and revealed the true colors of the in-game announcers we have learned to love...

The Chucksterrr.