Archive for May, 2008

Not sure I’d even carry a punter

May 30, 2008

Great post Brother Steve – this article validates my years-long battle against conservative coaching. I was positive the Patriots would be in the top 10 as this is one part of Belichick’s coaching I profoundly agree with – his 4th down aggressiveness (of course I’d be confident too if I knew what defense the other team was in). Nothing irks me more than the massive wuss factor coaches so often exhibit when it’s 4th and a few yards and they settle for a field goal or punt (especially when the punt then goes into the end zone or is shanked out at the 35).

As reader Joe points out in his comment, talented writer Gregg Easterbrook at ESPN does talk about this often. I’ve been a regular reader of his columns for several years now in small part because we seem to have the same view on this 4th down issue. There are many reasons why being more aggressive on 4th down can be an advantage and it’s a mystery to me why more coaches don’t recognize this:

  • it builds offensive confidence
  • it can be a huge momentum shifter
  • it gets the players and fans pumped up
  • it’s somewhat easy to catch the other team off guard because few coaches do this
  • it gets the players’ hearts beating a bit faster – and it helps some players get more absorbed into the game
  • it’s more of a positive if a 1st down is obtained than it is negative if it isn’t (unless you Brett Bielema it and go for it from your own 18 yard line – but for the record, I do like Bielema’s overall aggressiveness)

One thing in the article Steve linked to that I noticed was that most of the coaches descending from the Mike Holmgren school of coaching are ranked poorly here. Holmgren, Gruden, Reid, Childress, Marinelli (sort of) are all ranked poorly and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I liked Mike Holmgren as the Packers coach because he won and he’s proven over the years, he’s a great coach who knows what he’s doing. And these other coaches have had their share of success too. But one massive problem I always had with Holmgren (and even more so with Mike Sherman) was the conservative play-calling, especially on 4th down. There were times I could have sworn, Holmgren preferred a field goal and called plays to get field goals instead of pushing further to try to get touchdowns. He would call these dead-end 3rd down plays to set up field goals (something Sherman copied – think Noah Herron on a draw on 3rd and 14). Way too much emphasis seemed to be placed on field position without also accounting properly for the flow of the game.

Now, again, it’s hard to make an argument against someone who had so much success here, but like Reid and Gruden, Holmgren wasn’t/isn’t a flawless coach. When Holmgren was here, we didn’t win because he was aggressive. His conservative offensive style worked fairly well for 4 main reasons: we had good kickers; the team was incredibly good at detailed execution (players back then seemed to know exactly what to do when – they were well put-together and a very well-balanced team); Favre was phenomenal; and finally one might argue that risk-taking was simply not needed because we dominated teams so much usually from the start of games (though I disagree here because risk-taking can always help). Still, I’ll go out on a limb here and say that I think sometimes back then, the team was just so good that it even overcame Holmgren’s conservatism. In fact, I’d argue that considering the perfect execution his players were capable of, Holmgren’s 4th down percentage back then could have been astronomical had he chosen to be more aggressive.

I’ll say it again, Bill Belichick is the master of keeping other teams off balance with interesting play-calls and aggressiveness on 4th downs. Some of his decisions to go for it on 4th and 5 from the opponents’ 20 yard line, for example, are ripped because most coaches think “take the easy 3 points”. But it is this kind of mindset that can really drive the dagger into the heart of the other team. It is this kind of bucking of convention that can work in the favor of better teams (and for the bad teams, they don’t have much to lose so why not try it?). As the Patriots exemplify, 4th down aggressiveness is actually an important part of the killer instinct coaches need to have to elevate their team to the championship level – if coaches are too afraid to take chances, it can send a ripple of doubt into the minds of his players. And doubt is not a common trait of champions.

Packers’ Playcalling Too Conservative?

May 29, 2008

The answer, according to Chuck Bower, an astrophysicist from Indiana University, is yes.  But that’s his answer for pretty much every NFL team.   Bower and his partners created a computer program to evaluate NFL playcalling.  And their work pretty much validates what Andy has been saying for two decades: Teams would win more games by being more aggressive on fourth down.

From the New York Times’ Judy Battista:

“It seems like a lot of it is seat of the pants,” Bower said. “You put your finger in the air and try to judge the wind direction and make important decisions. It’s always, ‘Back when I was an assistant coach, we did this, and I remember that was bad, so I’m not going to do that again.’ I think a lot of these teams and coaches form opinions based on memories that statistically are not significant.”

But for a coach, job security is significant. He could be fired if he botches a call that costs his team a game, then tries to blame a computer. Coaches expect to be questioned about those decisions.

That is what inspired Bower and Frank Frigo, like Bower a backgammon player and a football fan, to begin working on a program in 2001 that would bring order to the thinking of fans who beseech coaches to go for it on fourth down and boo when the punter runs onto the field.

“People second-guess coaches for the decisions they make, and people act like they know what they’re supposed to do,” Bower said recently. “The question we had is, do they really know what they’re talking about? We set about to see if we could build a model to answer these questions.”

The program is called Zeus.

Zeus analyzes a decision by simulating the outcome over and over. If it finds that a run play produces a two-game-greater winning chance than a punt, it means that if the same situation were confronted 100 times, the run play would produce two more victories.

Bower said the program seemed to confirm his belief that coaches were usually too conservative in calling plays. When the program assessed decisions made on fourth downs, point-after touchdowns and kickoffs, it showed that teams, on average, cost themselves nearly a full victory in each 16-game season by making the wrong calls.

No doubt And will tout this as scientific backing for his consistent calls for Packer coaches to take a chance on 4th and 20 from their own 15 yard line.  (I can still hear him: “It’s the perfect time!  The other team will never expect it!”)

Alas, as Battista points out, the results of evaluations from last year are questionable.  Best playcalling?  The 3-13 St. Louis Rams.

Here’s a link to the entire article and here’s a link to the rankings.

Packergeeks still wants Jason Taylor to be Packer

May 28, 2008

Back in March, we wrote this about some Jason Taylor-to-the-Packers rumors:

“Rumor #3) Jason Taylor. Now he’s a guy I wouldn’t mind picking up. We could move Jenkins inside (or bench him in favor of Jolly) with Pickett. Having Kampman and Taylor on the ends could be a fairly disruptive duo. He also would add a respected veteran presence which I am beginning to feel like the Packers need.”

I still believe this would be a good move. From what I’ve heard, the Dolphins are not trading him just yet because they’ve only been offered 4th round picks for him. While I would be reluctant to offer anything higher given he’ll only play 1 year, 2 max, I would think offering a 4th round pick and throwing in a marginal player (Noah Herron, Ruvell Martin, Jarrett Bush, Tyrone Culver, KGB or Michael Montgomery as examples) might suffice. At some point too, it will become foolish of the Dolphins to not accept some kind of offer if the alternative is essentially forcing his retirement.

Sure, Taylor may not be the player he once was and having dancing-related obligations as an excuse for missing camps (though again, they were voluntary camps) is definitely a concern. Still, he is 2 years removed from NFL Defensive Player of the Year and lining up opposite Kampman couldn’t possibly result in a poor Packer pass rush. Besides, I really think with Favre gone, some savvy veteran leadership could help keep this team going in a positive direction.

UPDATE: I’m with Andy on this one.  I was not in favor of trading anything significant to get Taylor before the draft.  Given the events of the past two weeks in Miami, it’s fair to conclude that the Dolphins want him out and quickly.  His value has to have gone down considerably since the draft, if only because the other teams thought to be most interested (the Jaguars, et. al) did not pull the trigger.  If we could get him for a third rounder and change, I’d be all for it.

On the KGB question (see comments), I think he’s well past his prime.  I don’t think we lose much by getting rid of him, even I like him as a character guy.

The Brett Favre locker question

May 28, 2008

This morning on ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike, they discussed the issue of whether or not the Packers should keep Favre’s locker in the locker room (as it remains presently). Both were strongly opposed to this. Neither Mike nor Mike seemed to be too hung up on how it would make Rodgers/Brohm or any subsequent Packer QBs feel (which is one of the main arguments against the locker staying there that I’ve heard on other talk shows). Instead, they came at it more from the “it’s just time to move on” perspective. Both were fairly emphatic about this being the wrong move and alluded to the fact that the Dolphins have struggled big-time ever since Marino had his locker permanently encased in the Dolphin locker room. (Not sure that really can account for why the Dolphin’s have struggled, but anyway). They argued that the Packers are a very good team and not moving forward effectively after such a big change could hurt the chances of realizing the potential both Mike and Mike seem to think the team has.

It would be impossible for either of these guys to know exactly how much Favre means to the organization, the team, its fans. Neither played for or supported the Pack as fans and without doing that, there is really no way to understand the depth of gratitude and the pride in Packer nation. (Sorry, so many of the talk show/announcer guys who act like they understand this just don’t – in fact, this is a big part of what makes being a true Packer fan so special…it’s so unique and so powerful). So, it then may be difficult for non-Packer people to understand why the team might go to such lengths to make sure Favre has an extra special place in Packer history. There are plenty of statues, plaques, tributes, etc for other Packer legends within and around Lambeau and I would imagine that the organization wanted to keep Favre’s locker in part because they haven’t done that for any other player and it is a sure way to help set Favre apart from everyone – perhaps because many view him as the organization’s greatest.

But there is a difficult balance to work toward with a situation like this. The organization I’m sure wants present players to be fully aware that they are part of the greatest tradition in sports and Favre has exemplified that perhaps as much as any other Packer. At the same time, Favre just retired and with speculation still swirling around that he may not be totally done, having that locker there may be somewhat of a distraction for the team and for the players who are trying to move forward and grapple with LAF (Life After Favre). In other words, it’s all a bit too fresh. (I’ve heard a couple optimists, or perhaps more accurately a couple of people still in the denial stage of grief, suggest that the organization may believe there is still a decent chance Favre will return and until there is more solid confirmation he won’t, they will leave his locker there. I tend not to believe that).

One person whom I’m sure wants the locker out of there is TT (in fact, Brother Steve has at times put forward a solid argument contending that TT wanted Favre out of the locker room altogether). TT took pride in trying to treat Favre like everyone else (which is a viewpoint I still disagree with, he is not “everyone else”…period). I’m sure keeping this shrine there now that he and the team are trying to move forward is something that irks him.

As for me, this is a tough call. I can see both sides. I guess in the end, I tend to lean toward removing the locker and just making sure he is properly acknowledged in other areas of Lambeau (the Hall of Fame – perhaps even have a special Brett Favre room, with a new statue perhaps, a retired jersey, etc). The team does need to really look ahead now and essentially recreate its identity in the post-Favre era. While the media appears to want to pin the new identity on Rodgers, a defensive identity may emerge (like the Ravens of a few years ago) or a Mike McCarthy brilliant offensive strategy identity may take hold (like a Mike Martz Rams team) or even a special teams dominance identity may come about (like the Bears recent Super Bowl team). From a psychological standpoint, I think not having the locker in there may help a slight bit with the team creating this new identity and moving forward (at least for the next year or two – I’m not sure I’d be opposed to having his locker in there a few years down the road, but for now, it may just be too fresh).

Readers, what do you think?

Kampman — Small Victories Matter

May 28, 2008

There’s lots of coverage out there about the tornadoes that hit the area near Aaron Kampmann’s hometown in Iowa (and injured his grandfather).  Here’s one from a local paper, the Waterloo and Cedar Falls Courier.

“There’s so much devastation, you can’t look at the big picture.  You’ve got to look at the small victories. That’s been their rallying cry.”

More Troubles in Chicago

May 28, 2008

Per a story in the Chicago Sun-Times, Brian Urlacher will not be at the Bears’ team activities this weekend, voluntary or otherwise, as his contract dispute drags on. Last year, when Lance Briggs skipped, Urlacher wore Briggs’ number 55 as a sign of solidarity. Briggs says he’ll return the favor this year, wearing Urlacher’s signature 54.

Says Briggs: “I probably will [wear No. 54]. But when I do things, coaches say ‘Go back in and change.’ I don’t have as much pull [as Urlacher].

If Urlacher had so much pull, don’t you think he’d be at this mandatory minicamp with a new contract?

How do banks decide on names?

May 27, 2008

Recently, the bank National City moved into the Milwaukee area (and suddenly seems to be everywhere now). A friend made a comment a few months back upon seeing their sign that’s stuck with me – “what were they thinking when they named this bank?” In fact, what are most banks thinking when they choose their names? It seems to me that banks choose their names using 1 of 2 rules: either pick a name that just doesn’t make any sense or make it an incredibly vague/general name. National City is the rare example that tries to follow both rules. I’m not sure what a national city is (aren’t all cities part of some nation?). National City also succeeds in being fairly general (though I do wonder why they didn’t choose Universe Galaxy Bank or something more powerfully general?)

Then there are the banks with just general names like US Bank and Bank of America. While they are somewhat general, again, I do wonder why they settled where they did when Western Hemishpere, Earth, Galaxy or Universe Bank may have been available? Of course, the best example of generalness has to be the World Bank. You know that when that name was selected years ago, it left hard-core banknamers despondent.

And finally, there are the other bank names that may not fit the general/vague rule, but seem to prefer the nonsense rule – like a Maritime Bank located miles from any sort of water. Or Wachovia – you have to do research to figure out what the hell this means, and then it only sort of makes sense (read here for info). How about Associated Bank – with whom/what are you associated? Or Citizens Bank – what if someone only has permanent resident status (a refugee for example), can they not bank there? I could go on and on but frankly I don’t have time.

Here are my suggestions (my main thought here being that a bank name ought to have something to do with what banks do – banking): Money Bank; Invest Here Bank; Checkings, Savings, CDs and Loans Bank; $ Bank; or We’ll Hold Your Money For You And Give You Very Little Interest Bank; or…

Voluntary vs mandatory camps – Parcells/Lewis overboard

May 23, 2008

Ok, this referring to mini-camps and OTAs as “voluntary” has got to stop. Time and again in many organizations, players are told that the camps at this time of the year are voluntary. Yet, every day, we read about a player who is not attending these “voluntary” team activities for whatever reason and these guys are vilified by their teams and especially the media. Something has to give. I think the word “voluntary” just needs to be dropped because it seems that non-attendees are frowned upon as though they’ve missed a “mandatory” camp.

I look at the situation in Cincinnati with Odell Thurman. Let me preface my point here by saying the guy has major character issues and based on his history in the league already, he probably should have done everything he could have done to get to camp. And, I get the whole Marvin Lewis trying to put his foot down thing too (though it’s really too late for that really – Lewis probable needs to go). However, this was a “voluntary” camp and Thurman was late showing up due to the death of a significant family member – the grandmother who raised him. If he had missed the start of a mandatory training camp in a similar fashion without communicating with the team, I could see how that it would be a bigger problem, but for a voluntary OTA camp, this is harsh.

I also look at the Jason Taylor situation in Miami. I recognize that he is a veteran and that Parcells expects full participation. I can even see some football-macho concern for the reason he’s missing camp. But Taylor’s situation is a bit different from Thurman’s in that he is a model Dolphin citizen and has been one of the team’s most popular players. And, Taylor has even indicated that he plans to be back in town prior to the start of the first mandatory camp starting June 6. So again, Bill Parcells and Coach Tony Whoever-the-hell-you-are, if you expect full participation for a voluntary event, then don’t call it voluntary – you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. If I held a meeting at work that I wanted everyone to attend but I called the meeting “voluntary” and only a few people attended, I really don’t have the right to be ticked off (and if I were to get ticked, I’m really just being a whiny little wuss about the whole thing, aren’t I?).

Again, attendance at these camps is voluntary. If something is voluntary, I don’t understand why a player would be vilified or in Thurman’s case, dismissed from the team because they didn’t partake in the voluntary activity (especially if the excuse is reasonable).

Here comes Rodgers

May 22, 2008

Greg Bedard’s article this morning at jsonline gives us a good look into the kind of leader Rodgers may be. Over the last couple of years, I’ll admit, I was definitely in the camp that said Favre can pretty much do whatever he wants, he’s older than everyone on the team, he deserves it, he’s given this team more than just about any Packer in history, etc etc. But a small part of me did wish that he were a bit more involved with the team off the field. Again, I don’t fault him for it. But reading this article does get me somewhat pumped for the Rodgers era. It is refreshing to hear that he values the “team” concept so much and that his regular gatherings are a way for the players to get to know one another better. Like any workplace, these kinds of events can really improve the morale of a team as well as the overall connectedness. Perhaps most importantly, getting to know teammates outside of work tends to ease communication while at work – so good for Rodgers, good leaders should step up like this.

I was interested to read Rodgers’ comments re him assuming he’s the starting QB as well as his established-veteran-like relationship with the other two QBs. I think this is a reflection of the confidence he has and how he projects that confidence. For the most part, I’m just fine with this. But I couldn’t help but wonder a bit if it might be a bit presumptuous for him to assume he’s the starting QB (even if TT, MM and all of Packer Nation is saying this). Maybe MM and TT have told him that unless he’s injured he will definitely be the guy – I don’t know that. But a part of me wonders what would happen should Brohm shine in camp and preseason, pick up the offense well and look better than Rodgers. Could it even be possible that for the first time in 17 years, we’d have a QB controversy in Green Bay??

I also wondered a bit re Rodgers’ comment re not being injury-prone. I know he hasn’t played enough for us to determine conclusively now that he is an injury-prone player. At the same time, I think it’s fair to say so far in his career his injury history is not good and that fans have some reason to be concerned re future injury issues.

Ted Thompson Signs Bill Schroeder, Answers Question in Previous Post…

May 22, 2008

Kidding. He really did sign Bill Schroeder, but only so Schroeder, a native of SheVegas, can retire a Packer.