Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Another Quickie Quarterback Quiz

After three games, Tom Brady leads the NFL in passing yardage by a wide margin, almost 200 yards. But he also leads the league in pass attempts with 133, a pace which would break the single season record for passes thrown of 691 set by none other than Drew Bledsoe in 1994.

Where does Brady's peer among NFL quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers of the Packers, rank in passes thrown this season?

The answer is 20th. Rodgers has thrown just 91 passes, less than almost every QB who's started all three games for his team. Less than Cam Newton, less than Sam Bradford, the same number as poor Colin Kaepernick. It just seems like more because Rodgers is so good.

If a team isn't passing, it must be running. The Packers have also had 91 rushing plays in three games. They have achieved the perfect balance on offense which used to be considered an NFL ideal. By contrast, the Pats have run the ball 71 times. It is my guess that the increased workload given LaGarrette Blount last Sunday was a demonstration of Bill Belichick's conviction that perhaps his offense, spectacular though it may be, was a little too front loaded on Brady's right arm.

All told, New England has run 25 more plays on offense (that's eight a game) than has Green Bay. The Patriots may have the NFL's most prolific offense. The Packers may have its most efficient. Which is better to have? So far, both.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Quickie Quarterback Quiz

OK, loyal readers, here's a little test to see if you've been paying attention to the 2015 NFL season.

Which quarterback to have started all three games for his team has the LOWEST passer rating, the league stat which roughly, and I do mean roughly, measures how QBs are chucking the 'ol pigskin?

Did you say Jameis Winston, Colin Kaepernick or Blake Bortles? Sorry, you're not even close. According to the rating, the worst passer in the league to still keep his starting job is one Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts. At 65.1, Luck trails everyone. And this is after Luck's first win of the year! Mr. "The Guy You'd Pick to Start a Franchise With" has been a worse passer this season than Tim Tebow (career 75 rating).

Before you can protest "small sample size" let me say it for you. In pro football, the sample size for statistical validity doesn't really kick in until Thanksgiving. At this point in 2014, Tom Brady's passing stats weren't exactly Cantonesque, either, but he perked up as the year went on.

Luck's situation is very different. Brady was hampered by an offensive line in flux. When the flux ended, so did his slump. Luck is dealing with an offensive line that the Colts have ignored since he has been there, which goes double for Indy's defense. Instead of the next Peyton Manning, he could well be the next Jim Plunkett, a superior QB battered into mediocrity by the awfulness of the team around him.

Quarterback is the most important position on an NFL team. That doesn't equate to "all important." It's no good having a franchise quarterback without a franchise.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Global Political Football

The print edition of the "New York Times" this week has contained "China Daily," a propaganda supplement put out by China's government to provide wall-to-wall coverage of President Xi Jinping's trip to the United States and to allow prominent Chinese companies more chances to buy ads telling the world how much they love the guy. It is instructive skimming on how propaganda and the forms of conventional journalism are not all that different, at least on the surface.

Today's big front page story was about Xi's visit to a high school football team in Tacoma, Washington. Yes, I said "whaa?" too. The story however, was not the point. The photo covering the top half of the page was.

Two grinning if puzzled teenagers flanked Xi, who looked most puzzled of all. A veteran of photo-ops, as all pols everywhere must be, Xi's routine smile couldn't mask the doubt in his eyes as he looked down at the football he was holding in his hands. What is this silly thing? And is it puffed or stuffed?

You don't get to be China's top guy by accident. Xi may not have known what the 'ol pigskin is, but he knew what to do with it. He made sure he held it with its logo facing the camera. The President of China was going to be like Mike and let the world see him fly the Nike swoosh.

Nike Chairman Phil Knight wasn't in the picture, but he was there in spirit, wielding power Xi could only envy. Think about it. Nike has to pay Rory McIlroy 20 million or so bucks a year to use its golf equipment. The authoritarian leader of the second most powerful country in the world was happy to do a Nike ad for free.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Yogi Berra

Yogi Berra died Tuesday at age 90. His obituaries should be and are fulsome, but most focus on what I call Yogi the Legend, the lovable author of malaprop quips, some of which he actually said.

That's fine. A society without legends is no society at all, and Berra embodied one of the oldest legends in anthropology and history -- the Wise Fool.  No legends like that will come out of any sport but baseball, where foolishness is an integral part of its culture.

But I prefer to focus on Berra the Reality, Berra the Ballplayer, the reason Yogi became a public figure in the first place. And to do so, I ask anyone reading this to do me a favor.

Go to baseballreference.com right now and look up Berra's career. Study those numbers, paying particular attention to how he finished in the MVP voting from 1950-1956. They will tell you better than my words ever could just how unbelievable a player Berra was. His claim to be the best catcher in baseball history is as good as anyone's. Bill Dickey's, Johnny Bench's, Mike Piazza's, you name 'em.

Quite a life, when that's not the first thing the world puts in your obituary.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Even Nate Silver's Statistics Are Good Liars

The FiveThirtyEight section of ESPN.com's home page has had a hilarious piece of self-parody clickbait on display for about a week now. I didn't read anything but the headline, which was enough.

"The 2007 Patriots Were the Greatest Team in NFL History."

I can only imagine how many advanced metric trees were cited to disprove the idea that the forest of Super Bowl XLII had any historical significance. Silver's a big success and his own writing usually has a grip on logic, but in this mass marketing age, it seems even mathematics need a slatepitch to grab eyeballs.

Like any good clickbait, I assume this nonsense contained a list. In it, I suppose the runners-up for greatest team in pro football history were the 1968 Colts and 2001 Rams.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

If You Live Long Enough....

When I was a child, it was a dream. When I was a teenager, man landed on the moon. Somehow, that made sense.

When I was a kid, teenager, young adult and young married, I never thought I'd live long enough to see the Berlin Wall come down. But it did, and when it did, it didn't seem so weird. I absorbed it and moved on.

My whole life long, I never expected to live long enough to see an African-American be elected President. One was, and when it happened, it didn't seem THAT strange. I absorbed it and moved on.

Tonight, I'm watching the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros in a big September game in a race for a playoff spot.

Sorry, that's just too weird.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

If You Thought It Was About Hot Air Before...

Judge Richard Berman has promised that before the week is out, maybe even before the week is out, that he will issue his decision in the matter of Brady and NFLPA v. NFL, Deflategate to you and me.

I suppose that for most folks, like, say, Bill Belichick, waiting for Berman to rule will generate much suspenseful stress. Not me. I figure I'm ahead of the game whatever happens.

If Berman rules in favor of Brady and overturns the four game suspension Commissioner Roger Goodell gave the Pats' quarterback, I'll be satisfied and amused. Justice will have been done more or less. That's an absurd and cruel sentence for a "crime" worthy of perhaps a 15-yard penalty. The players' union will have been strengthened and the Rich Kids AC of 32 NFL owners will be discomfited and divided, which is also justice. Best of all, Goodell, as pompous as he is incompetent, will once more be a figure of the national ridicule he deserves. All that adds up to a big win for yours truly.

But if Berman rules against Brady, I'll just be amused. Very amused. The rending of garments and wails of anguish in these parts from fans and media member seeking their favor, who cannot believe that their hero would be part of something underhanded, and who have interpreted news indicating otherwise with deeper and loopier conspiracy theories will be hilarious. Just think of what Channel Four's broadcast of Thursday's exhibition game will be like if Berman has ruled Brady must sit. Key and Peele couldn't think of anything to match it.

When I was a sportswriter, fans would occasionally tell me that as a neutral not allowed to root for any particular team, I was missing much of the pleasure in sports. Most of the time, there was considerable truth in that observation.

Not always, though. Deflategate looks to finish just as it started. We neutrals will have all the fun.