Justice for Tom Lewand?

>> 6.30.2010

justice_nolene_flickr By now I’m sure most of you have seen the video of Tom Lewand’s traffic stop, and subsequent arrest.

In college, I pursued an unusual major: Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy.  The theme of the curriculum was justice; the study of what it is, what it means, the nature of a just government, and lots of other boring stuff like that.  As a side effect, it developed my inner Scales of Justice—my sense of what is right and what is wrong, what is fair and what is unfair, what is just and what is unjust.

Usually, when I hear a news story, I have a swift and strong opinion on it.  Sometimes, though, there’s no easy answer . . . and it stresses me out.  I have to learn more, to know more.  I read.  I have to read.  I have to keep researching, keep digging, learn more, know more.  I talk.  I talk to my wife, to my friends, to my family, to myself in the car, over and over and over nobody wants anything to do with me.  I have to bounce everything off everyone until I know what is right. After several days of this, several mental fuses blown, and several false starts on this post, I’m still not sure what is right in this situation.

First, and possibly foremost, Lewand admitted he is a recovering alcoholic.  Everything I think, every angle I take, every “take” I come up with, keeps coming back to this.  He has a problem, he’s seeking treatment—and not because he was ordered to, but because either he, or those who love him, realized it.  Watching the video, I wonder if his inexplicable, ridiculous denial that he’d had a drop to drink wasn’t a symptom of his addiction.

Second, what he did was extremely dangerous—not just to himself, but to others.  The current series of PSAs with the tagline “buzzed driving is drunk driving” have a point—but .21 BAC is not “buzzed driving” or “drunk driving,” it’s completely tanked driving.  He, and those who shared the road with him that night, are incredibly fortunate that no one was hurt . . . or killed.

Third, this episode is incredibly embarrassing for him, his loved ones, and—yes—the organization.  Not only is this a personal tragedy for Lewand, it’s a professional failure, too; it’s a black eye for the business of which he is President.  Lewand’s primary task is to set a tone of class and professionalism for the organization—and instead, the Lions are again a national punchline.

Given his previously clean record and reputation, his incredible work in getting Ford Field built, and the exemplary way in which he’s handled contracts and salaries, it’s no surprise that both his employees, and his employer, gave him immediate votes of confidence.  Apparently, his problem was known within the organization; to them this was a setback, not a shock.

When the headlines said he’d been arrested for suspicion of DUI in Roscommon County, my first thought was “Up north, the weekend after minicamp?  Drinking all day at a lake, or while golfing, I bet.”  Sure enough, he was at a charity golf outing.  In my experience, these events are thinly veiled, or not veiled, excuses for everybody to get lubricated and goof around.  I can’t speak to what happened that day by Houghton Lake, but if someone with a drinking problem was in an environment like most golf outings I’ve seen . . . well, the temptation would be extreme.

Of course, he’ll be prosecuted under the law, and will face discipline from the league under the Personal Conduct Policy.  There are those who’ve called for Lewand to be fired, but, right now, I don’t think that’s the right thing for him, or for the Lions.  He’s clearly been performing the duties of his job at a high level—he’s continued to ink draft picks left and right since the incident—so one mistake shouldn’t spell the end for him.

At the end of the day, that’s what this was—a mistake.  A terrible, dangerous mistake, but a mistake.  I hope Tom Lewand continues to seek help, and be supported.  With that, plus strength and dedication on his part, this mistake ought to be his last.  I’ve been searching my heart to see if I’m just giving Lewand a pass because he’s affiliated with the Lions, but I don’t believe I am.  Were it I who made the mistake, I’d pray for a second chance, and I’d like to think I’d deserve one.  Could I ask for that grace for myself, without extending it to everyone else?  I don’t think so.

We, the Lions-watching public, aren’t “owed” an explanation, or Lewand’s head on a platter, or anything else.  But for his sake, his family’s sake, and for the sake of the organization, I hope he makes the most of this second chance, which I believe he deserves.

. . . I think.  Ask me again tomorrow.

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Leather-Bound Lions: Pride of Detroit Series

With a new Lions first-round tailback on the roster, and a new Supreme Court nominee, it’s only fitting that the second Leather-Bound Lions post features the only man in history who has been both: a first-round draft pick tailback for the Lions, and a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States:

Leather-Bound Lions: Byron "Whizzer" White


CUWoT, Mlive.com Highlight Reel Edition

>> 6.29.2010

Last season, I published a two-parter called “Completely Useless Waste of Time”.  I broke down each Lions opponent on the schedule, and projected the Lions’ wins and losses.  I called the exercise a completely useless waste of time, because the NFL is so volatile from year to year, there’s really no point in trying to project outcomes.  What you end up doing is projecting how a team’s offseason changes would make them better or worse in the previous season . . . not useful, or worthwhile.
I said in the conclusion of that piece:

The funny thing, to me, is that we can’t really know how the Lions will play until we see them on the field. In fact, we can’t really know how any team will play, in any year, until we see them on the field. In the modern NFL, turnover is so high—both on rosters and coaching staffs—and the Xs-and-Os arms race is almost inconceivably fast. New schemes and plans that work incredibly well Week 1 are neutralized by Week 16. Players that come out of nowhere to surprise opponents are scouted, mapped, and game-planned out of existence in weeks (see Gado, Samkon). You can’t possibly look at a team’s roster and record, add what got added, subtract what got subtracted, and extrapolate a conclusion; it just doesn’t work that way—and the 2007 and 2008 Lions are indelible proof of that.
Football teams are incredibly complex systems. They’re full of moving parts, developing young players, declining veterans, deep emotional connections, public and private strife, inches and yards, breaks and bounces, injuries, turnovers, and lucky breaks. They’re coaches sleeping at their desks, and coaches hitting the golf course at noon. They’re a superior training staff, or a staph-infected trainer’s room. There are a hundred thousand million tiny variables that factor into the on-field performance of an NFL club. Every single season, each NFL club is a new thing, a new potion, a new mix of hundred different reactive ingredients; they must be evaluated on a case-by-case, year-by-year basis. Moreover, there’s a reason they say “That’s why they play the games”. There’s a reason they say "On any given Sunday . . .", the better team doesn’t always win. You can’t say right now whether the Lions will win or lose against any other team, because you don’t know how good the Lions are, and you don’t know how good the other teams are, and you have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen when helmets and pads clash between them.
But . . . what else are we supposed to do? With free agency, the draft, and OTAs all in the history books, or nearly so, we have 32 teams with set roster and schedules, and nothing at all to talk about until minicamps.  Indeed, even The Lions Congregation dwelt upon the subject of possible wins and losses this week.  Well, I figured, since we’re all killing time, why not waste some time?
To that end, I’ve begun a series of opponent scouting reports over at Mlive.com’s Highlight Reel blog.  More than the couple-of-paragraph treatment I gave the opponents last time, but less than a full-on Watchtower, these weekly pieces will be breaking down the 13 teams on the Lions’ schedule, pointing out the critical pieces of these teams, and how they interact with the Lions’.  I’m not doing predictions, but I’m laying down dots and offering you, the reader, a crayon to connect them with.


Time Wonderfully Wasted: Detroit Lions & USMNT

>> 6.28.2010

 1994_world_cup_usa_italy_nigeria It was 1994, and I was twelve years old.  My uncle, a sales something-or-other at M&M Mars, invited me to come out to his house in New Hampshire for a week—by myself.  I couldn’t believe it; I’d never gone anywhere by myself!  The furthest beyond Michigan’s borders I’d ever been was northern Ohio.  I’d never set foot in an airport, let alone flown in a plane.  But it didn’t stop there; he let me draw up the itinerary.  I did so with zeal: the ocean, Boston, Fenway Park—and, since he’d pulled some strings with his bosses, tickets to a World Cup match.

I was only dimly aware of the World Cup—but I was then as I am now, and I immediately absorbed everything I could about international soccer.  Without the Internet, this was slow and painful, but I figured out what I needed to know: the US was a perennial weak sister, and FIFA had given America the tournament to get us to realize the sport existed.  I didn’t need long to find a real side to get behind: the ancestral homeland of my mother’s family, the perennial powerhouse, the Azzurri: Italy.

As the only grandchild of a proudly Italian-American family, I’d been well-trained.  America first, yes—my grandfather served in WWII—but Italy a fierce second.  I read about Roberto Baggio, the reigning greatest player in the world, and how totally amazingly awesome he was.   Incredible, superhuman, without flaw—I lapped it up, owned it, revelled in it with the all-consuming shallow understanding of a geeky twelve-year-old.

I thought nothing could top the exotic wonders of air travel—if only jaded business travelers could experience O’Hare layovers with my twelve-year-old-eyes!—but the World Cup match did.  Whether by arrogant design on the part of my uncle, or supremely fortunate accident, my uncle and I saw Italy take on Nigeria in a quarterfinal match.  I didn’t understand the significance of this; the round-robin/knockout format more-or-less escaped me—but I did understand that both teams’ fans wanted to win like they wanted to keep breathing. 

Just the parking lot was an experience unto itself; Nigerians, Italians, and Americans were laughing, singing, playing soccer, and talking smack.  I remember a group of a dozen-or-so Italians walking to the stadium, singing and bearing a long Italian-flag banner above their heads.  A nearby Nigerian laughed, and said in accented English: “Looks like a funeral procession!”

Once in the stadium, and my eyes pried themselves away from the enormous swath of wide-open grass, I found the crowd much more interesting than the game.  The Italians chanting and pounding drums, the Nigerians pogo-ing like first-wave punk crowds, my uncle and I blending in with the hirsuite and swarthy gentlemen with whom we shared ancestry.

It was hot, though, and an early Nigerian goal had deflated the overwhelmingly pro-Italy crowd.  I’d expected to see Roberto Baggio own the pitch, dominating everything in Jordanesque fashion—but he didn’t even look like the best Baggio on the field.  Understanding nothing of soccer, baking in the summer sun, and realizing my notional homeland’s upset was drawing nigh, my interest waned.

Suddenly, with just minutes left in the match, Roberto Baggio scored the equalizer—and the figurative match was struck.  The resultant tie, and extra time, poured gasoline around the powder keg of a stadium.  When Baggio was tackled (in the American football way) while going to the goal, he was awarded a penalty kick—and, like Landon Donovan’s goal against Ghana on Saturday, Baggio banked it in off one post while the goalie dove for the other.  Match, gasoline, powder keg.  BOOM.

The party that ensued went on for hours, and my uncle and I were thrilled to join the Italians in celebration.  I don’t know how many people get the chance to walk into a World Cup match, and see their favorite player score their side’s only two goals in a dramatic victory, but I did—and it was like going to the North Pole to see if Santa Claus was real, and have him drive you back to your house in the sleigh.

So how come I didn’t care about soccer for sixteen years?

Part of it was a total lack of continuity; I had no idea what Baggio did in between World Cups—and even if someone told me about European club leagues, I wouldn’t have been able to follow them with basic cable in 1994.  Part of it was my chosen side; U.S. coverage of soccer orbits the USMNT, and the whys and wherefores surrounding the crushing lack of mainstream interest in them.   The rest of it was an early childhood spent immersed in the “four major sports,” as they then were, and the Detroit teams that competed in them.  There simply wasn’t room in my heart to pry it open and pour AC Milan, or whoever, in.

But for this World Cup, something was different.  Something about the mix of old and new players, the rise of sports blogs and the high correlation between great sports bloggers and soccer fans, and the anywhere-anytime-awesome nature of following sports in the Internet era, made me decide to care.  I quickly gave up on the Italy thing; their current penchant for uninspired play and egregious ref-baiting dives makes them unsupportable.  No, I invested myself in the Nats a.k.a. Yanks a.k.a. Wild Turkeys [my own attempt at a nickname for them], and was richly rewarded with an experience not unlike my entire life spent rooting for the Lions.

Don't get me wrong; Landon’s golden goal against Algeria was an incredible experience, one I’ll never forget.  For my Lions fans who didn’t watch in real time, it was as if the entire nation had been hanging on the outcome of Matthew Stafford’s now-legendary comeback against the Browns.  Like every bar in America had simultaneously re-enacted the explosion of euphoria my son and I had been in the center of that day

But Saturday’s performance against Ghana was like every Lions’ missed game-winning kick, fourth-quarter collapse, and never-showed-up game you saw coming from a million miles away: after a lot of proud talk about heart and effort and we-finally-made-it after the game before, a tentative, lethargic performance handed the game that matters to the other team.  And, for the fans’ part, we came away feeling something had been given to us, and taken away, for the countlessth time.

Like the Lions’ 2009 season, USMNT fans have a few wonderful moments to take away from the group stage of the 2010 World Cup—but, as it’s ever been for both Lions fans and Nats fans since the Fifties, you’re left wondering when all the promise will ever become reality, and how much longer you can sustain yourself on what might be, or what almost was.  As the wind picks up, the temperature drops, and winter descends upon South Africa, I’m left to wonder if U.S. soccer is in for another four-year hiberation; another long, long, cold, bitter winter . . . and who’ll keep that flame of fandom burning until the summer sun of Rio thaws the snow.

. . . some videos for you. First, highlights of the ‘94 Italy-Nigeria match:

Second, the compliation of reaction shots to Donovan's goal.  I still get chills.


The Greatest of Best? Lions Minicamp, Day 1

>> 6.24.2010

Last year, I broke down the what I called the key performance indicators of minicamp.  As I said at the time:

We won’t get to see this First Real Football in detail. There won’t be any TV broadcast we can TiVO and replay. There won’t be any live streaming play-by-play. There probably won’t be any live Tweeting, either (since the Twitter-savviest Detroit sports journalist, Greg Eno, has informed me he won’t be there). And of course, we won't have any of the typical measures of football success to go by--yards, points, wins, or losses. So, we’ll have to wade knee-deep into the stream of quotes, blurbs, blogs, and articles that will flow through our favored information channels in the nights and days following these practices, and hope to catch some fish of truth.

In the absence of absolutes, all we have to measure is the relatives: one player against another, one position group against another.  Until this point, though, there hasn’t been much “Real Football”—no hitting, no tackling, no full-speed blitzing or blocking—so we’ve seen none of the truth that only fire can tell.

Tom “Killer” Kowalski over at Mlive.com notes Kevin Smith got on some 7-on-7 action, but John Niyo of the Detroit News gives us news of the other back, Javhid Best.  The initial signs are extremely encouraging.  Quoth DT Landon Cohen:

"That guy has got impeccable cutting and great speed, so he's gonna be one of those guys that can take it to the house for us.  When he gets the ball, he's got great vision, great athleticism. He's gonna be great, man. I like what I see in him so far."

Superficially, Best’s, ahem, best attributes are his speed, acceleration, quickness, burst, explosion, and other synonyms for running fast.  But Jahvid’s first word to describe what he does best is “vision,” and it’s exciting to hear a teammate say the same thing.

Of course, as a Lions tailback, and a first-round pick to boot, Best will be unfairly compared to Barry Sanders.  But in this way, Best definitely reminds me of Barry—for all that was (rightly) made of Barry’s speed, acceleration, quickness, burst, and explosion, his greatest gift was his vision.  His vision, that let him see daylight where there was none.  His vision, that let him see when he’d get more daylight by pausing and letting his pursuers overpursue.  His vision, that allowed him to avoid big hits before they came.  His vision, which allowed him to apply his ability to run fast in game situations.  His vision, which converted talent into greatness with perfect efficiency.

That greatness is singular; Barry Sanders will ever be the only Barry Sanders.  But if Best, and his teammates, are right, and Best’s best quality is his vision, his greatness could be something to behold as well.  Fortunately for us, training camp will be public again this year, so we can all behold it together.


Matthew Stafford’s Day(s) Off

>> 6.18.2010

As many outlets have reported, the Lions have been docked two days’ worth of OTA practices for CBA violations.  Specifically, the Lions’ OTA practices exceeded allowed limits for tempo and contact.  This might sound familiar—indeed, the Lions lost two OTA days due to fiesty practices back in 2006, as well. Guessing which player had filed the NFLPA grievance turned into a favorite parlor game for Lions fans, bloggers, and newsmedia.

Ultimately, ProFootballTalk.com reported that Marcus Bell had blown the whistle on Rod Marinelli and the Lions coaches.*  At the time, most observers belonged to one of two camps:

  • “If there’s dissension in the ranks, Marinelli’s ‘Pound the Rock’ message is already falling on deaf ears.  ”
  • “GOOD!  Those lazy goldbrickers need to be whipped into shape!  Let ‘em whine, the wheat will be separated from the chaff.”

Of course, Marinelli was trying to make an impact.  He was touting himself as a hard worker, a motivator who demanded his player be motivated.  His mission was to cut out the deadwood and have 53 rowers all swinging their invisible pickaxes in harmony, or something.  That all 53 weren’t buying in right off the bat was troubling; wasn’t Rod supposed to be able to get a cat to want to run through a brick wall?  It seemed an ill omen for building a truly cohesive unit.

So, what are we to make of this?  Jim Schwartz, the Grandmaster?  The one whose intellectual approach and meticulous preparation made his name legend amongst the football dorks of the Internet?  How could he be so careless as to violate the rules, even as the Ravens, Raiders, and Jaguars had already been caught?  Indeed, Paula Pasche of the Oakland Press just finished blogging about how Schwartz is too smart, and too careful, to violate the OTA guidelines (and contradicting PFT’s fingering of Marcus Bell in the process).

Nick Cotsonika also just posted a piece explaining the creative lengths Schwartz and company are going to stay on the right side of the law.  Apparently, these lengths weren’t creative enough—or, possibly, were they too creative?  Did a player, or player, decide that flipping and catching a tire was the football equivalent of cruel and unusual punishment? 

More importantly, what does this mean for the Lions and their team chemistry?  This isn’t a lazy, underperforming group going into their first practices under a hardnosed taskmaster.  This is a talented young team, handpicked by Mayhew and Schwartz for their New Era Of Awesome Lions.  Who’s not buying in?  Who’s so disgruntled with Schwartz that they’d go to the NFLPA?  Could this be a sign of the upcoming CBA-pocalypse?  Is this whistleblowing the first shot in the upcoming labor war between Lions players and Lions management?

No.  You see, in the wake of years of tacit, wink-nod slides from non-contact, to kind of a little contact, to mostly-full-speed OTAs, the NFLPA is now reviewing tapes of OTAs.  Apparently, the tempo and contact crossed the line.  There was no whistleblowing.  There is no dissent.  The Grandmaster’s plan is still intact, ready to be executed . . . he’ll just have fewer days to tell the players how to do it.

*UPDATE: At the time of writing, I wasn’t aware that PFT’s report wasn’t the final word on the issue.  Corrected the language to reflect this.


Guest Article: Detroit Lions Fantasy Preview at Razzball.com

>> 6.16.2010

Anyone who’s a fantasy sports enthusiast, as I am, has spent some time over at Razzball.com.  They blend great fantasy info and advice with snappy writing and actual humor.  I was psyched when Chet from Razzball reached out to me, and asked if  I’d be willing to answer some questions about the Lions’ fantasy outlook for 2010.

Even if I weren’t flattered to be asked—I was—I was thrilled at the notion that someone thought the Lions might be relevant to fantasy football in 2010!  So, I gladly answered Chet’s very-well-informed questions.  Please, check it out here:


The Defensive Line and the Secondary, Part II

>> 6.14.2010

When I first delved into the connections between pass rush and pass defense, I came away conclusions fueled partly by data, and partly by ignorance.  They were:

  • We have found that there is no inverse correlation between that pass rush effectiveness and passing effectiveness; on plays where a sack does not occur, per-play pass yardage is unaffected.
  • We have found that there is no inverse correlation between interception rate and passing effectiveness; on plays where an interception does not occur, per-play pass yardage is unaffected.
  • These may have been exaggerations.  Commenters, emailers, and strangers on the street have since filled me in.  The correlation coefficients looked dismissible to my amateur eyes, but weren’t—not entirely, anyway.  There was a –.068 correlation coefficient between “dropbacks per sack” and “raw yards per attempt”.  Essentially zero, I thought, but it’s closer to –.1 than to zero—and that’s more than nothing.  Not much more, but more.

    The correlation coefficient between "attempts per interception" and "yards per attempt" was –.091.  That’s still only approaching .1; a weak correlation at best.  Still, my two statements above aren’t entirely accurate.  Over the past 20 years of NFL data, there has been a very mild inverse correlation between sacks, and pass effectiveness on non-sack downs (and the same goes for INTs).

    This all implies that the pass rush might indeed affect offense even when it doesn’t hit home—but I couldn’t prove it with the data I had.  I’d been working with the 50,000-foot-view: year-over-year leaguewide NFL trends; he low resolution of this data may have blurred the very effects I’m hoping to measure.

    As I said in my “parallel efforts” post last week, the Mathlete, of MGoBlog fame, did some of that further research.  As the Mathlete compared sacks, picks, and overall performance, he found:

    Not entirely surprisingly, the better a defense is at producing sacks and interceptions, the better it is on downs where neither occur. For every point per game that a defense generates due to sacks, the overall pass rush generates 1.2 ppg of additional value. Interceptions are also powerful, but not as much so. Each ppg of value a defense generates through interceptions is worth 0.9 ppg of additional value.

    This relies on “expected points,” here explained by Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats.  EP is a way to recognize the reality that four yards gained on 3rd-and-3 are not nearly as valuable as four yards gained on 3rd-and-8.  By finding the historical likelihood of scoring on a given down and distance from a given field position, Burke has created baseline EP values.  By finding the difference between the EP values from before a play to that play, you can gauge what that play is worth (in EP Added, or EPA).

    Using EP allowed the Mathlete to quantify exactly what sacks—and the associated pass rush on non-sack downs—are worth.

    From 2006-2009 in games between two D1 teams in competitive game situations (the “universe” for this and most of my analysis) the average defensive unit produced 2.3 ppg worth of sacks and 2.0 ppg worth of interceptions.

    So, an average defense produced 2.3 ppg worth of sacks, and gained 2.76 ppg worth of “footsteps effect” from the pass rush.  Likewise,  the average defense snared 2.0 ppg worth of interceptions, and 1.8 ppg worth of “dink-and-dunk effect”.  Mathlete concluded that all he found was the dog wagging the tail: sacks and picks are merely indicators of good defensive performance, not the other way around.

    However, this is all still limited to sacks, and attempting to derive the “cringe effect” on non-sack plays.  However, I’ve pulled down data from ProFootballFocus.com. They use film review to grade individual performances, as well as capture unofficial or untracked stats—like QB hits, and QB pressures.  Rather than attempt to measure the size of the tyrannosaur by the size of the ripples in the water cup, I’ll look at the actual data.

    The data I’m using is PFF’s player data for the 2009 season, aggregated into team numbers.  A caveat, these numbers do vary from the official NFL totals, especially with subjective stats like sacks, half-sacks, and tackles.  From what I’ve seen, the differences are small, but it’s worth getting out there.  Anyway, the first order of business: test my assumption that pressures correlate with sacks.


    Result?  “Yes,” but not as strongly as I’d assumed.  The correlation coefficient was .584, quite strong.  But as an anonymous commenter noted:

    One of the best indicators of nature of the relationship is the effect size calculation. You can obtain an effect size by squaring your correlation coefficient. This will tell you the amount of variability the variables contribute to each other. There's a lot of noise in NFL data so an effect size will tell you how much unique data is explained by the correlation alone.

    Rule of thumb for effect sizes: small .2; medium .5; large .8

    The effect size here is displayed in that graph as R-squared: 0.3413.  It’s far from one-to-one, but it’s safe to say that teams that get lots of pressures tend to get lots of sacks, and vice-versa.  For what it’s worth, the best “finishers” are the Redskins, getting 43 sacks to 109 pressures.  For academics’ sake, the Falcons were the other way around: 160 pressures to only 31 sacks.  The Lions were . . . well, terrible: 23 sacks, and 101 pressures.

    Next up, let's take that “hit” and “pressure” data out for a spin:


    This is the total yards per attempt allowed, regressed against the percentage of dropbacks where “pass rush” was generated.  Dropbacks are “attempts + sacks”, and I’m dividing that number by cumulative sacks, hits, and pressures.  The resulting correlation is weak, –0.152, and when squared to get the effect size, it’s a negligible .0232

    So, once again, we’re seeing no real connection between pressure and good pass defense.  You see the most interesting data point?  Yeah, that one—the one where they’re allowing three-quarters of a yard less per pass attempt than the 2nd-best team.  That’s the New York Jets; they allowed a miniscule 4.91 yards per pass attempt, while finishing 19th in PFF-scored sacks, and 9th in per-dropback “pass rush” rate.  So, the Jets had a good pass rush, but nothing that correlates to the incredible per-play passing effectiveness seen here.

    Secondly, my eyes were drawn to the third-rightmost data point, and how we’d have to scrape it off the Yards-per-attempt ceiling.  That would be the Cleveland Browns, whose 47 sacks, 42 QB hits, and 139 pressures generated pressure on 42.93% of dropbacks.  That pass rush rate is third-best in the NFL, behind only Dallas (46.91%) and Minnesota (44.77%).  Yet, Cleveland’s pass D was flat terrible: it allowed 7.44 yards per attempt, ahead of only Oakland, St. Louis, Miami, and, yes Detroit (7.80). 

    Things are not looking great for our thesis.  If the Lions improved their 2009 per-dropback pass rush rate to match Cleveland’s, from 27.85% to 42.93%, we’d certainly expect a better improvement in allowed Y/A than 7.80 to 7.44.

    Last time, passes defensed were to coverage what sacks were to pass rush; I presumed that in years where passes defensed were up, “coverage” was better.  In this case, though, I have Pro Football Focus’s “thrown at” and “reception allowed” figures.  Again, let’s dispense with trying to derive the whole picture from one rare subset of outcomes.  FYI: Total TAs don’t equal attempts, and total receptions allowed don’t equal total receptions.  I presume the discrepancies are from uncatchable passes, screen and swing passes that aren’t thrown “into coverage”.

    I’ll divide total per-team receptions allowed by total per-team TAs to get a per-team Percent Caught, as PFF does on a per-player basis.  This should be an actual measurement of the quality of pass coverage.  Let’s regress it against Y/A:


    Bingo.  There’s as strong of a correlation between percent of catches allowed by coverage and yards-per-attempt, as there is between pressures and sacks.  Oh, and who’s that team with the astonishingly low percent-caught, and correlatedly low Y/A?  Yup, it’s the Jets.  The evidence is mounting: pass rush doesn’t equal pass defense, pass defense equals pass defense.

    But, that’s not the whole story, is it? After all, isn’t the magic of a 4-3 defensive line supposed to be that it can generate pressure without a compromising coverage?  Won’t there be great improvement in a 4-3 that generates pass rush from the line, without having to blitz linebackers and DBs?  Stay tuned for the next exciting adventure!


    Parallel Efforts on the defensive line & Secondary

    >> 6.10.2010

    As I work to complete my follow-up on the defensive line and secondary analysis, I want to draw your attention to three more articles attempting the exact same thing:

    Anyway, give these articles a thorough review while I woodshed on it.


    Tom Izzo and the Balrog

    >> 6.09.2010

    Please forgive the wildly off-topic post.

    Those of you who’ve been reading for a while, or follow @lionsinwinter on Twitter, likely know that I’m a Spartan fan.  Not just a fan, I attended Michigan State—as did my wife, my in-laws (father-, mother-, sister-, her husband, and other sister-, plus grad school for two of those five), my mother, my stepmother, and my grandfather.  That’s right, I’m a third-generation Spartan, and fiercely proud of it.

    One of the things that comes with being a rabid sports fan is getting asked “What’s up with” local sports happenings, especially in a city so profoundly intertwined with its major university.  So with all the reports of the face of said university, Tom Izzo, talking to the Cavaliers about their open coaching gig, I’ve been fielding quite a bit of these.

    One must understand how deep Izzo’s roots in the community are.  He’s been head coach since 1995, yes—but he started at MSU part-time in 1983, and was named associate head coach in 1991.  He’s been a fixture in the community for decades, deeply involved in charity work and fundraising, and highly visible as a university advocate and spokesperson.

    Were Izzo merely wildly successful, he'd be popular; such is the nature of the beast.  But since he’s not only built Michigan State into one of the most powerful programs in America, but done so with almost entirely local talent, espousing a philosophy of relentless effort and physical play . . . well, he’s become a minor diety in this Rust Belt town.  There are cars in Lansing still rocking this bumper sticker:


    Cavs owner, MSU alum Dan Gilbert, is pitching his coach's gig to Izzo--and drawing comparisions to Art Modell in the process.  Is it really all that dramatic?  Is it really all that sinister?  Does Izzo really mean so much to Michigan State that if he leaves, they might as well close the town down?  Besides, it’s immaterial, right?  Izzo wouldn’t go, would he?  Would he?

    . . . WOULD HE?!

    Former Spartan guard Tim Bograkos, himself very active in the community and university, writes a cool blog, The Sixth Option.  His most recent post delves into Izzo's temptation to leave for the NBA:

    I’ve often said that Coach has a competitive streak unlike anyone I’ve ever seen. I know he has the desire to test himself at the next level with the greatest players in the world. The chance to coach Lebron James is a very tempting offer and to get paid A LOT of money to do so makes the deal even sweeter. But will King James embrace him like our Spartan Nation reveres him? Does the chance to impact a young man’s life compare to over-paid players who don’t always play hard?

    Over the years, I've heard rumblings along these lines.  Let me be clear: I’m not connected to the university, or the hoops program, in any way.  But add up the way Izzo talks in interviews, the way his name always seems to pop up in these rumors, and his apparent mastery of the college game, and it’s not hard to reach the same total: Tom Izzo wants to coach in the NBA . . . or at least, he thinks he does.Balrogvsgandalf

    from Wikipedia Commons, copyright New Line Cinema

    Tom Izzo is Gandalf, and the NBA his Balrog.  Izzo is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, college basketball coaches alive.  He’s been to nine of the last thirteen Sweet Sixteens, seven of the last twelve Elite Eights, and six of the last eleven Final Fours.  Of course, he also won a national title in 2000, and was the national runner-up at Ford Field in 2008.  Outside of winning a second national title, he’s accomplished all there is to accomplish at the college level.

    The wizard Gandalf the Gray from J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, is similar; he is a being of incredible supernatural power.  He is more wise, and more powerful, than nearly anything on Earth.  Like Tom Izzo, he walks almost without peer in the world of Middle Earth (this opens up a line of Mike Krzyzewski/Saruman reasoning that I find infinitely funny, but won’t bore you with).

    Balrogs, as dramatically portrayed in the film adapation of the books, are enormous, powerful beings of “shadow and flame,” incredibly powerful, and nigh-on immortal.  What the movies don’t say is that in the world of Lord of the Rings, Balrogs are archdemons.  Serving as the most powerful lieutenants of Morgoth—essentially, the Devil—Balrogs slew countless elves before being driven deep underground.

    In the story of the first book of the Trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf avoids leading the party through the mines of Moria at all costs, for he knows a Balrog dwells there.  Yet, you get the sense that Gandalf knows a confrontation is inevitable—and to a degree, he has to have the challenge.  He has to know: as powerful as he is, is he powerful enough?  Can he go mano-a-mano with the most powerful adversary imaginable and win? 

    Very few college coaches have made gone to the NBA and succeeded.  The players are better in the NBA, and the margin for error much smaller.  With massive, guaranteed player contracts, the inmates run the asylum; if a star player quits on his coach, the coach is shown the door.  The skill sets that make college coaches excellent, like recruiting, program-building, and fundraising, are mostly irrelevant in the NBA—and the primary talent an NBA coach must possess, motivating pampered millionaires, is rarely found in the college ranks.

    In the story, Gandalf avoids the Balrog until there is no choice.  In order to save the future of Middle Earth, Gandalf fights the Balrog, and time he buys the Fellowship allows them to flee.  The battle rages, from the bridge of  Khazad-Dûm, to an underground lake, to the top of a mountain, where Gandalf finally slays the Balrog—but dies in the effort.  Gandalf is sent back from the afterlife “until his task is complete,” and assumes his true form: Gandalf the White, more wise and powerful than he’d ever been before.

    Izzo faces no similar pressure.  He can, and may well, happily stay at Michigan State until the end of his working days, going to Final Fours, winning national titles, and overthrowing Saruman—er, I mean, eclipsing Mike Krzyzewski, as the greatest college coach in the land.  I fully believe that’s possible, even probable, and Michigan State’s AD Mark Hollis is “very confident” that Izzo will be coaching Michigan State’s basketball team in the fall.

    But no matter what he does here at Michigan State, Tom Izzo will always wonder if he could have taken on the NBA and won.  He’ll never know if he could have slayed that demon.  He’ll never know if he could have become the second member of basketball’s most selective coaching fraternity: those who’ve won a title in both college and the pros.  No, until he’s tested his strength against that evil, Tom Izzo will always be Gandalf the Gray, and never Gandalf the White.


    On Film Buffs, Enlightenment, and the Red Pill

    >> 6.08.2010

    This recent Ross Tucker article on SI.com tickled my fancy for many reasons.  First, it deals primarily with the importance of film review; as many of you know I’m a wholehearted believer!  Tucker interviews Greg Cosell, an NFL Films employee--and the creator of NFL Matchup, ESPN’s incredible film breakdown show.  As a youth, I never missed an episode; it was worth Herculean effort to peel myself out of bed at 7:30 on Sundays.

    The amount you can learn from watching what’s really happening is enormous.  I’ve called it “the red pill” of fandom; once you slow it down and watch what’s really happening, all the easy “he sucks” and “he rocks” stuff goes right out the window.  Players you think can do no wrong do, and players you think are worthless prove their worth.  Once you’ve watched one player for a hundred snaps in a row, you understand his play better than if you read a million words written about him on message boards and forums.

    As a wide-eyed youth I watched, enraptured, as Ron Jaworski break down Tom Moore’s play-action based offense.  Some of you might know Moore as the Colts’ longtime offensive coordinator; the man who built Peyton Manning into Peyton Manning.  But as my pimply self sat in my beanbag chair, Moore was calling signals for the Lions.

    That's right, Moore became the Lions’ OC in 1995—and quarterback Scott Mitchell had the year of his life: 4,338 yards, 32 touchdowns, and only 12 interceptions.  In that episode of Edge NFL Matchup (as it then was), Jaws broke down how well the Lions’ offensive line “sold” the run, which in turn dramatically increased the effectiveness of the play fake.  When I saw from the end zone camera how the line’s “run blocking” made the linebackers creep up, the play fake made the safety bite, and Mitchell’s inexplicable pass to nothing in the wide-open middle of the field became gloriously on-target when the wideout made his break, the scales fell from my bleary eyes.

    As Tucker says, NFL folk get access to two critical angles: the “all-22,” a sideline view that extends from the tailback to the safeties, and the end-zone camera, which records action along the axis of play.  Grading secondary play is almost impossible without the first, and understanding the distances, spaces, and angles involved in football is difficult without the second.

    Tucker laments the loss of his access to those film angles; they’re only available at NFL Films HQ, or NFL team facilities.  So, uh, if the Detroit Lions wouldn’t mind declaring my basement an official “team facility,” I’d really appreciate it.  Yes.  I would.

    Another topic of interest Tucker touches upon, something I’ve spent a lot of time looking into lately:  the relationship between pass rushing, pass coverage, and pass defense.  Specifically, he asks Cosell whether, if starting a franchise, he’d rather have an elite pass rusher or an elite cover corner.  Cosell says:

    "If the players are equivalent in terms of skill set and impact, I think you always have to go with the pass rusher."

    I can’t put that data point on a scatter plot, but it’s valuable nonetheless.  There was one other part that got me all warm and fuzzy inside, this time about a certain quarterback, and his fellow 2009 top-five draft pick:

    "Stafford is a more gifted passer than Sanchez. He has a more complete skill set for the position. His issue, which was a function of his team last year, is that because of his big arm he has a tendency to too often try to make 'stick' throws into tight windows. Normally, that trait is a positive in the NFL. When you are forced to do it too often because of the score of the game, it can become a negative."

    . . . allow me to do a little happy dance.

    So, you take the blue pill, the story ends.  You keep scrolling, you go to forums, and you believe whatever you want to believe.  You read Ross Tucker’s article on SI.com, you stay in Wonderland, and he’ll show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.  Actually not really, because there’s no film clips in that article, but I had to complete the quote . . . I am a film buff, after all.


    Unintentional TLiW Radio Silence: an Apology

    >> 6.07.2010

    In case you were wondering what happened to this site, laying fallow and unposted-upon, and you don’t follow @lionsinwinter on Twitter where I spent all day panicking, here is your explanation:  Blogger took it upon themselves to go completely offline, work late hours to ensure that it came back up, then catch a nice long victory sleep while posting and commenting was still broken for everyone living in a landlocked state, plus Michigan and Canada (I know Michigan doesn’t touch an ocean, but a landmass with 3,200 miles of beaches can’t possibly be “landlocked”).

    Anyway, during this time, I couldn’t post, write drafts, comment, moderate comments, or anything to even explain what was happening.  Even now, I have to use the Web editor instead of my weapons of choice, Windows Live Writer and Blogo.  If I had enabled email posting pre-glitch, I could have done that, but I hadn’t, so I couldn’t.  Again, my apologies.  I’ve got lots of stuff planned for this week, so please keep an eye on this space—and keep a couple fingers crossed that this doesn’t happen again!


    The Lions Congregation: CBA Musings

    It’s time once again for The Lions Congregation!  The top Lions bloggers, and I, have met as a body of Schwartz.  We have testified our fervent wishes for the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).  They discuss rookie salaries, a developmental league for the NFL, retired players, season length, roster size, and many other issues.  So wash in the waters of the Congregation’s temporary home, the Roar of the Lions, and become clean!


    Leather-Bound Lions: Guest Column at Pride of Detroit

    >> 6.03.2010

    Sean Yuille, over at Pride of Detroit, has long been a blogging role model.  He’s built up an incredibly large, faithful community of Lions fans around his work.  He’s always got an intelligent, balanced take on whatever’s happening in the world of the Lions—and he’s very, very quick at passing along those happenings, even breaking some news of his own.  When this blog was but a tadpole, I tried keeping pace with PoD’s up-to-the-minute Lions coverage . . . it didn’t take long before I threw up my tailfin in frustration.

    We’re about to hit the news ‘dead zone’ in the NFL season; a long stretch where practically nothing of substance occurs.  Sean put out an open call for contributors with tales to tell, and a project I’d long since put on the back burner suddenly came to a rolling boil.

    I’ve always wanted to do a recurring history series, delving deep into the Lions’ huge library of old players, old games, and old successes.  The Lions have been so terrible for so long, there’s an entire generation of Lions fans who’ve grown up without real memories of a winning season.  They don’t remember Barry, don’t remember Wayne Fontes, don’t remember the NFC Championship Game run, and certainly don’t remember the almost-as-awful-as-the-aughts-eighties.

    Even fans of my generation, dimly remembering bright spots like Bennie Blades and Mike Cofer, and washouts like Andre Ware and Chuck Long, are clueless about the greats of the seventies, the fifties, and the thirties.  Doing the research and writing on would mean cluing myself in, along with everyone else.  To that end, I present to you, the first in the series:


    Happy OJ Atogwe Day

    >> 6.01.2010

    Yesterday was Memorial Day, a day where Americans everywhere remember, honor, and celebrate the sacrifices of those who give their lives to protect us.  We gave up work and school to visit cemeteries, watch parades, play badminton, and eat sausage, all while remembering those who gave their lives so we’d be free.

    For a small fraction of America, though, today is O.J. Atogwe day—the day we skimp on work and school to cross fingers, light candles, murmur incantations, and refresh football websites, seeing what’s going on with St. Louis Rams safety O.J. Atogwe.

    According to Brian Stull of toastedrav.com, the Rams continue to negotiate with Atogwe, and will up to and beyond midnight tonight.  For those not already pounding F5 on Pro Football Talk, Atogwe is a restricted free agent, due a one-year tender offer worth 110% of last year’s salary.  However, since the Rams made Atogwe their franchise player last season, he raked in an average of the top five safeties’ salaries for 2009.  110% of his 2009 salary is nearly seven million dollars.

    Even if Atogwe were worth that kind of money for 2010—and, coming off shoulder surgery, that’s questionable—the Rams are in rebuilding mode.  Paying Atogwe that kind of money, just to be right back in this same situation next year, doesn’t make sense.  The Rams would love to him lock up to a long-term deal, but it doesn’t sound like that’s close.  If it doesn’t get done by midnight, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent.

    Note the following line from Stull’s article:

    Dallas, Miami, and Jacksonville are all reportedly interested in Atogwe, but none signed him to an offer sheet prior to the April 15th deadline.

    Note the significant absence of the word “Detroit” in there.  As I’ve said before, the “vibe” I get is that the Lions broke the bank on Vanden Bosch and Burleson—and were willing to do so because the coaching staff knew them so well.  Despite being just into his prime (he’ll be playing his sixth season, at age 29), and a perfect fit for the skill set the Lions need, I will be stunned if Jim Schwartz is on Atogwe’s doorstep with a Fathead and a bottle of vino at midnight.

    Further, if Dallas and Miami are involved, the Lions are going to have serious competition: two teams with deep pockets and winning rosters, looking for that last piece, in an uncapped year.  It’s true that Atogwe is from Windsor, and grew up rooting for the Lions, but business is business, and this is Atogwe’s job, not hobby.

    This will likely be Atogwe’s first, and last, giant long-term deal.  If he signs a five-year contract, he’ll be 34 at the end of it, and playing a position where speed is crucial.  Further, he’ll probably be making ridiculous, back-loaded money.  If he even sees the end of that deal, he won’t be a hot commodity for 2015.  He may, or may not, play elsewhere for a year or two after that—but in terms of big money, this is it.

    For all these reasons, I don’t see the Lions as major players for his services . . . but I’m crossing my fingers anyway.


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