Oct 072013
 

Scrolling through my Facebook feed this morning, I stumbled across this gem: Broncos-Cowboys game underscores diminishing role of defense in NFL.

OK, so that Broncos game Sunday was very exciting. It kept us all on the edge of our seats, and it certainly enlivened my son’s birthday party. But what about defense?

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Now, I love a good “kids nowadays” rant as much as anyone. (Don’t get me started on how every one of today’s stars is the “Best. Player. EVAR.”) But I like my arguments to be underpinned by actual… um… whaddaya call ’em?

Oh, right.

FACTS.

The NFL has done everything it can to prevent defenses from doing what they are supposed to do, which is to stop the other team from scoring, not lay down and provide a doormat for them. Offensive linemen are allowed to do all sorts of things that would have been called holding in the past. Defensive backs are severely restricted in what they can do to impede wide receivers.

I’ll leave aside the obvious counter-argument that anyone who supports the Green Bay Packers has no idea what he’s talking about, and simply focus on those pesky facts: this year, the National Football League is averaging 23.1 points per team per game. Remove the ridiculous start by the Denver Broncos, who will likely regress to the mean, and that average is 22.3; or a half-point lower than last season (22.8), and almost identical to 2011 (22.2).

If you want to argue recent rules changes have shifted the league towards the passing game, you can do that. So far this year, 2.32 yards have been gained through the air for every yard gained on the ground; five years ago, the ratio was 1.82:1.

Sadly, Mr. Meyer forsakes the rational argument for one based on his emotional attachment to what he thinks was the game of his youth:

I like old-school football. I grew up watching Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers teams, which included nine Hall of Fame players. They played great defense, and they had a nearly unstoppable running game. They had a Hall of Fame quarterback, but in his five championship seasons Bart Starr averaged 157 yards passing per game. He averaged 13 touchdown passes per season.

Unknowingly, Mr. Meyer completely undercuts his own position, while simultaneously making the case for the current era representing a shift in offensive focus, rather than an upending of the traditional offensive/defensive balance of power. Statistically, Bart Starr’s best year was 1966, when he had a 105.0 passer rating. Like me, I’m sure you are curious to know what the scoring average was that year.

It was 21.7.

That’s right: in the defense-heavy struggles of yesteryear, teams scored 0.1 points per game MORE than were being scored during the decade from 2003-2012. Sure, if you only focus on the last five years, teams are scoring 0.4 points more per game than in 1966; but that’s the equivalent of two additional field goals per season.

Also, for what it’s worth, the scoring average in 1966 represented a slight drop-off from 1965, when the scoring average was… wait for it…

23.1.

You might recognize that number, since it’s the same as we’ve seen through the first five weeks of this season.

So, if scoring isn’t really up in the modern NFL, why do Meyers and so many others persist in making such claims? For one possible answer, consider the following lines from the linked article:

“…They played great defense, and they had a nearly unstoppable running game…”
“…I like watching a good running back wear down a good defense…”
“…great defense, great running game…”

In Meyers’ mind, a good running game and good defense go hand in hand, to the point that the one is interchangeable with the other. He grew up with an NFL in which the running game was much more prevalent than today (although not dominant — the air/ground yardage ratio in 1966 was 1.47:1), yet “remembers” a league in which defense played a bigger role. And that is objectively untrue.

Meyers’ disdain for the passing game reaches its apex here: “…it has become so easy to throw touchdown passes.”

Seriously?

In the past fifty years, the number of passing touchdowns has remained remarkably steady, averaging about 1.3 per game. The coefficient of variance is 10%; that means two-thirds of seasons fell within 10% of the average. Last year, it was a whopping 1.5. Sure; that’s an increase of 15% over the fifty-year average, but so what? That’s one additional touchdown through the air for every five games.

Why does all this matter? Isn’t Meyers just another sloppy sports journalist with column inches to fill?

Perhaps. But arguing for the revocation of rules changes to “correct” a non-existent imbalance is not only farcical, it is downright dangerous when you consider many of those changes were put into effect out of respect for player safety. Maybe the rules make the game safer; maybe they don’t. Regardless, it’s clear they aren’t substantively tilting the game in favor of the offense. (At least not yet.)

You don’t have to like the same things about football that I like. If you would prefer three yards and a cloud of dust, that’s your prerogative. But don’t take your prejudice and dress it up as some existential threat to the very nature of the game.

Dec 162012
 

Josh BrentAs the unfortunate story of Josh Brent and Jerry Brown begins to fade from public view, I happened to read an article from Brent’s hometown newspaper, The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois). On the day after Brown’s remains were put to rest in St. Louis following his death in a car driven by teammate and close friend Brent, who was highly intoxicated at the time of the crash, sports columnist Randy Kindred attempted to make the point that we should not be giving up on Brent as a person.

It’s a fair enough point. But the conclusions that Kindred reached, and the way he got there, smell of hometown apologist.

You can read the entire column here, but let me pick apart what I consider to be some poor points in Kindred’s reasoning.

Kindred begins the piece recapping the hard luck story of Brent, whose mother was struck by a disability. Brent was taken in by the family of Michael Hoomanawanui, a tight end for the New England Patriots who also has Central Illinois roots. Brent went to Champaign after high school to play for the University of Illinois. After three years with the Illini, Brent entered the supplemental draft and was chosen by the Dallas Cowboys, for whom he was in his third season and beginning to emerge prior to the car wreck that ended Brown’s life and forever changed his own.

Kindred writes, “…while it is easy to pile on the 6-2, 320-pound Brent, particularly in light of a 2009 drunken driving conviction while at Illinois, you should know that this is not a malicious or horrible guy.” As if that is relevant. I am sure that prisons are full of people that are not inherently “malicious or evil” but who rather made awful decisions that led to the injury or deaths of others. It is not “piling on” to demand accountability for poor behavior, particularly when that poor behavior is not a first time occurrence. We all make mistakes, and there should be tolerance for those mistakes, and patience for us to grow as human beings. But when those mistakes are repeated, and affect other people, then I believe it is fair for our tolerance to be reduced.

Kindred writes that we should not give up on Brent as a person. Perhaps instead of using the term “let’s”, Kindred should stick to speaking for himself. I have no connection to Brent, and no real stake in whether or not his years on this planet are productive or wasteful. What I am concerned with is raising children, children that I do not want to see injured or killed by people making decisions like the one Brent made. His coming time in prison, which is richly deserved, means that there is no chance that he will harm my children or any others by getting behind the wheel of a car while effectively incapacitated. Brent has previously served a 60 day jail sentence for drunk driving, and had plenty of resources available to him to both address any drinking issues he has, as well as alternatives to driving while under the influence. As Adam “Pacman” Jones, who is no stranger to reckless behavior, indicated last week, the NFL “does a great job offering resources. We just don’t use them. I know I didn’t use mine when I was younger… This happens to a lot of young guys who come into the league. The first four years happen so fast, you never really get to catch up and realize the resources you have.”

Jones is right that the NFL is trying to address substance issues, and offers resources for its players to be successful. It is also up to the players to take advantage of them. As someone who works very directly with people who make bad decisions, I can attest to the fact that we can provide all of the resources in the world, but they mean nothing if people fail to take advantage of them. There is a responsibility on all of our parts to be personally accountable for our issues before those issues negatively impact the lives of others, something Brent failed to do despite ample warning. That should be the real lesson of this tragic story.

Kindred then states, “(W)hen his grades forced him out of the NFL after three seasons (at Illinois)…” as though the grades are some independent and self-guided third party that made a conscious decision to kick Brent out of school. Let me re-write this one for you, Randy… “When Brent failed to meet academic standards at the University of Illinois, he was forced to leave school and chose to enter the Supplemental Draft.” Brent’s grades are not independent of him, but rather a direct reflection of his academic performance. Perhaps if Brent spent more time focusing on his academics, and less time drinking, both the 2009 conviction and his fateful 2012 crash could simply be a part of some alternate Universe, rather than the one we live in. Brent made his decisions, and has no one to thank but himself for that. I know that the University of Illinois offers academic resources, as well as resources to address life issues such as alcohol use; did Brent take advantage of those?

Finally, Kindred makes the same mistake that many others have made over the past week, in linking Brent to Brown’s family, and his mother’s decision to include him in Brown’s memorial. Brown’s mother has stated that she has forgiven Brent, but let’s be clear that this is not absolution for Brent. In fact, this has far more to do with Brown’s mother than it does with seeing the good in Brent. By forgiving Brent, she is absolving herself of guilt and regret in which she otherwise might be consumed. And this forgiveness says far more about her character than it does about Brent’s. It does not negate his decision to consume excessive amounts of alcohol and get behind the wheel of a car. It does not wipe away the accident that cost Jerry Brown his life. And it does not mean that Brent should not spend several years in prison as a punishment for his crimes. It simply means that she is a strong person who knows what she needs to do in order to get through daily life. Frankly, I will openly admit that she is a better person than I; I am not sure that losing one of my children due to someone else’s recklessness wouldn’t poison my soul. I hope I never have the opportunity to test that theory.

So, to answer Mr. Kindred, no… society as a whole should not be giving up on Mr. Brent. But he has now placed himself in a place where he must pay for his crimes and hopefully rehabilitate himself along the way. And maybe Brent will become the feel good story of 2018, having served his time, turned his life around, and be out spreading a positive message to youth and helping other people not to repeat his own mistakes. Certainly he has the potential to serve as a deterrent to other NFL players who find themselves with similar decisions to make. I genuinely hope Brent gets his life on track, as I believe that we are all greater than the sum of our mistakes. But it seems to be way too early to be having the conversation about Josh Brent and his salvation. It’s too early to move past the awful repercussions of his actions, and the consequences that they must bear.

Dec 082012
 

Cowboys linebacker Jerry Brown died in a car crash early this morning in Irving, Texas. The car was driven by Dallas nose tackle Josh Brent, who has been charged with intoxication manslaughter in Brown’s death.

According to a report released by Irving police, Brent was behind the wheel of a car at 2:21 a.m. when it hit a curb, causing the vehicle to flip at least once before coming to rest in the middle of a service road. When officers arrived on the scene, Brent was responsive and able to speak. Brown, 25, was unresponsive and transferred to a local hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.

It turns out that this is not Brent’s first run in with law with regard to driving under the influence. The University of Illinois product and native of Bloomington, Illinois was sentenced in June 2009 to two years probation and 60 days in jail as part of a plea deal from a DUI arrest in Champaign County, Illinois.

“We are deeply saddened by the news of this accident and the passing of Jerry Brown,” Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones said in a statement. “At this time, our hearts and prayers and deepest sympathies are with the members of Jerry’s family and all of those who knew him and loved him.”

Brown, a St. Louis native, was signed to the Cowboys’ practice squad earlier this season. He was also Brent’s college teammate at Illinois.

As we have previously noted at GiR, the problem of DUI is one that has blown up in the NFL’s face this season. This is at least the fifteenth incident involving active NFL players, and is the first this season to result in a fatality. Whatever the NFL thinks it is doing about the problem of DUI and its players, it isn’t working.

Nov 052012
 

173 votes.

And here I was thinking that we would never pass the 115 mark! Thanks to all of those who turned out to cast your vote on when the Falcons will drop a game. 8 of you missed the mark this weekend, as the Falcons survived their Sunday night contest against the Dallas Cowboys. My guess is that the Falcons will lose to the Buccaneers on the road, and that result finished third in our poll. Our top vote-getter was next week’s contest against the New Orleans Saints, with 36% of the vote.

Here is the final tally from last week.

Poll #12: When will the Falcons finally lose a game?

Week 10 @ New Orleans (36%, 63 Votes)

Week 15 versus New York Giants (23%, 39 Votes)

Week 12 @ Tampa Bay (14%, 25 Votes)

No losses; 19-0, Baby! (10%, 18 Votes)

Week 14 @ Carolina (5%, 8 Votes)

Week 9 versus Dallas (5%, 8 Votes)

Week 11 versus Arizona (3%, 5 Votes)

In the playoffs (2%, 4 Votes)

Week 16 @ Detroit (2%, 3 Votes)

Week 13 versus New Orleans (0%, 0 Votes)

Week 17 versus Tampa Bay (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 173

This week’s poll focuses on the drama now surrounding “America’s Team.” While Like Ghandi But Taller’s (LGBT) article last week found hope and excitement in the sporadic performances of Tony Romo and the Cowboys, the truth is that the Cowboys are now playing Russian Roulette with their playoff chances. Jason Garrett seems to be less than proficient in managing games, and Jerry Jones doesn’t seem to be nearly as capable in the GM role as he is in the mode of owner. After last night’s loss, even Jerruh was locked out of the Cowboys’ locker room. While the 3-5 Cowboys have the 3rd best passing attack in the league, their ground game ranks a woeful 29th, and putting the game in the hands of Tony Romo has as often as not been a recipe for disaster. While Romo ranks fifth in passing yards, he has a 82.2 passer rating, which places him 24th in the league with just 10 touchdown passes to go with his 13 interceptions.

Thus, our poll for this week:

Poll #13: Will the Dallas Cowboys make the playoffs this season?

As you can imagine, this poll only has two possible answers, so visit our right sidebar and cast your vote.

Oct 302012
 

The most recent Cowboys loss, a heartbreaking affair suffered at the hands of the hated Giants was at sometimes painful and at other times exhilarating to watch. And though it dropped the Boys to 3-4 and 78 games behind the Giants in the NFC East race, it also perfectly encapsulated why I’m a Cowboys fan. More specifically it stood as a shining example of why I love Tony Romo. Full disclosure, I am at Eastern Illinois alum (Go Panthers!!) but that’s not why I’m a Romo fan, it’s not the rags to riches story of undrafted player making good either. The reason I am such a huge supporter of #9 is that he is an electrifying, maddening, exciting, nerve-racking football player who single handedly can win or lose a game in the blink of an eye. Much like the hot girl from the wrong side of the tracks, who’s just as likely to stab you as kiss you. With Romo you never know and I find the thrill of discovery fun to watch.

Last Sunday’s game was a beautiful illustration of this. Bad throws, picks, pick 6’s and poor clock management. But just as I am about to lose hope; laser precise throws, sack-saving scrambles and that wonderful improvisation that turns a loss into a first down. Romo embodies the team he quarterbacks; undeniable talent, a bit too much hype and very little production when it counts. That being said, the potential is what makes them so compelling. At this moment sitting at 3-4, the Cowboys have the ability to either run off five straight wins or lose the next five, there’s just no way to know. I believe that Rob Ryan has vastly improved the defense, the special teams are solid and there is a good mix of veterans and young players on the squad. The X factor in all of this remains Romo. When he is on the offense hums in a way that makes me believe we can beat anybody. He smiles, has a bit of swagger and his energy seems to flow through the whole team. At these times, the ceiling for the team seems to be the Super Bowl. Its these times that I obviously enjoy the most. As a fan I want to watch my team do well and it’s a nice feeling to listen to the folks on ESPN and NFL Network wax poetic about the great win. But just having the opportunity to watch Romo ply his trade to me is worth the ride because you truly never know what will happen. Sports is entertainment and the Cowboys are without a doubt entertaining.

Many fans might be irritated or maddened by this startling inconsistency, but when you put it in the context of who the Boys are it makes sense. Considering the team has an egomaniacal, money hungry owner, a crappy o-line, has had glorified coordinators as head coaches for the last several years and plays in a sterile, noiseless mega-mall, the current situation ain’t all that bad. Perhaps I’ve just been battered into accepting mediocrity after watching Romo quarterback for the last five years or maybe I’ve just settled into a zen phase of my life. Whatever the reason, I’m taking the Cowboys regardless of who they’re playing and I’m still anticipating Romo starting in the Super Bowl in New Orleans this year.

Sep 052012
 

The New York Giants broke the streak for defending champions opening the season in prime time at home by being the first Super Bowl champion to lose in nine attempts, as Tony Romo and Kevin Ogletree led the Cowboys over the Giants 24-17 Wednesday night. Ogletree had a career night, catching eight passes for 114 yards, two touchdowns, and a critical first down that sealed the win

The first half was a boring display, as neither team could move the ball effectively and both ground games were negligible. But DeMarco Murray had a strong second half, finishing the night with 131 yards on 20 carries.

A full slate of games is on tap for Sunday as the rest of the teams open the season.

Aug 092012
 

A week or so back, Jerry Jones shot off his mouth as usual. This time it was about “Beating the Giants Ass” when the teams face off to open the season in September. This of course set off a round of ESPN/Fox Sports/NFL Network/CNNSI talking heads debating or writing about whether his comments mattered or not. For as much airplay as this latest bout of verbal diarrhea garnered, there seemed to be just a many commenters asking “why in the hell does it matter?” The Boys have not been among the upper echelon of NFL teams since the mid 1990’s. Whether it’s the merry-go-round of coaches, overall mediocre drafting, dubious free agent acquisitions (Joey Galloway, Ryan Leaf, Pacman Jones) and outright terrible trades (Roy “The Legend” Williams, nuff said) there has been much more futility than success. How is it that we pay so much attention to a team that by all accounts should get as much airplay as the Seattle Seahawks, a team with a nearly identical winning percentage since 2000? Because the Dallas Cowboys, Americas Team sets the platinum standard for success and everyone knows it.

In 1979, while trying to come up with a title for an NFL Networks recap of the 1978 Dallas Cowboys, a VP at NFL films thought the phrase “Americas Team” would be catchy so he went with it. Since then, the Cowboys have become the NFL’s signature team. Although established in 1960, well after such founding fathers as the Bears, Packers and Steelers. The Boys captured America first by not only winning (20 consecutive winning seasons from 1966-1985), but winning with a panache that turned fans of the NFL into either supporters or haters. The Cowboys made NFL cheerleaders glamorous; they were the inspiration for the best football movie ever and their home field is worthy of screen time in not one but two television show intros (it’s the same show remade but so what). The Cowboys do everything better than the rest of the NFL. You want icons of morality and faith; they gave you Roger Staubach, Tom Landry and Troy Aikman. You want Innovation? How about the Flex defense, iconic stadiums the marketing of aforementioned cheerleaders and revolutionizing the identification of new revenue streams . And of course the Cowboy do bad better than anyone else. From Hollywood Henderson doing liquid cocaine during games, to Michael Irvin and Primetime doing every woman in sight to a freakin “white house” for recreational activities, nobody parties like the Boys.

Now lest you think I am being facetious with this piece, I am a lifelong fan and the fact is that sustained time in the public eye has made the Cowboys the biggest draw in the juggernaut that is the NFL. I believe it’s a combination of of our fascination with the rich (Dallas is the most valuable sports franchise in the U.S. and second in the world according to Forbes Magazine), our appetite for schadenfreude and our appreciation of sustained excellence (they own the record for most consecutive winning seasons). There are teams that burst onto the scene and catch the national eye for a while (Patriots, Saints, Colts) teams that enjoy radical ups and downs in popularity over decades (Packers, Steelers, Bears) but no team has held the nations interest for as long and consistently as Dallas.

In this summer of concussion lawsuits, bountygate and Robert Kraft, I’m pretty sure Mr. Goddell just wants people to focus on football. The fact is that win or lose, the national media, fanatics and casual fans will continue to tune into the Cowboys. This the type of sustainability the NFL needs and if we happen to get more Tony Romo backwards cap sideline time out of it, then so be it.

May 222012
 

 

Dallas Cowboys

Head Coach: Jason Garrett

Projected Starting Quarterback: Tony Romo

2011 Record:  8 wins, 8 losses (3rd in NFC East)

No postseason appearance

11th in Total Offense, 14th in Total Defense

2002-2011 10 year record: 86 wins, 74 losses (T-11th in NFL)

1 wins, 4 losses in postseason

No Super Bowl appearances

5-3 All-time in Super Bowl