Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sports Mythbustin', Episode 3: Peyton Manning had the best QB season ever in 2013

For me, and the other two or three people in the known universe who don't worship Peyton Manning, it was nauseating to watch and listen to the wall-to-wall, 24-7-365 coverage of Manning's 2013 assault on the record books. When he finally threw touchdown pass number 51, I thought they were going to declare a national holiday.

Even though Peyton finished the season with 55 TD passes, five more than Tom Brady's 2007 record (which, incidentally, broke Manning's previous record of 49), and well over 5000 yards, something seemed a in my stat-addled brain. For such an otherworldly season, Peyton seemed to be involved in an awful lot of close games, and he also seemed to be mercilessly piling it on against hapless opponents.

Incidentally, did anyone else find it strange that, during the Patriots' undefeated 2007 regular season, every football journalist with an internet connection lined up to shame the Patriots for "running up the score", yet not one of them had the cojones to say the same about the the Broncos in 2013, even though those very pundits reminded us at every turn that Denver had outscored the 2007 Patriots?


At any rate, my theory on Peyton Manning has never changed: He's great when he's comfortable, but apply one bit of pressure, of the psychological or pocket variety, and he can't be counted on. Tom Brady, on the other hand, takes his game to another level when it matters the most. No, he doesn't always win, but then, Joe Montana lost a few big games, too.

If my theories on these two great quarterbacks is true, then the statistics during their respective record-setting seasons should show that Manning's performance declined against stronger opponents and during road games, when quarterbacks are less comfortable, and that Brady's numbers exceeded Manning's in these same situations.

Well, well, well. Looks like I was right again! In his supposedly transcendent 2013 season, Manning beat Brady in exactly two out of nine categories in road games, and in ZERO out of nine categories vs. opponents over .500.

Seriously guys, I know you love Peyton. He's a funny dude who makes cool commercials. And I know it pisses you off that Brady is more handsome than you (and me), and is married to a Victoria's Secret angel who also happens to be the richest model on the planet Earth. But take the emotion out of it for a minute, and look at the chart again. How many different ways do we have to say it? Peyton is not the guy you want when the going is rough.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sports Mythbustin', Episode 2: The Pats Were Saved by the "Tuck Rule"

Now that we have totally demolished the Spygate argument, it's time to explode yet another myth about the New England Patriots: The Tuck Rule.

This one's a bit harder for Patriot haters to use against us. The rule had been on the books for three years by the time this play happened, and the rule was interpreted correctly by the official. The whole thing was legitimate, and no one seriously questions that. Still, they've managed to conjure up a few feeble attacks:

"The Pats got lucky"
"The rule is stupid/unfair"
"The Pats were saved by an obscure technicality in the rulebook"
"The official was biased/in the Patriots' pocket"
Merely stating, "It was a fumble"

That last one is particularly offensive. An unmistakably-worded rule clearly says that it's an incomplete pass, not a fumble, and the response is, "It was a fumble." No, idiot, it was not a fumble. Read the rule.

Regarding the Patriots "getting lucky", let me ask you this: Is it "luck" that pass interference is against the rules? Seems to me that many TDs have been scored thanks to that rule.

"Of course not," you say. "The rule was written for a reason. You can't impede a player who's trying to catch a pass."

Yes, and the "Tuck Rule" was written for a reason, too! Or do you think some NFL official just came up with it when he was bored one Tuesday afternoon? This rule has been changed several times over the years. The league struggled with it for a long time, because it was extremely difficult for an official to make a split-second determination, at game speed, as to whether the QB had finished the passing motion and had begun pulling the ball back towards his body. On the other hand, it was very easy to see whether or not he had tucked the ball away. And before you remind me, I'm well aware that the rule was changed in March of 2013 by a 29-1 vote (with the Patriots and Raiders abstaining, natch), and that the rule now says that, if the QB loses possession of the football while attempting to bring it back to his body, it will be ruled a fumble. In otherwords, we're back to asking officials to make instantaneous decisions based on subtle arm and hand movements.

Simply, this rule is neither "stupid" nor "unfair". It was intentionally changed to prevent referees from having to make tough judgment calls. There was specific logic behind it. Luck played no part in what happened, if "luck" even exists at all.

I'm also not feeling the "obscure technicality" argument. The rule was written for a very specific circumstance, and when that circumstance occurred, the rule was applied properly. It doesn't happen  every day, so consequently, the rule is not used often. That doesn't make it any less important, any less of a rule, or any less valid. The change was properly approved by the NFL owners, just like everything else in the rulebook. If you think it's wrong, tell me why. But don't try to invalidate it because it's not used every week.

And, BTW, exactly what does "technicality" mean in this context? Does it mean that it deals with a very specific set of policies that must be enforced exactly? In that case, yes, this is a technicality--and so is 90% of the entire NFL rulebook. Guess what, guys? "Technicality" or not, a rule is a rule is a rule--and must be followed precisely. And it was.

For those of you who think referee Walt Coleman was biased, being bribed, or was a part of a huge conspiracy to help the Patriots, or send the Raiders home, your argument (aside from being silly and completely unfounded) is irrelevant. Biased or not, and there's no reason to think he was, the correct call was made. It's been reviewed 534,277 times and confirmed by everyone. There was no mistake. Prove me wrong.

But, speaking of irrelevance, here's the real news.

Nothing I've said up to this point matters. It doesn't matter what you or I think about the Tuck Rule. It doesn't matter what the rulebook says, and it doesn't matter whether you say it was a fumble or not. None of it matters in the slightest bit.

Why? Because of a little rule that reads like this:

"In covering the passer position, Referees will be particularly alert to fouls in which defenders impermissibly... use hands, arms, or other parts of the body to hit the passer forcibly in the head or neck area"
(NFL Rulebook, Section 2, Article 13, note 3)

Unlike the Tuck Rule, everybody knows this one, and everybody agrees it's legitimate. And, in case you weren't aware, it carries a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down.

"But there was no Roughing the Passer on that play," you are saying.

Oh, how incredibly wrong you are...

Well, well, well. What do you know? It seems Charles Woodson broke the rules--clearly and obviously. Brady took a big, and illegal, shot to the head before any fumble or incompletion could take place. 

The line of scrimmage on that play was the Oakland 42. This would have (and should have) given the Patriots a 1st-and-10 at the Oakland 27. This is actually two yards closer than the Oakland 29, from which Adam Vinatieri kicked the game-tying field goal.

It's funny to watch people try to explain this one away after watching the video. They can't possibly deny it, so they resort to nonsense like:

"It was incidental contact/Woodson didn't mean to hit him."
Oh really? How do you know what Woodson did or did not intend to do? At any rate, go back and read that rule again, and show me the part where it says, "this penalty only gets called when the guy meant to do it". Face it: No one knows or cares whether a defensive player meant to hit the QB. It's the pass rusher's responsibility to make sure his hands are nowhere near the quarterback's helmet.

"He didn't hit him that hard."
Look at the violent way Brady's head snaps to the side after he's been hit. I thought I was watching the Zapruder Film, for Christ's sake! The hit was plenty hard--and besides, severity of the blow doesn't matter: I've seen this penalty called when a defensive player swung his hand at a QB's head and missed altogether! You've got no leg to stand on here.

"The referee missed it. Refs miss calls all the time."
What exactly are you saying here? Does this mean the penalty didn't happen? Does it mean it suddenly became a clean play? Anyway, this argument misses the point: If you are trying to tell me that the Pats "got lucky", or were the beneficiary of a bad/obscure rule, you are wrong. The Raiders very nearly won the game on a flagrant Roughing the Passer non-call. Who was lucky, again?

As we now know, Adam Vinatieri was a clutch enough kicker to make a field goal from 47 yards out, on a snowy mess of a field, with the white stuff still coming down--so it turns out the Patriots didn't need those 15 yards. But that doesn't change the fact that they should have gotten them. 

Watch the video again. Watch it 100 times if you have to. Sooner or later, you'll admit, even if just to yourself, that a missed call easily could have cost the Patriots this game--wrongly.

And it had nothing to do with the Tuck Rule.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Sports Mythbustin', Episode 1: The Patriots' Offense Went into the Toilet After Spygate

Oh, you Patriot haters. How you live to bash Belichick and Brady. When you heard about that nasty little videotaping incident at the Meadowlands vs. the Jets in 2007, it must've been just like Christmas morning!

At some point during the seven seasons since that day in New Jersey, some BillBasher(s) have struck upon a series of cute soundbites that the rest of you have picked up on and parroted endlessly:



And so on. You get the idea.

Quite predictably, although 500 million of you have dutifully repeated these "stats", exactly NONE of you have thought to question the numbers one bit. And why would you? You hate the New England Patriots, you'll take any pathetic excuse for a criticism of them, and this 0-2 crap sounds pretty good.

Before we get to the fun part, let's review some basic facts. I'm quite sure that most of you can't explain what Spygate actually is, except that "The Patriots cheeeeeeeeea-ted!" Some of you probably think that Bill Belichick slapped on a ski mask, broke into Eric Mangini's hotel room and stole his playbook while he was busy watching Nympho Nurses 14. So a few points:

  1. The NFL prohibits videotaping of an opponent's offensive or defensive signals during a game. A memo was sent out to all teams on September 6, 2006, clarifying this rule. Bill Belichick, thinking he had found some fine print in another section of the rulebook that permitted him to continue videotaping, went right on doing so, to his unending detriment. 
  2. The only thing Belichick was doing--and the only thing anyone has accused him of--is recording his opponents' defensive signals. The idea is, if a defense is obtuse enough not to change their signals frequently, the offense could analyze the videotape later, and eventually figure out that, for example, when the defensive coach puts his right hand on his head, the defense will be a cover-2. With this information in hand, the offense could call a certain play that works well against a cover-2. 
  3. This videotaped "signal stealing" has been going on since the 1980s, and coaches wised up to it long ago. Most of them change their defensive signals often, sometimes even during a game, so that the information is usually not too useful. So why did Bill do it? Presumably, he did so on the off chance that a team wouldn't change their signals, and he'd get lucky enough to get a big gainer or two. Every little bit helps, but no coach or NFL insider with any amount of experience pretends that videotaping provides a significant advantage. However, I understand that you're skeptical, and I need to prove my case.

So, for those of you who actually have a cluster of functioning brain cells, what your argument is saying, whether you understand it or not, is this:

A.    After the Patriots got caught videotaping in week 1 of 2007, they were no longer able to steal their opponents' defensive signals;
B.    Because they were no longer able to steal their opponents' defensive signals, their offense was less productive;
C.    Because their offense was less productive, they lost more games, including Super Bowls.

Read this next part carefully, because it's important.

The only way for your theory to work, the only way you can smear the Patriots with the Spygate slime that you so desperately want to smother them with, is if you can prove item B above. If the videotaping was helping the Patriots, if it was the crucial tool you say it was, then there should be a sharp decline in the team's offensive numbers after the 2006 season, and this dropoff ought to be as obvious as Kim Kardashian's caboose. If there was no dropoff, then the videotaping provided no significant advantage, and this whole thing is equivalent to running a yellow light.

If, for example, we were to calculate the Patriots' offensive production before and after Spygate, we ought to see huge decreases in all the major offensive categories. There should be negative numbers all over the place. Right?


Oops. Looks like your theory just went up in a haze of Cheech and Chong smoke!

How do you like that? Not only did the Patriots' offensive numbers not go down after Spygate; they actually went up! Shutting off those videocameras seems to have had a real positive impact on the team's numbers. Funny, right?

"But what about the Won-Lost records?" You are asking. "What about the Super Bowls?"

Sigh. As Frank Rizzo once said, "Do you have corn cobs between your ears?" 

Go back and review the "Read this next part carefully" section above. I'll wait.

Following me now?

Yes, I'm aware that the Patriots under Belichick lost zero playoff games before Spygate, and eight afterwards. That included two Super Bowls. But mere losses don't prove your theory. Teams lose for all sorts of reasons. There are numerous reasons why the Patriots lost the games they did, but "Dropoff in offensive production" is not one of them; except for minuscule decreases in postseason passer rating and completion percentage, New England's offense actually improved after Spygate! So, if you're going to keep harping on this crap, you're now going to have to explain to the world how it could be that stopping the videotaping of opponents' defensive signals somehow helped the offense--and simultaneously made the New England Patriots lose games. Good luck. 

This whole episode is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in America today, not just in football, but in life overall. We live in the Age of Information, an unprecedented time in which you can look up most anything you want without even getting out of bed, and most of you can't even be bothered to do that. You'd rather log on to Facebook or Twitter, copying and pasting words that sound good, like the mindless, cackling automatons that you are.

I weep for the future.