East Coast Offense
By Christopher Liss
RotoWire Managing Editor
The Collective Will
After Sunday's road win over the Steelers, Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said the following:
This football team is wise beyond its years. The sky's the limit. We took their punches and kept throwing ours. The collective will was great on our side.
If you want to break the NFL down into net yards per attempt or some other fancy proprietary stat, knock yourself out, but I don't think that's a comprehensive way to attack the problem of understanding it. You can analyze a team's component parts and individual talents, but how do you quantify "the collective will?" How do you know whether the whole is greater than (2007 Giants) or less than (2008 Cowboys) the sum of its parts? You can look back at the key stats after the games have been played and explain it, but backward looking explanations have limited value. How can we figure out what's going to happen next week. We need to set our fantasy lineups and win our office pools. How do we figure out which team will muster the collective will to outperform expectations set by past performance?
I honestly don't know. But I do know that teams don't simply play the way you think they will based on the last week's or last month's stats. And sometimes you can get a glimpse of the collective will. For example, while most of you were probably riveted to Game 7 of the ALCS, I was watching the bitter end of the Seahawks-Bucs game, hoping that Seattle wouldn't put the knife in my back with the backdoor cover. (They did). But in watching that game, I noticed something - the Seahawks, down 17, didn't mail it in. They showed good collective will. When the Week 8 lines came out, and they were getting five in San Francisco, they were a no brainer.
But it's also easy to read too much into the "collective will" angle. I was sure the Chiefs (after a decent Week 1 showing against New England) would crush the Raiders at Arrowhead in Week 2 because I'd never seen a team play as half-assed as Oakland did in front of a national audience on Monday night. Of course, the Raiders blew them out. It's not something you can be sure of, but it's a huge factor in the NFL, and to be wedded to the stats without acknowledging it will have you tearing your hair out on Sundays.
Incidentally, I don't want to knock the stats guys too much. Sometimes, delving into the stats reveals what past performance really means, and where to set expectations. Some teams have been unlucky early on, and are better than their records indicate, and getting a handle on a truer measure of past performance is important to establish a decent baseline. Just know that the baseline will change unpredictably over time, and perhaps the biggest part of that is whether the individual players come together or fall apart, i.e., the measure of their collective will.
I complain about bad beats against the spread plenty. Most of you probably remember the Week 5 disaster between the Texans and Colts where an inaptly named Sage Rosenfels temporarily forgot what solar system he was in and destroyed a sure cover. The only beat I ever took worse than that was probably the worst one in NFL history. I had Cleveland +5.5 against Chicago in this game. But the karmic scales tilted back in my favor last week in the Eagles-Falcons contest when a phantom muffed punt couldn't be overturned because Atlanta was out of challenges (and it was just outside of two minutes left in the fourth quarter, so the booth review hadn't kicked in yet). Two plays later, Brian Westbrook, just trying to get a first down and run out the clock, broke free for a spread-clinching 39-yard touchdown. I probably should feel bad about it, but I don't.
Why You Should Be Wary of Matchups - Part II
Coming into Monday night, the Colts were one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, and the Titans boasted one of the league's best rushing attacks. So you'd think that Chris Johnson and LenDale White were great plays against that soft Indy defense. While both backs were productive fantasy wise (thanks to two short plunges by White and a quasi-garbage-time scamper by Johnson), Tennessee averaged just 3.0 yards per carry. How was that possible? Because if you know that the Titans have an advantage on the ground, then surely Tony Dungy knows it. And so the Colts made an adjustment and stacked the box, challenging Kerry Collins and his below average receivers to beat them. And to Jeff Fisher/Mike Heimerdinger's credit, they called 37 pass plays and just 29 runs because the Titans also had to adjust. The NFL is a league of adjustments which is why sometimes playing the matchups doesn't always work out how we might expect.
Roger Goodell is Sissifying the NFL
Maybe Goodell's done a good job on the off-field discipline side, but the on field stuff is a major mistake. Within a few minutes, I saw Giants saftey Kenny Phillips get flagged for putting a shoulder-first clean (and devastating) hit on Mewelde Moore, and then a Texans defender got flagged for barely hitting T.J. Houshmandzadeh while he was on the ground (he had not been previously touched and could have gotten up and run with the ball). Then there are the fines on Hines Ward for hits for which he wasn't even flagged!
I'm aware that these are human beings out there, and their safety is important. Improve the quality of the helmets, flag legitimate spearing with the helmet and blatantly late hits. But taking the violence out of tackle football is not an option because the high-speed collisions aren't some unfortunate and incidental aspect of the game - they're central and part of what makes it great.
Things to Take Away From Week 8
After J.T. O'Sullivan took three more sacks and threw a pick that was returned for a touchdown in half a game, Singletary benched him for Shaun Hill. While Hill didn't throw a pick, he did take two more sacks. It's still worth starting opposing defenses against the Niners as Mike Martz just refuses to protect his quarterbacks. (At least they get a break during the bye week).
Beating the Book
The Dolphins covered and won outright as we predicted last week, putting us at 7-1 in forum. We're 65-46-5 overall.
Jets +5.5 at Bills
We sold the Bills high last week after their win against San Diego, and now we'll buy them back again low after their loss to Miami. Brett Favre looks more like the erratic version of two and three years ago than the Hall-of-Fame one we saw last season. Expect Buffalo to bounce back and win easily.
Bills 30 - 13
We were 6-10 in this forum last year, but 127-120 on the season overall. From 1999-2007 we're 1184-1018 (53.8%, not including ties).
The full article comes out on Thursday morning.
Surviving Week 9
We squeaked by with the Jets last week, and we're not proud of it. Our second choice, the Texans, won easily.
This week, we'd probably take the Bears hosting Detroit, but we're a bit nervous about it - Detroit's played better of late, and this is a division rivalry. Our second choice is probably the Bucs, though we don't like them on the road in Arrowhead all that much, either. The Bills, despite much smaller Vegas odds, are a close third. We give the Bears an 82 percent chance to win this game, and reserve the right to change our mind on Thursday when the full article comes out.
Article first appeared 10/29/08