Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Hatchet Jobs, Pats Fans & the NBA

Chris Harlan must be trying to break the monopoly Mark Madden has on writing columns filled with half-truths and quotes taken out of context (instead of "monopoly," I was initially going to write "strangle-hold," but that would've led to three or four donut jokes, so I refrained -- or at least tried to). In Monday's Beaver County Times Harlan penned a piece accusing Plaxico Burress of wanting (gasp!) money and fame. Specifically, he states the following as if it were written in stone somewhere:
The unrestricted free agent wants the league-wide attention that comes with being an elite wide receiver. He wants to be revered as much as Terrell Owens and Randy Moss. Or maybe even Bengals receiver Chad Johnson.

He feels he's just as good. And he's more than ready to leave town to prove that.
Um, OK. In the five-odd years Plax has been a Steeler, I've grown accustomed to seeing stories like this, but they're usually in the Post-Gazette or Tribune-Review and written by guys named Cook, Smizik, Starkey or Prisuta. Anyway, I was interested to see how Harlan would logically pull this article together. Well, he stumbles out of the gate:
In Burress' mind, the biggest difference between them and him is that they see more passes. A lot more passes. And, statistically, he's right.

Johnson had 180 passes thrown his direction this season, an average slightly more than 11 per game. Owens and Moss each averaged nine.

On average, Burress saw six passes during each of his 11 games. He said that's not enough to feel comfortable; a seemingly poor excuse for dropped passes until you see Johnson was once thrown 21 passes during a single game.

...How was he supposed to achieve Owens-like numbers if he's getting a third less passes? The Steelers former first-round draft pick would seem to have a point.

But then consider how many passes Burress doesn't catch.

When he missed a touchdown pass during the AFC Championship Game, no one should have been surprised. Look statistically, and you'll see he'd been doing that all season.

Burress caught little more than half the passes thrown his direction, ranking him beneath most Pro Bowl receivers

He caught 35 of the 86 passes - 51.5 percent - leaving him well behind the completion percentages achieved by pass-catchers Owens, Torry Holt, Javon Walker, Muhsin Muhammad, Isaac Bruce and teammate Hines Ward. That's just naming a few.

...Not surprising, all six finished with more than 1,000 yards receiving.
That's it? That's all Harlan's got on Burress -- that he caught slightly more than half the passes thrown in his direction? Ugh. This is just dumb -- really dumb; and that's the nicest thing I could think to say. After reading this, most numbnuts who watched half a game could probably figure out that using "passes thrown to a receiver" is a silly way to determine how effective the receiver was at catching passes. Furthermore, if you're Harlan, you might want to mention that stuff like QB accuracy, and average yards-per-catch are also probably important determinants in passes a WR catches.

That said, I spent all of five minutes looking up some numbers on, and of the WR's mentioned above, guess which one has the highest yards-per-catch (I'll give you six guesses)? Plax is number one. By a lot. (specifically, T.O. was at 15.6 ypc, Torry Holt -14.6, Javon Walker - 15.5, Mushin Muhammad -15.1, Isaac Bruce - 14.5, Hines Ward - 12.6; Plax? He averaged 19.9 yards per catch) To me that indicates (through my keen sense of deduction) that Plax is probably running routes down the field, instead of slants or short crossing patterns. And taking the precarious risk of actually thinking ahead before I write something, this also seems to imply that there's an inverse relationship between the length of the pass pattern and the chances the pass in completed. How Harlan was able to divine that, because Plax only caught roughly half the passes thrown in his direction, he's an underachiever is not quite clear.

But what I do know is that Plax had his most sure-handed season as a professional in 2004 (dropped fade pattern or not). I know Roethlisberger shattered about every rookie QB record imaginable (including completion percentage), but that doesn't mean he didn't throw some errant passes to Plax, Hines or Antwaan. And unless Plax is now being blamed for not having Inspector Gadget arms, I'm not sure how using the "number of passes thrown to a receiver" is good for anything other than trying to erroneously indict Plax for underachieving.

Of course Harlan was just getting warmed up. He went on tell why us Burress is as good as gone:
Burress has acknowledged for months that this, his fifth season with the Steelers, would probably be his last. After the AFC Championship Game was the first time he used the word "probably" but he'd been saying the same thing for weeks.

In the days leading up to their first-round playoff game with the New York Jets, Burress said he was approaching the game like it was his last with the team.

"I have to, this is a business first," Burress said. "If I'm not wary of that, then I'm not telling the truth. I wouldn't be honest with myself. It may happen. There's a good chance I won't be back."

What are the odds he would return?

"I don't know," Burress said. "You've got to ask the guys upstairs."

Does he want to come back?

To that question Burress gave no answer and walked away. If he does return next season, his statistics won't improve much - something the lanky receiver surely knows.
Harlan must've written this story 10 minutes after the AFC Championship game, and then sat on it for a week, because there have been at least three occasions I can think of since then where Steelers coaches or players have indicated how important Plax is to the Steelers, and how he's more interested in team success, than personal accolades.

Here's offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt on Friday, January 28:
Q: What did you make of Plaxico Burress being critical of the play-calling after the game, saying he wasn't involved enough?

WHISENHUNT: I think a lot of times things said right after the game, you just can't take those in any kind of context. I think what was more impressive was what he did the day after when he stood up in front of the team and said how much all those guys meant to him and how important the team was to him and how hard he worked. That means more than anything he said afterward.

Q: He comes across as selfish. Is he?

WHISENHUNT: In my time with Plax, he hasn't shown any of those qualities. We were all frustrated after that game, we're all still feeling the effects of it. I think you just have to discount what he said after the game. There were a lot of factors that were involved with that. Maybe part of it was his injury and missing some time this year. Certainly it was very impressive what he did the day after the game. I think that means more.

Q: Would you like him back?

WHISENHUNT: Based on my time, as a coordinator with Plax, yes, I'd like him back. I think he did a good job. He worked his rear end off the whole year, especially in training camp. He made a lot of plays for us earlier in the season. He's shown nothing but class and work ethic, and I think a function of that is some of the guys he's around. That's a credit to the team.
And here's Cowher at his press conference following the AFC Championship game:
Q: What's the situation with Plaxico Burress?

COWHER: I talked to Plax yesterday and we had a good conversation. I have been with him for five years, and I like Plax. I have watched him from first year to the fifth year. I think that he has gotten better as a player, I think the best is yet ahead of them. I think he's matured as a person, work ethic, and his approach to the game. Those are the things that we talked about. Sometimes in this business you develop, -- yeah they are your players -- but I respect these guys as people and you get to know each one a little bit differently. Like I told him I said, I wish he would have at least called me last year in the off-season. I said I understand what you were doing, I didn't agree with it, but just call me and we kind of laughed about it. I don't know what will take place. I didn't want to get into it at least at this point. We'll have time. We'll talk and we'll see what we can do, maybe what he wants to do, but for me to sit there and ask him that question after what we went through with that meeting and close as it was to this game. I think it's important that everybody takes a chance to step back and put things in its proper perspective. If that was the last time I talk to him, I wanted him to know how I felt. I don't know. Time will tell.

Q: Is Plaxico Burress misunderstood?

COWHER: I don't misunderstand him. We have open-minded communications. I told you, I like Plax.
Finally, here's what Ben had to say last week:
I love Plax to death," Roethlisberger said yesterday after a season-ending meeting with coach Bill Cowher at the team's South Side office complex. "Plax is very misunderstood. A lot of people out there don't realize how great of a guy he is, how great of a teammate he is.

"Plax is a very good friend of mine. We live pretty close to each other. I hope he's back. I keep telling him over and over, I want him back more than anything."
But hey, don't take their word for it. Apparently Harlan is the only one who really understands Plax. Look, I don't know what will happen with Burress. Maybe he won't be back; but if that turns out to be the case, it'll have nothing to do with Harlan's silly column. What a dope.

Bill Simmons is blogging from Jacksonville, and while most of his stuff from days 1 and 2 aren't remotely related to the actual game (and that's probably a good thing; if I hear one more story about T.O. or the Pats not getting any respect I might actually stab myself with the pins I forgot to use on my Tom Brady voodoo doll), he does mention something that anti non-Pats fan have been grumbling to themselves since about 2001:
"...we were discussing New England's chances on Sunday, I mentioned how I was worried that the Patriots were turning into the Yankees of football, how the rest of the country was starting to root against them. This was new ground for me. Even when the Celtics were winning in the '80s, more people were rooting for them than normal because of Bird, and because of the way they played. Even though the Patriots are pretty likable as far as winning teams go -- hard-working, unassuming, tight-lipped, resilient all that stuff -- there's always a natural backlash against a team that keeps winning."
Yeah, um, that's not exactly it. I don't think anyone (well, at least I don't) begrudges the Pats for working hard and being tight-lipped. I think people resent the Pats because their fans are turning into Yankees fans. There's a difference. A very big difference. Look, I realize that Bill Belichick is really, really good at what he does, and Tom Brady might be the best quarterback on the planet. And I don't like the fact that they've spanked the Steelers in three of the last four meetings, but it doesn't change my perception of them as a great football team. But I also recognize that Pats fans are, for the most part, insufferable. And I'm not complaining (I'd probably be the same way if the Steelers won two of the last three Super Bowls and were primed to win a third), it's just eerily similar to the same rants you'd hear from Yankees fans for the last 86 years.

And I think part of the reason that people didn't really hate the Celtics in the 1980's was because (a) fans in general were seemingly less abrasive then than they are now, and (b) people had to split their hatred between the Celtics and the Lakers. And when given the choice, how many people could hate K.C. Jones over Pat Riley (although a case could be made for Danny Ainge). That's like hating Ricardo Tubbs over Sonny Crockett.

I found this Wilmington Star article over at the College Basketball Blog, and in this story about Sean May (bugmenot required), he hints that this season might not be his last as an amateur:
"... May's pro stock will continue rising, which could force a decision on his future this spring. But May doesn't feel any pressure to jump to the NBA if he's not ready. He said continuing to develop his body is a primary goal, and suggested the NBA will wait another year.

"For me, it takes a certain amount of more time (to develop)," he said. "A lot of guys can get better while sitting, but for me I think I need to be playing consistently all the time. So playing another year of college won't hurt me at all."
That means the center of the Mays' college basketball universe could continue to be Carolina blue for another year."
Sounds good to me. What's harder to believe (either because this is the first I'm hearing of it, or the fact that it actually happened) is Mike Davis' recruiting philosophy concerning May, who grew up a few miles from IU's campus:
"It was a strange process," May said Monday during an interview. "(Indiana) Coach (Mike) Davis and I knew what needed to happen for me to go to Indiana, and for some reason it didn't happen. He didn't want it to happen and I ended up coming here (UNC)."

May said Davis never offered a scholarship, sent a letter or even called. May said IU mistakenly assumed he'd sign so they made no effort. So May decided to forge his own legacy, trading his father's Indiana crimson for Tar Heel blue.
Hmmm. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that Indiana is currently 9-9 (or maybe not -- I follow Big Ten basketball just about as closely as I follow rythmic gymnastics).

Oh yeah, if you're interested in what May listens to on his iPod, you can find it here.