Thursday, September 08, 2005

Lee, Quincy, Ced & Ed

Well, Lee Mays lasted all of three days on the final roster only to get cut for perennial underachiever, Quincy Morgan. Still, my initial reaction to the signing was a positive one, if for no other reason than Mays, who could be the nicest guy in the world, had trouble running routes and catching passes, while Morgan had a really good 2002 season that at least gives hope to Steelers fans who've had to watch the 2005 preseason passing game with their collective mouths agape.

The signing also makes people forget the fact that less than a week ago fourth-round pick Fred Gibson got his pink slip. Apparently, learning the playbook, running correct routes, and not being accused of "running away from passes" are all important when trying to make a professional football team.

So going forward, it looks like the receiving corp will be some combination of Hines, Randle El, Wilson, Morgan, Morey and Washington. And depending on how fast Morgan picks things up, he could see some playing time this week against the Titans. And if the 2004 season -- and 2005 preseason -- is any guide, Roethlisberger will probably look for Morgan a lot. He made no secret last season that he liked throwing Plaxico the ball, and he looked Mays' maybe too frequently the past month. It's hard not to think that Morgan will be a substantial upgrade over Mays (and I hope he is ... god, I hope he is) -- I mean, in four seasons Mays has 11 career receptions -- but the numbers actually don't see Morgan being anything more than an adequate fourth option (which admittedly is an upgrade over the less than adequate Mays), but probably never amounting to what the Browns had envisioned when they took him in the second round back in 2001. I really hope I'm wrong, but to date, Morgan has been average at best:
Player Yr    DPAR  DVOA  Passes Yards TD Catch%
Mays 2004 -1.7 -26.3% 23 137 0 39%
Morgan 2004 -3.3 -21.7% 68 404 4 46%
Morgan 2003 -3.6 -22.3% 80 509 6 49%
Morgan 2002 10.6 0.5% 97 964 7 58%
Morgan 2001 -10.3 -37.5% 72 432 2 42%
OK, if you can get over the non-traditional stats above, it's pretty tough not to be unimpressed with Morgan's career, save a slightly above-average 2001 season. The important thing to know is that negative values for DPAR and DVOA are bad and positive values are good (for a quick explanation, DPAR tells you how much better a player is when compared to the average replacement player, and DVOA, tells you how much better a player performed under certain conditions -- like 3rd and 8 -- when compared to every other WR under the same circumstances).

Mays only has data for 2004 because he never caught more than 10 passes in a season until last year, but both players certainly wouldn't be confused with Marvin Harrison, or even Plaxico Burress anytime soon. Despite Morgan's struggles, he's still an upgrade over Mays, and you don't need stats to tell you that. He's always had better hands, and he's actually gotten into the end zone at a pretty good rate (actually, you do need stats to tell you that since I'm looking right at the "TD" and "Catch%" columns in the table above). He'll be a better reciever than Mays, but I just don't think he'll be the missing piece to the receiving corps that makes people forget about the atrocious preseason passing game.

I still hope the guy has the best year of his career in 2005, but based on his past performance, it seems he's more likely to be just average. But like I said, he's still an upgrade over Mays, so it's a start. Lost in all of this however, is Nate Washington. Is he now the sixth wideout? Can Morey actually not be last on the depth chart at wide receiver? These are questions worth asking.

A couple of days ago Israel left this comment:
Also, the release of Russell Stuvaints bothers me very much. Especially when you consider that Chris Hope - who hasn't really proven himself yet - will be a free agent next year and doesn't seem to be targeted for an extension. What are they planning - Logan? or Carter? or a 2006 draft pick? They have Stuvaints and they know he can play.
Apparently Bill Cowher agrees because he said the hardest cut he had to make was Stuvaints. From his press conference, it sounds like the Steelers liked Carter's ability in pass coverage a little more than Stuvaints, even though Carter is about a foot shorter than Gary Coleman.

When Pittsburgh signed Casey Hampton a few weeks ago, they were also in talks with the other players who are in the last year of their contracts: Casey Hampton, Verron Haynes, Chris Hope, Brett Keisel, Lee Mays, Antwaan Randle El, Deshea Townsend, Jerame Tuman and Kimo von Oelhoffen. At the time there were reports that Hope's demands were a little silly, but that could simply be the case of his agent not wanting to get low-balled by the Steelers from the get-go. Ed Bouchette's inept articles aside (see his gem on the Mike Logan/Chris Hope position battle), Hope is an important part of this defense, since he's basically the last man back while Polamalu runs crazy all over the field. And depending on how things unfold, Cowher hasn't ruled out bringing Stuvaints back. We'll see. Whatever happens, this is a much better position for the Steelers' secondary than, say, wondering how the hell this team's going to stop opposing wide receivers when your two cornerbacks are DeWayne Washington and Chad Scott.

Monday, JC left a comment regarding all my pontificating about Cedrick Wilson filling the shoes of Plaxico Burress:
I appreciate that in the context of height, Wilson's production in the red zone might, in fact as you say, be "a little better" than Burress'. But isn't that dubious praise at best? While I'd be curious to see the numbers to which you're referring, I'd be more interest in ratios rather than aggregate totals, that is to say, which WR did what with their opportunities. Because as we know, the Steelers pound it up inside. Burress' contribution was an extension of that (i.e., 40-yard TDs off play-action with 9 in the box like early in the 2nd Ravens game of 2004).
OK, I hesitate to pull the nerd card, but in order to provide some support for my argument, I'm going to have to bust out some statistics. In one of the best books written this century, there was an essay on the relationship between wide receiver height and their output (specifically their DPAR). Overall, Wilson had a similar DPAR to Burress (15.8 to 20.5), but he was more effective in the red zone (3.7 to 3.1) and on possessions starting inside the Steelers' own 20-yard line (1.6 to 1.3). And you have to remember that all of this happened while Wilson was in San Francisco -- a team that probably would've missed the Arena League playoffs in 2004. JC also had a second part to his question:
Broadening out the statistical comparison between Plax and Ced, there is none. Literally. Will Wilson pan out? Sure, that's possible. But there's simply no empirical evidence, much less statistical that Wilson will ever accomplish in the NFL what Burress did as the perfect complement to Ward within the Steelers offense -- that being a player capable of leading the NFL in YPC. Ed Bouchette wrote about this WR corps being so "versatile" back in May. I don't know about you, but after paying closer attention to the WRs than anything else with this team this summer, "versatility" is just about the last word that comes to mind.
But wait! There is empirical statistical evidence that Wilson can provide for Ward what Burress did. Again referring to the book, and the same essay I mentioned above, after looking at all the No. 1 and No. 2 receivers in the league, there was no correlation between the difference in height between starting wideouts and their average DPAR. Or in English: wide receiver height is overrated -- even when you're talking about the effect big wideouts (Plax, for example) have on helping their teammates get more passes (Hello Hines Ward). The problem is that Randy Moss has ruined it for all the other big wideouts who could mature into good players. Guys like David Terrell or Rod Gardner (or how about a recent fourth-round draft pick just let go?) are perfect examples of big receivers who should dominate, but for some reason or other they don't. And not only do they not dominate, they don't even cause defensive coordinators to game plan against them enough to help their shorter, shiftier teammates get more receptions. So that's why I'm not worried about Ced.

JC also mentions Ed Bouchette above, but Ed's on his own. Especially after I got a CPW email from reader D (D's responses are in blue):
"Some questionable listings are questionable, and then some are questionable listings."

- Ed Bouchette

What in the world is this? Let me explain for poor Ed. This is his attempt at “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood”, but it just doesn’t work. I get what he was trying to say because he developed his point further in the next few paragraphs. BUT, if you are going to try to be witty by use of a complex-sounding sentence that is supposed to make you read it a couple of times until you get it, you at least have to ensure that it makes sense. Intellectual humor just doesn’t work without the intellect.
(Channeling Nelson Muntz) Ha ha! But it gets better because about a 30 minutes later reader D sent me another CPW-inspired email:
Ok, now you got me started. Here’s another one, this time from Joe Bendel, talking about the Quincy Morgan acquisition ...

"His specialty is the deep ball, having caught passes that covered 53, 46, 29 and 21 yards last season. He can also return kicks, with an average of 24.3 per return on 11 career kickoffs."

11 career kickoff returns in 4 years??? Please tell me how that is worthy of mention. Any WR and most RB’s or D-backs can return kickoffs, and the fact that Quincy Morgan was specially selected to return a whopping 11 kickoffs in his 4 years in the league does nothing to give me confidence in his return abilities. That is the equivalent of being a return guy for 3 games over 4 years (and that’s being generous). The Steelers have plenty of guys who can and will return kickoffs this year, so he obviously won’t be needed to do kickoffs. The deep ball stat was a good one, but don’t follow it up and waste my time with meaningless facts, Joe.
All very good points ... unless apparently, if you're an editor for the local paper. It's this kind of sports writing that drives me bonkers. I'm just glad I'm not the only one that's tired of ready silly stuff like this. Thanks to DH for the heads-up.

And finally, because "A Loser Picking Winners" was so wildly popular last season, I'm going to bring my prognosticatory skills back for 2005. And just in case you missed last season's exciting conclusion, let me refresh your memory:
Well, apparently it's Super Bowl week, and after 20 weeks of substandard picks, we're down to this -- the Pats and the Eagles. And even though I finished the season above .500 with my picks, I'm still in the hole over six large (yeah, I just watched "Rounders" again last week). Knowing that, I'm implementing my "when all else fails, panic" betting strategy. Which means that with only one game to go, I'm betting the (virtual) house -- that's right (in the voice of Dr. Evil): One million dollars! And if I win, I promise I won't change -- I'll be the exact same person I was before I won the pretend million bucks.
That's right, I'm rich. OK, back on earth, here's all you need to know for 2005: I'll always pick the Steelers to cover. It's not rational, but as a Steelers fan I just don't feel right about wanting them to win "but by at least four points." I'll pick the Raiders / Pats game today, and pick all other games on Fridays (except for Thanksgiving, of course). And finally, just in case you need a reminder, here's what I wrote during Week 1 of the picks last season:
And one other note: if you're dopey enough to use these picks for monetary gain, you deserve to lose your shirt. If you want some indication about what kind of luck I have, consider this: I'm the same guy who hit his first little league home run only to be called out because I missed home plate. So you've been warned.
So knowing all that, here's the pick:
OAK NE -7.5 NE