Friday, September 23, 2005

A Loser Picking Winners, Week 3

I don't know if it's because I've had about 20 minutes sleep the past four days or maybe CPW is actually having an impact (yeah right), but the Pittsburgh papers have been much less sucky this week. As Eric points out in the comments, Joe Starkey's look at the Patriots is actually -- gasp! -- interesting. So even though Joe Bendel Rob Rossi decided to write two stories in one when he described th Texans as the Titans (and yes, the Tribune-Review has yet to fix the mistake, even though it was Monday), this still might be one of the least harmful sports writing weeks in CPW's short history.

And by the way, even though Joe Bendel didn't write this latest masterpiece, I still have him dead last among all Pittsburgh writers in my informal rankings for his uncanny ability to not only be extremely boring, but also uninformative while managing to misspell two or three words a story. I'll informally update the rankings as the season progresses.

... I finally got a chance to see Comcast's ten minute replay of the Texans-Steelers highlights since I had to watch the actual game at a sports bar because it wasn't shown locally. (And as I write this, I can only think that if I'm a Texans fan living in Houston, I probably don't want it shown locally there either, given how bad that team is.) Maybe the funniest play of the entire day was how Troy Polamalu went about getting his first sack. Before the snap he was on the line of scrimmage looking like he might blitz. When the ball was snapped, he turned his back to the offensive line, as if to drop into coverage, then did a 360 on his way to running right past a discombobulated right guard and throwing David Carr to the ground.

When I saw it live I just figured it was a case of Troy just doing something crazy (you know, Troy being Troy). But actually, he has a method to his madness, and perhaps most amazingly, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review had a story on it.

(And it was even written by Joe Bendel. Yep, that Joe Bendel. Okey doke, he just moved up one spot in the informal "worst sportswriter in Pittsburgh" poll.)

Given that Troy has basically had his way with opposing offenses through two games (admittedly, they weren't great offenses), it'll be interesting to see how the Patriots try and gameplan around him. I guess one idea is to send TEs Daniel Graham and Ben Watson out on a lot of pass routes to keep him tied up in coverage. Of course that probably won't be too effective against a blitzing Polamalu with a zone defense behind him.

The other alternative is to neutralize Polamalu by keeping the tight ends in to block -- which is basically what the Ravens had to do last week with Todd Heap because the Titans were beating Anthony Wright like he stole something; that didn't work out too well either. And the other option -- the most likely option -- is that I could be wrong on both accounts because I'm full of crap. OK, let's go with that one.

... I found this story on Bill Cowher and statistics pretty amazing. He basically says that third-down conversion percentage, turnover margin and three defensive stats you won't see on are probably the most important.

Third-down conversion percentage seems like a no-brainer, but if it's so obvious why don't we hear more about it during telecasts (I'm guessing it has something to do with the fact that commentators have enough trouble remembering players' names -- say hello to the Steelers' starting running back, #39, Charlie Parker!) But the defensive stats Cowher is most interested in are (1) takeaways, (2) points, (3) minimizing big plays. And despite the official NFL statistics using yards allowed to measure overall defensive success, Cowher rightly doesn't care about it. Hmmm, sounds familiar.

... Israel has a website that breaks down all of Ben Roethlisberger's game performances by his QB rating. Here's what Israel said via the comments earlier this week:
Ben's passer rating for the year is now 153.6. It is perfect in three out of four components and a bit short only in completion percentage.

The yardage component has an extra 72 yards - ie it would still be perfect even had he had seventy-two yards fewer.
The fact that Roethlisberger can again achieve a perfect rating makes this statistic kind of suspect; it's kind of like hitting .600 for the first two games of a series, and then going 4 for 4 in the final game bumps your average up to 1.000. That said, the guy who invented it, intended it to be a measure of success over a season, not for a means of game-by-game comparisons (of course, that knowledge really has slowed up all the bobbleheads in such a hurry to tout game QB-ratings). And even with all the criticism the QB-ratings takes (like it seeming to be completely arbitrary, for example), the average fan can still understand that a rating of 100 is good and anything below 75 ain't so good. So in terms of allowing for a quick comparison of two QBs, it's not bad. This says nothing about how accurately the QB-rating is at actually measuring performance, but hey, it's a lot better than just looking at numbers like total yards, or TDs vs. INTs, or guessing (which seems to be popular among guys like Skip Bayless and Mark Madden).

Israel also quotes the following mind-boggling stat which also lends some credence to the efficacy of the QB-rating:
Have a look at the NFL passing leaders, arranged by yardage.

Ben is thirteenth (472 yards) while the leader is Carson Palmer with 617 yards. Ben has 32 attempts. The lowest number of attempts for anyone ahead of him is 60 - almost double. In fact, the lowest number for any of the top 24 is 54 attempts.

If Ben had the same yardage/attempt for twice as many attempts, he would have 944 yards - remember the leader has 617 yards and he has 74 attempts, way more than double Ben's.

Ben's yardage per attempt is out of this world - 14.75. For comparison, the best in 2004 was some guy named P. Manning, at 9.16.
Not too bad.

... Countertorque called me out after my comments on the Texans-Steelers game. Here's what I wrote:
Whatever the case, Pittsburgh is 2-0, their 3rd string RB has rushed for 100-plus yards in both games, their second year QB is 23-33 for 472 yards, four TDs and no picks, and their stable of short wideouts are finding ways to get open down the field...
And here was his reply:

Don't you believe that piece in the PFP that shows that height doesn't matter? You continue to harp on how short the WR's are, but your own book says it don't mean crap.
First of all, the guy who wrote the essay on tall receivers being overrated is an idiot. Oh right, that was me. And in case you haven't read that ground-breaking piece of research, I'll give you the highlights: Tall receiver leaves Pittsburgh for New York. Pittsburgh media and fans are concerned that the team will forget how to throw the ball down the field because their tallest receiver can best be described as "Webster's little brother." Really smart guy tests the relationship between receiver height and output and finds absolutely no correlation. (And yes, I'm the really smart guy in this fairy tale.) If you want all the details, go buy the book.

So anyway, back to Countertorque's point: why am I such a whiner about the receivers perceived lack of height? First, let me state that, like what I wrote, I believe that height is overrated -- just look at the Patriots. Second, I whine because it's how I cope. What fun would it be if I had nothing to complain about? What would I write then? So there you have it; I do like having Hines, Randle El and Cedrick as the three primary receivers, but that won't keep me from belly-aching about it. Of course, Countertorque could've been asking this question tongue-in-cheek, in which case, disregard everything I just wrote (that is, if you haven't already).

... And one more thing. The Ravens have signed a new quarterback to their practice squad and -- I'm not even kidding -- he might be the best QB on the team. Yikes.

Now, on to the picks ...

Well, last week was a little better than Week 1. I mean, it's hard to actually get any worse than 5-11 -- unless of course, if you're the 2004 San Francisco 49ers. But other than that, you'd expect to improve if for no other reason than the law of averages. Still, I'm down almost $800 so I gotsta get this thing turned around. I won't hold my breath ...
NO MIN -6.5 NO
TB GB -3.0 TB
NYG SD -6.0 SD
Season: 13 - 19
Last week: 8 - 8
Earnings to date: - $790

Week 1 picks
Week 2 picks