Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Don't Jump

People, in general, are crazy. There's really no other way to say it. Now that the Steelers' season hangs in the balance, people are jumping ship faster than Willie Parker can say "no-yard gain." And for those remaining on the Titanic -- er, Steelers bandwagon -- a large majority of them have taken to blaming any and everything within a 10-mile radius of Heinz Field for being part of the problem. Offense line? Guilty! Running backs? Guilty! Big Ben's weak knee ligaments? Guilty! Plaxico Burress? Guilty! Plaxico Burress signing with the Giants? Guilty!

OK, you get the picture. It's not rational, but that's why they're called fanatics (or crappy sportswriters) and not, say, neutral observers of social phenomenon (also known as Dr. Phil). And look, I don't blame people for being passionate.

(In fact, that's one of the things that's great about sports: it brings together people from all walks even if every other facet of their lives are very different. But since I'm not writing a sociology of sports paper here ...)

But passion is no excuse for making really dopey comments or observations. (And before I go on, let me say that I'm 100% to blame for even knowing this stuff. I get perverse pleasure out of reading Steelers' message boards, fan sites, and local newspaper accounts after especially brutal losses. And given how the last three weeks have unfolded, it's been a slow-motion train wreck gold mine.) I'm all for questioning why coaches and players -- right or wrong -- do what they do. Without that, I'd have even less to talk about. What I find particularly annoying however, are people who complain about everything without offering any reason other than "because." (Which, by the way, works great if you're talking to a two-year-old, but becomes less effective the older your audience gets ... unless you listen to Mark Madden, then it might actually be more effective.)

I do have a point with all of this bluster: the latest criticism of the Steelers' woes -- that the offense misses Plaxico Burress as a downfield threat and in a word, Randle El sucks -- is somewhate misguided. I've been hearing some form of this story for most of the season and I had finally decided to see if any of it was true. So, let's see what we got (And yes, you have to click on this image of a spreadsheet because I was too lazy to make it into a table.):

In the 11 games Burress started in 2004, he averaged 1.18 catches per game of at least 20 yards. This season, Randle El is only averaging 0.58. When looking at catches of 40 yards or more, in 2004, Burress averaged 0.36 catches per game while this season Randle El is averaging 0.25. When looking at both #2 and #3 receivers together, in 2004, Burress and Randle El combined for 1.81 catches of at least 20 yards, and 0.36 catches of at least 40 yards per game. This season, Randle El and Wilson have combined for 1.17 catches of at least 20 yards, and 0.50 catches of at least 40 yards per game. Huh. So as far as downfield threats go, Plax averaged a 40-plus yard reception once every three games or so in 2004, and Randle El is averaging one every four games this season. The only difference is that in 2005, Wilson is actually more of a downfield threat than Randle El was last season, implying that the Steelers haven't had any dropoff at all in their ability to throw the ball down the field since Plax left for New York. But just for the sake of completeness, let's look at per reception, and percent of total stats.

In 2004, 37% of Burress's receptions went for 20 or more yards, and 23% of Randle El's did. In 2005, 24% of Randle El's (now the #2 receiver) have gone for more than 20 yards, and 35% of Wilson's have. Hmmm. Not much difference when looking at the second and third receivers with and without Plax. And the differences actually favor Randle El and Wilson (compared to Burress and Randle El) when you talk about passes of 40 yards or more.

In the % of Total column, in 2004, Burress accounted for a third of all passes of at least 20 yards, while Randle El was responsible for 25%. This season, Randle El and Wilson each account for 27% of all catches of at least 20 yards. In 2004, two-thirds of all catches greater than 40 yards went to Burress (and none to Randle El). This season, Randle El and Wilson each make up 38% of all catches of at least 40 yards. Once again, not a big difference. And it's probably worth considering that Heath Miller guy. His per reception numbers don't fare very well compared to Tuman, but that's only because Tuman averaged less than 10 catches a season from 2002-04. But his per game, and % of total stats are pretty revealing. Miller accounts for 19% of all catches greater than 20 yards, while Tuman only made up 5% last year (and if you count Riemersma's one 20-plus yard catch it shoots up to 7%).

Jeez, these last few paragraphs read like the phonebook. Alright, you get the picture. In the 15 minutes it took me to throw together these numbers and do a little adding and subtracting, Bouchette probably wrote three baseless columns, and a couple of Steelers' fans jumped to their death because they miss Plaxico. So my advice to them is this: don't let these numbers get in the way of you making inane arguments, except when it leads to you jumping off things that might kill you. (/getting off soapbox)

P.S. In the spirit of fairness, I should throw out there that these numbers only look at the #2 and #3 WRs as "downfield threats" It says nothing about their abilities to run other routes. (And when I say "numbers", I'm not talking about anything complicated here -- just sums and averages; but the point of this little exercise was just to get an idea of what the "numbers" looked like, even if just on the surface.) DPAR tends to agree that Randle El ain't the receiver Plax was, and that's probably worth discussing. But if the argument is that Ben has nobody to throw the ball deep to, then that's something entirely different (see above).

Royale CPW with Cheese
As long as I'm making fun of people, just go ahead and file this under the heading, "Now you're just begging."

Ed Bouchette keeps fanning the flames on a story that continues to make him look like even more of a schmuck than normal. Dude, a little advice: Let it go. We get it. You think, because Ed Werder reported it, that the Colts pipe crowd noise through the PA system. Understood. And hey, it might even be true. But honestly, doesn't there have to be a more important story to write than this one?

(We can add this to the Evidence Warehouse.
"Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio added his voice to the growing list of complainants contending that the Indianapolis Colts are illegally enhancing crowd noise for their games in the RCA Dome.

An item on, the team's official Web site, noted yesterday that Del Rio had complained about piped-in crowd noise internally but did not say anything publicly until now.

"They've done it for a long time," Del Rio said.

He credited media reports last week for bringing it out in the open."

"Maybe this will end it," Del Rio said."
By the way, if Bouchette wants to opine on why the Steelers stink, fine. Just make it an editorial. As it stands, he's writing articles based mostly on what he thinks, and minimally on facts that might back it up, and the only insight offered is Bouchette's inability to do any interesting reporting. At least if I know it's an editorial going in, I can approach it the same way I would a Ron Cook or Bob Smizik column.