Friday, August 22, 2008


Some Friday links for your enjoyment….

Tim MacMahon strikes gold – with a chat with Football Prospectus

1. Roy Williams' coverage ability (or lack thereof) is always a hot topic in Dallas. What do your numbers indicate about Williams' performance in coverage over the last few years?

Our numbers, in this case, back up what the naked eye sees; Roy Williams has a target on his back, and it's there for a reason. Williams was targeted with 59 passes last year, the second-most of any safety in the league. Those passes "succeeded" (our measure for tracking whether the pass did enough to contribute towards earning a first down) 63% of the time; therefore, Williams had a 37% success rate, which was 72nd amongst all safeties. Remember that there's only 64 starting safeties in the league and, well, it wasn't a pretty year for Roy.

2. Adam "Pacman" Jones arrived here with a lot of talk about his Pro Bowl potential. How close was he to being an elite cornerback for the Titans?

He wasn't close. He already was one. Jones often lined up in man coverage, and absolutely shut down opposing wideouts in 2006. His success rate was 63% -- that was second-best amongst all corners, and the 5.4 yards he gave up per pass were the best in the league. It's impossible to say what he'll be this year because of the year off, his obviously bizarre mental state, and the time it may take to adjust to a new system, but when his mind is right, Adam Jones is on the shortlist of best cornerbacks in football.

3. Can Tony Romo put up the same kind of numbers he did while rewriting the
franchise passing record book last season?

He's certainly capable of doing so. We were expecting some regression from Romo and the Cowboys offense in 2007 because of the third-down principle that we've discovered exists in the NFL. Without getting too deep into the gory details, what we've found is that teams whose third down performance on offense or defense exceeds their performance on first and second down tend to see that third down performance decline in subsequent years. That was true of the Cowboys in 2006, but instead of seeing their third down performance decline, instead, the Cowboys' offense improved on first and second down.

The biggest concern for Tony Romo and for the Cowboys as a whole is injury. The team has been the healthiest in football by far over the past five years, and it goes a huge way in helping to explain the team's success. If you remember the second Eagles game last year, Romo and (I believe) Andre Gurode got hurt, and although Romo stayed in the game, he really, really struggled with his mechanics and getting the ball out on time. Romo's a very talented player, but he has a risky, daredevil style and honestly, both he and the Cowboys' offense are overdue for a year full of injuries.

4. Felix Jones averaged 7.7 yards per carry, better than any major college back other than Army's Glenn Davis in the '40s. According to your research, is there a strong correlation between college yards per carry and NFL success?

Not particularly. If we look at the ten best yards per attempt for players that we've seen at the college level, it's a mix of stars (Larry Johnson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Ahman Green) and relative disappointments (Mike Rozier, J.J. Arrington, Rashaan Salaam, Damien Anderson).

The item we've seen that best correlates to NFL success is a metric we've come up with called Speed Score, which weighs a player's performance in the 40-yard-dash relative to his weight. No one doubts that Felix Jones has fantastic speed, but it was very surprising that he ran only a 4.47 at the Combine. For a guy who weighs 207 pounds, that's a 103.7 Speed Score -- the average Speed Score for first-round picks is 112. Combining that with concerns about the style of offense that Arkansas ran and its application to pro performance, and I have reservations about Jones' ability to succeed at the pro level.

5. Judging by Football Outsiders data, who is the most underrated Cowboy? Overrated?

That's a tough one. Roy Williams would be the one who's overrated. For most underrated...I'll go with Marc Colombo. He did arguably the best job of any tackle in handling Michael Strahan last year -- particularly for the first three quarters of the playoff game, while the Cowboys were aces at running to the right last year. The Cowboys were second in the league at running behind right tackle, and first in the league at running to the outside besides it.

Chill with a fine preview of the game tonight against Houston ….until the end…

With coach Wade Phillips planning on giving the starters extended playing time tonight against the Houston Texans, the Dallas Cowboys are out of excuses.
After two disappointing preseason efforts against San Diego and Denver, it’s time to put up or shut up.

The traveling training camp circus is over. The trips from Oxnard to San Diego to Oxnard to Denver are done.

It’s time for the Cowboys to show their fans what they are about in what will be their first preseason appearance at Texas Stadium.

Winning is not necessary.

Looking efficient and productive is a priority.

Here’s a look at some storylines for tonight’s game:

Dress rehearsal

The Cowboys are preparing for the Texans as if it was a regular-season game. They have a game plan on offense and defense. Quarterback Tony Romo and the first-team offense might play into the third quarter. The same holds true for the starters on defense. The increased focus resulted in some of the best practices of the preseason this week. The time is now for the Cowboys to put it all together.

More Felix Jones

With the starters likely playing into the third quarter, the Felix Jones-Marion Barber package should be unveiled for the first time. The Cowboys already have the nice change of pace by sending in the shifty Jones after Barber’s physical runs. But they will be doubly tough in the lineup together, where Barber will play the role of fullback or Jones will split out wide as a receiver.

Pacman will start

Cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones will be in the starting lineup for the first time since December 2006 when he was with the Tennessee Titans. Jones sat out the 2007 season for repeated violations of the NFL personal conduct policy. Jones has done everything right since joining the Cowboys. He has had a strong training camp and preseason. It was only a matter of time before he received a chance to run with the first team in place of rookie Mike Jenkins.

Receivers on notice

The Cowboys had concerns about their wide receiver depth before Miles Austin, who had a strong camp, was sidelined four to six weeks with a sprained MCL. With him out, the question of depth is back on the forefront. Patrick Crayton and Sam Hurd are reliable. Isaiah Stanback has the athletic ability to be a difference-maker, but he still needs development. Can he step up or will the calls for disgruntled Arizona receiver Anquan Boldin grow even stronger?

Texans’ Super Bowl

The Cowboys better be prepared for a dogfight tonight. What is just a preseason tuneup to the Cowboys is the Super Bowl to the Texans and their fans. The biggest win in the Texans’ history was the season-opening 19-10 victory over the Cowboys in 2002 at Reliant Stadium. In other words, the Cowboys better bring some emotion to go along with hopes for an efficient outing against what will be a fired-up and improved Texans team.

C’mon, Clarence. That is the most insulting final paragraph in the history of paragraphs! Houston does not treat this as the Super Bowl! That is beyond idiotic. Talk about Cowboys Homerism! They went 8-8 last season, played in the toughest division in football where every other team made the playoffs. I could see if this was Houston’s first year, but I am quite sure in the franchise’s 7th year, they are beyond a preseason game in Dallas.


What about this Peyton Manning story? ….could you imagine the guy with the 2nd longest start streak in the sport missing the opening game in his new stadium?

I talked to several people in the NFL yesterday who know things and they assure me that Peyton Manning’s knee is a huge concern for the Colts. Apparently Manning had to go through another procedure on his knee to clean things out after having his bursa sac removed last month. What is the most concerning is not the second operation (which the Colts are denying), but that they cannot control the swelling in Manning’s knee and any physical movement causes MORE swelling. Once he returns to the game, gets hit, has to place a load on the knee, and drive the ball, there can be swelling. All I know is that there is MUCH more here than meets the eye. Manning has the trainer come over to HIS home for rehab and is rarely seen. Now, I have been with some big-time quarterbacks in my career like Joe Montana and Rich Gannon and never have they rehabbed from home. I thought this was not an issue and that Manning would be back. However, after talking to my friends in the league, it’s clear that this is a HUGE concern short- and long-term for the Colts.

Football Outsiders prepares for the preseason weekend

Jamey Newberg’s Top Rangers Prospect list


The jump to AA may be the toughest in the minor leagues, but it hasn't tripped up the 20-year-old Feliz, who skipped High A altogether. He continues to strike out more than 10 batters per nine innings, has yet to allow a home run in eight AA starts, and punches up triple digits on the radar gun from time to time. Feliz threw five no-hit innings Tuesday night, improving his opponents' batting average for the year to .198.


The greatest breakthrough in the system this year, without question. In his first full season out of Wallace State Community College, Holland has lost one game in 24 starts between Low A, High A, and AA, sporting a 12-1, 2.40 record with 145 strikeouts and 36 walks in 138.2 innings. His power arsenal (featuring a fastball that sits 91-97) is playing up: Clinton opponents hit .228 off Holland, Bakersfield opponents hit .185, and Frisco opponents are hitting .156.


The youngest position player in the Texas League, Andrus hit .260 / .302 / .310 in
April, .278/.343/.22 in May, .309/.385/.397 in June, and .330/.382/.423 in July. He's stolen 49 bases and makes every play defensively. Special player.

4. MICHAEL MAIN, RHP, Low A Clinton

Sidelined with a ribcage injury for the first half of the season, the 19-year-old Main has been dominant since returning, striking out more than a batter per inning and walking only a third as many. The Midwest League is hitting just .217 off the athletic righthander, who works in the mid-90s.


Teagarden's year at the plate (.217/.331/.378 in the minors) has been less productive than his 2007 season, but he's a brilliant defender and one of the top catcher prospects in baseball, as evidenced by his selection to the Futures Game in July and Team USA as it competes in Beijing.

6. MAX RAMIREZ, C, AAA Oklahoma

If Justin Smoak hits .315/.415/.520 as a minor leaguer, he'll be on every publication's list of the best prospects in baseball. That's what Ramirez has done offensively in his five pro seasons, and he has shown this year that he's a better catcher than his reputation suggested. Great future.

7. JUSTIN SMOAK, 1B, Clinton

Power from both sides of the plate, good size, outstanding defender at first base. He'll be higher on this list in the spring. Signed minutes before last week's deadline, Smoak should never have fallen to Texas at number 11 in the draft. Perceived signability issues didn't scare the Rangers off.

8. ENGEL BELTRE, CF, Low A Clinton

The youngest position player in the Midwest League, Beltre is built like a middle infielder but throws like Josh Hamilton. Some view him as a leadoff hitter with game-changing speed (though he has alarmingly low walk rates), others think he will hit with middle-of-the-order power. A .208 hitter when Texas insisted that Boston include him with David Murphy and Kason Gabbard in the Eric Gagné trade, Beltre has hit .286 since joining the Rangers.

9. BLAKE BEAVAN, RHP, Low A Clinton

Pitching at age 19 in a league full of hitters three years older, Beaven is 9-6, 2.50 in 21 starts, walking only 1.5 batters per nine innings. Outstanding pro debut for the Irving product, whose ERA in his last nine starts is a sparkling 1.47.

10. KASEY KIKER, LHP, High A Bakersfield

Kiker, still just 20, is unfairly overlooked because of the massive influx of new talent since he arrived in 2006. Pitching against older competition in the hitter-friendly California League, the southpaw is 5-4, 4.18 with a 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, posting a 2.39 ERA in the second half.

Here is a great study on the Cred of Usain Bolt and the Jamaican Olympic team

First things first, when the issue of doping comes up, don't shoot the messenger. Rather save your bullets for Ben Johnson, Tim Montgomery, Marion Jones, Dwain Chambers, and the countless other cheats who have defrauded you (and Bolt, by association) in the past. The sport is unfortunately tainted - there are no major sprint champions in the last 30 years who have escaped suspicion, and many have been caught or confessed.

So Bolt is guilty by association, which is of course not fair. However, because it's become impossible to prove innocence, we rather default into a position of "implied guilt", and we doubt spectacular performances. Marion Jones proved that NEGATIVE test results are meaningless by passing more than 100 tests in her career, and so the fact that Bolt has passed 11 doping controls this year is almost irrelevant to the debate.

Similarly, Bolt (or any other athlete) can appeal to our consciences and human trust all they wish, but Jones, Montgomery, and the many other drug users who have been caught after forcefully denying that they ever used drugs have shown that athletes can be world-class actors too. So while Bolt may deny doping, and do so sincerely, the athletics loving public are at the point where they've seen it all before. Once bitten, twice shy, so to speak.

Now, Bolt might well go on to join the ranks of cheats, if he's ever caught. But until then, I'm prepared to go out on a limb and say that I believe Bolt is less likely to be doping than any sprinter before him. That may be naive (perhaps I want to be naive on this one, it beats cynicism), but I honestly get the perception, watching Bolt run, that his advantage lies not in the power and strength of sprinters before him, but in his co-ordination and some level of neuromuscular advantage which I must confess I can't fully pin down.

So while it is a 'bald assertion', Bolt alone doesn't arouse the same level of suspicion, partly because of his appearance, his running style, and because his prodigious talent as a junior doesn't create the same doubt one would get from the sudden emergence of a sprinter.

However, Jamaica's dominance in the sprint events doesnt' do Bolt's case any favours. Jamaica have now won EVERY SINGLE short sprint at the Beijing Games - the 100m and 200m titles for both men and women belong to Jamaicans. In fact, out of a possible 12 medals, Jamaica now own 4 golds, 2 silvers, 1 bronze. They also have the 400m hurdles champ for women, and should win the relays too. For such a tiny island to dominate to that extent is generating a great deal of suspicion, thanks to the events they happen to be winning. One argument is that the people are just "born sprinters", naturally endowed with some gene that allows them to run faster than anyone else. But then, the same gene pool has been there for decades, and Jamaica has never been this dominant. Good, yes, but not to this extent.

So I for one am dying to know what is happening in Jamaica. I'm not suggesting they're cheating, but whatever they are doing, I'd love to know, and to implement it elsewhere. At the risk of losing my scientific objectivity, I do believe it to be possible that they might be so dominant without doping. But while I think that, there's this nagging voice at the back of my mind reminding me of just how many major champions over 100m or 200m have been dopers, so why should this be any different? Success as sprinting is an automatic "flag", thanks to the exploits of Marion Jones, Ben Johnson and the like. So while it's not a specific slight on anyone (regardless of where the medals were headed after Beijing, the same debate would be in play), it's a flag that will cast even more scrutiny on Bolt's performances...Let's hope this flag denotes coaching excellence and great genes, not systematic doping.

But returning to Bolt, we have to wait out to see what his future holds. As I said, I am less sceptical of Bolt than of any other sprinting champion, and don't believe that he is doping. I may be proved incorrect (and "idiot", even, according to some), but I think there comes a point where you have to view performances with a bit less of a cynical view, until provided with reason to do otherwise.

Tomorrow’s EPL Action on TV ….

Aug 23, 2008 9:00am Tottenham Hotspur vs Sunderland FSC

Aug 23, 2008 9:00am Newcastle United vs Bolton Wanderers Setanta-Broadband

Aug 23, 2008 9:00am Liverpool vs Middlesbrough Setanta Sports USA

Aug 23, 2008 11:30am Fulham vs Arsenal FSC

Try this one – I am not very smooth yet…

The Mario Williams Show is coming to town


YT said...

Thank you, Bob. Rest assured, I and the rest of us who follow the Texans are FAR more concerned about what will happen in Pittsburgh for Week 1 than we are what will happen at Texas Stadium tonight.

Jake said...

The Texans treat every game with the Cowboys as their Superbowl, much like Red Raider to Aggie. Flame on.