Once upon a lifetime ago, I was in seminary.
Seminary and I didn't get along so well. I had a handful of truly life changing classes taught by some remarkable men. I also had a few classes that killed my soul.
One in particular required me to color code the Koine Greek texts of the Gospels. The idea was to help crystallize a theory of text criticism that would eventually help us do something or other. To be honest, it was hell. I'm not sure if I mean that ironically or not.
I resented being forced to endure long lectures about text criticism that did nothing to help me explain, learn from, or enjoy the text. Still, part of being 'a professional' (that's a topic for another day, let me tell you), was knowing and understanding things that were inherently boring and only distantly useful.
This is not an essay about seminary.
It is about football.
On Thursday, new Colts head coach Chuck Pagano waxed eloquently about the merits of "Run the ball and stop the run". I'm not going to go into all the reasons it's a terrible philosophy here. It was already ably taken apart by Paul Kuharksy last week. Last year for instance, the top 5 rushing teams by DVOA were the Saints, Pats, Panthers, Eagles and Vikings. The top run defenses were San Francisco, Chicago, Jets, Falcons and Jaguars.
- Three of the five best run teams missed the playoffs. They averaged 8.6 wins. 6 of the top 10 made the playoffs.
- Three of the five best run defenses missed the playoffs. They averaged 8.8 wins. Just 4 of the top 10 made the playoffs.
- The best passing offenses? Try Green Bay, New Orleans, New England, the Giants, and Cowboys. They averaged 11.6 wins. Both Super Bowl teams came from this group. 8 of the top 10 made the playoffs.
- The best passing defenses? Baltimore, Jets, Steelers, Lions, and Jags. Three of the five made it in. They averaged 9.4 wins. 6 of the top 10 made the playoffs. Ironically, the Jags were good at pass defense and run defense, but were DEAD LAST in passing offense, and won just 5 games.
Passing the ball and stopping the pass wins football games. I know that little experiment doesn't prove it. There are dozens of others that do. I'm just trying to illustrate what an utterly ridiculous thing it is still be asserting "run the ball and stop the run" in 2012. The game simply doesn't work that way.
It's entirely possible that Pagano was just spouting a cliche. It could be his way of saying nothing while still giving an answer. For the Colts' sake I hope it is. After all, they hired Bruce Arians to be the new OC, and he's anything but a 'run first' coach. Pagano's job is to give the Colts the best chance to win, and a 'run the ball, stop the run' philosophy won't do that.
Fans can think about football however they want.
As a fan, you can believe in "run the ball and stop the run" if that makes you happy. You can ignore advanced stats and new theories and anything you want if you just want to pop open a brew, kick back and bitch about the head coach of every team. There is not only nothing wrong with that, it's your right as a fan.
We all get to enjoy sports however we want. If you want to run a spread sheet and find hidden codes in YPA data, do it. If you want to advocate a no punt strategy and complain every time Pat McAfee takes the field, do it. If you want to hail Terry Bradshaw as a top five QB all time, you can do that too.
Do. Whatever. You. Want.
That right doesn't extend to the front office and coaching staff of an NFL team.
In seminary, I learned the hard way that it didn't matter if I enjoyed a particular discipline. It didn't matter if I felt it was useful. It didn't matter if I thought it was complete nonsense and destroyed my ability to actually enjoy the Bible. It was my responsibility to learn and fully evaluate all the tools presented to me.
As it turns out, the school of textual criticism presented by prof was utter rubbish. It had no value. I still had to engage with it to determine if it had merit, however. I didn't have the luxury of just zoning out because it was 'boring'. Someone had to be familiar with the theory if only to rule it out as a useful way of understanding the Gospels.
Not all advanced stats are useful. Not every new-fangled theory about how football is played and why games are won and lost will have merit.
An NFL coach does not have the luxury of shrugging off the egg-heads, however. He can't pop open a brew and then spend 10 draft picks on full backs, beefy tight ends, and 350 pound guards just because that's the kind of football he likes or because someone told him 40 years ago that's how you win games.
I espouse many ideas that are controversial.
"Passing wins" is not one of them.
No modern coach should ever say "run the ball and stop the run" except as an example of how the team he just beat came in with a stupid game plan.
For all I know, Chuck Pagano is just saying things for the sake of saying them. I'm fine with that. I don't understand it exactly, but I can see it. After years of Polian-speak, I can respect that winners sometimes just lie.
If he really believes what he's saying, however, the Colts are in trouble. Huge trouble. I'd be happy to help him research what happens when you build your team around "run the ball, stop the run". I have a DVD of the '00s Jaguars around here somewhere.
Chuck Pagano doesn't have to enjoy advanced metrics. He doesn't have to like new ways of thinking about football.
He absolutely has a responsibility to understand and study them, however.
The Colts are about to draft Andrew Luck. If they want to win, they'll do everything possible to build an elite passing attack. Ideally, a team would be good at everything. It's best to run and pass. It's best to stop the pass and stop the run. It's best to have awesome punt and kick returners and coverage units.
The modern NFL doesn't work like that, however. In the age of salary caps, you have to make hard choices and allocate resources where they will do the most good.
Pass the ball.
Stop the pass.
Win the game.
I hope a new defensive philosophy will lead to more possessions by the Colts (at least if Luck becomes an elite QB). With Manning I felt we had a defensive philosophy that kept him off the field to the detriment of the team. Take a look at the Colts ranking in total drives since 2005
2005 - Last
2006 - Last
2007 - Tied Last
2008 - Last
2009 - 2nd to Last
2010 - 4th to Last
This is just from a quick scan of football outsiders http://footballoutsiders.com/stats/drivestats2010
Honestly, I'm just glad we're trying to focus on stopping something, considering the bend but don't break philosophy which focused on stopping, well, nothing.
It's surprising a team hasn't hired you to direct their philosophy since you are so smart about how football games are won. You should get a life and stop blogging. Your opinions are worthless and shame on Paul Kaharsky for putting you in is RTC blogs.
That saids a lot about the Jags if Painter/Orlovsky beat them in passing offense. Perhaps the 2012 has a chance after all.
I think, if anything, you undersell the problem. The NFL right now is predicated on having elite QB talent. If you don't have that, you are sunk regardless of how well your team plays (I absolutely believe the 49ers are a mirage). Maybe we as Colts fans have lucked out and moved from one elite talent to another, but if I were in charge of the Colts I wouldn't be betting on it.
Instead, I would have gone out and got a guy that was so far past the bleeding edge that everyone on my staff would think I was crazy for hiring him. The single most important question I would have asked was "If you don't have an elite QB, how are you going to win games consistently?" and "Given the rules in the NFL right now, what are you going to do on defense?" If I heard a cliche answer to either of these questions I would have immediately removed that candidate from consideration.
The West Coast Offense, Air Coryell, The Blur, The Zone Blitz, and the Tampa 2 were all championed by guys who didn't answer in cliche's. Rather they were desperate, they had an idea that was outside of conventional wisdom, they stuck with it, and they didn't apologize for it. That's what I want in the people running my organization. Not the mealy-mouthed football talk we've gotten from our new leaders.
I hope they turn into a great FO and coaching staff, but I don't have much hope.
"The West Coast Offense, Air Coryell, The Blur, The Zone Blitz, and the Tampa 2 were all championed by guys who didn't answer in cliche's."
Other than the extra apostrophe (heh), this might be my favorite sentence ever on any Colts site.
I think Pagano's point is that the run game is foundational. If you can play solid run defense with your basic packages, stopping the pass becomes much easier. You can keep 4 DBs out of the box, don't bite so hard on play action, call pass-blitzes rather than run-blitzes, put the O into lots of 3rd & long situations, etc. And the reverse is true for your run offense - being able to run consistently opens up all sorts of things in the passing game. Of course, being solid on running plays doesn't do much if you have Curtis Painter at QB and your defensive backfield is a bunch of rookies with lousy coverage skills.
i took his comments to be more related to philosophy or mentality than actual playcalling. i think the offense will still run through 18 / Luck, but Pagano wants the team to play with AFC North-style physicality. Hit the other team in the mouth on both sides of the ball, every play. "Run the ball and stop the run" is just a cliche to express that, I think.
" If you want to run a spread sheet and find hidden codes in YPA data, do it."
Great, now we got a new book idea: The Da Dunleavy Code.
on defense i'm not worried at all... we will see a defense that will eventually be able to stop the run and rush the passer and, thus, stop the pass. with luck passing the football we'll be just fine but we will have to run the ball effectively aswell to open passing lanes. c'mon man, pagano's comments are no big deal... he will be a good head coach trust me
@Andrew Luck Spain The problem is that we have no idea how Pagano will be as a head coach. Or how Grigson will be as a GM. We have nothing to base those ideas on. We have some idea that Luck will be good based on his college performance, but even then, he's a rookie and has no NFL experience to base our expectations on. This season is going to be completely new for the Colts, especially if Manning is let go.
There is a misnomer about stopping the pass vs stopping the run A defense has to be able to do one or the other, or at least be able to slow down one if needed. The Colts have been reputed to be a top team against the pass in recent years, but that was false. They were so bad against the run tnat team did not pass a lot against them. They really were not good against the pass, either, letting teams convert third down after third down.
@southdodger Correct. They were bad against the pass since 2008, really. That's the problem that needed fixing. The secondary (which I wrote about last year) is key.
It doesn't take advanced statistics to recognize that it is foolish to turn down the gift that the rules give passing teams. When the rules changes of the past 20 years have been made with the passing game in mind, why would you choose to go into battle foregoing that largesse?
The way today's NFL is set up, it is virtually impossible for a team to maintain a period of physical dominance like say the 60s Packers or the 70s Steelers did.
Today's NFL is the most competitive league in the world. It is designed to make teams continue to revert to the mean. Most games are decided by three of four critical plays. Every year teams change over their coaching staffs. And the new Head Coach comes in with much fanfare and hype and after an exhaustive search for the best guy. Then in two or three years, these same teams are looking for another new guy.
My fear is that now the Colts will be going after the same players as everyone else. Suh's don't come along every draft and when they do they sure don't last where the Colts have been drafting. By switching to the same type defense and offense that almost everyone is running, just makes it even harder to get the best players for those systems.
And don't the Giants run a 4-3?
@DougEngland "My fear is that now the Colts will be going after the same players as everyone else."
That's my fear as well. Part of Indy's drafting philosophy was generated out of need, given that success meant that the Colts only got the leftovers from the first round. Polian was actually quite brilliant in working within those constraints, and I fear that too many don't understand that. They only see the "busts" and don't contextualize the draft conditions that the Colts have been operating under.
Now, is Indianapolis going to install a scheme that actually requires that they go after players that everyone else values? That's a potential recipe for disaster, especially if it drives Indy to start playing too often in the free agent market. Just because certain fantasy football armchair GMs are all for that doesn't mean it'll work in the real world.
This fear is very justified. It's more expensive to find and keep ideal 3-4 talent, especially if your defense also wants to have corners that can reliably play man. And as more teams switch over, there is more demand on the few freaks of nature that fit.
That said, so far we've seen plenty of evidence that the transition won't be to a straight 3-4, that there will still be some place for one-gappers like Nevis, and that they're maybe one special player away (Baltimore had Ngata, who I believe is more important than Suggs and probably even Reed at this point).
The advantage that hybrids and 3-4s have is that coaching can create a real edge. I think a decade ago when the Pats were winning and Manning was "struggling" against the best teams (that happened to run 3-4), a lot of coaches switched over to it just because it gave them a chance to be more creative, creativity is fun, and they wanted to prove just how smart they were... but coaches like that are mostly out of the game at this point. The good ones have survived, and it's a defense I can get behind.
But yes, it's more expensive.
That said, this team needs to get better at stopping the run if only because it will get them more possessions. There's nothing untrue about what Pagano said; it's just that that should be third and fourth on the list, not first and second. We'll see how it develops. It surely won't hurt to have a better run game by DVOA, especially during Luck's first couple of years. Even though I think he could do it, I'd rather not ask him to throw 45 times a game. Yet.
"... a lot of coaches switched over to it just because it gave them a chance to be more creative, creativity is fun, and they wanted to prove just how smart they were."
Thank you! That's exactly what I've been saying for a LONG time now. There's nothing *inherently* superior about the 3-4; it's just that too many armchair enthusiasts have convinced themselves that the superiority is a given.
It's all about *execution*.
Anyway, while people are talking talking talking about Indy going to a 3-4 or even a hybrid 3-4, the front office has given slight indications that this may not be the case. Why would they put such a priority on retaining Robert Mathis if the idea is to switch? You don't take a guy who's hand's been in the dirt for so long and make him stand up. Ditto Freeney.
People keep on insisting there's going to be a hybrid 3-4 installed. I only see that being accurate if by "hybrid" they mean 80+% 4-3, with occasional different looks. Otherwise, it's all hot air by the web commentariat. Unless Indy manages to find enough personnel to switch over in just a single draft, the change isn't going to be drastic.
Besides, why get rid of nuggets of gold like Nevis? Successful coaches build schemes around their roster. I would fully hope that Pagano isn't so benighted that he ignores that.
Talent is only part of the equation. Cost of that talent is another part. Free is at top of the list for talent but also at top of the list for cost. In the zero sum cap world, those two have to be weighed against each other. And yes, fit in a scheme, fit in the locker room are yet more parts. It isnt quite as easy as a fantasy roster. If Pagano says it is about the roster, I would counter that that could just as easily mean dump Free as the savings could bring in multiple all pro caliber players that better fit the scheme which would fill holes in the roster. I am not advocating dumping Free, just pointing out that it is never as black and white as some think these things are.
@WillyDuer *If* Mathis can stand up, you're also making him play differently and taking him out of the position he's played and been used to playing since 2003. It's one thing to do that to a rookie who's transitioning to the NFL for the first time, it's a whole other thing to do that to a veteran who's been hand down for 8 seasons. The best situation for Mathis is to play the position he's already played in, developed in, and honed his skills in for the past 8 years. Doing different starts him over to a large degree. That's not the best situation for him.
Also, respectfully, must disagree re: Freeney. The name of the defensive game in today's NFL is to get at the quarterback. To discard Freeney would be to get rid of an essential piece that's already present, and to do so all in the name of scheme. I do not see him being pushed out. Again, I point out that Pagano's already talked about roster as being THE important part of any scheme. He's already got his pass rush element of the roster in both Freeney and Mathis, and getting rid of either just because the name of the game is supposed to be 3-4 is diminishing the team. Freeney has a definite place in the 4-3 looks, and I don't see Pagano as having hammered on the fact that he's run hybrids as well as straight up 4-3 defenses in the past as being empty blather. Nor do I see Pagano's stated intent to keep both of them as supporting the notion that Freeney will not fit. That presumes Pagano's scheme is too inflexible to make room for a talent such as Freeney. A coach would be dumb to throw out talent simply because he cannot make that talent work within his scheme.
Well, if Mathis stands up they can reduce the number of hits he takes, which makes him a better investment over the long haul if they give him a third contract. And at his size and with his athleticism he really is a good tweener pass rusher. Just because he was good in the 4-3 doesn't mean that's the best situation for him.
Freeney is another story. I don't see him as a great fit, and he's aging and starting to slow down. If his contract was friendlier, yes, I'd keep him, but I see very little reason to soak up an extra 14 million in cap space for a one year pass rusher on a bad team. It's not as if he's going to be the piece that puts them over the top.
I agree Nate, textual criticism blows; literary criticism is the stuff.
Aside from my excitement to come here and see my two favorite things mashed together, I do think we have to ask an important question: Is passing the ONLY way to win in the modern NFL?
I am in favor of passing. The Colts past ten years are just one example of how successful it can be. However, we know that great running teams have won football games, lots of them, in the past. Even the early 2000's Chargers showed success built around an amazing talent at RB.
So, have the rules changed so drastically that running is simply ineffective? Has the NFL size/speed really created an inability to run the ball? If not, is the past 5-10 years just an example of the pendulum swinging in favor of passing attacks, but once defenses figure them out, we will see strong teams moving back to the ground game?
@mattshedd is passing the only way to win?
A good running team averages less than a yard a carry more than a bad running team. A good passing team averages 2-3 yards more per attempt than a bad passing team. That difference multiplied by many throws and runs really stacks up.
The rules will never let football go back to the ground. the league doesn't want football to go back to the ground, therefore, it won't.
Emphasis on "stop the run, run the ball" isn't particularly out of place on THIS team because it hasn't really been able to do either and it has lost them games by making them one-dimensional. The passing attack doesn't NEED help, although the pass defense did regress pretty substantially.
Like Nate said the other day, we really have no idea what in the world Grigson/Pagano are going to do, whether that's drafting, scheme, philosophy, etc. Until the season starts, all of this is just words.
With that being said, I absolutely agree with Nate. I loved Tony Dungy, and I think Caldwell was under rated (although still bad), but both of them were very averse to advanced statistics/theories about the NFL and it's trends. Hopefully the new management and coaching staff is at least open to considering these.
I agree that "run the ball and stop the run" is not a modern team building plan, however, Del Rio never had Manning, Luck, or anyone worth throwing it to. I think the passing offense will work itself out with the drafting of Luck, as it did with manning: that kind of talent is its own gameplan. Defensively, how worried can you really be at this point? He's starting from scratch, and you've already written off 2012 season predicting 3-6 wins. I trust Ed Reed's former boss to know how important stopping the pass is in the modern NFL. I count myself among those fans who defended Polian's team building strategy (because it worked, because of manning), but always wished in the back of my mind that we had defense we could count on to get Manning back on the field.
@naptown_ninja "that kind of talent is its own gameplan"
I think you're giving those players WAY too much credit, to say that if you draft for (in terms of O line and TEs) and call plays for a run heavy offense, they are still going to be an elite passing offense just because they have talent. System is important, especially in the NFL. Talent is assumed at that level.
First I think there's a real difference between talent and elite talent. You fill your roster with talented guys, but you build a system around your elite talent. If Joe Flacco was as good a qb as Ray Rice is a rb, the Ravens might have invested more $$ in receiving talent to complement Flacco's game, and the scheme might be a little different. Likewise, if manning's coaches had told him to hand it of 25% more often, for the sake of a balanced scheme, he would have thought they were idiots along with the rest of us. Pagano hasn't even drafted a qb or addressed many of of the free agency issues he faces. He doesn't know who will be on his team when training camp starts. What could he possibly say now, in response to questions he knows he can't answer meaningfully?
I agree, but I think it is mostly a cliche. The offense, I'm assuming, will be more Arians, and he is pass-first, and if Luck is any good, the team basically has to be pass-first to utilize him.
The defense is a little more worrisome, but it's not like his Baltimore defense was built to stop the run. I think it is just words. I hear many players always talk about how stopping the run was their main goal heading into games. I remember distintcly Osi Umenyiora saying after the 2007 NFC TItle Game and Super Bowl XLII that their main goal on defense was to eliminate the run. It's either just words, or maybe there is more to at least the mentality (rather than actually doing it - which is what the stats are about) then we all realize.
@dmstorm22 I wonder if sometmes the thought is 'stop the opponent from TRYING to run', i.e. keep them out of running situations. Maybe it's optimistic to think that but it would be logical. An alternative pollyannish interpretation is that stopping the pass is such a given, especially for a DE for whom the sexiest play is a sack, that it goes without saying.
I agree, Nate, hopefully Pagano doesn't believe what he's shoveling. As you point out, though, his Baltimore defense was better against the pass than the run, so maybe he's talking nonsense just for others' consumption.
Amen I'm glad you used the jags as an example. I really do worry every time Pagano starts talking like Del Rio, we're about to see the team set back 30 years on offense, with the wrong focus on D.
Really well done article, Nate. I interpreted what he said differently, however. I think it was his way of saying that the Colts will improve on those two areas that have been such a huge weakness for a long time, as in they will put more of a focus on being able to do those things than in the past, which is definitely a good thing. I completely agree with you, though, that if he truly plans to build the entire team around just that philosophy, we are in serious trouble. Hopefully he just means that those historically bad areas will be improved on. Perhaps he was just exaggerating in an effort to tell Colts fans what he THOUGHT they wanted to hear.