I just posted an update to an earlier article for Cold Hard Football Facts.
I'm not even going to say anything. I'm just going to hope you all have ESPN Insider. If not, I feel sad for you. There might be a free version later. If so, I'll link to it.
Compared to his regular-season numbers, Roethlisberger's performance in the playoffs isn't good. It's right in line with Tom Brady and Brett Favre, each of whom see their performance drop in one category or another. Manning actually retains more of his regular-season performance during the playoffs than any of the three, while -- incredibly -- Kurt Warner actually put up better numbers in the playoffs than he did during the regular season! Part of that is because most of Warner's playoff experience came as part of the "Greatest Show on Turf" St. Louis Rams teams at the beginning of the 21st century, but Warner is criminally underrated as far as late-game heroics go. He threw a game-winning touchdown pass to Isaac Bruce on the only play of his final drive in Super Bowl XXXIV, produced a game-tying touchdown on his final drive in Super Bowl XXXVI, and then threw a touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald to take the lead with 2:37 left in Super Bowl XLIII. (His final drive started on his own 11-yard line with 30 seconds to go.) He was let down by his defense in both of those losses.
It's a pay only article, so I won't link more. Just know that it exists, and it's wonderful to behold.
Final thoughts after the Super Bowl:
- Congratulations to the Packers. All season they were one of the most talented teams. They nearly as many injuries as the Colts did, and overcame. The operative word there is nearly. After the bye week, the Colts lost four games by a total of nine points. The over the same span, the Packers won 5 games by a touchdown or less, including three in the playoffs. Would one more injury to a key starter have sunk the Packers? What if Woodson had gotten hurt last week instead of almost half way through the night last night? What if Dallas Clark or Austin Collie had stayed healthy all season. How many more games would the Colts have won? It's a razor thin league and the line between winning and losing can be one player wide.
- The pain of losing last year didn't fully set in until last night. Watching the Packers almost blow that game brought back painful memories.
- Aaron Rodgers is 'the best quarterback in football' the way Drew Brees was the 'best quarterback in football' last year. He had a marvelous season and post season, but such titles are bestowed so easily now, that they also don't last very long. The reason the phrase, "Put him up there with Manning and Brady" exists at all is because those guys do it EVERY single season for 10 years. Rodgers played wonderful football, and may well go on to dominate the league for a decade, but my guess is that next year people will move on to the next schmoe who flows and he'll be cold product. I'm done quoting rap now.
- Mike McCarthy was a mess last night. He's an awful game strategy coach, and he did his best to keep the Steelers close. He coached that game EXACTLY like Caldwell, and it drove me nuts. His QB is playing as well as anyone ever. So explain to me why he chose to run out the clock on the first half? With :40 and a timeout, the Packers could have run at least one pass play. The Steelers had only one timeout, so if the Pack had run a pass play and it went poorly, then they could have just run the ball to end the half. Why be scared? I know a pick six could turn the game, but don't you have to trust your QB at some point? That lost drive almost cost Green Bay a Super Bowl. His challenge was stupid. His punt inside the 40 was beyond stupid. He won a Super Bowl, so he's bullet-proof now, but he almost cost the Packers. He's awful and the last guy I'd ever want to coach my team. It wasn't just last night, it's a pattern with him.
- Green Bay was clearly the better team, but and the Steelers kept it close. It was a valient showing for them in a loss. Roethlisberger was horrible last night, and he cost his team a title.
- I hope Rodgers enjoys his title. The odds are long he'll ever win another. I know that sounds crazy, but if you had told people after Favre's first that he'd never win another, they would have been astounded. There are more good quarterbacks capable of winning a title than at any point in my memory. Rivers, Ryan, Bradford are all waiting their turn, not to mention Flacco and Sanchez who could win if the chips fell right. Throw in the possibility of Brady, Brees, Manning (Peyton or Eli), or Roethlisberger getting another shot, and I haven't even stared on Vick or Romo. Winning is hard, especially in a league with 12-15 guys who with a few breaks are absolutely capable of winning it all.
- The extra rest and the higher pick will do wonders for the Colts. I expect Indy to be right back at the top of the league next year.
Now that we have live updating comments, I'll be running open threads for big events. I'll be following the discussion here, but also interacting on Twitter.
You can follow 18to88's writers on Twitter and interact in real time:
I'll be watching the thread volume. If it gets too heavy, we'll open up a new one to start the second half. This is the first time we've tried this, so give me feedback on load times and how the system works for you. If it's a high volume night, there might be glitches, so keep me informed about what you are experiencing.
Enjoy the game, the commercials, and hopefully about 8 or 9 interceptions in an epic win by the Packers by a score of 4-2.
Now Dent through nine seasons.
Through 9 years, Dent had been to 3 Pro Bowls, and was a 1 time All Pro and MVP of Super Bowl XX. His career grey ink score is 3. His black ink score is 1. He had 8 seasons of 10 sacks or more. He is sixth all time in sacks.
Through 9 years, Freeney has been to 6 Pro Bowls and is a 3 time All Pro. His grey ink score is 3. His black ink score is 1. He has 7 seasons of 10 sacks or more.
Through 9 years, Dent and Freeney are quite similar. Dent has a few more sacks and tackles. He was kept out of the Hall because of the perception that he benefited from playing on a defense with other HoF players (Hampton and Singletary). Freeney isn't as good a run player as Dent, but unlike Dent is the focal point of the Indy defense. Freeney also has a Super Bowl ring, and more Pro Bowls and All Pro seasons than Dent did for his whole career. This probably balances out Dent's Super Bowl MVP award.
Freeney still has work left to do. Dent was productive over the final years of his career. Over the final six years of his career, Dent rang up 34 sacks, 10 forced fumbles and a pick, making one more Pro Bowl. He joined the 1994 49ers and had little impact, but did pick up a Super Bowl ring. While only two of those six seasons were elite, there is no question that they pushed Dent's career totals over the top and into Hall of Fame territory.
Freeney likely needs to match or pass Dent's final six years. 34 more sacks over six seasons would push Freeney to 128 for his career. That's right on the borderline for the Hall of Fame. If Freeney can reach 140, his career will sync up nicely compared to Dent.
Faulk went to three Pro Bowls and helped the Colts make the playoffs twice. His 1998 season is one of the best seasons ever by a Colt (hmm, I smell an article idea...).
You can read all about my love for Faulk in Blue Blood. He took the time to talk to 18to88.com recently:
He ranks 2nd in yards, rushing touchdowns and 6th in catches in Indianapolis history. He went to three Pro Bowls and won Rookie of the Year while with Indianapolis.
Dent was a major contributor to the 1996 Colts. With 6.5 sacks from the end position, he helped Indy qualify for a second consecutive playoff berth. He's better known for his time with the Bears, but Colts fans are grateful for his contributions to one of the great Colts teams of the pre-Manning era.
On one hand this is simple. Most Colts fans (myself included) are rooting for the Packers.
The idea of enduring the endless slobbering over Roethlisberger (just months after his involvement in a rape allegation) is more than I can take.
He is already a great, Hall of Fame quarterback, and the Super Bowls have precious little to do with it.
I'm not looking forward to a coronation of Aaron Rodger either. Honestly, I'm rooting for two or three interceptions from both quarterbacks.
I don't have a fundamental dislike for the Steelers. I respect the way they practice team building. A win for the Steelers validates a 'build through the draft' mentality and would mark the second time in three years that a team won the Super Bowl with a truly dreadful offensive line. As much as Colts fans want to whine about Indy's line, the Steelers is worse at every possible measure. Offensive line play is vastly overrated in the NFL. What the Steelers DO have that Indy doesn't is an amazing defense. The Colts must rebuild that side of the ball starting with the tackle and safety positions. I also love seeing Dungy disciples do well, and I'm a major Tomlin fan.
On the other hand, I don't much care for Mike McCarthy as a coach. I don't think he's very good. His game management skills are awful (see the FG late in the NE game as exhibit A). I think the Packers are much better team than the Steelers, and I could see them blowing Pittsburgh out. The problem they haven't acted like they know what they are doing for the last couple of weeks. I expect a lot of stupid plays and bad decisions to keep the game close.
In the end look for McCarthy to make the big mistake that will cost his team the game.
Steelers 21 Packers 20
Program note: thanks to the new commenting system, I'll have open threads here during the game tomorrow. I'll also be on Twitter.
The series on O-linemen and the draft will be back, but a post by JesusNinja13 over at SB inspired me to go after the same question he tackled with a more objective measure. How do the Colts recent draft classes compare to those earlier in the Polian/Peyton era?
For player evaluation I'll be using the Approximate Value metric from ProFootballReference. As the name would suggest, it's far from an exact, perfect measure of a player's abilities or contributions, but it provides an objective way to compare players across positions.
Obviously the more recent classes haven't had time to really show what they've got, but are they on pace with previous classes?
While the last couple years haven't been the best in terms of instant impact, Indy has gotten less from a draft class its first year before and a number of the high impact classes were greatly aided by having better picks to work with.
Of the 12 draft classes (1998-2009) only one draft class failed to out-produce it's rookie performance (2003, the class with the most productive rookie season, so the highest bar to clear. The average improvement was 9 AV (1.47x the rookie production) with 2001 (+17), 2004 and 2006 (both +16) taking the biggest sophomore leaps. 3 years out was a mixed bag with the 1999, 2004 and 2007 classes taking major steps back in production while the 2000, 2005 and 2008 classes greatly improved again and the remaining 5 held about steady. 3rd year production averaged .99x the sophomore production. From the 3rd to 4th year and between the 4th and 5th some draft classes fell off hard, while others stepped up their game for virtually zero change in production, on average. Is a draft classes worth settled after 2 years? Not by a longshot, but the ups and downs in production between the classes average each other out pretty much perfectly.
My measure of a draft class as a whole will be the AV produced, while on Indy's roster, in the first 5 years in the league. The "with the Colts" condition should be pretty obvious, you don't draft players for what they'll do on other teams. Cutting off at 5 years both allows more classes to be compared and limits the effects of free agency. When a player needs 5 years of service to become an unrestricted free agent, so a team can expect to retain a player for that long, if they want him.
*For the 4 most recent classes I projected 5yr AV based off the progression of the other classes.
Are the Colts draft classes getting worse? It doesn't appear so. The trends lines are have the slightest of negative slopes. -1/20th of a point of rookie AV per year, -1/100th a point of 5yrAV per year, etc. While there are lots of ups and downs, there doesn't seem to be a trend to be found here. As far as AV can tell the Colts haven't been particularly better, nor worse at drafting across the last 13 years.
Whenever I read anything by Joe Posnanski, I find myself in an exquisite kind of despair.
At the same time that I delight in and chew upon every word, I find myself exposed as a fraud for ever attempting to write. Somehow, I suspect my experience would depress Joe. He communicates himself in such a warm and inviting way that I am certain his aim is to invite all of us into the conversation, excluding no one. The problem is not Joe's writing, but my pride. I hate knowing that I'm not the best, and reading Posnanski always reminds me that I lack the greatness of spirit and simple raw talent to ever write as well as he does. Lessons in humility occur more frequently as I hit middle age, but Posnanski is such an adept teacher that I willing go back to him to discover new ways in which I can't measure up.
Don't be mislead: I'm not complaining. I'm thankful.
That's a long winded way of saying that I recently finished The Machine. This piece this morning will serve as a review of sorts of the book, but more importantly gives me an excuse to talk about the Colts.
The Machine is the story of the 1975 Reds, one of the great iconic teams in baseball history. The book itself pours off the page. It does not matter if you are a fan of the Reds or not, or even if you like baseball, The Machine is a beautiful book. The words so clean and effortless that you glide from page to page. It captures poignant moments of humanity hidden within a talented but perennially underachieving team: the Reds of the early 70s (more on that in a moment). Posnanski spent hours with the principles of the 1975 team, particularly Pete Rose, and used that time to help us gain an understanding of who they were as men.
Posnanski shares the complex relationship between Johnny Bench and Rose, revealing that despite their sometimes jealous and rocky coexistence, that it was Johnny standing on top of the dugout stairs, bat in hand, daring a mob of Mets fans to lay a hand on Rose. He talks about the pain, physical and emotional, of Gary Nolan. Once a young pitcher of unequaled potential, he battled his body, management, and the fans to shake the most damning label you can get in sports...soft. He recounts the moment when Sparky Anderson learned of his father's death and how he reconciled with his son.
He humanizes the giants I never saw play but grew up revering. He introduces us to the real Pete Rose, the real Morgan, the real Perez, the real Sparky. They are all men destined to become bronze statues and plaques struggling with their own insecurities and flaws, decades before their imperfections would be washed away by bronze. The Machine touched me deeply. I hate that my son is four years old, because I can't imagine how I'll manage to wait 10 years before I can talk to him about it.
What struck me before about the Reds of the 1970s is that while they now stand as one of the great dynasties in history, The Big Red Machine, at the time they were dogged for failing to live up to their talent. The Reds lost in the 1970 and 1972 World Series. In 1973 they lost in the playoffs. In '74 they finished second in the NL West. Sparky Anderson, now universally acclaimed as one of the great managers ever, feared constantly for his job. Tony Perez lived in constant terror of being traded. Pete Rose was forced to take a pay cut. Johnny Bench was booed at Riverfront stadium.
The 1975 Reds blew Game Six of the World Series (Game Six must always be capitalized) and with just 10 outs to go in the seventh game they trailed by three runs. Same old Reds. They were chokers. They were a great regular season team who just weren't built for the postseason. No matter how many division titles they won, they were failures. Anderson would be fired. Perez was sure to be shipped out. For all their MVP awards (Rose, Bench and Morgan had four between them), they couldn't come up with the big hit or the key play when they needed it.
And then Tony Perez hit a home run that traveled all the way to Cooperstown and in an instant the entire narrative of the Reds changed forever.
Colts fans, surely you see where this is going. As much as I gasped when I read that Anderson might have been fired or that Bench was booed, I know from experience that it was true. I wasn't there in 1975. I wasn't anywhere. But I know how fans are about legends in the making. I know that someday I will tell tales of glory of the Indianapolis Colts, and that my kids will marvel that anyone ever called Manning a choker or that fans were restless and disheartened by a team that 'underachieved'.
The Colts are built in such a way that any given year could be our 1975 or 1976. I think so much of the disappointment of 2009 is because for 14 weeks, we thought we were watching it unfold before our eyes. The helpless horror we felt as the team blew a 10-0 lead through a series of fatal flaws and inexplicable failures won't soon be forgotten, unless of course we win next year, or the next.
You see, no one holds the 1970 or 1972 series against the Reds now. Now the division championships, the NL pennants are symbols of pride and greatness, even for the years they didn't result in world championships. They fill out the resume: 6 division titles, 4 pennants, 2 championships in 10 years. 30 years later, no one complains that the Reds of 1970s should have won more or should have been better. They were greatness personified. Who could possible expect more? Now Bench's game tying home run in the 1970 NLCS proves he was clutch and no one asks what happened in the 1970 World Series.
Winning has a way of swallowing up losing, on the field and in life. It's why I love sports. It's why I love life.
I'm still waiting for my Big Blue Machine.
The engine is running, all it needs now is a tune up.
Remember a few weeks ago when I talked about field position and playoff offense? Or when I mocked Bob Kravitz for saying Peyton was a bad playoff quarterback?
We'll there's more ammo in my cannon than ever.
Pro Football Reference (aka Nate's other home because he spends so much time there) just posted a major sledge hammer to the head of anyone who still believes that Brady or Roethlisberger or anyone was a better playoff QB than Manning based on wins and losses. A million hearty thanks to Scott Kascmar for doing the brilliant work. May blue angels sing your praises from now until the end of football, amen.
It's a whole beautiful post loaded with drive stats. It's real, and it's spectacular.
There are many great highlights, but let me center in on a few:
- Manning is second (to Rodgers in a MUCH smaller sample size) in yards per drive in the playoffs
- Manning has averaged more points per drive than Brady in the playoffs
- Manning has averaged fewer 3 and outs than Brady in the playoffs
- Manning is 6th best in fewest punts per drive in the playoffs
- He is 7th best in fewest turnovers per drive (just a fraction behind Brady in 5th)
- He has the 7th fewest drives per game
- He also has the WORST STARTING FIELD POSITION OF ANY QB IN THE PLAYOFFS SINCE 1980. Just under 40% of Manning playoff drives started inside the 20 yardline.
On this point PFR says:
There are several players that stand out, but the cases of Peyton Manning and Warren Moon are especially interesting. The Houston Oilers, unable to get past the Divisional round, were known as a team with a great regular season offense that continued to lose playoff games they should have won, while the Colts are viewed as a similar team despite winning a Super Bowl and getting to another. Both quarterbacks have very solid individual passing stats and team drive stats, but both have a losing record (Moon is 3-7 while Manning is 9-10). How can that be?
With respect to their defensive issues, field position and a lack of opportunities are two great answers for that. When you so often have games where the offense touches the ball 8-9 times, and has to go 75, 80, 85 or even 90+ yards to score touchdowns, you have to play at a very high level offensively to score a lot of points, and even the best offenses can struggle to do that in the postseason against the best competition. It has become common to see a scene like this in a Colts game as opponents try to play keep away to minimize Manning's opportunities.
Manning and Moon had the worst starting field position of these 24 quarterbacks. Aikman and Roethlisberger? Some of the best starting field position. Would the Colts and Oilers have won more games if they could get more stops on defense to get the ball back to their offense and in better field position? It would seem so, but in the cases of Steve McNair and Randall Cunningham, that would appear to be no guarantee.
I didn't write that, people.
There's also this nugget of gold:
I have seen people say the Colts only scored 17 points in their playoff losses in 2008 and 2009. Looking at this clears that up. The worst field position in any of the 314 games I looked at belongs to Peyton Manning's Colts in the 2008 Wild Card game at San Diego, where they had to start at the 15.67 on average. The Colts did manage to score 17 points that day. The second worst game also belongs to the Colts, and it is the big one: Super Bowl 44 last year (16.63 was their average start). They scored 17 points in that one as well. Steve Young's 16.70 game against the Packers in the 1997 NFC Championship is the third worst game, and the 49ers scored 3 points on offense that day. Touchdowns are harder to come by when the field ahead of you is so long. In the games I looked at there were 1080 drives started at least 80 yards away from the end zone, and only 182 (16.9%) ended in a touchdown.
Consider that later in the piece, we find out that Manning has the second longest average TD drive in the playoffs (more than 70 yards). Roethlisberger? 4th shortest (less than 60 yards). Brady? just over 60 yards. Manning has only had one touchdown drive under 40 yards in his playoff career. Roethlisberger and Brady have had 8 each.
The post has a little bit of everything. Mostly, it has facts about what has really happened in the playoffs.
Quarterbacks do not win games.
Teams win games.
The Colts have a serious problem on defense and special teams. The last time they fielded a real top flight defense was early 2007. The defense in 2009 was probably good enough to win the Super Bowl, but not without Powers and a healthy Freeney.
We can whine about the offensive line or the running game from now until training camp, but if the Colts don't start getting the other team off the field faster and further away from the goal line, they won't win another Super Bowl.
Defense is the problem with this team. Blame the offense if you want, but you can't make bricks without straw. Give the offense 7-9 drives a game and start them all inside the 30 yard line, and the best they can hope for is a middling point total.
Now, Kravitz, Whitlock, Simmons, Byrne and everyone else out there: stop blaming Manning and start doing some real analysis.
The Colts have problems. They've had them for some time. The quarterback isn't one of them.