Tuesday, April 22, 2014

It's The Quarterback, Not The Defense

As the NFL off-season drones on, there is a curious debate, and I've noticed in several forums it's taken a disturbing hold - that despite one of the all-time worst performances ever seen in a Superbowl - or any other playoff game for that matter - Peyton Manning is still somehow a superior quarterback to Russell Wilson, because "anyone can average fifteen points scored per game."   It ostensibly was the Seahawks defense that was the reason for the Superbowl success.

The critics of Wilson base this on the disparity of volume stats between the two quarterbacks, and the argument has been expanded to push the long-standing myth "defense wins championships."

By now people who watch football should know better.


The Seahawks defense was ostensibly bad in Pete Carroll's first year there, 2010.   25th in points allowed with nearly 6,000 yards allowed, the 2010 Seahawks won an anemic NFC West at 7-9, then in the playoffs did something crazy - they defeated the defending Superbowl champions (the Saints) 41-36 before falling to the far-inferior Bears 35-24.   For 2011 the Seahawks defense stormed to 7th in fewest points allowed - yet again managed just 7-9 and didn't make the playoffs.  

2012 is when Carroll's Seahawks storm really got going, and while people will point to the Seahawks storming to first in fewest points allowed for two straight seasons, the real key was the Seahawks changed quarterbacks - from the erratic Tavaris Jackson to the unsung rookie Russell Wilson - and in the process they dumped their big-name free agent signing, Matt Flynn.   Wilson hit a 100 quarterback rating for the season, threw 26 touchdowns and just ten INTs, and even rushed for 489 yards and four touchdowns.   He also erased a 27-7 gap at Atlanta in the playoffs. 

Saying Wilson's defense is what won for the Seahawks is mind-bogglingly stupid on its face, because Tavaris Jackson had basically that same defense, as did the free agent Flynn; the difference was Wilson made plays; Jackson didn't, and Flynn played his way out of Seattle.  


And yet the myth of "defense wins championships" is a myth football people cling to with absurd tenacity. 

It's a myth pushed about such celebrated defenses as the 1985 Bears, the 2000 Ravens, and the 1970s Steelers - and yet each has a quarterback story that undermines the myth.

The 1985 Bears' genesis lay in the 1983 and 1984 seasons.   In Mike Ditka's second season as coach, with Buddy Ryan his defensive coordinator - and their now-famous internal feud - the 1983 Bears finished 8-8 and were 5th in points allowed.   Yet they dropped six of their first seven games before winning six of their last nine.   Second-year quarterback Vince McMahon started thirteen games with seven wins.   For 1984 the Bears stormed to 10-6 and allowed fewer than 3,900 yards of opposing offense.   Yet they lost three of their last six games and used five different starting quarterbacks; Steve Fuller was made starter in the Bears' playoff run, defeating the defending NFC Champion Redskins before getting smoked 23-0 by Joe Montana's 49ers.

The 1985 Bears remain one of the most celebrated squads in football history, yet a fact gets overlooked about that 1985 team - the Bears offense exploded to 456 points scored, this after 1984's total of 325 and 1983's total of 311.   While turnovers by the defense had a role, the bottom line is scoring that many points can't be done without an offense that's working.   Yet the Bears offense is always overlooked because it was never as pretty as the defense.   McMahon was 11-0 as starter that year, while Steve Fuller started five games, winning four.


The 2000 Ravens defense likewise saw its genesis from the previous season; under Brian Billick the unit reached sixth in points allowed in 1999.   Scott Mitchell had that defense and lost both his starts with the Ravens; Stoney Case won two straight, then lost two straight; after throwing three interceptions against Kansas City he was benched for Tony Banks.   In his first game Banks built a 10-3 lead against the Bills but couldn't hold it, despite the Ravens defense picking off Doug Flutie three times.   He then starting winning, crushing the Browns 41-9 and winning six of eight starts before falling in the season finale at New England.  

Banks started the first eight games of Baltimore's 2000 season - and was 5-3; the Ravens scored 16 points in their Week One win over the Steelers, but after putting up 39 over the Jaguars (the club's first ever victory in eleven tries) and 37 on the Bengals, the Ravens offense under Banks broke six points scored only twice.

The Ravens then benched Banks and put in Trent Dilfer, considered a washout from erratic play with the Bucs.   After losing to the Steelers, Dilfer then did something overlooked in the romance about the Ravens defense - he started putting up points.   He won seven straight games and put up 24 or more points in six of them.   He then put up 21 in Baltimore's first ever playoff win, 24 in the divisional round win over the hated Titans, and sixteen in the AFC Championship Game over the Raiders,  and it wasn't about handing off to running back Jamal Lewis even though he had four rushing touchdowns that postseason - Dilfer delivered key touchdowns against the Broncos and the Raiders, allowing the Ravens defense to front-run.    The Ravens defense were nothing but front-runners again after Dilfer delivered the opening touchdown against the overmatched New York Giants in Superbowl XXXV - where Dilfer played smart football, Kerry Collins played Favreball, throwing four INTs - Duane Starks ran back one for a touchdown.

Dilfer was let go after that season and finished up in Seattle as Matt Hasselback's backup, while the famed Ravens defense went eight seasons with just one playoff win (over Miami in 2001) until Billick was fired and a quarterback who could sustain good play was drafted.   In the seven seasons following 2000 the Ravens went 60-49 with in essence the same defense that ostensibly was the reason for their 2000 success.   The difference between 2001-7 and 2000?   Trent Dilfer gave the Ravens competent quarterback play, especially in the postseason.   His successors - Chris Redman, Jeff Blake, Kyle Boller, Troy Smith - until Joe Flacco's arrival struggled to do so with his defense as his predecessors - Mitchell, Case, Jim Harbaugh, Vinny Testaverde - had struggled.

When the Ravens did get competent quarterbacking in that pre-Flacco period, they went to the playoffs.  While Elvis Grbac will not get benefit of the doubt in most analyses, the fact remains in his 2001 season with Baltimore he put up competent efforts for the Ravens to win, while Randall Cunningham closed out his career on a high note, winning both his starts in 2001 with the Ravens, beating Jacksonville and Pittsburgh.   The 2003 Ravens were 5-5 until Anthony Wright took over, authored the most famous comeback win in Ravens history, and won five of his six starts to win the AFC North title.    Steve McNair failed to finish his second season in Baltimore, but he won them 13 games in 2006 en route to another division title.


The 1970s Steelers are another celebrated defense that gets the credit over the offense or the quarterback.   The Steel Curtain became a virtual official branch of the Pro Football Hall Of Fame, yet when the Steelers needed a defensive stand in their 1972 playoff game against the Raiders, the defense failed - it took a desperation heave by Bradshaw and the most controversial bounce in football history to pull off the most celebrated 13-7 game ever seen. 

Yet in 1973 the Steelers started changing quarterbacks - Joe Gilliam started once and lost 21-16 to the Browns; Terry Hanratty started four games with a 2-2 split.   Bradshaw came back for the playoffs and threw three picks against the Raiders.    And in 1974 it got worse - Gilliam started six games, winning four, yet also famously seeing a 35-35 tie with the Broncos and throwing two INTs in a shutout loss at home to the Raiders.   Terry Hanratty started against the Browns and won, but could no longer throw the ball, and finally Chuck Noll settled on Bradshaw as his starter - this for an offense that, unnoticed then and later, was sixth in scoring in the league.

Once Noll settled on Bradshaw, the Steelers started winning with more consistency, and continued to do so with Bradshaw.   Though he put up very sluggish numbers in the Superbowl IX win, it should be noted he still outquarterbacked Fran Tarkenton, who threw three picks in that game.   Bradshaw proved decisive in Pittsburgh's next three Superbowls, throwing the game-winning bomb in Superbowl X, then storming the Steelers to five touchdowns in Superbowl XIII - enough cushion for the defense that got shredded for 31 points by Roger Staubach's Cowboys - and finally overcoming three INTs to deliver the game-winning touchdown in Superbowl XIV against the Rams.  


The Steelers went into a 1980s funk until Bill Cowher replaced Chuck Noll after 1991.   Under Cowher the Steel Curtain had a renaissance, and the Steelers became a playoff power again - yet despite appearing in Superbowl XXX they couldn't get over the hump.   Neil O'Donnell was signed by the Steelers in 1991, winning 39 of 61 starts but going 3-4 in the playoffs - his two ugly INTs to the inept Larry Brown in the Superbowl effectively ended his tenure there.

Yet the Steelers with Mike Tomczak and Kordell Stewart in the 1996-2001 period didn't get better - with "Slash" Stewart as 2001's full-time starter they went 13-3 and beat the Ravens in the divisional round of the playoffs - then the 2001 New England Patriots embarrassed the Steelers despite having to use two quarterbacks - and Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe both outplayed Stewart.

Throughout this 1992-2003 period the Steelers defense was consistently top-ten in fewest points allowed, even when the Steelers failed to make the playoffs in the 1998-2000 period.   2002 was particularly instructive, for the Steelers defense was porous, allowing 21 points a game - Kordell Stewart finally flamed out and former Dan Reeves draft bust Tommy Maddox took over three games into the season, and the 0-2 Steelers promptly won five of their next seven games and authored a 34-34 tie with the Falcons for good measure; injury in a loss to the Titans sidelined Maddox for several games, but Maddox came back, finished up a 10-5-1 division title season, then stormed the Steelers to the stunning 36-33 comeback win over the upstart Cleveland Browns, before a bitter 34-31 overtime loss to the Titans followed.

For 2004 after a 6-10 season in 2003, the Steelers drafted Ben Roethlisberger to be Maddox's backup.  That role lasted two games; Roethlisberger took over in Week Three and started winning - and kept winning.   By season's end - with the same defense that suddenly couldn't win under Maddox - Roethlisberger had authored one of the most amazing rookie seasons ever seen, a Steelers club-record 15-1 season.   Though 2005 was rougher at 10-6 (this despite the defense being third in fewest points allowed that year) with injury forcing Maddox to start for several games, the Steelers made the playoffs and exploded to four straight playoff wins and the famed fifth Superbowl title.

The bottom line - the Steelers couldn't win with Joe Gilliam, Terry Hanratty, Mark Malone, or Bubby Brister - they got enough good play out of Neil O'Donnell, Kordell Stewart, Mike Tomczak, and Tommy Maddox to become a playoff contender again, but it was Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger who ultimately were the reason the Steelers became champions.


Perhaps the best illustration of the myth of defense winning championships remains the New England Patriots, whose defense under Bill Belichick has often been called among the greatest in history.    The reality, though, is opposite.   At the start of the 2001 season the defense was porous and had shown no ability to make clutch plays.   Then came the famous injury to Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady's ascension to starter.   With that same defense, same offense, same everything that was outscored 33-20 in the first two games - and which throughout the season struggled to make third-down stops - Brady directed scoring drives; he led the Patriots to a stunning overtime comeback win over the San Diego Chargers; he led an offense that finished sixth in scoring; he erased a 13-3 fourth-quarter gap to win the infamous "Tuck Rule" playoff game; injury forced Bledsoe back onto the field and Drew shot down the Steelers despite a third-quarter rally; Brady then took over in the Superbowl, gave his defense a 17-3 lead in the fourth quarter - and saw that defense collapse to the resurgent Rams offense; Brady's answer was to author the first walkoff scoring drive in Superbowl history.

That so-called "elite" defense was abysmal in 2002 as the Patriots went 9-7 while in effect installing a new offense.   2003 the Patriots dubbed their defense The Homeland Security defense as it held opponents to a club-low 238 points allowed and 68 points allowed in Foxboro - and overlooked was its struggle against Steve McNair's Titans twice - getting gashed for 30 points in October while barely escaping via a McNair bomb bouncing off Drew Bennett's fingers in the playoffs - the Dolphins at Miami, the always-troublesome Broncos, Peyton Manning's Colts at the RCA Dome, and finally the Superbowl against a Carolina Panthers team that may be the best team that didn't win a Superbowl.   Jake Delhomme and company speared the Patriots' vaunted defense and put up four touchdowns in the wildest Superbowl ever seen - and it was won by another scoring drive led by Brady.


Nowhere has Brady won via a defense worthy of being considered great.   And the quarterback he sought to emulate didn't win with a particularly great defense, either.   Joe Montana's 1981 breakthrough season with the 49ers was with a defense second in points allowed and plus-23 in turnover differential - yet he had to score 92 points - basically 31 a game - in the playoffs for the Niners to become champions.   His 1984 championship season was with the top defense in points allowed, though only plus-15 in turnover differential.  His 1988 championship was with a 10-6 team, a defense only eighth in points allowed and just plus-12 in turnover differential, and with the now-famous feud with Steve Young kicking into overdrive.  

Montana and Young's careers are defined not by their defenses, but by their performances, especially in clutch moments - the 1981 playoff win over the Cowboys, the bomb to Jerry Rice to beat the Giants in 1988, Young's touchdown run to beat the Vikings that same year, Montana's last-minute touchdown to win Superbowl XXIII, the comeback win at Philly in 1989, Montana's playoff comeback with Kansas City against the Oilers in 1993, Young's comeback at Detroit despite injury, the 1996 comeback win over the Bengals, the immortal touchdown to Terrell Owens to beat Green Bay in 1998.  


Basically it comes down to the following -

When did the Steelers win with Joe Gilliam, Terry Hanratty, Mark Malone, or Bubby Brister?

When did the Ravens win with Vinny Testaverde, Jim Harbaugh, Scott Mitchell, Stoney Case, Tony Banks, Chris Redman, Jeff Blake, or Kyle Boller?

When did the 49ers win with Matt Cavanaugh, Steve DeBerg, Steve Bono, Tim Rattay, or Glenn Dorsey?

When did the Patriots win with Jim Plunkett, Cavanaugh, Mike Taliaferro, Joe Kapp, Tommy Hodson, Hugh Millen, or the immortal Michael Bishop?   Or, for that matter, with Tim Tebow?

When did the Rams' Greatest Show On Turf do anything with Tony Banks or Trent Green or Jamie Martin? 

When did the Cowboys win with Brandon Laufenberg, Steve Pelluer, Kevin Sweeney, Chad Hutchinson, Quincy Carter.............or Tony Romo? 

If you watch football with any serious level, you ought to know better.   In football it's quarterbacking that comes first, above everything else, especially defense, and a quarterback's volume stats take a back seat to effectiveness of execution (this means you, Tony Romo).   A good defense has never made a bad quarterback win - it's been quality quarterbacking that made a defense look like winners.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Pyramid Scheme Of Social Security Taxes

Social Security taxes illustrate why entitlement programs are a scam - you're paying for someone else's Social Security and the payouts are shrinking.

Harvick's Darlington Stripes And Stewart-Haas' Easter Abundance

The Southern 500 weekend has come and gone and with it has gone Winston Cup's season-opening string of different winners.   Kevin Harvick's win was hardly unexpected given he led 238 laps and a series of late yellows were mere stays of execution, though the fact Stewart-Haas Racing is now well above its Hendrick Motorsports suppliers is a head-scratcher; given the cutthroat reality of racing one wonders when the backlash from Hendrick comes.  

But then Stewart-Haas Racing, clearly a favorite in the Chevrolet racing hierarchy, has been defying such odds since Chevy helped Stewart buy into Gene Haas' organization.   They've now won 22 races in this, their sixth season.   And Gene Haas is ready to take the plunge into Formula One - and we can't fathom why, as F1 is even more viciously political than NASCAR and crashingly boring as a form of racing.   It's the first American presence there since the ill-advised Michael Andretti foray in 1993, and Michael didn't make F1 fans in the US out of anyone. 


Harvick's status within the organization will go up if it hasn't already, as he appears to be top dog, and his absence from his former employer is also quite obvious as RCR has no moxie anywhere.   The rookie of the year race for Austin Dillon realistically is already over with Austin routed by Kyle Larson, this despite a decent finish for Dillon at Darlington, and it is absurd to expect much out of Paul Menard or Ryan Newman right now.

The only other Chevrolet team with any muscle is Ganassi-SABCO, and they got a decent performance at Darlington despite Kyle Larson whacking the wall a couple of times.   Curiously this outfit has led just ten laps all season, all of them by Jamie McMurray at Bristol.  


And it's looking more and more bleak for any other brand to challenge Chevrolet.   JGR's Toyotas won Fontana and have shown some consistent muscle but this challenge has hardly been inspiring; JGR did salvage top-six finishes for Kyle Busch and the curiously-quiet Matt Kenseth.    The rest of the Toyota squadron has been left behind.

The Ford flotilla is the only other non-Chevrolet to have won, and while Penske's bunch are cooking since Carl Edwards' Bristol win the Ford challenge has been largely quiet.   The Fenway group that is part of Roush's bunch is starting out with a bad year overall between a poor Red Sox showing and mediocrity on the racing end.    No less ugly was the terrible effort of Aric Almirola at Darlington, though teammate Marcos Ambrose salvaged 14th.   


Speaking of Chevrolet, their future contains a supreme irony, in that Chevy's newest star is a youngster whose dad is one of Ford's most famous champions.   Seeing Casey Elliott's win at the Rebel 200 evoked memory of the famous 1979 Rebel 500 finish, and also brought reminder of how time changes - Chase is winning in Chevrolets where his dad Bill was Ford's superman in the 1980s and as late as 1992.  

So ends the first portion of the 2014 Winston Cup season as Easter and Patriots Day beckon.    The Richmond 400 weekend and Stafford Speedway's Spring Sizzler come up in two weeks.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The Government Motors Scandal

Why was it a bad idea for the government to meddle in auto companies?   Because the government corrupted the market and now has a full-blown scandal from its meddling.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Monday Knights Logano At Texas

It's become a running joke in Winston Cup - if you're suffering a drought, then bring NASCAR to your region and the drought will end.   Rain has hit the majority of the first seven NASCAR weekends of the season and it was appropriate for Texas given the Duck Commander sponsorship.   The race nonetheless got in on Monday and Joey Logano swam to the win, his second with Penske Racing and where he led the most laps (108) of any of his four Winston Cup wins.   He had to sweat out an ill-timed late yellow that set up a green-white-checker finish, but on fresh tires he easily disposed of Jeff Gordon and also a wildcard bid by Brian Vickers.

So what to take out of this Texas 500?   Some observations -


Not a banner weekend for Hendrick Motorsports or its Stewart-Haas satellite -  Gordon finished second and Tony Stewart finished tenth - other than that it wasn't much to feel good about for Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas.  Stewart led 74 laps but never seemed up to challenging again once he lost the lead.   Kevin Harvick's season has gotten worse since winning at Phoenix, Kurt Busch's season has never really gotten going even with the Martinsville win and third at Fontana, and Danica Patrick is getting worse, not better.   On the hendrick side, Dale Junior's Daytona win keeps fading in the rearview mirror of a 12th at Fontana, third at Martinsville, and finishes 24th or worse in two of his last four races.   Gordon and Johnson have run good, but not great, and Johnson suddenly isn't dodging the bullets he seemed to dodge in his title heyday, while Kasey Kahne has almost fallen off the map.

So when does the series get a repeat winner? - So far seven drivers have won the first seven races, and there are suddenly more than expected in terms of potential winners.  The Hendrick fleet is what they are, so keep an eye there.    Brad Keselowski has curiously faltered in terms of finishes since Vegas but showed real hustle at Texas despite hood damage from one of the jet dryers (insert your own Juan Montoya joke here).   There remains the JGR Toyotas, which showed some return to competitive form at Texas.   There is also the Ganassi/SABCO pair, as Kyle Larson is running away with top rookie honors and contending for even more.

Among the darker horses, more and more Richard Petty's team is making a case for itself as it starts developing its own adjustments to its racecars and Trent Owens steadily proves himself a star of the future among crew chiefs. 

Curiously quiet have been Richard Childress and Roush Fenway - since Carl Edwards' Bristol win the Roush fleet has managed just one top ten finish, while RCR looks lost as an organization - that Austin Dillon's crew chief acknowledged during the race to running conservative setups, right or not, isn't the ringing endorsement of Dillon that he needs, and you cannot be a credible team with the worthless Paul Menard leading the way in top ten finishes for your organization. 

Tires an issue - or not - Tires were a controversy before the race and there were several tire issues during it, but overall it was a quiet day for Goodyear.   Given Goodyear's history, though, at some point later this year tires will become an issue again.

There was a Trevor Bayne sighting - Trevor put the Wood Brothers #21 in the top-seven in qualifying and ran okay for awhile.   It remains curious nothing more consistent has been assembled for Trevor and the Woods.

So it goes with Texas now a wrap and the Southern 500 beckoning this Saturday before the Eastern bye week.