Tuesday, April 29, 2014

What Crony Capitalism Looks Like

Who’d a-thunk it? The USPS used its coercive monopoly power to squash the digital mail startup Outbox?

Why Bill Parcells Does Not Belong In The Patriots Hall Of Fame

The New England Patriots Hall Of Fame holds fan votes for candidates for enshrinement, and in 2014 the candidates are Raymond Claiborne, former cornerback from the 1970s and 1980s, Ty Law, corner from 1995-2004, and Bill Parcells, former coach from 1993-6 who famously left the team in acrimonious fashion for the New York Jets.  

The candidacy of Parcells has become polarizing as shown by Mike Reiss and Reiss authors this piece advocating the enshrinement of Parcells into the Patriots Hall Of Fame.

Here is why Parcells should not be enshrined in the Patriots Hall Of Fame -


Reiss talks about how life was like before Parcells arrived in New England.   I also remember those days, how the team had collapsed from posting eleven winning seasons and 1983's 8-8 season in the period from 1976 through the 1988 season, how the ownership was changing, first from the wreckage of the Sullivans (noteworthy here is that the Sullivans were in part eased out by the league, which had had enough of them because of how they kept meddling and ruining a team capable of winning) to the disaster of Victor Kiam to the interregnum of James Orthwein.  

People remember the Patriots as being a 14-38 team the four years before Parcells arrived.  What people don't remember is the real reason why Parcells took the job.   Parcells had stiffed the Atlanta Falcons in 1987 and the Tampa Bay Bucs in 1991 because he was looking for a situation he knew was good.   And the Patriots entering 1993 was a substantially better team than the 2-14 season of 1992.   That team had a legitimate core of players, such as linebackers Andre Tippett, Vincent Brown, Todd Collins, and Dwayne Sabb - there were also solid defensive players like defensive back Maurice Hurst and nose tackle Tim Goad, to go with a solid group on offense in linemen Bruce Armstrong and Pat Harlow, receivers Irving Fryar (shipped to Miami after Parcells' arrival) and Michael Timpson, tight ends Ben Coates and Marv Cook, fullback Kevin Turner, and running back Leonard Russell.  

Moreover, the 1992 team's failure was not due to deficiencies in coaching.   Dick MacPherson was criticized for his supremely positive attitude toward his players, but he got something out of them, and his sickness in 1992 proved chaotic for the team.  

The biggest problem the Patriots had entering 1993 was they didn't have a quality quarterback (they were stuck with career washout Hugh Millen and career backup Scott Zolak) - and the 1993 draft featured consensus #1 picks in Drew Bledsoe and Rick Mirer.   Though the story has circulated that the Patriots thought about Mirer, it seems implausible that they had anyone other than Bledsoe tagged for their team, as Bledsoe played in a pro-style offense where Mirer was hampered by Notre Dame's option offense.  

So the Patriots entering 1993 had a solid core in place plus the #1 draft pick and a can't-miss quarterback on the horizon.   Thus was Parcells going to a situation he knew was good.


Then came what Parcells actually did as a coach once he took over the Patriots.

He signed a six-year deal with the team but every year would tell everyone he might not come back.   When James Orthwein sold the team to Foxboro Stadium owner Robert Kraft - who'd spent the previous five-plus years buying the land around the stadium and then the stadium itself, all with an eye toward eventually buying the team as he now in effect already had control of everything the team needed to function - Parcells kept playing the game, refusing to commit to a long-term plan - something Kraft needed for his team.  

Parcells had strong input into personnel, but he had help in head scout Bobby Grier as well as Charley Armey and Patrick Forte - Parcells in effect stabbed Forte in the back in 1995 to get more personnel power.   The team began building a younger roster but it wasn't translating to success, as the team won just eight of its first 25 games.   During this time Parcells coached the old school style - run the ball and play defense.   By 1993 that was outdated strategy, yet Parcells persisted with it until the Minnesota Vikings game of 1994; down 20-0 to Warren Moon's Vikings, Parcells was persuaded by backup quarterback Scott Zolak to let Bledsoe air the ball out without restraint.   Parcells thus unshackled his quarterback and Bledsoe stormed the Patriots to a 26-20 overtime win.   With Bledsoe in effect running the offense now, the Patriots won seven straight and made the playoffs for the first time since 1986.  

They were stopped by the Cleveland Browns of former Parcells assistant Bill Belichick, and in 1995 Parcells took back control of the offense, bringing in running back Dave Meggett and drafting Curtis Martin (a steal from the third round); Parcells' ambivalence toward the passing game was aggravated when Bledsoe suffered a shoulder injury early in the 1995 season, telling a press conference before October 1's game at Atlanta that "we have to be less reliant on the quarterback."   The Patriots thus limped to another 6-10 record, this despite rushing for 1,866 yards (3.9 yards per carry) and thus seeing Martin emerge as a bona-fide star.


Thus Parcells entering 1996 had a 21-27 record, and Robert Kraft, unnoticed by everyone, had a better understanding of where the league was going in the new salary cap era, an understanding enhanced when Parcells brought in Belichick, fired when the Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens, as an assistant in Foxboro.   Belichick had gone to Wesleyan and thus had ties to the region beyond coaching; he and Kraft became friends and Kraft saw that he and Belichick spoke the same economic language.   His trust in Parcells thus continued eroding, and it blew up in the 1996 draft when he overruled Parcells and ordered the drafting of troubled receiver Terry Glenn.

Parcells vowed to leave the team after that year and in effect he left the Patriots on auto-pilot.  Bledsoe was given semi-free reign over the offense again and he reached 3,900 passing yards while the run game behind Martin failed to reach 1,500 yards (and hit only 3.4 YPC).   The Patriots nonetheless went 11-5 and shot down the favored Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs, then upended the upstart Jaguars to reach Superbowl XXXI.  


Here Parcells abandoned any pretense of coaching the team by investing his time into arranging his new job, with the New York Jets.   Belichick later acknowledged (in Tales From The Patriots Sidelines by Michael Felger) that Parcells became a distraction going into that Superbowl.   When Parcells thus left and took his staff with him, he went to a Jets team that had spent $70 million in free agent and rookie talent - a situation he knew was good.   Ever the opportunist, Parcells got a 9-7 season in 1997, then pulled off an important stunt with a "poison pill" contract with Curtis Martin for 1998; he also acquired former Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde and 1998 became almost the only season in NY Jets history where the Jets became a real team - only to see it end in a turnover-plagued playoff collapse to the Broncos.

After Testaverde went down for the year against the Patriots, the Jets finished 8-8 and Parcells announced he was retiring - except his retirement was to the Jets front office with Belichick his designated puppet head coach.  Belichick was fed up with it and famously quit, going to the Patriots to become head coach and eventual superpower.

Parcells left the Jets after they collapsed from 9-4 to 9-7; he agreed to coach the Tampa Bay Bucs in 2002, then stiffed the Bucs again.   Instead, after a year off, he took over as coach of the Dallas Cowboys, a team that spent a lot of money on high-end talent and thus had for Parcells the latest good situation for him. The Cowboys went 10-6 in 2003 before Parcells began bringing in his players - such as Testaverde, Keyshawn Johnson, Terry Glenn, and former Tennessee Titan Eddie George - and they finished 6-10 in 2004.   Bledsoe came to Parcells' rescue for 2005 before the Tony Romo experiment - this after Romo had been passed up three years - began.

Parcells left the Cowboys, took 2007 off, then took over the front office of the Miami Dolphins.   Again with a good situation already in place - notably when the Jets dumped Chad Pennington for ex-Packer Brett Favre and thus allowed Pennington to fall into Parcells' lap - Parcells "rebuilt" the Dolphins to 11-5 division champs - and they haven't had a winning season since. Plus his drafts in 2008 and 2009 failed to produce a long-term starter.  


Parcells' career is a career defined by opportunism and by choosing good situations as opposed to actually rebuilding teams.   Where Bill Belichick revolutionized team building in the salary cap era - becoming the first to win Superbowls by NOT spending over the cap - Parcells merely jumped to good situations he could ride to success, and it was never sustainable.   It is also worth noting his immediate replacement in Foxboro, Pete Carroll, because Carroll did not have personnel say in his time with the Patriots - a result of the inability to trust Parcells by Kraft - but subsequently had that power upon signing with the Seattle Seahawks and thus building a Superbowl champ.  

If Parcells was what his acolytes pretend he was, he'd had taken the Atlanta or Tampa jobs and built Superbowl contenders; he wouldn't just wait for opportunity to knock on his door.  

The four best coaches in Patriots history are Bill Belichick, Chuck Fairbanks, Raymond Berry, and Mike Holovak - all builders, all making something better, none of them mere opportunists.   And they all have better winning percentages with the Patriots than 32-32 Parcells.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

From Stafford To Iowa To Talladega

The Winston 500 weekend is now approaching and as NASCAR marches toward Talladega it sees several issues jostling about the sport during this past Richmond 400 weekend.   The Richmond 400 as is common brought out some good racing and considerable ugliness, first between Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski after a late-race set-to amid Joey Logano's first career short track win, then between Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears where they exchanged blows and Ambrose got cheap-shot in the garage area.
The Richmond 400 came following a story about possible scheduling gimmicks by NASCAR with Brad Keselowski still lobbying for a Winston Cup date at Iowa Speedway. NASCAR official Steve O'Donnell's comments have been interpreted in some circles as an endorsement of a Keselowski idea for a Winston Cup race at Iowa on a Wednesday night followed by the race at Kansas four days later.   O'Donnell also talked about possibly scheduling a Truck Series race at Knoxville Speedway to go with the race at Eldora and also of a Busch Series All-Star race, ostensibly at Iowa.

That such talk is going on illustrates a lot of people aren't getting it.  First, Iowa Speedway under no circumstances deserves a Winston Cup race.  It's not a bad racetrack like Darlington or the road courses, but it's not that good, either.  For all the hoopla about short track racing - and people will cite Richmond this past weekend as evidence - the Richmond 400 wasn't much until the late fireworks, and those fireworks were less about good racing than the serial stupidity of some drivers.   It is noteworthy that Richmond saw fewer lead changes (20) than Martinsville (33).

The blunt truth is Winston Cup is a superspeedway league and people need to accept it as such; stop trying to make it something inferior.

As for the Busch Series and Trucks, what those series need is not an All Star Race or scheduling gimmicks - though the Trucks do ought to have second dates at Daytona, Pocono, Talladega, and Kansas, tracks where the series has put on genuinely good races.   What those series need is for NASCAR to start using some of the multi-billion-dollar TV money and putting it into the purses.   The dirty little secret of the Busch Series is only about a third of the field contests the entire schedule, the result both of Winston Cup driver involvement - which has bled the series dry and thus needs to be ended - and NASCAR's refusal to use some of the TV money for better purses.    


Also in need for NASCAR to start investing some real money is the Modified Tour, which showcased some genuinely good racing without the high-buck idiocy of Cup diva-dom via the 2014 Spring Sizzler at Stafford Spweedway, CT.   The physicality of the racing was somewhat unusual, and a plethora of yellows helped make the fight for the lead in the first 61 laps a real fight.   Bobby Santos won last year's Sizzler and this time clawed to the lead again, he held off Doug Coby's surge for the win.

What stood out for about 2/3rds of the race, especially with all the restarts, was that the bottom groove didn't work.  It finally got going in the final third of the race.   Between the SK Modified feature won by Ryan Preece - who never got going in the 200-lapper and fell out with a mysterious engine problem - the mini-stock feature, and the first 2/3rds of the Tour race, the high groove worked much better than the low, especially in Turn Two, and a lot of passing up front resulted.   Then the track changed and the high groove became less effective - in part because Santos became noticeably more aggressive on late restarts on the bottom. 

Once the terror of Northeast racing, Ted Christopher settled for sixth.   His decline as a racer once again made his finish surprising in his Stafford debut with Robert Katon, Jr's car, painted in the colors reminiscent of the old Rod Osterlund #2 Winston Cup car.  


So with the dawning of May, the sport hits Talladega for the Aarons Dream Weekend - one that always leaves a lot of racers calling it the Aarons Creamed Weekend after their cars get creamed.   Some quick takes before the weekend -

Cup is becoming a two-team showdown - Penske Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing have won the last four races and six of the last eight.   Hendrick Motorsports as usual has been the other power contending with any consistency, but remains winless since Daytona, and their one winner has been spotty, though two top-seven finishes the last two weeks suggest Junior has a return of momentum going.  

While Junior has some momentum going, Stewart-Haas didn't have a memorable Richmond, and even with Martinsville and Darlington wins the outfit has just five cumulative top-tens among four cars in the last four races - and had a decidedly mediocre Daytona 500.   And while Tony Stewart himself has been largely MIA this year, the driver in clearest decline has been Danica Patrick, this after that puff piece earlier in the year claiming improvement in her performance.  

The guy showing real improvement in performance has been Joey Logano, entering new territory having won more than once in a season for the first time - yet to be expected given he's clearly usurped Keselowski as Penske Racing's top dog.  

Talladega may be a rare chance for someone else to steal a win - The track's history speaks for itself, so teams that haven't been able to keep up with Penske and Stewart-Haas had better jump out and steal this win given the rest of the year right now isn't offering much in the way of additional chances.   JGR has shown muscle this year but it hasn't been as powerful as one would expect - though given the chaos of Toyota's program it's not surprising.   Mismanagement by a manufacturer also leaves Ford pickings other than Penske slimmer and slimmer.

The wildcard as always is the draft, and unlike the exercise in frustration that was Daytona this time the Busch bash should be able to race for the lead with less encumbrance.  

So we await the first shot in the fight for Talladega.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

2014 Schedule Quick Takes

The 2014 NFL schedules have come out.   Offered here is a quick take on numerous upcoming games -


Seahawks over Packers - I know, this is as premature a score prediction as is possible.  But my confidence in this game is based on a reality that hasn't changed - the Packers will get the sympathetic press coverage about how they got robbed by replacement referees in 2012, and the fact remains they're wrong, because that game showcased two unassailable facts - the Seahawks and Russell Wilson are the real deal, and the Packers in general and presumptive starter Aaron Rodgers in particular are frauds.  The last two seasons the Packers have faltered, going 19-12-1 after going 15-1 in 2011, and their inability to win without front-running was showcased last year several times, none funnier than in the game in Cincinnati; it was ironically also illustrated when the Packers got back Matt Flynn, and Flynn promptly did what Aaron Rodgers has done nothing but show he can't do - lead not only a comeback win, but several comebacks.   His first, erasing a 23-7 gap to the Vikings, ended in a tie; he then shot down the Falcons 22-21 after trailing 21-10, then shot down Tony Romo's Cowboys after trailing 26-3, winning 37-36.  

By sticking with Rodgers, the Packers are sticking with a guy who can only front-run; if he can't put a team away, he will fail, as he's consistently done throughout his career.


Bengals at Ravens - The Ravens faltered after winning the Superbowl; the Bengals went 11-5 then gagged in the playoffs.   This will be the first clue as to who wins the AFC North.


Colts at Broncos - Andrew Luck has already edged Peyton Manning, and Manning is coming off yet another playoff collapse.   I'm suspecting the Broncos will start questioning themselves about Manning.


Cowboys at Titans - The Cowboys have genuine high-end talent but their coaching is questionable at best and I have no confidence in Tony Romo.   On the Titans side Ken Whisenhunt has taken over as head coach and the presumptive starter right now is Jake Locker.  Locker has had injury-plagued seasons but showed real growth as a quarterback in 2013; the early part of the season will show if the Titans can become a contender - my feeling is they will and Locker will quietly become very good.


Chiefs vs. Broncos - Andy Reid has long struggled against Peyton Manning, and the Chiefs have to beat him to advance to the next level.


Broncos at Seahawks - The Superbowl rematch - expect Russell Wilson to outquarterback Manning again, even though he won't get the credit he deserves because his volume stats don't "look good."


49ers at Cardinals - Lost in the Seahawks-49ers hoopla, the Cardinals under Bruce Arians have become scary good, this despite erratic play from Carson Palmer; the Cardinals can take over the NFC if the quarterback elevates his game.


Ravens at Colts - The Colts are at present the strongest AFC South team; the Ravens have long struggled against the Colts and if they beat the Colts will take a huge step forward.


Lions vs. Packers - The NFC North is competitive, but hasn't shown itself particularly strong.   The Lions have been frustrating in they have excellent high-end talent but also problems of discipline and execution.   Matthew Stafford can become an elite quarterback; beating the Packers last year was a step forward, now he has to take the next step.


Jets vs. Patriots - The Jets beat the Patriots for the first time in six tries last year, yet even though they've beaten the Patriots eight times in the Brady era it's never made any difference for them.   The Patriots nonetheless need to not just beat the Jets but demoralize them; this series will also tell us something about whether Rex Ryan has any coaching future.


Chargers vs. Broncos - Philip Rivers vs. Peyton Manning has been a seriously underrated quarterback showdown, and Rivers is a guy who's upended Manning in big games in the past; like Tom Brady he has revenge as a motivator for 2014.


Patriots over Bears - I mention this game because for good reason everyone associates this rivalry with Superbowl XX; lost is that the Patriots have beaten the Bears six of their last seven meetings, by an aggregate score of 177-87.  


Patriots over Broncos - The obligatory Brady-Manning game.   The Patriots remain fundamentally the better team; Brady remains the better quarterback.


Panthers at Eagles - The Eagles have become a contender again and look to take the next step against a Panthers team that looks good enough to stay hunting Superbowls for awhile.


Patriots over Colts - New England's first trip to Indianapolis since the 4th and 2 Game; the Patriots have had their way with Andrew Luck; though the Colts will remain a playoff team I'm not seeing Luck start holding his own with the Patriots yet.


Panthers vs. Saints - The NFC South will be determined here.


Seahawks vs. Cardinals - The NFC West could become like the 1994 NFC Central..

Of course we still have several months to stew over what may happen.   So we march on down to Kickoff 2014.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

It's The Quarterback, Not The Defense

NOTE: Originally authored in April 2014, this piece has been updated in March 2015 and several times since:

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" (an ironic assertion given the 2015 Denver Broncos).   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 passer 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.    It becomes even more idiotic considering Russell Wilson saw his defense blow a ten-point lead in the second half of Superbowl XLIX and he had to average a shocking TEN yards per pass to come to the doorstep of winning it.

A further irony - Matt Flynn in 2013 wound up back in Green Bay as Aaron Rodgers' backup, but had to start several games that year, saddled with a defense that finished 24th in points allowed.   He nonetheless erased a 23-7 gap to the Vikings for a 26-26 tie, got smashed 40-10 by the Lions, then erased a 21-10 gap to beat the Falcons 22-21 and then erased a 26-3 to beat the Cowboys 37-36.  

With a worthless defense.


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 Jim 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; by any objective measure that was a better defense than the ensuing season's squad.   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 - and that can't be done without competent quarterbacking.   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 former Vikings offensive coordinator 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 - this dating to the Jaguars' debut 1995 season when the present-day Ravens were still the Cleveland Browns - over Jacksonville) 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 at least 24 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 (the lone playoff game in Baltimore's run where they had to play from behind at any point), 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 in leading four scoring drives, 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.

One further note should be made about the 2000 Ravens - though the statistics may say they were the best defense in the league, in reality they weren't - the defenses the football railbirds were talking about throughout that season was the Bucs and the Eagles, because they were taking on consistently better quarterbacks than what the Ravens faced and were "mauling" (Cris Collinsworth's description) their opponents.  


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 at Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game 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 divisional 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.

It was more of the same in 2004 as the Patriots shot to another 14-2 season, crushed Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, then nearly blew a 10-point lead late in the Superbowl to an Eagles team in over its head with Donovan McNabb literally throwing up on the field then throwing a late interception to end the game - no endorsement of the Patriots' overrated defense this.  

Brady's next three trips to the Superbowl continued the pattern of the vaunted Patriots defense failing and needing to be rescued by Brady - except this time the collapses happened too late in the game for Brady to win.  It nearly happened again in Superbowl XLIX as Brady's Patriots fell behind Russell Wilson's Seahawks 24-14; Brady then speared the vaunted Pete Carroll defense for two late touchdowns.   Wilson then whipped the Seahawks to the 1-yard line; only there did a defensive play win the game after the Patriots defense was rescued yet again 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? 

It's a myth that persists, as Lindy's Sports Pro Football 2014 Preview revives the hoary old argument how the top-scoring offense lost four of five Superbowls pitted against the top-scoring defense, and even notes the losing quarterbacks - Peyton Manning, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, and Roger Staubach - completely ignoring that Staubach played the Steelers supremely tough BOTH times and they needed Terry Bradshaw to step up his game to win those games, and also ignoring that Marino, Kelly, and Manning were notoriously bad playoff or Superbowl quarterbacks - Marino and Manning are the two worst playoff quarterbacks of their generations and Kelly was in over his head once he reached the Superbowl.


It's a hoary double assertion that defense wins championships and you have to establish the run, but by now knowledgeable football people should know better.   No defense ever won anything; no running game ever proved decisive - it's QUARTERBACKING that wins championships.

NOTE: further making this point is Kerry Byrne's dissection of the uselessness of ESPN's Quarter Back Rating statistic.

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.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Is what’s good for General Motors bad for America?

The government's takeover of General Motors didn't solve any of its problems - problems of a dysfunctional and bloated culture.

From Martinsville To Texas

Something is going on here.

The Virginia 500 at Martinsville saw several eye-opening angles - the sixth straight winner in Winston Cup, a redemption win for Kurt Busch - his first in Winston Cup since the 2011 Delaware 400 and first in any race since the 2012 Firecracker 250 in the Busch Series - memorable efforts by AJ Allmendinger and Kyle Larson, and heartwarming efforts by Richard Petty's team in the wake of the passing of matriarch Lynda Petty.  

With all that we head next to Texas Motor Speedway, and there are several angles worth touching on entering the 2014 Alamo 500 -

** To begin with we have the issue of tires at Fontana and criticism by Jeff Gordon after Fontana and entering Texas.    The Fontana fiasco had numerous angles and Goodyear indeed warrants criticism - something too many in the sport go out of their way to avoid.   We also nonetheless saw some very good racing at Fontana and if Goodyear can fix some of the issues incurred at Fontana that can blunt some of the criticism.

** We also have seen a surprising upsurge in lead changes lately - Fontana and Martinsville combined for 68 lead changes - 33 is unheard-of for Martinsville - and it is exactly the kind of racing the sport needs to have; if anything the more lead changes the better, and one can actually believe more races will now break 40.   NASCAR gets and deserves a lot of criticism, but right now the competition package is working.

**A team that isn't getting much going right now is Joe Gibbs Racing.   Despite the win at Fontana, JGR has been decidedly mediocre to date in 2014.   Matt Kenseth has been the lead dog, posting top tens in the last two races.  

JGR's mediocre season is reflective of Toyota's increasingly-discouraging lack of competitive depth.   None of the other Toyotas are performing and the brand more and more needs to acquire more teams.

** Despite a poor finish, Kyle Larson is routing Austin Dillon in the rookie race, posting the runner-up at Fontana contrasting with one measely top-ten for Dillon; Dillon is living up to a reputation as the anti-intimidator, as his racing is passive and indifferent compared to the fight Larson shows.   The downside is it's not doing anything for Ganassi/SABCO teammate Jamie McMurray, who's looked a little lost this season.

** As Austin Dillon stumbles forward, the scariest part for RCR is Paul Menard, a guy with more sponsorship than talent, is leading the team in performance.   Suddenly this isn't looking like a promising year for the team.

** Richard Petty Motorsports usually pulls something decent out of Martinsville and here got both cars running strongly.   Though still subpar on the intermediates where they need to be good, the Petty team nonetheless is showing substantial improvement with new crew chief Trent Owens.   The pain of losing the matriarch won't go away; the determination to win looks like it won't, either.

** Suddenly Penske Racing doesn't look that good.   Joey Logano posted a solid finish and his status as the real top dog at Penske looks more and more solid; Brad Keselowski meanwhile crashed on pit road and was livid at Kurt Busch about it as he has plummeted from leading the points to seventh and has just one top-20 finish since winning at Vegas. 

** FOX Sports did a puff piece defending Danica Patrick by citing "baby steps" in improving finishes.   Martinsville was one of her better tracks last year, and she qualified tenth - then was never heard from again.   Whatever these numbers the piece cited are, they're not an accurate barometer of her success.

** Largely lost in the shuffle has been a very encouraging year for AJ Allmendinger, posting back-to-back top-11 finishes for Brad Daugherty's team.  

** Finally, Dale Junior leads the points standings.   Imagine the outcry if he loses the championship because of the Chase's repeated points reracks - actually it's easy to imagine that scenario since it's how the Chase concept has gone the whole time.

So it's off to Texas.