Monday, February 08, 2016

The Morning After - Super Bowl 50 - Broncos 24, Panthers 10

Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller (58) strips the ball from Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016. (A.J. Mast/The New York Times)

Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller (58) strips the ball from Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016. (A.J. Mast/The New York Times)

The season is over and the new champion has been crowned.  Super Bowl 50 is in the books and the unlikely underdog has won once again - proving to us that the 14 days leading up to every Super Bowl when everyone leans in one direction is the perfect time to bet on the other team.
The Denver Broncos are a team that history will certainly place highly in the pantheon of champions with the way they devoured Carolina's offense just one round after the Panthers put a clinic on another defense we thought was a real threat to the NFL in the Arizona Cardinals.  Nobody doubted the quality of the Broncos' defense, but it seemed in this "styles make fights" sport, that Denver would have a real difficult time slowing down the "Cam Newton Express" and that meant the Panthers were sure to end up with the trophy.  
Instead, the Panthers took the ball 16 times, scored one touchdown, turned the ball over in each of the 4 Quarters, and basically made the entire game about the Carolina offense doing more harm than good.  The results at the hands of Denver's pass rush was 7 sacks, relentless pressure, several takeaways that either scored or set up scores, and a performance where the versatile offensive attack from Carolina looked frustrated throughout.    
It was a Super Bowl that was not very easy on the eyes in many respects, and one that has very few equals.  Here are some of the stunning numbers that jump right out:
- The best QB rating of the day belonged to the winning QB Peyton Manning with a 56.6 on a day that was 13-23, 141 yards, and 1 interception, while being sacked 5 times.  Cam Newton has an even poorer day, with a QB rating of 55.4 on 18-41, 265 yards, 1 interception and 2 lost fumbles.  Now, there have certainly been plenty of QBs who won Super Bowls with lousy Super Bowl days (Ben Roethlisberger in SB 40, John Elway in SB 32), but the combined levels if you were to add Manning's and Newton's QB ratings together (112 passer rating) it still would not have come close to cracking the Top 10 of individual performances in the big game.  That is pretty nuts.
- This is now the 31st Super Bowl (out of 50) where the turnover margin was 2 or more in either direction.  In games in this scenario, where turnovers told the story, the team with the multiple turnover advantage is holding an all-time record of 29-2.  Interestingly enough, the two most lopsided and turnover-ridden Super Bowls of all time were Cowboys victories where they were a +8 against Buffalo in SB 27 and an incredibly underrated +6 versus Denver back in SB 12.  The only 2 teams to have a multiple takeaway advantage in the Super Bowl and still lose?  Dallas in Super Bowl 5 was a +3 and still lost to Baltimore and the Los Angeles Rams were a +2 in SB 14 and still lost to the Steelers.  In this game, the Panthers and their ineffective pass protection was just too much to overcome and when the Broncos arrived at the QB, they were there looking to pull the ball out from Cam's clutches - something they did pretty well.
- Here is maybe my favorite statistic from last night that I really haven't heard much elsewhere (although I am sure it is out there with a million people covering this game):  The Broncos won a Super Bowl with the fewest yards ever.  In fact, the Broncos not only set the low for fewest yards for a winning team in a Super Bowl, but they set a low by 50 yards!  They accumulated just 194 yards of offense - shattering the old record of 244 by the Ravens back in SB 35 by 50.  That is an amazing lack of any sort of offensive accomplishment from a team that held the trophy high in the end.    
- In fact, we must look back at this Super Bowl and to the Ravens win in SB 35 for another dubious honor now bestowed upon the Broncos, for it was back in that game where a winning team was able to convert just 2 of 14 3rd downs for an absurdly low percentage of 14.3% in a win.  But, rest easy, Baltimore, for the Denver offense that won last night converted an even worse marker of 1 for 14.  That 7% success rate on 3rd down will likely never be beaten for a winning Super Bowl.  Amazing.  
There are plenty of other items to unpack from this game, including that Peyton Manning won his 2nd championship, which in one way validates him to move to a higher room in the pyramid of all-time QB greats and their accomplishments.  We can argue all we want how it doesn't matter, but then when it comes time to debate this QB against this other one, it invariably seems to land back in that general direction.  Well, Manning now has 2.  And for what it is worth, he won a ring in easily his worst season in Denver.  And easily his worst season in the NFL, to be honest.  So, does it demonstrate how silly it is that Manning needed this to be declared an all-time great?  Or does it demonstrate how silly it is to make a QB responsible and credited for the accomplishments of the team in the ultimate team sport?  Or both?  In what is most certainly his final NFL game, the idea that he took the Lombardi from the hands of John Elway - the only other QB to be able to say his last acting football action was to hold the trophy above his head - is a pretty cool little distinction that Denver will always have on the rest of us.  
Moving on to things closer to home, though, it does bring us to the Dallas Cowboys.  Since about 10pm last night, the emails and Twitter responses sure keep coming back to what we do every year when we watch the Super Bowl - and that is over-weigh our observations from the game into the operations of the team we follow.  In this case, as I surmise from the feedback, is the idea that because we just watched a Super Bowl in which the 2 top defenses played and in which those 2 top defenses combined for the most total sacks in the history of the Super Bowl (12), then our only reasonable conclusion must be that all resources - especially pick #4 - must be used to get an awesome pass rush, too.  
Am I supposed to pay no attention to DeMarcus Ware's contribution and that he was a Dallas Cowboys star until the team decided he was the player to vote off the island at the age of 31 in the spring of 2014 when they basically treated him like Doug Free with a pay-cut ultimatum that he wasn't feeling?  The conveyor belt of bad contracts that this team wrote for years finally cost them someone when they decided they absolutely had to extend Tony Romo's deal the spring before rather than risk him being a free agent in the Spring of 2014.  Of course, if they had rolled the dice, Romo would have been a free agent in the spring of his back surgeries and the Cowboys would have had him at a much lesser deal and still had Ware.  But, most of Dallas talked themselves into the preposterous idea that Ware was done anyway and now we are in the unsightly spot of wanting to imitate Denver to get a pass rush like theirs - and to do so, they spent a high 2nd in 2014, a high 2nd in 2015, and are now debating to get another edge rusher with the #4 pick in 2016?
I shake my head.  And I shake it again at all of the nonsense that minimized and marginalized the accomplishments of Ware while he was here.  He never was the problem.  That seemed obvious to me at the time, but so many talked about clutch sacks and big moments.  Now, he has the last laugh.  Although he might play 5 more seasons, so "last" could be wrong with #94.
If you want to imitate the Denver Broncos, might I suggest that you look a bit closer at the idea they had a coach they thought was pretty good and then decided that he wasn't the guy to get them to the highest level so 12 months ago, they took John Fox to the curb to try someone else.  Heck, this is the same team that back in 2011 went to the playoffs with a QB (that they spent a 1st rounder on) and then took that QB to the curb in pursuit of another one.  You want to imitate Denver?  There you go.  The ruthless ideas that good enough isn't good enough is a fine place to start where John Fox and Tim Tebow might still be in power if the Broncos had the loving, familial biosphere that the current Cowboys seem to operate under.  Heck, they even "benched" Peyton Manning this season - and replaced him with the guy they drafted to ultimately succeed him when he could no longer get it done!  Take those three moves made by John Elway (which, I am not endorsing because they all seemed a bit knee-jerk to me (save for Manning over Tebow)) and since they worked perhaps the hot-blooded approach is worth considering rather than the annual excuse making that we certainly have come to expect of this generation of coddling our Cowboys coaches/QBs/icons.  Nobody gets comfortable in Denver and somehow, under that authority, they have gone to 2 Super Bowls in 3 seasons (each time defeating New England on the way) and went all in to win a championship - which they did last night.  
Meanwhile, here is the QB of Carolina - the unstoppable Cam Newton - looking bewildered and defeated through most of what was supposed to be his coronation night.   In fact, the way he was intertwined with Von Miller from the top of that 2011 draft is a pretty interesting link between a QB and a pass rusher.  Many have been ridiculed about their examinations of Cam Newton pre-draft, and while I loved his game - I will certainly not be blameless in this.  I might have felt strongly that Newton was going to be a star, but I certainly am also responsible for once believing that Von Miller might have some real issues in the NFL.  I butchered that one, and his performance last night and really through 5 years in the NFL is nothing short of brilliant for the DFW product and Aggie great.  
This is a QB league - regardless of last night.  QB is still the most important spot and despite the fact that last night was not fully governed by the QBs involved, it would be silly to now over-leverage that you can defend your way to a title.  Those teams both had both.  One team had one of the best QBs ever and the other team had the league's current MVP.  And, yes, they both had dominant defenses.  
Newton looked bad at several times last night.  He sailed throws.  He missed targets.  He was reckless with the ball.  He looked casual as the ball lay near his feet rather than dive in to try to save the day.  And, yes, he looked like a front-runner in his postgame media scene.  He is allowed to act any way he wants, but as someone who expects a bit more from my Quarterbacks, that wasn't a great look.  He will likely get many more chances to handle adversity better, but reality hit him in the face last night and it looked like he might need some more time in the lab before he wears the crown.
So, what can we learn from last night?  Team strength matters.  Game plans matter.  In game strategy matters.  Luck matters.  Injuries matter.  It all matters.  The Denver Broncos had everything click this year in the playoffs when very few were going to bet on them one month ago.  But, now, they meet football immortality.  And they did it with DeMarcus Ware, Wade Phillips, and Joe DeCamillis at spots of great importance on their squad.  
Now, the offseason officially begins.  215 days until the next meaningful game and 31 teams chase Denver.  Let's get to September as soon as possible.

Friday, January 22, 2016

1/22/16 - Cowboys Mailbag - DMN

This morning, let's answer some of your finest questions of the week!
Q: What do you think of getting Colt McCoy to back up Tony Romo? I think McCoy would have won 3-4 games and allow Romo to be completely healed before rushing back to play. -  Zeke 
Zeke, to me this is the move I would like to strongly consider if I want to look at a veteran free agent at the QB position to play backup.  Obviously, there are better QBs in free agency, led by the mysterious case of Denver's Brock Osweiler. I just don't see a scenario in which Denver let's him get out of there after all of the trouble taken in grooming him to replace Manning.  Then, there is Ryan Fitzpatrick, who we just saw last month play a pretty decent level of QB.  I assume his intention is to start.  There is also Sam Bradford and Robert Griffin on the market.  I imagine their price hopes and starting ambitions are still too high to take a QB2 job in Dallas.  Now, McCoy is in that next tier of QBs you would hope to take the job from Kellen Moore.  Colt McCoy, Chase Daniel, Matt Moore, or even former Scott Linehan backup Drew Stanton.  They are likely in the price range and in the spot of their careers where this could make some sense.  
As you know, I prefer we get serious about a QB at #4, so any of these moves might not fit my plan.  I am good with a QB up top in the draft and keeping Moore to be that bridge between draft day and when one of these young lads is ready to be Romo's backup.  That could be 2 weeks, 2 months, or 2 years.  
Q:  Say Dallas falls in love with Wentz but they don't think he's "worth" the #4 pick. Do they overdraft him to ensure they get the guy they want, or do they take the risk of trading down/waiting to see if they can get more players AND Wentz? - Matt Houston
Matt, if they "fall in love" with Wentz at the Senior Bowl and during the spring, then you take him at #4.  But, I suppose we all have different views on what "falling in love" means.  To me, it means you are convinced this could be your QB1 to open the 2026 season.  If you are working with a guy that you think could be your QB past his 30th birthday, then you don't screw around and risk losing him.  Quarterbacks are too hard to find.  Look at what Washington has gone through looking for a starting Quarterback since Mark Rypien.  He was the last time they had the same QB starting for them for 5 straight years.  1989-1993!  I am here to tell you that is not is what happens when you don't invest properly in QB.  Ask Detroit before Stafford.  Ask Chicago before Cutler.  Ask Jacksonville after Brunell or Tennessee after McNair.  Or Houston.  Ask Houston.  
The point is that if you think Wentz or Jared Goff or Paxton Lynch is "the dude", then you don't get cute.  you draft your QB and run for the hills.  I am not a big "trade down" guy.  I have seen that the team that gets the best player in a trade usually wins.  And that best player is found by going up, not moving back.  If you want a QB, trading up can blow up in your face.  But, trading down and hoping a QB of your dreams keeps falling so you can add another pick is dangerous and ill-advised.  
If I don't care which one I get, then I can start trading down.  If I don't think Wentz is all that great, then I risk it.  But, if they "fall in love" with the kid - think he can be a 23-year old version of Romo or better, then you take him at #4 and don't think twice.  
Q: Who would you say has been Jerry jones' biggest bust as a draft pick in his tenure with the Cowboys? - Stephen
The Cowboys have had some very disappointing draft picks since Jimmy Johnson has left town, so we have a few to choose from, don't we?  But, to the Cowboys great credit, they have hit home runs on just about all of their 1st rounders since 2010.  Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zach Martin and now Byron Jones all appear to be maximizing value in that top round.  Yes, JJ Watt for Tyron Smith would have been cool, but for the most part, there is little to 2nd guess about since 2010.  
Yet, likely the biggest disappointment of Jones' entire tenure - with all due respect to Bobby Carpenter, David LaFleur, and Shante Carver (A biggest bust cannot be a pick after the 1st round because the investment is quite a bit smaller.) - we need to look no further than Morris Claiborne.  Claiborne was a top pick at #6, yet besides never coming close to his hype actually required a pretty significant trade-up to get him.  It is one thing to pick a player that disappoints, but it is quite another to gamble other assets (in this case, the Cowboys paid their 1st and 2nd rounders) to get him and then he busts.  That was catastrophic and if it weren't for getting All-Pros in the 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2014 1st rounds, the trade would likely be talked about even more as the disaster that it was.  
It was said he was the best defensive player in the 2012 draft and perhaps the best prospect since Deion Sanders by the Cowboys brass.  Yet, in that 1st round, you find amazing difference makers on defense that would enhance any roster until 2020 - Luke Kuechly, Fletcher Cox, Dontari Poe, and Chandler Jones were all in that 1st round and if any of those players might have been the apple of the Cowboys' eye, you might argue that the trade was worth it.   Heck, Bruce Irvin, Melvin Ingram, Dont'a Hightower, Stephon Gilmore, and Whitney Mercilus were all in that 1st round, too.  Look at that list of defensive talent!  
So, Mo Claiborne is my vote for biggest bust for all of those many reasons.  I am not sure anything is that close when you consider all of that.
Q: What's the hardest part about evaluating college prospects in your expert opinion. - Hailey
Hailey, I will tell you that I am no scout or anything.  The only requirement to looking at prospects is time and the willingness to figure out what translates to the NFL and what doesn't.  But, I have seen that over the course of time, if you get to know these players well enough, it does seem pretty reasonable to often sniff out busts and fantastic players.  That said, like any experiment, it is probably important to try to keep track of how many players you get right or get wrong.  It is the most inexact science ever and there are many degrees of right and wrong.
If a guy is out of the league by 25 years old, then yes, he busted.  If he goes to the Hall of Fame, then yes, he had an amazing career.  But, what do we do with everyone in between.  For instance, is Bobby Carpenter really a bust?  Yes, he underachieved from what the hope was and he never became a starter in the NFL.  At the same time, he played 8 NFL seasons in a league where the average player lasts slightly more than 3.   That seems like a rather reasonable accomplishment given the odds.  
Regardless, the toughest position for me to evaluate is Running Back - because so much goes into a RB's success than just his own personal talents.  The thing I have learned in the last 12 months is not to undervalue a corner because he doesn't like to tackle or support versus the run.  Marcus Peters in Kansas City proved that really doesn't matter.  But, the more you spend a few hours with each draft prospect's tape, the more you learn every year.  I really enjoy it.  
Q: If the Cowboys somehow have another 4-12 year, does Jason Garrett get fired? - Nevil
Yes.  Absolutely, yes.  They cannot have another disappointing year.  The Romo clock is ticking, the natives are restless.  Now is the time for the Cowboys to bounce right back into contention.  They play in the right division for that to happen and have a reasonable schedule.  I would imagine, injuries or no injuries - a bad year would mean change.  Even with the contract payout he would receive.  

And yes, because you deserve it, even more emails on the Cowboys and football issues..
Q: In looking at current as well as past analysis of quarterback prospects, two main traits seem to separate the ones the ones at the top of the first round and ones selected later (assuming measurables are similar): good decision making and pocket presence. Is this a fair statement? How would you rate the top three in this draft in terms of those characteristics? Also, in your opinion is it worth the time to try to develop a QB prospect that lacks either of these two traits but has the measurables (such as Cook or Hacklenberg)? - Keith
Keith, I don't disagree with good decision making as a top one.  Pocket presence is certainly a key, but I would suggest that unless a guy is really bad in this category - UCLA's Brett Hundley comes to mind from last year - it is somewhat difficult to distinguish this capability with any degree of significance.  I agree with Pat Kirwan on many football ideas, and in his latest e-book, "Quarterback - the Toughest Job in Pro Sports", he listed the 5 attributes of a QB that should be analyzed.  1) FBI - Football Intelligence  2) Accuracy  3) Pocket Awareness 4) Arm Strength and 5) Leadership.
Now, surely, those each offer their own issues when trying to sort out how to measure it and it becomes much more difficult if you never get closer to them than looking at a screen, but I think I boil it down to two major spots if all other things are sort of equal.  For me, that is judgement and judgement.  On-field judgement - can I trust him to take care of the football and not make too many ill-advised decisions at ill-advised moments.  And, off-field judgement - can I trust him to take his career and his responsibilities as serious as possible.  In the words of Bill Parcells, we are not looking for a celebrity QB.  Handle your business in a professional manner and understand that the job of NFL QB is not for everyone who loves the party that goes with it.  This is a rare chance so understand that and take advantage of it.
Now, that feeling will cost me on a guy like Jameis Winston who violated both.  He showed poor on-field judgement at Florida State with more interceptions than any Top shelf prospect in years and he showed poor off-field judgement for a myriad of reasons.  Despite that, he appears to be doing fine for himself in year 1 and I am awfully impressed about how Tampa Bay has limited his poor decisions.  I would like to know more about how that happened, because he was throwing into coverage repeatedly at FSU.  But, overall, that is what I seek.  
For this group, all 3 QBs at the top have given good initial signs about how they handle the 5 Kirwan attributes and none have set off alarms in what I seek.  But, there is a long ways to April 28.  
Q: Most disappointing 2015 draft pick of the Cowboys goes to _ *drum roll* - Henrik

Henrik, that one is pretty easy for me.  Chaz Green was taken in the 3rd round to nail down tackle as a 3rd in year 1 and then maybe to succeed Doug Free by year 2. Well, that isn't going to happen as we never saw Green on the field in Year 1.  As you may or may not recall, he was hurt a fair bit at Florida, so for him to spend his entire 1st year out of service is certainly not great news.  

Green could still, of course, be something pretty nice, but that pick - #91 - was a pick that I had plenty of ideas for at the time.  The guy they wanted, most likely, was Iowa's Carl Davis who was taken the pick before at #90 to Baltimore.  I am not sure if the war-room panicked or what, but this pick came out of nowhere.  If you want to know, my notes indicate my next 7 at that spot on my board were the following:  Grady Jarrett, Jay Ajayi, Paul Dawson, Bryce Petty, TJ Clemmings, Xavier Cooper, and Steve Nelson.  Now, I still prefer all 7 to Chaz Green a year later, but we still don't know how good he will be.  In fairness to Dallas, they also didn't know they were about to get La'el Collins.  

It should also be noted that the next few picks included a RB in Matt Jones to Washington.  Buck Allen and David Cobb also went shortly thereafter if you wish they would have better invested in a young RB. But, enough of the 2nd guessing.  Let's give Green a chance to take Right Tackle over or at least show as a decent reserve in 2016.
Q: Which prospect were you the most right about? And which prospect were you the most wrong about? - Hailey
2015 draft?  Well, I feel great about suggesting Todd Gurley was the best offensive player in the draft, but maybe that was basic.  So I will suggest Arizona's David Johnson is maybe the deeper pick I am pleased about nailing.  Erik Kendricks to Minnesota has ben solid, too.  Wrong?  Well, there were a few.  Jameis likely is the big one.  I liked him, but I would have taken Mariota first.  I still would.  But, Winston will win rookie of the year, so I guess he is not worried about me.  Also, Arizona State's Damarious Randall was a safety in school (and not good) but Green Bay made him a corner and he was very good this year.  And I definitely thought Melvin Gordon would be better in Year 1.  
But, in all of these cases, right or wrong, it is only 1 season.  A career is much longer and we must show patience.  
Q: Who do you think Tony Romo's best offensive teammate has been in his career? My buddies debated this and I say it's Jason Witten. They like TO - Stan
Well, there is no question that I agree with you.  From 2006 until now, Tony Romo and Jason Witten have hooked up for almost 10,000 yards and 47 touchdowns.  But, your buddies have a reasonable argument for most productive over any 3 years.  Romo to Terrell Owens was amazing while it lasted.  We forget it because Owens was so impossible to deal with and there was always a rift.  But, if you separate 2006-2008, Owens accounted for just under 3,600 yards and caught 38 touchdowns.  During that same stretch, Witten had 2,850 and 12 touchdowns.   Witten had more catches, 241-235, but even that was close.  But, obviously, Owens was all about massive plays while he was here.  
So, big picture?  Witten.  Smaller picture?  Owens.  Sorry.  But that one is too complicated for a simple answer.