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Denis Medri illustrates scenes from Star Wars as if Luke, Leia, Han, and the rest of the gang were teenagers in an 80s movie like Back to the Future, Karate Kid, or Breakfast Club.
Great Scott, the Force is strong in these two.Tags: art Denis Medri movies remix Star Wars
Source: kottke.org | 6 Mar 2014 | 2:21 pm PST
A beautifully shot short film about mountains, how they form, how they age, and how they die.Tags: geology video
Source: kottke.org | 6 Mar 2014 | 12:07 pm PST
Been reading Crabtree with the kids lately and they really like it. Reminds me of Richard Scarry's books a bit...lots of different and often humorous objects to discover on each page.
Alfred Crabtree has lost his false teeth. But don't worry, he'll find them if he can just get his things organized! Alfred's world is cluttered with surprising objects. Some are very uncommon, and some are probably not where they ought to be. There are a lot of pencils and small yapping dogs.
And who knew McSweeney's made children's books?Tags: books Crabtree
Source: kottke.org | 6 Mar 2014 | 9:55 am PST
Ok quiet down, we're going to science right now. (That's right, I verbed "science".) If you take a long chain of beads, put them in a jar, and then throw one end of the bead chain out, the rest of the beads will follow *and* this bead fountain will magically rise up into the air over the lip of the glass.
As the guy's face in the video shows, this is deeply perplexing. For an explanation, slow motion video, and a demonstration of a preposterously high chain fountain, check this video from the NY Times out:
Tags: physics science video
The fountain, said Dr. Biggins, which he had never seen before the video, was "surprisingly complicated." The chain was moving faster than gravity would account for, and they realized that something had to be pushing the chain up from the container in which it was held.
A key to understanding the phenomenon, Dr. Biggins said, is that mathematically, a chain can be thought of as a series of connected rods.
When you pick up one end of a rod, he said, two things happen. One end goes up, and the other end goes down, or tries to. But if the downward force is stopped by the pile of chain beneath it, there is a kind of kickback, and the rod, or link, is pushed upward. That is what makes the chain rise.
Source: kottke.org | 6 Mar 2014 | 7:42 am PST
People had assumed that the name of the secretive creator of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, was a pseudonym designed to protect his anonymity. Newsweek's Leah McGrath Goodman tracked down a man who could be the Bitcoin founder and discovered that his real name is...Satoshi Nakamoto.
Two police officers from the Temple City, Calif., sheriff's department flank him, looking puzzled. "So, what is it you want to ask this man about?" one of them asks me. "He thinks if he talks to you he's going to get into trouble."
"I don't think he's in any trouble," I say. "I would like to ask him about Bitcoin. This man is Satoshi Nakamoto."
"What?" The police officer balks. "This is the guy who created Bitcoin? It looks like he's living a pretty humble life."
I'd come here to try to find out more about Nakamoto and his humble life. It seemed ludicrous that the man credited with inventing Bitcoin - the world's most wildly successful digital currency, with transactions of nearly $500 million a day at its peak - would retreat to Los Angeles's San Bernardino foothills, hole up in the family home and leave his estimated $400 million of Bitcoin riches untouched. It seemed similarly implausible that Nakamoto's first response to my knocking at his door would be to call the cops. Now face to face, with two police officers as witnesses, Nakamoto's responses to my questions about Bitcoin were careful but revealing.
Tacitly acknowledging his role in the Bitcoin project, he looks down, staring at the pavement and categorically refuses to answer questions.
"I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it," he says, dismissing all further queries with a swat of his left hand. "It's been turned over to other people. They are in charge of it now. I no longer have any connection."
Nice bit of sleuthing by Goodman. But given the interest around Bitcoin, it's amazing that it took this long, even with Nakamoto's first name change.Tags: Bitcoin currency Leah McGrath Goodman money Satoshi Nakamoto
Source: kottke.org | 6 Mar 2014 | 5:46 am PST
A group of marine biologists that has been recently studying mesopelagic fish ("fish that live between 100 and 1000m below the surface") believes that 95% of fish biomass is unknown to humans. Marine dark matter. The problem lies with how fish have traditionally been counted and the enhanced visual and pressure senses of these fish.
He says most mesopelagic species tend to feed near the surface at night, and move to deeper layers in the daytime to avoid birds.
They have large eyes to see in the dim light, and also enhanced pressure-sensitivity.
"They are able to detect nets from at least five metres and avoid them," he says.
"Because the fish are very skilled at avoiding nets, every previous attempt to quantify them in terms of biomass that fishing nets have delivered are very low estimates.
"So instead of different nets what we used were acoustics... sonar and echo sounders."
A not-so-difficult prediction to make is that humans will find a way to catch these wary creatures, we'll eat most of them, and then we'll be back to where we are now: the world's oceans running low on fish. (via @daveg)Tags: biology fish food science
Source: kottke.org | 5 Mar 2014 | 1:41 pm PST
architecture books Cabin Porn Noah Kalina photography
Source: kottke.org | 5 Mar 2014 | 11:14 am PST
In his post about 1990s web development techniques, Zach Holman praises the 1-pixel transparent GIF.
1x1.gif should have won a fucking Grammy. Or a Pulitzer. Or Most Improved, Third Grade Gym Class or something. It's the most important achievement in computer science since the linked list. It's not the future we deserved, but it's the future we needed (until the box model fucked it all up).
Given all of the awards Holman desires to present, I'm surprised he didn't mention the inventor of the spacer GIF, David Siegel. Siegel was perhaps the first celebrity web designer -- well, a celebrity among web designers anyway. He dispensed opinionated design knowledge from his personal homepage and used the High Five award to showcase his idea of cutting edge web design. (Fun fact: Siegel's own site was the first High Five award winner.)
Somewhere along the way, Siegel came up with the idea of using a 1x1 pixel transparent GIF to introduce whitespace on web pages. The file size was very small but you could scale it up visually using the height and width attributes of the <img> tag and use it hundreds of times on a site because it was cached by the browser the first time it loaded.
Popularized in the pages of his web design book, Creating Killer Web Sites, Siegel's spacer GIF was completely non-standard and hacky but had the great advantages of 1) giving designers superb control over a site's design and 2) working more or less the same in every graphical browser. The designers of the time weren't content to wait around for the SGML nerds at W3C to figure out better ways of displaying web pages, so when Siegel pulled this beautiful kludge out of his pocket, everyone quickly adopted the technique. For years the spacer GIF dominated web design, for better and for worse. So yeah, maybe Siegel does deserve a Grammy or something.Tags: David Siegel design web development Zach Holman
Source: kottke.org | 5 Mar 2014 | 9:41 am PST
Superb short documentary from Grantland about a perfect 18-hole game of mini golf:
(via @torrez)Tags: golf mini golf sports video
Source: kottke.org | 5 Mar 2014 | 8:21 am PST
Nice visualization of the solar system; the Moon is one pixel across and everything else is scaled to that, including the distances between planets. Get ready to scroll. A lot.
It would be neat to do this with a plutonium atom or something. Related: typographically speaking, what's the point size of the Moon?Tags: astronomy design infoviz Moon science space
Source: kottke.org | 5 Mar 2014 | 7:33 am PST
It's only around 30 seconds long, but this video showing a standard web maps interface paired with satellite video is pretty mindblowing:
This quick shot by Skybox's SkySat-1 shows multiple planes landing at Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) airport in Beijing on December 30, 2013. You can easily see a large plane landing on the runway at right. Using the video's timestamp and public flight logs, Bruno identified this plane as Air China Limited flight 1310, a wide-body Airbus 330 flying from Guangzhou to Beijing. Operating as a codeshare, that flight was also listed as Shenzhen Airlines 1310, United Airlines 7564, SAS 9510, Austrian 8010 and Lufthansa 7283.
I remember when satellite photography first became available in online maps; this feels similarly jawdropping. Gonna be more difficult to stitch video together into seamless interfaces than still images, but once it happens, it'll prove quite useful.Tags: maps video
Source: kottke.org | 5 Mar 2014 | 6:41 am PST
On February 15, 1989, just more than 25 years ago, the Soviet Union pulled its troops out of Afghanistan after 9 years of bloody conflict. In those years, Afghan Mujahedeen fighters battled Soviet soldiers and members of the communist Afghan government propped up by the USSR. Afghan wars raged on before and after the Soviet invasion, but Abdel Wahab Qattali, the founder of the People's Museum, or Manzar-e Jahad, in Afghanistan's Herat city has made it his mission to tell the story of this particular chapter. Statues, panoramas, military weapons and memorials line the museum walls and grounds, some depicting battle scenes in grisly detail. This photo essay is part of the ongoing series here on Afghanistan. [17 photos]
Source: In Focus | 5 Mar 2014 | 5:16 am PST
Raffi Khatchadourian's long piece on the construction of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is at once fascinating (for science reasons) and depressing (for political/bureaucratic reasons). Fusion reactors hold incredible promise:
But if it is truly possible to bottle up a star, and to do so economically, the technology could solve the world's energy problems for the next thirty million years, and help save the planet from environmental catastrophe. Hydrogen, a primordial element, is the most abundant atom in the universe, a potential fuel that poses little risk of scarcity. Eventually, physicists hope, commercial reactors modelled on iter will be built, too-generating terawatts of power with no carbon, virtually no pollution, and scant radioactive waste. The reactor would run on no more than seawater and lithium. It would never melt down. It would realize a yearning, as old as the story of Prometheus, to bring the light of the heavens to Earth, and bend it to humanity's will. iter, in Latin, means "the way."
But ITER is a collaborative effort between 35 different countries, which means the project is political, slow, and expensive.
For the machine's creators, this process-sparking and controlling a self-sustaining synthetic star-will be the culmination of decades of preparation, billions of dollars' worth of investment, and immeasurable ingenuity, misdirection, recalibration, infighting, heartache, and ridicule. Few engineering feats can compare, in scale, in technical complexity, in ambition or hubris. Even the iter organization, a makeshift scientific United Nations, assembled eight years ago to construct the machine, is unprecedented. Thirty-five countries, representing more than half the world's population, are invested in the project, which is so complex to finance that it requires its own currency: the iter Unit of Account.
No one knows iter's true cost, which may be incalculable, but estimates have been rising steadily, and a conservative figure rests at twenty billion dollars -- a sum that makes iter the most expensive scientific instrument on Earth.
I wonder what the project would look like if, say, Google or Apple were to take the reins instead. In that context, it's only $20 billion to build a tiny Sun on the Earth. Facebook just paid $19 billion for WhatsApp, Apple has a whopping $158.8 billion in cash, and Google & Microsoft both have more than $50 billion in cash. Google in particular, which is making a self-driving car and has been buying up robots by the company-full recently, might want their own tiny star.
But back to reality, the circumstances of ITER's international construction consortium reminded me of the building of The Machine in Carl Sagan's Contact. In the book, the countries of the world work together to make a machine of unknown function from plans beamed to them from an alien intelligence, which results in the development of several new lucrative life-enhancing technologies and generally unites humanity. In Sagan's view, that's the power of science. Hopefully the ITER can work through its difficulties to achieve something similar.Tags: Apple books Carl Sagan Contact Facebook Google ITER physics Raffi Khatchadourian science
Source: kottke.org | 4 Mar 2014 | 3:26 pm PST
Great book cover design alert:
books design John Darnielle Rodrigo Corral Timothy Goodman Wolf In White Van
Source: kottke.org | 4 Mar 2014 | 2:22 pm PST
Jesse Hill made a music video for Beyonce's Drunk in Love entirely out of emoji. Fantastic work.
Fist Eggplant! Poo! Surfbort! Oh man, that was fun.Tags: Beyonce emoji Jesse Hill language music remix video
Source: kottke.org | 4 Mar 2014 | 1:06 pm PST
Three years ago, Kayla Montgomery was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Faced with the prospect of being confined to a wheelchair someday, Montgomery, one of the slower runners on her high school cross country team, told her coach she was short on time and wanted to run faster. Now she's one of the fastest runners in the country and perhaps the MS has something to do with it.
Kayla Montgomery, 18, was found to have multiple sclerosis three years ago. Defying most logic, she has gone on to become one of the fastest young distance runners in the country -- one who cannot stay on her feet after crossing the finish line.
Because M.S. blocks nerve signals from Montgomery's legs to her brain, particularly as her body temperature increases, she can move at steady speeds that cause other runners pain she cannot sense, creating the peculiar circumstance in which the symptoms of a disease might confer an athletic advantage.
But intense exercise can also trigger weakness and instability; as Montgomery goes numb in races, she can continue moving forward as if on autopilot, but any disruption, like stopping, makes her lose control.
"When I finish, it feels like there's nothing underneath me," Montgomery said. "I start out feeling normal and then my legs gradually go numb. I've trained myself to think about other things while I race, to get through. But when I break the motion, I can't control them and I fall."
Tags: cycling Jure Robic Kayla Montgomery medicine multiple sclerosis running sports
Researchers, however, have long noted a link between neurological disorders and athletic potential. In the late 1800's, the pioneering French doctor Philippe Tissie observed that phobias and epilepsy could be beneficial for athletic training. A few decades later, the German surgeon August Bier measured the spontaneous long jump of a mentally disturbed patient, noting that it compared favorably to the existing world record. These types of exertions seemed to defy the notion of built-in muscular limits and, Bier noted, were made possible by "powerful mental stimuli and the simultaneous elimination of inhibitions."
Questions about the muscle-centered model came up again in 1989 when Canadian researchers published the results of an experiment called Operation Everest II, in which athletes did heavy exercise in altitude chambers. The athletes reached exhaustion despite the fact that their lactic-acid concentrations remained comfortably low. Fatigue, it seemed, might be caused by something else.
In 1999, three physiologists from the University of Cape Town Medical School in South Africa took the next step. They worked a group of cyclists to exhaustion during a 62-mile laboratory ride and measured, via electrodes, the percentage of leg muscles they were using at the fatigue limit. If standard theories were true, they reasoned, the body should recruit more muscle fibers as it approached exhaustion -- a natural compensation for tired, weakening muscles.
Instead, the researchers observed the opposite result. As the riders approached complete fatigue, the percentage of active muscle fibers decreased, until they were using only about 30 percent. Even as the athletes felt they were giving their all, the reality was that more of their muscles were at rest. Was the brain purposely holding back the body?
"It was as if the brain was playing a trick on the body, to save it," says Timothy Noakes, head of the Cape Town group. "Which makes a lot of sense, if you think about it. In fatigue, it only feels like we're going to die. The actual physiological risks that fatigue represents are essentially trivial."
Source: kottke.org | 4 Mar 2014 | 11:49 am PST
While the football world has been transfixed by one of the more intriguing draft classes in recent memory, a crucial piece of news has flown under the radar: The NFL’s hard salary cap is about to rise dramatically. If the reports are true — and teams have spent the past four days making roster decisions as if they are — the swollen cap will fundamentally change the way teams are building their rosters and affect hundreds of would-be transactions around the league. It can be a get-out-of-jail-free card or an opportunity to lock up a star player (or steal somebody else’s), but either way, the impact is already being felt.
After various reports over the past month suggested the salary cap might rise by a larger-than-expected amount, Adam Schefter tweeted last Friday that the league’s cap will rise by about $10 million and come in near $133 million, an increase of more than 8 percent. Perhaps even more noticeably, Schefter’s source suggests the climb won’t stop there, projecting the 2015 cap figure to be $140 million and the 2016 cap figure to come in at a whopping $150 million.
When that news broke, the music from newsreels about the Roaring Twenties started playing in NFL team offices. It was once customary for the cap to rise by a healthy amount on a yearly basis, but once the league and its players agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement at the end of the 2011 lockout, it looked like those bumps were a thing of the past. As I wrote last March, the 32 NFL franchises had gotten used to cutting coupons after years of largesse. After rising by an average of 8.6 percent in the decade preceding the new CBA, the salary ceiling was rolled back after the lockout and hasn’t yet returned to its 2009 peak. As you can see in the table below, the prescribed increases for 2014-16 restore the spending bumps to their former levels:
In speaking to a number of front-office personnel around the league, I was told their teams had been planning for the 2014 season as if the cap was going to undergo a small increase, one in line with the 2013 jump of 2 percent … until, that is, they started hearing otherwise a few weeks ago. The league calculates the cap figure as a negotiated percentage of different revenue streams,1 so while the exact figure is still being hammered out by the league and the players’ association, it seems pretty clear that a rise driven by an increase in revenues is on the way.
An increased cap helps teams in a number of ways. Most obviously, for teams that expected to be drowning in salary commitments, the extra breathing room allows them to hold on to players they might have needed to let go and even creates the possibility of new signings. (You can chalk up Carolina’s franchising of Greg Hardy to the new cap, but more on him later.) More subtly, teams will have more flexibility in handling the salary rises that are baked into most every NFL contract, which will allow them to avoid the restructurings that inevitably lead to early releases and cap trouble down the line. A typical middle-class veteran with steady rises in his contract, like Kansas City’s Mike DeVito, is more likely to play out his entire deal when the league is awash with cap space.
It’s also going to make those players who are hitting the free-agent market very happy. Most teams and cap analysts tend to view contracts in terms of their value across the first three years, since those seasons almost always contain the vast majority of the guaranteed money, with players often renegotiating or finding themselves released after the three-year mark. If Schefter’s report turns out to be accurate, teams will be preparing for hefty cap increases over the next three years and be far more comfortable offering today’s free agents much larger deals than they otherwise would have. In other words, it’s a good day to be Eric Decker. But not so much for other folks. This is definitely …
1. … bad news for the Seahawks and Broncos.
Last year, our two Super Bowl participants took advantage of their short-term cap space to sign a number of veterans on one- or two-year deals for moderate salaries. The Broncos rebuilt their defense on the fly with Terrance Knighton, Shaun Phillips, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, while the Seahawks built a dominant defensive line by adding Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett after their long-term market failed to materialize.
It’s difficult to see those same teams capitalizing on undervalued veterans in this year’s marketplace, because the amount of available cap space should allow the league to invest heartily. Rodgers-Cromartie signed what amounted to a one-year, $5 million deal last offseason; this year, he should receive three times that much in guaranteed money. Not only will he get paid, but this year’s version of Rodgers-Cromartie — somebody like Sam Shields — should get a multiyear deal with a significant guarantee, too. Everybody wants to play for a winner, but it’s difficult to pass up the financial security of a long-term deal.
2. But it’s even worse news for the Browns, Jaguars, and Raiders.
If everybody has more money to throw around, the deep pockets of the league’s worst teams look far less appealing. Players aren’t always going to take the best financial offer, but under a tight cap the Raiders might have been able to pony up twice as much guaranteed money for somebody like Michael Johnson, an upper-echelon free agent who should come in with around $20 million in guarantees. Now, it’s easy to imagine a more competitive team like the Vikings or Titans targeting him while making a competitive offer with $18 million or so in guarantees.
3. This could fuel spending sprees by the, er, less responsible teams.
Having extra cap space is great, but some teams see a little window and spend like they’re trying to remake Brewster’s Millions. I’m looking at you, Colts. Last year, as one of the few teams around the league with plenty of cash to burn, Indianapolis delved into the market on Day 1 and gave above-market deals to a variety of mediocrities; contracts for the likes of Darrius Heyward-Bey, Greg Toler, and Erik Walden were panned at the time and look no better one year later. The same is true of the Dolphins, who have moved on from general manager Jeff Ireland but still have the same ownership and head coach in place, and the historically bleak Daniel Snyder regime in Washington, which — in a note that should leave the hearts of Washington fans cold — will have significant cap space for the first time since the lockout.
Those are the market effects you should expect to see on a leaguewide level, but how will that actually affect the free-agent classes of 2014 and beyond? Teams can always change their plans, but I think these moves are all far more likely to happen with a $133 million cap. Let’s look at five scenarios, starting with an oft-rumored move that would have put a Hall of Fame candidate on the market.
1. The Cowboys don’t have to cut DeMarcus Ware.
When I wrote about Dallas’s salary woes in October, I noted that cutting Ware was Dallas’s most obvious path to getting under the cap. Such a move would turn Ware’s $16 million cap hit for 2014 into $8.6 million in dead money, saving the Cowboys $7.4 million in space and clearing him off the books for future investment. I didn’t think the Cowboys would actually be brave enough to cut Ware this offseason, but over the past few weeks, they had begun to talk publicly about forcing Ware to either restructure his deal or be released from the team. Neither Ware nor agent Pat Dye have publicly budged.
With an extra $8 million of cap space lying around, the Cowboys can be more flexible. They will still likely want to restructure Ware’s deal, but the additional dough will allow them to make a far more palatable offer. They could also use that $8 million to swallow the savings they would have received from releasing Ware this year and hold on to him under the terms of his current deal for another season before moving on, when they would realize a savings of more than $12 million. Before this news, it seemed likely the Cowboys would have to do something about their star pass-rusher. Now? They have options.
2. The Saints get flexibility with Jimmy Graham.
New Orleans, one of the league’s most cap-strapped teams, already ensured it will keep its star receiver around for another season by slapping the franchise tag on him before yesterday’s deadline. The only question now is determining which position Graham actually plays. You’ve probably heard about this problem by now: Graham is nominally listed as a tight end, but if you’ve seen him suit up, you know he moves all around the formation and spends plenty of time as a wide receiver. Naturally, Graham also wants to be paid like one; the franchise tag for a wide receiver this offseason is a guaranteed one-year deal at $12.3 million, while the tight end tag guarantees the selected player only a bit more than $7 million.
With the larger cap, the Saints can afford to pay Graham either figure, although they would surely prefer the $7 million hit. They’ve already lopped off $16.9 million by releasing defensive stalwarts Jabari Greer, Roman Harper, and Will Smith, but the Graham decision will begin to affect their decisions on offense. The Saints could save $2.4 million on their 2014 cap by releasing Lance Moore, or save $2.9 million by waiving Pierre Thomas; if Graham had been found to be a wide receiver and the Saints were forced to pay him $12.3 million under the tight cap, they almost surely would have had to let Moore and Thomas go. Now, even if Graham’s paid like a wideout, they can choose to keep those longtime contributors for another season.
My suspicion is that the two sides will eventually come to terms on a long-term contract that will pay Graham about $10 million per season. It would benefit both parties: Graham would procure some level of security and become the highest-paid tight end in league history with a salary approaching that of the league’s star wideouts, while the Saints would get cap relief this season while ensuring they don’t have to deal with this same problem again next season. If the Saints try to apply the franchise tag on Graham for a second consecutive season, his cap hit will rise by 20 percent, regardless of which position he’s designated as playing.
And if they don’t come to terms, I expect all parties involved will come to an agreement that designates Graham as a hybrid wideout–tight end in terms of the franchise tag, just as the Ravens did when Terrell Suggs challenged to be tagged as a defensive end several years ago. Graham lined up in the slot or out wide on 67 percent of his snaps last year, so if the hybrid designation treats his snaps proportionally, his franchise tag will come in at about $10.5 million.
3. The Panthers GM hasn’t stopped dancing yet.
If any team needed cap space this year, it was the Carolina Panthers, whose remarkable 12-4 campaign in 2013 had given way to serious questions about the makeup of the 2014 roster. The odious contracts handed out by Marty Hurney had put the Panthers into cap hell, and while Dave Gettleman restructured a few deals to create some room, it still seemed unlikely that Carolina would be able to find the space needed to ensure that star defensive end Greg Hardy would remain with the team for another year.
That extra $8 million might have saved Carolina’s bacon. It’s just enough to allow the Panthers to lock Hardy up with the franchise tag while giving Carolina some much-needed leverage in long-term contract negotiations. A Hardy extension would likely require a big signing bonus with guaranteed base salaries in the second and third seasons of a six-year deal, which would allow Carolina to save the big cap hits for 2015 and 2016. By eliminating the market for Hardy for at least one more season, that sort of deal will look far more palatable than it did a week ago.
The Panthers are still in rough shape financially, though. Three-quarters of their starting secondary are unrestricted free agents. There are bad deals up and down the roster from the Hurney era that won’t go away until 2015 (at the earliest), and Gettleman added one by giving kicker Graham Gano a four-year, $12 million deal.2 The Panthers also need to carve out cap space to give extensions to Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly, two of the biggest bargains in the league. And when left tackle Jordan Gross retired last week, it opened up another huge hole on the Carolina roster while creating just $300,000 in salary-cap space. The extra space doesn’t save Gettleman from cap hell, but it does allow him to keep Hardy, one of his star players, down there with him.
4. Michael Bennett is less likely to stay in Seattle.
Perhaps no player was squeezed more by last year’s cap than the former Buccaneers star, and while he made the most of his year with the Seahawks, his response to the idea of taking a hometown discount to stay in Seattle was to note, “This is not Costco.” After settling for a one-year, $4.8 million deal a year ago, it’s time for the 28-year-old Bennett to get paid.
The Seahawks are in great cap shape this year, especially since they released Sidney Rice and Red Bryant after their Super Bowl win. Next year — and beyond — is a different story. Their cap space will be swallowed up by new deals for many of their young superstars, starting with Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas before getting to Russell Wilson. It will be exceedingly difficult for the Seahawks to give Bennett a long-term deal that pays him like a premium player. And with Hardy off the market and Ware possibly behind, the market’s supply of 4-3 defensive ends is shrinking.
5. St. Louis can feel better about keeping Sam Bradford.
If you take everything the Rams say publicly about their incumbent starting quarterback at face value, they intend to hold on to Bradford for one more season and use the second overall pick in this year’s draft to upgrade somewhere else on the roster, likely drafting an offensive tackle, yet another wide receiver, or even trading down to somebody who needs a pass-rusher and wants Jadeveon Clowney.
Bradford’s mammoth contract, as the first overall pick under the terms of the old CBA, locks up $17.6 million of St. Louis’s cap in 2014. The Rams could save $10.4 million by cutting bait and moving on from their oft-injured starter, but with the extra money they have to spend, they can use the space to retain Bradford for one more year while making improvements elsewhere. They could choose to re-sign Rodger Saffold, who was impressive during a short stint at guard, or give disappointing cornerback Cortland Finnegan one more chance to prove he is worth the five-year, $50 million deal he signed two years ago. If the Rams want to give Bradford one more chance to prove he’s their franchise quarterback, the space allows them the flexibility to do so.
And obviously, that’s just the beginning: The higher ceiling will affect dozens of other moves over the next few days. The Patriots will be less likely to retain Aqib Talib with more teams able to accommodate the salary for an elite cornerback. An extension will be more likely for Justin Houston in Kansas City. Washington, of all teams, could return to its rightful place as offseason champions, competing for a key contributor or two even after franchising Brian Orakpo this week. After a year when the salary cap was squeezed and spending was sparse, 2014 promises to be a return to the free-spending days of the past decade. Get ready for a whirlwind March.
Source: Grantland » Contributors » Bill Barnwell | 4 Mar 2014 | 10:57 am PST
Have you ever wanted to taste Kanye West's meat? Then what is wrong with you and what is wrong with these people?!?! They want to take tissue samples from celebrities like James Franco, Kanye, and Jennifer Lawrence and make artisanal salami out of them.
It all starts with your favorite celebrities, and a quick biopsy to obtain tissue samples. Isolating muscle stem cells, we grow celebrity meat in our proprietary bioreactors. In the tradition of Italian cured meats, we dry, age, and spice our product into fine charcuterie.
Note: BiteLabs might be completely fake. But
fake is the new real so... nope, this is just fake.
Source: kottke.org | 4 Mar 2014 | 7:19 am PST
In California's Mojave Desert, about 40 miles southwest of Las Vegas (Google map), lies a five-square-mile solar thermal power project called the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (SEGS). The $2.2 billion facility consists of three power plants, each with a 40-story tower surrounded by thousands of sun-following mirrors called heliostats. The mirrors focus sunlight onto boilers atop the towers, creating steam, which drives turbines that generate enough electricity to power 140,000 California homes. The facility, owned by NRG Energy, Google and BrightSource Energy formally opened on February 17 and has a capacity of 392 megawatts. Getty Images photographer Ethan Miller made several trips to Ivanpah recently, returning with these great shots of the massive power plant, now up and running. [18 photos]
Source: In Focus | 4 Mar 2014 | 6:02 am PST
Hold onto yer butts, you can use the computer interface from Jurassic Park right in your web browser.
It may look a little confusing but just remember: this is a Unix system and you know this.Tags: Jurassic Park movies
Source: kottke.org | 3 Mar 2014 | 7:07 pm PST
In his own words, Wes Anderson explains different aspects of his visual style.
Nicely edited together by Nelson Carvajal at Way Too Indie.Tags: movies Nelson Carvajal video Wes Anderson
Source: kottke.org | 3 Mar 2014 | 2:38 pm PST
I keep waiting to get sick of seeing photos of huge flocks of birds flying around like they share a brain, but it hasn't happened. Alan Taylor has collected a bunch of starling murmuration photos at In Focus.
They're even better in motion.Tags: photography
Source: kottke.org | 3 Mar 2014 | 12:33 pm PST
From The Avant/Garde Diaries comes a brief lesson in Japanese sword fighting from master kendo sensei Shozo Kato.
Tags: kendo Shozo Kato sports video
Western beauty is radiance, majesty, grandness and broadness. In comparison, eastern beauty is desolateness. Humility. Hidden beauty.
Source: kottke.org | 3 Mar 2014 | 10:32 am PST
Somehow -- science? magic? pelican snacks? -- someone found a way to affix a GoPro camera to a pelican's beak and the view of him flying around a lake in Tanzania is pretty awesome.
(via devour)Tags: GoPro video
Source: kottke.org | 3 Mar 2014 | 8:42 am PST
I have to admit, this alternate Harry Potter ending would have been pretty great.
Tags: Harry Potter
Harry Potter would, forever, be The Boy Who Lived.
Source: kottke.org | 3 Mar 2014 | 7:25 am PST
Carnival season 2014 is well underway across Europe and the Americas. These pre-Lent bacchanalian festivals have been taking place for nearly a month, ushering out the winter and welcoming in spring. The largest and most famous of all--the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil--took place this weekend. The city's 6 million residents, along with more than 900,000 tourists, crowded the streets for days of rowdy, joyous parades and extravagant processions by the city's best samba schools. Gathered here are recent images of carnivals around the world. [35 photos]
Source: In Focus | 3 Mar 2014 | 6:09 am PST
Love these voxelated animal sculptures by New Zealand artist Ben Foster.
art Ben Foster sculpture
Source: kottke.org | 28 Feb 2014 | 11:19 am PST
Mays and Barnwell share their combine experiences before getting to the first cuts and signings of the offseason.
You can listen to this podcast on the ESPN Podcenter here, or subscribe to the Grantland Sports podcast network on iTunes here and the Grantland NFL Podcast here.
Source: Grantland » Contributors » Bill Barnwell | 28 Feb 2014 | 11:04 am PST
Stefano Maggiolo made a map of how much the time zones of the world vary from solar time. The darker the color, the more the deviation.
China maps Stefano Maggiolo time
Looking for other regions of the world having the same peculiarity of Spain, I edited a world map from Wikipedia to show the difference between solar and standard time. It turns out, there are many places where the sun rises and sets late in the day, like in Spain, but not a lot where it is very early (highlighted in red and green in the map, respectively). Most of Russia is heavily red, but mostly in zones with very scarce population; the exception is St. Petersburg, with a discrepancy of two hours, but the effect on time is mitigated by the high latitude. The most extreme example of Spain-like time is western China: the difference reaches three hours against solar time. For example, today the sun rises there at 10:15 and sets at 19:45, and solar noon is at 15:01.
Source: kottke.org | 28 Feb 2014 | 9:51 am PST
Pop Chart Lab has produced a print of grammatical diagrams of the opening lines of notable novels. Here's Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea:
There are also sentences from DFW, Plath, and Austen. Prints start at $29.Tags: art books design language
Source: kottke.org | 28 Feb 2014 | 7:41 am PST
As the eighth annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference approaches this weekend, I find myself thinking more and more about the next frontier for quantitative analysis. Authorship certainly isn’t a problem, as there’s no lack of metric creation out in the wild. Data, once a problem outside the world of baseball, are widespread and rapidly expanding into spectra that wouldn’t have been remotely imaginable at the turn of the century. Awareness is steadily rising; the Phillies became the last Major League Baseball team to hire a stat guy, and 29 of 30 NBA teams were represented at last year’s Sloan conference. (The lone holdout, the Los Angeles Lakers, were shamed into attending this weekend’s conference.)
Understanding, though? That’s still hit or miss. There are really smart executives, coaches, and players who have either managed to neutralize the idea of analytics or flat-out rejected it. In many cases, I find the expert in question is really just misinterpreting a statistical concept or stretching it beyond its reasonable limits. In others, impossible straw men are drawn up that disqualify not only analytics from adding anything to the discussion, but also any sort of intelligent thought about how to win at your particular sport.
Which is to say that both the concept of analytics and the actual ideas behind analytics are probably being sold short by those holding out. The popular reasoning is that analytics should coexist with traditional measurements and concepts, and in many cases, that works perfectly. It’s also a catchall that doesn’t always fit. There are some situations where analytics are totally useless; I wouldn’t use a quantitative metric to figure out which left tackle I should draft, for one. There are others where analytics so thoroughly answer the question that the conventional wisdom is simply wrong.
Analytics, as seen by the uninitiated, often get summed up as alphabet-soup models that are as impossible to calculate as they are to understand. And yes, certainly, concepts like WAR and Corsi and DVOA are part of the analytics equation. But more often, analytics aren’t really all that advanced at all. It’s not about reducing sports to numbers; it’s about finding evidence. That seems obvious in 2014, but it’s not difficult to find a bevy of comments from this year, from successful people within the American sports community, which either misinterpret analytics or reject them in favor of an outdated or inaccurate worldview. Let’s run through them and see if there are any consistent mistakes being made, and what that can tell us about the steps the analytics community still has to make in communicating how these concepts work.
Let’s start in Tennessee, where the always excellent Paul Kuharsky recently recapped a radio interview with new Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt. Kuharsky wondered whether Whisenhunt might be interested in or open to analytics by virtue of his civil engineering degree, but that wasn’t quite the case. Whisenhunt said he doesn’t really pay attention to analytics, “because I probably don’t understand it,” and then confirmed that with his subsequent statements.
This is the way to look at it from a perspective of play calling. I can’t tell you thousands and thousands of plays that you’ve gone in there and you’ve prepared to see a defense and you can run all the analytics that you want but there is no guarantee on third-and-1 in a critical situation in the game that they are going to play the defense they’ve shown 99 out of 100 times. It just doesn’t happen.
What Whisenhunt’s talking about here, I think, is that part of his job as a playcaller is to try to figure out what the other team is going to call and adapt accordingly. That’s game theory! It’s hard to think of a more analytics-friendly concept, and indeed, plenty of papers have been written on maximizing efficiency in playcalling in football by employing game theory, including this 2009 paper by Freakonomics author Steven Levitt and Ken Kovash, who pulled off one of the most impressive feats of this offseason: He managed to successfully remain employed by the Cleveland Browns front office. In this case, analytics — perhaps not the analytics Whisenhunt is imagining — agree with Whisenhunt’s concept wholeheartedly.
That said, I’m not sure his explanation makes a lot of sense. It might be taken to the extreme, but if you’re a playcaller and you see a team line up in a particular defensive front on third-and-1 99 times out of 100, aren’t you going to assume they will line up in that front when you suit up for the 101st time? Think about it like a punt coverage: You never see the punting team, say, line up with five guys on the line because it thinks this might be the one exception where the opposition doesn’t line up in a traditional punt-return formation.
There is always the human element in there, I think. Listen, you’re right, I’m an engineer. I understand the trends, I understand the probabilities, I understand all that. But if you get so wrapped up in analytics sometimes, you lose a feel for the game. And to me, there is an emotional side of the game and there is also a feel for the game. When you see a guy like [Frank] Wycheck make a one-handed catch in the back of the end zone with the guy draped all over him, how do you put an analytic on that?
As an aside: I always love when people use “to me” at the beginning of the sentence. It’s supposed to imply this is some closely held point that reveals something about the person talking, but it’s almost always some widely held sentiment that seems obvious. Everyone agrees there’s an emotional side of the game and a feel for the game, right?
Here, though, Whisenhunt holds analytics to an impossible, arbitrary standard. (He also uses the word in a sentence the way your mom would talk about somebody “doing a rap” or “writing a blog.”) Of course there’s no metric that implies or encapsulates Frank Wycheck’s spectacular one-handed catches in the back of the end zone. We could invent one, certainly, but I doubt that Tight End One-Handed Catches (TEOC) would catch on or be of much use.
Put Whisenhunt’s standard in a different context and you can see why it’s silly. Imagine, for a moment, he was making the same argument against the idea of reducing players to X’s and O’s and bothering to come up with a scheme or play design. There’s no play design in history that’s specifically going to call for the quarterback to throw a ball out of Wycheck’s range and have him catch it with one hand, right? You might know Wycheck is good in the red zone, or that your tight end is your safest target against soft zones from linebackers, and you might draw up a play where Wycheck is your first target, but you would never, as a playcaller or an offensive mind, draw up a specific play where Wycheck was supposed to catch the ball in the back of the end zone with one hand. That doesn’t reduce play design or offensive scheming into irrelevance. And, likewise, you might use analytics to conclude that Wycheck has been wildly successful in the red zone during his career, or that passes to your tight end in the red zone are less likely to be intercepted than any other target, and that might encourage you to throw the ball to Wycheck in the end zone. Analytics, just like play calling or proper play design, are designed to help put you in the best situation possible and make it easiest for you to succeed. It creates the best process, and when the outcome turns out to be a one-handed catch, that is what’s called a bonus.
Kevin Mawae, one of the best centers in the history of modern football, rehashes a classic argument against the combine, which yields some of the oldest analytics in the book. (Like passer rating, the metrics produced by the combine have been around for so long that the league has accepted them, even if they’re not of much use.) To some extent, I agree with Mawae: The combine is of limited utility, and has to be taken in context with a player’s college performance, his conduct and knowledge expressed during team interviews, and his medical condition. And, yes, doctors actually do measure your heart at the combine.
You hear these arguments in favor of intangibles as arguments against analytics all the time, and they don’t really fly. I don’t think anybody worth their salt who puts even a tiny bit of stock in numbers doubts that the list of qualities Mawae posted matter. A player’s constitution can help get the most out of what he has, even if he lacks the physical characteristics associated with truly great players.
To suggest those intangible attributes are what determines who plays well at the next level is incomplete and likely unfair. Just as there are players with great athletic ability who fail to apply themselves and wash out of the NFL, there are plenty of guys who give every last ounce of heart and effort they have to the NFL and fail to succeed because they lack the ability or physicality to play at the next level.
If it were really all about heart, wouldn’t the NFL consist almost entirely of college walk-ons who suited up for the love of competition? Wouldn’t Russell Wilson and Michael Jordan, athletes with incredible heart and drive, have succeeded in baseball? Wouldn’t the many ex-NFL players who have become general managers know to look past the fool’s errand of athleticism to go for a teamful of gritty, undersize tough guys? It’s an incredible coincidence, then, that the guys who have the heart, commitment, and integrity to succeed at the professional level just happen to be giants with incredible quick-twitch skills in Division I colleges.
Analytics like the ones produced by the combine probably aren’t going to quantify heart or determination. That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with making those things part of the discussion in terms of evaluating a player. What analytics might be able to do, though, is use history to figure out the most meaningful and telling characteristics among the things you can quantify, and how those factors interact with the things that can’t be calculated. It’s all part of the puzzle.
Legendary Athletics and Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa thinks newfangled metrics are keeping Jeff Bagwell out of the Hall of Fame:
Otherwise, Jack Morris would be in the Hall of Fame … the new metrics have a real important place, just don’t exaggerate them, and I think they get exaggerated at times. Like with Jack Morris, and maybe Bagwell.
What LaRussa is saying, of course, is that you need to keep something like WAR or ERA+ on equal footing with RBIs or pitcher wins. Which is ridiculous. There’s no newly introduced advanced metric keeping Bagwell out of the Hall of Fame, nor is the electorate that hasn’t voted for him particularly dependent upon new advanced metrics. (Some are, of course.) The popular JAWS system developed by Jay Jaffe paints Bagwell as the sixth-best first baseman in league history and ahead of the typical Hall of Fame candidate in every way. OPS+ has him as the 36th-best hitter in baseball history, and he’s 37th in positional bWAR. The only reason he isn’t in the Hall of Fame is because voters have arbitrarily decided that anybody who hit home runs in the 1990s was on steroids.
Morris is kept out, meanwhile, because the new metrics have revealed for a decade-plus now that the arbitrary cases once made for Morris don’t really fly, and that he was just about a league-average pitcher. The “pitching to the score” argument has been refuted repeatedly, not by some advanced metric, but by simply looking back at Morris’s career and pointing out that he didn’t exhibit any ability to do so. The metrics that adjust Morris’s career performance for his run support and the context in which he played, to be clear, are miles better than the traditional methods of evaluating a player’s performance, and every front office in baseball would tell you so. The new metrics are not being improperly exaggerated here. The old ones are.
Ron Washington was one of the featured characters in Moneyball, remember? So it hurts the most when he says things like this about the sabermetric opposition to the sacrifice bunt:
I think if they try to do that, they’re going to be telling me how to [bleep] manage. That’s the way I answer that [bleep] question. They can take the analytics on that and shove it up their [bleep][bleep].
Wow! One can envision Washington, abandoned by his peers, grumbling as he slowly retreats backward against the tide. At last, he establishes a final beachhead from which to keep the game he loves from being overtaken — overtaken by people examining history to figure out which methodologies will make it easiest to win that game. He goes on:
Mike Scioscia dropped 56 sacrifice bunts on his club, the most in the league, and he’s a genius. But Ron Washington dropped 53 and he’s bunting too much? You can take that analytics and shove it.
I do it when I feel it’s necessary, not when the analytics feel it’s necessary, not when you guys feel it’s necessary, and not when somebody else feels it’s necessary. It’s when Ron Washington feels it’s necessary. Bottom line. …
The percentages for me in that situation go up by [some of his lesser hitters] squaring and bunting it rather than me allowing them to swing.
I’m not sure why Washington thinks Scioscia has been deified for his usage of the sacrifice bunt. It’s certainly not my place to speak for baseball sabermetricians, but my impression is that they would also frown upon Scioscia’s usage of the sacrifice bunt, too.
Jason Collette covered Washington’s comment and what sacrificing actually accomplished for the Rangers last year in a FanGraphs piece published Wednesday. The answer is, well, not much. The Rangers actually sacrificed more frequently than the Angels, 45 to 37, with 19 of those bunts coming with a runner on first and nobody out. We can figure out the run expectancy for this simple situation by — and this is going to really piss Washington off — simply going back and calculating how many runs each team scored when they had a runner on first and nobody out, and how that changed when teams had a runner on second and one out. Baseball Prospectus has a report that does just that, and it notes that sacrifice bunting reduced a team’s run expectancy for that inning from .83 runs to .64 runs in 2013. The same is true of most previous years.
When Washington talks about playing the percentages, he’s simply wrong. As Collette notes, The Book, authored by sabermetrician Tom Tango and others, goes into lengthy detail about the percentages and when it makes sense to execute a sacrifice bunt. Tango uses history — the same history Washington is attempting to make sense of and apply by way of memory — to find that sacrifice bunts were grossly overused and rarely made sense. This is not a question of analytics; it’s a question of whether one human’s brain is more effective than a computer at memorizing hundreds of thousands of outcomes across several decades, and the answer should be obvious.
Washington isn’t being old-school or traditional with his comments. He’s being obstinate and wasteful. You can understand why he would want to manage a team based upon the principles of the baseball he has seen coming up into the game, and there are ways he can make an impact on his team that can’t be measured by sabermetrics. But the sacrifice bunt is a place where there is almost no space for discussion. Washington is actively making his team worse, and even worse, he’s indignant about doing so. Can you imagine a CEO running a business this way? You can? Shit.
Throughout these arguments against analytics and quantitative analysis, we see some consistent focuses. There’s an emphasis on older methodologies, even when they’ve been surpassed by options whose superiority is easily provable. There is the misnomer that statistics need to encapsulate everything to justify their usage, a baseline that doesn’t apply to any traditional method of analysis. And there’s a characterizing of concepts that might otherwise be too difficult to understand as a waste of time, which is unfortunate.
Because of that, I’m really inclined to think the most important thing stat geeks can do in 2014 is not develop new statistics, but do a better job of explaining the metrics that already exist. The best organizations — some of which have employed or do employ the players and coaches I referenced above — don’t necessarily have the best methodologies or the most advanced quantitative analysis, although some do. Instead, they make the most of the metrics they do have by communicating what they do know throughout the organization and implementing it in meaningful ways. It’s the Pirates and their dramatic defensive shifts, a move that unquestionably pushed them into the playoffs a year ago. Or Sam Presti and Oklahoma City’s philosophy of constantly questioning what they think they know. As Sloan approaches its 10th birthday, plenty of owners and general managers will happily stop by and announce they’re interested in analytics. For things to keep changing and for evidence-driven analysis to improve teams’ chances of winning, though, the people talking and writing about those metrics will need to do a better job of communicating them to the nonbelievers. There’s still a lot to learn. There’s also already a lot to say.
Source: Grantland » Contributors » Bill Barnwell | 28 Feb 2014 | 6:25 am PST
When starlings flock together, wheeling and darting through the sky in tight, fluid formations, we call it a murmuration. These murmurations can range from small groups of a few hundred starlings in a small ball, to undulating seas of millions of birds, blocking out the sun. I thought today would be a good day to just take a few moments and appreciate the simple beauty of murmurations, captured by various photographers over the past few years. [22 photos]
Source: In Focus | 28 Feb 2014 | 6:23 am PST
Moisés Naím has an article that explains what's behind the protests.
Tags: photography Venezuela
This is the half of the country whose sons and daughters have taken to the streets to protest against a repressive regime that treats them as mortal enemies. And maybe they are. After all, they represent the vanguard of a society no longer willing to tolerate an abusive government with disastrous results to show for its 15-year grip on power: Venezuela is now the world champion of inflation, homicide, insecurity, and shortages of essential goods-from milk for children to insulin for diabetics and all kinds of indispensable products. All this despite having the greatest oil reserves in the world and a government with absolute control of all state institutions and levers of power. Sadly, that government has used its immense wealth and authority to push through unsustainable populist policies, buy votes, jail opposition leaders, and shut down television channels. Daily shortages of basic goods, fear of crime, and hopelessness have become unbearable.
Source: kottke.org | 28 Feb 2014 | 6:00 am PST
Richard Lenski and his team of researchers utilize a clever technique to observe and study evolution of bacteria in realtime. Periodically freezing a sample of the bacteria every few generations allows them to go back in time to study particular traits and to pinpoint when differences occur.
Tags: evolution genetics Richard Lenski science
After 30,000 generations, researchers noticed something strange. One population had evolved the ability to use a different carbon-based molecule in the solution, called citrate, as a power source.
Researchers wondered whether it was the result of a rare, single mutation, or a more complex change involving a series of mutations over generations. To find out, one of Lenski's postdocs, Zachary Blount, took some of the frozen cells and grew them in a culture lacking glucose, with citrate as the only potential food source.
After testing 10 trillion ancestral cells from early generations, he got no growth. But when he tested cells from the 20,000th generation on, he began to get results, eventually finding 19 mutants that could use citrate as a power source. The results showed that the citrate-eating mutation was most likely not the result of a single mutation, but one enabled by multiple changes over 20,000 generations.
Source: kottke.org | 27 Feb 2014 | 5:55 pm PST
Nice short video tour of the U.S. Naval Observatory with Dr. Demetrios Matsakis, Chief Scientist for USNO's Time Services.
Tags: Demetrios Matsakis time video
I refer to my clocks as my babies...and that I must take care of them.
Source: kottke.org | 27 Feb 2014 | 4:37 pm PST
According to an article in The Journal of the American Medical Association, the obesity rate of American 2- to 5-year-old children has dropped from 14% in 2004 to 8% in 2012.
Children now consume fewer calories from sugary beverages than they did in 1999. More women are breast-feeding, which can lead to a healthier range of weight gain for young children. Federal researchers have also chronicled a drop in overall calories for children in the past decade, down by 7 percent for boys and 4 percent for girls, but health experts said those declines were too small to make much difference.
Barry M. Popkin, a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who has tracked American food purchases in a large data project, said families with children had been buying lower-calorie foods over the past decade, a pattern he said was unrelated to the economic downturn.
He credited those habits, and changes in the federally funded Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, for the decline in obesity among young children. The program, which subsidizes food for low-income women, reduced funding for fruit juices, cheese and eggs and increased it for whole fruits and vegetables.
Kevin Drum calls the drop "baffling".Tags: food healthcare obesity science USA
Source: kottke.org | 27 Feb 2014 | 2:48 pm PST
Love this concept cover for Fahrenheit 451 by designer Elizabeth Perez...the 1 is a match and the spine is striking paper for lighting it.
Fahrenheit 451 is a novel about a dystopian future where books are outlawed and firemen burn any house that contains them. The story is about suppressing ideas, and about how television destroys interest in reading literature.
I wanted to spread the book-burning message to the book itself. The book's spine is screen-printed with a matchbook striking paper surface, so the book itself can be burned.
(via @daveg)Tags: books design Elizabeth Perez Fahrenheit 451
Source: kottke.org | 27 Feb 2014 | 1:27 pm PST
We call it the Wolfram Language because it is a language. But it's a new and different kind of language. It's a general-purpose knowledge-based language. That covers all forms of computing, in a new way.
There are plenty of existing general-purpose computer languages. But their vision is very different -- and in a sense much more modest -- than the Wolfram Language. They concentrate on managing the structure of programs, keeping the language itself small in scope, and relying on a web of external libraries for additional functionality. In the Wolfram Language my concept from the very beginning has been to create a single tightly integrated system in which as much as possible is included right in the language itself.
The demo video is a little mind-melting in parts:
Not sure if this will take off or not, but the idea behind it all is worth exploring.Tags: programming Stephen Wolfram Wolfram Language
Source: kottke.org | 27 Feb 2014 | 12:08 pm PST
The best chess player in history, 23-year-old Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, has released an iOS app where you can play simulated games against Carlsen at various stages of his career, from age 5 up to the present. The Telegraph has the details.
Anyone who wants to find out more about his playing style can do so with Mr Carlsen's new app, which allows users to play him at the different levels he has achieved since the age of five.
The app is built on hundreds of thousands of different positions from Mr Carlsen's games, be they classical, rapid or blitz, to determine what moves he would make at those ages.
The aim is to promote chess among as many people as possible to make the sport more popular and accessible.
"The good thing is that you can play me at any age. At age five, anyone has a chance to beat me," Mr Carlsen said.
So what is it like for Mr Carlsen to play against his younger self?
"He is really tricky," the champion said. "Even Magnus at 11 years old was a very gifted tactician. A while ago I played as a test Magnus [aged] 14. I outplayed him at some point positionally. And just boom, boom, he tricked me tactically.
"But he makes mistakes as well, so I just have to be patient."
(via mr)Tags: chess games iPhone apps Magnus Carlsen
Source: kottke.org | 27 Feb 2014 | 7:09 am PST
Widespread demonstrations against Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro's government have become increasingly violent, leading to as many as 14 deaths. The protests began earlier this month as student groups voiced anger at the lack of security, high inflation, and more. Peaceful protests were met with harsh resistance, including gunfire. The ranks of the demonstrators swelled shortly after, as a broad dissatisfaction with the government and its handling of the current crisis brought thousands more to the streets - calling for Maduro to step down. Both sides appear to be digging in for the long run, as outside governments and groups call for calm and dialogue. Be sure to also see Moisés Naím's article The Tragedy of Venezuela. [40 photos]
Source: In Focus | 27 Feb 2014 | 6:28 am PST
NASA announced the discovery of 719 new planets today. That brings the tally of known planets in our universe to almost 1800. 20 years ago, that number was not more than 15 (including the nine planets orbiting the Sun). Here's a rough timeline of the dramatically increasing pace of planetary discovery:
4.54 billion BCE-1700: 6
2006: -1 [for Pluto :( ]
Last year, Jonathan Corum made an infographic of the sizes and orbits of the 190 confirmed planets discovered at that point by the Kepler mission. I hope the Times updates it with this recent batch.Tags: astronomy infoviz Jonathan Corum NASA science
Source: kottke.org | 26 Feb 2014 | 7:44 pm PST
Planet Money: always buy the bigger pizza because geometry.
Tags: economics food geometry mathematics pizza
The math of why bigger pizzas are such a good deal is simple. A pizza is a circle, and the area of a circle increases with the square of the radius.
So, for example, a 16-inch pizza is actually four times as big as an 8-inch pizza.
And when you look at thousands of pizza prices from around the U.S., you see that you almost always get a much, much better deal when you buy a bigger pizza.
Source: kottke.org | 26 Feb 2014 | 6:55 pm PST
In celebration of its 20th anniversary, Fast Company presents an oral history of the SXSW Interactive Festival.
Within SXSW Interactive's march from obscurity to prominence is the story of digital culture itself. SXSW was a hive of activity for early web denizens and hackers around the turn of the century, and a birthing ground for the social media revolution that reshaped modern life in the second half of the '00s. Its emergence from the shadow of the music festival it grew out of mirrors the transformation of geeks into modern society's newest rock stars.
I went to SXSW a handful of times (maybe five?), met my wife there, and even keynoted (w/ Dooce) in the big room (which was, in my memory, a disaster of Zuckerpudlian proportions). Paul Ford noted on Twitter:
Wow this is just a tiny bit The Oral History of Talking About Yourself.
Totes get that, but South By1 distinguished itself in the early days by being a conference where anyone could participate. Attendees took ownership of this conference as they could not at the other big web conferences of the era. Everyone was someone, everyone was nobody. (I mean, not literally -- the Jeffreys (Zeldman and Veen) couldn't walk three feet without someone engaging them in conversation. But you get my drift.) As on the personal web of the late 1900s and early 2000s, you were the focal point of SXSW, for better or worse.
 There was an effort back in my day to refer to the conference as "sick-sow" but thankfully that didn't stick. I mean, Jesus. ↩Tags: conferences Paul Ford SXSW
Source: kottke.org | 26 Feb 2014 | 6:21 pm PST
On Sunday, a wild leopard ran through the busy streets of Meerut, a city 40 miles north of New Delhi, India, injuring seven people as officials armed with tranquilizer darts and sticks tried to capture it. One police officer was treated for a large gash in his shoulder. The big cat ran across rooftops, and into a movie theater, a hospital, and construction sites. Schools and shops were closed, and the leopard remains in the area, uncaught. [5 photos]
Source: In Focus | 26 Feb 2014 | 6:39 am PST
The sheng is a free-reed wind instrument dating back to 1100 BCE in China. Using a modern sheng, Li-Jin Lee makes the ancient instrument sound remarkably like Super Mario Bros., including coin and power-up sounds.
And I know the Olympics are over and good riddance and all that, but this Mario Kart speedskating bit is great. Baby Park was one of my favorite tracks on Double Dash.Tags: Li-Jin Lee music Super Mario Bros video video games
Source: kottke.org | 25 Feb 2014 | 3:57 pm PST
If you're having Downton Abbey withdrawals, may I suggest Robert Altman's Gosford Park? Written by Downton creator Julian Fellowes, it's a proto-Downton of sorts: lots of upstairs/downstairs with a dash of mystery. And the cast! Clive Owen, Emily Watson, Stephen Fry, Kristin Scott Thomas, Michael Gambon, Derek Jacobi, Kelly Macdonald, Helen Mirren, Ryan Phillippe...and Maggie Smith plays a witty countess.Downton Abbey Gosford Park Julian Fellowes movies Robert Altman TV
Source: kottke.org | 25 Feb 2014 | 2:33 pm PST
My mind is so tiny these days it doesn't take much to blow it, so grain of salt and all that. But, this theory that Andy's mom in Toy Story is Jessie's original owner is popping my fuse right now.
Several months ago, one of my anonymous Pixar Theory Interns (that's a thing on a resume) came to me with a crazy proposition: Andy's mom is Emily, Jessie's previous owner.
I laughed. I then agreed.
Previously: a grand unified theory of Pixar.Tags: movies Pixar Toy Story
Source: kottke.org | 25 Feb 2014 | 1:06 pm PST
Fine work as usual from Christian Annyas: a look at the design of the Warner Bros logo from 1923 to the present. The classic "WB" shield of my Bugs-and-Daffy-saturated youth will always be a favorite, but I do like the Saul Bass logo of the 70s and early 80s:
Affleck's Argo and Soderbergh's Magic Mike both used the Bass logo in place of the contemporary logo, which is the kind of little detail I love.Tags: Christian Annyas design logos movies Saul Bass
Source: kottke.org | 25 Feb 2014 | 11:55 am PST
Huzzah! Long unavailable (or at least not widely available), Errol Morris' documentary film on Stephen Hawking and his work, A Brief History of Time, is now available for rent or purchase on iTunes. Or if you can wait a little bit, there's a Criterion Blu-ray edition coming out in mid-March. Bonus: score by Philip Glass!Tags: A Brief History of Time Errol Morris movies physics science Stephen Hawking
Source: kottke.org | 25 Feb 2014 | 8:10 am PST
On Friday afternoon, a relatively quiet NFL scouting combine was interrupted by a stunning story, as Pro Football Talk quoted multiple league sources in reporting that the 49ers and Browns had nearly completed a trade that would have sent 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh to Cleveland. Mike Florio’s initial report said a swap of Harbaugh for picks “was in place between the teams,” and when the Browns released a statement that failed to deny the report, rumors began to run rampant. While 49ers owner Jed York denied the story was true on Twitter, multiple sources around the league — including Browns owner Jimmy Haslam — have since confirmed there were some discussions regarding a possible Harbaugh move to Cleveland. Exciting!
Of course, this move won’t be happening; the Browns eventually hired Mike Pettine to be their new head coach and promptly overhauled the remainder of their front office by parting ways with executives Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi, so even if there was a brief window of opportunity for a Harbaugh trade, it’s now safely shut. But that doesn’t make the idea of a Harbaugh trade much less interesting, nor does it preclude the 49ers from considering one in the future. That this story even happened might very well tell us a lot about Harbaugh’s future with the team, or at the very least, his current level of happiness with the organization. Let’s break down what happened, how it could have worked for both sides, and what to look for going forward with the Harbaugh-49ers relationship.
1. Is the story true?
There’s almost definitely some truth to the rumors. There is little reason to believe the Browns would make up the story, leak it to multiple league sources, allow them to leak it to the media, and then refuse to deny it, especially after failing to complete the transaction and hiring a different coach. Harbaugh would gain nothing from confirming the reports publicly and seeming like he wants out of San Francisco when no such deal is coming, but if his camp leaked the story, it would be their way of casting aspersions on the organization and beginning to create the narrative that the team doesn’t want him around. The 49ers have absolutely nothing to gain from confirming the story whatsoever. Put it this way: The Browns are one of the most sputtering organizations in football and have been for a decade now. Do you really think they’re suddenly capable of pulling an elaborate con that lured in some of the most notable reporters around the league? Something happened here.
Of course, the specific nature of what exactly happened is up for grabs. One man’s negotiations can be another’s hypothetical conversation. Florio’s report suggested the Browns and 49ers had agreed on compensation for Harbaugh, but that the head coach turned down the opportunity. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen confirmed the “substance” of the report, noting that the Browns’ run at Harbaugh had reached a “serious stage.” York said the report “isn’t true,” a statement Harbaugh reiterated when reached for comment by 49ers writer Matt Maiocco.
There’s enough wiggle room in all those statements for there to have been some contact between Harbaugh and the Browns without anybody having to lie. Tim Kawakami laid out a convincing-if-hypothetical argument suggesting that the Browns would have contacted Harbaugh through Harbaugh’s assistant, Mick Lombardi, the son of Mike Lombardi. The initial inquiry might very well have been to interview one of the respected assistants on San Francisco’s staff, but Kawakami suggests Harbaugh might have instead told the Browns that he would be interested in a possible deal to leave for Cleveland. For what it’s worth, Cleveland radio host Joe Lull laid this out as the actual way things went down, with the deal falling apart over terms of compensation.
In any case, it doesn’t take much to satisfy the terms of the various rumors and reports. Through some channel, the Browns and Harbaugh need to have expressed some level of interest in completing a deal, at which point the rest of the San Francisco front office was likely made aware of a possible situation brewing. There were likely preliminary discussions of what the draft-pick compensation would look like, either internally in San Francisco or via an offer from Cleveland to which the 49ers were, at some level, amenable. An outline of terms for Harbaugh’s contract and specific level of power within the organization was likely discussed with Harbaugh’s agent, David Dunn. And then, at some point, the deal fell apart. It seems unlikely the parties had all agreed on everything, only for Harbaugh to decide against putting his name on the dotted line at the last moment. Likewise, it’s hard to figure this was as simple as the Browns asking about Harbaugh, the 49ers saying no, and the discussion ending there. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.
2. Is it even legal to trade your head coach?
It appears so, yes. The league banned the practice of trading assets for coaches in 2003, after the Buccaneers sent a bounty of picks to the Raiders for Jon Gruden, but at some point in the interim, the rules again changed to legalize the practice. NFL spokesperson Greg Aiello released a statement noting the following league policy:
Except for Head Coaches and High-Level Club Employees (club presidents, general managers, and persons with equivalent responsibility and authority), clubs are not permitted to exchange draft choices or cash for the release of individuals who are under contract to another organization.
A Harbaugh trade would have been legal under league rules.
3. Why would Harbaugh want to leave the 49ers for Cleveland?
A fair question. Of course, it would seem odd for Harbaugh to leave what is regarded as one of the league’s best franchises for one of its worst. The 49ers are overflowing with young talent and set to compete for the foreseeable future; the Browns have three stars in Josh Gordon, Joe Haden, and Joe Thomas, but lack the sort of depth the 49ers have in spades. While the Browns have two first-round picks in this year’s deep draft after the Trent Richardson trade, Cleveland would surely be forced to give up a serious haul as part of any trade for Harbaugh, limiting his ability to quickly turn around the roster. Having built one of the league’s best coaching staffs in San Francisco, Harbaugh would likely need to rebuild things in Cleveland without the services of his coordinators. And, obviously, it’s a lot easier to build a winner with Colin Kaepernick than it is with Brian Hoyer, Brandon Weeden, Alex Tanney or Jason Campbell, the three current quarterbacks on Cleveland’s roster.
So, if it’s impossible to construct a case for Harbaugh to leave for football reasons, it seems logical to believe the reasons he might choose to leave would be personal. Namely, Harbaugh would want to leave San Francisco only if he didn’t enjoy being part of the 49ers organization. It’s the only plausible explanation, and in the past 72 hours, arguments to that point have begun to arise. Kawakami’s description of Harbaugh, almost surely informed by folks within the 49ers organization, speaks to the perception surrounding the head coach:
Larger point: I know some 49ers fans — or mostly Harbaugh fans — don’t want to hear this, but the reality is that Harbaugh is a combustible commodity who has 49ers HQ very unsettled most days and now he’s coming up on a contract extension that he really thought he deserved last year, so things are a little pent-up between coach and management.
That looming contract negotiation pops up in reports as a flash point for the organization. Harbaugh signed a five-year, $25 million deal to take over as 49ers head coach before the 2011 season, and after going 36-11-1 while leading the team to a Super Bowl and three consecutive NFC Championship Games, Harbaugh likely expects his next deal to be among the largest in football. Both Kawakami and Maiocco, though, report that the 49ers are hesitant to make Harbaugh one of the league’s highest-paid coaches until he wins a Super Bowl, with Maiocco reporting that the 49ers would likely offer Harbaugh an extension similar to his current contract, only with a hefty incentive for winning the Super Bowl. Such an extension — my speculation here — could look like a three-year, $20 million deal with a $2 million escalator were Harbaugh to claim the Super Bowl at any time during the deal. Harbaugh would probably expect to receive something like $8 million per year in an extension with the 49ers. The Browns would surely have had to pay over the odds to get Harbaugh, but more on that in a minute.
4. Why would the 49ers want to move on from Harbaugh?
For a few reasons. If the contract impasse is significant enough that the 49ers fear Harbaugh would leave for another NFL team (or a high-profile college program) at the end of his deal, it would make sense for the 49ers to sell high on Harbaugh while they can, allowing them to replace him with one of the members of his highly touted staff while picking up a fortune in draft picks in the process.
Kawakami also reported as recently as December that there was definite tension in the relationship between Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke, who has final say in the team’s personnel decisions. A move might give Harbaugh the chance to, at the very least, have a much larger say in shopping for the team’s groceries; it might also give Baalke a chance to mold the team without public disagreements from his head coach. (It’s also worth noting that every combination of head coach and general manager disagrees on specific player valuations, so it’s entirely possible the conflicts don’t represent a problem.) Harbaugh might have suspected Lombardi to be a more amenable partner.
The 49ers can certainly afford to sign Harbaugh, but if they felt like a large contract extension didn’t represent good value, they could certainly pocket a significant return while paying another coach a relatively cheaper sum.
5. Why would the Browns want to acquire Harbaugh?
6. How much should it have cost the Browns to acquire Harbaugh?
The fun stuff! For whatever issues the 49ers and their head coach might possibly have, it certainly doesn’t appear that Harbaugh is exactly on the trading block. The public-relations hit the 49ers would take if they dealt away their wildly successful head coach, especially as they move into a new stadium, would be downright brutal, especially if they failed to make it back to the NFC Championship Game without Harbaugh around in 2014. It would be a very risky move for the 49ers, and with two years left on Harbaugh’s original contract, it would take an overwhelming offer for the 49ers to even consider trading him away.
The most similar situation to a possible Harbaugh trade would likely be the aforementioned Jon Gruden deal between the Raiders and the Buccaneers. Gruden had taken over a 4-12 team and gone 38-26 in his four years with the Raiders, taking a trip to the AFC Championship Game in his third season before losing to the Patriots in the infamous Tuck Rule divisional-round contest during his fourth and final season at the helm. He was regarded as one of the league’s better coaches, but like Harbaugh, he hadn’t yet broken through to the Super Bowl level. The 9-7 Buccaneers had just fired Tony Dungy after six seasons at the helm, owing mostly to Dungy’s 2-4 record in the playoffs. The Buccaneers expected to replace Dungy with Bill Parcells, but after Parcells turned Tampa down, the Buccaneers were left desperate for a big name.
They attempted to first go after 49ers coach Steve Mariucci, but after that fell through, the Buccaneers went after Gruden, who had one year left on his deal. Afraid of losing him for nothing, the Raiders bit the bullet and dealt Chucky to the Buccaneers for a massive haul: Tampa Bay’s first- and second-round picks in the 2002 draft, their first-rounder in the 2003 draft, a second-rounder in the 2004 draft, and $8 million in cash. That’s pretty close to the haul the Rams got for trading down in the 2012 draft and handing Washington the rights to Robert Griffin III.
The Buccaneers had been a playoff-caliber team for years under Dungy, so the Raiders likely made the trade figuring that the picks would be toward the bottom of each round. In constructing a similar haul for a possible 49ers-Browns deal, it’s not necessarily fair to make the same assumption about Cleveland’s picks, which are likely to be toward the top half of the draft. Furthermore, at the moment, the Browns are loaded with picks; by virtue of the extra first-rounder they have from the Richardson trade and the third-rounder they acquired from the Steelers in a draft-day deal last year, Cleveland has the most valuable set of selections in football for this year’s draft. (More on that after compensatory picks are announced.)
If the 49ers wanted to go for the quantity-over-quality approach, the Browns could have offered a pretty similar deal to what Tampa offered for Gruden a decade ago. They could have sent Indy’s first-round pick (26) in this year’s draft, their own third-rounder (71), and Indy’s fourth-rounder (125) while still maintaining at least one pick in each round. They likely would have also had to throw in their 2015 first-rounder (likely to be juicy unless Harbaugh turned things around quickly) and a 2016 second-rounder, providing the 49ers with five picks for their head coach. Cash considerations would also likely come into play, especially if the 49ers planned on using some of the money to buy a coach like Stanford’s David Shaw out of his college deal.
On the other hand, the 49ers could have opted for a premium pair of selections. Would they make this trade if the Browns offered them the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft, their first-rounder in 2015, and a conditional midround pick in 2016? With one of the deepest rosters in the league and five picks in the first three rounds this year, the 49ers might very well prefer to pick up a premium selection at the top of the draft. Could they have ended up with Jadeveon Clowney to play across from Aldon Smith if they get up to four? What about lining up Mike Evans or Sammy Watkins on the outside across from Michael Crabtree? The 49ers don’t lack for much, but if they’re going to lose Harbaugh, why not get a top-five pick out of it?
If the Niners are weak anywhere, it’s in the secondary, so a third option could have seen the Browns include one of their core players, cornerback Joe Haden, in a Harbaugh deal. Haden’s rookie deal is up after this season, so the Browns wouldn’t have taken a huge hit in dead money by dealing him, but the 49ers would have had to give Haden an extension as part of any trade. Haden is probably worth a first-round pick in today’s market (think the Percy Harvin and Darrelle Revis trades), so the Browns might have alternately offered something like Haden, the 26th and 71st overall picks in the 2014 draft, and a second-rounder in 2015 to try to get the job done.
I don’t know that the 49ers would have accepted any of those deals, but if the Gruden trade is a fair comp (and I think it is), those three deals represent roughly similar levels of compensation.
7. How much is Harbaugh worth on an annual basis?
Wouldn’t you know I just happened to write about this very topic on this very site? In December 2012, I wrote that Harbaugh was one of the biggest bargains in football, and nothing has changed to make me think otherwise. You can read that piece for a longer explanation, but my logic dates back to those trades for the likes of Gruden. The haul the Buccaneers sent to Oakland for Gruden isn’t much different from the sort of deal Washington did for Griffin or the Bears did to acquire Jay Cutler.
In other words, a great coach has roughly the same trade value that a Pro Bowl–caliber young quarterback enjoys. When those quarterbacks sign extensions or hit the free market, they get paid in a way coaches simply don’t. Cutler’s deal pays him an average of $17 million over its first five seasons. It should stand to reason, then, that the value of a great coach like Harbaugh should approach that same figure; my estimate is that Harbaugh is probably worth around $15 million per year.
Bizarrely, the coaching market doesn’t allow for anywhere near that large of a deal, even though coaching salaries are uncapped. Sean Payton is reportedly the highest-paid coach in football, and he made $8 million last year. Isn’t that crazy? Twenty-four NFL players made more than that last year, and as you might suspect, some of them aren’t any good! Mark Sanchez ($8.3 million) had a larger salary than Bill Belichick ($7.5 million) last year, and the Sanchize made it over $10 million with bonuses included. How does that make sense?
The coaching market has a correction coming at some point over the next 10 years; with colleges able to pay coaches more than ever before and teams desperate to find advantages outside the salary cap, the current market just doesn’t make much sense. The Buccaneers tripled Gruden’s salary when they acquired him from Oakland; I doubt the Browns would have done that for Harbaugh, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they offered to give him $10 million per season to become their head coach, which would make him the first coach in league history with an eight-figure annual salary and double his current pay.
8. Should this deal have happened?
I don’t like it for either side, honestly. While the Browns unquestionably want a coach with a proven track record of success to oversee yet another rebuilding project in Cleveland, it was only a few years ago that they turned to Mike Holmgren as team president and found him lacking, with Haslam firing him after three years at the helm. Harbaugh would have more input as a head coach, obviously, but he would have needed time to rebuild the roster with Lombardi, a move that would have been exceedingly difficult after having traded four or five key picks away to the 49ers as part of Harbaugh’s compensation package.
While there’s always value in picking up a host of draft picks, this isn’t a move that makes a ton of sense for the 49ers, who already have plenty of picks and need a star coach to help get the most out of their talented roster. The team might be in solid hands if they turned things over to defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, offensive coordinator Greg Roman, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, or another candidate, but there’s no guarantee those guys can match what Harbaugh does. It seems distant now, but the 49ers spent most of the decade before Harbaugh’s arrival in the NFL wilderness, floundering with the likes of Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan, and Mike Singletary at the helm. While Singletary did a good job of setting a locker-room tone and culture of discipline within the organization, Harbaugh has gotten more out of virtually every player who was around during the Singletary era since taking over as head coach. He might be abrasive, but given his bargain-basement price and the scarcity of truly great coaches, it’s just too difficult to trade away Harbaugh unless he leaves the team with no other choice. And that’s not the case yet.
9. What does this mean for Harbaugh’s future in San Francisco?
Well, for the first time during his run as 49ers head coach, there will be serious questions about the likelihood of Harbaugh signing an extension with the team. While some stories briefly linked Harbaugh to the Texas job in late 2013, those rumors were never serious. Now, the league will be watching closely to see if Harbaugh does decide to secure his long-term future in San Francisco. If he makes it to 2015 without an extension, there will be serious questions about whether Harbaugh will be entering a lame-duck year with the Niners. It might actually encourage both parties to come to the negotiating table for an extension earlier than otherwise would have happened.
I also think it makes a Harbaugh trade less likely, just because the element of surprise is gone. The 49ers will be hesitant to even discuss Harbaugh trade talks with another team having already gone through this, and once it looks like they’re shopping their head coach around, it limits their leverage and, with that, their expected return for Harbaugh.
To be honest, I think the 49ers end up re-signing Harbaugh before long. It’s the best move for both him and the team. This might end up as only a trivial footnote on Harbaugh’s Wikipedia page, but if there’s more than meets the eye here, it could be the first sign that Harbaugh’s successful reign in San Francisco is beginning to come to an end.
Source: Grantland » Contributors » Bill Barnwell | 24 Feb 2014 | 8:40 am PST
The Sochi Winter Olympics concluded yesterday, after 16 days of competition on the ice and snow. Host nation Russia won the most medals overall, taking home 33, followed by the U.S. with 28, and Norway with 26. The event was brought to a close in Fisht Stadium last night, with a massive closing ceremony ending with a handoff to Pyeongchang, South Korea, host nation of the 2018 Winter Olympics. Collected below are images of the last days of competition, and last night's closing ceremony. Be sure to also see Olympic Photos Part I, and Part II, earlier on In Focus. [41 photos total]
Source: In Focus | 24 Feb 2014 | 5:33 am PST
Earlier today, Ukraine's parliament voted to remove President Viktor Yanukovych from office, after months of anti-government protest. Yanukovich, decrying the actions as a "coup", fled Kiev, as the heads of Ukraine's security forces appeared in parliament to declare they would not take part in any conflict with the people. Legislators also freed Yanukovich's biggest rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who had been imprisoned since 2011 for what is widely believed to be politically motivated reasons. After the President fled, security forces also abandoned his official residence outside Kiev, and hundreds of protesters and locals walked right in, roaming the lavish estate and its grounds. Parliament also slated new presidential elections for May 25. Collected here are photos from Ukraine over the past 24 hours, as citizens celebrate, mourn, and plan for a new future. Also, see: Kiev Truce Shattered, Dozens Killed, from yesterday. [30 photos]
Source: In Focus | 22 Feb 2014 | 11:54 am PST
Last night, Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych, working with opposition leaders in the months-long protest, declared a truce, hoping to begin negotiations. Within hours, each side was accusing the other of betraying the agreement, and some of the most-violent clashes to date took place, leaving dozens of protesters lying dead in Kiev's Independence Square, and hundreds more injured in nearby aid centers and hospitals. With the failure of these negotiations, and the escalating violence, fears are growing that President Yanukovych will declare a state of emergency, bringing military enforcement into the situation. The photos here are from the past 24 hours in Kiev. Also, see: Bloody Battles in Kiev, from yesterday. [37 photos]
Source: In Focus | 20 Feb 2014 | 6:59 am PST
The scouting combine is the most misunderstood event in football. Coverage of the combine has ballooned since 2004, when the NFL Network began offering live wall-to-wall analysis from Indianapolis. The growth of the web has allowed for increased coverage and analysis of assorted workouts and pro days, and an endless number of mock drafts. It has become a public moment on the NFL calendar so quickly, in fact, that fans still don’t really have much of a context to make sense of the combine. We end up talking about the combine through anecdotal examples that don’t make broader sense, as if one player’s path could single-handedly prove anything about the pre-draft process.
So far, we’ve ended up with two dominant competing groups of thought about the combine. Neither of them are particularly accurate.
The draftnik3 side of the conversation tends to take the public-facing aspects of the combine far too seriously. That is to say — and it pains me to say this — the numbers produced by players at the combine really don’t mean very much at all. A player’s 40 time might be a succinct measure of his speed in a vacuum, but it’s a two-attempt sample on one given day being measured both electronically by the league and manually by a bunch of scouts with stopwatches. It’s one thing to suggest there’s a significant difference between a guy with a 4.37 40-yard dash and a 4.43 40-yard dash, but another when the same exact run might produce those two times according to a differing pair of scouts. In addition, the figure in question isn’t being adjusted for a player’s size4 or measured to exhibit any sort of relationship with past or future success at the pro level.
The 40 has caught on because it’s a simple concept to understand and we have a good idea of what a truly fast time looks like. Other draft drills aren’t as popular, even though they might be more meaningful, because they’re obtuse. Do you know what a good score in the three-cone drill would look like? What an excellent broad jump would entail? Probably not. I know I don’t. Maybe that’ll become common knowledge a generation from now, but having paid attention to only a handful of combines, fans and analysts alike are still just beginning to make sense of the information it provides. Much of it is likely to end up as noise.
The rejectors, meanwhile, believe that the combine is a totally useless waste of time, an exaggeration designed to keep the NFL relevant during the dark sporting days of February. Their evidence, almost invariably, consists of anecdotes about how individual players had poor combines and still managed to succeed at the professional level (or vice versa). You can see them in your head shouting, “You don’t play football in a T-shirt and shorts!” self-satisfied, as if they were the first to watch the combine and realize that it doesn’t resemble game conditions.
The problem with those anecdotal examples, of course, is that they fail to tell the whole story. The most famous “workout warrior” is Mike Mamula, whose performance at the 1995 combine and subsequently disappointing pro career has become the stuff of legend. It’s also entirely a myth; Mamula was a star pass-rusher in the Big East who accrued 31.5 sacks across five professional seasons, eventually retiring at the age of 27 because of injuries.
And while Jerry Rice is held up as the classic player who became a Hall of Famer despite running a disappointing 4.7 40-yard dash, there are a number of factors that mitigate his poor 40. Rice’s work ethic was, even among football players, notably legendary; Steve Young once said his former teammate outworked the work-ethic guys. Rice was unquestionably aided by joining a perennially dominant franchise built around its passing attack, developed by a revolutionary coach and executed by two of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game. And Rice’s time wasn’t even all that bad; current 49ers president Paraag Marathe is fond of noting that Rice’s “flying 20” time — the final 20 yards of the 40-yard dash — was world-class.
Of course, while there are better examples of players who excelled at the combine without a superlative college track record before failing as pros (Vernon Gholston, Matt Jones), and of players whose work on Saturdays should have meant more than their measurables in shorts (Russell Wilson, Anquan Boldin), there are also plenty of recent examples of players whose combine performance foretold their future. The Chiefs don’t regret falling in love with Dontari Poe, whose incredible performance at the 2012 combine led them to draft Poe with the 11th overall selection; two years later, Poe is a Pro Bowler. Superstars like J.J. Watt and Clay Matthews shook the workout warrior tag on their path to the top, too. And there are plenty of college superstars whose game tape from Saturdays didn’t translate to Sundays after disappointing combine performances or not bothering to work out in Indy at all; Mark Ingram, Matt Leinart, and Sam Bradford are among the recent Heisman winners who have failed to match the lofty heights of their college days at the pro level.
In reality, most of us are thinking about the combine the wrong way. It’s less a test of athleticism and more a test of preparation. A team might move a guy up its draft board if he blows them away athletically or drop him if he loafs through drills, but more so, teams want to see players show up in shape and perform to something resembling expectations. If you show up to the combine and somehow manage to fail a drug test your agent has told you is coming, chances are you’re probably not going to impress at the next level.5 Just about every player who is expected to go in the first few rounds of the draft goes through a training regimen designed to prepare them for the various combine drills, too.
It’s probably better, then, to think of the combine as the football equivalent of the SAT. We all go to different high schools with varying degrees of difficulty, so a 4.0 GPA at one school might not be as impressive as a 3.0 GPA is at a much tougher school. Likewise, throwing for 3,000 yards in the SEC is probably more impressive than making it to 4,000 yards in the Pac-12.
The SAT is standardized. Everybody takes the same test. The scores translate across different school systems because it’s the same scoring system. And it’s hardly an unexpected test; everybody knows it’s coming, and plenty take SAT prep courses to try to improve their scores. A good SAT score likely serves as a useful indicator of a student’s intelligence and ability to perform at the next level of academia, but it’s not exactly foolproof, either; you wouldn’t say one person is smarter than the next because their SAT score was 20 points higher. Just as the SAT helps support a solid high-school transcript, the combine provides some context for a player’s game tape from college.
Instead, the real value of the combine for the NFL’s 32 organizations comes in the stuff that doesn’t occur in front of the cameras. Indy serves as each team’s first chance to interview the prospects of their choice in person, an obviously key part of the evaluation process in a number of ways. That interview can go in many directions. The Giants famously gave prospective draftees a 460-question psychological exam. Some use the interview process to ask questions designed to see how a player handles pressure and/or impertinent behavior, as thankfully deposed Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland’s thoughtless question to Dez Bryant proves.6 More frequently, teams run prospects through questions designed to gain insight into their personality and football acumen. As with the other aspects of the combine, it’s a test of preparation.
The most meaningful test of all in Indianapolis doesn’t involve a coach. It comes courtesy of the team doctor. Each NFL team sends some portion of its medical staff to the combine each year, who poke and prod each player before he steps onto the field to run a single drill. Medical exams are conducted. X-rays are taken. In some cases, those tests can drastically affect how teams view a player, and even they can be wrong.
It was only a year ago that a combine echocardiogram found that Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei was suffering from a heart condition so serious that the league sent him home from the combine without allowing him to work out. Once seen as a candidate for the first overall pick in the draft, Lotulelei’s draft stock remained in limbo before the heart ailment was revealed to be a byproduct of a viral infection. Even after he was cleared to return to football and completed a workout at Utah’s pro day, Lotulelei dropped to the 14th pick of the first round, where the Panthers were happy to snatch him up. We obviously can’t see each team’s draft board, but it seems likely that several teams in front of Carolina either took Lotulelei off their draft board or downgraded him because of the ailment. Fortunately, Lotulelei was healthy during a superb rookie season for the Panthers.
There are other benefits to the combine for teams. Having the brain trust of every organization in the NFL in one spot leads to plenty of networking, while meetings with the throngs of agents in town help form the beginnings of free-agent plans. And while teams are more likely to suggest the combine doesn’t mean very much if asked about it publicly, there’s a reason everybody shows up and plants a bunch of scouts with stopwatches in the Lucas Oil seats; this stuff matters, at least a little bit. How much it matters, exactly? One decade into the era of televised combines, the answer remains unclear.
Source: Grantland » Contributors » Bill Barnwell | 20 Feb 2014 | 6:30 am PST
Flames engulfed the main anti-government protest camp on Kiev's Independence Square as riot police tried to force demonstrators out following the bloodiest clashes in three months of protests. The iconic square turned into a war zone as riot police moved slowly through opposition barricades, hurling stun grenades and using water cannon to clear protestors. At least thirteen people were killed and scores injured today, as protestors took back control of Kiev's city hall just two days after vacating the building. Also, see: Ukraine's Revolution Is Being Broadcast Live. [31 photos]
Source: In Focus | 18 Feb 2014 | 1:21 pm PST
After all the preparation and the opening ceremony, the 2014 Winter Olympics are well under way. More than 2,800 athletes from 88 countries are chasing medals in 98 events in 7 different sports, including newly added events like women's ski jumping and snowboard slopestyle. This is the second entry in this series, showing events from the past week. The games continue through February 23, and I'll continue posting periodic updates of some of the best photos from Sochi. Be sure to also see Olympic Photos Part I, earlier on In Focus. [42 photos total]
Source: In Focus | 18 Feb 2014 | 5:48 am PST
For the first time in five years, Lake Superior, the world's largest freshwater lake, has frozen enough to allow visitors from northern Wisconsin to walk across the lake to the ice caves of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. According to Reuters, officials declared the trek "low risk" about a month ago, and nearly 35,000 people have made the mile-long hike since then. According to the NOAA, the Great Lakes have reached their broadest ice coverage in 20 years, at 88 percent -- with Lake Superior at about 95 percent. Over the weekend, Reuters photographer Eric Miller trekked out on the ice, capturing these images. Update: Photographer Paul Johnson was kind enough to share a few of his nighttime ice cave photos as well, numbers 16-18 below. [18 photos]
Source: In Focus | 17 Feb 2014 | 6:14 am PST
Earlier today, Indonesia's Mount Kelud erupted violently, killing two, sending massive ash plumes miles into the air, and causing more than 100,000 to evacuate parts of Java. The explosive eruption could be heard by residents more than 100 miles distant. Meanwhile, Mount Sinabung - another of Indonesia's 150 volcanoes, continues its recent months of sporadic activity. Earlier this month, one of the scorching pyroclastic flows that poured down Sinabung's flanks overwhelmed a group of villagers, killing 16. Collected here are images of Kelud's activity today, and some of Sinabung's recent outbursts. [24 photos]
Source: In Focus | 14 Feb 2014 | 5:28 am PST
For a child who has survived a life of warfare, what comes next? In the Democratic Republic of Congo, decades of strife have produced countless battle-scarred young men and women. Caught up in the conflicts, children as young as 5 or 6 years old have their lives horribly transformed. They are taken from their homes, kept as sex slaves, forced to carry weapons and ammunition into battle, or tasked with even worse duties such as pulling the trigger in a summary execution. These children learn perverse life lessons, raised by militias at war. So what happens to them when they escape that life? The Center for Investigative Reporting went to the cities of Goma and Bukavu to find out, listening to the stories of 12 young survivors who were working hard to enter the civilian world, become adults, and cope with the horrors they had witnessed and committed. The CIR was kind enough to share several of photographer Larry Price's portraits here. For the full package, please see the report Redemption Songs on Medium. [6 photos]
Source: In Focus | 13 Feb 2014 | 6:46 am PST
With the world's attention focused on Sochi, I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at some of the earliest Winter Olympics. At the first Winter Games in 1924 in Chamonix, France, 16 countries sent 250 athletes to compete in familiar sports like bobsleigh and hockey. The 1936 Winter Olympics were held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in Nazi Germany, after which the Games were cancelled until 1948 due to World War II. The photos below are from Olympic Winter Games I-XII, which took place from 1924 to 1976. [43 photos total]
Source: In Focus | 12 Feb 2014 | 8:18 am PST
After all the preparation and the opening ceremony, the 2014 Winter Olympics are well under way. More than 2,800 athletes from 88 countries are chasing medals in 98 events in 7 different sports, including newly added events like women's ski jumping and snowboard slopestyle. The games continue through February 23, and I'll be posting periodic updates of some of the best photos from Sochi. [42 photos total]
Source: In Focus | 11 Feb 2014 | 7:34 am PST
For more than a month now, parts of the Somerset Levels -- low-lying plains in southwestern England where locals are accustomed to a certain amount of flooding -- have been underwater. Villages have become islands, residents have been cut off from each other, and farm fields are now at the bottom of shallow lakes. Many Somerset residents blame not only heavy rainfall, but the government's failure to dredge rivers and mount a rapid response. Gathered here are recent images from the Somerset Levels, as they expect even more wet weather in the coming days. [26 photos]
Source: In Focus | 10 Feb 2014 | 7:06 am PST
Right now, in Sochi, Russia, the opening ceremony of the XXII Olympic Winter Games is under way. The ceremony is a huge spectacle, including thousands of athletes in the Parade of Nations, pyrotechnics, dancing, lightshows, and more. [41 photos total]
Source: In Focus | 7 Feb 2014 | 8:05 am PST
When the International Olympic Committee selected Sochi, Russia, as the host of the 2014 Winter Olympics in 2007, the small seaside resort town had no major venues, minimal housing, and few transportation options. Seven years and $51 billion later, the city has built dozens of large facilities, created thousands of housing units, added new rail systems, and toughened security. Now, less than 24 hours before the Opening Ceremony, we take a look back at some of the construction and preparation in Sochi over the years, leading up to athletes making their final practice runs today. [30 photos]
Source: In Focus | 6 Feb 2014 | 7:02 am PST
The Sony World Photography Awards, an annual competition hosted by the World Photography Organisation, has recently announced its shortlist of winners. This year's contest attracted more than 140,000 entries from 166 countries. The organizers have been kind enough to share some of their shortlisted images with In Focus, gathered below. Winners are scheduled to be announced in March and April. All captions below come from the photographers. [33 photos]
Source: In Focus | 4 Feb 2014 | 6:34 am PST
For more than three decades, Pakistan has been home to one of the world's largest refugee communities: the more than one million Afghans who have fled years of warfare in their home country. Living in temporary shelters along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border -- and cared for by the the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Pakistan's government, and numerous international care agencies -- this massive and persistent population remains vulnerable to multiple dangers, from outbreaks of disease to violence spilling over from the war next door. Associated Press photographer Muhammed Muheisen has spent the past several years in Pakistan, documenting the lives of these refugees, with a particular focus on the most vulnerable: the children caught up in the chaos as their families try to keep them safe. Muheisen's portraits below are part of the ongoing series here on Afghanistan. [30 photos]
Source: In Focus | 3 Feb 2014 | 6:43 am PST
On Super Bowl Sunday, the NFL’s Most Valuable Player was no match for the league’s most valuable contract. Russell Wilson outplayed Peyton Manning in the biggest game of Wilson’s career, and once that was taken care of, the rest of the Denver roster couldn’t stack up. For 60 stunning, dominant minutes on Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks were the human manifestation of every tough football cliché you’ve ever heard an old coach spout. They didn’t just prevail over the Denver Broncos. In typical Seahawks fashion, they beat Denver up. They exerted their will upon the Broncos in each and every facet of the game. They took control of the game from literally the opening snap from scrimmage7 and never let go. And during those few times that they bent, the Seahawks didn’t break; they snapped back ferociously, extinguishing Denver’s hopes as soon as the Broncos mustered up the confidence to have any.
More than any other, one old talking point rung true. Football is a war of attrition, and by the time these two teams had reached the sport’s biggest stage, the Seahawks had won that war. The depth of their relatively healthy roster came through on Sunday, as they exploited overmatched Denver backups stretched into starting roles, while late-round draftees and backups came up with key contributions on both sides of the ball. When Seattle’s dominant pass defense neutralized Manning, the Broncos simply didn’t have a team capable of stepping up and rising to the occasion. Instead, when its star was shook, Denver got stomped.
Denver’s defense had a game it will try in vain to forget. After putting up impressive performances against the Chargers and Patriots to help push the Broncos into Super Bowl XLVIII, the Broncos offered precious little resistance against Russell Wilson & Co. on Sunday. The final score will judge them harshly — 16 of Seattle’s 43 points came from defensive and special teams scores — but they repeatedly couldn’t get off the field. The Broncos allowed Seattle to score on six of its first seven meaningful drives,8 and by the time they had forced their second stop of the game, there was less than 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
The Broncos were missing four key defensive contributors because of injuries, and their absence was noted in the disappointing play from their replacements. Backup pass-rusher Robert Ayers, a failed first-round pick from the Josh McDaniels era, was forced into a bigger role by the absence of lineman Derek Wolfe, and he had a dismal first half. Ayers repeatedly lost contain and failed to set the edge on his side of the line, allowing Percy Harvin to gain 45 yards on a pair of jet sweeps, while Wilson repeatedly found space to maneuver when scrambling back to his left, creating throwing lanes and successful runs. Cornerback Tony Carter, a journeyman and special-teamer filling in for the injured Chris Harris, committed a crucial pass interference penalty in the end zone to set up one touchdown before setting up another by missing a tackle. While a fifth key contributor was on the field, he was missing, too: Champ Bailey was a shell of his former self, as the Seahawks were able to beat him for a number of first downs early before the Broncos gave him more help. And a team without star linebacker Von Miller not only failed to sack Wilson, the league’s most-sacked starter (on a per-attempt basis), it failed to knock him down on even one of his 27 dropbacks.
Should we really have expected a lot out of the Denver defense, though, given the personnel who are actually suiting up these days? This was a team that, even in healthier times, finished the year 15th in DVOA. When you look at those who were actually seeing serious reps for the Broncos on Sunday, there are just not many players with much of a pedigree. Denver’s defense is basically split up into bargain-basement veteran reclamation projects signed to short-term deals from free agency (Mike Adams, Terrance Knighton, Paris Lenon, Shaun Phillips, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie), Day 3 draft picks (Omar Bolden, Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan), and undrafted free agents (Carter, Duke Ihenacho, Mitch Unrein, Wesley Woodyard). The only defensive contributors for Denver on Sunday who weren’t acquired on the cheap were Ayers, Bailey, 2011 third-rounder Nate Irving, and 2013 first-rounder Sylvester Williams.
John Fox and Jack Del Rio have done an admirable job of coaching their guys up during the year, and they did an excellent job of shutting down Marshawn Lynch by winning at the line of scrimmage. Against a deep, healthy Seahawks passing attack, their lack of depth and, honestly, lack of talent were highlighted. While the Seahawks mostly avoided Rodgers-Cromartie, Wilson was often able to hit receivers up the seam or on quick slants for easy gains, with the Broncos defenders unable to get in his throwing lanes and too slow to seriously contest his passes. When Wilson’s initial throw wasn’t there or he felt the beginnings of pressure, he was able to scramble, reset himself, and find a receiver. It wasn’t his sharpest game, especially at first, but the Broncos offered staggeringly little resistance to the Seattle passing attack. Wilson finished 18-of-25 for 206 yards, and those seven incompletions included five plays when Wilson either overthrew an open receiver or had that open receiver drop a pass. Denver really broke up only two passes all night: the flea flicker that saw Wilson shovel a pass forward out of desperation, and a first-quarter pass up the seam in the end zone that was broken up by Irving.
With Golden Tate kept quiet by DRC, Harvin mostly used as a decoy, and Sidney Rice on the shelf as Seattle’s lone prominent injury heading into the game, Wilson’s two most prominent receivers were the “pedestrian” duo of Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, a pair of undrafted free agents whose combined signing bonuses upon joining the league amounted to $26,000.9 They combined to go 9-of-10 for 131 yards and two touchdowns, with the only incompletion the aforementioned breakup in the end zone. After getting beaten early when they pressed their corners to the line of scrimmage, the Broncos seemed to retreat and play softer, more conservative coverage, allowing Baldwin and Kearse to get off the line of scrimmage and find holes in Denver’s zones. And when the Broncos decided to try to emulate their big brothers on the other sideline by attempting to knock people down with shoulder tackles, Baldwin and Kearse were able to shrug off sloppy takedown attempts for yards after catch, including the crucial final yards on each of their touchdown catches. With Tate a free agent and Rice a possible cap casualty, Baldwin and Kearse are likely to move into more prominent roles next season. After Sunday, pedestrian seems like a speed that might suit Seattle just fine.
As for Harvin, meanwhile, he finally suited up for his first complete game in a Seahawks uniform and might have justified the $14.5 million he collected this season while doing so. While he had only a lone catch for five yards, Harvin was electric on a pair of jet sweeps, one of the many ways in which the Seahawks will employ Harvin’s unique skill set in 2014 and beyond. More notably, Harvin probably ended the game as a contest when he opened up the third quarter by taking the opening kickoff to the house. It played off the pregame fears about Denver’s terrible kickoff coverage and Matt Prater’s kickoffs outside of the thin air at home. In Denver, Prater would have been able to just boot the ball through the back of the end zone on virtually every kickoff, neutralizing Harvin without ever allowing him to touch the ball. Here, with Denver’s first kickoff of the game coming at the beginning of the second half, Prater tried a popup kick that landed 10 yards short of the end zone, and when Harvin fielded the kick cleanly, the dismal Denver kickoff coverage unit offered little resistance. It seemed like a rare misstep for Seahawks general manager John Schneider when he traded a first-, third-, and seventh-round pick for Harvin this offseason and gave him a $64 million contract extension before Harvin missed virtually the first year of that deal with a hip injury, but as he watched Harvin sprint toward the end zone to put the Seahawks up four scores, I doubt Schneider regretted the trade very much at all.
One of the reasons why Schneider was able to take a calculated risk on bringing in Harvin, of course, was Wilson, the most valuable contract in football. Wilson plays football’s most important position at an extremely high level, but because he was a third-round pick in a league that slots rookie contracts at a given price, his contract ensures that he’ll be a bargain for years to come. Wilson just finished the second year of a four-year, $3 million contract that counted for just $681,085 against Seattle’s cap this year. After starting his career 24-8 and winning a Super Bowl in just his second year at the helm, Wilson’s about to receive a hefty raise to … $817,302.
His opposite number on Sunday is in the middle of a five-year, $96 million deal that will cost Denver $17.5 million this year and next; Manning will make more per game than Wilson will make all year. The Broncos obviously weren’t wrong to sign Manning, but they had no choice but to pay him this much, given the competition surrounding him on the free market as an unrestricted free agent two years ago. Even beyond that large sum of money, the Broncos are paying for Manning’s deal in another way: In a league where every competitive team is trying to spend up to a hard cap, they’re incurring the opportunity cost of not being able to use that $17.5 million cap hold on anybody else.
That’s what makes Wilson so valuable. In a vacuum,10 Wilson is a bargain, but his contract looks even better when you consider that the typical quarterback of his caliber takes up something like $17.5 million of his team’s salary cap. The Seahawks can take the $16.8 million difference and go spend it elsewhere, which changes the value proposition. Manning is probably a better quarterback than Wilson, but is Wilson plus $16.8 million worth of players better than Manning?
On Sunday, he very much was. The Seahawks made three big free-agent signings this offseason, and they each contributed to the win. Harvin ($4.9 million cap hold this year) had the kickoff return for a touchdown, while Michael Bennett ($4.8 million) and Cliff Avril ($3.8 million) were part of a pass rush that battered Manning all day. After Manning had gone all postseason without being sacked or even knocked down, the Seahawks’ pass rush responded with a dominant performance: It sacked Manning once, knocked him down four times, pressured him on what must have been at least a dozen dropbacks, forced him to fumble, and tipped two of his passes at the line. One of those tipped passes topped a first-half drive on downs deep in Seattle territory. An Avril pressure saw him go through dreadful Denver right tackle Orlando Franklin and drive him back into Manning, resulting in an up-for-grabs throw that game MVP Malcolm Smith returned for a pick-six.11
Both Franklin and left tackle Chris Clark, filling in for All-Pro Ryan Clady since September, were unable to hold up against Seattle’s stream of pass-rushers on the outside. Bennett & Co. did enough on the interior to help collapse Manning’s pocket, forcing him to scramble and/or rush throws. And while there were concerns about a smaller Seattle front failing to hold up when Manning inevitably audibled to run calls, it managed to hold Denver to just 27 yards on 14 carries, problems unquestionably exacerbated by second-half injuries to Knowshon Moreno (who also fumbled) and guard Louis Vasquez. And center Manny Ramirez, a converted guard and the team’s third choice at that spot after expected starters J.D. Walton and Dan Koppen got hurt in the preseason, dealt with a center’s worst nightmare when he prematurely snapped the ball on the game’s opening play from scrimmage for a safety.
Even when Manning had time to throw, the Seahawks gave him precious little to work with. Before the game, while I noted that Denver had produced the most impressive output in league history, I also wondered whether Seattle would present a more difficult matchup for them than even their own excellent numbers might suggest. That certainly turned out to be the case.
Seattle didn’t stay in its traditional Cover 3 as much as I might have expected, especially during the first half, when it spent a fair amount of time in one-deep and two-deep zones with man-to-man on Denver’s outside receivers. With each coverage shell, the concept was the same: prevent the Broncos from completing anything downfield, disrupt their timing, force them into underneath passes and checkdowns, and prevent them from compiling yards after catch. The Broncos are a team built on gaining yards after catch and big plays, and Seattle denied them both.
To be honest, Denver mostly did stuff that you could have read about on Grantland last week before the game (or seen on tape from games past). Denver repeatedly went back to the shallow cross series that Chris Brown diagrammed in his article on the Denver offense. It ran a lot of Trips sets designed to force the Seahawks to shift, declare, or change their coverages, but those mostly just produced screens and short catches that didn’t go anywhere. There were a few times when the Broncos threw a quick screen on a play where they had a man advantage on one side of the field, but the Seahawks were quick to swarm to limit the play to a small gain. Denver also made the mistake of running too many slow-developing screens; while they hoped to use those screens to lure an aggressive Seattle pass rush into overpursuing, the Seahawks defense was so fast and the screens were so slow that the backside pursuit would catch up with the receiver by the time he turned upfield.
The Broncos sacrificed Eric Decker to the Sherman Isle, with Decker catching just one pass on five targets for six yards, even though Sherman suffered a high ankle sprain in the first half and had to be carted off after re-aggravating the injury in the fourth quarter. That left Demaryius Thomas one-on-one versus Byron Maxwell, and while Thomas ended up setting a single-game Super Bowl receptions record with some second-half filler, Denver simply couldn’t do anything downfield; Manning threw 10 “deep” passes,12 and on those throws, he went 2-for-10 for 42 yards with an interception, a fumble (by Thomas after a completion), and a 20-yard defensive pass interference penalty. By throwing so many short passes over the middle of the field, the Broncos instead incurred the wrath of Kam Chancellor, who was Seattle’s most active defender from the beginning of the game onward. He finished with 10 tackles, two passes defensed, and an interception, with six of his tackles coming on passes short of the first-down marker.
While Manning eventually racked up empty completions by throwing in a desperate attempt to catch up during the second half, his first-half line is probably more indicative of the kind of day he had: 17-of-23 for 104 yards and two interceptions tells the whole story. The Broncos were able to complete plenty of passes, but they were the throws the Seahawks wanted them to make, all drags and screens. Seattle was confident it would get pressure on Manning and force him or one of his teammates into a mistake before they dinked and dunked their way into the end zone, and it was right. After failing to pick up a first down during three first-quarter drives, Denver’s six subsequent possessions all ended in Seattle territory. Those six drives produced 18 first downs but managed to score only eight points, thanks to two turnovers, two failed fourth-down conversions, and a truly perplexing punt. I wondered before the game if Denver would be able to beat Seattle in the compressed space of the red zone, but the Seahawks were able to successfully treat the entire field like it was just a series of red zones.
So, let’s play America’s worst game show: What does this loss do for Peyton Manning’s legacy? The answer, excitingly, is just about nothing! It’s only going to further entrench either side’s beliefs. If you think that Manning is the greatest quarterback who ever lived, you probably are going to point to that fifth MVP trophy he picked up this weekend and note that he got virtually no help from the players around him, a common complaint in Manning losses going back to the early Manning-Brady playoff games. And if you think Manning can’t win in the clutch and needs a better postseason record to justify that title, well, you just got another loss in a big game to add to Peyton’s loss column, and a 35-point loss at that.
The truth, as uninteresting and irrelevant to this argument as always, is somewhere in the middle. I can’t really fault Manning for taking what the defense gave him here, and I think the first interception was such because it was tipped at the line, but he should never have thrown the second pick with such pressure in his face, even if it meant taking a sack. His arm strength isn’t particularly an issue in cold weather, and it was a relatively balmy high 40s in North Jersey last night after all that sanctimony, but his arm strength is definitely subpar on deeper routes, and the Broncos desperately needed at least the threat of an accurate deep throw to put a scare into Seattle’s cornerbacks. His defense had a bad night, but with eight points to his name, it wasn’t a banner game for Manning and his offense, either. And it’s unfair to forget about the two excellent performances he put together against the Chargers and Patriots just because he lost in the Super Bowl, but those were two big games against bad defenses to which he adds a mediocre performance against a great one.
And finally, I guess, there’s the important distinction to be made between what Manning has done and what Manning is. If you find Manning’s playoff record lacking, I don’t think that’s unreasonable. If you suggest that it’s due to some sort of fatal flaw with Manning or something that’s likely to keep occurring because it’s happened in the past, it seems instructive to point out the case of Manning’s boss. John Elway, of course, lost his first three Super Bowls in ignominious fashion: 39-20, 42-10, and, in the biggest Super Bowl blowout ever, 55-10 to the 49ers. Eight years later, he came back and won two Super Bowls in a row, not coincidentally with a dominant rushing offense that he lacked during those first three games. Even the great ones need help, and on Sunday, while he didn’t play up to his usual standards, Manning’s team didn’t offer him much assistance, either.
As it turns out, in-game decision-making doesn’t mean a whole lot in a 43-8 blowout. I could credit Pete Carroll with the aggressive coaching decision of showing up for the game on time and knock John Fox for not convincing the Seahawks to bring in Tarvaris Jackson any earlier, but that wouldn’t fly. So while these moves didn’t end up materially affecting the outcome of the game, in most cases, nobody knew that would end up being the case at the time.
Do you like awful challenges? If so, man, was the first quarter of this game for you. The Seahawks got the ball rolling early when Carroll threw out the challenge flag on their opening drive, when a Wilson scramble was ruled to have come up a yard short on third down. It’s certainly a high-reward challenge, since a successful overturn would have turned fourth-and-short into first-and-goal from the 9-yard line, but there hadn’t been any replays that suggested Wilson had clearly picked up the first down. It was a challenge driven by sheer optimism and hope, which actually is just about the perfect motivation for a Pete Carroll challenge flag.
Review found that the ball should be placed closer to the marker, turning fourth-and-1 into fourth-and-a-foot, but the challenge needs to produce a first down to be considered a victory and allow Carroll to keep his timeout and possibility of a third challenge.13 Carroll then compounded his mistake by kicking a field goal on that fourth-and-a-foot as opposed to going for it. You could argue that he knows his team — the Seahawks were the worst team in football in power situations this year — but it’s a foot. If you can successfully field the snap, you can pick up a foot.
Not to be topped, Fox unsurprisingly pulled out his challenge flag in an even worse spot. I still haven’t run the TYFNC Awards, but Fox will likely win worst challenge of the year for an early challenge against the Jaguars in Week 6. I wrote then that Fox “just doesn’t understand what the challenge flag is good for, and that might end up costing his team in a spot when the challenges really do matter.” And hey, here we are! He threw the flag out in a similarly desperate moment, hoping that an incomplete screen pass to Harvin was a lateral, despite replays that rather clearly indicated that the pass had moved forward in the air. You can’t fault Fox for trying to generate a turnover when his team was reeling, and to be fair, this one is most likely on whomever was watching the replays upstairs and told Fox that the replays were unclear. If that person told Fox it was clearly a fumble, they should hire a new person. And if it was a judgment call, Fox should have held on to the flag.
In the end, that decision actually did end up hurting the Broncos. When they failed on fourth-and-2 from the Seattle 19-yard line with 1:06 left in the first half, they gave the ball back to Seattle, which ran two draws (sigh) to end the first half. Had Fox not thrown his flag on the pass to Harvin, he would have had all three timeouts after the failed fourth-down conversion, which would have allowed Denver to get the ball back with something like 50 seconds left after a stop. Instead, Fox just let the clock run out.
That fourth-and-2 decision was the right call. The numbers suggest that the Broncos would generate 2.4 points by going for it and 2.0 points by kicking the field goal. Seattle had been successful against the Denver offense all night, but if there was one thing the Broncos offense had done well, it was pick up short gains in the passing game. There is also the emotional aspect; for whatever dumb momentum argument exists about a team somehow taking hold of a game by kicking a field goal down 22-0 with a minute left before halftime, what does it tell your team with the greatest offense since sliced bread if you don’t think it can get two yards? If you can’t pick up two yards in that spot, how are you going to come back from a three-touchdown deficit?
Later, the Broncos punted under even more curious circumstances. Down 29-0 in the third quarter with a third-and-10 on the Seattle 38-yard line, the Broncos oddly chose to hand the ball off to Montee Ball on a draw, which went for a loss of one. Denver then took the greatest offense in NFL history off the field so it could punt while down four touchdowns inside its opponent’s 40-yard line.14 Insane, right?
Well, not necessarily. The New York Times fourth-down bot, which is built with the data from Brian Burke’s Advanced NFL Stats site, suggested that punting was the slightly more positive move, improving Denver’s chances of winning from 6 percent to 7 percent. But given that Denver is very clearly an offense-driven team, that’s probably enough to swing the percentages toward going for it.
Honestly, I just think the Broncos panicked. Whether it was a call from the sideline by offensive coordinator Adam Gase or a decision at the line by Manning, my suspicion is that the third-down draw was designed to set up a more manageable fourth-down play (or a more manageable long field goal, but let’s hope that wasn’t the case). When Denver got stuffed, it was totally stuck in no-man’s-land, didn’t know what to do, and just punted. Given how good Seattle’s defense looked at times during the Super Bowl, that might have been a pretty good option for Denver on first down, let alone fourth.
Photo by John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Source: Grantland » Contributors » Bill Barnwell | 3 Feb 2014 | 6:29 am PST
Today marks the start of the Chinese Lunar Year, the Year of the Horse. One of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac, the horse signifies kindness, strength, and gregariousness. In the larger Chinese astrological cycle, this year is also associated with the element of wood, which makes 2014 the Year of the Wooden Horse. The combination is supposed to signify 12 months of patience and cooperation ahead. People around the world ushered in the new year with firework displays, family get-togethers, temple visits, and street festivals. Collected here are images from several countries where revelers have been welcoming the Wooden Horse's arrival. [34 photos]
Source: In Focus | 31 Jan 2014 | 7:22 am PST
While 2011 might have been the year of the quarterback, 2013 was the year of the pass. NFL games featured an average of 70.8 pass attempts per game this year, the most in league history. 61.2 percent of those passes ended up as completions, another league record. And 58.3 percent of all offensive plays were pass plays, which, as you must surely know by now, was another NFL record. Teams are passing more — and with more success — than they ever have before.
So it seems fitting, then, that the Super Bowl brings us a matchup of historic passing proportions. The Denver Broncos are led by the best quarterback in NFL history, Peyton Manning, who aims to finish up the greatest season any passer has ever had with his second Super Bowl trophy. Their opponents are the one team that seemed to figure out how to stop these new passing machines, and the Seattle Seahawks’ solution is to collect and unleash an irresistible amount of talent. As I wrote on Monday, it’s a matchup of the greatest offense in NFL history against one of the 10 greatest defenses in NFL history. And that’s only half the battle.
So, what typically happens when a dominant passing offense takes on a dominant passing defense? Usually, there’s something like a seven-yard slant to start the game followed by a big hit on the receiver before the color commentator starts giggling about how those boys are out there to play today. That checks out, I promise. On a more macro level, there’s the interesting question of whether one side in these huge matchups tends to have the advantage over the other. Our own Robert Mays broke down some key offense-vs.-defense matchups from prior Super Bowls, while Chase Stuart statistically identified the Broncos-Seahawks matchup as the greatest passing showdown the league has ever seen.
I wanted to extend those thoughts and analyze the great passing offense/great passing defense matchups, mostly to see whether one side retains more of its value in a strength-vs.-strength matchup. So I went back through 1990 and figured out each team’s adjusted net yards per pass attempt15 on either side of the football, and then isolated each of the games that included a top-three passing offense (by the terms of this metric) playing a top-three passing defense. Here’s what happened in those 69 “titanic” games and how it compared with what those dominant teams did against the rest of their competition that year:
As you might have expected, both sides suffer a bit from playing their mirror image; the numbers seem to very slightly favor the defense, but it roughly degrades each team’s scoring performance on their respective sides of the football by three points, or about 12 percent. Interestingly, that doesn’t seem to help the defense win more frequently. Given their winning percentage across the remainder of their respective seasons in non-titanic games, the Log 5 methodology estimates that a team with the winning percentage of a typical dominant pass offense would beat teams with the win percentage of a typically dominant pass defense just less than 58 percent of the time. Instead, they’ve won a little more than 62 percent of the time. That’s not an enormous difference — roughly three more wins than you might expect over the 69-game sample — so I’m not sure the statistical record suggests anything notable, except there’s no clear favorite when a great pass offense meets a great pass defense.
Instead, as I suggested on Monday, I believe that the specific matchup presented by these two teams against one another could render any small statistical differences irrelevant. I think it does. In fact, I think the Seahawks represent a particularly bad matchup for this Broncos offense, and it’s going to force Denver to go away from some of its usual strengths on Sunday.
There isn’t any easy or consistent way to stop Denver’s passing attack, but most teams try to do the same things. They know they can’t let Manning and his receivers get free breaks into their routes, so defenses often try to play man coverage at the line of scrimmage against the Broncos’ receivers, hoping they can disrupt Denver’s routes and create enough time for their pass rush to get home. That’s what the Colts did to beat the Broncos in October. Given Manning’s ability to read defenses, they are also terrified to blitz and create a mismatch in the secondary. Per ESPN Stats & Information, teams rushed five men or more at Denver on just 25.3 percent of its pass attempts, the lowest rate in the league. And with the big-play receivers in the Denver offense, most teams do their best to try to contain the Denver passing attack and force it into long drives of short passes, hoping they can come up with a stop, a dropped pass, or a sack to end a drive when they need to.
I just don’t know that the Seahawks plan on trying to stop the Broncos that way. As Chris Brown wrote two weeks ago, Seattle’s primary defense is Cover 3, named for the three defenders each assigned to cover one-third of the field in deep zones. Seattle twists it by pressing its starting cornerbacks, Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell, up onto the line of scrimmage, where they can trail each split receiver’s route from step one before settling into their more traditional zones. Earl Thomas takes the deep middle in center field, and the Seahawks play four underneath zones with strong safety Kam Chancellor, two of their linebackers (one of whom is almost always Bobby Wagner), and either a third linebacker or a nickel cornerback. Since Denver lines up with three or more wide receivers on the field more than 70 percent of the time, that seventh defender in zone will likely be a cornerback, with Jeremy Lane and Walter Thurmond rotating in that role.
The Broncos’ offense has evolved in ways to attack those best-practice game plans that other teams use. Take one controversial methodology they — and seemingly everyone else — have used during this postseason: pick plays. As Greg Bedard wrote about before the AFC Championship Game, pick plays aren’t inherently illegal, and Wes Welker got away with a pick during that game when he injured Aqib Talib. Legal or illegal, pick plays are designed to beat tight man coverage by forcing defenders to either run into each other or around each other, creating passing lanes and open space for receivers to run after the catch in the process. While they will remain tight to Denver’s receivers, I honestly don’t think Seattle will be running a ton of man-to-man defense over the middle of the field against the Broncos’ offense, which makes it exceedingly difficult to create picks. Seattle’s interior defenders have uncommon range and timing, as the Saints and 49ers have seen when they’ve tried to throw in those areas in recent weeks. Manning will certainly make throws to the inside of the field — he simply doesn’t have a choice — but the pick play has become an increasingly important friend to Denver this season, especially in the red zone, where Seattle has the league’s best defense, allowing a league-best 3.7 points per drive. Manning will instead have to attack those zones by stretching them horizontally and vertically (as he will with his legendary Levels concept).
Playing the Seahawks also really takes the jump ball out of the Denver playbook. Manning is very fond of throwing fade routes to his receivers when they’re isolated one-on-one in coverage against a cornerback, perhaps even to the extent that it’s a minor detriment. This most frequently happens with Demaryius Thomas, but Manning even has no qualms about throwing a 15-yard fade to a covered Andre Caldwell on third-and-3 if he thinks it’s a good matchup. In many cases, the worst-case scenario for these throws is an incomplete pass, while there’s the upside of a long catch or a defensive pass interference call. Denver’s overwhelming size and athleticism at wideout makes it difficult for isolated cornerbacks to pick off those passes.
That’s a very dangerous move against Seattle, which will start big cornerbacks with ball skills on the outside. Sherman requires no introduction these days, but Maxwell has really come on since entering the lineup after Thurmond was suspended, as he finished with four picks despite starting just five games at the end of the season. The Seahawks aren’t unbeatable on deep throws to the outside — the Cardinals beat them on a 31-yard touchdown on a Michael Floyd fade route against Maxwell (who was in almost-perfect coverage), but the ball hawks in Seattle make it a far riskier throw than you might hope for, regardless of what the matchup reads like on paper or looks like at the line of scrimmage. Ask Colin Kaepernick about that.
The pregame expectations have Sherman, the best cornerback in football, matching up against Demaryius Thomas, Denver’s top receiver, but I doubt the game will play out that way on the field. While Sherman did famously move around the field with Anquan Boldin in Week 2 and hold him to one meaningless catch, that’s not a common tactical move for the Seahawks. Seattle prefers to keep its starting cornerbacks on their respective sides of the field, regardless of whether the opposing team’s top wideout is lined up on the right side of the formation, where Sherman spends most of his time. And it’s not as if the Broncos are, say, the Bengals, a team with one dominant wideout and a bunch of other guys. Eric Decker and Welker are both dangerous, and the Broncos will occasionally split out tight end Julius Thomas as a wide receiver. The Seahawks will probably be confident that Maxwell can handle Demaryius Thomas on the more physical routes, too; the Denver wideout has two inches and 20 pounds on Maxwell, but Thomas is inconsistent with leveraging that size and strength into winning one-on-one battles, as Cian Fahey noted at Football Outsiders. The game could very well come down to whether Demaryius Thomas is able to use his physicality to win versus Sherman or Maxwell on a pass in the red zone.
One of the many other questions, of course, is whether the Seahawks will stick with their Cover 3 against the most devastating offense in NFL history. Most teams are horrified at the idea of dropping seven men into zone coverage and letting Manning bide his time before picking out an open receiver. Virtually every defense in football would install some new looks and pressure packages to try to present Manning with something he hasn’t already seen on film and solved in his head, especially with the extra week of preparation provided before the Super Bowl.
The Seahawks don’t appear to be that team. They’ve gotten this far playing what is honestly a very simple, vanilla scheme because the players suiting up in their Cover 3 are so damn good that they don’t need to do anything else. My suspicion is that they’re not going to scrap what they normally do just because they’re facing a wizard with the league championship on the line. They’re going to dare Manning to beat them while they’re running their best stuff. That’s what fits with their identity, especially as a defense.
So, if the Seahawks do stick with their usual defensive game plan, how will the Broncos adapt and adjust to attack the weaknesses of the Cover 3?
The simplest way is to just outnumber the Seahawks. Denver can test Seattle’s flexibility by lining up in bunch formations and creating numerical advantages on the outside. The Broncos can use Trips alignments, like the Trips Bunch or the Trips Open that Chris Brown wrote about in his excellent breakdown of the Denver offense today, to try to flood Seattle’s zones on the outside. That can create blown assignments or, more likely, a steady series of quick, safe completions for Manning, notably on bubble screens. Denver’s very good at blocking on screens, and while most teams can’t dream of matching up with Seattle’s size, the Thomases and Decker can match up physically against the likes of Sherman, Maxwell, and Chancellor.
The Broncos will also likely combine those screen looks with runs to create simple packaged plays. To steal a GIF from the AFC Championship Game preview, packaged plays like this one:
Installing more packaged plays over the two-week break makes some sense for the Broncos. It gives them new looks that Seattle hasn’t seen on tape, forcing the Seahawks to adjust on the fly. It allows Manning to play to his strengths by reading the defense, both before and after the snap, and gives him the opportunity to exploit the aggressiveness of Seattle’s outside linebackers, Chancellor, and Seattle’s nickelback — likely Lane or Thurmond — at the snap. If those guys flow quickly to the flats, Manning will hand the ball to Knowshon Moreno. If they delay for a moment, Manning will throw the bubble screen for a safe completion with the numbers in his favor.
Out of their more typical alignments with 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) and Welker lining up in the slot, the Broncos will attack the Cover 3 with the curl-flat route combination. Matt Bowen breaks down how the curl-flat attacks the Cover 3 here, and it should apply well to this matchup. Because Seattle relies on Sherman and Maxwell to basically shadow outside receivers like they’re in man coverage while also maintaining deep zone responsibilities for their third of the field, teams do find some success throwing at the sideline with curl routes. Chancellor and the nickelback are responsible for flowing to the outside and taking away the curl, but if they get too deep, Manning will have an easy throw to Welker in the flat for positive yardage. And if the routes and the throw are both perfect, not even Seattle’s secondary can close on those routes quickly enough. Curl-flat isn’t going to produce a huge play, but it’s likely to be a steady offensive component when Manning recognizes that Seattle’s in three-deep.
If Denver wants to attack Seattle deep, the key player is going to be Julius Thomas. Having a tight end with the athleticism to run deep routes is a huge advantage against any defense, but it can be an absolute killer against Cover 2 and Cover 3. There are a few ways the Broncos can get Julius Thomas open downfield against Seattle’s favored coverage. One is with a sail route, described by Bowen here. With the strongside wideout (likely Demaryius Thomas) running a go route to occupy Sherman and the running back running a flat route to occupy Chancellor, the soft spot in the zone is on a deep corner route to the sideline, which is too deep for the safety in the underneath zone to sink toward and too wide for Earl Thomas to drive on from center field.
Julius Thomas will also run the dig (deep in) route, allowing Manning to identify and throw to a safe spot over the middle of the field in between the shallow zones of Seattle’s linebackers and the three deep zones of its defensive backs. The best way to attack Seattle deep is with four verticals. The most vulnerable columns in Cover 3 are up the seams, and while slow tight ends can’t really make it up the seam quickly enough to be a notable threat on a go route, Julius Thomas has the speed and the hands to be a significant concern on a vertical route. It would be a surprise if Manning didn’t take at least one shot up the seam to him during the game.
At the same time, teams have presumably had a shot at running four verticals against the Cover 3 all year, and they haven’t really been able to pull it off because of the presence of Earl Thomas. Seattle’s brilliant center fielder makes this entire defense work because of his ability to diagnose plays and snuff out anything to the vulnerable deep middle of the field. As Danny Kelly notes in his excellent look at the Seattle Cover 3, Pete Carroll expects his deep safety only to defend against the post and seam routes. Earl Thomas has the ideal blend of size, range, and smarts to know how to angle himself to cover those routes, and when the ball is thrown, he has the speed needed to close on them and make a play on the receiver. The proof is in the numbers. Kelly found that just eight passes were thrown to the deep middle of the field against Seattle this season, the lowest figure in football. The Seahawks had the fewest deep middle passes thrown against them in 2012, too, at 15. For what it’s worth, Manning went 16-of-23 for 472 yards and five touchdowns on passes designated as throws to the deep middle of the field this year.
Of course, the Seahawks know all this, and Manning knows that they know. Both teams have to execute, too. Seattle can’t just rely on its size and strength; it has to transition from its presnap look into its coverage responsibilities while rerouting Denver’s receivers away from the weakest points of the coverage. Seattle’s corners on the outside need to disrupt the timing of Denver’s receivers, and the defense as a whole needs to recognize Denver’s route combinations and successfully pattern-match as the play goes on. And Manning needs to look past whatever disguises Seattle has on before the snap, diagnose the coverage, and make accurate, on-time throws into the brief windows the Seattle defense provides. Nobody is less forgiving of subpar throws than the Seahawks and their 20 percent takeaway rate, and while Manning just completed the greatest season a quarterback’s ever put together, his biggest weakness is that propensity to throw one or two ducks each game.
Or, if they want to make things simpler, the Seahawks’ front four could just beat the Broncos up front over and over again. That’s how the 2007 Giants slowed the 18-0 Patriots and their juggernaut of an offense. Denver’s offense is the best unit to hit town since that Patriots attack, and it doesn’t operate the same way, but the same rules apply: If the defense disrupts a play as it gets started, it’s probably going to win. The Seahawks don’t necessarily have to sack Manning a half-dozen times to win, which is good, because they probably won’t; Manning was sacked just 18 times all year and has been knocked down only once in 79 dropbacks this postseason. Instead, what they need to do is disrupt Manning’s timing and force him to either throw passes away or rush into contested throws that end up one-hopped or in uncatchable spots.
That takes more than just beating your man; disrupting Manning requires disciplined rushing. Manning isn’t a threat to run, but his footwork in the pocket is impeccable, and you’re not going to surprise him with a hit from behind, because he’s been feeling rushes for the past 20 years. The Seahawks have a mismatch on the outside with Chris Clemons or Cliff Avril against Broncos backup tackle Chris Clark, but if those ends take a wide route past Clark and try to buzz around Manning, he’s just going to step up in the pocket and make his throw. That leaves the likes of Clinton McDonald and especially Michael Bennett as key contributors; they’re likely to be the Seattle defensive tackles in clear passing situations, and any pressure they can get up the middle against Denver’s strong guard tandem of Zane Beadles and Louis Vasquez will serve to eliminate Manning’s escape routes.
Red Bryant will also need to hold up as a two-gapping defensive tackle on earlier downs when Denver inevitably tries to run the football, especially if it goes hurry-up to try to prevent Seattle from making substitutions. Seattle has a handful of stars, but its depth up front and in the secondary remains a valuable part of its total defensive package. When Seattle makes substitutions between plays, it’s often subbing in a player who is nearly every bit as good as the guy coming off the field. It would behoove Denver to play fast to try to dictate personnel on the other side of the ball, and then make decisions with its play calling to exploit the relative weaknesses of the front seven Seattle has on the field at any given time. That wasn’t an issue against the Patriots, who used the same defensive linemen on virtually every snap and ended up with a gassed front four for most of the game.
Given each team’s strengths and likely game plan, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Denver dink and dunk its way down the field on a seemingly endless string of passes into the flat and shallow throws before making its way into the red zone. That’s where things will change for both teams. The Seahawks will likely have to come out of their Cover 3 shell and play more man-to-man coverage, while the Broncos will have to transition out of those underneath throws and move more toward their pick plays and runs.
The results for both teams this year in the red zone have been, well, phenomenal. Denver had the league’s best offense in the red zone this year, averaging 5.9 points per trip to the red zone, well ahead of the league average of 4.8 points. The only problem? Seattle posted the league’s best defensive performance in the red zone, as opposing offenses have scored just 3.7 points per red zone trip. They’re both significantly impressive figures, too; Denver’s offensive performance is the third-best red zone showing in the Football Outsiders database stretching back to 1997, while Seattle’s defense posted the best red zone performance since 2006. Denver’s red zone DVOA on offense was a staggering 51.5 percent. Seattle’s red zone DVOA on defense? An even more freakish minus-70.5 percent. You get the idea.
More so than any two individual players, the matchup of this offense and that defense in the red zone is the most critical one of this game. Denver’s going to make it into the red zone; you just can’t stop it in the middle of the field over and over again. If it makes it there four times, this game could swing on whether the Broncos score three touchdowns and a field goal (24 points) or, say, one lone touchdown and three field goals (16 points). And, hey, if Seattle could find a way to sneak in a takeaway or one of those famous Red Bryant blocked kicks, their fans wouldn’t mind that much.
Who will win that matchup-within-the-matchup? I’d be lying if I suggested there was some way to tell. My hunch is Seattle, if only because I think its size will play up against Denver’s running game and its taller receivers near the goal line. I would expect Denver to try to isolate Welker against Chancellor or Lane in the slot on an option route more than the likes of Demaryius Thomas on a fade against Sherman or Maxwell. That’s just my hunch, and I wouldn’t want to count out the interior of Denver’s offensive line against what might be a very tired Seattle front four at the end of a bunch of 12-play drives, either. How those final 20 yards play out on Sunday should have a huge impact on the final outcome of the game.
Relying on numbers or past performances to tell you something about the Super Bowl means something only if the same players who gave those performances are actually around to suit up and play in the big game. And yes, every NFL player is hurting by February, but there’s a huge disparity in the relative health and player availability of these two teams. Sunday will quite possibly be the healthiest Seattle team we’ve seen all season, at least in terms of its core talent. Denver, meanwhile, might very well be at its most injured. And that gap is most notable on Denver’s weaker side of this game, the matchup of its defense against Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle offense.
Denver has lost a number of enormously valuable contributors during the season on the way to this Super Bowl. That started in September, when All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady suffered a Lisfranc injury that ended his season. The team replaced Clady with the aforementioned Chris Clark, who hasn’t exactly held the offense back, but he isn’t in Clady’s league. He’s also been responsible, per STATS, for 7.5 of Manning’s 18 sacks this year.
Since then, the key injuries have come to the Denver defense. The most notable name is irreplaceable linebacker Von Miller, who suffered a season-ending torn ACL in December, but he’s far from the only missing part. Safety Rahim Moore was eligible to return from short-term injured reserve before the AFC Championship Game, but a setback in his recovery from compartment syndrome means Moore will likely miss the Super Bowl. Cornerback Chris Harris tore his ACL in the divisional-round win over the Chargers. And Denver was already thin up front after losing Kevin Vickerson to a hip injury, but when versatile lineman Derek Wolfe was placed on injured reserve two weeks ago after struggling to recover from a “seizure-like episode,” it reduced the Broncos to a skeleton crew. Denver has had to push 2012 fifth-rounder Malik Jackson and 2013 first-rounder Sylvester Williams into the starting lineup, and it’s demanded more out of Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton, who had an excellent game against the Patriots. Consider that Jeremy Mincey — who was cut by the lowly Jaguars in December — saw 16 defensive snaps for the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game. That’s how desperate things are up front.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, have only one player missing from the core group they would have hoped to bring to New York because of injury: wideout Sidney Rice, who tore his ACL at the end of October. They’re also missing cornerback Brandon Browner thanks to a suspension, but otherwise, just about everybody on the Seattle roster is ready to go.
If anything, these Seahawks should be better than the team that went 13-3 this season because they’ve gotten a number of key contributors back from injuries. Starting linebacker K.J. Wright returned from a foot injury he suffered in Week 14 to play in the NFC Championship Game; he should be healthier and quicker with two more weeks of healing under his belt. Seattle’s two best offensive linemen — left tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger — each missed time during the regular season, with Okung suiting up for eight games and Unger starting 13. They’re both back and at their healthiest for the Super Bowl.
And, most notably, wideout Percy Harvin will return to the lineup for just his third game of the season, having played only 38 offensive snaps after the Seahawks traded a first-round pick (along with a 2013 seventh-rounder and a 2014 third-rounder) for the former Vikings star this past offseason. Harvin missed 15 games during the regular season with a hip injury before returning for Seattle’s playoff win over the Saints, only to leave that game before halftime when he suffered a concussion. It seems foolhardy to count on Harvin to suit up for 65 offensive snaps on Sunday, but there’s also no reason to believe that he can’t contribute in at least a limited role. Seattle built a surprising chunk of its offensive attack around getting the ball to Harvin during his 19 offensive snaps against New Orleans, and a healthy(-ish) Harvin gives the Seahawks a weapon the Broncos just haven’t seen much of on film. Harvin will also almost surely move back into his role as the team’s kickoff returner, which is excellent news for Seattle. Harvin was one of the best kickoff return men in the league during his time in Minnesota, and Denver’s biggest weakness on special teams comes on kickoff returns, where it allowed a league-high 29.3 yards per kick return this season. Broncos kicker Matt Prater can nullify that problem with touchbacks, but his touchback rate falls from 84 percent at home to 58 percent on the road, and the cold air in the Meadowlands shouldn’t do him any favors.
The only guy Denver was without who might help it look better than its regular-season performance is Champ Bailey, who started just three games all season because of a recurring foot injury. Bailey made his way back at the end of the season in a limited role before graduating to the starting lineup in the AFC Championship Game. A healthy Bailey is unquestionably somebody the Broncos want to have on the roster, but it’s also fair to say that Bailey isn’t the player he once was, given that he’s 35 years old. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has had a fine season on one side of the field as Denver’s primary cornerback, so Bailey doesn’t need to shoulder quite the workload he did for so many years, but he’s still going to need to hold up against a team with far better wideouts than the group that the Patriots sent out two weeks ago.
Injuries are also informing my opinion of the Broncos’ defense right about now. Denver’s had a very interesting season; it would have been very reasonable to expect the Broncos to struggle without Von Miller and play significantly better with him in the lineup, but instead, the opposite’s been true. Miller suited up for and finished eight games this year before leaving his ninth, a win over the Texans, after just six snaps with the aforementioned torn ACL. The Broncos have been notably better, strangely, in the 10 games without Miller around:
Denver had previously won its only other game without Miller in the lineup, leaving it 11-0 with its defensive dynamo on the sideline. I’m not advocating that the Broncos ceremoniously tear Miller’s ACL at a preseason fan fest to ensure an undefeated season, but I’m certainly surprised they’ve been better without their best defensive player in the lineup. Is that meaningful over eight- and 10-game samples? Probably not. My guess is that the Broncos would suit Miller up if he were healthy this Sunday, numbers be damned.
Stranger still, the Broncos defense has followed an uneven regular season with an unexpectedly impressive postseason run. After finishing 15th in DVOA during the regular season, Denver’s defense has been lights-out for most of the postseason. It shut out the third-ranked Chargers for three quarters before allowing 17 points in a fourth-quarter sprint, and then held the fourth-ranked Patriots to three points during the first three quarters of that game before allowing 13 relatively meaningless points in the fourth quarter. It certainly looks like the Broncos’ defense is raising its game when it needs to.
It wouldn’t be unprecedented for a middling defense to get hot and suddenly start playing better during a memorable postseason run, either, and Manning would remember as much. The 2006 Colts went 12-4, but that was almost entirely thanks to their offense; their defense was deplorable, finishing 25th in DVOA and 23rd in points allowed, giving up 22.5 points per game. During the postseason, though, they locked opposing offenses down; they allowed eight points to the Chiefs, six to the Ravens, and 17 to the Bears in Super Bowl XLI. The Patriots did score 34 points in Indy’s memorable comeback win in the AFC Championship Game, but even that included a pick-six. In all, the Colts allowed just 16.3 points per game during their run to the Super Bowl. Could the Broncos be riding a similar sort of hot streak?
It’s possible. With the Colts, though, there was an obvious and tangible reason for their improvement: Bob Sanders. The mercurial safety was one of the most impactful players in football on a per-snap basis at that point of his career, and while Indianapolis had been a top-five defense the year before with Sanders suiting up for 14 games, the Iowa product managed to play in only four games during the 2006 regular season, sitting out 12 of the final 14 contests that year. Indy wisely saved its star defensive back for the playoffs, where he was a one-man wrecking ball: Sanders picked up two interceptions, forced a fumble, and broke up a key pass that might have ended the AFC Championship Game in New England’s favor.
Could Bailey be Denver’s version of Sanders? It’s hard to say. Certainly, there are some similarities — Denver was great with Bailey last year, and he’s been a dominant player in the past— but I’m not sure that the situations match. For one, Sanders was 24 years old and in the prime of his career. Bailey’s 35, and it’s not clear that even a healthy Champ is the player he used to be. Sanders was also an every-down defender for those Colts after his return, while Bailey suited up for just more than half of the defensive snaps against the Chargers in the divisional round before the injury suffered by Harris pushed him into the starting lineup for the AFC Championship Game. There’s also a smaller sample to work with; those Colts exhibited improvement over a four-game stretch, while we’ve seen these improved Broncos for only two games.
Plus, both the Chargers and Patriots were suffering from their own injury woes. The Chargers unexpectedly lost guard Jeromey Clary during the week, and backup Johnnie Troutman got smoked in his absence. Star back Ryan Mathews — who had driven San Diego’s stunning run to the playoffs — carried the ball only five times because of an ankle injury. And while the Patriots did drop 43 points on the Colts in the divisional round before being shut down by Denver, they got some help from Andrew Luck’s four interceptions; that offense had been in steady decline from the moment Rob Gronkowski tore his ACL. Denver’s done an admirable job in the playoffs regardless of the circumstances, and it has been much better than it was during the regular season, but the extenuating issues just make me wonder whether it can keep that up for a third game.
And if it’s not playing at its previously high level, Denver’s at a pretty significant disadvantage against the Seattle offense. The Seahawks were a balanced, effective unit that was seventh in DVOA during the regular season, and while Russell Wilson’s been inconsistent during the postseason, there are the mitigating factors of wild winds and bad weather in the Saints game.
The 49ers’ front seven beat up Seattle when it tried to throw in the NFC Championship Game, with a few big plays sustaining the Seahawks’ attack. That really came down to the incredible work done by their linebackers, especially in pursuit of Wilson. You saw what Aldon Smith could do on the first play, when he chased Wilson out to the edge, brought him down, and stripped him of the football in the process. Ahmad Brooks knocked Wilson down three times while serving as San Francisco’s primary spy on Wilson during play-action, and the 49ers knocked Wilson down 10 times amid just 29 dropbacks.
Denver just doesn’t have that kind of pass rush or athleticism at linebacker. Danny Trevathan is a useful player, and Shaun Phillips can both get to Wilson on a rush and spy him on one side of the field, but what they really need is, well, Von Miller. He would be the perfect asset against Wilson, a player who can keep up with every step Wilson makes while finishing plays on the edge. Robert Ayers just isn’t that guy. As a result, I think this will be Wilson’s best game of the postseason; he might not have as many big plays as he had against the 49ers, but I think you’ll see him have his way outside the pocket, creating throwing lanes and improvising for first downs.
An inexperienced Broncos front seven will need to stay disciplined in its run lanes against Lynch. Seattle’s myriad blocking schemes frequently allow Lynch to cut back against defenses flowing to the point of attack, which is where he ends up one-on-one against some terrified defender who ends up resembling roadkill. Denver has an excellent pair of defensive coaches in John Fox and Jack Del Rio, and it will be well-coached for this game, but this is a thin group of journeymen and undrafted free agents; they’ll need to win a lot of one-on-one matchups against superior talent to keep Lynch in check.
You’ve already read more words about the New Jersey weather and how it might affect Super Bowl XLVIII than you needed to, so I won’t waste your time here. In short: The weather’s not going to make a noticeable impact upon how this game is played. The only weather phenomenon16 that really drastically changes how offenses perform is wind, and Sunday’s forecast calls for light winds. Colder weather might dampen each team’s propensity for passing slightly and take a yard or two off each kicker’s range on field goals, but as currently forecast, it’s going to be a relatively mild 40 degrees.
The possibility of a cold-weather game was perceived to be an unfair disadvantage against the Broncos, but I’m not sure either term fits. The idea that Manning can’t handle cold weather, as I wrote about earlier this year, is overblown and disingenuous. The case against Manning is jaundiced in a number of ways; it uses an arbitrary and misleading temperature endpoint, it relies on a small sample, and it hides the fact that the vast majority of quarterbacks tend to play worse on the road, where virtually all of Manning’s cold-weather games have occurred. Furthermore, while the effect isn’t exactly game-changing, all quarterbacks are worse in cold weather. Here are the numbers for passers since 2000 split by 10-degree temperature bands:17
The argument of fairness, meanwhile, seems to revolve around the idea that the Super Bowl is normally played in a dome or other warm-weather environment. That might be typical, but it’s not inherently fair; if you believe that pristine conditions give a little bit of a boost to a pass-heavy team, that would seem to suggest that the Broncos would actually gain an unfair advantage from playing in your usual Super Bowl conditions. Instead of suggesting that the Broncos are at a disadvantage by playing in the (relatively) cold outdoor conditions of New Jersey, it’s probably more accurate to say the Broncos simply don’t have a weather advantage. And just because something is the usual arrangement doesn’t mean the usual arrangement is in itself fair to both sides.
Seattle was a better team than Denver during the regular season by DVOA, Simple Rating System, and Advanced NFL Stats’ Team Efficiency metric. The Seahawks are unquestionably healthier than the Broncos right now. And while Denver’s offense is probably slightly better than Seattle’s defense, Seattle’s advantage when it has the football is far superior. Before the season, I picked Seattle to beat Denver in the Super Bowl.18 It seems wrong to go against that now. Seattle 27, Denver 16.
Source: Grantland » Contributors » Bill Barnwell | 30 Jan 2014 | 12:29 pm PST
A rare winter storm swept across most of the Deep South yesterday, turning roads into sheets of ice, dropping several inches of snow in places, snarling highways, and causing at least five deaths. Unaccustomed to the weather, drivers slid into ditches, abandoned vehicles on highways, and became trapped in miles-long traffic jams for many hours. The National Guard was out, extracting stranded motorists and transporting them to shelters - thousands remain trapped on Interstates around Atlanta today. [20 photos]
Source: In Focus | 29 Jan 2014 | 10:19 am PST
The common fallacy after winning a championship is to try to bring back just about everyone you had on the title-winning roster the following year. You can see the logic — you did just achieve everything you set out to achieve with those players — but it ignores the concept of despite. Namely, everyone on your roster doesn’t equally contribute to a championship; you can win a title despite some of the players in your organization, too.
In other cases, there are players who want to leave, guys who emerge as key contributors during a title run and then leave for bigger roles or more money elsewhere. Anecdotally, that move seems to rarely work out, with the classic example coming from the hapless Al Davis Raiders, who gave a big contract to Super Bowl XXX MVP Larry Brown after the Cowboys cornerback picked off Neil O’Donnell twice. Brown started one game in two years before being released by Oakland. That Davis made a similar move — with similar success — in signing Colts running back Dominic Rhodes years later speaks to how well he learned from his mistakes.
Regardless of who wins this Sunday’s Super Bowl, we’re going to see examples of both these personnel scenarios play out after the season. The winner (and probably the loser) will likely hold on to a piece or two too many, because that’s what happens when you make it this far. A player who had a big postseason will get a hefty contract elsewhere. There are players on each side who will be suiting up for the final time with their respective teams this Sunday, even if they don’t yet know it. So let’s run through both these teams and figure out what their immediate offseason after the Super Bowl is going to look like. That’ll tell us what to expect from each of these teams this spring, but even more so, it tells us who might profit most from having a dominant performance in New Jersey.
Note that all the contract data and terms in this piece come from the publicly available data at Spotrac.
Free Agents: Amazingly, Denver could be starting as many as nine players in the Super Bowl who are due to become free agents after the season, with a number of players who provide depth also hitting the market. The injured Chris Harris, starting safety Duke Ihenacho, and return man Trindon Holliday are each restricted free agents, leaving them likely to return to Denver. The others? It wouldn’t be a surprise if many of the players booked to leave chose to sign elsewhere.
The biggest free agent coming out of Denver is cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who has had an impressive rebuilding season after signing a short-term “prove it” deal with the Broncos. The free-agent market for cornerbacks is relatively deep this offseason, but DRC proved he should be near the top of the class in terms of performance and salary. His two-year deal should void next week, and Rodgers-Cromartie has already made his intentions clear by suggesting he would consider retirement if he didn’t get a long-term deal from somebody. The Broncos could certainly use a top cornerback, but their strategy in recent years has been to cast veteran reclamation projects and young players with upside across from Champ Bailey. That might change this year, but more on that later.
Speaking of veteran reclamation projects, Shaun Phillips did a nice job in rebuilding his value with a 10-sack season, his third double-digit campaign as a pro, as Denver’s primary pass-rusher. Phillips is on a one-year deal for $1 million (he earned an additional $800,000 in sack incentives), and while last year’s market for veteran pass-rushers suggests he’s unlikely to get a massive deal for his age-33 season and beyond, Phillips will almost surely receive a salary in the $4 million-plus range on a short-term deal. Again, Denver might look to move on to the next veteran pass-rusher and cast him across from Von Miller. The team will also have to make decisions on linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Paris Lenon, as well as safety Mike Adams. Woodyard has faded badly as the season’s gone along, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see somebody snatch him up as an upside play after he recovers from a stinger this offseason.
Denver’s offense could lose several quietly valuable components, too. The most notable name would be wideout Eric Decker, generally considered to be Denver’s second wideout behind Demaryius Thomas. Decker put up two virtually identical seasons with Peyton Manning under center, with an 85-1,064-13 line in 2012 followed up by an 87-1,288-11 line in 2013. Since moving into the starting lineup in 2011, Decker has scored 32 receiving touchdowns, the fourth-highest total in football, behind some guys who are going to get paid a lot more money than he will: Jimmy Graham, Dez Bryant, and Calvin Johnson. I always caution against giving big contracts to second bananas in elite passing offenses, but with Decker about to hit 27, somebody’s going to give him a pretty substantial long-term deal. The five-year, $43 million deal (albeit with $15.6 million guaranteed) signed by Victor Cruz looms as a logical comp. I would imagine that Decker ends up staying in Denver, even if he takes a little bit off the top of that contract. It’s certainly hard to imagine where he might end up were he to leave Denver. The Jets could certainly use a wideout …
A more likely departure is Knowshon Moreno. The Broncos drafted Montee Ball in the second round a year ago to serve as their long-term starter at halfback, and while Moreno’s been a valuable, versatile starter for Denver this season, it wasn’t so long ago that this same administration had no need for Moreno. He will likely join the epic game of running back musical chairs that’s about to begin this offseason, and with his recent success and young age (27 in 2014) balanced against a rocky injury history, it seems like he could get a two-year deal for less than $10 million from somebody like the Titans or Giants. Denver could also lose starting left guard Zane Beadles, the lesser half of one of the league’s more underrated guard tandems with Louis Vasquez. It seems most likely that Beadles will hit the market, see that there’s no Andy Levitre–size contract waiting for him, and re-sign with the Broncos on a long-term deal.
New Deals: Denver has to clear out space for a number of new contracts. It seems likely the organization would want to re-sign the likes of Decker, Beadles, and possibly Rodgers-Cromartie, but there are players with contracts coming due in 2015 and 2016 who will receive massive raises. That starts with Von Miller, whose four-year, $21 million rookie contract expires next season. The Broncos retain a fifth-year option on Miller’s rookie contract and could either use it to push the inevitable Miller extension into the future or as leverage to bring his asking price down. Given that Miller’s 2013 season included a six-game suspension and a torn ACL, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Denver waited another year before working on what will be a massive new deal for Miller.
Don’t worry: There are plenty of other contracts the Broncos can work on. The most obvious deal would be that of Demaryius Thomas, who has one of the old-CBA rookie contracts by virtue of his selection in the first round of the 2010 draft. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent after the 2015 season, and the Broncos will likely sign him to a new contract this offseason, especially if they don’t sign Miller to a new deal. Thomas is going to get paid either way, but a big Super Bowl performance — especially if it comes against Richard Sherman — could be worth a few extra million dollars in guaranteed money.
The Broncos will also likely want to find new deals for tight end Julius Thomas, right tackle Orlando Franklin, and safety Rahim Moore, each of whom become free agents after the 2015 campaign. They also have defensive tackle Terrance Knighton signed to a bargain-basement deal for next season, but they could again use the cheap contract as leverage to sign Knighton to a (relatively) cheaper long-term deal if so inclined.
Possible Cap Casualties: The ultimate cap casualty, of course, would be Peyton Manning. A Manning retirement would throw this entire organization into flux, but Manning himself has said he has no intention of retiring after the season. Let’s proceed accordingly.
While Denver’s in relatively good cap shape, there are a number of deals it will likely expect to renegotiate or remove from its cap this offseason. The most obvious renegotiation belongs to legendary cornerback Champ Bailey, who was injured for virtually the entire season with a recurring foot problem. Bailey’s four-year, $42.5 million contract was structured without a signing bonus, which allows the Broncos to release him without causing much stress to their cap. Both the 35-year-old Bailey and the team know he wouldn’t come close to matching the $10.75 million due in his contract on the free market were the organization to release Bailey, so it seems likely the team will either release the future Hall of Famer this offseason or convince him to return on a much smaller contract. Releasing Bailey would save Denver $9.5 million on its 2014 cap.
The team will almost surely cut bait on its two backup tight ends. Jacob Tamme became an afterthought after the emergence of Julius Thomas, and while Tamme is friends with Manning, the Broncos are unlikely to pay their backup tight end $3.5 million next year for companionship’s sake. They will also surely let Joel Dreessen, now the team’s fourth-string tight end, hit the market one year early. Releasing Tamme and Dreessen would save a combined $5.5 million, and if the team let deposed guard Chris Kuper follow them into free agency, the savings would hit $9.5 million.
Offseason Plan: If they follow their previous course of action, the Broncos under John Elway will target young players with considerable raw talent in free agency, guys Denver thinks they can coach up into more useful assets. Given their perpetual need for bodies up front, that could lead them to a former 3-4 lineman like Ziggy Hood or Tyson Jackson, both first-round picks who failed to develop as planned in their first stops. If Shaun Phillips leaves, I wonder if the Broncos would target Jared Allen on a one-year deal to serve as their primary pass-rusher while Miller recovers from his ACL tear. And with question marks at cornerback, if they don’t sign Rodgers-Cromartie and they release Bailey, the Broncos could target one of the top cornerbacks on the market, like Aqib Talib or Sam Shields. DeAngelo Hall would even make sense on a lesser contract.
Free Agents: The Seahawks will run the risk of losing a number of notable contributors this offseason, but they’ll still have plenty of cap space to work with, given that several of their best players (Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, and Earl Thomas) are still on their rookie deals. That will change starting in 2015. Until then, the Seahawks still have one more year in cap heaven.
Their most notable free agent this offseason will be Michael Bennett, who provided a hefty return on the one-year deal Seattle gave him this past spring. In fact, Bennett might very well have been too good; the Seahawks would surely love to have him back on another one-year deal, but Bennett did enough this year to earn a long-term contract from somebody, with the natural landing point seeming to be a reunion with brother Martellus in Chicago. Seattle will likely search for a short-term deal with another 4-3 end who can kick inside on passing downs.
The only other notable free agents Seattle has on defense are cornerback Walter Thurmond, who lost his job to Byron Maxwell after being suspended in midseason, and useful defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, who should re-sign for a moderate amount of money. Suspended cornerback Brandon Browner is also as good as gone. Otherwise, virtually all the big questions come on offense. While wideout Doug Baldwin is a restricted free agent who will almost surely return, fellow receiver Golden Tate is an unrestricted free agent. Tate had his best season in 2014, but it was only a 64-898-5 line. It certainly feels like he has some untapped potential, and he won’t turn 26 until August, but it also seems likely the Seahawks would have given him an extension by now if they were intending to keep him around.
The Seahawks will also have to make decisions on starting right tackle Breno Giacomini and utility lineman Paul McQuistan. Given the injury woes suffered by Seattle up front this season, you can imagine they would want to hold on to both of their linemen, but Giacomini will likely seek a raise on the two-year, $6.5 million deal he’s currently playing out. The Seahawks could also choose to install rookie seventh-rounder Michael Bowie at right tackle or use him as McQuistan’s replacement in the swing role.
New Deals: Oh dear. It’s a good thing to have a lot of talented players who deserve big-money contracts, but man, Paul Allen has a ton of money to hand out over the next few years.
2014 will mark the final year before unrestricted free agency for, among others, Baldwin, Cliff Avril, Chris Clemons, Malcolm Smith, Sherman, Thomas, and K.J. Wright. Yikes. The Seahawks have no option years available to them on those deals, either, like the Broncos have with Miller.
All those players are relative bargains (Clemons aside, perhaps) in 2014, but the Seahawks need to give them new deals so they can push a bunch of their guaranteed money onto next year’s cap and clear out space for the next set of extensions they’ll have to give out. That’s because Bruce Irvin (who will have a fifth-year option), Marshawn Lynch, Brandon Mebane, Russell Okung, Wilson, and Wagner will all become free agents after the 2015 season, and that doesn’t include a number of key veterans I suspect won’t be on the roster by then. (More on them in a second.) Holy hell. How are the Seahawks going to fit all these guys under the cap?
Giving the players long contracts with big signing bonuses is only part of the solution. General manager John Schneider is going to have to stagger the base salaries in these contracts to ensure that the likes of Sherman and Thomas collect big guarantees before the likes of Wilson and Wagner do the same. The Seahawks will also have to start stockpiling draft picks, because a top-heavy roster like the one they’re about to have in 2015 and beyond is going to need plenty of cheap depth behind it.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Seahawks extend Thomas and Sherman this offseason. They currently have a combined cap hold of just more than $7.5 million for 2014; new deals would probably see that figure approach a combined $30 million, especially if the Seahawks weight the deals in favor of a bigger first-year payout.
Possible Cap Casualties: The long line of impending extensions will force the Seahawks to make some tough decisions, and that starts this year. The third-highest paid player on the roster next year will be wideout Sidney Rice, who has failed to live up to expectations and struggled to stay healthy since coming over in free agency from Minnesota. He’s owed $9.7 million and then $10.2 million over the next two seasons, salaries that don’t remotely match his production. The Seahawks will likely need to cut him this offseason, a move that will save them $7.3 million this year and the full $10.2 million in 2015.
Their highest-paid player in 2013 was, surprisingly, tight end Zach Miller. The former Raiders star had an $11 million cap hit in 2013, a figure that falls to $7 million and then $6 million over the final two years of his contract. Miller’s a useful blocker, but he hasn’t been quite as effective a receiver as the Seahawks might have expected when they gave him a five-year, $34 million deal. Releasing Miller would save them $5 million in 2014 and $6 million in 2015, but it seems more likely the Seahawks will ask Miller to restructure. They aren’t particularly deep at tight end. The same is true at guard, but the struggles of former first-round pick James Carpenter could lead the Seahawks to cut him and save $1.3 million over the final year of his deal.
Those are the two obvious places to make changes. Seattle could also try to restructure the deals of Clemons (who has a $9.7 million cap hit in the final year of his deal) and Red Bryant ($8.5 million next year). They can’t do much about the biggest escalator on their cap; Percy Harvin’s new contract extension really kicks in next year, as his cap hit rises from $4.9 million to $13.4 million and stays above $11 million for each of the next four seasons.
Offseason Plans: The Seahawks will begin the process of coming to terms on long extensions with their young stars. They’ll need to clear out some space at the top of the cap to do so while maintaining the flexibility they want to bring in a veteran to help the pass rush. If they don’t sign Giacomini, their need for a zone-blocking right tackle could bring them to Eric Winston, who enjoyed success in that role for the Texans. Any additions they make will need to be on a one- or two-year deal, because the cap space just isn’t going to be there in 2016 and beyond. Of course, with the talent Seattle has, it won’t miss the cap space all that much.
Source: Grantland » Contributors » Bill Barnwell | 29 Jan 2014 | 6:44 am PST
Marshawn Lynch occupies a weird, compelling space in the football world. More so than anybody else in the league, he’s the guy I find non-football or casual football fans gravitating toward. He’s your favorite basketball blogger’s favorite football player. On a team known even within the outsize sphere of the NFL as one of the league’s biggest19 and most bruising, Lynch stands out for not only making a fair number of defenders miss, but also for seeming to truly relish shaking tacklers off or running them over more than any other back in football. At the same time, he’s a good-natured, downright goofy character with a legitimately funny TV reel, albeit a character with a troubling record of off-field incidents. Maybe what makes him so interesting is that contradiction: Lynch is both that Skittles-slurping folk hero and an old-school archetype being squeezed out of football: the workhorse franchise running back.
Lynch’s professional backstory and the path he has taken to the biggest game of his life are equally disjointed. His lows were lower and his burn was slower than most remember. Somehow, he’s both a cautionary tale for investing too much in a running back and an argument that upper-echelon talent just needs the right spot to shine.
It’s probably fair to say Marshawn Lynch never really should have made his way to Buffalo at all. It was a surprise when the Bills took him with the 12th pick of the 2007 NFL draft, not because of anything to do with Lynch’s talent, but because the Bills were just coming off a dismal experience with their last highly selected running back. They had just been rewarded for spending a first-round pick on Willis McGahee in the 2003 draft by having him complain his way out of Buffalo, refusing to sign an extension while taking shots at Buffalo’s women on the way out. The Bills were only able to net a pair of third-rounders and a seventh-rounder for McGahee. They would end up, years later, getting a fourth- and a fifth-round pick from Seattle for Lynch. Buffalo would even use a third first-round pick on a running back when it nabbed C.J. Spiller with the ninth pick of the 2010 draft.20
As tempting as it is to say that Lynch showed flashes of the brilliant back he would become, he was really a nondescript player for his three-plus years with the Bills. He started from day one and spent his first two seasons as the team’s featured back, but those two seasons produced ho-hum results: He produced an average of 265 carries, 1,076 rushing yards, and eight touchdowns over those two years, just barely squeaking his way over four yards per carry. There’s nothing wrong with those numbers, but you don’t draft a guy in the top 15 to get a league-average back.
The more exciting option was lurking on the bench. Fred Jackson was a 26-year-old undrafted free agent out of tiny Coe College who had spent his postcollegiate career playing minor league indoor football before excelling in the now-defunct NFL Europe; the only reason the Bills likely even gave him a glance was that then–general manager Marv Levy is a fellow product of Coe. Jackson didn’t get the ball as frequently as Lynch, but outperformed him when he did touch the rock. Jackson averaged 4.6 yards per carry on his 188 rushes over that two-year span and was regarded as the better receiver of the two. At the very least, it wasn’t clear that Lynch, the much-ballyhooed first-round pick, was better than his out-of-nowhere backup.
If Lynch’s play left the door open for question marks, his behavior off the field kicked it down. In May 2008, Lynch hit a woman in the middle of a Buffalo street while at the wheel of his Porsche Cayenne before leaving the scene of the accident. He would later plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge, claiming he didn’t realize he had hit the woman, and have his license revoked. The woman would later sue Lynch, claiming he was drunk at the time of the accident. Then, in February 2009, Lynch was arrested on felony charges for possessing a concealed firearm; he pleaded down to a misdemeanor.
After the firearm plea, the NFL suspended Lynch for the first three games of the 2009 season. Whether it was the off-field issues, Lynch’s uninspiring on-field performance, or more likely the combination of the two, Jackson began to establish himself as the superior option at tailback. The team lost faith in Lynch as the season went along, and by Week 12, it had installed Jackson as the team’s starting halfback for good. During the subsequent offseason, the Bills drafted Spiller with their first-round pick and installed him in a time-share with Jackson atop the depth chart. Just three years into his career, the 24-year-old Lynch had fallen from the lofty heights of the first round to the third string of the 6-10 Bills.
During that 2010 offseason, Lynch told Yahoo’s Michael Silver that he felt unwelcome in Buffalo; he and his agent reported that Buffalo cops had chastised him for playing music too loudly in the stadium parking lot and falsely accused him of stealing a $20 bill. His homeowners’ association then wouldn’t allow him to keep a pair of pit bulls he intended to raise. By the end of the story, Lynch had suggested it was time for him to move on from his past and improve his reputation, regardless of where he played. He had an ominous threat for opponents, too: “What will you see from me this year? Beast mode.”
Lynch’s time with Buffalo was coming to a close. Trade rumors swirled around him all summer, and while he suffered a preseason ankle injury that prevented the Bills from dealing him before the season, a season-ending injury to Packers back Ryan Grant in Week 2 just added fuel to the rumor fire. A reunion with former college teammate Aaron Rodgers in Wisconsin seemed to make sense for both sides, but during Buffalo’s Week 5 bye, it finally pulled the trigger on a move and shipped Lynch to Seattle for two midround picks. The Seahawks weren’t dealing with a notable injury at running back, but they were dissatisfied with the performance of preseason starter Julius Jones, whom they released shortly after the trade.
This seems like a natural turning point in the Lynch story, with the back getting a clean slate in his new surroundings and exhibiting the considerable raw talent that had fallen by the wayside in Buffalo. It wasn’t. Lynch was barely passable during his debut season in Seattle. He carried the ball 165 times for just 573 yards, averaging a lowly 3.5 yards per rush. Seattle kept its faith with Lynch and used him as its starter for most of the season, but he was benched after fumbling twice in one quarter against the Saints in Week 11, with The Olympian referring to his playing style as “Bumbling Lynch Mode.” The Seahawks again took him out of the starting lineup for their Week 17 play-in victory over the Rams, during which he fumbled for the third time; he fumbled again in the opening round of the playoffs against those very same Saints.
Lynch ran for 57 yards on his first 16 carries against New Orleans, a near-perfect match for that 3.5-yard rushing average from the regular season. On his 17th carry of the game, he unleashed the Beast Quake, arguably the greatest individual run in football history. For a player who never seemed to feel at ease in Buffalo, where he had been rendered irrelevant and unwanted, Lynch became an instant folk hero the moment he crossed that goal line. It must have felt like he had finally found his professional home.
If the trade to Seattle isn’t seen as the turning point of Lynch’s career, it’s the Beast Quake run that’s seen as his step forward into becoming an upper-echelon running back. Again, it’s simply not that clear. He carried the ball just four times for a total of 2 yards against the Bears in Seattle’s subsequent playoff loss, suffering a shoulder injury in the process. He returned as the team’s starting back in 2011 but was relatively ineffective through the first half of the season; in six games (plus a bye and a missed week because of a back injury), Lynch carried the ball 74 times for a total of just 263 yards, keeping his rushing average at a paltry 3.6 yards per attempt. He fumbled in consecutive starts against the Giants and Bengals, turning over the ball on both occasions. The Seahawks were 2-5 and floundering, as they turned the ball back over to Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback for a start at Dallas, which was without emerging linebacker Sean Lee.
Before the game, Lynch went to offensive line coach Tom Cable and asked for some extra guidance on how to run behind Seattle’s zone-blocking scheme. Although the changes were subtle — Seattle Times writer Danny O’Neil described the shift as “[not changing] how he ran so much as where” — Cable credited Lynch for being brave enough to mix things up. “What he showed me is that he had the courage to accept something new,” Cable said. “I say courage because it takes that to actually change your mindset and go to something different.” That shift in mind-set, very clearly, was the turning point in Marshawn Lynch’s career.
The results from the change were immediate. Seattle lost 23-13 to Dallas, thanks to a pair of interceptions on consecutive passes from Jackson, but Lynch had his first big game — game, not lone play — as a Seahawks back. He ran for 135 yards on 23 carries, marking his first 100-yard regular-season game in nearly three years. The Seahawks had hesitated to rely on Lynch before that contest; he’d averaged 13 carries per contest as a Seattle player up to that point, with just four of his 18 games involving 19 carries or more. From the Dallas game on, Pete Carroll turned Lynch into the focus of the football team. He averaged more than 23 carries per game over the final nine contests of the year, carrying the ball at least 19 times in each of those nine games. Lynch finished with six 100-yard games over that nine-game stretch. Seattle went 5-4 to finish the season, and while it would be getting cause and effect backward to suggest Lynch’s workload caused the Seahawks to start winning (when it was likely, in part, the other way around), that second half was really the first time we saw the style of the Seahawks team that will line up in New Jersey this Sunday.
After the season, the Seahawks finally locked Lynch up with a four-year contract extension that guaranteed him $17 million. While Lynch had become a key contributor to and a beloved member of the Seahawks, his off-field issues again arose. He was arrested on suspicion of DUI in Northern California while driving a Ford van, a case which is yet to be resolved, due to come to trial on February 21.
On the field, Lynch has become Seattle’s beating heart. Since that fateful meeting with Cable, the mercurial running back has led the league in both carries and rushing yards:
Lynch has averaged 92.4 rushing yards per game over that stretch, a figure topped only by Adrian Peterson. He hasn’t missed a single game over that time frame, and after losing that week to Dallas, the Seahawks have gone 32-12 since, including three playoff wins. They’ll aim to make it four on Sunday.
Marshawn Lynch’s history reveals a convoluted, inconsistent story. All the popular reference points for his turnaround are off. He didn’t leave the inexcusable off-field behavior in Buffalo. He doesn’t remotely fit any single past archetype that would suggest a reasonable comparison, but there are players who seem to be in the middle of Lynch’s story, players we probably shouldn’t rush to judge.
Those include LeGarrette Blount, who threw an infamous punch in college before coming to the pros and winning a starting job, only to lose it immediately thereafter and get traded away to a more tolerant franchise. Like Lynch, Blount had his breakout game in the playoffs (against the Colts), only to follow it with a goose egg in the next contest (five carries for 6 yards against the Broncos). Lynch’s history tells us Blount’s next move is to find and adapt to a scheme that plays to his strengths; Blount’s surroundings might be more important than his actual ability to exceed those surroundings. Lynch’s slow rate of adoption in a new scheme after being traded also evokes thoughts of Trent Richardson, a fellow first-round pick and college star who was dealt during his rookie contract.
And, really, it’s important to take away that Lynch’s story is far from over. Believe it or not, he is just 27 years old. In four years, he managed to go from first-round pick to troubled afterthought, and in the subsequent four years, he’s gone from malcontent to superstar. Predicting the future of veteran NFL running backs is often a fool’s errand; with Lynch, it seems downright impossible. About all I can guess is that he’s likely to remain one of the more compelling figures in football.
Source: Grantland » Contributors » Bill Barnwell | 28 Jan 2014 | 9:00 am PST
Months of protest in Ukraine -- which started in opposition to President Viktor Yanukovych's move to increase ties to Russia, but flared up recently in reaction to new strict anti-protest laws -- have resulted in the resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, the dismissal of his cabinet, and the repeal of most of the recent anti-protest legislation. Demonstrations spread throughout the country over the past few days, with the most intense in central Kiev, where days of pitched battles, fires, and destruction have left parts of the city in blackened ruin. This morning Kiev was peaceful once more, as all parties met to work their way out of the crisis. Gathered here are scenes from the streets of Ukraine over the past few days. Also, see earlier entry: The Battle in Kiev: Two Killed in Ukraine Protest. [38 photos]
Source: In Focus | 28 Jan 2014 | 6:17 am PST
Billed as "the toughest race in the world," the Tough Guy 2014 competition took place yesterday in Perton, England. Every year, thousands of men and women tackle the course, which is described on the Tough Guy website as eight country miles filled with freezing mud and "barbed wire, cuts, scrapes, burns, dehydration, hypothermia, acrophobia, claustrophobia, electric shocks, sprains, twists, joint dislocation and broken bones." Gathered here are some images of the fun had by the tough competitors in this year's event. [20 photos]
Source: In Focus | 27 Jan 2014 | 7:30 am PST
You’re underrating the Denver Broncos’ offense. Yes, you. I don’t care who you are. You might be someone who considers orange to be a primary color, invited Steve Atwater to your wedding, and has been stuck with dogs named Cutler and Tebow for years now. You, die-hard Broncos fan, are probably underestimating just how good Denver’s offense really is. On Sunday, you will be watching the final game from what very well might be the best offense in NFL history.
The only problem, Denver fans, is that you might also be watching them play one of the best defenses in NFL history, too.
First, let’s start with these Broncos. All it takes is a look at the history books to find that the Broncos have one of the most productive offenses ever. Denver scored 606 points21 this year, making it the founding member of the NFL’s 600 Club. No other team is within 16 points of that total. At 37.9 points per game, the Broncos averaged more points per contest than any team since Peyton Manning’s rookie year of 1950, when the Rams and Norm Van Brocklin averaged 38.8 points per game. If you want to say they’re merely the best post-Truman offense, that seems OK, too.
The problem with those raw numbers is that we’re playing in an era of particularly high scoring. NFL teams averaged 23.4 points per game this season, more than any other year in league history. And when you look at the list of teams with the most points in a single season, four of the top six seasons belong to teams from 2011 (the Packers and Saints), 2012 (Patriots), or 2013. Those were great offenses, but the best way to judge an offense is by what it did in relation to its peers. We can’t send Van Brocklin & Co. forward 63 years in time, but by measuring how much better they were than the other offenses in football during the 1950 campaign, and running the same checks for every other team since 1940, we can put their performance in context and ship that to 2013. And that will give us the best idea of where these Broncos stand historically.
As mentioned earlier, the Broncos scored more points than anybody else in football this year. There are some years when somebody just happens to finish first among a group of three or four teams that all roughly perform at the same level. In 2005, for example, just 13 points separated the first- (Seattle, 452) and second-ranked offenses (Indianapolis, 439) in the league, with three more teams within 21 points of Indy. I don’t think Seattle’s offense was appreciably better than Indianapolis’s that year, despite the fact that it finished first, given that the difference between the two teams amounts to less than one point per game.
That’s not quite the case with the 2013 Broncos, who are just a tiny bit further ahead of the pack. Denver’s offense scored, as mentioned earlier, 606 points. Just behind it, in second place, were the Chicago Bears, who scored … 445 points. That’s absurd. How absurd? You pick a reason!
1. Denver could have stopped scoring after its 35-28 win against the Chiefs in Week 13 and spent the final four weeks of the regular season delivering pizzas, and it still would have led the league in scoring by 19 points.
2. Manning & Co. had as many 50-point games (three) as the rest of the league combined.
3. The Broncos averaged 37.9 points per game. No other team was within 10 points per game of their average.
4. Those Bears averaged 27.8 points per game, 10.1 points per contest away from Denver. They were closer to the 30th-ranked offense of Tampa Bay (18.0 points per game) than they were to Denver.
It’s not really accurate to say the Broncos led the NFL in scoring. Denver was really in its own universe, and then there were 31 other teams playing football.
A better way to measure the difference between the Broncos and the rest of the league is by expressing their point total as a standard score, which measures how many standard deviations a given data point is over or under the average of all the data points in the sample. Here’s a chart of the standardized scores for each team’s point total in 2013, thanks to Grantland charting don Kirk Goldsberry.
CLICK TO ENLARGE
The Broncos are floating out in space, miles away from the peons and pedestrians around the rest of the league. Denver’s offense was 3.3 standard deviations above the mean last year. That’s terrifying. Given a normal distribution,22 you would expect about 0.1 percent of NFL offenses to be more than three standard deviations above the mean.
And the cool thing, of course, is that you can use standard score to contextualize every single team’s performance against the rest of its league and use that to compare teams across eras. As it turns out, there are three other offenses since 1940 that have been three standard deviations above the mean. None of them can match up with the Broncos, whose standard score suggests they have the best offense in the history of the National Football League. Here are the best offenses in NFL history by standard score and what their numbers would translate to in the 16-game offensive environment of 2013:
This is a much more representative list of great offenses. A team like the 1993-94 49ers, who dominated in an era when teams only averaged 19.5 points per game, is rightly bumped up the charts despite an inferior raw amount of points scored. It’s still almost exclusively focused on teams from the past 20 years — there are a few golden oldies that show up in the next 10 teams, the aforementioned 1950 Rams among them — which I’m guessing is closely linked to the fact that most of these teams were built around a dominant passing game.23 The easiest way to lap the league is to throw the ball really, really well.
Is there a reason to think that standard score might overrate the 2013 Broncos? As it turns out, there’s one really obvious factor. Scoring offense doesn’t account for a bunch of things,24 but the simplest missing component is the quality of the opposition. And while the Denver offense made everyone in its path look helpless this year, those defenses were pretty bad when the Broncos weren’t on the field, too; Denver faced the league’s third-easiest slate of defenses this year, with only Washington and Kansas City enjoying easier paths to the end zone.
The bad news is that we don’t have strength-of-schedule data for each offense going back to 1940. The good news is that most of the teams in our top 10 have come into play over the past 25 years, and DVOA — a better metric than points scored or the resulting standard score — also happens to exist over that time frame. DVOA compares a team’s performance to the average after adjusting for the down, distance, game situation, and, crucially, the quality of opposition.
DVOA doesn’t suddenly turn the Broncos into a mediocre offense, obviously, but it does take some of the wind out of Denver’s sails. The Broncos still posted the league’s best offensive DVOA this year at 33.7 percent, but second-place San Diego is closer to Denver than it is to seventh-place Philadelphia. And in terms of their placement atop history, the Broncos won’t enjoy what DVOA has to say; while the metric only goes back through the 1989 campaign, it suggests that the 2013 Broncos are the sixth-best offense of the past quarter century.
The 2007 Patriots finish atop the DVOA rankings, suggesting that the 16-0 Tom Brady offense was the best attack on a play-by-play basis over the time frame in question. Denver’s offense, according to standard score and scoring offense, rates out as the best total offense in any season. In either case, we’re probably splitting hairs here; if the 2013 Broncos aren’t the best offense in league history, they’re almost surely somewhere in the top five. It’s the best attack Peyton Manning’s ever led, and quite possibly the most fearsome scoring machine you’ve ever seen.
The Broncos won’t be up against any average defense on Sunday, either. The Seahawks’ defense didn’t receive the same number of accolades or set records the same way the Denver offense did in 2013, but it’s not exactly lacking for impressive performances. Seattle allowed a league-low 231 points this year, with opposing teams scoring just 14.4 points per game against Richard Sherman & Co. That’s a good number any year, but it looks even better in the context of the highest-scoring season in league history; Seattle sliced nine points per game off the average offense’s output this year. It led the league in defensive DVOA, Simple Rating System, and AdvancedNFLStats’s Team Efficiency.
We can put Seattle’s performance into context the same way in which we analyzed the Broncos’ offense to see where the Seahawks stack up historically. Using the same methodology as before,25 the numbers suggest that the Seahawks were 2.2 standard deviations below26 the mean. That’s not quite as ridiculous as Denver’s 2013 season, but it still manages to pop up as one of the most impressive defensive campaigns of all time. Here are the top 10 defensive performances in NFL history by standard score, and what their numbers would translate to in 2013:
Some non-Seahawks thoughts:
• The 2006 Ravens? Yeah, they were better than you remember. They held opposing teams to 12.6 points per game in a league where the average team allowed 20.7 points per contest. They went 13-3, but lost in the playoffs to the eventual Super Bowl champion Colts without allowing a touchdown; Indy won 15-6 in a game where it recovered all five of the fumbles that hit the ground and picked off Steve McNair twice in the red zone. Baltimore sent six players to the Pro Bowl that year, including each of their four starting linebackers.
• The 1995 Chiefs, believe it or not, lost their first playoff game to the Colts in a 10-7 affair, with Indianapolis recovering all five of the game’s fumbles.
• The 1970 Vikings are the classic example of a team that needs to be adjusted for the context in which it played. They were awesome — you don’t hold teams to just over 10 points without being pretty incredible — but they were playing in a league where the average team scored 19.3 points per game. They also lost in their first playoff game despite holding the best offense in football (San Francisco) to 17 points and producing a defensive touchdown on a fumble return.
• The best defense in the history of football over a multiyear stretch, it seems pretty clear, are those mid-’80s Bears teams. None of these defenses were flukes, but putting three teams in the top 10 is fairly staggering.
• The 2013 Panthers defense finished with the 20th-best standard score in league history.
I have to admit I was a little surprised at just how well Seattle’s defense ranks historically; I knew they were the best defense in football, but I didn’t realize they were quite this good.
Just as is the case with the Broncos, DVOA reveals a bit more about the Seahawks. The Seahawks’ raw numbers are also inflated some by their slate of opponents, as Seattle had the second-easiest schedule of opposing offenses in football. Even after factoring that in, the Seahawks’ defense posted the seventh-best DVOA since 1989. Factor in Seattle’s performance on offense and special teams, and the 40.1 percent total DVOA the Seahawks posted across all facets of the game leaves them as the fifth-best team of the past 25 years. Denver’s below-average defense pushes its overall performance out of the top 10.
So, the numbers suggest we’re looking at perhaps the best offense of all time versus one of the 10 best defenses of all time. That’s pretty exciting! Does it mean the Broncos are likely to outperform the Seahawks when they have the ball on Sunday? Not necessarily: Games aren’t played on paper. I’m not saying that as a dumb anti-stat cliché, but instead to point out that the numbers don’t account for the variance of a single game and the unique matchups that come into play when you pit 22 men against each other for 70 snaps. There are schematic concerns and contextual issues that might very well materially affect the way these two teams look and play during the Super Bowl. In any case, given the high stakes and the incredible performance of both these teams on their respective sides of the ball, we’re going to enjoy what is probably the most titanic battle in league history when Peyton Manning is on the field this Sunday.
Source: Grantland » Contributors » Bill Barnwell | 27 Jan 2014 | 6:30 am PST