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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Johnny Knox Should Not Be Above Devin Hester

Slot, X, Z- it doesn't really matter if you're just faster than the other guy.

After Johnny Knox's hot start to the season, I've heard several fans talk about how he already seems to be a better wide receiver than Devin Hester and how he should be the number one wideout. This ignores some pretty fundamental issues that are the very reasons Why Knox has done so well so far.

1. He's the slot receiver. Slot receivers are typically matched up against the nickelback or even a safety. With his blazing speed Knox is a mismatch for nearly any safety, and he's obviously a better mactch up in coverage with a team's third best corner than their number one.

2. He's Only a slot receiver. Multiple times over the course of training camp the Bears mentioned that they were limiting Knox's practice reps to the slot position, as Earl Bennett last year had trouble digesting the playbook while learning the X, Z, and slot positions. By placing Knox primarily in the slot and only as the X in certain packages, they limit the playbook for the rookie and help him to get on the field early.

3. The slot receiver is the hot read. Cutler isn't necessarily looking for Knox first on many plays because he prefers him to Hester or Bennett, he's doing it because Green Bay and Pittsburgh have been bringing the kitchen sink and the hot route on most plays in a three wide set is the slot receiver. Given Knox's speed, he's the perfect receiver to hit on the quick slant against man coverage (assuming he doesn't just stop mid route and let Cutler get picked off).

I love Johnny Knox. The kid's speed and his ability to make plays despite coming out of FCS (1-AA) Abilene Christian as an unknown are impressive. However, if the Bears were to flip flop Hester and Knox in the lineup, Hester would get the targets Knox has been getting as long as team's choose to blitz the Bears on every passing down.

What this really means, is that despite Morrissey and countless others' gloom and doom, the Bears actually have legitimate talent at wide receiver. Lost in the panic over Cutler's four interceptions was the fact that Bennett (7 for 66), Hester (4 for 90, TD), and Knox (2 for 82) all had the best receiving games of their young careers against a team widely regarded as having one of the best secondaries in football, with corners Al Harris and Charles Woodson and safeties Atari Bigby and Nick Collins. During the game against Green Bay the Bears had a total of five pass plays that went for over 20 yards, easily the highest total the team has had in years.

What's likely is that the Bears will cut back slightly on the two tight end sets they ran most of the time last year and work in more three wide receiver sets. Similar to the base offense of the New England Patriots, the Bears could pull Jason McKie out of the game and use Greg Olsen as more an H-Back than a tight end, a player used to either block out of the backfield or motion to the line of scrimmage as a tight end. They could also, as we've seen, motion Olsen out wide and run a four wide, or even a five wide with Matt Forte also lining up in scrimmage. They experimented with this a bit last week, as they used a three wide receiver set far more than they did in almost any game last year (believe it or not, they just weren't that eager to make sure they got Marty Booker, Brandon Lloyd, or Rashied Davis on the field that often).

If the Bears can run the ball effectively against Seattle (and I think they will), they can set up the play action pass, which is the most effective component of Ron Turner's offense when it's at its best. This will open up both Hester and Knox downfield for even more deep balls. Really, when you consider the mismatches that a healthy Bears receiving corps featuring the speed of Hester and Knox, the hands of Bennett, the power of the Clark/Olsen (or even Kellen Davis for that matter) duo, and the ability of Matt Forte to release out of the backfield, it's a wonder anyone was really all that worried at all about Cutler having enough targets.

The problem with football statistics.

On last week's FOX NFL Sunday pregame show Howie Long happened to say that statistics were for baseball fans. Initially my response was something like, "What an old school meathead" but then I started to think. Every time I get into an argument with Red about a player there always seems to be an argument about how "Good" a player's game actually was. For example:

Frank Gore
Frank Gore rushed for a little over 200 yards on Sunday, which is an astronomical game when you simply look at that number. Even the more respected statistic Yards Per Carry is incredibly high at something like 12 ypc. But almost all his yards came on two runs of 80 yards each. Can we factor out those two long runs? Or is that just part of the game and doesn't diminish his incredible stats? We can't really answer that question, which is the problem with stats in football: there are too many factors to consider.

Baseball statistics are successful in grading a player because of the linearity of the game. A player either gets a hit, walks, or is out. He is either caught stealing or steals a base. Even errors are easily factored in. In football too many things can happen to "screw up" somebody's stats.

For quarterbacks stats get screwed up because of dropped passes, tipped balls, interceptions that weren't their fault, and freak occurrences. Not to mention they can be screwed up in good ways for the QB; a receiver catches a 2 yard pass and runs 70 yards, a pass is almost intercepted but is tipped and caught by a receiver for a TD, etc. For running backs like Gore it's even more difficult to find a relevant statistic. Is it the RB or is it his offensive line doing the work? Should we count it against them if they have a terrible line?

Baseball statistics have matured with newer stats like OBP, WHIP, and Slugging pct. The "relevant" football statistics haven't changed for years. Simply measuring a football player by how many yards they gain, tackles they make, and touchdowns they score will not prove whether or not they are great. I'm not saying I can, because if I could I would have, but football needs new kinds of relevant statistics. Football stats are moving in the right direction by measuring things that aren't readily obvious, like YAC (yards after contact) and "bags" (holding calls that a defensive player forces), but I'd like to see more combined statistics.

As it stands, football statistics simply create argument about their legitimacy. I'd much rather be able to argue about whether Forte is better than Frank Gore using legitimate statistics than having to argue about whether or not Gore's stats are a fluke.

Start Kyle Orton Roundtable- Week 4 College Picks.

Darryll, go shut this Iggins! kid up.

The co-founder of this site, Iggins! has graciously agreed to return weekly for a round of predictions and smack talking. We've picked some of the top college football games at random and then every NFL game, and we shall see who comes out on top. Without further ado, let it begin:

#4 Ole Miss vs. South Carolina

Iggins!: I really, REALLY think Ole Miss is overrated, and this is an in conference game against an above average opponent away from home, but... well Spurrier has let me down in these situations with SC too many times. Ole Miss wins.

Code Red: I’m one of the ones overrating Ole Miss, but I love the Rex Grossmanish flair of Jevan Snead. Spurrier can appreciate the gun slinging. Ole Miss Wins.

Fresno State @ #14 Cincinnati

Iggins!: Hey look! It's two teams Illinois inexplicably scheduled this year (evil laugh). If Cincinnati goes undefeated through the Big East do they get into the title game? Does anybody care? Cinci wins.

Code Red: God damn you, Ron Guenther. Why must you schedule three potential bowl teams as your non conference slate? Cincy wins.

USF @ #18 Florida State

Iggins!: Popular pick for an upset, but I think they'll win just so they can let FSU fans down later. FSU wins.

Code Red: I’d have taken USF had they not just lost quarterback Matt Grothe for the season. And he is a beast from da Big East. FSU Wins. God damn I hate Bobby Bowden

#22 UNC @ Ga Tech

Iggins!: Georgia Tech will win because the ACC is a cesspool of mediocrity and UNC isn’t good. GT wins.

Code Red: Georgia Tech will rebound with the upset. Because I love the wishbone and I shall use the force of my will to bring them back into the rankings. Also, did you know John Shoop is UNC’s offensive coordinator? He has to find a way to fuck this up.GT wins.

#6 Cal @ Oregon

Iggins!: Jahvid Best is a scary bastard and Oregon confuses me with their shittiness. Cal Wins.

Code Red: Jahvid Best vs. Legerroute Blount, two great runn—oh wait, I forgot Blount is off the team for a weak ass sucker punch. CAL.

#9 Miami FL @ #11 Va Tech

Iggins!: Normally I’d hate to pick Miami, on the road against conference rivals… but wow Va Tech is boring. Miami can’t be held under 21 points and I don’t think Va Tech can score 21 against them so I’m saying Miami wins.

Code Red: This is interesting. Miami is legit, and Jacory Harris is beyond terrifying. But they’re not quite top ten yet. I really think VA Tech is. So I’m taking Beamer and defense over Jacory’s afro of power. Va Tech wins.

Illinois @ #13 OSU

Iggins!:This is difficult because Illinois is so unpredictable and OSU is so incredibly predictable. OSU played better than USC for the entire game and somehow lost. It could happen again, but I’m taking the safe bet and assuming Ron Zook will fuck up. OSU wins.

Code Red: Sigh. Ohio State.

#15 TCU @ Clemson

Iggins!: I love Clemson for no reason. But I also know they love blowing close games, and I think this’ll be another instant classic in a bad way. TCU wins.

Code Red: TCU is a solid program that makes very few mistakes. Clemson is its typical inconsistent train wreck. No one would favor Clemson here, which is while they’ll do the crazy ass Clemson thing and win. Clemson wins.

#24 Wazu @ Stanford
Iggins!: Washington isn’t good. USC is just not good too. Harbaugh ftw and the letdown! Stanford wins.

Code Red: I completely agree. I love Jake Locker, my tiny west coast Tebow, and while I’d like to see him keep Washington on a roll, its time for Harbaugh to make his move. Stanford wins.

Iowa @ #5 Penn State

Iggins!: I expect to be berated for this pick, mainly because I attend the University of Iowa, but hear me out. Darryll Clark is not a good quarterback. Royster is an okay running back. Iowa’s defense is good enough to shut them down. That being said, PSU’s defense is good enough to shut Iowa down too. This game will be incredibly boring, but Iowa will win because Clark does something stupid. Iowa Wins.

Code Red: Time for the berating. I’ll actually agree that Darryll Clark isn’t as good as he seems, but he’s still better than Ricky Stanzi. Evan Royster is a fantastic tailback, and my illustrious comrade is a whore. PSU will win because in a tight defensive battle, Stanzi is far more likely to do something stupid (3.6 career interception %) than Darryll Clark (1.9%), no matter what my friend convinces himself. Iowa’s defense is certainly a match for PSU’s, but Penn State’s offense is just that tad bit better, and the game is in Happy Valley. Penn State wins.

I'll post the NFL picks later today or tomorrow.