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Friday, July 29, 2011

Into the Wild

I'm sure all of you are dying for my take on the Bears many moves so far, from the Greg Olsen trade to the flurry of wide receivers to the (at the moment) lack of offensive line help. Unfortunately for you all I'm going camping for the weekend, although I will continue to panic from a distance until the team finds some protection for Cutler. Once I get back on Sunday and some of this dust has settled and the Bears have made whatever moves they have left I'll give you all a full write up and a healthy dose of bullshit. See you then.

Go Bears.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Peace in Our Time?

I only bring out my really poor MSPaints when it's a special occasion.

It appears that the NFL lockout officially ends today. Hallelujah. The details of the agreement can be found anywhere, but I'm just going to touch on the points that I find most relevant:

-The salary cap will be set at $120.4 million, with a floor of at least 90% of that, meaning at least 108 million, which leaves the Bears with one of the highest amounts of cap space in the league. They should have all of the room they need to re-sign their key free agents (Kreuts, Pisa or Roach, and perhaps Anthony Adams and Danieal Manning) and to acquire at least one starting-caliber offensive lineman and depth at wide receiver. Fortunately the raised floor will force them to spend a significant chunk, so the usual McCaskey thrift won't be too much of an issue.

-According to the latest report from Adam Schefter, teams will begin negotiating with their own free agents and undrafted free agents either today or tomorrow, with true free agency beginning in the next couple days.

-Facilities will be open to players, with camps starting Wednesday or soon thereafter.

- Rookie wages will be capped, and all drafted rookies will sign four year deals (undrafted rookies will sign three-year deals) with teams having a fifth-year option for 1st round picks. The figure I'm hearing for Cam Newton is 4 years, $22 million, waaaaay down from Sam Bradford's 6 year, $78 million deal, so you can use your imagine to guess how much lower salaries will be for all of the other rookies as well.

Those are the main points I'm most concerned with, as they directly affect the Bears at the moment. Given all of those points I'd expect a few thing:

-Olin Kreutz will undoubtedly be the first player the team re-signs, although I'm afraid they'll have to overpay him. Hopefully they overpay him in cash, rather than in years, because I'd rather use up some of that abundant cap space this year than be saddled with him 2-3 years down the road or forced to take a huge cap hit for releasing him.

-I think the team is more likely to re-sign Pisa Tinoisamoa than Nick Roach, Pisa will probably sign his third straight one-year deal, while Roach leaves. Roach is a nice player, but he's young and I don't think the Bears think highly enough of him to give him a multi-year deal and commit to him as a starter, especially since they just drafted JT Thomas.

-The Bears' negotiator, Cliff Stein, is generally one of the best in the business at signing draft picks quickly, and I would expect no delays whatsoever in getting Carimi, Paea, & Co. under contract, especially since the new wage scale for rookies will make it easy for the team to simply point to a number and a dotted line.

-Get a goddamn guard, Jerry,

That should do it for now, I think. I can also say that I'm glad the HOF game was cancelled, since additional preseason games are stupid.

Football's on the way, folks. We're saved.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Matt Forte vs. Adrian Peterson

A couple days ago, KC Joyner, ESPN's football stathead, apparently posted an article where he compared backs based on their total yards from scrimmage over the last three seasons and decided that Matt Forte was pretty comparable to the premier back in his division, Adrian Peterson. Then yesterday one of the gentlemen from Pro Football Focus used some of their own metrics to absolutely refute that argument.

The interesting thing about this argument is the metrics that both men choose to use to measure Forte. Joyner notes that the Bears' run-blocking, based on his statistics, has been much worse than the Vikings' and that Forte has still performed quite well. He also notes that people seem to ignore Forte's statistics as a receiver when comparing him to other backs. He basically makes the point that Forte is undervalued because of his versatility, something that common sense would tell you should be a reason to rank him higher.

The PFF guys disagree with this argument by stating that the Vikings' run-blocking was actually worse over the last two years than the Bears', something I have a hard time believing, even if I like PFF on balance, because in this case it's ESPN's offensive line statistics (as well as Football Outsiders, which I believe had the Bears ranked lower both years) and the eyes of everyone in the entire free world vs. PFF's stats. They also state, for whatever reason, that you can't give Forte credit for being a better receiver than Peterson because Forte catches deeper passes than Peterson so that makes his numbers deceptive. Huh?

Seriously, based on some highly skewed statistic analyzing "Depth of Target", the guy argues that Forte's not much better than Peterson as a receiver, he just has more yards because the Bears target him deeper down field.

You know why they do that, guys? It's because Forte's a better receiver. You can actually have him run routes and go farther downfield and use him as a viable deep threat, while Peterson fulfills only the traditional runningback role as a checkdown receiver. Anyone who reads this site knows I'm usually 100% in favor of new statistics, but that's just stupid. Let's say we apply that metric to wide receivers. You can no longer call Randy Moss the greatest deep threat of all time because, whatever, the Vikings and Patriots just threw the ball to him when he was deep downfield. His ability to beat coverages deep isn't like, a skill or anything. Totally just a scheme issue.

I get what the PFF guys think they are trying to say with this statistic, which they point out by saying that a guy who gets a 20 yard reception 20 yards downfield gets easy yards because the yards all came through the air, and that a guy who gets a 20 yard reception by taking the ball 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage and rumbling for 22 yards is more impressive. I would agree with that, too, except Peterson doesn't do that. If Peterson and Forte had the same number of receiving yards and Forte earned all of his through the air while Peterson earned most of them on the ground, okay, but they don't and he didn't. Peterson doesn't gain a lot of yards in the receiving game, thus he doesn't merit many targets. There's probably not a single scout in the NFL who'd tell you that Peterson was anywhere near the receiving threat, downfield or coming out of the backfield, that Forte is. That's just common sense.

For what it's worth, I don't think Matt Forte is a better runner than Adrian Peterson (his numerous issues in short yardage alone should tell you that), but neither does KC Joyner. He's merely arguing a very valid point, which is that, considering a runningback's job is to help the offense move the ball, people shouldn't underrate his contributions as a receiver.

I'd also argue that something PFF uses against Forte, his lack of touches vs. Peterson, would actually seem to show that Forte may be even more effective if he was utilized as often as Peterson is. I'd say that argument's pretty easy to make when you compare Forte's first-half statistics (when Martz was busy ignoring the run) to his second-half stats, when the team finally began running the ball:

First half: 104 carries, 401 yds, 3.9 ypr, 3 TDs, 29 catches, 315 yds, 3 TDs

Second Half: 133 carries, 668 yds, 5.0 ypr, 3 TDs, 22 catches, 232 yds, 0 TDs

In the first half, while Forte was featured more as a receiver (because the team threw the ball more. Science!), he averaged just 17 touches a game (and only 13 rushing attempts) for an average of 90 yards from scrimmage per game.

In the second half, Forte averaged almost 20 touches per game (17 rushes) for an average of 113 yards from scrimmage per game.

In all, Forte ended the season with 1,069 yards rushing and 547 yards receiving for a total of 1616 yards and 9 TDs from scrimmage. While that's a very respectable total, one can only hope that Martz' late emphasis on balance will carry over into this year and that Forte's entire season will resemble his second half numbers, which would project over a full year to 266 carries for 1336 yards rushing and 44 catches for 464 yards through the air, giving him 1800 yards or more from scrimmage. That's a total I'd be happy to take from any back, whether they're Adrian Peterson or not.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I Don't Give A Shit About John Harbaugh's Feelings

I'm not a particularly ardent defender of Jerry Angelo. I was more or less in his corner before the 2009 season and I'm still not convinced he's the blundering idiot that most in Chicago believe him to be, but his record is mixed and his approach to building a franchise is uneven and inconsistent at best. I certainly loathe his approach to building the offensive line with aging free agents (although that finally appears to be changing). Frankly, however, I never thought I'd see the day when the media and certain fans in Chicago criticized Jerry for not wasting a draft pick in an unnecessary trade.

If you aren't familiar with the story, back during the first round of this year's draft the Bears were afraid that the Chiefs were going to take Gabe Carimi at#27, so they attempted to make a trade with Baltimore in order to move up to #26 and secure the tackle. The deal was the 29th pick and a 4th round pick in exchange for the 26th pick. Once the Bears realized the Chiefs weren't calling Carimi, they either "made a mistake" in Angelo's words and failed to inform the league of their deal with the Ravens, making the trade invalid, or they simply decided to wait out the clock and keep their pick. The Ravens ran out of time to pick #26, the Chiefs made their selection at 26 instead, and Baltimore was forced to wait until #27 to pick Jimmy Williams, who they had wanted all along. Chicago got Carimi at 29, so every one got their man, although Baltimore will now have to pay their guy slightly less since he was the 27th and not the 26th pick.

Chicago, meanwhile, exchanged that 4th round pick to Washington the next day in order to move up in the 2nd round and get Stephen Paea, who will destroy worlds and reap the souls of the damned this season. Good move, in my opinion. Shrewd move by Ol' Angelo. Belichick-ian, even.

Except this is Chicago, so the usual boiler plate about "doing things the right way" and blah blah has to come into play. The damn story just won't die, since John Harbaugh's still bitching about it.

There's a few problems with Harbaugh's narrative, however.

1. The NFL ruled that the Bears broke absolutely no rules by doing this. None. Whatsoever.

2. The Ravens have tried this maneuver themselves before. Back in 2003 we all had a damn good laugh when the Vikings let time expire on them as they tried to make their first round pick. The reason the Vikings ran out of time? The Ravens failed to go through with a trade and inform the league office. Ozzie Newsome, Ravens GM:

“The deal was not consummated. A deal is not a deal until I talk to [league executive] Joel Bussert, and I never talked to Joel Bussert.”

OMG, that's like, THE EXACT F&$KING THING! Those damn unethical Ravens. I'd have never expected this from an organization whose players openly blame officials for losses and offer bounties for injuring players.

3. The idea that this is somehow going to damage Chicago's prestige with the league and make other teams reluctant to deal with them is absolutely hilarious, because, as I mentioned, the Bears were able to trade the exact same 4th round pick that they offered Baltimore to Washington in order to draft Paea. This is the NFL. Any team run by a halfway competent front office (sorry, Cincinnati) is going to make whatever trade they have to do what they believe will improve their organization. I guarantee the Ravens themselves would pull the trigger on a trade with the Bears in the very next draft if it got them the guy they want. Hell, I guarantee you every other front office employee in the NFL mutters under his breath "those f*&king guys" every time they see the New England Patriots on the phone, but they still pick it up.

So John Harbaugh can take the moral high ground and bitch all he wants, and people will write about stupid shit like this until the lockout ends (tomorrow?!), but none of this matters because the Bears broke no rules and there's not going to be a single tangible repercussion to this.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Quarterback Market- What's so Great about Kevin Kolb?

If you read this blog, you'll know I subscribe wholeheartedly to the idea that this is a quarterback driven league. I understand, then, that the NFL is heavily divided between the haves and the have nots in this department, with the Bears having spent most of my life in the have nots until the recent past. Not surprisingly, signal callers with any modicum of experience or promise tend to be overvalued and can draw a king's ransom in return during a trade. As we all know, Jay Cutler cost the Bears two first round picks and a third round pick, while others have cost nearly as much. Matt Schaub, for example, had started just two games for the Falcons and had just a 6:6 TD:INT ratio and a measly 69.2 passer rating, but he cost the Texans two second round picks and a swap of first round picks in a trade. Obviously Schaub has justified the cost, but other pricey quarterback trades haven't paid off (*cough* Charlie Whitehurst *cough*).

This year's golden goose is obviously Kevin Kolb. It seems he's the only quarterback on the market worth taking a look at, and it sounds like a given at this point that he's going to cost at least a first round pick. I'm not really sure he's worth it.

In nineteen games and seven career starts, Kolb's completed 60.8% of his passes (194/319) for 2082 yards, 11 TDs, and 14 INTs, averaging 6.5 YPA with a rating of 73.2. Those aren't exactly jaw dropping numbers. Even if you take away Kolb's stats as a second year player in 2008, when he was thrown into the fire after McNabb was benched against a very good Ravens defense, those numbers still only improve to 62%, 1938 yds, 11 TDs, 10 INTs, 6.8 YPA, and an 80.4 rating. Personally, I watched almost all of Kolb's starts over the last two years and have walked away largely unimpressed, which is surprising since I liked him far more than any other QB in the 2007 class coming out of college (and I was totally right! Granted, he only had to top JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, and Trent Edwards, but a win is a win).

I get what people seem to like about Kolb, though. He's a young guy (27 next month) with a great build at 6'3'', 218. He's got a very strong arm, he racked up a lot of yards and experience in college, he spent several years under the tutelage of a well-respected offensive head coach, and he has shown flashes in those seven starts, including back-to-back 300 yard games in 2009 and a 326 yard, 3 touchdown effort against the Falcons this year. I won't deny there's enough there to warrant a trade for him, but I'm not sure he's necessarily worth the kind of first round bounty that people are associating with him, considering that in 4 of the 6 games where he threw at least 10 passes this year he had mediocre to extremely poor outings (56.2 rating vs. GB, 76.0 vs. WASH, 56.9 vs. TEN, 37.0 vs. DAL).

I truly do believe that Kolb would be an upgrade for almost all of the teams that are rumored to be interested in his services (Arizona, Seattle, and Cleveland among others), but I don't think he's a franchise quarterback worth the kind of bounty that we've seen those type of players draw in the past. All of those franchises have enough holes that they'd be best served continuing to build from within while finding a stopgap QB at a lower price. Arizona and Seattle could both compete in a crappy division with a more affordable veteran while building an actual contender through the draft. If either of those teams (Arizona particularly) gets into the habit of patching holes with high-priced veterans in order to skate by in a weak division they could very well end up in a jam like the Redskins.

Looking around I see the following names as available quarterbacks this offseason:

Free Agents:
Marc Bulger
Brodie Croyle
Trent Edwards
Rex Grossman
Matt Hasselbeck
Tarvaris Jackson
Matt Leinart
Matt Moore
Brady Quinn
Alex Smith
Drew Stanton
Tyler Thigpen

Trade Candidates:
Kyle Orton
Carson Palmer
Donovan McNabb
Vince Young

Of the trade candidates I'd say it's likely that McNabb and Young will be released rather than traded, since both make way more money than they are worth on their current deals. As for Carson Palmer, well, I think Mike Brown might truly be crazy enough to let Palmer go through on his threat to retire rather than try to get any actual value for a guy that could reap a substantial reward in draft picks in a thin market. Only the f*&king Bengals...

That really leaves Kyle Orton as the only other viable starting quarterback prospect on the trade market besides Kevin Kolb. I'd say of that list the best candidates for starting positions (in order) are:

Kyle Orton
Alex Smith
Donovan McNabb
Marc Bulger
Vince Young
Matt Hasselbeck
Rex Grossman
Assorted Garbage

Obviously, I think somewhat highly of Kyle's ability to not embarass himself as a professional NFL quarterback. He certainly has his limitations, something that Denver managed to hide to an extent the last two years (although not well enough to prevent his overthrow by Tim Tebow, which by all accounts will occur this year), but he's also a guy more than capable at this point of guiding an NFL offense for a year or two. In my mind it'd be a much wiser proposition on the Cardinals part to send a mid-round draft pick to Denver in order to acquire Orton rather than send a first round or a possible mid-round+player package (I'm hearing possibly Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, which would be absurd) to Philadelphia for Kolb. Build a team that can consistently compete while Orton manages the game and sends some ducks Larry Fitzgerald's way (and Brandon Lloyd's #s last year would indicate that Kyle is capable of heaving the ball downfield to a wide receiver capable of making plays) and then turn that team over to a more talented QB that you find somewhere in the draft.

I really do apologize to Donovan McNabb for the fact that I've got him ranked lower than Alex Smith, but at his age with his injury history I'm not sure he could give you a year of average production, whereas Smith could give you many years of absolutely average production. I mean that in the nicest way, Alex. I think Smith probably will get more chance with the Niners, since Harbaugh appears to think he can be the one that finally "fixes" him. I'm more than eager to see the Vikings make the McNabb mistake.

As for the others, well, Bulger was never that good without Faulk/Jackson/Bruce/Holt and Mike Martz and hasn't done much since 2006 to show that he wasn't just the product of a system. He's not worth a starter's job. Vince Young would be worth a gamble for a team with a strong running game that would allow him to make the occasional play without having to rely upon him to win games (something that Tennessee was able to do with Chris Johnson). Matt Hasselbeck seems to be the second most popular name out there these days, which is funny since he's old, oft-injured and completely unproductive since 2007. As for Grossman, well, I'd be very happy to see him get another starting opportunity with the Redskins, but Shanahan appears willing to roll the dice on John Beck in what I assume must be some kind of sinister plan to tank the season and acquire Andrew Luck.

So really the market boils down to Kolb and Orton, and I'd have to say that anybody willing to stake the future of their franchise on Kevin Kolb will be disappointed. His ceiling may be higher than Orton, but I'd have to say Orton is most likely going to be the better value, price wise.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cutler's Mechanics- Just a Talking Point?

One of the universally acknowledged critiques of Jay Cutler is that his "mechanics are bad." Even Cutler's most ardent defenders (like yours truly) have a tendency to preface their defenses with "of course, he needs to improve his mechanics, but.." before moving on. Guys like Trent Dilfer feast upon this unargued talking point in order to condemn Cutler as a player who tries to skate by on his talent and doesn't improve his game. The question I have then, is two-fold: what are "bad" mechanics and are Cutler's really that bad?

When most people discuss throwing mechanics when it comes to football, I generally assume they're discussing the following:

1. The Drop- When the QB takes the ball from under center, does he take the proper amount of steps? Does he plant his back foot? Does he shift his body forward before throwing?

2. Pocket Presence- Does the QB step up in the pocket when he feels pressure, or does he fall back resulting in sacks and negative yardage? Does he scramble only when necessary? When he throws on the move does he he set his feet?

3. Throwing motion- Does he plant his feet correctly? Does he have his shoulder and lead foot aimed towards his target? Does he throw across his body?

So I took a look at these two highlight videos of Cutler's career with the Bears and, in addition to previous experience, have made some conclusions about Cutler's mechanics:

Now, there are obviously some issues with judging a quarterback based on highlight videos, since you aren't going to see many plays that showcase his negatives, but there's enough of a sample size there to make some observations about his mechanics.

As far as Cutler's drops go, I don't think that's ever been much of a problem. He played in a pro-style offense at Vandy and Shanahan utilized him almost exclusive under center in Denver so he's never had the problems with that some have had. I think it is interesting that, watching the 2010 highlights (and something I'd noticed throughout this season) is that Martz likes to have Cutler take an old-school backpedal-style drop back with his shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage, rather than the more typical sideways, cross-legged drop back with the shoulders perpendicular to the line. I think Martz probably does this for a couple reasons, since it makes it easier for Jay to survey the entire field while he's dropping back and allows him to straighten up and set his feet faster than he does in the usual style. This may have been one of many compromises Martz made to allow Jay to still look downfield for long throws while also giving him the quicker drop he needs to get the ball out in case of trouble. It also seems to fit with Martz' origins as a Don Coryell-disciple, since any highlight footage of Dan Fouts shows him taking very similar drops.

Pocket presence is an area where I think Jay's lack of protection has damaged his reputation. Any quarterback that takes 87 sacks in two years is going to have accusations of holding the ball too long, but in general I think Jay's a fairly sound player within the pocket. He knows more often than not to step up against the pressure (which I think is particularly evident in the video several times, notably his scrambling shovel pass to Forte through the mob in the Eagles game and his 15+ yard scrambles against the Vikings, Packers, and Dolphins). He very rarely runs backward in the pocket in a futile attempt to escape pressure (something Rex Grossman was very fond of), so he often minimizes the losses the team takes from sacks, like the season opener against Detroit when he took 4 sacks but lost just 10 yards total.

I also think Jay's a very smart and very selective scrambler. As Football Outsiders notes, he was the best quarterback in the NFL last year in rushing for 3rd down conversions and it's frightening to think just how high the team's sack total could have been had he not been able to escape and create on his own.

As for throwing on the move, this is one of Jay's greatest strengths and one that has been surprisingly under-utilized by both Ron Turner and Mike Martz. Jay's mechanics are actually pretty sound when he's scrambling, which is odd given that most quarterbacks tend to be much more mechanically sound within the pocket. I'd say one play that really demonstrates this is the throw to Hester during the Eagles game this year where Jay scrambles out of the pocket and heads for the line of scrimmage but pulls back, sets his feet, and throws to Hester for a big gain after the linebacker left his coverage responsibility in order to make the tackle. Another good example in the 2009&2010 highlight video is his throw to Johnny Knox in the opener against the Lions this year. Cutler has the arm strength to throw without setting his feet, but he still sets them whenever he doesn't have a defender draped around him.

I also think Cutler's tendency to "throw off of his back foot" is both overstated and completely misunderstood. If you're going to be a successful quarterback in the NFL you have to be able to throw and complete passes off of your back foot. Pressure will come, protection will break down, and you will have to be able to complete passes in less than ideal conditions. Hell, some plays are designed to be back-foot throws. Two examples of this are the TD throws that Cutler lofts to Johnny Knox in the 2009 highlights against the Falcons and the Vikings. Both are back foot throws that Cutler completes for scores because he has the arm strength and accuracy to do so. If you don't buy my argument about this, go watch a replay of The Catch and look and see which foot Joe Montana's got planted on the ground when he's tossing the ball to Dwight Clark. The trick when throwing off of your back foot, however, is to keep your body straight and to prevent your momentum from going backwards. When a quarterback is pressured from the front and is falling backward, it's nearly impossible to keep the ball from sinking and falling short of it's intended target. The DeAngelo Hall pick six in this year's Redskins game is a perfect example of Cutler attempting to make a throw when he should just eat it since his momentum is carrying him to the ground.

As for his actual throwing mechanics, I think Jay vastly improved this year but also was never truly as bad as he's been made out to be. The best example of picture-perfect mechanics that he's ever shown would be his three touchdown passes against the Jets this year, particularly the last touchdown throw to Knox, where he sets his feet, very quickly shuffles his feet in the pocket while shifting his shoulder to his targets as he goes through his progressions, then fires the ball over Knox's shoulder for the TD.

What I'm trying to say here is that these videos illustrate my main point, which is that Cutler's mechanics aren't inherently bad, given that he appears to be a textbook quarterback when he has the time to set his feet and throw, whether he's on the move or not. The problem is that Cutler will indeed regress and slip up when he's pressured consistently throughout the course of a game. This isn't really the damning evidence against his work ethic or ability that it is often made out to be. Almost all quarterbacks will begin to slip up if they're pressured regularly. The Bears allowed pressures, hits, or sacks on 308 of 522 drop backs this year (60%), so naturally Cutler's worst tendencies are going to be exacerbated. Does this make him an inherently bad or risky player?

Maybe, but it's also worth noting that Peyton Manning was sacked fewer times than any QB in the league this year, but had 11 interceptions in one three game stretch in which he was pressured more than usual. Drew Brees "regressed" and threw 22 interceptions this year when the Saints offensive line struggled with some injuries and their sack totals and total pressures both increased from the previous year. Almost all quarterbacks have a natural tendency to force the issue in an attempt to make plays when conditions are breaking down. You simply have to minimize the opportunities for bad play by reducing the pressure on the quarterback, because Jay Cutler sure looks like a nice pocket passer...when he has a pocket.