These are the notes for #MooresLaw2 that will be coming after I land in Austin, Texas on Wednesday for Saturday’s Red River Shootout in Dallas, so either on Wednesday or Thursday I’ll be putting a podcast up! I am attempting to make this a weekly show, but learning as a go along. As you’ll see from these notes, I went hard last week, so I’m going to work on turning the notes into more of an outline form in the future, with the podcast being where I delve into these topics. Considering how I like to listen to podcasts, I do like the idea of me sharing my notes as I think it gives you a head start on your own note taking for podcasts as I think it’s as important as taking notes was for me in college. There’s a lot to learn from the podcasts I listen to, so hopefully you’ll find something noteworthy in theses notes and the coming podcast.
The podcast will touch on both Week 3 and 4 in the NFL along with the college trends I’ve been seeing, so these are the Week 3 notes and Week 4 notes will be up with the podcast when it is released. So these notes were written before the weekend’s slate of games for those of you who might think I’m crazy for anything I say in here although I try to write about stuff that is more long-term than the week to week hysteria of the modern NFL coverage. For example, the Eagles are 1-3 now and while I’m concerned about the Cowboys, Redskins and Giants all playing fairly well if I’m the Eagles, the division is still WIDE open and they believe in their system and their process, so I’m sure they haven’t hit the panic button yet. As I’ll discuss, I think that Bradford to Cooper touchdown was a major turning point and things are starting to come together. It’s going to be a very fun season to cover the AFC and NFC Easts. The REAL story lines are season long, not week long.
I hope you all enjoy these notes and I look forward to sharing a podcast with you in a couple days.
(As always, if you like the kind of ideas that are discussed here, e-mail Caponomics at Gmail.com to join our e-mail list and be alerted to when the first Caponomics book becomes available.)
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Starting the weekend with Oklahoma State at Texas…
Something I’m seeing at every level that was on display in this game was using a different quarterback for short yardage situations. Both teams used back-up quarterbacks, bigger players as their short yardage quarterback as it gave someone who is not only a strong runner, but someone who’s injury would be less detrimental to the team than the starter getting hurt. The backup turned short yardage specialists Tyrone Swoopes for UT and JW Walsh for OSU were very successful during the game and reminded me of the creativity that can, and is, being used in the college and NFL game to increase success in the RedZone.
It brings us back to what I discussed on last week’s show in regards to what the Patriots do offensively to move the chains and then score in the Redzone. As I mentioned, they use smaller, quicker athletes like Edelman, Amendola, Lewis and others to move the chains, then they use Gronk and Chandler in the RZ to sky up over much smaller defensive players who really have no chance of stopping them. Of course, they also use these two big TEs to move the chains, but it’s to help illustrate the point I’m making. What I am really seeing with the number of “punt returner” type players on the offensive side of the ball is that teams are understanding the importance of having this kind of quick playmaker on offense. You see the kind of playmaking ability of these kinds of athletes with that punt return by Darren Sproles against the Jets and teams are trying to translate that kind of athlete to offense. Some of the best examples of these kinds of athletes are Sproles, Tyler Lockett, Brandin Cooks (who is really Sproles replacement in many ways), Julian Edelman, Antonio Brown, Randall Cobb, etc.
There is a certain kind of strategy that I’m beginning to see that I think is best explained by a sort of match-up of body types that we can see in every game at every level. Much of the strategy on the offensive side of the ball is in figuring out how to get certain players on your offense match-ups against players who have a much different body type and skill set than theirs. An obvious example of this is how the Patriots use Gronk as, at about 6’6”, 265 pounds, this new wave of tight ends are such mismatch creators. The Patriots use of Gronk, Aaron Hernandez, Tim Wright, and now, Scott Chandler is revolutionizing the way the game of football is being played at every level. In college, many really athletic, big kids are moved to left tackle or somewhere else on the offensive line, but with the increase in tight end use, the coming increase in salary and notoriety of the position is going to attract a whole new “species” of tight ends that look like Gronk, Kelce, Ertz, Eifert, Graham, etc. This wave of tight ends is largely influenced by guys like Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates who showed guys like Graham that basketball skills translate nicely over to the tight end position. With this generation of guys who are going to be household names as fantasy freaks who score 20 touchdowns a season and become the #1 option for their quarterback, the next wave of tight ends is going to be even more startling. Because that’s what it is, it is startling to see someone who is as big as Rob Gronkowski so what he does athletically.
I posted this video of LeVeon Bell jumping for a first down yesterday and I couldn’t be more blown away by a guy who is about 6’2”, 230-pounds jumping like that: https://instagram.com/p/8JK8vGkXMX/?taken-by=zackmoorenfl
There are these new age of athletic freaks who are bigger, yet faster than the players of the 1990s and earlier generations. Per the name of this show, Moore’s Law, there is an aspect of technology and the sharing of information that, I think, makes everything in the world grow exponentially. I think we are seeing that in the NFL right now as the evolution of athletes is growing at that kind of exponential rate. Over the past 70 years or so, the average NFL player has grown at 1.5 pounds per year: http://operations.nfl.com/the-players/evolution-of-the-nfl-player/
I think these figures will be growing even faster in the future as teams like the Eagles place more of an emphasis on sports science. As I explained last week, while Rhode Island is a far cry from the NFL, we got such incredibly sub-par treatment there that it makes me fearful of the kind of treatment that we don’t hear about as these horror stories are not unique to Rhode Island. A huge X-factor in the future evolution of players is that over the last 15-20 years, teaching people how to become faster has become commercialized by places like those that train players for the NFL combine like Parisi’s or DeFranco’s Gym. While I don’t think every future QB will have the running skills of Russell Wilson, they will likely be trained in the spread offense, so they’ll understand the rushing concepts and, because of this widespread access to information for an increasingly low cost (you can literally learn how to run better on YouTube), the ability to train speed is increasing the quality of athlete that’s available to NFL teams as they’re more and more polished by years of training.
To put the level of training that goes into today’s athlete, I played at Ramapo High School which is a very serious football high school in New Jersey, but nowhere near the level of Don Bosco, St. Joseph’s or Bergen Catholic, which are all just 15-30 minutes away from Ramapo and a destination for many local studs. When I started at Ramapo in the summer of 2004 before my freshman year, we trained three days a week in the weight room and spend Tuesday and Thursday nights on 7-on-7s and speed training during the summer. We did this from early-June until we went to training camp in the middle of August. Every year since then over the last 11 years the amount of training increases and becomes smarter, more efficient as these coaches and programs gain more and more knowledge and experience. One huge factor in why all of the best high school football programs remain that way is because they have coaches who stay there for 20-30 years and establish a whole culture and way of doing things. A lesson that can be translated over the NFL with how the Patriots and Ravens have been constructed and maintained for the last 15 years. Schools like Don Bosco and Bergen Catholic train as much as I did during my high school summers, but they now take it to a different level as, they probably lift four days a week now, then they work out on the field after every workout during the summer on their own. They then start training camp earlier as well, some teams seem to start the first week of August in pads.
With all of this extra training, this access to extra information and knowledge, the quality of the athletes that are coming to the college and NFL levels is at an entirely different level than what we’ve seen previously. Just look at the IMG Academy kids I saw play against Bergen Catholic. These are kids who have access to nutritionists and elite training, so on the field, they literally look like a Division 1 football team at like an ACC level of play because these athletes get the same kind of treatment as these Division 1 players. Sure, going to IMG Academy is insanely expensive at $70,000 a year or so, but I’m sure the quality of football education that they’re getting is stellar and preparing them for college life in a way that high school can’t. Let’s not get it twisted, college athletes are not given an opportunity to be a real student because of the amount of work they have to output on their craft, so the IMG Academy lifestyle prepares them well and I believe that the lessons of football train to you life in a way that makes that more process based education even more worthwhile.
So with all of this in mind, schools are going to have these kinds of super athletes like Tyrone Swoopes, at 6’4”, 243-pounds, as their back-up quarterbacks due to the quality of athletes that are consistently being produced by high schools all over the country. This is another reason why the spread teams in the NFL are going to increasingly have more and more solid players to choose from for their system, while the rest of the NFL fights over a talent pool that’s less and less prepared to run traditional offenses. This is why many traditional offenses, like the Packers, Steelers and Pats, seem to be incorporating more and more spread concepts and no huddle. It’s no surprise that three of the best franchises of the last 20 years are all implementing the kinds of concepts that are going to win the future. These spread concepts like the no huddle, the speed, and the cardio that wears out defenses are the kinds of innovations that are helping these teams win games right now because, to make a Moneyball metaphor, increasing the number of plays that a team runs gives you more than the 27 “outs” in an MLB game.
We see this with Chip Kelly’s offense in that no matter who they put back there, they seem to perform, as do the Eagles, although Bradford and the Eagles have struggled early this year (largely because of the large number of new players they have on the roster due to Kelly needing to make moves in his first offseason as the GM). Heading into 2015, Eagles QBs were only outscored by Luck, Brees and Peyton Manning in fantasy football over the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Unsurprisingly, after Kelly entered the NFL in 2013, the number of spread offenses has increased dramatically as the Dolphins, Texans and Bucs all started running the spread in 2014 and the Jets have in 2015. This move to the spread is a huge sign of things to come and something we’ll discuss often as, like in any industry, those who understand the trends survive.
Conversely, but because of that, Pete Carroll has a ton of success playing physical football because of the NFL’s move to the spread, which means there are smaller, less physical athletes on the field due to a need to respond to the speed of the spread and other modern, pass-centric offenses. It’s also why guys like Rob Gronkowski and Le’Veon Bell are such mismatch creators as they’re much bigger defensive counterparts that continue to get smaller due to the need for speed on NFL defenses. This is why I wrote the article on how the Seahawks and Eagles go after explosive players because they do and they do it because they know that explosive athletes can be coached up on techniques by a staff that’s filled with former college coaches, so coaches who have spent years teaching young guys technique. It’s a great way to find explosive players who are being undervalued because they weren’t coached very well, a surprisingly common occurrence at all levels of football.
Bringing that full circle on back to the Texas game, since I’ve been a fan since Chris Simms chose the Longhorns out of Ramapo High School, and now that my sister goes there, I’ve been watching the program closely since Simms was there. Near the end of the Mack Brown era, they stopped getting those explosive athletes, game breakers, play makers, they somehow didn’t recruit Johnny Football when he wanted to go to Texas and they let the rest of the country come in and deport Texans, which has been a federal crime in the Republic of Texas since the Alamo. In 2013, there were an astounding 341 college football players from Texas, which was still 28 players lower than in 2012, yet the crown jewel football program in the Republic of Football went a lackluster 8-5? Of course, Charlie Strong gets a break in 2014 as it was the first year of him implementing his new systems and philosophies, but the 6-7 record was a sign of the talent level receding so far from just a few years earlier being in the National Championship. What we’re going to see at Texas is an increase in the level of the athletes that we’ll see every Saturday in burnt orange as Strong will have a much bigger talent pool to choose from than he did at Louisville and look what he did there.
We have already seen that Jerron Heard has the talent to surpass Vince Young as THE guy in Texas Football for some time if he continues to progress from where he’s showed us that he is over the last two weeks against Cal and Oklahoma State. Granted, they lost both games in heartbreaking fashion, but Heard performed well, and Strong has to be proud of the performance of the team over the last two weeks against top programs, a sign they’re back on the cusp and lead me to, comfortably, believe that the program will be back BCS Bowling consistently by 2016.
What made me really happy on Saturday was seeing Swoopes perform as the short-yardage quarterback as he did it with a joy that tells me that this staff has told him that he will have a large role in this offense a la Tim Tebow during that 2006 National Championship season. People forget that Charlie Strong was the Assistant Head Coach and Co-DC at Florida for the 2006 team and the DC for the 2008 team. Without even getting into what Strong did at Louisville, I believe that his experience with Urban Meyer means that he is very open to creatively using the quarterback position.
Taking that Kelly/Meyer mindset regarding the quarterback position, taking a more open minded approach than just saying, “my quarterback plays every play,” opens us up to endless possibilities of play concepts. Think of some of the big plays in the playoffs during the salary cap era like Antwan Randle El’s big pass to Hines Ward for the touchdown or Julian Edelman’s touchdown pass to Danny Amendola against the Ravens to turn the tides in that Divisional match-up; both plays were possible because these two solid organizations consistently find unique talents who have the versatility to surprise defenses with a trick play. Of course, both Randle El and Edelman were college quarterbacks, as was Hines Ward, shoot, even Antonio Brown has thrown passes. Like Edelman’s pass, that Randle El pass changes history as the Steelers were only up 14-10 with about eight and a half minutes left, so who knows if the Seahawks would have found Super Bowl glory earlier were it not for that pass. As we saw with Kelly in training camp, he was open to the Tim Tebow Experiment and it was probably largely due to his ability to rush the football and add another dimension to the Eagles running game (which is why it’s weird that they haven’t re-signed him with their early season struggles). Kelly also had two former college QBs in camp as GJ Kinne was released I believe, while Trey Burton might be the best TE3 in the NFL.
With a guy like Swoopes near the goal line, the Longhorns will have a dynamic rusher who, at 6’4”, 243-pounds with speed, is a load for any defensive player to take down. Add in the 5’11”, 207-pound Jonathan Gray, who has the size, skills and explosiveness to be a difference maker in the NFL, plus the other backs they have and the Longhorns have a short yardage package that will make a HUGE difference the next few years as a chain mover and point scorer. It will also go a long way to help them keep Heard healthy, which is an example of how having that bigger, rushing QB adds value to your offense as you don’t need to worry about them being injured, yet they can still throw the ball competently enough to keep the defense guessing as you create 11-on-11 football as they HAVE to worry about him running the ball. (Again, it’s very strange to me that the Eagles haven’t re-signed Tebow unless Kelly really sincerely wants Tebow to go get reps in the NFL and then he’ll re-sign him? But if he wanted that, I’m sure Tebow would have done that if communicated to that extent.)
Thinking of the quarterback position like that adds an entirely new wrinkle to your offense as you have a quarterback who creates 11-on-11 football in the redzone, which is highly critical due to the small, cramped space you have available to you. Similarly to why the Patriots have Gronk and Chandler, if you put a player like Swoopes or Tebow out there on the field, how many players on defense have the same skill set as these human beings who, if they existed 100 years ago, would look like The Hulk looks to us today? Sure, defensive ends and outside linebackers have similar body types and skills to a Tebow or Swoopes, but they’re busy defending Zach Ertz, Jordan Mathews, Sproles or Murray out of the backfield. If they’re on the Patriots, then those tight ends might be busy worrying about how they’re going to cover the monsters at tight end or the TWO Wes Welkers at slot receiver or authentic Kevin Faulk impersonator. When you begin to strategize past the normal logic, stuff gets very interesting as the possibilities are far more endless than the stuff we see on Sundays. Remember Arian Fosters halfback pass for a touchdown, that can be executed by a guy like Braxton Miller, but as the redzone QB in the future. Miller is going to be a fun example of the creativity that’s available to a team when they have someone who was the Big 10 Player of the Year TWICE before becoming their Darren Sproles type. This weekend I wrote that Byron Marshall is the next evolution of Darren Sproles, but it might be a combination of him and Miller as I think the passing aspect of Miller’s game opens up an entirely new playbook of possibilities under the right coach. Considering the Eagles seem to be taking the low-cost approach at wide receiver because of the oversupply of solid players available who fit their spread system available to them, I wouldn’t be surprised if Braxton Miller was their first round pick in 2016 as he brings the potential to be an Antonio Brown level receiver, but with the ability to actually run the offense as your back-up quarterback if thrust into duty, but also as a complement to your starter. If you don’t have one of the Top 15 quarterbacks in the NFL, then there is no reason why you shouldn’t be open to having someone like Braxton Miller who can add another dimension. Just thinking about the redzone, how accurate and strong does a passer have to be to execute the passes that Brady makes against Cover 7 on the four yard line? Now say you’re the Eagles and you run the spread, but you’d like to be able to use a player like Miller at QB on the four yard line because Bradford isn’t mobile enough to threaten the defense. When you have such a small area of the field to work with, you have to figure out a way to increase the amount of area that the defense needs to cover and having a mobile quarterback is one very simple way to accomplish that. It’s why I was yelling at my TV wondering why the Titans didn’t roll Mariota out near the goal line on Sunday against the Colts.
This adds to a concept I touch on in Caponomics in that the modern spread offense is about spreading the field in every direction. In a way, it’s the next evolution of the offenses that came before it. As I came up through high school and college, I saw the teams I was on get involved in this transformation. Drew Gibbs’ was my coach at Ramapo and he had an offense that incorporated concepts from everything by the time I left, eventually transitioning to the variation of the spread offense that is run by schools like Arizona State and UCLA. In college we ran the spread, but again, every one of these systems has elements that are similar to past systems. So the best way I feel to explain the spread in this context is that it’s goal is to spread the defense in every direction.
Understanding that concept, you can really begin to see why teams do what they do on both sides of the ball because that’s where the future of football is going as even teams that don’t run the spread are implementing the same kinds of concepts like the Steelers, Packers and Patriots who run very high tempo offenses and even mess around with the no huddle outside of the two-minute warning. Of course, being high tempo and going no huddle doesn’t mean you’re a spread offense, but they’re both characteristics of the spread and examples of the changes coming in the NFL due to the spread’s influence.
With this being a trend around the league, guys like Carroll and Kelly look to have success on the ground; Kelly in particular does this by hitting the holes in the defense that are created by the offense spreading the defense out through it’s formation and speed. The Eagles use their tempo over the course of the game to wear down defenses and then use their three headed rushing attack to keep all three of the backs as fresh as possible, so that they can use their speed take advantage of a worn out defense in the fourth quarter. Against the Falcons, the Eagles executed these strategy very well in the fourth quarter by running outside stretch run plays with their backs, driving down the field and wearing out the defense with fresh runners. Using tempo is a huge part of the future of the NFL because, as I said before, doing it well can give you more opportunities to score every week, which increases your likelihood of winning. Also, by being a high tempo team, your team will be in fantastic shape, having great depth and cardio allows you to win the fourth quarter as, like I see in UFC fights, you can’t beat someone that you can’t keep up with.
This aspect of the game does open up the door for the bigger athletes to create big mismatches if their offensive system can create them. With teams concerned about the speed of offenses, they could be pressed into playing a guy who can’t cover a Rob Gronkowski or Le’Veon Bell. This is part of why many of the best organizations look for college players who perform on the field, but who also perform in terms of testing like the Nike’s SPARQ ratings that the Seahawks apparently reference. More important than just things like SPARQ ratings, teams like the Patriots and Ravens find players who fit into certain measurables for each position. By abiding by measurable, teams know the formula that they’re trying to create each year in terms of the athletes that they’re putting on the field. This gives the solid kind of sense of continuity that exists in strong college programs who are merely filling roles every year with a certain kind of athlete. With a theoretically equal playing field with the salary cap, there is no excuse for a coach to have 5-8 years as a head coach and not implement his system. The great coaches implement their system and have almost immediate success, but sometimes it takes time. In my opinion, coaches who are in charge of player personnel moves or who have a strong relationship between the front office and head coach, like the Ravens do, have the best chance at success. One of my biggest issues in the NFL is the fact that a) many coaches don’t get more than two or three years to implement a system and b) some head coaches have front offices that make decisions without caring about his opinion, which is why Doug Marrone is no longer in Buffalo. I have a feeling that he’s not the only head coach that this kind of stuff has happened to either. It’s tough to put everything on the head coach and fire him if he fails if you don’t give him control over the players he has on his team.
Finding explosive athletes who have body types that are different than the body types on the other side of the football is a major aspect of strategy in the NFL. The Bengals are their second round draft pick, an offensive tackle, Jake Fisher from Oregon, in the passing game because he’s a big athlete who can catch the ball. Look at Ole Miss using that 290-pound defensive tackle they have who still runs like a 4.5 as a fullback at the goal line! Look at JJ Watt! The best coaches are open to these kinds of ideas, they know that putting a guy like JJ Watt in the passing game gives the other team something else they have to worry about and prepare for. It also gives them one of the best athletes and players in the NFL as a passing option during critical situations. Watt is one of the most exciting players in the game because of his attitude with which he approached it. I remember him saying on a pregame show last year that he trains for the season by working to turn himself into the best athlete that he can become, so he can just hand that body over to his coaches and let them use him however they think up.
That’s the perfect lead in to this SB Nation article that I read about the positions that are the hardest for college coaches to recruit: http://www.sbnation.com/college-football-recruiting/2014/1/27/5330708/college-football-hardest-position
I think that the issues that plague college coaches in recruiting are the same that NFL coaches face, just with a different sample size and demand. Of course, offensive line is the #1 positions that college coaches have the most difficult time recruiting as there just aren’t that many humans who have the size and athleticism of the humans that college coaches need to play offensive line for them. Defensive line, has a similar problem, but not at the glory position, not at the edge rusher defensive end as plenty of those kinds of athletes can be found. The article mentions that strong side defensive ends, run stoppers and defensive tackles are hard to find…DUH. The article says, “the bigger a player’s body need to be to play his position at the college level, the smaller the reservoir of available talent” and that defensive linemen are also one of the hardest positions to project on top of the difficulty in just finding the players.
The other three positions that they say are the hardest to find are quarterback, cornerback and tight end. Three that, once you read the logic behind them make total sense. Quarterback is obviously a tough position to project due to the difficulty of the position and the array of variables that go into why a quarterback is or is not successful in a specific situation. Outside of their importance, I think we notice the quarterback “busts” in the NFL because they’re much more epic due to the fact that one of those many variables can be so off in a certain situation that the quarterback never even has the chance at success. One example of this would be the way these spread quarterbacks get drafted onto teams where they’re forced into non-spread offenses and then the organizations is surprised that they took a zebra and tried to turn him into a horse to paraphrase Brendan Schaub. Let RG3, Bradford, Manziel, Mariota, etc., let these spread monsters run the offense that made you want to draft them when they get to the NFL. Trying to fit them into some other kind of offense is a great way to waste an investment. You wouldn’t buy an oil stock and then pray that it starts acting like a technology stock, then get mad at the stock. I’d get mad at myself for being dumb enough to buy the wrong thing!
Cornerback has to be an increasingly tough position to recruit because of the amount of difficulty that comes with playing the position due to the increase in the pace and passing. As they wrote in the article, “every team needs more than two starter quality cornerbacks these days, but that doesn’t mean that the ideal cornerback is a common type of human.” With the ideal cornerback starting to turn into this six foot tall, 195-pound sprinter body with the ability to move quickly in small spaces, that ideal corner is becoming more and more difficult to find, yet more important to have. Cornerbacks have to have the quickness to respond to the cuts that receivers make, yet the ideal corner now has to be big enough to at least serviceably cover Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski if they split out wide, then Calvin Johnson one week and Antonio Brown the next. There are such insane requirements for the position, plus endless possibilities for what offenses can cook up, that it’s amazing that cornerbacks can even survive.
Speaking of Graham and Gronk, tight end is another obviously tough position to recruit in college, then find in the NFL. This difficulty is part of why we’ve seen so many basketball influenced tight ends as the boxing out, plus the toughness that’s required to play power forward in college basketball at 6’5” equals a kind of athlete who can compete in the NFL as a tight end.
Chris Hogan for the Bills played receiver at my high school, but then went to Penn State to play lacrosse. He finished his four years there, graduated and decided he wanted to play his fifth year, so he went to Monmouth where he actually played both ways because he was such a phenomenal athlete. It took him two years, but he made the Bills 53-man roster late in 2012 and has been on it ever since. He bounced around between the 49ers and Dolphins (where he became 7-11), among others, largely due to the insane athleticism he has created through his many years playing every kind of sport. Growing up, he played any sport you could think of, which propelled him forward as an all-around athlete, then his four years playing lax at PSU gave him four years training at a college level and playing a sport that’s skill set is very similar to what a wide receiver is asked to do. This is similar to what the NFL has been doing with basketball players at the tight end position. It’s a critical concept to understand because there are athletes all over the world, like Jarryd Hayne for the 49ers, that could make a difference in the NFL and cost the team very little.
A concept that’s been bouncing around my head for the last few weeks has been UFC related as I hear Brendan Schaub and Joe Rogan talk about different body types in UFC fights and the strategies of mixed martial arts fighting. I’ve been watching the UFC almost every weekend since Memorial Day Weekend because I’ve found it to be great cross-training for the analytical side of my mind that I bring to all of the Over the Cap related work that I do. I could talk about that UFC aspect in the NFL for days and I’m sure I will on the podcast, but the main thing to discuss here is the body type conversation that Schaub, Rogan and even Bryan Callen bring up as it’s something I began to learn about during college due to playing at URI and training at DeFranco’s Gym. I caw the way the body can shift with certain training during the summer of 2009, my first under Joe D. as I lost 10-15 pounds and got MUCH stronger. (Joe joked I was the first “fat bastard to skinny bastard” transformation he’d done in years.) It was right after my freshman year and I had to lose weight because I had intended to gain wait the winter break previously, but I gained it the wrong way on my own. I thought I wanted to be a 5’9”, 195-pound slot receiver, which isn’t a bad idea, but it’s not something that you just simply become over the course of a winter break. The real word to use about my results that summer was, I got much more EXPLOSIVE. That’s what all football training should be about because every play is only 3-6 seconds, so the training should reflect that.
During college, our conditioning test was 16 110 yard sprints in 14 seconds with 45 seconds break. To do this, yes, you need to be in phenomenal physical condition, but not the kind of condition that you need to be an elite college football player, so you’re essentially training for something that is NOTHING like what you do on the field. This is, clearly, not how anyone should do anything. UFC fighters don’t train boxing if they need to get better at jiujitsu, they train on what they need to improve, so, OBVIOUSLY, football players should have CONDITIONING TESTS that reflect the TESTS they face on the field. If you are involved in strength and conditioning or you’re a football coach yourself, here is Joe’s suggestion for how to do football conditioning the right way: https://www.defrancostraining.com/football-conditioning-the-right-way/
As Joe writes, the average play during the Giants game he watched that day was 5.5 seconds with 32 seconds rest. This was back in 2010, so with the way that the Eagles play, plus the non-spread, uptempo teams like the Steelers, Patriots and Packers, I’m sure that this number can be much different depending on the game. As always, Joe D is right on point, hence why he might be the only private strength coach to be offered an NFL Strength and Conditioning job in the last decade, although I have no idea how to quantify that.
Here is Cushing doing the workout: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SwBd_nnHHo
I did a variation of this workout while looking for a place to play my fifth year in college: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cV2H3G36GCg
As Schaub, Rogan and Callen discuss, some fighters like Tyron Woodley and Ovince Saint Preux who are almost explosive to a fault in the UFC because the championship fights are five, five minute rounds, which are impossible for a ball of quick twitch muscles to last in. This means that guys like Woodley and OSP can become too reliant on ending the fight quickly to last in that longer battle. And, because it’s a body type, it can be changed overtime through training, but it’s largely genetic, so it’s hard for a ball of explosive muscle to then train to do long cardio.
When we take this body type concept further, we can look at the offensive and defensive side of the ball with the idea that teams should find the kind of athletes who can line up all over the field. While doing this might make it more difficult to being able to place players into replaceable roles, it’s kind of similar to the way the Patriots have run things. Don’t only go after roles, but take full advantage of what you can get and what’s being undervalued by the marketplace right now. Currently, tight ends are being drastically undervalued by the market at Gronk might be the biggest mismatch in the NFL. He could seriously have the most dominant season in NFL history regardless of what his end of season stats are as it could be similar to what JJ Watt did last year, just an athlete who seemed to be able to do whatever he wanted on the field last season for the Texans.
What I’m talking about with the Patriots is that they have moved around who they “run their offense through,” for lack of a better term right now. This is something that I’ve been really keeping an eye out for the last two weeks as you begin to see how a certain playmaker, sometimes it’s a guy who is in the zone and/or might have a huge mismatch against that week’s defense like AJ Green for the Bengals seemingly every time they play the Ravens. So with the Patriots, that main playmaker has moved around over the years. People forget that during the first three Super Bowls, it was oftentimes the running back who was the guy they ran the offense through as Antowain Smith and Corey Dillon (especially) propelled that offense. During the mid-2000s, as Brady started to enter a prime that he still seems to be in, it became a more Brady centric offense, but they also began to run the offense through pass-catchers and, almost always, pass catchers who were undervalued by the market. They got Randy Moss when he was at rock bottom post-Raider pricing, Wes Welker after he was cut by the Dolphins, then the tight end era with Gronk and Aaron Hernandez. While they both signed huge deals, they’re both still FAR below the wide receiver market, so it’s kind of like they’re getting a huge discount for someone who can produce as many receiving yards and touchdowns as the offensive coordinator decides they’ll have, but for much less money than that same kind of player, like Calvin Johnson, does for another team:
(Julio Jones and Antonio Brown are two other players whose teams are “running their offenses” through them. Thinking about that, what young players look like they’re the kinds of athletes whose offenses will eventually be run through them? I think that Tyler Lockett is one of these players, a very explosive dude.)
Edelman and Amendola, who I’ve discussed a couple times in recent weeks, aren’t just Welker replacements in the send of the role they play, but the Patriots signed both of them knowing they could get two players who can produce at that Welker level, but for the kind of money that the smaller receivers command. There is definitely some “short receiver” prejudice in the NFL and it’s seen in the amount of money that guys are paid. While we don’t question Dez Bryant or Demaryius Thomas making 10% of the salary cap, I think many people would flinch of Antonio Brown got that much as he’s currently making about half that as well.
All three of these guys are players the Patriots can put all over the field to find the match-up that they can best exploit every week. Their loss to Green Bay last year was a real eye opener to me at how the Patriots used him. That article from SB Nation on recruiting had a great description for the kinds of mismatch creating athletes that you want at tight end, but something that can be extrapolated out to other positions, you want guys at TE who can “block a DE and beat a safety deep.”
To bring it back to the Texas game, I’m just gonna piece out some of the thoughts I had through the rest of that game for the sake of time as I’ve gotta start winding this down:
Both teams having short yardage package quarterbacks is a big sign that this is becoming a more popular across the country. Can rush and really make passes on the roll out. Also lets them keep Heard healthy.
Caleb Blueitt, Texas’ tight end, showed some tremendous hand fighting that might have been improved by his being a defensive end.
Busted plays, negative plays are drive KILLERS. Staying on schedule is so massively important for drives. Really great
Oklahoma State’s 5’7”, 168-pound running back, Jeff Carr, could be a stud there. Gundy thought so highly of him that he brought Barry Sanders Heisman trophy with him and said, “this is what you can do at running back with us.”
We should start to think of punts on the other side of the 50-yard line in terms of how many yards you’re likely to pick up by punting. Great way to analyze that decision in no man’s land and, when making that decision, need to know and understand the pace of the game and your yards per play and your likely yards per play in this situation. You need to know where you would go for it on fourth down so that you can prepare that entire set of downs knowing that you are likely to go for it on fourth down, which is helpful to know on third down.
Downright criminal call by the refs on a defensive holding called on the defensive tackle who was being bear hugged on a running play. I’m not one of those morons who pretends that the refs are fixing the game, but this call and the subsequent 15-yard penalty they called on Charlie Strong put Oklahoma State in FG range to kick the game tying field goal. In my opinion, that entire crew should never referee a Big 12 game again.
I turned to the TCU/Texas Tech game briefly and thought of this question: if you have a pass-happy O, then how do you address the goal line? Do you have a huge power back? A big target at tight end? A huge, prototypical #1 WR?
Something that offenses like Texas Tech always have to have in mind because I think this is something that spread teams can tend to have issues with due to being so speed based down near the goal line because speed is really neutralized there.
Doctson from TCU had 18 catches for 267 yards and three touchdowns against Texas Tech. Just letting you know about the insanity.
Going into the games that were on Saturday night, I mostly watched Utah beat up Oregon like they were Oregon beating up Washington. This Covey kid at WR is going to be a super star in the NFL, wouldn’t be surprised if he became a first round pick for the Patriots as he’s the perfect fit for the offense and would be a guaranteed success in that offense. At 5’8”, 166-pounds, Covey is the smallest player on the team and plays very fearlessly. Utah seems to have a history of explosive WRs and are even willing to put a cornerback, Cory Butler-Byrd, in on offense if they think he can make plays for them.
I wrote in my notes about the Utah game, that it might have been the best coached game I’ve seen so far this season. Completely kept Oregon off balance.
I wasn’t too interested in the college games outside of the way that Utah seemed to out-Oregon, Oregon, so let’s move into the notes I took for Sunday’s slate of games…
I have to repeat that comment from before about Jake Fisher and the Bengals and show you the play itself: http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-cant-miss-plays/0ap3000000534360/Can-t-Miss-Play-Bengals-offensive-lineman-Jake-Fisher-with-a-31-yard-catch
I think this is another sign of coaches who understand the idea of looking at players as “athletes” rather than “positions,” much like the way JJ Watt says he trains. The idea of looking at players as “positions” is very restrictive in football because it doesn’t keep you open minded to the possibility of having a monster like Fisher running down the sideline for a 31-yard catch.
While I like the athletes instead of positions idea, we still must remember the concept of filling roles that is one of the most important points of Caponomics. This may apply to the quarterback position more than anything and, just based off of the eye test, Brandon Weeden looks VERY similar to Tony Romo in his Cowboys #3. I know that sounds like a silly thing to matter, but I believe it’s a solid qualifier of sorts that the guy at least will, likely, have a similar skill set to the QB1 that he’s replacing. As I’ve often said, Tebow being a back-up, rather than a QB1 is critical because, since he’s so unique, there is no one that he’s a natural back-up for. The only person you could argue that he’s a natural back-up to is Cam Newton and not only do they have different throwing arms, but Derek Anderson is a more than capable back-up for them and has some similarities to Newton.
I mentioned it last week and I wrote about it in March, but the way the Cowboys built that offensive line has helped the Cowboys mitigate the loss of Murray, Bryant and now Romo. Over the last few years, once they had Romo and Bryant in place, along with Witten of course, they took advantage of that and built that offensive line. Then, they let Murray walk in free agency, which, while I support the Eagles signing him, was a very smart move for the Cowboys as they had Joseph Randle sitting behind him and he’s a very similar back to Murray, so he can fill the role nicely. While Randle averaged 6.7 yards per carry last year, he hasn’t flourished in the starting role yet, but hopefully for the Cowboys, his three touchdown game against the Cowboys was a sign of things to come. Either way, I can’t blame the Cowboys for letting Murray walk and going with the more low-cost backfield with the same kinds of talents. The Cowboys have done a solid job building up that defense and will surely be even better when Hardy returns for his suspension although the loss of Orlando Scandrick is a huge loss.
Similar to the Ravens with their injuries to Pitta, Gillmore, Perimann and Suggs, the Cowboys have some very tough injuries to overcome. That’s the side of Caponomics that throws all of this for a loop as no one can predict the injuries that will happen or how they will affect that team throughout the season. While I talked about the Ravens all offseason for how they’ve always done a solid job of finding the same players for the same roles, I couldn’t predict that Perimann and Suggs would be out of commission for three of the first four games with Suggs done for the year. I did know that with the addition of Za’Darius Smith who is a carbon copy of the recently departed, and much more expensive, Pernell McPhee, they had at least drafted themselves a player who could replicated McPhee’s production, but now, he’ll be asked to step into a much bigger role, although I’m sure he’ll do fine. These are the kinds of things that can cause young players who just fit a system into superstars almost overnight if they have a big game in front of a national spotlight. Smith has the tools to have a huge season in this defense and CJ Mosley will have to step up and give them some Ray Lewis-esque leadership.
Moving onto the Colts, they were apparently the lowest scoring team through three games and Luck was the lowest rated QB. Brings me to the point that we made last week referencing Joel Corry’s article about Ryan Grigson as Grigson really blew an opportunity to build a dynasty with a once in a generation type quarterback on a relatively low cap charge considering Luck has the potential to be the most productive quarterback in the NFL at only 4.91% of the cap in 2015. I’ll put that link up again as I think it’s an important conversation for the Colts to have in regards to their future: http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/eye-on-football/25305243/agents-take-has-the-potential-for-a-colts-dynasty-been-squandered
That said, Pagano is one of the best defensive minds in the NFL, so I would certainly campaign that they keep him in place and give him more player personnel control. Again, as I often say, nothing against someone like Grigson, just looking at the roster they’ve constructed and I know they could have done better.
An important idea that I think I had this weekend was that after this long offseason of researching every cap era Super Bowl champion, plus dissecting organizations like the Patriots, Seahawks, Ravens, Packers, and Steelers and their sustained success has given me the ability to have a basic understanding, an idea of what most teams are doing each season, how they’re trying to win, the strategy they’re going to implement. So everything that I look at when I’m talking about the NFL is coming to you through that Caponomics prism. When I look at teams like the Bears with Jay Cutler’s charges and a lack of direction on offense and defense, they’re one of those teams that I just can’t figure out. The Saints are another one of those teams as, with Brees at 18.43% of the cap, they really have no chance at success.
I don’t want to pretend that using Caponomics can predict what is going to happen in a season, but it can predict if someone is giving themselves a chance at competing, it helps you understand the probability of a team winning the Super Bowl. The 2014 Lions, while they were 11-5 and a strong team, Suh, Stafford and Johnson combining for over 38% of the cap with historic cap numbers didn’t really give them a chance at a Super Bowl. The highest Top 3 number was about 27% by the 2002 Bucs to put that in perspective.
I predicted the Eagles would win the Super Bowl, but I didn’t panic at all when they started 0-2 and looked horrible against the Cowboys because I knew their salary cap percentages were close in line with the Super Bowl positional group averages for the 21 champions that I put together this offseason. Looking at teams through this view, understanding the cap percentages for each position group and tailoring your team within that range, but with your own increases and decreases in salary according to your teams needs is of the utmost importance. The cap percentages have to be maximized for the strategy that your head coach wants to implement, hence the importance of head coaches playing a major role in player personnel decisions.
Moving on to some more rapid fire thoughts from last weekend. Some of them may be repeats of what I said earlier as I mention some things in my notes more than once as I’ll see it being done in multiple games:
- These Sproles style RBs can stay relevant into their thirties because of lack of wear and tear by being more of a pass catcher. What can we learn from this? What do we learn in how we use that in relation to cap hits?
- Guys like Lance Dunbar are popping onto the scene this year with 10 catches for 100 yards last weekend
- Greg Olsen will have 150 target this season. Cam Newton has almost no one else to throw to.
- Malcolm Butler looks like a real CB1.
- Atlanta put Julio Jones at tailback to confuse the defense and gave Freeman the ball at FB. Thought that was interesting.
- Growing number of shorter receivers in the NFL. Nick Williams from UConn on ATL: 5’10”, 184-pounds. Cole Beasley, Amendola, etc. Welker opened the door for this kind of athlete and the rest of the league has finally caught up to the Patriots almost a decade later. A great example of how long it takes for a good idea to take hold in the NFL and be copied if it’s outside of common logic. So, basically, if you think differently and you do something that doesn’t make obvious sense to people, then it’s going to take a long time to catch on because it takes a long time for it to be less “risky” to incorporate that idea into your own system. Belichick, and other head coach/GMs, have the ability to make all their own decisions with much less pressure. With all of Belichick’s success, he can do whatever he wants at this point because the organization believes in him and his process.
- Cowboys—OL is like a “playmaker” for them on top of the playmakers that they have
- Jets only real weakness on defense is that their linebackers aren’t great at pass coverage against running backs. While that’s a weakness, their pass rush and coverage is so strong that it might over shadow that weakness.
- With the increase in those pass catcher backs, there’s an increase in need for freakish linebackers, guys who are 6’-6’2”, 230-255 pounds, yet can somehow stay with running backs in pass coverage. An example of the insanity of this kind of athleticism is seen in Connor Barwin and the way he covered Devonte Freeman against the Falcons in Week 1.
- The Jets D will be one of the three best in the NFL.
- We forgot how good AJ Green is with him going down last year. Brought me to the idea of discussing teams in terms of who their biggest playmaker on offense is. Might be an interesting way to dissect and break down teams. For example, when you’re thinking of an offense that’s struggle, for example, like Miami, you look at their offense and ask yourself, “who are they relying on to be their biggest playmaker?” While they have solid players like Miller, Cameron, Stills, Parker, Jennings and Tannehill, they don’t have that one stand out superstar playmaker, so someone has to step up and be that guy. Do Super Bowl caliber teams all have a go to playmaker?
- The announcer of the CIN/BAL game made a great point that it takes a quarterback about four or five years to settle into the system. I was a quarterback in high school until my junior year when I was replaced by future Columbia Lions quarterback Andrew Weiss, even with a more simplistic high school system, it takes people three or four years to fully understand it to the point where they don’t need to think about it anymore. That’s vitally important as football comes down to split second decisions, so it’s critical that players, ESPECIALLY quarterbacks, don’t have to think about what they’re doing
- This brings up the question of how much damage does it do to a QB (or any player or team) when they keep switching coordinators and having new systems? How much damage did the Rams and 49ers do to the careers of Bradford and Smith as they had like 8 or 9 different coordinators in 10-11 total seasons.
- FANTASY FOOTBALL: Targets in fantasy are like plays are for an offense. Targets give those guys an opportunity to succeed. Always go after guys who are going to get an opportunity to perform. It doesn’t matter how “good” we think they are, it matters how much of a chance they’re going to get to perform that specific week. I think that’s a nice way to start to look at things objectively.
- Steelers missed an early two-point conversion against the Rams that could have come back to bite them later. Can’t say I blame them for going for it this year with how bad Scobee has been.
- Vikings are a playoff caliber team that could have success in the playoffs as well. They have a solid run/pass balance with AP and Bridgewater.
- Uriah Hall’s UFC win against Gregard Mousasi was a wonderful example of the kind of strategy and taking advantage of skill sets and body types that exemplify the UFC to NFL ideas I have.
- With Hall’s explosiveness, he knew that spinning kick was fast enough to catch Mousasi off guard and, boy, did it ever. While I’ve mentioned that UFC fighters have to have the cardio to last five, five minute rounds to win a championship belt, that explosiveness is critical for Hall.
- With Mariota, the Titans may already be better suited for the future than the Colts as Mariota will be on one of those 3-5% of the salary cap contracts from 2015 through 2018, while Luck’s cap hit moves up to $16.2 million (10.5%) in 2016, which means that the Colts will now have to deal with that on top of the issues they already have. The Titans showed the Colts in that game last week that you don’t need to load up on expensive receivers to get production as they’re spending WR money exactly like the Eagles are as the Eagles spend the 22nd most in the league on WRs and the Titans are just one behind them. (One thing that’s important to note is that if you do have cheap, young WRs, then you definitely need a great WR coach.) So with Mariota, then younger guys like Kendall Wright and Dorial Green-Beckham, they could have a relatively inexpensive QB and top WR duo that could be one of the 10 best in the leagues as early as next year. Meanwhile, the Colts have invested heavily at WR, which is the same thing they always did during the Manning years, which I think is part of their struggles. I love Andre Johnson and Phillip Dorsett as players, but was this the best use of resources when you already have Moncrief, Hilton, and Fleener. Reggie Wayne wasn’t in his prime, but he could have probably been signed for much less than Johnson who has 7 catches for 51 yards through three games. I think that the Colts have so many more needs that pass catcher that they’ve got to take a page from the Eagles and Titans and find it through the draft like they have for years, but not overspending. When have the Colts been the team to bring in an expensive, older receiver? They were always homegrown and they’re paying for it as Johnson is expensive and unproductive right now, just trying to find his spot in a new offense.
- Dorial Green-Beckham is a MASSIVE red zone threat at 6’5”, 240-pounds.
- One of my notes for the weekend was that this weekend showed a little bit of a changing of the guard as teams like Tennessee and Oakland with their young franchise quarterbacks are beginning to turn a corner.
- Another UFC analogy, players should look at the teams they can sign with in free agency like UFC fighters look at coaches and gyms. Find the situation where your skills and talents will be amplified because, long term, that will probably earn you the most money.
- With the Dolphins at 0-3 in the only year of the Tannehill/Suh contract where they’re not making about 25% of the salary cap, they will not win a Super Bowl until they are gone. As always, that says nothing about them as players, they’re great players, but their cap hit is almost insurmountable regardless of how good they are. Jerry Rice and Steve Young were the two most expensive players on a Super Bowl team ever and they only took up 21.64% of the cap in 1994. So Suh and Tannehill are going to be 3-4% of the cap more valuable than those two were in 1994? Sorry, but I just can’t believe that.
- I understand that the NFL wants to showcase the 4 o’clock game, but I really didn’t appreciate a frenetic 1 pm slot with three pretty subpar match-ups in the second slot. San Fran at Arizona would normally be a good game, but with all of the unexpected losses for the 49ers this offseason they don’t have much of a chance this year. They are a solid organization, so they will be back fast. Buffalo at Miami should have been a good game coming into the year, but it was clear through two weeks that Miami wasn’t going to contend in this game. The last game was the real one I took issue with as it was the only game I had on my local broadcast as the NFL and it’s TV partners are only giving you one in each time slot this year on Verizone FIOS. (Thankfully I do have #NFLRedZone and NFL Sunday Ticket from a buddy of mine, but still) Chicago at Seattle had literally no chance of being a good game, it never did, so I have no idea who scheduled this thinking it was a good idea. I can understand the way the NFL is trying to build it’s revenue through the various distribution deals that they have, but depriving the average cable customer of four total games, two during each time slot, is a very bad business practice. Sure, less people might buy things like NFL Sunday Ticket, but the NFL should be making every effort possible to get their product in front of people in an efficient, but profitable manner. People who buy NFL Sunday Ticket are likely to be die hards who love fantasy and/or fans of teams that aren’t in their area; those people are still going to buy it if there are four day games available on Sunday because, four day games, won’t ALWAYS fulfill their needs
See you for a podcast on Wednesday or Thursday depending on my schedule. Have a great week!
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