Random Thoughts During the Michigan-Ohio State Game

I am writing my weekly football column as I watch Michigan battle Ohio State.  Given the importance of this game to Michigan fans (which I am), my main focus is going to be on watching the game.  But in between plays, I will try and offer a few random football thoughts.

Before we get to these, here are the weekly QB Score and RB Score rankings:

Week Ten QB Score Rankings

Overall QB Score Rankings

Overall RB Score Rankings

Now, here are the random thoughts.

“Manning is impossible to sack.”

Although I don’t have the transcript of the game’s broadcast, I am fairly certain this happened during the Colts-Patriots game of a couple of weeks ago.  Peyton Manning went back to pass and was sacked by the Patriots.  Two or three plays later, Manning evaded a Patriots rush and completed a pass.  Upon seeing this, Phil Simms told his television audience that “Manning is impossible to sack.” 

This story highlights the nature of player evaluation in the NFL.  Often it’s what the player did most recently that dictates how a player is described.  When a player does something good, then he is “unstoppable”, “unbeatable”, and “amazing.”  When something bad happens then every flaw in the player’s game is dissected and highlighted.

Obviously if all you focus upon is the most recent event, your evaluation of players will be flawed.  Consider the season Donovan McNabb has had.  If good is a ranking from 1-10, average is 11-19, and bad is 20 or below, here is McNabb’s season thus far:

Average, Bad, Good, Bad, Good, Good, Good, Bad, Good. 

You could play the same game with most quarterbacks.  Sometimes they are good, sometimes average, sometimes bad.  No quarterback is always good.  And quarterbacks who are always bad don’t last very long.  

Fabulous Favre

As we note in the book, you can play the same game looking at a quarterback season-by-season.  Consider Brett Favre (who we talk about in the book).  In 2004 he had his best season as a pro, posting a QB Score per play of 3.15 (average is 1.85).  In 2005, though, he had his worst season as a pro with a mark of 1.15.  Then last season he was back to average, posting a QB Score per play of 1.70. 

Thus far this season, the great Favre is back.  In Week 10 Favre led all quarterbacks in QB Score per play.  And now his mark for the season stands at 3.18.  If this holds up, the 2007 campaign will be his greatest season ever. 

How do we explain this sudden improvement in a player who has already appeared in 250 NFL games?  Let’s turn to the NBA for an answer.  In the NBA we typically see improvement early in a player’s career.  So a second year performance is better than what we see from a rookie.  And a third year performance is a bit better than what we see in the second year.  An NBA season is 82 games long, so a player reaches 250 games sometime early in their fourth season. 

Yes, Favre is in his 17th season.  But if he were an NBA player, he would still be considered relatively inexperienced.  And hence we come to my explanation.  Favre’s sudden improvement reflects the fact he simply has learned more about playing the position. 

If we carry this story through to its “logical” conclusion, Favre should continue learning and reach his performance peak after another 250 games.  In other words, when Favre is about 55, he will be dominating the NFL.  This is good news for fans of the Packers, who can look forward to 20 more years of dominating the NFL’s Norris division.

By the way, I noticed in looking at Favre that he is 15 days younger than me.  Why does this make me feel a bit old?

Another by the way… my explanation of Favre’s improvement was an attempt at humor.  I really don’t know why he is playing better.  Perhaps it is because all great men reach their peak at 38 (another attempt at humor).

The Top Running Back and the Return of Ricky Williams

Entering last week it looked like the top running back would be Adrian Peterson.  Peterson, though, was hurt last week.  And now Brian Westbrook has regained the top spot.  With Peterson hurt, and Ronnie Brown done for the season, it seems unlikely that anyone else is going to catch Westbrook in RB Score per game. 

One player who we are sure will not catch Westbrook is Ricky Williams.  Williams is finally back in the NFL and he might even play some over the last seven games.  How much will he help the Dolphins? 

Future performance is hard to predict in the NFL.  What we can do is look at past productivity and then guess about the future.  And the past performance of Williams suggests that he is capable of being a top back, but also just as capable of falling short of this mark.

Williams has rushed at least 100 times in six seasons.  Here is his RB Score per game in these six campaigns.

1999 (New Orleans): 10.3

2000 (New Orleans): 44.3

2001 (New Orleans): 28.6

2002 (Miami): 48.5

2003 (Miami): 15.4

2005 (Miami): 20.9

The average running back posts an RB Score per game of 26.5.    So we see that Williams was above average as often as he was below average.  His top mark of 48.5 would rank 5th thus far in 2007.  Of course his two worst marks, in 1999 and 2003, would rank in the bottom 10. 

Of course, regardless of which Williams Miami sees, it may not make a difference.  Ronnie Brown, as noted, played pretty well this year.  And the Dolphins still couldn’t win a game. 

Michigan Loses

And so we reach the end of the game and this column.  Michigan has again lost to Ohio State. 

The Disappointment Zone – which you can see listed on the blogroll – is a website maintained by Cleveland-Ohio State fan Joel Witmer.  The title of the blog describes the nature of Cleveland sports.  But this year, Witmer’s teams have consistently caused me much disappointment. 

The Cavaliers eliminated the Pistons from the NBA playoffs. The Indians beat out the Tigers for the division title.  And now the Buckeyes have once again beaten the Wolverines.

All in all, such a trend in 2007 has made my life as a fan less happy. Hopefully 2008 will be a different story.

– DJ

For more on QB Score, RB Score and what these metrics mean see

The New QB Score

Consistent Inconsistency in Football

Football Outsiders and QB Score

The Value of Player Statistics in the NFL

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