Friday, January 6, 2012

"1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8... etc. etc. etc....!": A (Semi)Serious Look At the NFL Playoffs: Team 9

Team 9, the 9th-least-likely to win the Super Bowl this year, or something like that, I get all confused with these reverse-order rankings, is The Baltimore Ravens, for two reasons:

(3.14): They are identical to the Pittsburgh Steelers, as pointed out here, which means that they are equally bad and equally the beneficiary of an easy schedule, but rank 9th rather than 10th, where the Zombie Steelers rank, because the Ravens get a bye and play at home, which puts them marginally ahead of their doppleganger in the AFC North.

(y): They have Joe Flacco.

Grumpy Bulldog, who knows a thing or two about sports and rightfully ought to be writing this blog instead of me but isn't because he does real writing, mentioned once that Tony Romo wouldn't be getting any hype if he didn't play for the Cowboys.*

*This would be a good time for me to remind everyone that in November I said:

Dallas Cowboys: Tony Romo, don't get comfortable. It's easy to look good when the team you're playing against is more concerned about whether they'll soon get overpaid (as is their God-given right?) in weird plastic Canadian money. If there was a bright spot in the 3/4 of the game CBS bothered airing Sunday, it's that the game likely served as the highlight for the Cowboys' season, something for fans to remember when they sit around in January watching other teams in the playoffs and realizing that they're going to be stuck with Rick Perry treating their state like he's Jesse James and Texas i
s a series of tattooed slutty girls.

Which means that in November I predicted that both Romo and Perry would be spending January in Texas. I'm awesome.
I bring up Grumpy because of the applicability of Romo & Cowboys to Flacco & Ravens. Why does Flacco get so much attention and sometimes so much positive press?

It can't be because of the size of the market. Baltimore is ranked 24th in media markets; Dallas is 7th. (Baltimore is second to Pittsburgh, at 22, in its own football division.) Unlike Romo in Dallas, the media isn't noticing Flacco because it pays to talk positively about things that are related to large media markets. (One downside to the increasing agglomeration of sports broadcasting into two networks, NFL and ESPN, is the increasing reluctance to ever say anything bad about anybody. Athletes learned years ago, beginning about with Sterling Sharpe on the Packers, that they could refuse to talk to people who say bad stuff about them, and so reporters are reluctant to criticize anyone lest they not get the inside scoop. Having your employees report on their superiors does not make for good or reliable news but it does keep the product nice and shiny.)

And there's no doubt that reporters try to get people to like Flacco: the NYTimes said that Flacco was "on the right track," this year, Rotoworld quoted some people saying Flacco was going to go from "good to great," and the National Football Authority (?) said that the season bodes well for Flacco... although that source also said this:

However, the Ravens are lucky enough to play the majority of their games at home, with the Steelers (once), Texans, Colts and Jets coming to Baltimore.

Which WOULD be an advantage, if true. Unfortunately for the "National Football Authority's" credibility, the Ravens, like every other team, played exactly half their games at home.

Flacco this year ranked 12th in yards passing, but 25th in percentage of passes completed. He was 19th in yards per game, 16th in passes over 20 yards, and 18th in passes over 40. While you could say that was a product of the Ravens being a run-first, defense-oriented team, the Ravens ranked only 7th in rushing attempts per game (behind teams like Seattle and Philadelphia, among others), 6th in yards per game (behind Buffalo and Oakland, among others), and the Ravens were 11th in time of possession per game.

The Ravens were 7th in 3rd down percentage of conversions, with all but one team of the top 6 being playoff teams. (The odd man out was the similarly-poorly-quarterbacked Chargers.) Which is to say: The Ravens are 5th worst in the playoffs at converting on 3rd downs, tied with the Texans. And they had more third downs than all but two teams: the Ravens tried to convert on 229 third downs this year, an average of 14 third downs per game. Only Cleveland and Jacksonville faced more third downs this year. (The team that faced the fewest third downs was the Panthers; second lowest was the Packers, both of whom had above-average quarterbacks.)

Average time of possession, more third downs than anyone but converting less than half of them, none of that says "great running game" or even "great defense"... and about that defense: I quickly clicked through a lot of stats on and found none where Baltimore's defense was in the top 5. I didn't do a scientific survey or anything, but it seems to me that perhaps Baltimore's vaunted defense shouldn't really be vaunted.

Which brings us back to Flacco, who would be Tarvaris Jackson if he didn't play for the Ravens, wouldn't he? They both average under 7 yards per attempt, they both throw for about 220 yards per game average, Jackson threw 13 interceptions to Flacco's 12 this year, Jackson threw 45 20-yard-or-more passes, Flacco threw 44...

The Ravens might as well be quarterbacked by Tarvaris Jackson, and if you can see Tarvaris Jackson and an AARP-qualified defense winning the Super Bowl, you've been licking too many toads.

Symbolic Season Highlight: From a preseason game against the Redskins:

In the Ravens' 34-31 win over the Washington Redskins at M&T Bank Stadium, Flacco's first complete pass was to Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who stepped in front of wideout Anquan Boldin and raced 52 yards for a touchdown.

In true media fashion, the reporter who wrote that up said:

Maybe Joe Flacco needed to throw that interception to get his fourth professional season on track....instead of dwelling on his gaffe, Flacco kept at it, leading the Ravens to three touchdown drives before finishing the night one series into the third quarter.
As for Flacco, here's what he said about it:

"You don't want to get off on a rough start like that, but DeAngelo made a play," Flacco explained. "He didn't even budge - he just sat out there and did a good job."

In other words: Flacco threw the ball to a defensive back who was just sitting there waiting for it, and the press turned that into a positive: it got him going! He's learning from his mistakes!

A stupid interception thrown in a game that ultimately had no impact on anything else: That's your Ravens!

Symbolic Celebrity Fan: Jimmy Fallon?

Jimmy recorded this before Thanksgiving:

And nobody was sure why he did it.

What kind of stuff can you get cheap at the Ravens shop to make people wonder why you like that team?

I didn't even hesitate: This was the first, and least-explicable, thing I saw:

That's a leftover 2010 Playoffs Pennant you can buy for just $3. In those playoffs, the Ravens lost in the second round, blowing a 21-7 lead after Flacco went 16-of-30 for 125 yards, with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Flacco, by the way, finished this year with a worse passer rating than he had last year.

But the importance of this pennant is the What's Important Now (W.I.N.) slogan: not just a ripoff of the failed inflation-fighting tactic, the W.I.N. slogan was invented by Lou Holtz, who wrote about it in a 1998 book. The phrase was trademarked by a Virginia Tech defensive coordinator, and the Ravens had to make a charitable donation to get the rights to use the term for two months. The phrase replaced past (stupid) slogans like "What’s Our Name?" (2008) and "Play Like A Raven" (2009).

The VT coordinator who trademarked the phrase is Bud Foster, whose "Lunch Pail Defense" has morphed into a charitable organization with souvenirs and everything. Says that site:

The Lunch Pail Defense concept developed by Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster has made the Virginia Tech Hokies legendary! Pulling from Bud Foster’s upbringing in the coal mining areas of Illinois, Foster chose the steel pail as a symbol of the blue collar working-mans ethic of the Hokie defensive team. The battered pail features the word WIN on the front, embodying Foster’s strategy for the game and for life:

“W-I-N (Whats Important Now) To make change; to influence; to use this moment to be better than the last; to achieve greatness in all aspects of your life; win at home. Win at school. Win at business. Win at life.”
Apparently there's a real pail:
In the past, the box was filled with the defense’s mission statement, keys to success, and goals. Over time players began adding turf and grass from playing fields where the Hokies reached victory. Following the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech the Lunch Pail held the names of the 32 victims and was carried into Lane Stadium for a home opener.
Nothing about that says anything about how a coal-mining upbringing allows one to trademark a phrase that another man came up with, but, as George Costanza said, "It's all for charity, so what can you do?"


Grumpy Bulldog, Secret Agent said...

You know, by the time you get to the Lions, Bungles, and Broncos they'll have been eliminated from the playoffs already.

The same thing about Romo applies to Matt Sanchez (if not more so) too. When they won it was more in spite of him than because of him. Maybe on some level it's just wishful thinking. The Cowboys really really want someone to replace Troy Aikman and the Jets really really want someone to replace Joe Namath. And the Ravens really really want someone to, Scott Mitchell? Elvis Grbac? Steve McNair? Trent Dilfer? By comparison to those guys Flacco might actually look like an improvement.

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