Friday, September 24, 2010

Shove This In Your Ear (It's a Podcast)

Two podcasts this week. One is just our fantasy league blabber, and the other is our Week 3 picks and lines. Listen up, get down.

You can do it here on the podcast player on the right. It's somewhere over there just look closely.

Or you can listen at our Podbean site, The Chirp Show. Click on the blue words, obviously. Although I did just have to explain it to you. What are you, stupid or something?

I think I gave up on Ray Rice too quick. OR DID I?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Professor Football: Inside the Red Zone with Drew Brees, Sean Payton, and the New Orleans Saints

On Monday, the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers matched wits in a game that concluded with a last-second field goal. The Saints' 25-22 win wasn't just decided on Monday though; the contours of the game, especially the New Orleans' red zone offense, were sculpted a week earlier

Some prologue first, beginning with San Francisco's defense. It's legitimate. The 49ers against the run are downright belittling. In 2009, they allowed only 3.6 yards per carry. This season, including the game against the Saints, they've allowed only 2.7 yards per carry. Running the ball against them can be difficult, is what you'd say if you wanted a nice smack to the forehead.

What makes San Francisco so great on defense is a combination of a bend-don't-break mentality, instilled by coaches Mike Singletary and Greg Manusky, and the players they put on the field.

Patrick Willis is the best linebacker in the game, and probably the most physically gifted one too. Anyone who saw his pregame chat with Jon Gruden was quickly alerted to how hard Willis studies tape and prepares for games as well.

Lining up around the game's best linebacker is a very good defensive corps. Takeo Spikes plays the other inside linebacker in the 3-4. He's not as young as spry as he once was (a knee contusion suffered during Monday night doesn't help), but he still manages to raise a ruckus against offenses. Justin Smith makes a ton of tackles from defensive end. Nate Clements has made a career out of being a solid cover corner who is excellent playing the run.

But the defense's anchor is Aubrayo Franklin. Like Pittsburgh's Casey Hampton, he's a shorter defensive linemen, but that's what makes him perfectly suited to play nosetackle. At 6'1'' and 317 pounds, it takes a lot to get under his pads and get him moving anywhere but where he wants to go.

Franklin was a hold out this training camp. To know exactly how much he's worth to the 49ers, just look at what they paid to get him playing again: $7 million. That's a lot to pay for a 30 year old linemen, and by paying it the 49ers are showing he's worth it.

Against the pass, San Francisco is slightly worse off. It doesn't make them terrible, they're just not as good as they are against the run. In Week 1 at Seattle, the Seahawks rushed for just 13 yards in the first half and still lead by eight via a combination of passes, playaction, and turnovers. They'd still finish the game averaging just 3.3 yards a rush though.

The first Seattle touchdown came on a playaction pass that turned into Matt Hasselbeck sprinting for the corner pylon. He got there and put the Seahawks up 7-6. It would be all they needed to win the game, but it was just part of what New Orleans needed.

In the third quarter, up 21-6, Seattle smashed their way to the 49ers' 3-yard line. Instead of trying to run the ball, they aired it out, trying to circumvent San Francisco's run defense. Two incompletions had them staring at 3rd-and-goal. Their next play looked like this (for clarity I'm not showing the defense, but check the video out to see how they line up):

Video here.

Seattle has Matt Hasselbeck step back into Shotgun. The offense then uses a Bunch formation right while isolating Deion Branch wide left. Hasselbeck throws the fade into the corner of the endzone; Branch makes the catch and Seattle goes up 28-6. By now the Niners are cooked, but someone else is watching.

Cut to Monday night (first quarter), and the Saints have arrived in San Francisco's red zone. Already up 2-0 from the errant snap-turned-safety, New Orleans hands off to Pierre Thomas who goes for three yards to the 49ers' six. On second down, they line up in something resembling Seattle's red zone plan:

Video here.

It looks similar to Seattle's iso play, but with a few wrinkles. The running back is moved to the other side, and more importantly, since it's Reggie Bush, he's running a choice route instead of a flare to the sideline. Finally, the tight end comes in to block.

What happens is that the 49ers react the exact same way they did against Seattle, but do a much better job of covering the iso receiver. During the play he (the lone receiver split wide) finds himself double covered, and Drew Brees checks down. In the video you can actually see Brees' eyes switch from the right receiver to Bush as he comes open.

The intention was to hit the fade in the endzone like the Seahawks did, but when he's covered Brees improvises. He sees Reggie Bush cut back inside, scorching Patrick Willis, and hits him in stride for the score. 9-0 Saints.

Now here comes the devious part.

In the third quarter, down 14-9, New Orleans found itself back in San Fran's red zone. Their game plan doesn't change much. Instead of trying to run the ball (they were on the three-yard line), they go right back into their Shotgun Bunch formation. Except now, Reggie Bush motions from his spot beside the quarterback and widens out past the iso receiver before the snap. After having been touched up by Bush last time, Patrick Willis follows him.

Video here.

The iso receiver runs his usually route, as do two of the receivers in the bunch. David Thomas though, at tight end, hesitates like he's going to stay in and block, like he did last time. Then he chips off the defensive end and runs the same choice route Bush ran in the first quarter. This play though, it's all deliberate. Brees feints a little by looking to Bush and the iso receiver, but then turns and drills Thomas for the touchdown.

Sean Payton isn't a stupid guy. He knows all about the 49ers defense and what they do well. That's why he followed Seattle's lead and spread them out in the red zone. And, when the Saints tried to get tough with them and grind out a touchdown in the fourth quarter, Heath Evans got stuffed on the goal line. New Orleans realized why they'd avoided trying to run the ball in the first place.

Using what Seattle had shown them previously, the Saints found ways to score against San Francisco. It's a little look into the intricacies that win football games. Or, a very good coincidence.

Either way, Matt Cassell and the Kansas City Chiefs might want to think about copying this coincidence.

Fantasy Stock Market and Accompanying Recession: Week Two


-Me out of my league.

-Alex Smith. When he was at Utah with Urban Meyer, Smith was used to run the football consistently. If you watched any of Tim Tebow's starts at Florida, it had to remind you a little of Alex Smith with the Utes. Last night against New Orleans, Smith got mobile and it nearly won the game for San Francisco. Arguably, playing quarterback well is part being comfortable. In the pocket, or on the field. It doesn't matter. Smith looked twitchy early, but as he led the 49ers back from the brink, things looked promising. Even more important, for the two-point conversion, San Fran, instead of handing off to Frank Gore, who was KILLING it, chose to pass. With the game on the line, they told Alex Smith to come through. And he did. Hot snow is falling up.

-Jay Cutler. You don't have to like him, but you will respect him from now until he sulks once more. The Cowboys are good against the pass, both at rushing the passer and in the secondary. They diced up the Redskins' passing attack, the same one that made Houston look like garbage as Donovan McNabb put on a show. Cutler, despite running for his life and fighting off the urge to yell at small children, played excellently. With Mike Martz in charge, this team will throw the ball a lot and successfully. Get in on some of that sweet.

-Jason Snelling. Turner was hurt for a good chunk of last year and he's hurt now. Pick up Snelling and pray that a groin injury is just as uncomfortable as it sounds.

-Dustin Keller. Those that know me realize I'm slowly describing my team to you, but I swear this is an impartial pick. Braylon Edwards and his vitriol for institutions like M.A.D.D. may have him suspended. Not only that, but Keller is the real deal. The Jets promised he'd play a Dallas Clark type of role for them, and I believe it. They moved him into the slot at times and used Ben Hartsock at tight end when they planned on running.

-Michael Vick. The people who spout off the Kolb has played a single half of football as rationale for starting him are ignorant themselves. In the same breath that Kolb hasn't had time to prove himself, Vick has. He's played years of football at an elite level. Kevin Kolb can't say that about himself. That this incarnation of Vick has smartened up and been forced to do crazy things like "watch film" doesn't bode well for opponents.


-Jay Cutler. If you don't believe in the Chicago renaissance, now is the time to dump Sulky McInterception and call it a day. That nickname is patent pending.

-Josh Freeman. He's not as good as advertised, and neither are the Bucs. They've played two games against the Browns and the Panthers. Neither of those teams had a quarterback, and both of them have had a hard time stopping the pass. Tampa hasn't played a team that can rush the passer effectively, and Josh Freeman's sideburns aren't conducive to continued success.

-Shonn Greene. LaDainian Tomlinson wants to prove us all wrong. On Sunday, he looked capable of doing so. Rex Ryan just wants to win, so if Greene doesn't start contributing he'll see his carries slip away.

-Joseph Addai & Donald Brown. I don't know exactly how Indianapolis ran the ball so well, but I'm pretty sure they won't be able to do it again. When given the option of being beaten by the run or by the pass, most defenses would choose the latter.


-Mike Sims-Walker. The Human Hyphen had the best game of his career Sunday. His 10 catch, 105 yard, one touchdown, performance isn't likely to repeat itself. Maurice Jones-Drew hasn't been touching the ball nearly enough, and that's going to change because the Jags aren't stupid. Wait, is that Mike Tice on the sidelines? Er, just trust me on this one.


-A trade that saw Cedric Benson swapped for Reggie Bush and Dez Bryant. Bush's knee was wrecked last night, and Dez Bryant is still a No. 2 receiver. If we had a fantasy jail, you'd be sent there and forced to sleep in a cell that has only a queen-size bed and no HBO on the flatscreen. You monster.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Podcast, She Is Back

On this edition of The Chirp Show we go behind the scenes of our fantasy league, break down this week's games, and harbour unrequited hatred for Tyson Alualu. Listen to it here on the podcast player, or at where you can also subscribe to it on iTunes.

A fantasy article comes tomorrow.

Be afraid.

UPDATE: Yeah, or just listen to it here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Professor Football: How To Beat The New York Jets

The Baltimore-New York Monday nighter was putrid, but at least provided some insight into both teams. In a 10-9 barnburner, the Ravens showed off their fancy new acquisitions; and the Jets showed that their defense is so good it can win games by itself.

It's no secret that the Jets want to blitz teams. They mix up their personnel flagrantly and dare opponents to respond to their attack instead of attacking themselves. Pitching instead of catching, if Rex Ryan will permit me without cackling like a little kid. At times last night, they had but one defensive linemen in the game and blitzed with a variety of linebackers and defensive backs.

Baltimore won the game, but it was equal parts luck, circumstance, and skill. The refs were seemingly always in place to flag defensive holding and pass interference, and at times the Jets were willing to bail out the Ravens' offense. Kyle Wilson's defensive holding against a five yard waggle route (on 3rd-and-28!) comes to mind. Baltimore also had the resources at receiver to maroon one of their own on Revis Island and not lose their venom on offense. Revis could and did erase Derrick Mason all game, but Anquan Boldin picked up the slack and saved Baltimore on third down a few times.

For other teams though, they may not be afforded the same luxuries as Baltimore. Maybe the refs ease up and let the Jets play more physically in the defensive backfield. Or maybe they just don't have the firepower to survive on 3rd-and-long against New York. Baltimore is a Super Bowl fave and they won by a single point. If the Jets' offense had been something resembling competent it might have been a completely different ballgame.

So, how does Generic Team X beat someone like New York? Let's look at the Jets' objectives on defense:




Though Rex Ryan plays guru, that's his defense when you reduce it to its basest parts. All the Jets want to do is to stop a team from running the ball on first and second down, produce a third-and-long, and then blitz quarterbacks so they'll make a mistake. How they stop the run is by using their speed and unique match-ups to confuse blockers and penetrate into opposing backfields.

Quick stats: The Jets allowed only 3.8 yards per rushing attempt last season. Also, the Jets' third-down defense allowed teams to convert only 31.5 percent of their tries. When you can stop the run and you have players like Darrelle Revis roaming your secondary, you're free to get after teams on passing downs.

The best way to negate the Jets' advantages is to get positive yards on first and second down. Teams that did so against New York beat them. It sounds like a given, you want to be gaining yards on any down hopefully, but the difference between 3rd-and-10 and 3rd-and-5 against New York is monumental.

Take Baltimore's offenses most successful drive of the night: a 9 play, 85 yard march at the beginning of the third quarter which resulted in a field goal.*

The Ravens take over on their own 8-yard line at 11:37 in the third. On first downs they get 3, 4, and 5 yards. On second, they get zero, 27, and 3 yards. They finish the drive kicking a field goal that turns out to be the game winner.

While on first down they experienced some success, Flacco still had to be bailed out by Anquan Boldin on third-and-long (resulting in a 38-yard reception) once after throwing an incompletion to him on a second down. Still, the Ravens mananged to ease their workload on third down by shortening getting positive yards on first and second.

How does a team get those positive yards early though?

Any offensive coordinator worth his salt can take what the defense gives him and run with it. What the Jets give any offense though is a healthful spoonful of blitzes and excellent man-to-man coverage. And, again, to make it easier on oneself against the blitz, you need to shorten the time and distance it takes a quarterback to release the ball or for a running back to reach the first down marker.

The Jets blitz package is essential to stopping opponents' running games. And, using their "Creep" nickel packages and unorthodox personnel they work in linebackers and defensive backs to slow down teams. But what those players add in speed, they lack in size, strength, and in the DB's case, experience playing the run at the line of scrimmage. So instead of just pounding the ball inside and accepting the Jets' blitzes, why not get outside and take the initiative?

At times the Ravens used an unbalanced offensive line, lining up their backside tackle on the playside and trying to create mismatches. But what really worked were quick hitting outside runs (NOT zone stretch plays. When they tried to work inside-out the flow of the Jets' D smothered them) that got the offensive linemen out and on the defensive backs being used to blitz. An example (Note: I'm drawing this from memory):

It's just a little quick toss that now puts an offensive guard onto an unsuspecting New York safety. A double team by the tight end and playside tackle to the inside linebacker cuts off pursuit and the fullback is man on man with whatever linebacker attempts to fill. The Jets, even though they've brought eight into the box, don't have the match-up they want and maybe more importantly, you've taken the initiative against a defense that seeks to control it. If the linebacker and safety switch sides, a 300-pound guard still presents a considerable roadblock. I drew that up on what I think is the base Jets formation, the playside defensive end could become another stand-up linebacker, but that would still favor a strong double team at the point of attack.

Ray Rice's longest run of the day was seven yards, coming off tackle. His second longest was six yards, on a toss similar to this one. The Jets' blitzes try to root quarterbacks and offenses within the box, so that gang-tackling and mistakes can occur. But by sealing the edge and getting outside, which is admittedly much easier than it sounds, a team can give itself a fighting chance against a lethal New York defense.

Other tactics that Baltimore used were bringing in their running backs to block and then having them leak out as receivers. Flacco would dump the ball off to McClain, McGahee, or Rice and it would act as a run essentially. Mix in some quick posts and off-tackle runs and you've managed to assert yourself against a tough defense. In the end though, execution trumps anything a defense can throw at you.

How do you beat the Jets? By making it easy for yourself on third down. How do you do that? By using safe, efficient, and quick-hitting plays that exploit New York's penchant for using different sorts of personnel groupings. Until next week, I'm Professor Football.

*I'm disqualifying their touchdown drive for the smattering of penalties that occurred on it. AND I'M NOT SORRY AT ALL AHAHAHA. Sorry.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday, Sunday, SUNDAY!: The Casualty Report

What did we learn today children?

You read and watch and inhale the offseason's offerings. You absorb opinion and speculate on players sight unseen. Then one Sunday all the talk is replaced with the genuine article. Motherfucking football, people. It is glorious and horrible at the same time, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

So what did we learn? What players leapt off the page of your greasy fingerprinted preview magazine? Here lies the Sunday casualty report.

Miami Dolphins 15
Buffalo Bills 10- Most of my personal focus was devoted to this game, ugly as it was. Brandon Marshall looked good for a half, and then the Bills secondary/Chad Henne hiccups barricaded him from making an impact in the last half. For what it's worth, and that's counting the change in my pocket, I thought Marshall was as good as advertised. It looked like he and Henne had a little rapport with each other, which is encouraging. Other than Marshall, a positive was Miami's stinginess on defense. Cameron Wake was implanted in Buffalo's backfield the entire day and caused considerable chaos. The other big offseason acquisition for Miami, Karlos Dansby, racked up a sack and made plays across the field. Things were looking up. Compared to some of the other performances today though, like New England's romp over Cincy, a five-point win over Buffalo isn't exactly getting put on the fridge. It'll take some more polish if the Fins want to swim with the big fish. Oh well. They could have lost the game and I could be taste-testing what sleeping pills I'd choose to OD on.

As for Buffalo, I don't know. Their offense looked very meh; Roscoe Parrish's touchdown came off a blown coverage that left him more open than the gals at Theta Theta Theta after a box of wine. Trent Edwards got hit a lot. I can't understate that. The guy might have been running for his life if the world hadn't already pronounced the Bills DOA. Buffalo flashed a few wrinkles with a Wildcat formation in order to free up their standard scheme, but it looked very stiff and ended up making little difference.

A quick note: Miami's kicker, Dan Carpenter, looks like a young Swayze.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17
Cleveland Browns 14- Despite having a broken thumb that had him tossing ducks in practice, Josh Freeman still hucked two TDs. Despite having spent an entire season being derided for throwing interceptions, Jake Delhomme still threw a pick that Ronde Barber returned back to Cleveland's 3-yard line.

Shrug and move along.

New England Patriots 38
Cincinnati Bengals 24- Tom Brady and Wes Welker proved that the laws of man just don't apply to them. Brady can crash his car into the peasants willy-nilly and escape unscathed. Welker can have his knee explode and then show up a few months later and catch two touchdowns. The Patriots (and accompanying dynastic implications) refuse to go quietly into the night, instead choosing to beat the shit out of Cincy in broad daylight.

Don't read too much into Cincy's air attack. They were behind from the get-go and had to air it out if they hoped to even force the Pats to break a sweat. That isn't the kind of football the Bengals will win if forced to play. Ochocinco's thunder=stolen.

Houston Texans 34
Indianapolis Colts 24- Arian Foster eviscerated the Colts' D for 231 yards rushing, ostensibly also yanking the AFC South torch from Indy's chubby fingers in the process. Or at least that will be the angle you'll be beaten to death with tomorrow. They'll bury you next to Peyton Manning's rotator cuff (57 pass attempts!).

Jacksonville Jaguars 24
Denver Broncos 17- They had to pause this one on account of lightning, but Zeus himself couldn't stop David Garrard from having himself a nice 3-touchdown day. Even the Greek God of Thunder couldn't force the Jaguar faithful to not pine for Tebow though.

Yep, that's Scrawn Football: A free hack theology class in every recap.

Pittsburgh Steelers 15
Atlanta Falcons 9- That the Steelers won this game is just proof that the system doesn't work. You're supposed to lose with Dennis Dixon you jerks. Why not just start Roethlisberger and hand him a bottle of Patron then?

Tennessee Titans 38
Oakland Raiders 13- Chris Johnson tore a strip off of Oakland, going for 142 yards in a blowout. The Titans are making the playoffs this year. It's still the same team that went 13-3 two years ago, except that Chris Johnson refuses to accept expectations. He just gets better and better. And now Vince Young is proving to be a competent pivot, which makes Tennessee just that much more dangerous. They'll make the postseason, the only question is whether Houston chokes once more, or if Indy can't shake off the Super Bowl hangover in time to contend.

New York Giants 31
Carolina Panthers 18- The G-men broke in their new stadium with a win, AND:
-Hakeem Nicks caught three touchdown passes.
-Kevin Boss got injured.
-Jonathan Stewart didn't do squat.
-Eli Manning didn't bleed once.

Chicago Bears 19
Detroit Lions 14- I'll let my furious comrade explain the outcome to you:

Arizona Cardinals 17
St. Louis Rams 13- A last-ditch toss into the endzone couldn't save the day for the Rams. Bradford was called on to make plays early and often in his debut, throwing 55 passes in the game. Unfortunately, you don't get points for boyish good looks and old-timey charm.

Green Bay Packers 27
Philadelphia Eagles 20- Kevin Kolb got a concussion. Stewart Bradley got a concussion. Ryan Grant hurt his leg, somewhere. Leonard Weaver managed to rip up his knee and disgust Eagles fans in one fell swoop. Michael Vick? Looked pretty good actually. He even ripped off a vintage Vick run-and-dive play that reminded viewers that he was once poised to do great things.

Seattle Seahawks 31
San Francisco 49ers 6- And then the world remembered why they had dismissed Alex Smith in the first place.

Washington Redskins 13
Dallas Cowboys 7- I bet a group of friends a million dollar the Cowboys wouldn't throw to Roy Williams on the last play of the game. To my chagrin, Romo floated a perfect pass that landed in Williams' arms in the back of the endzone. Touchdown. I owed a million dollars despite being a bum. Then, the hold was called and the play was stricken from the record. My fictional millions are safe once more.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Chirp Show Rides Again (Our Podcast)

Real football starts tomorrow. That means fantasy teams must be cared for, bets must be placed, and jokes must be written and cocked for cracking. To aid in this, here's The Chirp Show. It's our podcast and it has two lovely gentlemen being snarky and obvious at the same time. Quite a feat, I know. You can listen at our player on the side, or at our podcast's website: The Chirp Show.

You can also subscribe to the show on iTunes via Podbean, or find our RSS feed somewhere. Toodles.