28 August 2009

Football thoughts

ESPN | Greg Easterbrook | Welcome to the AFC Preview

AFC East investments in quarterbacks in the past decade, by teams other than New England: five first-round draft choices, nine second-round choices, one third-rounder, two fourth-rounders, plus several other starters. Result: Buffalo, Jersey/B and Miami enter this season with average or unsettled quarterback situations. Investments by New England in the same period: a third-round and fourth-round choice used, but first- and second-round choices gained (from trading Drew Bledsoe and Matt Cassel), leaving the team ahead in draft terms. Result: Patriots enter the season with a former NFL MVP, Tom Brady, at quarterback. One reason New England consistently wins is because the Flying Elvii aren't sinking high draft choices or trade value into quarterbacks, like everyone else. In the past quarter-century, New England has spent only two first-round choices (Bledsoe, 1993; Tony Eason, 1983) and no second-round choices on quarterbacks. All those picks not expended on quarterbacks mean lots of defensive backs, guards, tight ends and other less glamorous players drafted, and a team with a deep, quality roster. For instance, the entire center of the New England defensive front -- Jerod Mayo, Ty Warren, Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork -- is made up of high-first-round picks. This is possible because the team invests so little in drafting quarterbacks.
If you limit the amount of money a team can spend on purchasing on-field talent, the sensible thing for them to do is to purchase off-field talent. I think the Pats have lined up great talent, both in Belichick and his coaching staff, and in the front office. That's where you can get a competitive advantage. I don't actually know if New England is paying these guys more, but they should be, because I think they're getting a huge leg up on the competition by being smart off the field.

Same deal in college, by the way. When ND can't pay the Jimmy Clausens what they want, they're almost bound to lavish salary on the Charlie Weises. (Well, they can pay Jimmy Clausen, and do, they just can't do it in cash. They're paying him the value of tuition, room, board and books for four years, plus the lifetime value of a diploma, which is the same thing they pay all their other players, and the same thing other colleges would pay him.)
The Patriots' spread is also fast-paced -- New England had 1,097 offensive snaps in 2008, the most in the league, by getting to the line quickly. The more snaps your offense runs, the more opportunities for yards.
Key to success right there, at all levels of the game. If you're smarter and better drilled and better conditioned you can get more snaps than the other guys, and you've got yourself an instant advantage. (Although you should adjust this statistic to be snaps per minute of possession to get a better correlation, I suspect.)

PS Greg Easterbrook does football analysis for ESPN. Really? Cool. The post linked above alternates between the AFC preview and economic analysis. It feels like being at a grad school party, bouncing constantly between normal conversation and geekiness.

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