The Flaw with Strength of Victory

November 27, 2015

The Flaw with Strength of Victory

It sounds perfect on paper, the team that looks the best (passes the eye test, so to speak) is the team that is the best. That’s how it’s always been with the bowl championship series committees and has extended into the college football playoff era. A panel judges whether a team is worthy of competing for a national championship based on how they play on Saturdays.

As a whole, this makes a lot of sense. While the whole system is incredibly results-driven, there must be some way to separate the logjam of one-loss teams as the season nears its end. The problem actually really rears its head in the last few weeks, when the upsets start rolling in. Take last week, when one-loss Michigan State knocked off number three and undefeated Ohio State. That same day, one-loss Baylor handed Mike Gundy’s Cowboys their first loss of the season.

Chris Johnson

Baylor quarterback Chris Johnson carries in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015. Oklahoma State linebacker Chad Whitener (45) is at left. Baylor won 45-35. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

 

Certainly, both of these victories would seem to count as the most impressive of the weekend, and yet when the updated seeding came out, neither Baylor nor Michigan State were in the playoff picture. The obvious argument is that the victories weren’t as impressive since the teams they beat showed flaws that allowed them to get beat. So through the course of the game, Oklahoma State and Ohio State carried their banner of undefeated with a smaller flag that said they were beatable, so to speak.

By the time Michigan State and Baylor had scored their victory, it’s almost as if they actually beat a one-loss team. That’s how it appears if you look at the standings post-game anyway. Literally, it’s correct. The teams they beat are no longer undefeated and no longer hold that regard, so the jump that they make can’t be reflective of having beaten a team that’s unbeatable. It’s a logically flawed cycle, but one that must be considered.

Let’s take a look at another example from this weekend: Notre Dame. In the eighth stop of the Shamrock series, the Irish took on an underrated Boston College team in front of a roused crowd at Fenway Park. The all-green uniforms seemed symbolic of the hue one’s face would take watching both teams play offense. It was a nasty slug fest that resulted in a 19-16 victory for the Irish who remain with only one loss (to number one Clemson).

There are a few ways to look at the results of this game, we can start with the presumed feelings of the college football playoff seeding panel. Notre Dame’s five turnovers show a team with deep flaws that will likely implode in a playoff situation against a superior opponent. The problem with this thinking is two-fold. It can easily be argued that Notre Dame showed an extreme mental toughness to overcome their mistakes away from Southbend and hold on to avoid the upset, good football teams find all different ways to win. The other thing to consider is that Notre Dame has proven in the season that they can compete with the very best when they took Clemson to within a two-point conversion of overtime. That stands as easily the biggest challenge to Clemson’s undefeated campaign.

That game which finished 24-22 on an attempted Deshone Kizer run that would have tied the game has been the main reason that Notre Dame was vaulted into the top 4 anyway.

deshone-kizer-travis-blanks-ncaa-football-notre-dame-clemson-850x560

They certainly lack that “signature victory”, and perhaps their most impressive win was against an underrated Temple team that played them tough the whole way through. It’s not as though that Clemson game suddenly didn’t happen, and the Tigers still hold that undefeated banner so it’s no less impressive. Arguably, since Clemson is the most impressive team in the nation, coming the closest to beating them should, theoretically, be the most impressive feat a team can achieve. And yet, there are clear flaws with this thinking as well. What matters is the almighty “w”, of course.

So these voting panels seek to find this perfect harmony between wins and how impressive a team looks. The latter, by its very nature, is subjective. However, and no matter how many complicated algorithms go into developing this seemingly perfect system, no algorithm can make up for the human error that goes into these rankings. Therein lies the biggest problem with this whole system, arguments can be made for many one-loss teams to be in this top-4. And when the two undefeated teams at the top of the rankings aren’t one and two, criticism is clearly going to be invited. But I believe in an expanded playoff system anyway, just my two cents.

Eagles at Lions Review

November 26, 2015

This was a game the Eagles (4-7) had to have, plain and simple. Just as simply, though, they failed to show up with the sense of urgency required to win in this league.

Just a few weeks ago, the Detroit Lions were an NFL doormat, now they’re surging with three wins in a row, including a signature win against the Packers in Lambeau. It almost felt like Philadelphia didn’t know they were playing a team with talent across the board. Detroit has a young, hungry defense and a deep and versatile corps of skill players. Not to mention a man with as much arm talent as anyone in the NFL in Matthew Stafford.

All of that was on display as Stafford threw for five touchdowns, three to his favorite receiver Calvin Johnson. The defense of Detroit proved to be faster than the entire Philadelphia offense on a day where three and outs were nearly more common than first downs for the Eagles. The game plan going in for the Eagles was clearly to spread the defense thin, but the sideline-to-sideline athleticism of the Detroit linebackers shut down the running game as well as the quick-hitting lateral passing game that Chip Kelly leans heavily on.

Detroit Lions v Philadelphia Eagles

PHILADELPHIA, PA – OCTOBER 14: Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions runs after catching a pass against Nate Allen #29 of the Philadelphia Eagles during the game at Lincoln Financial Field on October 14, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Lions won 26-23 in overtime. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The Eagles defense lost a key piece early in the game, while it was still close with Nolan Carroll going down with a broken ankle. That left the Eagles with just three corners on the active roster, dangerously thin against a receiving corps headlined by Golden Tate and Calvin Johnson. Stafford went to work immediately on Carroll’s replacement, rookie Eric Rowe who was unwilling to drive on short routes, trying not to give up the big play. Eventually he got burned both ways, giving up two of Johnson’s three touchdowns.

The secondary was only part of the problem for the Eagles. Anyone not named Vinny Curry (two sacks) was completely unable to pressure Stafford who took the clean pocket and showed why he was once the number one overall pick in the draft, carving the Eagles secondary with pin-point accuracy. His most impressive throw of the day, arguably, was a drop by tight end Brandon Pettigrew. As with much of the season, the Lions were also unable to consistently run the football, but the passing game combined with a stifling defense was more than enough to win the day.

The Eagles must lick their wounds quickly, as a road trip to Foxborough to play the undefeated Patriots looms large for Chip Kelly’s unit. The Lions try to stay alive in the crowded NFC wild card race at 4-7 with the Packers visiting next week with revenge on the mind.

First Half Notes: Eagles at Lions

November 26, 2015

On the Eagles:

  • For a team still in the playoff race (albeit a weak NFC East division) it’s concerning to see such a lethargic effort from the Eagles
  • To be fair, they came out urgent on offense, converting first downs on third, but it’s the inability to convert third downs consistently that has held Philadelphia back
  • They’re in the bottom half of the league for third down conversion rate
  • The problems on offense seem to be a lack of proper personnel to run the offense Kelly wants to run, mostly because of a lack of team speed on offense
  • Sproles and Agholor look like maybe the only two fits among skill position players, perhaps also the under-utilized Josh Huff
  • Jordan Matthews is terribly miscast in the slot, he would seem to be a better fit on the outside where he can use his size, crisp route running, and strong hands to out-muscle corners (like a Calvin Johnson)
  • This offense doesn’t go without Jason Peters, plain and simple, unfortunately he’s terribly injury prone
  • Very similar problems for the Eagles defense, like Chip Kelly, Bill Davis is very schematically stubborn, as he is constantly trying to run his press-man scheme without elite corners
  • More zone would likely help out the outside corners who are constantly getting beat on crosses, drags and stopping routes in the middle of the field
  • While Walter Thurmond has flashed at times at safety, you can tell he’s new to the position, he had no concept of the depth he needed on the touchdown to Calvin Johnson that put Detroit up by 17, left rookie Eric Rowe all alone.
  • No ability to set the edge in the run game by either Brandon Graham or Cedric Thornton for the Eagles, getting burned by outside runs for at least 4 yards a clip

On the Lions:

  • Stafford is throwing the ball about as well as I’ve ever seen him throw it
  • The touchdown to Calvin Johnson could not have been defended by Rowe, it was perfect
  • Arguably a better throw by Stafford to a double-covered Brandon Pettigrew was dropped in the first quarter, my jaw dropped
  • Early on, the Lions offensive line has dominated the Eagles entire front seven, consistently picking up blitzes and holding up against the four man rush.
  • Things started to shift late in the first half, but Stafford was getting the ball out so quickly that it didn’t matter
  • Everybody loves saying the name Jim Bob Cooter
  • Seriously though, he has come in with an excellent game plan, showing a deep understanding of the holes in the Eagles defense
  • On the defensive side, the Lions show excellent team speed and are having no trouble getting stretched
  • They are also incredibly fresh, having only been on the field for a few game minutes
  • Pass rusher Ziggy Ansah had a killer inside move on Lane Johnson that resulted in a sack, he’s really coming along
  • Ditto for rookie Quandre Diggs, he has been excellent in pass coverage but perhaps more impressive in run support

Keys for the Second Half

Eagles:

  • More zone
  • Help out Eric Rowe
  • Convert third downs

Lions

  • Get the run game going
  • Pressure Mark Sanchez into mistakes
  • Let Stafford loose, he’s throwing well

Browns vs. Bengals Review

Thursday November 5, 2015

Despite a blocked punt and furious no-huddle drive in the final minutes, Johnny Manziel and the Browns offense came up short of the goal line. Unfortunately, that drive presented the only first downs the Browns had achieved through the entire second half.

Manziel, getting the start for the injured Josh McCown finally began to find rapport with wide receiver Dwayne Bowe on that final drive including an impressive fourth and ten conversion. It was too little, too late though as the Browns allowed a close 14-10 game at half-time dissolve into a 31-10 blowout.

The game began with one first down by Manziel and the offense before being forced to punt it away. Dalton and the Bengals offense came out firing early, converting a third down with a 29-yard pass to receiver Marvin Jones. Dalton eventually found tight end Tyler Eifert for the game’s first touchdown, one of three end-zone connections between Dalton and Eifert in the contest tying a franchise record for both most touchdowns in a game and the season by a tight end, three and nine respectively.

Eifert

The Browns offense responded with a field goal on the following drive before both defenses settled in. Cornerback Tramon Williams had an especially impressive night in coverage for the Browns. However on another touchdown drive before the half, critical penalties against veteran defensive lineman Randy Starks allowed the Bengals offense to stay on the field.

With the score 14-3, Manziel orchestrated a 10 play, 92 yard touchdown drive, capped by a pass from Manziel to rookie running back Duke Johnson Jr. for 12 yards with 19 seconds to play in the half. The Bengals were content with a 14-10 lead at halftime, Head Coach Marvin Lewis telling sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson that his defense needed to keep Manziel contained in the pocket.

Out of half time, the Bengals extended their lead to 17-10 while the Cincinatti defense, led by a surging defensive line put on a clinic, smothering Manziel in the pocket. The Bengals defense held the Browns offense to zero first downs in the second half until less than four minutes to go while the offense put the game out of reach with two more touchdowns from Dalton to Eifert.

The win brings the Bengals to 8-0, while the Browns fall to 2-7 with a tough road trip to Pittsburgh upcoming. The Bengals have an 11-day break before facing the Houston Texans on Monday, November 16.