Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sheep Go to Heaven

Goats go to Cleveland

Someone had to go in Baltimore, after the Ravens defense gave up a long drive and score to seal the Steelers win over the Ravens in the AFC Division playoff round, after receivers Derrick Mason and TJ Housmandzadeh both dropped passes in the final moments, Ravens team leadership huddled up and... decided to fire the quarterbacks coach.

That would of course mean former Redskins head coach Jim Zorn is once again out of a job.

As the firing became news over the past two days there have been two distinctly different threads on why it had to happen, both originating from the Baltimore Sun's Ravens Insider blog. One thread says they were unhappy with coach Zorn's self-admittedly unorthodox teaching methods.

And it is true, coach Zorn approaches the job of coaching quarterbacks truly from the inside, as a former NFL QB that achieved a measure of success under difficult circumstances in Seattle, coach Zorn is projecting himself and his experience onto his students, there is very little out of the Standard Coaching Manual in coach Zorn's approach. Think about it:

The slip and slide (with video), the pad drill (photo), flying yoga balls, get smaller in the pocket not larger, slow down time, if you do not buy into coach Zorn's methods he probably seems pretty corny.

Now look at his success in Washington. In 2007, Jason Campbell's third pro season, his first full season as Redskins starting quarterback and his second year with Bill Lazor as quarterbacks coach, Jason threw eleven interceptions and fumbled thirteen times in thirteen starts, twelve full games. Jason was pretty widely considered at that point a questionable decision maker in the pocket, toss in ball security problems and you have a recipe for a short term NFL starter.

Jim Zorn arrives in 2008 after a long and drawn out selection process, and amidst the optimism of a 6-2 start is another bit of good news: Jason Campbell has shown remarkable improvement as a quarterback in just one year. Take a look at a couple of things from Jason's final 2008 numbers:

  • No interceptions in the first six games, a 2008 total of six in sixteen games, Jason cut his per game rate of interceptions from 0.9 in 2007 to 0.4 in 2008, a year over year drop of 55%.
  • Seven fumbles in sixteen games, down from thirteen in thirteen starts, a per game rate drop from 1.0 per game to 0.4 per game, nearly a 60% drop.
I did at the time and still do attribute this improvement directly to the tutelage of Jim Zorn, professional development from which Oakland is now benefiting, with their perennial commitment to a downfield passing game, Jason Campbell will be a good fit there.

Now let us look at coach Zorn's time with Baltimore. In 2009 Joe Flacco was in his second year and already a two time playoff quarterback, and while I will argue Joe benefited from Jim Zorn's coaching, we can agree Joe maybe had less headroom for improvement. In 2010 Joe continued his progression as a professional, his passer rating went up along with his touchdown passes, his interceptions went down and he only fumbled once more than in all of 2009.

Was this all due to Jim Zorn? Not necessarily, maybe not even likely, just looking at it though, at minimum coach Zorn held serve and did not allow his pupil to regress, and at best he contributed materially to Joe Flacco's maturity.

You have to ask yourself, does it matter what are the methods if the Sunday finished product sells?

The other thread in the firings story is that the Raven organization, presumably specifically head coach John Harbaugh, was worried about coach Zorn being or becoming quote insubordinate unquote. Insubordination of course is a serious accusation, it means the person in question cannot or will not follow orders or has his own agenda at the expense of the team's or team leadership. Not a team player is the kind of thing you say about someone when you to damage their standing in their profession as they head out the door.

Here in Washington, Jim Zorn was anything but insubordinate. In fact he went much too far in order to keep his job and please his bosses: Acquiesce to consultants, relinquish playcalling authority, basically submit to all ownership demands because they brought a lawyer into the room and said you have to.

As Tony Almeida pointed out last night, the philosophy and insubordination issues may well be one and the same, one story creating team cover for the other. John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron may have cornered coach Zorn and said basically, come on dude, get with the program, we do not want to be known as the team that throws yoga balls around and calls it practice.

The coalescing conventional wisdom in all this appears to be that offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, himself a former Redskins quarterbacks coach under Norval Turner, and quarterback coach Jim Zorn were not compatible, perhaps it is a personality matter, perhaps it is a legitimate
difference of philosophy, Cam comes from the Don Coryell slash Joe Gibbs slash Norval Turner coaching tree while Jim Zorn is straight Bill Walsh slash George Seifert slash Mike Holmgren west coast offense.

Whatever it was, the end result is Cam Cameron has more authority over the Ravens offense and Jim Zorn is out of a job.

And Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is not happy about it. According to the Baltimore Sun, Joe met with owner Steve Bisciotti and coach Harbaugh and advocated for Jim Zorn, lauding his teacher for what coach Zorn had done to help Joe with his game, and left the meeting thinking the team would retain Jim Zorn next season.

They did not and have now opened a legitimate rift in the team, Joe wondering aloud if the starting quarterback's opinion matters for anything. I guess it is a good thing for the Ravens that this happened in January and not July, still plenty of time for it to blow over, and Joe Flacco is a professional.

As for Jim Zorn, stories are already emerging that he will wind up as Pat Shurmur's offensive coordinator or quarterbacks coach in Cleveland, reuniting Jim Zorn with Mike Holmgren, the man that passed him over as Seahawks coach of the future in favor of Jim Mora, who by the way was fired after one season.

Good luck on your next endeavor coach Zorn, I wish things had turned out differently for you in Washington.

Jim Zorn: AP Photo from here.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Championship Games Open Thread

Your Super Bowl teams are playing today, we just don't know which

The last epic football Sunday of the year, yeah the Super Bowl is cool, teams fight harder in these games than the big day, hold onto your hats and pour a drink, it's Championship Sunday!

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears, 3:00pm ET, FOX

Consensus point spread: Bears plus 3.5
Curly R spread pick: Packers
Curly R straight up pick: Packers

Although this may not be the better game, it is the one to which I am more looking forward, the Packers have turned out to be a scrappy bunch of winners and at this point I cannot bet against them. The Bears are no slouches though, I just think the Packers have come to Chicago to win while the Bears are here to play a game. Bonus points for this game featuring the biggest poseur quarterback and the biggest wanker quarterback left in the playoffs. Double bonus points for the Division Championship rematch. Triple bonus points for both teams losing to the Redskins this year (oh I know you just dint).

New York Jets at Pittsburgh Steelers, 6:30pm ET, CBS

Consensus point spread: Steelers minus four
Curly R spread pick: Jets
Curly R straight up pick: Steelers

This is the better game, the Jets have an historic head of steam here and despite all the naysaying, my god I am so tired of hearing Tim Ryan attack any Moving the Chains callers that evince an appreciation of the competitive fire from which the Jets' trash talk comes, I love the cockiness. You talk shit, you go back it up and if you cannot, then you shrug and say I lost, see you next year. New York may be the better team here this week, the Steelers find ways to win, do not bet against them at home. Take a drink every time Jim Nantz or Phil Simms mentions Ben Roethlisberger's season opening suspension, and finish your drink if they mention the allegation was sexual assault.

The wife and I are heading over to watch the early game with friends, a married couple, they are united in puerile mutual frat love for the University of Georgia Bulldogs, but on the pro gridiron she roots straight Green Bay and he loves Da Bears. Indeed, marital vows will be tested today.

This is the Championship gameday open thread.

Composite image by me, NFL logos from here.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday Division Playoffs Open Thread

Wouldn't it be hilarious if...

Two more football games today, in the traditional playoff timeslots, another great day of NFL playoffs.

Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears, 1:00 pm ET, FOX

Consensus point spread: Bears minus ten
Curly R spread pick: Seahawks
Curly R straight up pick: Bears

The Bears have really come together as a team since the bad old days when the Redskins beat them on four DeAngelo Hall interceptions of Jay Cutler, in fact since that October game leading into the Chicago bye, the Bears only lost twice, once to the unstoppable Patriots and in the season closer against the Packers when Chicago's playoff seed was set and the team had nothing to play for. As for Seattle, the story comes down to this: All the football trolls of the world like me are desperately hoping to see a 9-9 team host the NFC Championship just to piss off those butthurt over a losing team getting into the playoffs.

New York Jets at New England Patriots, 4:30 pm ET, CBS

Consensus point spread: Patriots minus 9.5
Curly R spread pick: Patriots
Curly R straight up pick: Patriots

This is the heavyweight match of the weekend, and another Divisional playoff rubber match to boot. Jets players have been running their mouths, emulating head coach Rex Ryan, make no mistake I love the Jets' devil may care attitude when it comes to giving bulletin board material to the other team, the game would be much more enjoyable for fans if the players would talk a little more trash. The problem with this strategy is the Patriots are assassins and assassins cannot be reasoned with, cannot be intimidated and take no prisoners. I expect this game to look more like the Patriots 45-3 blowout from December than the Jets 28-14 September win.

This is a playoff gameday open thread.

Composite image by me, NFL logos from here.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Saturday Division Playoffs Open Thread

Grudge match

Best football weekend of the year here kids, time to wallow.

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers, 4:30 pm ET, CBS

Consensus point spread: Steelers minus three
Curly R spread pick: Ravens
Curly R straight up pick: Ravens

Two teams that flat just do not get along, I love to see Division matchups in the playoffs, this is the third time these teams have met this year, with the road team winning each game. The Steelers, who many thought would be dead out of the gate missing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the first quarter of the season on a suspension, look more like they do now than they did before, that receiver Mike Wallace would look pretty good in burgundy and gold. I just think Baltimore is peaking now and with Ray Rice and that defense Baltimore will overwhelm Pittsburgh.

Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons, 8:00 pm ET, FOX

Consensus point spread: Falcons minus one
Curly R spread pick: Packers
Curly R straight up pick: Packers

Time to put my pretend money where my real mouth is, I have seen the Packers play a lot this year and I have not seen the Falcons so much. The Packers are simply a team that is in every game, I heard a stat on Sirius NFL Radio this week, I have not confirmed it but it sounds plausible, the Packers have never been down in a game this season by more than seven points? Wow, even if that is not a real stat it sounds like these Packers, they are not a dominating team, they are simply well put together. As far as Atlanta goes, surprise me guise.

This is a playoff gameday open thread.

Composite image by me, NFL logos from here.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Sunday Wildcard Playoffs Open Thread

Road trip!

Two great games last night, two more good ones today, in the traditional NFL playoff timeslots, belly up and let's watch some football!

Baltimore Ravens at Kansas City Chiefs, 1:00 pm ET, CBS

Consensus point spread: Chiefs plus three
Curly R spread pick: Ravens
Curly R straight up pick: Ravens

The Ravens are a serious Super Bowl contender, maybe the team with the best chance of getting past the Patriots, Todd Haley had his one year turnaround in Kansas City, driven entirely be bringing in Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel, two guys that are much more football smarter than Todd, with Charlie's inexplicable departure to the University of Florida the Chiefs will sink back to a more comfortable 6-10 level, I think Baltimore wins this one in a walkover.

Green Bay Packers at Philadelphia Eagles, 4:30 pm ET, FOX

Consensus point spread: Eagles minus 2.5
Curly R spread pick: Packers
Curly R straight up pick: Packers

Thanks to my game partner lifetime Eagles fan, season ticket holder and Curly R reader/lurker Wilbert Montgomery, I will be attending this game in Philadelphia, as I write this he awaits me downstairs so we can hit the road. I will pick up the thread from Tim Ryan and pat Kirwan on Sirius NFL Radio Moving the Chains from Friday, I think the Packers are the more complete team, but if I am wrong on any game this weekend, it is this one. Oh, this is not my first Packers-Eagles playoff game, I was also at 4th and 26 in 2004.

This is a playoff gameday open thread.

Composite image by me, NFL logos from here.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Saturday Wildcard Playoffs Open Thread

The good, the ugly and the bad

The playoffs are here kids, we got an afternoon tilt and an evening affair, pour a drink(s) and let's watch some football.

New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks, 4:30 pm ET, NBC

Consensus point spread: Seahawks plus ten
Curly R spread pick: Seahawks
Curly R straight up pick: Saints

The defending Super Bowl champion Saints must travel to play the first ever 7-9 playoff team, the Seahawks who are in head coach Jim Pete Carroll's first year, boy that guy hightailed it out of Southern Cal while the getting was good didn't he? For those butthurt football elitists that are arguing the playoff team with the better record should always host the game, stop and use your idiot brain, the current system IS SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED TO REWARD TEAMS FOR WINNING THE DIVISION. If you want to see the quote better unquote team host the game, then just do away with Divisions and let the teams all just compete as a Conference.

New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts, 8:00 pm ET, NBC

Consensus point spread: Colts minus 2.5
Curly R spread pick: Colts
Curly R straight up pick: Colts

I have seen the magical Peyton Manning this season, as in the game he played against the Redskins, and I have seen the human Peyton, as in the game he played against the Eagles. I think we will see the magical Peyton tomorrow. I love New York coach Rex Ryan's enthusiasm and bravado and how he seems to capture the essence of the Jets, meaning when he finally leaves town it will be in disgrace.

This is a playoff gameday open thread.

Composite image by me, NFL logos from here.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Game 16: Redskins (6-9) vs. Giants (9-6)


My Take in 60 Words or Less: All that is left is spoiling. So go do it. I'm going to the Eagles-Cowboys game. /2010season