Don't sweat the small stuff, Part 2
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jul 31, 2006
A repeat of the segment intro, and Part 2, appear below.
It's the height of summer and a time when everyone on Planet Pigskin sweats like a 300-pound porker.
Players sweat from the gross physical exertion of dragging oversized bodies through the swampy air of a tropical football camp. Those here on Planet Pigskin who live a more sedentary lifestyle – that would be you, the beer-and-pizza-fueled football fan – sweat out every little training camp move, analyzing and overanalyzing its potential impact on your team's upcoming season.
Here's some advice to help you keep your barbecue-sauce-stained wife beater dry and your preseason a sane one: Don't sweat the small stuff.
Instead, sit back, relax and take a long lusty swig of icy and refreshing Cold, Hard Football Facts.
We tend to look at football from a big-picture point of view. We've discovered that there are big, broad themes that govern the game – the universal truths of Planet Pigskin as dictated to us by the Newtonian physics of football. These trends tend to give us a little perspective, one that causes us not to fret, overanalyze or sweat here during steamy training camp season.
Here, then, is a big-picture NFL training camp overview, with an emphasis on the trends and pigskin proverbs that govern the game. We even provide a few inaction items to help keep you cool.
Part 2 is here. Part 1 appeared yesterday.
Chill out: The NFC is a rudderless ship
Sorry, fans of the NFL's senior circuit, but Super Bowl XL proved to the Cold, Hard Football Facts that the NFC is still a second-rate conference. It should remain one for the foreseeable future.
The NFC has not had a winning record against the AFC since 1995, the year that marked the end of the most recent Dallas dynasty. The relationship reached its all-time low point in 2004, when the NFC won just 20 of 64 games in interconference play (a winning percentage of .312). That mark tied the worst performance by one conference against another since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 (the old AFL teams of the AFC had the same .312 mark against the NFC in 1970).
The NFC rebounded nicely in 2005, taking 30 of 64 games (.469). But the fact that Seattle, a team that dominated the NFC (10-2 in conference play), could not beat the AFC wild-card Steelers in the Super Bowl despite topping them in every statistical category and having the benefit of a subpar Ben Roethlisberger passing performance stands as a testament to the current futility of the NFC.
(Seattle's position in the NFL hierarchy is easily explained, like many things, by the Quality Wins Quotient. Yes, the Seahawks posted a conference-best 13-3 record. But they faced just five quality opponents in the regular season. Every other NFC team faced at least seven quality opponents, and nine of them faced nine or more. Seattle finished behind three AFC teams in the final postseason quality standings.)
This disparity between the AFC and NFC is puzzling when you consider there have been few periods in NFL history when a single conference was blessed with so many "Big Name" and/or proven head coaches.
Washington's Joe Gibbs is already in the Hall of Fame. Dallas's Bill Parcells is destined for it. Guys such as Philly's Andy Reid, Tampa's Jon Gruden and Carolina's John Fox have had impressive young careers highlighted by a Super Bowl appearance and – should they continue – could find themselves heading into Canton some day.
The coaching prowess of the conference is evident when you consider that the four coaches of the NFC East boast nearly has many Super Bowl appearances and victories as the entire collection of 16 AFC coaches:
- NFC coaches: 13 Super Bowl appearances, 7 victories
- AFC coaches: 9 Super Bowl appearances, 7 victories
- NFC East coaches: 8 Super Bowl appearances, 5 victories
But here's the problem: Those NFC numbers represent more historic than recent success. Holmgren has lost his last two Super Bowl appearances. His lone victory came 10 years ago. Andy Reid in Philly and Bill Parcells in Dallas have each lost their most recent appearance. The Kool-Aid-drinking Cult of Tuna seems to forget that new species have evolved and grown extinct since Parcells last won a title. It's been two decades since his first Super Bowl victory and 16 years since his last. Washington's Joe Gibbs, a Cold, Hard Football Facts favorite, was working the NASCAR circuit for 11 years, but even he has won a Super Bowl more recently than Parcells. Still, Gibbs's last taste of Super Bowl success came back in January 1992.
Gruden is the only active NFC coach who's won a Super Bowl over the past nine seasons. Gibbs has shown he can get a team back into the playoffs in just two seasons; Fox seems like he has what it takes to win in the postseason. Jim Mora Jr. has put together a solid record in his two years as a head coach.
But despite several salty old captains and some promising young upstarts, the NFC remains a ship adrift, led by coaching legends whose better days may be well behind them.
Inaction item: Look at your coach's postseason track record. Has he proven he can get it done? Has he proven he can get it done this century? Has your team proven it can consistently beat quality opponents? If it's an NFC team, has it proven it can compete with the powers of the AFC?
Chill out: Bad organizations make bad decisions
Big companies love to post those nifty slogans around the office, such as "Our employees are our biggest asset," or – if you have one of the three industrial jobs left in the U.S. – "Through these doors pass the best shipbuilders in the world."
The office slogan is supposed to make you feel good about yourself. But if you have any sense of dignity, you probably cringe every time you see it. It's like getting a happy face sticker on the math homework of life. The worst part is that the managers who craft these witty slogans don't believe them, either. In fact, management schools teach people that the most important aspect of any organization is, yes, management.
Behind any large, winning organization is a first-rate management team. If you have first-rate management, you attract first-rate employees – for our purposes, these would be top coaches and players. This organizational strength means more in football than it does in any other sport. Football teams field more players. They have the largest coaching staffs. They have the most moving parts. The salary cap, meanwhile, makes it difficult to horde talent the way the Yankees or Red Sox do in baseball or the ways teams could in earlier eras of the NFL.
Football requires strength up and down the lineup of both players and coaches. It takes a well-run management machine to pull it all together.
Some organizations seem like they're always in the hunt. Others always suck. The reason is simple: Some organizations have good management. Others do not. Sad-sack franchises will often remain that way until there's a major shake-up in ownership and/or management. The once-mighty Cowboys suffered through three straight losing seasons when Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989. They then reeled off three Super Bowl titles by 1995.
New England was the league's biggest laughingstock through its first 35 years. Since the Kraft family bought the team in 1994, it's been the dominant franchise in pro football.
San Francisco went through a 15-year period of success in the 1980s and 1990s that is unmatched in length by any other NFL dynasty. Hall of Fame coaches and quarterbacks left the team. But the juggernaut rolled on. It only ended when, yes, management changed. Ed DeBartolo Jr. left the organization in 1997, amid charges of bribery in Louisiana. Owner John York, who married into the DeBartolo family that operated the team in its glory years, has run the once-mighty San Francisco franchise into the ground since taking it over in 2000. (The woeful York years are chronicled in a great fan site, www.dumpyork.com.)
The ability of new coaches, meanwhile, to inject life into downtrodden teams is well-documented throughout the history of football – at all levels.
Some organizations seem to never learn their lesson. Cincy looked last year like it was on the verge of turning itself into a truly competitive organization. Its 11-5 record, the AFC North title (accurately predicted by the Cold, Hard Football Facts) and the ascension of quarterback Carson Palmer have all given the organization and its fans reason for great optimism – assuming Palmer returns from his devastating knee injury.
But this offseason has been a disaster, with four Bengals players arrested for various off-the-field infractions. Sure, the players are responsible for their own behavior. But the management of any organization is responsible for the quality of the people it hires.
Cincy management sensed success and then made a deal with the devil to make it happen. This was proven by the organization's decision to nab a player in the supplemental draft, Virginia linebacker Ahmad Brooks, who had been kicked off the university's football team. The Bengals were the only team to select a player in the supplemental draft, and their choice merely reinforced the sense of organizational drift. Whether the Bengals can overcome the offseason PR disaster remains to be seen. But history is not on their side.
Arizona is the undisputed worst franchise in the history of the NFL, as its two (count 'em, 2) postseason victories in 86 seasons of football can attest. Hope springs eternal in the Arizona desert this offseason. But it shouldn't. Cardinals management has dumped all its resources into offense – in the free-agent market and in the draft – under the assumption that Big Name offensive players alone will help them rise to mediocrity.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals are not just bad in almost every area, they're also extremely inefficient in most areas.
- Arizona finished 31st in defensive efficiency in 2005
- Arizona finished 30th in offensive efficiency in 2005
- Arizona failed to beat a single quality opponent in eight attempts in 2005, and was outscored by a two-touchdown margin per game in these eight contests (15.8 PF, 28.5 PA)
Arizona, in other words, is nowhere near being a competitive football team this year. But that's no surprise if you don't sweat the small stuff and look at the big-picture NFL: Some names and faces have changed, but Arizona's pitiful ownership is still the same.
In the crystal ball of the Cold, Hard Football Facts, that's a portent of another long season ahead.
Inaction item: Study your team's ownership. Is your team's owner named Bidwell, Brown or York? If so, join fellow fans and lobby for a regime change. Does your team's season end the same disappointing way every year? If yes, has management opted to attack the 2006 season a different way? Insanity, as they say, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Don't be insane. Use the Cold, Hard Football Facts as your guide to the 2006 season.
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