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In January, I calculated the AV-adjusted age of every team in 2013. In February, I looked at the production-adjusted height for each team’s receivers. Today, we combine those two ideas, and see which teams had the youngest and oldest set of targets.

To calculate the average receiving age of each team, I calculated a weighted average of the age of each player on that team, weighted by their percentage of team receiving yards. For example, Anquan Boldin caught 36.7% of all San Francisco receiving yards, and he was 32.9 years old as of September 1, 2013. Therefore, his age counts for 36.7% of the 49ers’ average receiving age. Vernon Davis, who was 29.6 on 9/1/13, caught 26.5% of the team’s receiving yards last year, so his age matters more than all other 49ers but less than Boldin’s. The table below shows the average age for each team’s receivers (which includes tight ends and running backs) in 2013, along with the percentage of team receiving yards and age as of 9/1/13 for each team’s top four receiving leaders: [click to continue…]

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Predictions in Review: AFC North

During the 2013 offseason, I wrote 32 articles under the RPO 2013 tag. In my Predictions in Review series, I review those preview articles with the benefit of hindsight. Previously, I reviewed the AFC West, the NFC West, the the AFC South, and the NFC South. Today, the AFC North.

Marvin Lewis, Jim Mora, and the Playoffs, May 30, 2013

In this article, I noted that Marvin Lewis had coached the Bengals for ten seasons without recording a playoff victory.  That was pretty unique: Since 1966, only Jim Mora had coached a team for longer without notching a playoff victory, and he was fired by the New Orleans Saints in his 11th year after a 2-6 start. Well, Lewis now stands alone in the Super Bowl era, as the only coach to fail to record a playoff win in 11 straight seasons and then be brought back for season twelve.

Since I wrote that article, though, I’ve become much more sympathetic to Lewis.  For years, it was easy to take pot shots at his ridiculous use of challenges or his failure to be aggressive when the situation warranted it, but I now think Lewis is one of the better coaches in the league.  He seems to have a knack for connecting with his players, he’s surrounded himself with very good coaches, and you get the sense that he has more on his plate organizationally than the typical head coach.  He’s the de facto GM, unless you consider Mike Brown the real man building the franchise.  And he’s developed one of the most talented rosters in the league, even if Andy Dalton turns into a pumpkin every January.

Of course, that is just cold comfort to Bengals fans who have witnessed the team go 0-11 in the Lewis era when it comes to recording a playoff victory. On the other hand, Cincinnati didn’t win a playoff game in any of the 12 seasons immediately preceding the Lewis hire, either.  But Lewis’ streak is particularly notable for just how rare his tenure has been in today’s environment. [click to continue…]

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Wildcard Preview: San Diego at Cincinnati

Every few years, a team like the 2013 Chargers makes the playoffs. This season, San Diego’s offense ranked 3rd in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, while the defense ranked 3rd to last in the same metric. And these teams, without exception, have flamed out in the playoffs. The Chargers also ranked 2nd in NY/A and 2nd to last in NY/A allowed, but I’m going to focus on ANY/A for the rest of this post.

The worst pass defense to win the Super Bowl was the 1976 Raiders. That year, Oakland’s pass defense produced the 10th worst ANY/A allowed average in the league. The only other Super Bowl champion that ranked in the bottom half of the league in ANY/A allowed was the 2011 Giants, who just barely qualify (New York ranked 17th in ANY/A allowed, or 16th from the bottom).

The table below shows each team since 1970 that ranked in the top five in ANY/A and in the bottom five in ANY/A allowed. Because of the different numbers of teams throughout the league’s history, I ranked teams from worst to best when calculating the ANY/A allowed ranks. The most recent team prior to the ’13 Chargers to make the playoffs while meeting those thresholds was the 2005 Patriots. That team, quarterbacked by Tom Brady and coached by Bill Belichick, ranked 5th in ANY/A and 4th from the bottom in ANY/A allowed. New England went 10-6 that year, and then 1-1 in the playoffs. As you can see, the postseason results for this group have been pretty uninspiring. And, as Chargers fans will notice, it includes a pair of Air Coryell teams: [click to continue…]

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If I throw a spiral, I pledge to use one challenge in the first quarter

If I throw a spiral, I pledge to use one challenge in the first quarter.

Marvin Lewis has coached the Bengals for ten seasons. To his credit, Lewis has helped resurrect the worst franchise of the 1990s; on the other hand, Lewis has not won a playoff game in ten years with the Bengals. That’s unheard of in this era where coaches are expected to win and win big right away. No other active coach has gone even five straight seasons with his current franchise without a playoff victory. At the end of the 2012 year, four coaches — Andy Reid in Philadelphia, Jim Schwartz in Detroit, and Norv Turner in San Diego — had gone four straight years, and Reid and Turner were both fired after the season. Schwartz was given a longer leash after he inherited an 0-16 team, but he is now on the hot seat. Only three others coaching at the end of 2012 had gone even three straight years for the same team without a playoff win — Buffalo’s Chan Gailey, Mike Shanahan in Washington, and Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona. Shanahan made the playoffs last year but lost, while Gailey and Whisenhunt were both replaced.1

Prior to the Super Bowl era, there was only one playoff game a year (other than playoff games to break ties). Since 1966, Lewis is one of just two coaches to coach one team for a decade and fail to win a playoff game.2 The 11th, the elder Jim Mora, was fired by the New Orleans Saints in his 11th year after a 2-6 start. The table below shows each coach since 1966 who was the head coach for the same team for five straight years and failed to win a playoff game during that stretch. The “First Yr” and “Last Yr” columns show the first and last years of the streaks, not of the coach’s tenure. Coaches who were fired in the middle of their last season are marked by an asterisk, while coaches whose reign started in mid-season (but who are treated as if they coached the entire season) are marked with a “+” sign.
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  1. Jason Garrett and Leslie Frazier technically meet the requirement, too, but they only coached for the second half of the season in 2010. []
  2. If you want to look before the Super Bowl era, there were two longer streaks. Steve Owen was the Giants head coach from 1931 to 1953. He compiled a 151-100-17 record and won two championships with New York, but those were the only two seasons he won a playoff game. The last fifteen years of his coaching career he did not win a playoff game. Bears owner/coach George Halas did not win a playoff game from 1947 to 1962. That was a stretch of fourteen seasons (he did not coach in ’56 or ’57), and it only included one playoff loss. []
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Season in review: AFC and NFC North

On Monday, I examined the seasons of the teams in the AFC and NFC East. Today I will do the same for the AFC and NFC North, starting in the AFC.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pre-season Projection: 10 wins
Maximum wins: 11 wins (after weeks 2, 5, and 9)
Minimum wins: 8 (after week 16)
Week 1 comment: Sunday Night was one of the best games I’ve seen from Ben Roethlisberger. An elite team that will be favored to win most weeks, although questions remain about the offensive line, the running backs, and the age of the defense.

Pittsburgh started off 6-3 and looked like a contender, but tanked in the second half of the season once Roethlisberger went down. Even when Roethlisberger returned, the offense never quite looked right. Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, and Rashard Mendenhall were unexciting plodders, which is an improvement over the 25 carries that went to Baron Batch. No Steeler finished the season with more than two rushing touchdowns. In the passing game, Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown both failed to match last year’s lofty numbers. The potential was there, but the results were not in Pittsburgh in 2012.

On the other side of the ball, Pittsburgh’s defense performed well by conventional measures — through week 16 (which is when they were knocked out of the playoff race), they ranked 1st in yards allowed and first downs allowed, and ranked 2nd in net yards per attempt allowed, rushing yards and rushing yards per carry allowed. But the defense wasn’t really up to Steelers standards — through week 16, they ranked 10th in points allowed and, more damningly, had forced more turnovers than just three teams. Pittsburgh allowed 5 4th quarter game-winning drives, which ultimately cost them the playoffs.

Baltimore Ravens

Pre-season Projection: 10 wins
Maximum wins: 11 wins (first after week 3, last after week 13)
Minimum wins: 9 wins (after week 15)
Week 1 comment: Great performance on Monday Night, but I have to imagine missing Terrell Suggs is going to hurt this team. He’s too good to simply expect business as usual in Baltimore, and their schedule (AFC West, NFC East, Houston, New England outside the division) is riddled with traps.

The schedule was riddled with traps, but the Ravens rode some late-game success and excellent special teams to a 9-2 record. At that point, I wrote: I still don’t believe in this team, because they aren’t going to have amazing special teams or amazing 4th and 29 conversions every week.

Joe Flacco had a solid but not great year, while Ray Rice continued to prove effective when given the carries. The big issue for Baltimore was defensively. Through 16 weeks, the Ravens ranked 20th in yards allowed, 18th in NY/A, and 24th in first downs allowed. While the Ravens won the North, 8 games out of Terrell Suggs, 6 games of Ray Lewis, and 6 games of Lardarius Webb simply wasn’t enough to give them the defense Ravens fans were used to seeing.
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From the Colorado School of Mines to the NFL

Unless you follow Division II football, you probably aren’t familiar with the name Bob Stitt. He’s the head coach at the Colorado School of Mines, and here is what Bruce Feldman wrote about him in the summer of 2011 in connection with the One-Back Clinic, an annual meeting of a few of the sharpest minds in college football:

Stitt is the 45-year-old head coach at Colorado School of Mines, a Division II school just down the road from the Coors facility in Golden, Co. Stitt is a regular to the one-back clinic and has become pals with [Dana] Holgorsen and the rest of the core crowd. His teams win big despite dealing with high academic requirements… Stitt’s topic is the pistol offense and back-shoulder throws. As you’ll find out, Stitt is a huge believer in the back-shoulder throw. He talks about it the way Jared talks about Subway. “If this stuff works with our guys, it’ll probably work with the guys you have,” he says. “We’re an engineering school, and we only have one major, engineering. Our average ACT score in math is 29.” That line draws the biggest “Oooh!” of the day. . . .

The tricky part of Stitt’s tact — as is the case with many of the things discussed here — is that it’s hard to say just how well these things could be replicated someplace else. “I love coming to this because it reinforces a lot of what we do, ” one coach says. “Sometimes you might get one or two things you can try out from a technique or a practice point.” It’s also pretty good for networking because you never know what position might open a few months from now.

That was only a year and a half ago, but Stitt’s fame has grown considerably since then. He’s become famous in some circles for the Fly Sweep, a play brought to the national state when Holgorsen repeatedly used the Fly Sweep in the Orange Bowl eleven months ago. So what is the Fly Sweep?

On most plays, West Virginia has Geno Smith in shotgun in a fairly standard shotgun spread look. On the Fly Sweep, the Mountaineers would motion a wide receiver/running back, usually Tavon Austin, before the snap, and have him accelerate as he approached the quarterback. When well-executed, the snap would arrive in Smith’s hands for just a fraction of a second before he would pitch the ball forward to Austin, who would be arriving between the center and the quarterback just a second after the ball was snapped. Already in motion and with the ball in his hands, Austin would then be able to use his considerable speed and quickness to get in space and rack up yards against an unprepared defense.

Well, in the Orange Bowl, it was executed perfectly. For four touchdowns. Take a look:

One of the benefits of the play is that it is low risk: if the quarterback/sweep exchange is mishandled, it’s simply an incomplete pass because the quarterback is technically throwing the ball forwards. So why the post today? Well, last week, the Stitt Sweep (my post, I get to pick the name) entered the NFL. I’m not sure if Jay Gruden picked up the play from his time in the Arena Football League or the World Football League — or maybe from just watching last year’s Orange Bowl — but there’s no doubt where the inspiration came from the Bengals first touchdown of the game against the Cowboys. You can see Andy Dalton’s touchdown “pass” to Andrew Hawkins at the 40-second mark of this video.

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The first Monday night of the regular season gives us two football games to enjoy. At 7:00, the Bengals travel to Baltimore giving Cincinnati an immediate chance to prove that last year’s playoff berth was no fluke. At 10:15, the Chargers travel to Oakland and look to show that missing out on the last two postseasons was nothing more than a fluke.

Let’s start with the Bengals. In 2011, Cincinnati lost every game they played against playoff teams and won every game against non-playoff teams. The nine wins came against Cleveland (twice), Buffalo, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Seattle, Tennessee, St. Louis and Arizona. On the other hand, the Bengals lost twice each to Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Houston, and lost in Denver and San Francisco early in the year.

That is more an interesting bit of trivia than anything else. No team since the merger had ever done that before, and only two pre-merger teams managed to pull of that feat.1 For the Bengals, the odd split is more an embarrassing blemish that rival fans can point to than anything else. It’s not as if the Bengals can’t beat playoff teams, it’s simply that they didn’t. In 1969, the Cowboys went 0-3 against playoff teams and 11-0-1 against non-playoff teams; the next season, Dallas made the Super Bowl and in 1971 the Cowboys won it. Lombardi’s Packers pulled off the same feat in the middle of their great run: in ’63, Green Bay was 0-2 against playoff teams and 11-0-1 against non-playoff teams a year after having one of the most dominant seasons in football history. The Bengals weren’t a great team last year, but had they gone 7-2 against non-playoff teams and 2-5 in the regular season against playoff teams, would they — or rather, should they — be viewed as any better? Swapping a win against Pittsburgh and Baltimore for losses against say, Cleveland and Seattle?
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  1. In the early ’50s, the playoffs consisted of just a championship game between the two division winners. In 1953, the 49ers lost both games division rival Detroit and to Eastern division champ Cleveland; the 49ers went 9-0 against the rest of the league. The year before, the Rams pulled off the same feat: they lost week 1 in Cleveland, week 2 against Detroit, and week 4 in Detroit, while winning every other game. That gave them a 9-3 record, the same as the Lions, which at the time mandated a play-in game. Detroit beat Los Angeles in that one, too. If you limit the study to just regular season results, you end up with two more teams. In 1999, the Jacksonville Jaguars went 14-0 against non-playoff teams but lost both games to division rival Tennessee; the Titans would also defeat the Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game, proving that Tom Coughlin was incapable of winning the big one. And in 1950, the Cleveland Browns were swept by division rival New York but won every other game that season; they didn’t face Western Division champ Los Angeles in the regular season. Cleveland ended the season 10-2, just like the Giants. The Browns avoided losing a third straight game to New York, winning 8-3 in the play-in game, and then captured the NFL championship by defeating Los Angeles the next week. []
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The San Francisco 49ers were the breakout team of the 2011 season, going from 6-10 in 2010 to 13-3 last year. The Cincinnati Bengals were the surprise team of the AFC, jumping from four to nine wins and earning a playoff berth. The Houston Texans, Detroit Lions, and Denver Broncos all made the playoffs after notching four more wins in 2011 than they had in 2010. But could you have known after just one week that those teams were on track for such breakout seasons? Let’s review.

San Francisco 49ers 33, Seattle 17

The 49ers were Super Bowl contenders as long as Ginn was returning punts.

This was an odd game, and Jason McIntyre explains why:

San Francisco had just 12 first downs and 209 yards … but still beat the Seahawks by 16 points. The real reason the 49ers won was because Ted Ginn ran a punt and kickoff back for touchdowns in a span of 59 seconds. But offensively, Frank Gore averaged 2.7 ypc and Alex Smith threw for just 124 yards. San Francisco had the ball for 31 minutes and mustered only 12 first downs. As bad as the 49ers looked offensively, the defense did sack T-Jack five times and generate three turnovers. But if the 49ers couldn’t move the ball against a mediocre Seahawks defense … what will they be able to do against the Cowboys, which annihilated the Jets’ offensive line Sunday night? The 49ers have opened as 3-point dogs against Dallas next weekend … I humbly suggest loading up on Romo in that one. No word if San Fran will be without Michael Crabtree.

The 49ers offense wasn’t impressive, but San Francisco’s defense and special teams were dominant. That formula proved to work all season, although few expected it to work against teams better than Seattle. At the time Seattle was considered one of the worst teams in the league (they were a 14-point underdog in Pittsburgh the following week), which made the victory look even less impressive. After week one, Jason Lisk unveiled his Week 1 Power rankings, placing NFL teams into seven tiers. The 49ers were placed in Tier 6 with the comment “When you need two returns by Ted Ginn to put away the Seahawks, you are not good.” ESPN’s power rankings placed San Francisco at #22.

Cincinnati 27, Cleveland 17
This was an ugly game that caught almost nobody’s attention. The big stories of the game were the officiating and the performance of Bruce Gradkowski, who came and led Cincinnati to a win after Andy Dalton was injured. Many in Cleveland blamed the referees, as the Browns were flagged for 11 penalties, compared to just three for Cincinnati. And on the game’s pivotal play — a 41-yard touchdown to A.J. Green — the Browns were still in their defensive huddle at the start of the play, and later argued that the quick snap wasn’t a legal play. The Bengals defense was excellent, shutting down Peyton Hillis and Colt McCoy, but many thought that was simply a product of the schedule. Suffice it to say, no one was boarding the Bengals’ bandwagon after week one. Lisk placed Cincinnati in Tier 5: “Still not sold here, especially if Bruce Gradkowski is QB. Haden shut down Green until the play where he was uncovered at the snap, and Benson’s numbers boosted by a late TD run.” ESPN ranked the Bengals 30th… and the Browns 32nd. The Bengals would lose in Denver and in San Francisco the next two weeks, dropping to 1-2.
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Chris Chambers' career path did not follow an upward trajectory.

In the first post at Football Perspective, I noted that A.J. Green became the first player in over 25 years to be the first wide receiver drafted and then lead all rookies in receiving yards during his rookie season. It’s a good thing that Green has a knack for bucking trends, because he’s going to want to do it again.

Ten years ago, Doug Drinen wondered how often the top rookie wide receiver ended up having the best career among his classmates. At the time, he was discussing Chris Chambers — yes, he was the top rookie in 2001 — and was surprised by the results.

The research showed that for the period between 1981 and 2000, the top rookie receiver almost never ended up as the top wideout from his class. Doug was correct in speculating that because of that track record, Chambers was a bad bet to end up being the best receiver among all 2001 rookies, despite Chambers having had the best rookie year.

Here’s a look at the top rookie receivers from 2001 based on receiving yards, along with three other notable wideouts:

Games Receiving
Rk Player Year Age Draft Tm Lg G GS Rec Yds Y/R TD Y/G
1 Chris Chambers 2001 23 2-52 MIA NFL 16 7 48 883 18.40 7 55.2
2 Rod Gardner 2001 24 1-15 WAS NFL 16 16 46 741 16.11 4 46.3
3 Koren Robinson 2001 21 1-9 SEA NFL 16 13 39 536 13.74 1 33.5
4 Snoop Minnis 2001 24 3-77 KAN NFL 13 11 33 511 15.48 1 39.3
5 Quincy Morgan 2001 24 2-33 CLE NFL 16 9 30 432 14.40 2 27.0
6 David Terrell 2001 22 1-8 CHI NFL 16 6 34 415 12.21 4 25.9
7 Reggie Wayne 2001 23 1-30 IND NFL 13 9 27 345 12.78 0 26.5
8 Drew Bennett 2001 23 TEN NFL 14 1 24 329 13.71 1 23.5
9 Chad Ochocinco 2001 23 2-36 CIN NFL 12 3 28 329 11.75 1 27.4
10 Freddie Mitchell 2001 23 1-25 PHI NFL 15 1 21 283 13.48 1 18.9
11 T.J. Houshmandzadeh 2001 24 7-204 CIN NFL 12 1 21 228 10.86 0 19.0
16 Steve Smith 2001 22 3-74 CAR NFL 15 1 10 154 15.40 0 10.3
25 Santana Moss 2001 22 1-16 NYJ NFL 5 0 2 40 20.00 0 8.0

As it turned out, Chris Chambers, Rod Gardner, Koren Robinson and Snoop Minnis weren’t as successful as Reggie Wayne, Chad Johnson/Ochocinco, Steve Smith and Santana Moss.

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