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The great 'Stats War' continues


Roy from Florence, OR

I read your comments yesterday about dirty play, but how about justifiable retribution? I remember one Packers game a long time ago, when a defensive back was doing something the Packers didn't like. They blocked a path to that guy twice and had Jack Cloud run over him. The defensive back was wobbly after the first time and they had to walk him off the field after the second. There was nothing dirty or illegal about it, they just took the guy out. Years later, a defensive back had taken a vicious cheap shot at Dowler after a TD reception. The next time the Packers had the ball, Ron Kramer went after the guy with forearm shivers; no punches, no fists, just beat him backwards for about 30 yards. He just pounded on him. You could call that dirty play, I suppose, but the guy had it coming and the officials looked the other way.

Maybe we could have a retribution tribunal on site. After a cheap shot, the game would be stopped and the tribunal would decide if the cheap shot was justifiable retribution. I can hear the referee now: "After further review, the guy had it comin'." Hey, it's a tough game for tough guys. As George Young was fond of saying, "It's not a game for the well-adjusted."

Ben from Columbus, WI

Do team statisticians give any advice to the coaches or are they just data collectors? What kind of stats does McCarthy use in preparation or during the game?

Statisticians don't advise coaches but they provide statistical data ad nauseum and all coaches study it, though some with more fervor than others. Every coach has his pet stats. Chuck Noll loved time of possession. Bill Cowher was big on quarterback pressures and winning the third quarter. Tom Coughlin was all about converting third down. Jack Del Rio is big on third-down defense; "getting off the field," as he calls it. I'm not familiar enough with Mike McCarthy to know what his favorite stats are, but I get the feeling there's a lot of Coughlin in McCarthy.

John from Austin, TX

Bart Starr? You are going to upset the generation that can only remember Brett Favre or maybe only Aaron Rodgers. Why do you do such things to your inbox?

I was asked a question; I gave an honest answer.

Eric from Fort Atkinson, WI

Assuming this lockout doesn't get resolved soon, do you see the NFL changing the rules on roster size or being able to keep all of the draft picks since the teams won't be able to evaluate them very well?

The longer the lockout drags on, the more likely it is the league will create some sort of roster exemptions for the rookie class. It might be as simple as the old NFL Europe roster exemptions; for every player you allocated to NFL Europe, you received a training camp roster exemption, up to a certain number. Or maybe it'll be something that'll last into the season. I don't know what it'll be, but I think some sort of system for retaining rookies is likely.

Mitch from Milwaukee, WI

I have to disagree on your statement that Bart Star is the best QB. Brett Favre is the best QB Green Bay has ever had. Here is a stat I would like to throw out there for you; most wins ever as a starting quarterback. I think that says it all.

Have you made allowance for the fact that Starr played at a time of 12-game and 14-game seasons? Have you taken note of Starr's postseason record, 8-1, as compared to Favre's, 12-10, while with the Packers? Are you picking a stat merely to support your opinion, or are you using stats to form an opinion? In my opinion, the most important stats favor Starr—two Rs, by the way.

Tucker from Minneapolis, MN

I know I'm not going to change anybody's vocabulary here, but what we typically refer to as statistics are usually not, in fact, statistics. A true statistic is a numerical summary of a bunch of numerical facts. For instance, Aaron Rodgers threw for 3,922 yards last season. That's a fact, not a statistic. Aaron Rodgers throws for an average of 4,131.33 yards per season as a starting quarterback. That's a statistic. I know it's a fine point and at least mildly anal-retentive to even bring it up, but I also think it's interesting.


Nick from Fort Wayne, IN

I would just like to say, I love the column. What do you think is the most valuable intangible a professional football player can have in today's game?

If it's not courage, then it better be some kind of intangible that includes courage. You can't succeed in football without courage. As far as I'm concerned, after I know how big and fast a guy is, the next question is: Does he play with courage? A player that lacks courage will always fold at crunch time. He'll always lose the one-on-ones against tougher guys.

Belto from Canton, NC

Just read rankings of left tackles in NFL on appalled, absolutely appalled that Chad Clifton wasn't even in the top 10. Joe Thomas and Jake Long got the top spots. What did the Dolphins and Browns do the most this past year? Ran the ball well, besides losing, so how can you pick those two for a position that has so much pass-protection responsibility. Let's see, Julius Peppers, John Abraham and James Harrison/Lamar Woodley. Those names ring a bell. Oh, yeah, that's the field wrecking crew Clifton shut down. What is it you say? Just win, baby?

You make good points but I don't think you should be as worked up as you are about this. Thomas and Long are good players, just as Clifton is. Ask yourself this: If they held a draft of left tackles in the game today, who would be the first two picked? Thomas and Long might be the guys. My point is this: We have to acknowledge that there are good young players in this league that don't wear a Packers uniform.

Phil from Tellico Village, TN

Hey, Vic, you're the reason I come back daily to check the website. Can you please explain the difference between cover two and cover three?

In simplest terms, cover two is two safeties in the back and cover three is three across the back. Beyond that, cover two also employs two cornerbacks. You play cover two when you think you can stop the run with seven; cover two is most conscious of denying big plays over the top, as the safeties have half the field to cover deep but, of course, they have help underneath from the corners. Throwing deep against cover two allows the safety on the side of the field to which the ball has been thrown to play the ball as a centerfielder would track down a fly ball, as Nick Collins did in the Super Bowl. Cover three brings the strong safety up to the line of scrimmage and plays him as a linebacker, or takes the strong safety out of the game and replaces him with a linebacker. The corners drop off the line of scrimmage a little bit and the two corners and the deep safety each are responsible for their deep third of the field. You play cover three when you wanna stop the run.

Fred from Santa Cruz, CA

Your infatuation with postseason performance and dismissal of regular-season stats mars an otherwise insightful and entertaining column. Your perspective is an injustice to great players who played on crappy teams (Archie Manning, anyone?) and overstates the merit of those who were lucky enough to be on great ones. I'm your age and have followed football since the 1960s. I love Bart Starr but the truth is his talent was quantum levels below Favre's. Even Bart would admit that. Put Favre on Lombardi's team and they would be even more dominant. Conversely, Starr could not possibly carry a mediocre Packers team as Favre did. I await your slippery and sarcastic response.

I gave thought to what you said. I must say, I'm intrigued by the Lombardi-Favre dynamic. Wouldn't that have been interesting? Anyhow, after I thought about it for awhile, it hit me that I couldn't remember Starr ever having played poorly in a postseason game. So, I did some homework. Starr threw just three interceptions in 213 postseason pass attempts. The more I learn about him, the more I am in awe of his accomplishments. He played his best football when it mattered most. That's what I respect the most.

Dave from Newark, CA

Which stats provide genuine insight into the game? One of the best is the passer rating, precisely because it is a composite of several dimensions which add up to a meaningful numerical abstraction. So called offensive or defensive ratings are trivial because they are a euphemism for net yards. Lots of stats obfuscate the dynamic of the game, in favor of celebrity.

I use my eyes. They usually tell me what the truth is. I get obfuscated if I look at too many stats. I'm not a big stats guy. That's just the way I am. You can hate me if you want. It's no big deal.

Sean from Leeds, UT

I know we are having this stat war in "Ask Vic" and I am not a stat lover because winning is everything; however, I am intrigued by how fast the announcers are able to pull random stats out of their hat. How is this possible?

The production of each broadcast has a stats guy on site and access to a stats crew back at the network; they do quick research and provide the information on a graphic or into the ear of the play-by-play guy. Broadcast crews go into each game prepared with stats in the "look for" category, meaning that if it's expected a particular milestone will be achieved, the research will have already been done. TV does a fantastic job of informing and entertaining us. We complain too much about something we get for free.

Keith from St. Louis Park, MN

While discussing the Packers operations, you mentioned the director of player personnel and the pro personnel director. What's the difference?

There are two departments within a personnel department: college scouting and pro personnel scouting. College scouting acquires information on prospects for future drafts. The pro personnel department provides information on players that have already passed through the draft. Pro personnel is responsible for information on all of the players in the NFL or any other professional football league, and for any player on the street that would be considered a prospect. A director of player personnel is responsible for the entire personnel department, college and pro personnel. Some teams don't use that title; they'll use the general manager title. Other teams will title the top personnel guy the director of football operations. Some teams employ a mix of those titles.

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