Monday, November 8, 2010
Diva wide receivers. Who needs 'em?
Now that the Randy Moss, how-boorish-can-I-be tour has settled in Nashville like a yard full of moles, it's time to shatter a few NFL myths, starting with Moss and the position he plays.
It's amazing the time, money and babysitting some clubs will spend on their wide receivers, given that wide receiver is the easiest position to fill in the NFL, and the least important to winning. You'd think Moss and his diva receiva brethren were left tackles or edge rushers, given the attention they're afforded.
Because the NFL is about conventional wisdom, and because its coaches generally see creativity as a threat to life as we know it, myths live on: The wisdom of punting, for example. That establishing the run is vital to winning. That great wideouts are important.
Mostly, punting is a white-flag waste of time and an expression of coachly timidity. If your team is behind in a game and outside its 30-yard line, it should never punt. Especially if your team is playing the way the local team is playing now. When you are 2-5 and all but statistically out of the playoff picture, what do you have to lose by using all four downs? Another game?
Think of how an offensive coordinator's playbook would expand if 3rd-and-6 were the new 2nd-and-6. Imagine the massive migraines that would provide a defensive coordinator, whose calls are heavily influenced by what plays the other guys tend to run in certain situations.
Imagine giving Peyton Manning 25 percent more snaps, every game.
But we digress.
Establishing The Run has little to do with winning games, and never has. Winning NFL teams win by throwing, not running. Don't believe me. Believe a guy who crunches stats for fun and profit. My pal Kerry Byrne runs the website coldhardfootballfacts.com. He says teams owning the highest average yards per pass attempt win big. Always have.
Otto Graham has the highest yards-per-throw average ever, 8.62. He also has the highest winning percentage among quarterbacks, ever, .810. Graham's career record was 57-13-1. The modern parallel is Ben Roethlisberger, who will be here Monday night. Big Ben, says Byrne, has the highest YPA in the NFL in the last 50 years.
“If you have a high average per attempt, you're going to win. Period,'' says Byrne.
That wouldn't seem to square with the argument that high-price, high-maintenance wide receivers - Byrne calls them “hood ornaments'' -- aren't vital. But it does. It only requires deeper crunching of the numbers. Football coaches aren't big on that. Unlike their baseball brethren - who use stats as a crutch - football coaches rely on conventional wisdom. They look back.
“Football is dominated by conventional wisdom,'' Byrne says, “and a lot of conventional wisdom is flat-out wrong.''
A deeper look at the numbers reveals that teams with great quarterbacks win big. Receivers are incidental. Name Tom Brady's wideouts when New England was winning three Super Bowls, win fabulous prizes chosen just for you.
While you're at it, name two wide receivers from last year's Super Saints team. Name one.
Byrne mines deeper history. The notion that the Bill Walsh 49ers could not have dominated without Jerry Rice is false. The Niners' greatest year - 15-1 in 1984, a Super title - came when Rice was at Mississippi Valley State. Joe Montana's favorite target was Roger Craig. He was a halfback.
As Byrne writes, “Rice didn't make the 49ers winners. The 49ers made Rice a winner.''
The assumption that Pittsburgh achieved greatness in the 70s on the talents of Lynn Swann and John Stallworth? Sorry. The Stillers dominated the decade with exactly one 1,000-yard season from a wideout, Stallworth in '79. In his nine NFL seasons, Swann averaged just 607 yards a year.
Even now, Roethlisberger's impressive YPA is not because he has had Pro Bowl wide receivers. Hines Ward is a very good player. He's not Randy Moss.
Michael Irvin? The “playmaker''? He caught 10 TD passes in a season just once.
And so on. Randy Moss' presence did not equal a Super Bowl title for New England in 2007, when the Pats went 16-0 in the regular season. In the Tom Brady Era, the Patriots are 12- 2 in the postseason without Moss, and 2-2 with him. Receivers might be the drama kings of the NFL. They might own the highlights portion of the program. Like Moss, they might get more chances to preen their feathers than their worth.
When it comes to winning, wide receivers are way down the list of must-haves. Something to ponder on Monday night, in case a couple of the local wideouts get a little, you know, carried away.