It’s Manziel Time

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Published on: December 9, 2014

It’s Manziel time in Cleveland. I’ve discussed what I think of Cleveland in other posts. The short story is that I think the decisions of the Cleveland Browns front office resemble those a robot with a combination of dissociative identity disorder and schizophrenia. Once again we get to examine an important decision in Cleveland: the benching of Brian Hoyer in favor of Johnny Manziel. First, the facts.

Fact #1: Brian Hoyer has not been good this year

Not been good is putting it very mildly. Worst in the NFL is more correct. No quarterback has been allowed to be as inaccurate – 9.4% below league average – as Hoyer and still throw so many passes – 387 attempts. His inaccuracy is on par with Zach Mettenberger, Mike Glennon, Drew Stanton, and Ryan Mallett, all quarterbacks that began the year as back-ups and are unlikely to find permanent starting jobs any time soon. All in all, I don’t think much of Hoyer’s individual performance this year.

Fact #2: It is December and the Cleveland Browns have a winning record

At the time of this writing, Cleveland has a 7-6 record in the winningest division in football. By my quick reckoning, this has happened four other times in the last twenty years. Why does it matter if Brian Hoyer has been the worst quarterback in the league up to this point? You have won seven games with the worst quarterback, something must be working. Cleveland’s pass defense is coming up big week after week, they’ve got a group of receivers that showed they can spar with the best of them, and their running game has shown signs of life throughout the season. You got to seven wins doing something right. Why are you throwing that away now?

Fact #3: We don’t know what Manziel will do over three games

No one has any idea what Johnny Manziel will do during the final three games of the season. I have a prediction of Manziel’s quarterback rating of 76.6, but that’s over four years not three games. What is the purpose of upsetting everything that the Browns have built over the course of the season on the scant hope that Manziel can help you out? No one has any algorithm that says Manziel will be any better or worse than Hoyer over these final three games. And it is very possible that Manziel could be worse.

Fact #4: Coaching tenure in Cleveland

Perhaps the number that actually explains what is going on here. The average tenure over the last three head coaches in Cleveland has been a glorious 1.67 years. Mike Pettine likely doesn’t want to lower that average even further than it already is. He knows that sticking with Hoyer will likely get him a .500 team. Perhaps he sees the writing on the wall and knows that .500 won’t be enough to save his job. I don’t know that is the case, but I wouldn’t put it past the Cleveland management.

 photo blitzwing.jpg

2014 Draft in Review

This will probably be my last post before I go into summer hibernation to work on my receiver model. I was going to review the first round pf the draft, but that’s been done to death at this point. There isn’t much to be gained from rehashing all the details. Instead, I only want to talk about two teams, the Minnesota Vikings and Cleveland Browns.

Minnesota Vikings

Regular readers know that the Vikings are my team. They’re the team I grew up watching and the logo  on the blanket currently draping my couch. So when the Vikings traded up back into the first round, I reacted emotionally. The reaction was about the trade-up, not the actual pick itself. I was worried the Vikings had learned the wrong lesson from their experience in the draft last year.

Last year, the Vikings gave up a number of picks to move back into the first round and make a third selection in the first round. For doing this, they were applauded, given high post-draft marks, and given general kudos all around. The problem is that the actual move was a terrible one. And the reason the 2013 trade was terrible was the number of picks they gave up to make it. Every single credible analyst has shown that the way to get the most value out of the draft is to make more picks (see this new, inventive analysis showing how number of picks predicts total draft value). So the psychological problem is a problem of reinforcement. The Vikings made a move. In the short term, they were told that this move was a great idea. However, the negative consequences of the move they made will either never be realized because the Patriots rarely play the Vikings, or they won’t be felt for three to four years down the road, which is far too long to learn something from reinforcement. And not only that, but the Vikings got incredibly lucky that their target in the trade up is showing promise as a wide receiver and kick returner. All this is positive reinforcement for making a trade up more likely in the future.

I was worried that the Vikings had learned the wrong lesson from their experience last year. I was worried they were going to give up a two to three picks to move back up into the first round as they did last year and then not recoup those picks in the later part of the draft. I’m very happy to say I was wrong. At the end of the draft the Vikings had made, by my count, the 4th most picks of any team in the draft. That’s a path to success through the draft if ever there was one.

As for the actual pick itself, I don’t mind the Vikings picking Bridgewater. My model isn’t precise enough to get upset about a difference between a predicted passer rating of 80 vs. 75. Good luck to the Vikings in the 2014 season.

Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns are run by Blitzwing from Transformers: Animated. If you don’t know Transformers, Blitzwing is a triple-changer. He has forms of a jet, a tank, and a robot. To drive home the “triple” metaphor, the character has three distinct personalities. One of them is cunning, cold, and calculating, one of them is emotional and explosive, and one is completely wack-a-doodle. Or, as my 4-year-old nephew named them, Smart, Dumb, and Scary.

 photo blitzwing.jpgAny move the Browns make seems to fit into one of these three categories and you can never tell which personality is going to be in control for any specific decision. They achieve great outcomes, but project this image of ineptitude. They do really smart things to set up the situation in their favor, but then bungle the execution.  You could do Homer-Buying-the-Cursed-Krusty-Doll for an entire day with this team.

They commissioned a $100,000 study that (supposedly) said Bridgewater was the best quarterback in the draft.

That’s good!

They released the results of that study before the draft.

That’s bad.

They entered the draft with 10 selections.

That’s good!

They ended the draft selecting 6 players.

That’s bad.

They traded down with the Bills and secured picks in future drafts.

That’s good!

They gave up a pick to move one spot up.

That’s bad.

They selected Manziel with the 22nd pick.

That’s good!

They outbid three other teams to trade up to get there.

That’s bad.

They signed Joe Haden, one of the best DB’s in the league to a big contract.

That’s good!

They also signed Miles Austin, a 30-year-old, oft injured wide receiver who hasn’t been productive since 2010.

That’s bad.

But he came with a free frogurt.

That’s good!

The frogurt is also cursed.

Can I go now?

How can a franchise make such good decisions at one time and such bad decisions 15 minutes later? Being run by a robot in disguise with dissociative identity disorder is the only possibility I could come up with.

“You’d think after 7 or 8 you’d start to go, ‘Maybe it’s me.'”: Franchise Problems

The title of this post is the punch line of my favorite Ron White joke.  He’s describing a woman who claims to have had bad sex with more than 2,000 airmen.

I’m using the joke as a metaphor for NFL teams that seem to be constantly drafting quarterbacks.  How many times will certain teams have to draft an apparently talented quarterback only to see him waste away before they take a hard look at themselves and say, “Maybe it’s us”?

I’ve actually been kicking this idea around for a while now.  I just didn’t have a proper story to couch the numbers in.  But today I was listening to the latest Wages of Wins podcast with Eric Weiss of Sports Aptitude.  He was discussing how some basketball teams seem to draft really well.  He wasn’t talking about teams that are able to recognize talent and drafted accordingly.  He talked about how some NBA teams draft to create an environment.  He cited the San Antonio Spurs as an example of a team that appears to follow this strategy.  The Spurs seem to draft with an eye to the individual player, how that player will fit within the system, and if the player’s personality will respond to the role they are asked to fill.  Most important for our purposes, he talked about what teams can do to ease the transition when new players enter the system.  It isn’t easy to be uprooted from everything you’ve known as a 22 to 25 year old and be placed in an entirely new place with the only constant being that you’re still playing a sport.  There are really important things you have to learn that have nothing to do with the sport you are now playing professionally.  Where is the good grocery store?  Can you still access your bank accounts?  Where are you going to hang out on your off time?  What do you do with all this money you suddenly have?  And now we’re going to add to that the constant scrutiny and publicity that comes with being a professional athlete?  Anyone that can thrive with that sort of uncertainty, uprooting, and pressure certainly deserves our respect.

But are there some NFL teams that could improve in this regard?  Are there teams that constantly seem to be getting less of a return on their drafting investments compared to others?  Who should be looking at easing the transition to improve the outcomes of their newly drafted players?  If you’ve been reading my site, you know that I claim I can separate the impact of the quarterback from the impact of wide receivers.  I can tell you whether or not a quarterback is succeeding because he is a great quarterback (Aaron Rodgers) or because he has a great set of receivers to throw to (Andrew Luck).  Same with struggling quarterbacks.  Do they struggle because they are having trouble putting the skills together (Ryan Lindley) or because their receivers just aren’t up to the task (Christian Ponder).

Using the same methodology, I can also separate the impact of the quarterback from the impact of the franchise.  The problem is, I can only do this for teams that change quarterbacks.  In the NFL, when things are working they don’t change.  I suppose that’s true for a lot of places, but I care most about the NFL.  So I can’t tell you whether the Patriots are really good at creating an environment for Tom Brady to excel or if Tom Brady would succeed in any environment.  The Patriots haven’t changed quarterbacks in a long time so there is no way for me to tell you that.  But I can tell you about the struggling teams.  The immediate, reactionary move for any struggling team is to change the quarterback.  This gives us some very useful information.  I can quantify how much the issue associated with the franchise is hurting the quarterbacks that play there.  So not only can I say, “Yeah, it’s you.”  I can say, “And this is how much it’s you.”

The data included in this analysis are from the 2007 to 2012 seasons.  Please note that I can’t give you exact reasons for why these teams seem to have poor environments.  Also, each team might have a different reason or its poor environment.  I don’t know.  I’m not close enough to these teams.  I just know that the data say that the problems are not entirely at the quarterback position. In reverse order, the top 5 teams that need to improve their environment for quarterbacks.

#5:  New York Jets      

Expected Reduction in Completion Percentage – 3.29%

The Jets love to rabble rabble rabble about their quarterback situations.  Mark Sanchez is the latest victim here.  Jets fans:  It’s not his fault.  At least, not all of it.  Mark Sanchez would likely really benefit from a change in scenery.  The Jets, though, not so much.  I doubt they would fare any better by drafting another quarterback.  These guys they keep bringing in new quarterbacks to “push” Mark Sanchez aren’t doing anything.  I think we need to accept that playing for the Jets just isn’t that great for a quarterback’s career.

#4:  St. Louis Rams    

Expected Reduction in Completion Percentage – 3.46%

We’ve come a long way from the “Greatest Show on Turf.”  Since the Super Bowl years of the early 2000’s, the Rams have had a hard time getting any quarterback to stick.  Sam Bradford was supposed to be this great success, but he’s had his struggles.  Struggles that are only magnified after he signed the last massive rookie contract ever.  But I say the issue is not with Bradford.  Everyone loves to pick on Sam Bradford for not being the huge success he “should” be by now.  Without the St. Louis drag on him, Sam Bradford is as accurate as Tom Brady.  Think about that.

#3:  Carolina Panthers    

Expected Reduction in Completion Percentage – 4.99%

A surprise franchise comes in at #3.  Carolina hasn’t been the greatest team in the last six years, but they haven’t been the worst either.  They seem to have a quarterback now that can get them where they want to go, and even before that they had talented players at the position.  I would really like to dive into the data and study more about what might be pulling Carolina down so low on the list.  Only problem is that would involve me moving to Carolina to work for the Panthers, and I don’t think that’s in the cards.

#2:  Oakland Raiders    

Expected Reduction in Completion Percentage – 5.00%

Our last two entries on our list are teams that go through quarterbacks like Kleenex.  The first is the Oakland Raiders.  Many quarterbacks have tried to turn this team around.  All have failed.  And it would appear that unless something drastic happens, quarterbacks drafted by the Raiders will likely continue to whither.  I’ve been hearing rumblings of Geno Smith being mock drafted to the Oakland Raiders.  It might be kinder just to break the dude’s legs right now.

#1:  Cleveland Browns    

Expected Reduction in Completion Percentage – 5.37%

You knew it was coming, Cleveland fans.  The train wreck that is Cleveland Browns has seen quarterback after quarterback try to save this thing.  None of it is working and I think the franchise really needs to take a hard look at what they do off the field before they bring in yet another quarterback.  They need to help their players in a way other than talent evaluation.  And I truly believe Cleveland has been drafting talented quarterbacks.  Especially the last two.  Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy are loved by my draft model.  But just like Ron White’s airbase lady, when your partner doesn’t have it going on, every one of them seems like a bad…

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