Smart Notes 9/1/09

I just started a guest-bit at EDSBS, where I’ll be answering fan submitted questions (tweet them to Orson here). This week’s question was about blitzing, both man and zone. Read the full thing here, but here’s a preview:

Zone-blitzing is awash in contradictions: vanilla and endlessly complex; aggressive but conservative. It is vanilla and conservative because it takes a minimum number of guys to competently defend a football field in zone coverage — no one tries to play zone with one safety deep and two guys in underneath zones. Instead, 90-95% of the zone-blitzes you’ll see involve three elements: (1) three guys in “deep” zone coverage; (2) three guys in “underneath” or intermediate to short coverage; and (3) five pass rushers. The complexity comes in how these guys are arranged. . . .

– Brett Favre’s illegal block. I say illegal because whether it was “dirty” is being debated, though either way I think even Favre fans can admit that it was incredibly idiotic and dangerous. “Dirty” implies that he wanted to injure Eugene Wilson; I don’t think anyone can know that.

– Rich Rodriguez, being sued? The hits keep coming. As reported, via the WizOfOdds:

According to the lawsuit, Rodriguez and his partners owe Nexity Bank $3.9 million, including interest and penalties. Rodriguez was served a summons and complaint in his office on Aug. 24, shortly after a Wolverine practice.

Mike Wilcox, who is Rich Rod’s financial advisor, issued a statement Monday night saying the coach is a victim of a real estate Ponzi scheme.

“This is a personal issue, and as coach Rodriguez’s financial advisor, I and his legal counsel will be handling this matter moving forward,” Wilcox said. “We are evaluating legal actions and solutions since the promoter of the scheme is currently awaiting trial on criminal charges.”

– How to be famous in a few easy steps. One of them involves getting a mathematical constant named after you.

– Blutarsky is too nice, but he also points out more problems with the infamous Willie Williams:

The tale of nomadic football talent Willie Williams(notes) took another dramatic turn last week, when the former No. 1 prep recruit was arrested for burglarizing a home of nearly $18,000 in cash and valuables, according to a police report.

Williams was arrested on the evening of Aug. 27 and charged with burglary and reckless driving by the Gwinnett County (Ga.) Police department. The arrest came after an acquaintance of Williams, Karen Postma, reported that her family’s Suwanee home had been robbed. Police subsequently identified Williams as a potential suspect.

According to an arrest report obtained by Yahoo! Sports, Williams was found with items from the home in both the trunk of his car and inside his Duluth hotel room. The penalty for burglary carries a sentence of 1-20 years on the first conviction, while reckless driving can carry a maximum sentence of one year. Both penalties vary based on prior criminal record.

Watch out Arkansas fans: Bobby Petrino tried to bring Willie on board at Louisville even after Miami took a flyer on him and found his antics…indigestible.

– The ruling came out earlier, but the explanation is out now. The Third Circuit panel that ruled on the Delaware sports betting case has now released its opinion.

In its decision, the unanimous three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with all the major sports leagues — the NFL, the NBA, the NHL and Major League Baseball — and declared that the proposed expansion of Delaware’s gaming would violate the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.

Although Delaware qualified for an exemption under PASPA in which four states were allowed to continue sports betting under a grandfather clause, the appellate court found that Congress explicitly prohibited any of those states from expanding the programs.

In Delaware’s case, the judges said, that meant limiting sports betting to an NFL football pool in which contestants must wager on at least three games at once.

Delaware went too far, the court said, when it planned to launch a sports lottery that would allow single-game betting and betting on other professional sports — baseball, basketball and hockey — as well as college sports.

“Any effort by Delaware to allow wagering on athletic contests involving sports beyond the NFL would violate PASPA,” U.S. Circuit Judge Thomas M. Hardiman wrote in the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball v. Markell.

Hardiman, who was joined by Judges Theodore A. McKee and Julio M. Fuentes, found that because single-game betting was not “conducted” by Delaware between 1976 and 1990, “such betting is beyond the scope of the exception in PASPA and thus prohibited under the statute’s plain language.”

– If you’re not watching Mad Men, then you’re blowing it. And by it, I mean life.

– Jonathan Chait takes on the Detroit Free Press. I like Jon Chait a lot, but it must be noted that he is a graduate of U of M. But his attack on the Free Press‘s reporting on the practice-time fiasco is, well, intense:

Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg’s expose on Michigan workout program revealed a shocking breach of rules that should cause somebody to lose his job. That somebody is Michael Rosenberg’s editor.

Rosenberg is a talented writer. I enjoyed his book and gave it a favorable review in the New York Times. Yes, he has strong opinions on Rich Rodriguez. (He’s hated him from the moment he appeared on Michigan’s radar and has made it his life’s work to run him out of town.) But that’s his right as an opinion columnist.

What’s not his right is conducting investigative journalism for a newspaper on a topic on which he has expressed such passionate opinions. In my primary field (writing about politics) no respectable newspaper would dream of letting an opinion columnist who had crusaded against an administration write a news article claiming to uncover dirt on that very same administration. It’s wildly improper.

If I were a sports editor at the Free Press, and Rosenberg came to me with his stories about illegal workouts at Michigan, I’d thank him for the lead. Then I’d pass the information on to one of my reporters. I’d tell the reporter to look into several college programs, not just ones run by coaches Rosenberg was trying to get fired. If Michigan really turned out to be doing something unusual, fine.

Instead, the Free Press published a prosecutor’s brief, determined to make the case against Rodriguez, rather than present the facts in an evenhanded way. . . .

A few years ago, USA Today did a good piece on offseason workouts in college, questioning whether such activities could truly be voluntary. The article quoted one Georgia football player scoffing at the notion. (“It’s mandatory to us,” he confessed.) But that sort of comprehensive approach didn’t advance Rosenberg’s goal.

Rosenberg made only a farcical effort to compare Michigan’s program to that run elsewhere. He solicited a few on-the-record quotes from former Michigan State players, who told him with a straight face that no, sir, we only condition for an hour or two a day. Maybe this claim is worth verifying.

Now, I’m no Bob Woodward. But I did manage to dig up an obscure source confirming that Michigan State football players work just as hard as the Wolverines. My secret source is a publication called the Detroit News. It printed an article on July 29, 2008, reporting:

. . .

Much has been made about the intense workouts at Michigan under Mike Barwis, the new strength and conditioning coach.

The Michigan State Spartans would like everyone to know they’re working pretty hard, too.

“I don’t think they’re working harder than us anyway,” MSU running back Javon Ringer said. “I’m pretty sure they’re working tremendously hard, but the things we go through with our weight-training coach — coach (Ken) Mannie — are unbelievable.”

Big Ten players know each other pretty well – especially players from the same state, who often share hometowns. I think they probably have a good sense of how often they work out.

Now, here’s why Rosenberg’s opinions matter so much. In an article like the one he wrote, the readers have to place a lot of trust in the author. We have to trust that he interviewed the sources fairly, and didn’t solicit answers that confirmed his prejudices. We have to trust that he granted his sources anonymity for good reason – not because they had an axe to grind. And we have to trust that he looked for evidence to undermine his thesis, and if it didn’t appear in his article, it’s because none could be found.

Rosenberg, with his deep connections to the anti-Rodriguez community, would be a good source of leads for an enterprising reporter to follow up on. Letting him write and report the article himself is journalistic malpractice.

– Offering scholarshops at Fordham. A Culture Change.

  • stan

    Chait has let his bias turn his brain to mush on this one. It appears to be a bad habit ( ). Welcome to journalism Jon.


    At the end of your piece on blitzing, you write “Blitzing, like much else on defense stems from some rather basic principles but, in practice, has to account for everything the offense could do on a given play.” I think that a lot of coaches go way too far down this road, way too often. It can hamstring a defensive coordinator. [I’ve seen a head coach drive a DC insane with “but what if the offense does this ….”]

    Yes, you need to think about how the offense might respond and what the consequences might be if they happen to have certain plays called against your blitz. This helps in gaining a better understanding of the real risk/reward parameters. But if you choose to roll the dice, you have to be prepared to lose on the gamble sometimes. If you try to hedge all your bets, you end up not gambling at all. You end up like the coach who yells out to his defense to watch out for the pass, … and the trap … and the draw … and the sweep … and bootleg … and throwback … and reverse ….

  • Stan, I agree. Bobby Bowden said it well when he said, “When you try to stop everything, you stop nothing.”

  • Chris, thought you would enjoy this bit from USA Today about the fact that Mad Men is as real-life as it gets for the era (

  • Seth: I saw that, and the NYT had a similar bit. I cannot imagine having three martinis at lunch and then somehow being productive in the afternoon.

  • How about 4 packs of cigarettes in a day? That’s 4 or 5 an hour, depending on how long you’re awake.

    Re. drinks: It sounds like being productive was part of being drunk, but I think that the distinction here is that these guys were genius and if Don Draper is anything like some real person, he could sell me just about anything (the Kodak Carousel scene still resonates in my brain).

  • Techie

    The “Three Martini” lunch did exist, but with a key difference.

    The martinis were about 1 to 1.5 oz. of booze, compared to the 3+ oz. you’ll get poured in a single one today. So, three 1950’s lunch martinis = about 1.5 of today’s. Or so I’ve been led to believe.

  • Nate

    “I like Jon Chait a lot, but it must be noted that he is a graduate of U of M. But his attack on the Free Press’s reporting on the practice-time fiasco is, well, intense…”

    I’m not sure why Chait’s status as a U of M alum is being treated as a dirty secret (Deadspin also “outed” Chait)…he’s a well-known Michigan grad…no one, Chait included, was trying to obscure that. In any case he makes a straightforward case that I find pretty persuasive.