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From: Sundararaman, Shyam
Sent: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 12:40 AM
To: Gray, Mark
Cc: Sundararaman, Shyam
Subject: E-mail exchanges this week?

Mark,

Apologies for the delay. I did bad today in not prioritizing what is truly important.

I am glad you are on board about the good guys at Football outsiders. I think they haven’t changed their look since like 2005. At some point they’ll upgrade to a better user experience which I think will make them an easier and more popular read.

I do understand the value of special teams even with the new kickoff rules. The Packers have had abysmal special teams till this season. Randall Cobb, Tim Masthay and Mason Crosby are deadly good thus changing a huge long overdue liability in to a significant strength. I will concede that even with all this, the 49ers special teams units are a class apart. I truly believe that the metrics bear out their value and quality. I am just not sure that it is going to be enough to defeat two future hall of fame quarterbacks in 8 days?

Harbaugh spoke fondly of the hire of Brad Seely when it happened. Seely coached up some great New England and Cleveland units. I remember some really good trick plays by the 2010 Browns special teams especially in their stunning upset win at New Orleans! Have the partisan fan boys media members who cover the 49ers brought up that game yet? I will not be surprised if Harbaugh tries really hard to steal a possession or two this weekend via a fake punt or an onside kick or an Alex Smith completion (I kid!). If a surprise trick play works, the 49ers will be well positioned to pull off the upset. I just hope that such a play doesn’t eclipse the catch in the hearts and minds of all 49ers fans. For all those who became 49ers fans this season (describes everyone I know at work), here’s some information about ‘the catch’.

As far as your question on when defense becomes a liability, here’s my short answer – Sometimes, in a one game sample size but very rarely, over the course of the season!

Long answer – The rules in today’s NFL favor passing. The odds are just really good that a great passer and coaches will take advantage of these rules over 20 minutes in a 60 minute game. This is simply what Peyton Manning, Brady and Rodgers do. And the fact is that this is usually enough to overcome defensive mistakes that the team makes. If baseball rules were altered so that walks advanced runners by two bases instead of one, wouldn’t you say that the better offense would win way more often? Football rules today are kind of like that and smart teams (mine, not yours) have taken advantage of this. Makes sense? Where am I wrong?

Over a period of time such as five or ten years, I will always take a team that ranks near the top in passing offense and near the bottom in other categories over one that is the mirror image. Football Outsiders has also shown that passing offense correlates much more with year-over-year repeatability, consistency and continuous success than defense does. At some fundamental level this probably has something to do with how offense is usually proactive while defense is reactive. Okay?

This week’s Packer game – I am not terribly worried about the Giants. I do believe in any given Sunday and do account for the possibility that in five years’ there may be a movie about Ted Thompson where he admits that his shtick doesn’t work in the playoffs. However I have watched this Packer team thru the season and they’re really hard to beat over 60 minutes. The offense is prone to start slow and the defense will have several WTF moments when it resembles a sieve. However, they usually figure stuff out, get very good line play and exceptional quarterback play that makes them hard to contain over 60 minutes. I don’t like that they’re favored by 9 points by Vegas but I do like their chances to win very much.

By the time Saturday rolls around and your beloveds topple the Saints, I might get into crazy reverse-jinx mode and fear the Giants like they were the ’85 Bears on defense and the 2011 Packers on offense (see, what I did there?). But if I am being honest, I am not worried. Aaron Rodgers >>> Eli Manning and sometimes that’s all it takes.

So tell me, what do you think of my theories above on offense, how do you sleep at night knowing your team could have gotten Rodgers and enjoyed this and instead got this and also why MS WORD auto corrects Harbaugh to Herbage?

Go Pack, Go
Shyam


From: Gray, Mark
Sent: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 12:45 AM
To: Gray, Mark
Cc: Sundararaman, Shyam
Subject: E-mail exchanges this week?

BONUS

FO has an article reviewing the wildcard games wherein they totally missed the point:

“Brees’ numbers may not look historically great, but he gets a big boost in DYAR for playing so well against Detroit, which was one of the league’s better pass defenses this year.”

The Saints were able to keep the Lions honest by exploiting their 20th-ranked run defense. No matter how good the Lions’ passing defense is, they couldn’t ignore the run game. Although maybe, if I was the Lions, I would have dimed up the defense and invited the Saints to run (and taken the ball out of Brees’ hands). How is this relevant for Saturday? The 49ers, and their #1 run defense, would love to have the Saints waste downs running the ball.

How much of the Lions-Saints game did you watch? Something went horribly wrong for the Lions in the second half of that game, but I didn’t see enough to witness any obvious transition.


From: Sundararaman, Shyam
Sent: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 4:04 PM
To: Gray, Mark
Cc: Sundararaman, Shyam
Subject: E-mail exchanges this week?

I watched a lot of the game but at a really noisy Yardhouse . Have you been to one? It’s a fun chain with great food and beer.

Anyways I am not sure FO was wrong in their praise of Brees. Over 16 regular season games, teams averaged 240 passing yards and 38 attempts a game against the Lions. In the playoff game, the Saints threw the ball 43 times and nearly doubled that yardage! Over 16 regular season games, teams averaged 26 rushes a game against the Lions at 5 yards/run. The Saints ran it ten more times and if their game ending kneel downs are excluded, they average about the same. So their rushing offense performed up to the median NFL team while their passing offense was almost twice as good as one. Whether it was the running that helped with the passing yardage or if it was yards after catch is up for debate and analysis based on play by play breakdown but praising the Saints passing game for being uniquely great on that day seems fair to me.

Okay?

P.S – All stats courtesy www.nfl.com


From: Gray, Mark A
Sent: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 4:22 PM
To: Sundararaman, Shyam
Subject: RE: E-mail exchanges this week?

Limited set of locations for Yardhouse, so no, I haven’t been.

Yes, New Orleans has had a very nice run over the last nine weeks and they did have a very good offensive game against the Lions. I’m not saying FO is wrong so much as they are being too narrow with this particular statistic. It’s a popular complaint with stat usage; you can cherry-pick statistics and make any sort of misinformed argument. It might be worse than using no statistics. You did more legwork than FO probably did for their article; how long did that take? Just sayin’.

Of course, I’ve probably committed many such crimes in my ramblings, but fortunately I’m the premier source of nothing – relied upon by no one.

BTW, do you remember the bet? We should probably post it up on the blog for all the world to see. 


From: Sundararaman, Shyam
Sent: Saturday, January 14, 2012 2:44 AM
To: Gray, Mark
Cc: Sundararaman, Shyam
Subject: E-mail exchanges this week?

What was our bet again? I think it was something to do with our IM status or Twitter display pic, right? Remind me, please. I have genuinely forgotten.

Thank You,
Shyam


From: Gray, Mark
Sent: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 1:45 PM
To: Gray, Mark
Cc: Sundararaman, Shyam
Subject: E-mail exchanges this week?

What’s truly important? NFL playoffs, naturally.

I think you’re starting to become a believer; certainly your tone changed from “Saints! Saints! Saints!” to a more measured “Saints and Packers?!”, which implies you think the Niners can beat one but not both, so we’re making progress. I’m not too concerned about the Path To The Superbowl; for me, it’s One Game At A Time (yes, both are clichés, but I think you get the point). After the 49ers “upset” the Saints, I’ll start to worry about the next game. And when that happens, you’ll have a whole ‘nother week to milk this thread. That will be great theatre for us.

Funny you mentioned a trick play Seely previously used against the Saints because he did exactly that with the Rams – reusing the same trick play against the same team. So there’s a precedence, and I’d definitely expect the 49ers to open up a bag of tricks if they’re behind in Saturday’s game.

I don’t agree with your assessment that “defense is reactive” because the truly good defenses force even the best offenses to adapt (react) to their capabilities. I alluded to this in my bonus message: If the Saints want to run the ball, they need to counteract the 49ers defensive strength. If the Saints believe, as you suggest, that their offense can do whatever they want, they’re going to receive a very rude awakening. I realize that your whole point of “proactive”-“reactive” is meant for during the game, but I’d disagree there too. Every offense has multiple plays ready prior to each snap and they pick one (“let it roll!”) or the other (“kill!”), depending on the look a defense presents to the QB. After the snap, yes, defenses are mostly reactive, but the good ones can scheme up something special (pressure, blitz, excellent coverage) that forces the offense to improvise (react). It would be an interesting statistic to measure how many offensive plays break down (percent of total) and the success rate of broken-down plays versus schemed plays. (Think Randall Cunningham as the master of the broken play, then think of Tim Tebow having all the time in the world against the Steelers last weekend.)

The aggregate sample size of an NFL season isn’t large enough to discount game-to-game variance, but you’re right that any defensive liabilities would be minimized during the regular season. Only during the post-season, we’re back to the one-game sample and a defensive liability could be exploited (again, think how the Broncos maimed the Steelers’ defense – and they’re #7 overall!). Worse defenses provide more potential liabilities; losing a game in the playoffs means you’re out, but worse it’s the source of the last impression from that season. I’d hate to be a Steelers fan right now….

I have one quibble with your comparison of the pass-favored NFL to the potential of a two-base walk in MLB: I just don’t believe that it’s that imbalanced. If anything, having a good defense in this pass-crazy era with all the touch fouls means your defense is that much better than defenses of 15-20 years ago. Cornerbacks, for example, got away with so much more in the past than they do now; just think of the skill it takes to cover a receiver (someone likely bigger and faster than you) when there are so many rules in his favor.

Since my lunch hour is coming to a close, I’m going to save the Rodgers/Smith debate (and my sadness therein) for next week. Instead, I’ll part with the following question: Which Eli Manning will show up on Sunday?

Good Eli?

Or Bad Eli?


From: Sundararaman, Shyam
Sent: Saturday, January 14, 2012 2:44 AM
To: Gray, Mark
Cc: Sundararaman, Shyam
Subject: E-mail exchanges this week?

So I got busy with work and watching my national cricket team take a gigantic dump. Since you don’t ever root for nations in team sports, you probably can’t empathize with the worst kind of hopelessness, a nationalistic one! Cricket is too commonly used as a metaphor for India and right now the nation feels about as down on itself as I remember.

Anyways back to the football. Twelve hours to go for the Saints vs. Niners and I don’t think I could be more excited for a game not involving the Packers. As the week’s progressed, I have come to grips with the scenario and possibility of the Niners winning a close game. It must be all the media talk that has made the Giants vs. Niners NFC championship game a foregone conclusion. Or it must be the fact that I live and work in Niner Bandwagon Country. Coworkers, grocery store tellers and friends are all insanely confident that the Niners are going to the Superbowl. Wearing my Packer gear around town (like I have done since 2005), I do feel a lot like a liberal working at Fox News. Every person spews the same mantra at me. Defense and special teams are tax cuts for the rich and Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are abortionists!

There’s a Mediterranean breakfast place next door to where I live. The guy speaks with the most stereotypical Mediterranean accent. He took my order for a egg and cheese wrap on Wednesday, took my money and then said ,”I am your rival.” It took my sleepy self a few seconds to process the fact that this was Niner trash talk! I got to chatting him up only to find out that he was a Berkeley native who went to Cal. He obviously has high regard for Aaron Rodgers but swears by Harbaugh and says the rest of the playoff offenses stand no chance against the Niner defense. While the wrap was yummy and the conversation fun, I saw pretty quickly that my odds of swaying his opinion were about as good as an Alex Smith 3’rd and 8 completion. With coworkers and friends it’s been rinse and repeat of the same. The only way Niner fans (excluding you of course) could be more irrational is if Tebow was a 49er.

Just for the week (as a Packer fan in California) between this Sunday and next I would so like a Niner win today. It would be the most fun week of my ‘waiting for a sporting event’ life! But reality bites and I am not sure passion, defense, effort and special teams can overcome significantly superior quarterback play.

I’ll have my unbiased thoughts on which Eli Manning will show up and how many snaps Matt Flynn should play, tomorrow. In the meantime, Best of luck and may your Niners win! I look forward to you calling me at about 4:45 (PST) rather than the other way round.

Thank You,
Shyam

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  1.  Counterpoints: E-mail exchanges with a Niners fan Part III (Commiserations and Post Mortems) « No Sacred cows !
  2.  Counterpoints: E-mail exchanges with a Niners fan Part III (Commiserations and Post Mortems) « No Sacred cows !

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