Monday, February 13, 2017

Feb 13 - Bag of Footballs

http://sportsday.dallasnews.com/dallas-cowboys/cowboys/2017/02/13/sturms-weekly-bag-footballs-carl-lawson-redskins-franchise-ranking-feedback

Yesterday was the first Sunday without football that we have had in a long time, and I will confess that it was less than ideal.  I will come to terms with life without football as I always do, but that doesn't mean that checking the TV listings at 2 in the afternoon on a Sunday gets any easier when you see that it is gone.  We will carry on.
Regardless, on Mondays during this spring, I will roll out a collection of my football thoughts from the week that was and sprinkle in some of your feedback to give you something to read and hopefully this will represent a little oasis for us both.

Drama in Washington

Maybe the most interesting thing that I have seen in the last week comes to us from Washington where there appears to be some level of discontent between their front office and GM Scot McCloughan.  Most across the NFL seemed very impressed that the Redskins were able to hire McCloughan and to allow him to overhaul the roster when he was hired about 24 months ago.  They immediately won the division in his first year and they finished the 2016 season with 36 of the 53 players on their roster being new players that he had put in place.  However, it appears that Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen are losing faith in McCloughan already and have not allowed him to visit with the media in the customary spots -- after the season ended at the Senior Bowl, etc.  Now, this might be nothing, except that we can all remember back in November with Kirk Cousins took a very odd approach to public emotion when he lit into McCloughan briefly on the sideline after they beat Green Bay on Sunday Night Football.  Cousins, of course, was still annoyed to play on the franchise tag and surely has been known to occasionally lose decorum in front of cameras.
Additionally, the 2016 draft class had mixed reviews with TCU WR Josh Doctson injured all year and no contributions of major substance from that group aside from the Su'a Cravens project.  The 2015 draft class certainly impressed, but you might not look much deeper than the QB situation as McCloughan seemed quite comfortable making Cousins earn a long-term deal and prove his value, while the QB tried to let the world know how insulting a 1-year deal at $19.9 million truly can be. 
There are truly a few things to keep an eye on here, with the QB situation front and center.  Let's not forget the Redskins' handling of their last QB situation helped the Shanahan family exit stage left from Washington over the health and happiness of Robert Griffin III. And remember that Bruce Allen, the last guy in charge of the Redskins' personnel department, appears to oversee the work of McCloughan. The Eagles showed us about 12 months ago how swimmingly things can go when dueling GMs are wandering through a front office.  Usually, the one with the ear of the emotional owner wins.  And that appears to still be Bruce Allen. And if I may be so bold, it also seems that the Snyder/Allen combo think more highly of Cousins than the acting GM.  Stay tuned, but if you like to see the Redskins struggle, then Snyder chasing McCloughan away in quick fashion would make you smile. 

A second look at Carl Lawson

-- Meanwhile, I was able to complete my first batch of pass rushers for the 2017 NFL draft class this past week.  I hope you got a chance to look at it, but here is the link with a breakdown of Michigan's Taco Charlton, Missouri's Charles Harris, Tennessee's Derek Barnett, UCLA's Takk McKinley, and Auburn's Carl Lawson.  They all appear to be studs, and if any of them fall to 28, they appear worthy of the Dallas Cowboys' first-round pick.
The one that gets a little sticky is Auburn's Lawson.  He has all sorts of edge ability and a few of the draft guys I really respect -- CBS' Dane Brugler, in particular has matched the Cowboys with Lawson. 
But, the film study and more importantly a conversation with a scout suggests to me that Lawson doesn't really match up with the Cowboys' personnel situation.  He appears to be the dreaded Sam LB/nickel pass rusher.  Now, if you need a pass rusher, you go get him, but the question will be if he has a home in the 4-3 on first and second down.  Lawson is a real freak player, so I am willing to be convinced otherwise, but of the five players I looked at, Lawson was the one that I didn't like as a traditional DE in run situations.  And, if he is just a Sam LB, we should know that the Cowboys don't spend much time playing those guys.  They have 2 LBs on the field (Mike, the middle LB, and Will, weakside) in about 70 percent of situations.  But, of course, if you are in nickel, maybe you are just worried about pass rushers.  On the other hand, if you are in nickel, isn't it even more important your four D-linemen up front can hold their water if a team wants to run at you out of 11 personnel all day? 
I need to spend more time on Lawson before we have to narrow it down in April.  There is no question that this draft process is about projections and sometimes that can leave plenty of gray area.  But my initial look and that scout conversation has me leery about him here, despite what Brugler and others are saying when they match him up with Dallas.  I really like him and his future in the NFL, although his health history gives everyone pause.  But you want to be careful about the size of your DEs and you also want to keep in mind that this roster is filling up with D-linemen, so you only want to take one that high if you are sure he fits better than anything you currently have.   My first look says he is a better fit as a 3-4 edge. 

Myles from reality

Any of us who cover the Cowboys and the draft are getting bombarded with Myles Garrett-to-Dallas emails.  He wants to play in his hometown for his favorite team, and the Cowboys want a game-breaking pass rusher.  So, he will be this year's version of the "Cowboys fan's pipe dream." 
Nobody is saying he doesn't want to be here.  Nobody is saying the Cowboys don't want him.  But, hopefully, everyone understands how insane this idea is.  To move up for the Julio Jones trade, the Falcons jumped from pick No. 27 to 6.  The Cowboys are at pick No. 28 and would need to get to 1.  The Falcons paid their first-, second- and fourth-rounders from that year and their first- and fourth-rounders from the next year.  So, for the Cowboys, you can assume it would take three first-rounders and all of their picks from this year to get close on the draft value chart. 
In other words, stop it.  It isn't happening.  And NO, tossing in Tony Romo as added value is not getting you there, either.  So, save your email.  It just has no chance whatsoever. 

Franchise ranking feedback

I received plenty of feedback on the NFL Franchise Rankings this past week.  I appreciate everyone reading and I love doing it.  In fact, if you want to spreadsheet the check my math or to look at on your own, email me and I will get it to you.  I received some email, like this one:
Bob, Not sure I understand how you compiled the points. You indicate a team receives two points for making the conference championship game yet you only show the Cowboys with eight "final 4" appearances.  They've been to 16 NFL/NFC championship games.
So, I thought maybe it's "eight" because they had to win the game and make it to the Super Bowl?  However, the chart shows the Patriots with only four "final 4" appearances and the 49ers with nine "final 4" appearances. What am I missing here? Craig
Well, Craig, thought I explained this.  Final 4's only are scored for when they lose there.  There are four playoff outcomes.  One point for just making it.  Three points if you LOSE in the championship game.  Five points if you LOSE the Super Bowl, 11 points if you WIN the Super Bowl.  So, if you have eight Final 4s, three Super Bowl Losses, and five Super Bowl wins, then yes, you have 16 trips to the NFC Championship Game.
I hope that makes sense.  
Always enjoy your Annual NFL Franchise Rankings. Suggestion I have is to award 2 pts for a Div Playoff appearance.  Otherwise the Lions get the same points for last season (1) as the Cowboys.  Just doesn't feel right. Team that gets in WC round & loses gets same value for their season as team w/home field that earned a bye into the Div Round? - Sam
Thanks, Sam.  I promise I have tried all sorts of point variations over the years.  I need to have it normalized for 51 years and all of the machinations of the playoffs that have happened, including the NFL going from four divisions to eight and going from four playoff teams to 12.  I cannot award points on seeding or good regular seasons.  The Cowboys had a major advantage over the Lions to get three points - simply win one home game to get to the NFC Championship Game.  The Lions had to win two road games.  Massive difference in difficulty, but of course, it only comes into play if you don't win the game. 
But, to his point, I have tried many different formulas to make this fair and account for the many changes in the NFL over 51 years.  This is the current one, but odds are I will adjust it again someday.  Hopefully, you enjoyed this one.
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This week in the draft project, we will look at more edge rushers:  Myles Garrett, Solomon Thomas, Tim Williams, DeMarcus Walker, and Dawuane Smoot.  

Monday, February 06, 2017

Feb 6 - Bag of Footballs - Super Bowl, HOF,

http://sportsday.dallasnews.com/dallas-cowboys/cowboys/2017/02/06/bob-sturms-weekly-offseason-bag-footballs


Fifty-one Super Bowls in the book, and there has never been anything like what we saw last night in Houston.  No Super Bowl has ever gone to overtime, but beyond that, a comeback from 28-3 down with 18 minutes to play all the way to win is something that will never be forgotten.
All the superlatives of the New England legacy have already been written before last night.  This will just add to the list and continue to make them both the most dominant group of our generation and the most insufferable (depending on who you ask). 
But I will always ponder the ideas of the Falcons as that game was getting away from them.  They had the game in complete and utter control late in the third quarter and there was no way back for the Patriots unless they were given plenty of assistance.  And they certainly were.
Up 28-9, the Falcons were given the ball at the New England 41-yard line to start the next drive after a Patriots onside kick attempt that was penalized.  They quickly advanced it to the 32 on the next play and faced a 2nd-and-1 well inside field-goal range.  However, a Jake Matthews hold and a sack on third down converted that potential scoring drive into a punt.
Up 28-12, the Falcons faced a 3rd-and-1 with 8:31 to play.  They had a number of options using DeVonta Freeman as a runner in short yardage or play-action that has ruled the day.  Instead, they line up in shotgun to pass with a virtually empty backfield - Freeman lined up in the H-back spot where a TE normally flanks out, which turns into a sack and fumble to put the Patriots back into the game with a takeaway deep in Falcons territory.  If there was a consistent issue with Matt Ryan's performance on this night, it was his inability to avoid sacks.  This one sure appeared to be a Freeman protection whiff on Donta Hightower, but regardless, the dreaded shotgun pass on 3rd-and-1 in a game where you are just trying to kill the remaining time is a frustration that will not soon disappear. 
Then, up 28-20, the Falcons received a magical, seemingly historic catch by Julio Jones to give them what appeared to be a championship-clinching first down at the Patriots' 22.  At this point, a field goal puts them up 11 with roughly 3:00 to play.  Instead, Ryan takes another sack on 2nd down and Jake Matthews takes another penalty on 3rd down and what appeared to be a certain field goal has been converted into another punt from near midfield.  They give the ball back and the rest is history.
There is no question that the Patriots made history in Super Bowl 51 and earned whatever plaudits are given, but the cooperation from Kyle Shanahan and Matt Ryan in the late stages of the game will certainly feel as if they aided greatly in giving this game away with poor game management. 
Other (mostly Super Bowl) items for this week:
-- Another situation that was an underrated story was how New England dominated the time of possession and number of snaps last night.  We complimented Atlanta plenty for building a young and speedy defense, but in a league where the defense is usually on the field for 60-70 snaps, they had six different defenders have to play 90-plus plays on Sunday night:  Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, Robert Alford, Ricardo Allen, Jalen Collins, and Brian Poole.  Those six represent most of that young speed and it is fair to say that they likely were out of reactionary quickness by the end.  Give New England all sorts of credit for employing ball-control and give Atlanta plenty of blame for converting just 1 third down all night long.  It takes two teams to work together to get one side a 93-46 snap advantage over the other, which is easily the biggest margin I have ever seen in a game of this magnitude.
-- I cannot stand the NFL overtime rules.  This has nothing to do with what happened last night, other than the fact that one team lost the coin toss and didn't get a chance to put their MVP on the field.  A coin toss should not determine a champion.  I understand the argument that Atlanta should just stop them, but this isn't about merely last night.  This is about the NFL trying to adjust its overtime rule to make sense and all of the tinkering has not gotten them closer.  The college rule is better.  But, basically, each team should touch the ball before we declare a winner.  I think anything short needs more adjustment. 
-- Congratulations to the Hall of Fame Class of 2017.  Terrell Davis, Morten Andersen, Jason Taylor, LaDainian Tomlinson and Kurt Warner were the five who went in through the normal process.  Kenny Easley was approved as the senior committee's finalist and Jerry Jones was put in as the contributor finalist.  I saw plenty of people bothered by the outcome in another year of the complicated case of Terrell Owens, and I do consider him a Hall of Famer who will ultimately get in.  But the cries of injustice are absurd for two major reasons to me:  1) There are all sorts of legitimate on-field conduct questions and a trail of coaches and quarterbacks who shared huddles and sidelines with him who would not call him a man worthy of unqualified honors.  I think it is absurd for people to compare the destruction of locker rooms to off-field and off-roster conduct in a person's life to the idea that he just didn't understand the team concept in the ultimate team game.  I equally think it is absurd to judge a player solely through a stat sheet, which seems like the only thing some people can see.  This is a game that routinely promotes selfless sacrifice for team accomplishment, but somehow people want to act like Owens should not be held to this standard because it "shouldn't matter."  I think that is quite an insult to an awful lot of great team players in the history of the sport.  And 2) There is a maximum of five finalists a year inducted.  Some players are allowed to skip the line and go right in because nobody can question their qualifications.  If you put Owens in, you take one of these five out.  All of them got enough votes to say they deserve induction, too.   Perhaps they shouldn't be penalized for not acting in such a way that we have to discuss things like just not forcing divorces from three different teams in a way he did.  He ultimately gets in, but please spare me "Owens, the victim" pleas about his case. 
-- Julio Jones was targeted four times and caught all four passes.  It was the fewest targets of the season for the best receiver in football and he caught every one.  And his team lost.  In other words, it is next to impossible to get your hands on that trophy. 
-- Jason Garrett won coach of the year and Dak Prescott won rookie of the year in the NFL Awards.  Ezekiel Elliott won MVP votes and finished third with more votes than every NFL player but Matt Ryan and Tom Brady.  The future appears pretty bright around here.
-- It is now draft season.  I will begin writing up prospect profiles and posting them for your enjoyment or critique this week.  Eleven weeks between here and the NFL draft, where teams like these are put together.  Can't wait to start diving in on the requisite 3 games/200 snaps of their best resume tape we can find.  Nothing seen at the combine or the springtime will ever tell us more than we can find from simply watching football players play football. 
-- And, as an added bonus, this week will also be the release of the Sturm NFL franchise rankings update.  Fifty-one Super Bowls are in the books and the Patriots take another massive step up the charts into the Top 3 franchises of the Super Bowl era.  Given that they were not in the Top 20 as of the year 2000, their rise all the way to the medal stand in 16 seasons is pretty remarkable.  But, then again, so is what they have accomplished.  You can like them or hate them, but you certainly owe them a little respect for these accomplishments. 
-- Somebody stole Tom Brady's jersey out of his locker last night.  I have never seen a guy look so sad after doing something so great.  It seems if you do something like that, you should be able to have your own jersey.  Give it back.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Cowboys Ponder Their Own Free Agents

http://sportsday.dallasnews.com/dallas-cowboys/cowboys/2017/01/23/sturm-cowboys-ponder-future-free-agents

Checking In On The Dallas Stars

We certainly haven't spent much time on the Stars here on the blog, but with all of the TV time dedicated to them it seemed like a fair time to check the bad news.  And there is considerable bad news for where this team presently sits in the standings.  Their season is in a very disappointing spot after 48 games with just 47 points and only 19 wins.

There are a number of reasons for this, but they are currently around a 16% chance of post-season play this spring, which seems about 80% lower than we assumed when the puck dropped on the year.

Can it be saved?  Sure.  But, with each passing performance, it seems clear that the hockey being played in no way resembles the hockey they put out there for much of last season.  We can speculate what is health, what is poor roster assembly, and what is just poor performances from players, but the facts add up to some very disconcerting views that I tried to express on these following graphics.

They are each a look from a monthly perspective, the downward trends in 4 vitally important metrics that all look rather similar:

POWER PLAY BY MONTH - OCT 2015 - JAN 2017



PENALTY KILL BY MONTH - OCT 2015 - JAN 2017



CORSI PERCENTAGE BY MONTH - OCT 2015 - JAN 2017


SAVE PERCENTAGE BY MONTH - OCT 2015 - JAN 2017


All of them have a similar trend, but I am positive some of you are wondering what the rankings are to verify they have gone from a very good NHL team that won the West last year to a team that has a 16% chance of making the Top 8 in the West this year.

So, here are the rankings for each of those 4 vital metrics:


This chart will show you why many of us don't always point at goaltending as the issue.  They won the west last year with saves at 25th.  They had a style and won with it and were one game from the Western Conference Finals.  I am not saying you should aspire to have poor goalies, but they figured out how to deal with it.

The issues are rather clear.  They were Top 3 in puck possession and now are 18th.  They were 4th in Power Play and are now 19th.  They were 10th in penalty kill and are now one game from 30th.  These are their issues.  And the puck possession and power play speak to the old cliches about "your best players - and highest compensated players - must be your best players".  

Simply put, they don't "boss games" anymore.  They don't take over with their special players.  Again, there may be health considerations and supporting cast issues, but when you look at this whole thing is built around that dominant 5 of Klingberg, Spezza, Benn, Seguin, and whoever joins them as a 5th on the Top PP unit (Sharp, Eaves, Eakin) that seems to be a heavy reason for the state of affairs.  

And perhaps it starts with asking Esa Lindell to replace Alex Goligoski to make sure Benn, Seguin, and Spezza have the puck more.  But, regardless, the numbers above show that regardless of WHY it has happened, it has happened.  The Stars spot in the league was Top 5 when it was also Top 5 in power play and puck possession.  

But, when both fell from Top 5 to 18th and 19th, so did the Stars spot in the standings.  Nearly identically.  

It certainly makes you feel the ominous clouds coming with regards to a significant shake-up to try to save this season.