I was raised on cornerbacks Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield playing bump and run in Cleveland. It was a big reason why I wanted Darrelle Revis and added some young, promising corners with man coverage skill to my squad. I have a brother-in-arms in that department with Sam Monson. The Pro Football Focus writer unveiled his RSP Writers team yesterday and if you appreciate the skill of man coverage, you’re going to love what he did.
I probably asked Monson more follow up questions than any writer thus far, including a mini-discussion about studying the game from a statistical perspective versus one of technique. I couldn’t agree with his answer more. We lead off with that question, using Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate as the starting point for this stats vs. technique discussion.
Golden Tate is a curious player to me. When I studied him at Notre Dame, he displayed a tendency to make difficult catches down field, in coverage, or after contact despite the fact that his hands technique was awful. He could catch the ball tight to his body or trap the ball in situations where in theory he’s more likely to have the ball knocked loose.
In this respect Tate reminds me a lot of Early Doucet. Good natural skill catching the ball, but poor hands technique upon entering the league. We both work for sites that place heavy emphasis on stats tracking the end result. However, I want to take you out of what some readers might think is your comfort space of stats and discuss a wide receiver’s technique.
Does it concern you that Tate executes as a receiver with technique that traditionally interferes with a player’s ability to produce? Have you seen any improvement from Tate in this regard? And third, how do you temper your stats-based analysis with watching technique within the context of a game?
Tate is one of those players that has natural ability that for some reason is different to how you teach it. Think of Jim Furyk’s golf swing or Rich Gannon’s release, or Brett Favre’s everything. If you were taking a young player and teaching them how to do something you’re more likely to use those players as a demonstration of the wrong way to do it than an example to follow, but each guy was incredibly successful because they were just naturally gifted and so comfortable with the technique that they developed. Tate may not have textbook hand placement and catching technique, but he doesn’t drop footballs, so it falls into the realm of something I’m not too concerned about. At the NFL level Tate’s hands have been fantastic, and he has some extremely interesting skills to go along with them, I’m excited for his development now Mike Williams is gone from Seattle.
- Describe your offensive system:
- Personnel formations
- Blocking schemes,
- Bread and butter plays
- Some of the pivotal players in the scheme
- The coordinators and coach that you’d likely pick to run it
The NFL has become a passing league, and we’re not going to be left behind. In Drew Brees we snagged one of the most prolific passers of all time and a player that can handle multiple personnel packages and schemes. Brees will be the master of ceremonies for this spread attack.
We will be primarily running with three wide receivers, one tight end and one running back in all formations. At any given time, the tight end could be tight or wide as a fourth receiver, and the runners will also be a threat from the backfield or as a slot receiver. Our tight ends and running backs are designed to pose questions to opposing defenses before the huddle breaks.
We will be mixing up man and zone blocking schemes, but we won’t be leaning too heavily on zone schemes. This will be primarily a power-blocking offense with designed movement from our linemen to open up holes. The mainstay of this offense will be high-low reads. We will build in multiple layers of options into every throw, starting deep and working back towards the line of scrimmage for the dump-off options and won’t be afraid to run receivers shallow to move the chains.
Most of the skill position players are important cogs in this offense and have been chosen because of a rare blend of skills that makes them versatile and a match-up problem. Mike Wallace will scare coverage deep, and we have multiple players capable of being reliable targets to move the chains underneath. Players like Woodhead, Moeaki, Brown, Snelling, Reynaud, etc all have position flexibility and allow us to get creative before the snap.
I’d be a big fan of Chan Gailey running this offense. As one of the more creative minds in the league, he will will use personnel as I outlined and do it well. Similarly, Rob Chudzinski has a history of being creative enough to take advantage of the personnel.
Describe your defensive system according to the same criteria above
This defense is going to be aggressive and beat you with talent. We have loaded up in the defensive backfield and intend to run man coverage and dare you to beat our players. The scheme will be familiar to Raiders fans except this defense doesn’t have the weak links to target like Oakland usually does.
Darrelle Revis will track an opponent’s top receiver and take them out of the game. Lardarius Webb represents the best corner to play opposite Revis and is equally capable of moving from left to right to the slot to accommodate Revis tracking receivers. Tyvon Branch is the best man-cover safety in the game, and is the only player that has already demonstrated repeatedly he has the ability to man-up with players like Rob Gronkowski and shut them down. That is going to be huge in the coming years as everybody looks for that big tight end weapon. Branch can play strong safety and be a force in the box, manning up with those players when called for.
You make a pretty bold statement that Tyvon Branch is the only player in the game capable of taking away the hybrid tight ends in the game. However Matt Miller comments that Patrick Willis did a strong job of defending Jimmy Graham in the NFC Divisional playoffs. Who is right?
Patrick Willis is a great player, and probably the best inside linebacker in the league, and he did a fine job generally speaking on Graham in that game, but he still allowed 3 catches for over 80 yards, including a deep, 66-yarder. If I had to make do with Willis in terms of shutting down these elite freak athlete TEs, I’d still be in a better position than most teams, but I think Branch can go toe-to-toe with these guys and win the battle with all of them.
He limited Gronkowski to one catch for 15 yards in their game last season going man coverage with him most of the game. He also blanked Dustin Keller and Antonio Gates (twice!) last season while Owen Daniels and Kyle Rudolph could each muster just a single catch against him. Willis might be able to hold his own better than most players, but I think Branch can shut them down. I’m not sure Willis can do that long term.
Nice…Branch it is. What about the rest of your secondary?
Chris Cook will be our third cornerback role and play the perimeter when in the game, which will allow Revis or Webb to play the slot, depending on where the best receiver has been aligned. Cook has shown some elite cover skills already, including doing as well against Calvin Johnson as anybody last season before legal troubles left him sidelined. He has huge potential.
Danieal Manning is the nest best thing to Ed Reed as a deep, single-high free safety, and he has the range to influence throws in a Cover-1 situation.
The defensive line is designed to help the secondary by applying pressure. All four of the starters are fearsome pass-rushers on their own. Together that front is living in the backfield and killing passing games. Stephen Tulloch is an important piece of the puzzle, being uniquely capable of patrolling behind aggressive gap-shooting defensive tackles and keeping things clean up the middle.
This defense will destroy offenses and needs a Ryan to run it. Rob Ryan has been trying to build this kind of defense for years but has never had the personnel to get it done. He will love this team.
Where do you believe your offense is vulnerable in terms of system and personnel and what specifically have you done to minimize the impact of those vulnerabilities?
We are not set up to pound the ball over the course of a season and don’t expect to have to. We can keep teams honest with Chris Ivory handling the load up the middle as a punishing runner, but we need to be able to move the chains with short passes rather than relying on smash mouth football. Our depth on the offensive line is not ideal, and if we lose Brees’ blind side protector Jared Gaither things start to fall off quickly. Todd Herremans can handle himself there, but it will be a significant drop and require a re-shuffle on the offensive line.
Where do you believe your defense is vulnerable in terms of system and personnel and what specifically have you done to minimize the impact of those vulnerabilities?
This defense has very few flaws, other than the inherent flaws of a man-coverage scheme. It is potentially light up the middle on base-downs, but we have a two-down run stuffer on the roster if we need it and Tulloch on his own can paper a lot of cracks in that regard. I don’t anticipate this defense being troubled by many offenses.
I get that you have a strong defense and you take the stand that it will be a dominant unit. How would you attack it from an offensive standpoint?
The weakness of the defense is the strength of it – the fact that it can and will be playing man coverage for just about the entire time. There are ways to beat man coverage and cause confusion. Shallow crossing patterns from receivers, motion, generally testing the defense to make sure everybody knows who is covering who and that the whole unit is aware of their shifting responsibilities given each of these scenarios is how you go about trying to create breakdowns. No defense is perfect, and this defense will probably breakdown somewhere along the line, but I’m banking on it making far more plays than it blows – even in those situations.
Who are your stars and why did you invest so much in them?
Revis, Webb and Branch were vital to the defense. It all starts with the coverage, and those three can lock down in man coverage and take away an offense’s top three targets. That is a major departure from the game plan for most teams and gives us a huge advantage.
Drew Brees was the best quarterback we could afford, because you can’t win in this league without an elite guy under center. We were hoping initially for Aaron Rodgers, but given the saving, there is no discernible difference between the two, so we elected to save the $2 million. Our receiver corps and defensive line were the next biggest spends, as both will be the driving room of their units.
Name some of your offensive role players who might be role players now, but you believe could develop into much more as a starter or even star in your organization.
Guys like Aaron Brown and Danny Woodhead will be important cogs in the offense. Jason Snelling and Jackie Battle are both capable of carrying the ball a lot of Ivory should be injured, and if Moeaki goes down we would be interested to see how Martellus Bennett fared as the go-to tight end in the offense, rather than just a depth player and second tight end. Darius Reynaud would backup Percy Harvin when they were together in the Vikings and we think that’s a suitable role for him.
I always thought Aaron Brown displayed poor decision-making as a runner except in the context of a well-blocked draw play or run to the outside. I see you make the comparisons to Reggie Bush, who also displayed poor decision-making early in his NFL career. Although Bush “matured” last year, I thought that gained maturity was really a return to how he used to run the ball at USC. At TCU, I didn’t see Brown display this kind of skill so I’m curious about what you see from Brown that you like. As an integral part of your offense, how do you intend to use him?
I think Brown is a shifty, elusive runner with nice receiving skills and the athleticism to be a factor in the offense. I wouldn’t use him much as a traditional running back between the tackles, but I think he has the skills to make people miss on the perimeter and be a weapon lined up as a receiver. I always liked what I saw when the Lions used him but he seemed consistently short-changed in that regard to me. In reality he would be down the pecking order in this offense, but he’s a player I’m sufficiently intrigued by to want on the roster and to try and carve out some touches for. Another interesting comparison for him would be Michael Bennett – one time Vikings Pro-Bowl RB. Was always a fantastic player in space, but the Vikings never seemed to try and manufacture that space for him. I’d try and do that for Brown.
I love the addition of Tony Moeaki in theory. But if he can’t stay healthy, you have little depth at tight end. Is there anything you have read that bolsters your confidence in Moeaki’s health?
I’m less concerned about my depth at the position than you are. I think Martellus Bennett is a monster in-line blocker and has some serious athleticism. He’s always been the second fiddle to somebody as a pro, and I think he could emerge if he was the primary target at TE in a team. If Moeaki goes down he becomes that guy for us, and it’s not like we’re short of quality receiving options in the slot to replace his position in the spread formations either. Hayden Smith is a great athlete who I have high hopes for coming over from rugby. The position he played should have taught him a lot of the TE skills inherently, so I think he might be able to emerge down the line as a legit player. Hopefully Moeaki can stay on the field, but I’m not concerned about the team if he can’t.
Name some of your defensive role players who might be role players now, but you believe could develop into much more as a starter or even star in your organization.
Someone like Sterling Moore has shown well in limited snaps and could develop into a player that can push to start. Up front John Chick looks like a situational pass-rusher but if he develops he could win the other starting spot from Brian Robison, and D.J. Smith has a chance to develop into a future starter at linebacker.
Which of your starters or significant situational contributors on your rosters do you believe would be on the roster bubble in 2013?
Most of the offensive line would be far from untouchable. The hike in the RSP project prices hit the offensive line hard. Initially it was possible to cobble together a starting offensive line for a truly bargain basement price. This time most of the bargains were gone and some players were disastrously overpriced. As such we’ve paid money for some offensive line positions we’re not wild about, and would be using the draft of free agency to get cheaper at that position I think. Someone like Bobbie Williams would be fighting for his job against a cheaper, younger, rookie.
What was the most difficult part of the selection process for you?
Struggling with the new values in particular on the offensive line. I had planned initially to steal a march on the competition by going on the cheap on the offensive line but still getting quality players. That cheap part evaporated quickly and the offensive line ate into the cap in a hurry. Deciding whether it was worth the drop from someone like Brees/Rodgers down to a Peyton Manning for a significant saving was also something we went back and forth on. Peyton Manning if he is healthy and back anywhere near his best could wind up being the biggest bargain of this entire process, but in the end we decided it was too big of a risk to take.
Based on your roster what type of playing facility would you want as your home stadium (describe the facility as outdoors, indoors, turf, grass, climate)?
We’re a passing team, but I don’t think passing teams need to reside in domes these days, and if anything those domes may be a hindrance come December if you need to travel elsewhere in the cold. I want an outdoor stadium with field turf to acclimatize my players to the elements but give them a sensible surface in any weather.
I’m happy with all climates, but wouldn’t be wild on an early-season Florida heat, there’s too much running involved to have to cope with that as well.
Name three risky personnel selections on offense and explain why (talent, off-field, age, injury, fit, etc.).
Marques Colston has knees that must be held together by surgical tape at this stage. He is a truly excellent player, but his injury history is long and consistent. Similarly Jared Gaither has had his injury worries in the past, and was struggling to find a team for some time because of them. Both of those guys could go down at any stage. Bobbie Williams isn’t as young as he used to be and we’re projecting a smooth transition to LG despite a year off essentially. Should be OK, but it’s a concern.
Where do you intend to use Marques Colston in personnel sets? As you mentioned, his knees are held together with tape. And functionally, he’s used a lot as a big slot receiver. Give me some examples of how you incorporate him and your other receivers into this Gailey-like offense with layers so we can understand how you’re going to be effective with an the creaky Colston; Mike Wallace, who many writers and fans tend to regard as a limited route runner but great physical talent; Danny Amendola, as another slot guy; and the rest of your receivers?
Colston is at his best in the slot with the Saints, and he’ll see a lot of his time there with this offense as well. We’ll be running four-wide a lot, even if one of those wide outs is actually a tight end or even a running back. Colston has been successful on the edge too and can move between them when needed.
Amendola is more limited in terms of where he can play and will be almost entirely a slot guy providing the underneath outlets. Mike Wallace may be a limited route runner, but he runs four or five routes so well he’s extremely tough to stop, so I don’t need him to run the full route tree. He may be the best pure deep threat in the NFL, and that scares defensive backs so much that it opens up free comeback and hitch routes for him, not to mention the bubble screens from the cushion they give him.
Wallace will be primarily the deep layer, running fly patterns, posts, corners and taking coverage deep. The second receiver (Colston or Moeaki primarily) will be the intermediate layer, running digs, seam routes, ins, outs and everything to work the intermediate of the defense under the coverage Wallace will run off, and Amendola and the backs will provide the shallow layer outlet routes which can pick up quick yardage and first downs. The idea is to stretch a defense and give Brees simple but fast reads to attack a defense on every snap.
Name three risky personnel selections on defense and explain why (see above).
Justin Smith is an all-world 3-4 defensive end, and I’m convinced he could be the same as a full-time 4-3 defensive tackle, rather than the part-time one he is now, but it’s still a risk because he has never had to do it in the past. In Cincinnati he was a 4-3 defensive end, and underwhelmed there before finding his niche in SF. I think the Bengals just had him in the wrong place and at this point in his development he would be arguably the best 4-3 defensive tackle in the NFL, but on the other hand, maybe he would grind down and be less effective.
Terrance Knighton was a bargain at $0.5 million and I can only assume that is because of his eye injury. We don’t expect that to be a major issue and so snapped him up at that price.
Both of our strong side linebacker options are less than long-term proven commodities though we could move Erin Henderson to play SAM and insert Rolle into the lineup at WILL to cover if both manage to under perform.
As our reader/commenter Samuel mentioned after reading Matt Miller’s Q&A, Justin Smith is 34, and pretty old to be a cornerstone for a team. Especially such an important cornerstone. He might be in your opinion, the best defensive player in the game, but he’s pretty old. How are you accounting for this long-term, or is your approach purely a “win big now?”
When Justin Smith shows any signs of slowing down, I’ll start to consider it, until then he’s one of the most important players on this defense and we’re happy to have him. He plays with an intensity level and ferocity on every snap, and that alone will help him eek out a bit more time down the end of his career, but given if anything he is playing his best football at this age, I can’t anticipate any overnight decline that would render him useless. We’ll keep an eye out in future drafts for his long-term replacement, but we’re not concerned yet by any stretch.
Name a few players you really wished to add, but couldn’t find the room due to the restrictions of the salary cap or the fit within your team’s system.
I love Victor Cruz and Percy Harvin. Harvin especially would have been perfect for the versatility this offense requires, but at $8 million it was always a tough ask. Aaron Rodgers would have been the perfect quarterback with money no object, but that extra $2 million would have cost elsewhere. I was also keen on Mike DeVito as a versatile defensive end-defensive tackle but funds were so tight that we elected to spend half a million less on Letroy Guion for that spot. Tight times!
Which players on your team would you have added even if they cost more than the listed price?
Revis and Justin Smith were the two players we identified as cornerstones early on. They were important to what the defense wanted to do and they needed to be there. Tyvon Branch was the other player that fit into that category. He’s the only player you can man-up on athletic freaks and trust to hold his own. At the price he was worth it, but he would have been at more than that value as well.
How do you think the makeup of your roster and distribution of your resources illustrates where your philosophy breaks with NFL conventional wisdom?
I’m not sure it does too much. We played the system rather than the philosophy. Most NFL teams recognize now that paying for depth is important because you’re going to use those guys over the course of the season.
We recognized that as well, but decided that we could see enough excellent players for no money that the secret was to go cheap in those depth areas and load up with high-end merchandise for starters. Consequently we’ve ended up with some extremely capable depth players for low end prices.
The strategy of finding the bottom 20 guys on the roster I think was the most important part though, and that’s probably where the difference came, as some teams will carry players just to do so, and spend money without real thought into the quality of the depth they’re bringing in. Depth is crucial to success at the NFL level, but so is outright quality in a couple of areas.
Some people have skimped on the quarterback, and that was the one area we new we needed to be elite.
- How much of a priority did you place on special teams, considering the restrictions of the salary cap? How would you rate your special teams unit?
We viewed special teams as important, but like most NFL teams – something that came well after the starting 22 was nailed down. We looked for depth players that were known quality when it came to special teams and even dedicated a couple of spots on the roster purely for special teams specialists like Heath Farwell.
15 responses to “RSP Writers Q&A: Sam Monson, Pro Football Focus”
So I think this team correlates more with my beliefs of what NFL teams are about today. Stopping the pass and having a dynamic passing game(and a QB like Brees alone can create a dynamic passing game with limited support). I’ll go with the usual things I like and couple questions or things of note format I’ve done in the past, lemme know what you think.
Let me start off by saying there are ALOT of fantastic value picks on this team. Danieal Manning, Craig Steltz, Brian Robison, Terrance Knighton, Raheem Brock, John Greco, Will Montgomery, Harvey Dahl, Ryan Cook, Tony Moeaki, Jason Snelling, Mike Wallace, Golden Tate, Marques Colston, Aaron Brown, Chris Ivory. Some great value picks for the price tag there
I agree the offensive line price tags are just too much too invest heavily in. And the importance of a good pass blocking offensive line with a quarterback with the pocket presence and movement of Brees is mitigated(Jermon Bushrod was legit bad during the Saints super bowl run and the year after and nobody really even noticed it). A 3 receiver base is the way to go today and you can work alot off of it. I think the combination of Mike Wallace and Marques Colston in particular is one you can generate alot from and use creatively and in damaging ways. I think a deep threat as consistent at Wallace at taking the top off a defense is invaluable(along with very underrated run after catch ability) and I particuarly like Colston. A big fluid slot receiver who does a great job using his frame to create lanes, I think he can cause alot of problems. And of course the Drew Brees connection(which is important given his role as a slot receiver involves so many sight adjustments, option routes, and timing plays where his communciation with Brees is a must) is big. I’m glad somebody finally took Tony Moeaki who I’m a big fan of. Good vertical threat and a great blocker on the perimeter. For the price, you have something good on the right side in terms of run blocking with Dahl(who’ll be back at his natural position RG not T like in STL), Herremans, and Moeaki.
The design of this defense also completely concurs with what I think. Spend big on pass rush(especially the interior which gets completely overlooked) and on corners( and with versatility with Branch and Webb). There might be this idea that such a strategy isn’t ideal after the Eagles had problems with such a blatant approach last year. But I think alot of the problems the Eagles didn’t account for(versatility in coverage + solidifying the slot and interior pass rush and presence’s that demand offensive line’s focus vs the run) have been addressed here. I’m glad Sam paid tribute to two more overlooked defensive players in the league in Trent Cole and Lardarius Webb. In particular, I like this focus on locking down on the slot and the trend towards the athletic tight ends. Webb and Branch is as good a counter you can possibly have to it(with some Revis in there when need be). I think Tulloch was a good complement to this focus on the slot. His ability to rover down the middle of the Field in the Lions frequent Tampa 2 looks is very valuable and it’ll provide you with alot of needed freedom to design gameplans to hone in on the slot and tight ends and put Webb, Branch and Revis’s abilities to optimal use. And the combination of Kyle Williams and Justin Smith is truly explosive, especially on pass rushing downs. In particular I like the possibility of some A gap blitz and overload blitz looks here. Offenses always focus worrying the LBs showing blitzs or the DB’s in the overload, but with two interior pass rushers like this, the focus has to entirely be changed. Finally Brian Robison in particular was larceny at 3. A good complete defensive end who’ll feast off one on one matchups for such a cheap price is epic.
I’ll give a few thoughts and things to consider below. None of these are meant to be attacks or criticisms as much as things to think about and different vantage points.
1) This is a minor thing but I don’t agree with the logic that the difference between Brees and Rodgers isn’t worth 2 bucks. The thing here is you’re building a team with the long term future in mind. Brees is 33. Rodgers is 28. That five year difference is huge in in the long term(think maybe 8 prime years left vs 3) and it’s why it puts Rodgers value on a whole different level from other QBs. I do think it is worth nothing what you probably consider your best defensive player(smith) and best offensive player(brees) are 33 years old each. If your trying to build for the long term, I’m not saying that’s a significant red flag, but it shouldn’t be thrown under the rug completely.
2)I love the idea of creating versatility and matchup issues with your skill position players by using rare blends of skill and having defenses face personnel problems. But look at whom your relying on to do that outside of Colston(Wallace doesn’t really fit this particular category). Woodhead, snelling, bennett, golden tate, darius reynard danny amendola, aaron brown and chris ivory. These are your matchup issue type players with the rare skill set and versatility you emphasized as really THE fulcrum of the offense. How many of them really cause defenses to CHANGE and disturb what they want to do, thats the key question? How many cause true deficiencies for a defense consistently? As of now, MAYBE, danny woodhead, in his 2010 form, not 2011. And if all goes well, MAYBE, 2 more develop like that but its alot to risk on. Until another player develops though, I think there might be a lack of equilibrium. I think Danny Amendola and Colston strengths cross over alot. Colston is a different kind of slot receiver than Amendola and he can play outside fine, but that’s not where he’s at his best. I love the possibilities of what you can do with Colston, but outside of it I think there is the chance there are some limitations with what you can design. You touched on Wallace’s route limitations and Amendola’s underneath. Moeaki is probably more a blocker than receiver. The rest are projects for now. While this definitely won’t be an easy offense to stop, there might be (and might is the key word) a bit of a ceiling on the ways you can challenge a defense at the beginning.
Now here’s why I’m making an issue of how much those versatile skill position players really stress a defense: your relying on below average starting running backs and at best an average interior offensive line(only Dahl I’d consider above average). I think an offense like the Saints could get away with only having 1 truly fearsome matchup issue during its Super Bowl run because it had a dominant run game. But will that run game really scare anybody and second guess them from subpackages? To have a dominant offense with a mediocre run game, you need to be the Green Bay Packers esque in terms of weapons to create such nightmares with matchups(Jennings, Cobb, Nelson, Finley even James Jones). But like I said above, I’m not sure you do(although maybe you do).
3) The defense is very well done also and alot of the issues a team might have by focusing on coverage and pass rush like the Eagles last year you addressed. I’ll chime in a couple quick things
a) Justin Smith in the 4-3 is a risk but to me more is Kyle Williams as the 1 tech or shade. Hes 300 LB and in Buff w Dareus he’s definitely a 3 tech. I wonder how he’ll hold up at that spot vs the run.
b) Stephen Tulloch is solid but is he really worth 6 in such a scheme when you’ve played so much emphasis on cost efficiency? I can’t say I’m sure either way. Would Brian Cushing at just a tad more been worth it or a guy at 3 like Brandon Spikes? Or even a guy like Gary Guyton or Larry Grant at 1?
c) I think in general it’s worth at least considering this idea that alot of these guys your counting on defense have done it for essentially 1 surprising break out year stretches at top play and not more yet. Kyle Williams 2010. Erin Henderson 2011. Lardarius Webb 2011 out of nowhere and a late round pick. Tyvon Branch 2011 especially as a slot and tight end coverage specialist. It might be gambling to ask for them to repeat that consistently yr after yr. This isn’t a major major issue but it’s worth at least throwing out there and something I noticed.
overall very well done. Not only did you shape your team around what I think are the central issues towards building a top unit in today’s game, you addressed the problems teams in the past that build towards such strategies have had to deal with nicely. Well written and explained with good reasoning. Keep up the great work.
Thanks for the long and detailed reply. I thought I’d answer a few of your concerns:
The Age thing:
It’s a fair point, but neither player has showed hints of slowing down or being anything other than All-Pro in their play. The Saints just handed Drew Brees a biblical new contract, so nobody is really anticipating his decline. It’ll happen eventually, and you’re right, that Rodgers is probably worth the extra cash for his age alone, but by the time it becomes an issue this team could have a few rings under the pillow.
In terms of versatility and position matchup problems I think you’re underselling a couple of players. I’m not sure Woodhead’s play declined from 2010 to 2011 as much as he just became less of a factor as he was superseded in the offense by Aaron Hernandez – a bigger matchup problem for defenses. He can still straddle HB/WR equally which puts pressure on a defense to decide how to play him. I think Moeaki is similarly capable of straddling in-line TE and split out receiver. Aaron Brown and Reynaud are lesser players of the same mould, and guys like Bennett and Snelling can be a factor in both heavy and light sets on offense.
I think you relate Colston a little too closely to Amendola when in reality though they play the same position (slot) they play it very differently, and at completely different depths of the field. Colston may ply his trade primarily from the slot, but his average depth of target isn’t any lower than a perimeter receiver, and in many instances is actually higher. Amendola is at the other end of the scale, and you won’t find many, if any, receivers with a lower depth of target. He operates underneath, between zones and in multiple breaking quick routes, while Colston goes deeper downfield to stress coverage zones. I see no reason why they can’t both function in the same offense and exploit different areas entirely while Wallace attacks deep.
Lastly while the OL interior might not be all-world, I think it’s a pretty capable unit, and I think we have multiple runners capable of pounding the ball up the middle and getting hard yards if necessary. Ivory is an extremely underrated pure runner and runs with violence and purpose every time he gets the ball. If he is the primary ball-carrier with guys like Snelling and Battle spelling him and then the speedy crew in as change of pace backs, that is a tough ask for a defense, even one built to stuff the run with physical dominance.
Lastly the one year thing – I’m not sure that’s true. Kyle Williams was a monster pretty much from the outset and only improved year on year until his supposed break-out year of 2010. He was also the NT in buffalo’s system for a while and though I don’t think it’s where he is best he’s demonstrated in the past that he is more than capable of manning up inside as the 4-3 NT. As for whether Tulloch was worth the cost, I think he is virtually uniquely qualified to be a steadying force behind an aggressive interior like that. Brandon Spikes was someone I considered, but he doesn’t have the 3-down coverage skills, or the lateral range of Tulloch, and he has never had to do it with bodies in his face given the front the Patriots have. Tulloch has gotten it done with a DL that practically abandons its responsiblities and lets him pick up the pieces, and he’s still succeeded. If there is any concerns about Smith and Kyle Williams being over aggressive and abandoning their run fits – Tulloch is vital to cleaning that up.
Other players you claim are really only one-year players I think that does a disservice to. Lardarius Webb looked excellent as a rookie before injury and his career trajectory has only ever gone up since coming back from the injury. Last season wasn’t a fluke, it was just his natural development. Erin Henderson may be working from just a season of play, but I’ve seen him in limited snaps in previous seasons and he always looked like he was capable if he got playing time. Then he got it and dominated. Maybe it’ll go away in year two, but I can’t see why it would. Tyvon Branch has had several years of pretty good play now and his coverage skills have only been improving. If nothing else he is a tough and good SS, but I think he’s proving now he’s a legitimate lockdown option on these big TEs. I see what you’re saying in that some of these players don’t have a 5-year history of All-Pro play, but if they did then everybody would know about them and their price would be $10m. Instead they’re still relatively under the radar, but I have confidence in each one.
Youve listed a bunch of good fair counter points to my claims above. I think at some point it just comes to different view points and opinions on values of players. You probably think higher of Henderson, Williams, Webb and Branch than I do. And that’s fine. Teams have serious disagreement about how to value players all the time(I remember peter king reporting there were two teams in the top 15 this past year that thought Tannehill was the best QB in the draft). Thats what the game is. That’s fine. I watched all those guys and I don’t think Williams was the best defensive player in football in 2010 like you said on your sight or that Webb had a Revis esque year last year or Erin Henderson was a Pro Bowler, but that’s fine. Football is meant to be an extremely subjective game. Trying to simplify it to advanced statistics and taking away the subjectivity to me isn’t the way to approach it.
Colston is different than Amendola your right but I liked what Colston could provide as I said above. To me Amendola is rather limited and I’m not sure I agree with your value on guys like Brown, Moeaki, Ivory(Ill mention that I think Ivory looked alot better playing behind whats by far the best interior line in football in NO), Snelling, Battle and Tate, but that’s fine. There’s a reason sleepers are what they are; most people sleep on them because they dont think that much of them. I guess my point just was that I don’t know if those guys really truely stress a defense. As for the Woodhead thing, I don’t know if I saw quite the same burst and lateral agility as in 2010 but that’s up for debate. What I’ll say is that there’s a reason they scaled him back; they thought they had better weapons. And that’s my point, I thought maybe it might have ben better for you to invest in better weapons for your team considering the offense your running. But that’s a maybe and I’m still not sure about it. It’s just something to throw out there and consider.
I thought it might be interesting for me to throw out the team I came up with. The reason I commented on Sam getting great value is I had alot of those guys on my team. See what you think, any comments very welcome.
QB: Aaron Rodgers, Stephen McGee, Nate Davis
RB: Trent Richardson, Javon Ringer, Jason Snelling, Montell Owens
WR: Calvin Johnson, Matt Slater, AJ Green, Golden Tate, Austin Pettis
TE: Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernanez, Tony Moeaki
T: Todd Herremans, J’Marcus Webb, Ryan Cook
G: Harvey Dahl, Kevin Boothe, 3rd guard at .5 I cant remember off top of my head
C: Jason Kelce, Doug Legursky
DE: Stephen Bowen, Terrance Knighton, Corey Peters, Cameron Heyward, Corey Liguet
DT: Paul Siolai, Terrence Cody, Earl Mitchell
OLB: Von Miller, Clay Matthews, Cris Carter, Bryan Thomas
MLB: Brendon Ayanbadejao, Heath Farrell, Larry Grant, Chase Blackburn, Darryl Sharpton, Patrick Willis
CB: Darrell Revis, Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen, Ras I Dowling, Kyle Wilson, Brice McCain(I counted Matt Slater as a DB to save .5)
S: Earl Thomas, Glover Quin, Craig Steltz, James Ihedigbo
K: Ryan Longwell
P: Kevin Huber
There might be one or two slight errors here when I look back at hte roster as I initially wrote it but this is more or less it. Lemme know what you think. Thanks
Samuel, thank you again for the detailed commentary about the teams you’re reading. I’m loving what you’re posting.
These are very similar to the team that I put together. Similar emphasis on the passing game, similar approach of superstars and cheap values, and a lot of the same players. I also relied heavily on PFF’s numbers, which explains some of the similarity. Compared to Sam Monson’s team, I put more emphasis on the offense (e.g., Calvin Johnson, Fitz, and Gronk; no expensive DBs other than Revis) and on youth (e.g., Rodgers instead of Brees, no Justin Smith).
The general strategy is: build an adequate team of cheap players, with young high-upside prospects where possible and enough depth so that you’re okay if some don’t pan out (I actually think it’s possible to put together a non-atrocious minimum-salary defense). Then add superstars at key positions, especially QB, receiver, and pass rush; and to some extent coverage & OL.
Here’s my team:
QB: Aaron Rodgers, Nick Foles, Stephen McGee
RB: Pierre Thomas, Joe McKnight, Jackie Battle, Jason Snelling
WR: Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Golden Tate, Andre Holmes, Ruvell Martin
TE: Rob Gronkowski, Tony Scheffler, Will Heller
OT: Jake Long, Anthony Collins, Demarcus Love
OG: Geoff Schwartz, Matt Slauson, Ryan Wendell
C: John Sullivan, Chris Spencer
DE: Charles Johnson, Brian Robison, Antwan Barnes, Brandon Graham, William Hayes, Marcus Benard
DT: Kyle D. Williams, Pernell McPhee, Terrance Knighton, Corey Liuget, Stephen Paea
LB: Stephen Tulloch, Brandon Johnson, Philip Wheeler, Nick Roach, Arthur Moats, Akeem Jordan
CB: Darrelle Revis, Chris Cook, William Middleton, Brice McCain, Ras-I Dowling, Brandon Harris
S: Danieal Manning, Chris Conte, Dwight Lowery, Craig Steltz
ST: Pat McAfee, Ryan Longwell, Zak DeOssie
In retrospect I wish I had Greco as one of my OL and another young WR like Rod Streater or Roberto Wallace.
Some commentary on your offense:
Your skill position players are ridiculous and, as I mentioned in my other comment, I see a lot of similarity to how I built my team. Aaron Rodgers, Calvin Johnson, and Rob Gronkowski are the three players that I started with as the core my offense (in that order), and they’ll give defenses fits. I think those 3 pretty much guarantee that your offense will be elite. Then you fill out the rest of your skill position starters with more superstars: Green, Hernandez, and Richardson. That’s a lot of size, speed, skills, and matchup problems.
But I’m concerned that your weak offensive line may make your offense less unstoppable than it looks. Weapons 3-5 may help you run up the score on bad defenses, but I think the line is more important for letting your offense continue to thrive against the best defenses. It is possible to win with a bad OL (witness last year’s Super Bowl champion New York Giants), but a bad OL leaves you vulnerable to getting shut down if you face a defense that can exploit it. Witness how the Giants’ offense stalled against the Niners, despite having an excellent quick-release quarterback and a couple of great receivers – Justin Smith and Ray McDonald just didn’t give Manning room to do anything after halftime, and as a result the Giants’ offense had about 1 good play in 12 possessions.
Herremans and Dahl look to be your only competent linemen (meaning linemen who I’d be content to have in my starting lineup). Boothe and Kelce leave you vulnerable to an interior pass rush – any quarterback will struggle with pressure up the middle – and Webb is a turnstile at tackle. All 5 eligible receivers in your base offense are players who create major worries for a defense, but there’s less to be worried about if they have to stay in to block or don’t have time to get down the field (or get benched for more pass blockers). You could emphasize quick passing and RAC (which all your skill position players except Green would excel at), and against most defense that would work pretty well, but an aggressive, tight-coverage defense (like Monson’s or Rex Ryan’s) can get the jump on an offense that is limited to short passes. You have invested a lot in receivers that can threaten the defense vertically, but the line needs to hold up for a couple seconds in order to cash in on that investment.
I also don’t think defenses with a good line will be that concerned about your running game. You’re counting on Richardson to keep them honest, but if you’re losing in the trenches then the running game is not much of a threat.
Of course no problem at all. Matt I did post something on your team a while back, did you get a chance to check it out? Also any thoughts on the team I posted right above?
I believe I posted back on your comments about my team. Check the page. I expressed my thoughts on Sam’s through my questions and comments leading the presentation. I don’t think I have much more to add at this point.
My mistake I didnt see your comments I took a look, I’ll post a response later when I get a chance. I was talking about my team I just posted in the comment sections by the way, if you get a chance check it out and let me know what you think.
I’ll get a chance later this weekend, I hope. Looking forward to seeing it.
For Dan what jumps out is that no defense can come up
with a game plan to stop Calvin Johnson, Fitzgerald AND Gronkowski. I
think the best defensive scheme at its best can account for 2 players. Ive
never seen one account for 3. An added benefit is focusing an offense
around these 3 allows you to stick with base personnel also. 2 WR like
Fitzgerald and Megatron with Gronkowski in line as a blocker(given how
good a blocker he is thats very feasible) and you can have a field day
designing passing plays out of base personnel and making defense choose
between either going in subpackages or accounting for the fact your still
in a run type formation. Its just so hard to design around receivers like
this who can a) overwhelm any coverage with there size b) Can destroy man
coverage and create huge vertical plays with ease against it. If you keep
them outside opposite each other its so hard to design a coverage scheme
that accounts for rolling towards both on opposite sides. If you keep them
on the same side in a 2X2 or 3X1 receiver distribution, then its almost
unfair. Both Arz and Det focus a ton of there passing game around taking
advantage of the attention there star receivers get by lining up receivers
on that same side to exploit the holes or lack of attention left behind
his trail or right with him as he devours all the defenses attention. Now
do that with Fitz or Megatron instead of Andre Roberts or Nate Burlesson
and its ridiculous.
On defense I like the depth at pass rush and the opportunities for
interior pass rush. Very compelling. And of course Mr. Revis in the
secondary allows you alot of creativity with how you design your coverage.
He might have more value than any defensive player when it comes to how
you design a defense and in terms of what he provides(the fact theres no
one close to his level at corner only adds significantly to his value)
the questions to think about are a) there just simply is no threat of a
run game. Pierre Thomas has always looked good, but theres a reason hes
never been a feature RB and hes benefited greatly playing behind by far
the best interior linemen in football. While having 3 absolute super stars
in base personnel may render subpackages less effective than if you were
constantly spreading teams out with more good but not as ridiculously as
uncoverable options, there just is no incentive for any team not to do
everything to go in subpackages and bracket and combination coverage in
everyway possible on those 3. If I were to play you, forget about nickel,
Id play dime the whole game and be absolutely thrilled if you choose to
run it 30 times. Thats one thing I realized making my team, you really do
need some threat of a run game to maximize your offense. It can still be
epically good without one with those 3 targets, but your better off with a
stud RB(and ive always believed RBs make the run game far more than the
oline so its ok if you have a stud rb with medicority on the o line). b) I
think a top tackle is an unnecessary luxury with a QB as good as Rodgers.
Look at some of the top QBs and there tackles past 5 years. Rodgers played
with a walking liability with Marshal Newhouse last year and Alan Barbre
two years ago. Drew Brees played with another one in Jermon Bushrod there
SB year(although Bushrod did finally improve last year). Peyton Manning
played with Tony Ugoh and Charlie Johnson the past few years, both
medicore. Point is I don’t know if an elite tackle really adds much
especially for the hefty price tag especially with a guy like Rodgers. c)
the pass rush is deep but I’m not sure there really is a top notch guy for
defense to focus on. Charles Johnson is good and well rounded but Id like
him alot as a teams second pass rusher. As its best one hes not an above
average option. Antwaan Barnes is a good subpackage pass rusher but I
dontk now if if hes as good as those 11 sacks last year. Brian Robison is
good value but hes not someone you gameplan around. Inside you have
Williams and McPhee which is good but it came at a fairly hefty price in my opinion. Now maybe having 4 good pass rushers is better than 1-2 elite pass rushers, I’m note sure and a lot of it comes down to scheming. I just don’t know though how much those pass rushers really make you change your game plan as a defense. C) The run defense might be an issue. Williams as a shade 1 tech isn’t where he’s best at and McPhee is still a developing player vs the run. Knighton is solid but he wasn’t as good as he was in 2010 last year and has to watch his weight. And the LBs are very average. I like Tulloch but like I said above I’m not sure he’s worth his price tag and he’s not to me a true down hill thumper. D) The secondary outside of Revis might have some problems. There’s not much versatility with the safeties and I’m note sure who’s going to play the CB 2 spot. McCain is good in the slot but Cook and Middleton are really nickel corners. Dowling to me is more safety and if corner is a zone type corner who will limit how you can disguise and design coverages. Brandon Harris is a good gamble but its hard to have tons of expectations for him right now. I don’t think this is a badly designed defense at all but there are clear questions at key facets of the game such as second corner, some in run defense perhaps and generating a true top notch pass rush. You focused on designing a good offense, that’s where your top money went, and I think that’s a good plan but you’ve left some question marks on your defense in the process. There’s no way around it but I wonder if you might have been better off focusing on quality over quantity at pass rush and saving money on LT. Overall though nice job, I’m glad somebody shared my approach with loading up on super star skill position players and you chose the right player to spend big on to build a defense around in Revis. Well done.
Thanks for the feedback, Samuel!
I do love that Johnson-Fitzgerald-Gronkowski combo. Three amazing, complete, big receivers, who destroy single coverage and will beat you short, intermediate, or deep. With Aaron Rodgers getting them the football.
A lot of players on my team are going to be competing for their roles, especially on defense (where a lot of my depth players are likely NFL starters this year). Lowery and Conte are competing to be my starting FS (Manning is a sure-tackling SS), Middleton, Cook, Dowling, and Harris at CB2, various guys at OLB, Robison, Barnes, and Graham at DE2, McPhee, Knighton, Paea, and Liuget at DT. The safest option is probably to stick with players’ previous roles and start Lowery, Middleton, Robison, and Knighton, and if things turn out that way it would be fine. On the DL, that would make Williams the starting 3 technique, with Barnes & McPhee as situational pass rushers and other DL occasionally rotating in. That would give me a starting front four that is very stout against the run, and at least pretty good players everywhere (except for OLBs that are weak in coverage). But I’m hoping that some of my young guys win bigger roles. I think that a lot of them could be good or even elite – especially Cook at CB (there’s even talk from the Vikings of having him shadow #1 WRs), McPhee as a three technique, and Barnes & Graham as pass rushers.
I’ll go into a little bit more detail on my DL, LT, and running game, where you raise issues.
In my mind, I was building this defense around the front four (Revis was a bit of a luxury). I expect them to create havoc in the backfield from every spot on the line, off the edge and up the middle, rotating guys in & out without letting up the pressure, with playing time shifting to whoever proves most dangerous. I did go for quantity, in part because I think it’s very hard for an offense to play against a DL that has 3 or 4 guys who can beat one-on-one blocking to get to the quarterback (even if none of them stands out as super-elite). I also think odds are that, within a year or two, you will think that this line has at least one top-notch talent. Johnson & Williams were at least borderline elite in 2010 but took a step back last year (partly because of injuries), Barnes & McPhee have been amazing as situational pass rushers and could thrive in bigger roles (like Cameron Wake & Geno Atkins did), and Graham is a young first rounder who had excellent Pass Rushing Productivity in limited playing time in 2010 but has struggled with injuries.
On the offensive line, I agree that Long is something of a luxury, but I like having one guy who I can trust to go one-on-one so that I can provide help elsewhere. Also, tackle prices were high across the board; if I have to pay $6M just to settle for a decent option like Brandon Albert then the upgrade to Long isn’t all that expensive. I considered investing in elite guards and skimping at tackle, like the Saints do, but it looked like that would actually increase the cost of my O-line. Elite QBs have benefited from top LTs like Tarik Glenn and Matt Light. Long helps give Rodgers time to make throws down the field, and he’s a big help in the running game, so I decided that he was worth it.
I think that my passing attack, plus a lot of solid or better run blockers (with Long & Gronk as standouts), will let my running game crank out first downs almost regardless of who I put back there. BenJarvus Green-Ellis did it with the Pats, and Snelling and Battle aren’t far from him. Pierre Thomas is much better – he has been an extremely effective runner, and creates a lot of missed tackles. I’m hoping that McKnight will become a major weapon and earn a spot as the 2nd man in a committee. I did strongly consider Jonathan Stewart, but ultimately decided to spend my money elsewhere. Elite RBs are nice but I think that teams like the Pats & Saints have shown that they’re not necessary in order to have a strong running game. Instead, I went after cheap RBs who I can also trust in the passing game: all but Battle are good receivers, and all except maybe McKnight are good pass blockers (unlike Stewart). I’m also likely to target RB in next year’s draft (along with OLB, LG, and slot WR) – those are all positions where it’s possible to find quality players throughout the draft.
Youve raised good counter points to the claims I made above. Ill comment on some of what you said raise a few other things to think about also.
1) “Elite RBs are nice but I think that teams like the Pats & Saints have shown that they’re not necessary in order to have a strong running game”——I think the reason the Saints and the Patriots churn out some unheralded runners into productive players is the fact the Saints had the ridiculous combination of Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans and the Patriots have Logan Mankins and the very solid Brian Waters. I’m a big believer the RB is what makes a running game successful more so than an offensive line(look at the top RBs in the league and there offensive lines) but when you have interior offensive lines that good, you can muster a good running game out of a good passing attack and phenomenal guards. Quite simply, you don’t have that. Therefore, I still think the running game is an issue for you and we see it almost every year, top passing games have off games at some point( Packers in playoffs this year, Saints this year, Patriots last year) and I’m not sure if your running game is really good enough to take on a much greater burden. I like the idea of having RB’s who are good receivers on passing downs alot and your right you can draft RBs which makes it much more passable to pass on them here, but my point on every team playing deep subpackages against you I think still stands.
2) “Also, tackle prices were high across the board; if I have to pay $6M just to settle for a decent option like Brandon Albert then the upgrade to Long isn’t all that expensive”—–I don’t want to spend too much on this but I think 6.50, the diff between Albert and Long, is alot. Just to give an example for that price tag you could have replaced Antwaan Barnes and Brian Robison for Jason Pierre Paul. It is a big commitment and with a top quarterback so good at hiding his tackles, I think its too much of a luxury. Just my opinion, we can agree to disagree but I think its worth looking at.
3) The defensive line point of trying to build a whole unit full of hard to block guys as opposed to 1-2 almost impossible to block guys and the other half only ok players is interesting. I think you can create some interesting subpackages for sure with Brandon Graham, Antwaan Barnes, Stephen Paea and Pernell McPhee as reserves, and really the league is a subpackage league today. You spent 11 on those pure reserves as it is. Ultimately this is what you have to ask; is 60% of snaps of Charles Johnson, Brian Robison and Kyle Williams and 40% of those reserves that add up to 11 mill better than lets say going 85% of Jason Pierre Paul, Ndamukong Suh(or whatever top 3 tech DT you want to insert—I picked Suh because the talent and potential is for him to be a force for the next decade not because hes necessarily so much better than the 28 yr old Kyle Williams right now remember think long term here), Justin Tuck or a Julius Peppers (instead of Charles Johnson at your LE) and 15% to cheap reserve options like Earl Mitchell and Willie Young? I tend to go with the later, but I’m not sure, there is definitely room to argue on both sides for this. How much better are players when there snaps are limited to say 60% instead of 85% is the key question here. I don’t know the answer really, and I wish there was a study done on it, but its a fascinating question to think about.
4) In real life situations, I think the idea of trying to build good depth along the way and avoiding paying heavy for the top tier of players and filling the depth with bottom tier scrubs tends to be a good strategy and that’s what you did with your defensive line. I know that’s one of the big points Football Outsiders has tried to get across for years. I don’t agree with it as much as they do but its a solid argument. But I think things are different with this game. The reserves you can get at minimum level aren’t bottom tier scrubs. Terrance Knighton, Earl Mitchell, Corey Peters, Corey Liguet, Cameron Heyward, these are all .5 players who there respective teams are giving significant roles to and relying on. Liguet and Heyward were 1st round picks a year ago in fact. If those are the reserves you can get, I think its worth then spending the top dollar on the top players when at minimum value you can get those kind of options.
5) You did raise an interesting point with Kyle Williams and Charles Johnson both playing at an elite level in 2010 and dropping last year playing through injuries. Now, I didn’t think Williams played as well in 2010 as some like Pro Football Focus thought but there’s still validity to this idea he can get back to a very high level when healthy. I don’t think Johnson has the skill set either to be a dominant cream of the crop defensive end but it is worth considering if he can play more like he did in 2010 than 11. It’s a gamble, but its a good counter to what I said about them.
You have a type of team with clear limitations and areas of concern which you would look to address in the draft in coming years. That’s a wise strategy to implement and one I tried with my team as well. You have to look at the long term prospects of teams with this game which I think you did pretty well. You have to consider the shelf life of the players on your team. Look at NFL rosters just 3 years ago and how completely different they are now. Amazing. And do it for 6 years ago and youll be baffled. Overall nice job, well done, take a look at my team and see what you think if you get a chance.
[…] RSP Writers Project: The Sporting News’ Russ Lande, Footballguys’ Chase Stuart, Pro Football Focus’ Sam Monson, and Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller have all unveiled teams in the past two weeks. […]
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