Friday, November 30, 2012

John Clayton: Good reporter, good person, shitty writer

John Clayton seems like a nice enough dude. He put up with being bullied by Sean Salisbury for years, his Sportscenter commercial from earlier this year was great, and I very much doubt he's among the cavalcade of assholes at ESPN who think they are God's Gift to Sports Media. He also really should stick to doing only TV journalism, or get a much better editor for his written work. This mailbag column is abominable.

With Tuesday's release of Jason Babin, the Philadelphia Eagles are breaking up their dream team -- a dream that turned into a nightmare.

JUXTAPOSITION! The reader is now HOOKED!

What looked to be a great idea collapsed in mediocrity and is now an embarrassment. Great cap planning by an aggressive organization allowed the Eagles to jump into free agency in 2011 in the hopes of grabbing a championship. The Redskins and Cowboys were trying to do the same thing, but the league robbed them of $46 million of cap space in 2012 and 2013 for what was considered cap manipulation in an uncapped year.

Now, it's interesting to see the Eagles behind both teams in the standings.

It's really not interesting at all. All three of these teams spend shitloads of money every single year. The Redskins have been the laughingstock of the division for a decade, but they've certainly always been trying to win and it was only a matter of time before they accidentally buttfucked their way into a quality QB. Their presence in front of the Eagles in the standings is "something that is happening." Saying it is interesting is going way too far. Same for the Cowboys, who have recently actually been somewhat good (although not great), much like the Eagles.

Babin did his part to help in his first season. He had 18 sacks and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl, more than justifying his five-year, $28.3 million contract. Others haven't.

Babin got cut because he was getting paid a shitload of money and only had 4.5 sacks this year, while also not doing anything else particularly well. Let's not go not throwing him under the bus.

Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha got $60 million over five years, but he has lost speed and coverage skills. Over 11 games, he has surrendered 27 completions for 552 yards and five touchdowns. Only 10 corners have allowed more yards. Last season, he gave up 21 completions for 314 yards and four touchdowns the entire season, which wasn't bad but the defense played too much zone.

You were doing well until that last part. What the hell are you trying to say? I guess the message is that Asomugha's 2011 numbers weren't as good as they appeared, because he had a ton of safety help, but they way you've worded it makes it sound like two unrelated thoughts crammed into the same sentence. Andrew Luck has been better than expected as a rookie this year but the Colts have a very overweight fanbase.

Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins has been a solid interior lineman for the Eagles. He had 5.5 sacks in his first season as an Eagle in 2011, but over the past month, his playing time has dropped from the 40-50 plays per game range into the 20s. He got a five-year, $30.3 million deal.

Guy making $6 million a year who's on the sidelines for two thirds of his team's defensive snaps: sounds solid to me.

Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie came to the Eagles in the Kevin Kolb trade and has been OK. He gave up 18 completions last season. He has given up 29 completions for 494 yards this season.

So he's worse than Asomugha? Better? Unclear. One thing that is clear is that he's better than Kevin Kolb, since he has a pulse, so the Eagle have that going for them.

Then there's Michael Vick, who got a six-year, $102 million deal to make a Super Bowl run.

Yes.  That is true.  Please complete your idea.

If there is a lesson to be learned, it's that gambling that much money on 30-year-old players is risky. Older players have a shorter window to win. 

Isn't your thesis that the Eagles were specifically looking at a short window to win? They saw that the Cowboys and Redskins (btw, I love that he didn't mention the 4th team in the division, the one that has consistently been better than the other three over the course of the past five seasons, in his initial analysis) were getting hit with cap penalties in 2011, and decided to go for it right then and there, which wasn't (or was? I can't tell) a bad idea? You are definitely casting bad light on the results the Eagles got, but are you casting bad light on their process as well? I can't tell. You are a bad writer.

Andy Reid made a miscalculation by putting three older starters with first-time defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, who had moved over from the offensive line.

So the problem was the overinvestment in old players, except that it was also probably hiring a really terrible and inexperienced defensive coordinator.

Still this nightmare won't stop future teams from making such gambles. The Eagles thought they had the quarterback in Vick. They had the cap room and the money. They were trying to keep their fan base excited.

So the process was or was not bad? Please pick one. Otherwise, you're just reciting stats and pointing out that this iteration of the Eagles sucks, something we all knew 12 months ago.

With an 8-8 first year and a 3-8 disaster this season, it wouldn't surprise me if Vick, Jenkins and Asomugha were all be gone by next season.
It's sad.

Fin. On to the letters, where John answers questions in much the same way Joe Morgan used to all those years ago.

From the inbox

Q: Can you explain the logic that the Competition Committee used when implementing the rule about baring coaches' challenges and assessing a 15-yd penalty when a coach throws a red flag on a scoring play? You know the NFL is taking heat over such a lame-brain rule when they're considering rescinding the rule during the season. When was the last time the CC rescinded a rule during the season? Has it ever been done?
Fred in Tampa, Fla.

Big ups to Fred for using "baring" instead of "barring." The last time we heard about baring coaches, Mike Singletary's ass was involved.

A: The league is trying to move more replays to the booth. They want to take some of the pressure off the coaches, who reluctantly agreed to the challenges to get replay.

The thinking is not to have a coach challenge a play that is going to be reviewed automatically, as all turnovers and scoring plays are. 

Yes. I think we all know that. This guy has asked the question "We all understand B, which flows from A, but can you tell me about C?" and John has responded by saying "Let me tell you all about A."

What the committee didn't take into account was the emotion of the moment. Coaches want bad plays overturned. They reach for the flag for fear the next play is going to happen before there is a replay.

Fine. What about Fred's other question--has this happened before?

What will be fixed is still having the play reviewed if a coach challenges an automatically reviewable play. The league may still keep the 15-yard penalty, but all will be discussed over the next few weeks. Things could change in the playoffs, which would be a positive.

Non-responsive, in the vein of Joe.

Q: As it relates to the Jim Schwartz penalty, is there a hole in the rule? What's to stop coaches in Gary Kubiak's position from throwing the flag? In fact, why WOULDN'T they throw it in similar situations? The play can't be reviewed, your touchdown stands (that would have been overturned), and you kick off from your 20. If this is indeed a hole in the rule, I would question whether the league could wait until after the year to change the rule.

Rick in Middletown, Conn.

A: If you are Kubiak, logic would be the reason you don't throw the flag. 

No. It would not. You do not understand this guy's question, which isn't the end of the world, but your editor should have caught this. There... is an editor, right? Wait, nope, this is ESPN.

It's not as though you are going to eliminate the play. 

That's exactly the point--you might be able to freeze the play as called on the field by preempting the review.

Plus, this would be judged as a calculated strategy to try to show up officials. 

That is true, and Heavyhands Goodell would undoubtedly make sure it only ever happened once by having Kubiak stoned to death, but it's still an interesting thought.

You can't have two challenges on one play. 

Again, editor, please catch this and explain the guy's question to John.

The coaches are warned before each game not to challenge a play that is going to be replayed by the booth official.


Though a scenario such as that hasn't been tried, I don't see it happening. First, Kubiak would lose a challenge that he might need later in the game. 

But keep a 75 yard TD he doesn't deserve.

Second, he'd leave his team vulnerable to a penalty.


Q: I think it is time for the league to not only expand the 53-man roster, but to consider expanding the game day 46-man roster as well. Several factors make this the right move. Teams are more conservative than ever in handling injuries, trying not to put a player back on the field until he is ready. As a separate issue, the concussion policy of the league also forces teams to be conservative with this particular type of injury.

Lastly, the schedule, which includes frequent Sunday/Monday night games for some teams, and Thursday night games once per season for all teams, causes issues for teams getting players healthy enough to play. Dallas has three defensive starters on IR, and six out of their seven inactive choices for the Thanksgiving game were essentially made for them as they had too many players that were too injured to play. What do you think? I think increasing the roster size to 55 with a 48 man game day roster may be appropriate.

Mike in Saratoga, N.Y.

That's pretty reasonable.

A: Voices on many teams would agree with you, but old-school organizations would try to block such a move. 


While it would make sense to have extra bodies available to handle special teams and provide extra bodies, 

The extra bodies would indeed provide extra bodies, yes.

these teams would worry about competitive disadvantages.


Let's say the 49ers, which have been a healthy team for the past two years, have 53 healthy players. Let's say the Jaguars, which are 1-10, have five guys who can't play because of injuries and don't have that deep of a roster. The 49ers would be deeper and better, and it could promote more of a blowout with their advantage. Agree or disagree, but that's the thinking.

You just used like 80 words to say absolutely nothing. You have not answered this guy's question, nor even comprehended it, apparently. He's not saying teams should be able to expand their rosters midseason. Every team would have a larger roster than they do now at all times. The imaginary healthy 49ers would still have 5 more healthy players than the imaginary injured Jaguars (score of their imaginary meeting: 56-0 if Gabbert starts, 35-3 if Henne starts).

Q: I watched the Bucs-Panthers game. Josh Freeman (and his receivers) played terribly for the first three quarters. Then, they started running a hurry-up offense and Freeman came alive. It seems that most QBs get hot when they're running a hurry-up or no-huddle offense. It makes the defense play more simple packages and tires them out. Why don't teams run the hurry-up offense more? Is it too hard for most quarterbacks to run it or do coaches just not have enough faith in their QBs to run it?
Brandon in Los Angeles

Another reasonable question. Unlike in a Simmons mailbag, the awfulness here is entirely on the shoulders of the answerer. The questioners are doing just fine.

A: More teams are running a no-huddle offense this season, and more teams will run it next season. Over the past two seasons, the percentage of no-huddle plays on teams has doubled. The only thing holding some teams back is having young quarterbacks who need time to incorporate the no-huddle into their routine.

What about the teams who don't have young QBs, but still don't use it?

Ryan Tannehill and Andrew Luck have already shown they are comfortable in no-huddle. The other rookie and second-year quarterbacks will start to use it more next year and the year after. Using the no-huddle with more three- and four-receiver sets takes 3-4 defenses out of the three-man line and puts it in their sub packages. No-huddle is one of the big trends that escalated this season.

Barely responsive. Q: "Why don't more teams use the no-huddle? Is it for one of these reasons I've suggested, both of which would be pretty easy to directly address?" A: "Young QBs are usually not good at running the no-huddle, but the current crop of them in the NFL are actually pretty good at it. I just looked out my window, and someone in the park across the street is flying a kite."

Q: I've never understood why the NFL makes a team kick the extra point even if the game is over score-wise (for example, Packers-Seahawks this year). The defense cannot recover a blocked kick and return it for two points like in the NCAA (another rule I don't understand), that may make a difference in the score. Other than influencing the gambling line, kicking the extra point when the game is over is pointless. Could you explain both rule quirks?

Grant in St. Petersburg, Fla.

A: The NFL would never do anything to help betting, but it has to have betting in mind during the four quarters of a game. 

Non-responsive. (OR IS IT???????  MAYBE VEGAS IS BEHIND ALL THIS)

You don't have that problem in overtime. The game is over once a team gets a touchdown in overtime. 

Another "I know B comes from A, but why B?" "Let me tell you all about A." 
But at the end of the game in regulation, the NFL believes it owes it to the fans to have that last kick. I don't see that changing.

Non-responsive, unless he's being real subtle about the gambling thing, which I don't think he is. And in any case, if they changed the rule, point spreads around +/- 6 or 7 would move (ever so microscopically slightly) in response.

Q: Twice in a couple of weeks, a Steelers quarterback lost the ball while in the process of throwing a pass and the officials allowed the play to continue, allowing the defense to recover the ball and return it for a touchdown.

Against Kansas City, the fumble ruling was rightly reversed to an incomplete pass. Against the Giants, the ruling was incorrectly (as believed by most) not reversed and allowed to stand a defensive touchdown. In another game, I saw another example of the officials allowing this type of play to continue instead of blowing the play dead as an incomplete pass. Do you believe officials are intentionally allowing any borderline play involving a potential turnover to continue because they know the play, by rule, is now automatically reviewed?

Eric in Phoenix

A: I hope the officials will be slow with their whistles. I was at the Oakland-Cincinnati game and watched a quick whistle cost the Raiders an easy touchdown. An inadvertent whistle shouldn't happen. Officials should let the play conclude and worry about a replay later. It's better to have the play happen and reverse it if it's wrong.

More than 10 years ago, the officials had too many inadvertent whistles that cost big plays. They've done a better job over the past decade. Officials shouldn't stand in the way of a play by blowing a whistle too quickly. And once that whistle blows, players should stop their efforts for safety reasons.

Oh boy.  If there's an answer in there, I sure as hell don't see it.  Let's let John off the hook a little by posting one last question, this time from an utter moron.

Q: You mention the concern about a slowing pace of play quite often. Why doesn't the NFL shorten commercial breaks, or put in a 35 second play clock? I'd rather watch a replay than a horrible Buffalo Wild Wings commercial.

Devin in Australia

AND HOW COME WE HAVE TO PAY MONEY FOR STUFF? I DON'T ABOUT YOU, BUT I'D RATHER KEEP ALL MY MONEY THAN HAVE TO SPEND IT TO GET THINGS. I take back that part about the questioners not being part of the problem in this mailbag.


Twit of the Year said...

I too have always kind of liked Clayton. I didn't know he wrote a column but man he sucks. You hit this one out of the park, great job. Well, great job on the first two thirds which is as far as I got before I dozed off. I just started on Twitter and I now can only go about 140 characters before I get a stitch in my side. I'm sure the rest of the autopsy was awesome also.

ZidaneValor said...

The extra point rule I understand. If a team scores a TD with zero seconds left on the clock in regulation, the team may need the extra point to tie or win the game (say the score was 23-17 before the TD). I think it makes more sense to kick the PAT in every situation for a consistent rule set instead of only kicking it dependent on the score.

The extra point doesn't need to be kicked in overtime because the game is indisputably over. There's no scenario where the offensive team can win or tie by kicking the extra point (because they already have the lead) nor can the defense score on the extra point attempt.