Aaron Schatz, the founder of FootballOutsiders.com, is the lead author for Pro Football Prospectus 2005, now available for pre-orders.
Aaron Schatz: Greetings and salutations. To introduce myself briefly, my name is Aaron Schatz, I launched a NFL stat analysis website called FootballOutsiders.com two years ago, and I'm the head writer of Pro Football Prospectus 2005, available from your favorite bookstore or online book seller as we speak. We're honored that BP decided to partner with us to produce PFP and I want to thank them again for letting me use their chat space to kickoff the NFL pre-season and talk about the book. When we first scheduled this chat to coincide with the scheduled "book in stores" date of August 1, I was a little worried that baseball fans would be a bit annoyed at football talk, instead wanting to chew over all the deadline deals with some of the great BP analysts. Well, so much for that. I'm not sure there's been an anticlimax this big since the Bucs-Raiders Super Bowl. Why do I get the feeling the Drew Rosenhaus holdouts will end the same way? Lots of talk ending in very little actual substance. Anyway, feel free to pose questions about the book, the upcoming season, or the relationship between our methods and those in baseball.
colombo123 (NY): What do you think was the biggest personnel loss for the Patriots and with all these losses can they still be considered Super Bowl favorites?
Aaron Schatz: Bruschi was clearly the biggest personnel loss. Ted Johnson was almost done at this point and his loss is more about depth than about losing a big playmaker. But Bruschi was a major force in the middle of the defense, particularly when it comes to tackling and pursuit. Some guys just have a nose for the ball -- it's one of those skills that doesn't get measured at the draft combine with your height and 40 speed, but it comes out in the field and in the few defensive statistics that the NFL does keep. I still think the Patriots should be one of the favorites to come out of the AFC, but the AFC is so stacked with teams that could win the conference if just a couple things break right that there really is no single favorite that stands head and shoulders above the rest.
mike (oakland): Are there any tweaks planned for DVOA?
Aaron Schatz: Yes, but probably not until the end of the season. DVOA, for those who are new to our work, is Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average, our main statistic that breaks down every NFL play and compares it to baseline performance based on situation and opponent. I have lots of ideas that might improve DVOA a little bit, but I ran out of time during the off-season. (Managing the production of a book like Prospectus for the first time is a *lot* of work.) I also wanted to see just how permanent the new offensive environment would be before taking that into account in the baselines. If there's as much offense this year as there was in 2004, we'll need to shift things a little.
bianchiveloce (Anderson, SC): With Travis Henry going to the Titans, what is the future looking like for Chris Brown?
Aaron Schatz: Hard to tell, but Chris Brown has an upright running style that is just asking for constant injury. He's a better back than Henry but he just can't stay healthy. The best thing is a committee -- now the question is whether the egos involved will allow such a thing.
Sorry about the delay by the way. I'll speed up a bit here...
Ron ((Mexico)): Will Michael Vick bounce back this year?
Aaron Schatz: You got me. The most confusing issue with Vick is not that he's been such a bad passer over the past two seasons but that he was such a good passer in 2002. What happened to that guy? It can't be the offensive system, because he was bad in 2003 as well. Vick is young enough that he could still improve significantly, but it will be very difficult when the Falcons have by far the hardest schedule in the NFC -- they play all the good AFC East defenses, the Eagles and Panthers who I think will be the top two teams in the NFC, they play in Detroit on Thanksgiving and in Chicago in December AT NIGHT. By that point we're going to be wondering why the Falcons are on national TV so darn much.
Peyton Manning (Colt's Training Camp): Will my inability to win at Foxboro make me the next Dan Marino?
Aaron Schatz: Probably not. The last "next Dan Marino" was Brett Favre, who lost to the Cowboys seven straight times between 1993 and 1996. But in the 1996 playoffs, the Carolina Panthers upset the Cowboys, then the Packers knocked off the Panthers, and Favre wasn't "that guy who can't win the big one" anymore. Manning will eventually win a Super Bowl when the Colts have a good enough defense. They were improving last year -- they were 14th in our WEIGHTED DVOA stat for defense, which gives more value to games later in the season -- but they still have bad linebackers and it is hard to see a team with bad linebackers winning it all. On the other hand, with the NFC West on the schedule, the Titans rebuilding, and the Jags overrated, the Colts finally have a schedule that might give them the number one seed and keep them from going to Foxboro in January.
Karl B. (Philadelphia): As a Bills fan, what should I be watching for early this season as an indicator of how the season is going to go?
Btw, I enjoy the work at FO very much. Thanks!
Aaron Schatz: I would say Losman, because he's the big question mark. But even more important is the offensive line, especially at left tackle. The Bills o-line had one strong part, Jonas Jennings at LT, and he's gone now. The more pressure on a rookie quarterback, the more chance he makes mistakes (Exhibit A: Pittsburgh in the playoffs). The problem for the Bills, as I write in the book, is that they had the top defense in the league last year but defense is far less consistent from year to year compared to offense. They also made it through a season without injuries to their front seven, and that's not going to happen again. Our projection system believes that the defense, even with a predicted decline, will be one of the league's best, but if the offense collapses you'll get a situation like Miami last year where a strong defense was clearly getting tired at the end of games.
Colombo123 (NY): With the addition of PLaxico Buress, will Eli Manning show some of the tools that made him a number one draft pick?
Aaron Schatz: I don't think one receiver is going to solve Eli Manning's problems from last year. He has to take a monumental leap forward, a leap forward larger than any second-year quarterback in the last 25 years. (The book goes through a list of similar rookie seasons, including people like Craig Whelihan and Eric Zeier.) People want to see the potential rather than the reality, and it is true that nine games doesn't guarantee a player's future. But it does suggest that the range of possible futures for Manning doesn't include superstardom. It suggests that his ceiling is Jim Everett or Vinny Testaverde, which is good enough to win but not quite what the Giants are expecting.
I've brought this up numerous times, but why would anybody believe that Eli Manning is a better quarterback than Ken Dorsey? Both quarterbacks had equal college success, both quarterbacks had similar numbers last year facing a similar level of opposition. Both quarterbacks played their rookie seasons with an injured receiving corps and a decimated offensive line. Manning even had an advantage, a much better running game than Dorsey had. Yet everyone writes off Dorsey and expects greatness from Manning.
Liam (NJ): Why has Bill Parcells give unp on Henson so fast? As a Michigan/Yankees/ Cowboys fan Henson is my favorite player, and I dont see why he has been labeled a bust already.
Aaron Schatz: I think it is pretty clear that Bill Parcells never gave up on Drew Henson because he never wanted him in the first place. Parcells isn't in Dallas to build a winner, he's in Dallas to win ASAP, and there's no patience there to develop a young quarterback, especially one who spent a couple years away from the game. When a team has to go 3-7 before it will use its quarterback of the future, and then it pulls the quarterback of the future out of the game at the half, it is pretty clear that guy isn't the quarterback of the future. We'll never know how Henson would do with some time and development because he won't get any until Parcells leaves Dallas.
Mike (PA): What effect will the T.O. situation have on the Eagles?
Aaron Schatz: The Eagles have dealt with players whining about contracts for years, so if T.O. does actually play this will really be no different. I don't see T.O. as the kind of player who will dog it on the field because he's unhappy. He's too competitive for that. And even if he does dog it early, by the playoffs I'm sure he'll know that winning a Super Bowl is the best way to ensure himself money in the future.
The Eagles are forecast to be absurdly dominant this year if they have all their players because despite going 12-4 there are a number of trends that forecast improvement in 2005.
1) They recovered a below average number of fumbles both on offense and defense, a number that tends to regress to the mean.
2) Their offense was actually worse on third downs than it was on first or second downs, meaning more extended drives if third down performance (as it usually does) snaps back to match first and second down performance.
3) Their defense improved over the course of the year, which carries over to the next season better than gradual offensive improvement.
4) Their schedule projects to be the sixth-easiest in the NFL, and almost all the strong teams are in the other conference.
The end result is that our projection system actually gives the Eagles a 4.6% chance of going 16-0 this year. The '72 Dolphins better buy a LOT of ice.
John (St. Louis): Aaron, where do you fall on the whole "Mike Martz is a genius" vs. "Mike Martz is an idiot" debate? Personally I think he's a genius coordinator who should stay a coordinator.
Aaron Schatz: I guess I fall somewhere in the middle. I don't think Martz has gotten enough credit for keeping the Rams in contention. He also wins close games much more often than you realize. An essay in Pro Football Prospectus 2005 explains that Martz actually has the best winning percentage of any coach since 1970 when his team leads at some point in the fourth quarter. On the other hand, he does seem to have no idea how to use timeouts, and his tendency to tell the press that everything is his players' fault, not his fault, can't be a good example of leadership skills.
Wes (Michigan): Aaron, what about the additions the Ravens have made on offense? Are they enough to get them over the hump on that side of the ball?
Aaron Schatz: Mason is a great receiver, and Mark Clayton is exactly the kind of rookie wideout we like to see teams draft -- a player with technical skills rather than impressive physical attributes. (He's sort of a football Dustin Pedroia.) Unfortunately, both Mason and Clayton are short, and Kyle Boller's biggest problem is that his lousy footwork causes him to overthrow his receivers. Boller is a really tough guy to figure out because DVOA/DPAR, our advanced metrics, say he was actually an average QB last year who just happened to have a difficult schedule. But when you watch him, it is clear he just has terrible technique.
One issue with the Ravens that isn't often discussed is that Jon Ogden was somewhat injured last year, and if he can be fully healthy this season it should improve the Ravens both passing and rushing.
Mike (Wisconsin): Aaron, what do you foresee for the Packers on defense this year? They're on their 3rd D. coordinator in 3 years. Does the lack of continuity hurt, or were they just so bad they needed to make another change?
Aaron Schatz: I suppose that the defense could improve a little bit, as Jim Bates's style as defensive coordinator fits the Green Bay talent much better. (There will be much less blitzing.) Young cornerbacks get better with experience, and Ahmad Carroll should be better this year. But Grady Jackson was already declining, and this holdout nonsense can't help, which means teams should run against Green Bay with impunity. When you are in the same division with the Vikings O-Line, Kevin Jones, and Cedric Benson, and your schedule features Pittsburgh and Baltimore, this isn't a good thing. More important to Packer fans should be the likely offensive collapse with everybody a year older and the two best offensive linemen gone in free agency.
Karl B. (Philadelphia): My son is a season ticket holder in Miami (which makes for two very fun Sundays every year when they play my Bills).
The Dolphins have a slew of changes this year. Which ones do you think will be the most meaningful?
Thanks for Football Prospectus. It's a great preview of the coming season!
Aaron Schatz: Glad you like the book, which I should point out once again is in stores now.
Coach Nick Saban is pretty clearly the biggest change in Miami, and the Dolphins have made it pretty clear that they are tearing the roster apart to start over. The offense is likely to be dismal with no quarterback and a porous offensive line, unless new offensive line coach Hudson Houck can somehow top his miraculous rebuilding of the San Diego line from last season. The front seven should be strong but clearly in transition as the Dolphins move to Saban's system, and there are issues in the secondary after Will Poole's injury. They have only one good receiver, Chris Chambers, and a tight end who has a lot of talent but won't stop beating his wife and might be better off, say, in jail. I expect big things from the Dolphins in 2006, but not this year.
Carlos (LA): Resolved: Gibbs will never take the 'skins to the playoffs. Pro or Con?
Aaron Schatz: Pro. He just doesn't seem to get the idea of maximizing economic efficiency in a salary cap system.
Aaron Schatz: Thanks to everyone for their questions and thanks again to BP for the space. We'll return to this space in November, I'm sure, after the World Series. In the meantime, please read FootballOutsiders.com for regular football content with an analytical bent. And I really hope all BP readers check out Pro Football Prospectus 2005, even if they don't consider themselves big football fans. I think that our writing style, combined with the BP-style research and analysis, make the book not only interesting to hardcore football fans, but also a great way for stathead baseball fans who only casually watch the NFL to get more enjoyment out of America's other favorite sport.