Patriots Beat Loses a Good One, Sox Just Lose

Catching up on a few items from the last several days while shaking my head that the Red Sox were nearly no-hit last night…

Nick Underhill of, one of the best young writers covering the Patriots announced yesterday that he’ll be moving on.

It’s a big loss for the beat, Underhill carved a nice niche for himself covering the Patriots, blending solid reporting, film study and statistical analysis in a straightforward, informative, easy to digest manner. I’m impressed with the entire staff at, so I’m hopeful they can bring on someone who can approach the competency that Underhill brought to the job.

Best wishes to Underhill going forward, New Orleans should be a great beat to jump on.


Last week, NESN announced that Gary Striewski has been named as the network’s primary Red Sox in-game reporter. He follows Jenny Dell and Heidi Watney in that role.

The network claimed to have reviewed over 200 candidates for the job before awarding the position to Striewski, who has done a nice job this year in the role.

I don’t know if NESN even sent out a release on the news, as I didn’t get one, and Chad Finn at the Globe didn’t get one either, which is rather odd given that this is a relatively high-profile position.


Eddie Andelman’s Twitter Feed Is a Cornucopia of Offensiveness

So when does the Godfather of Boston Sports Radio have his Twitter account deactivated?

Also, the account is not verified are we sure it is even him?


A couple days late on this, but I laughed at this Peter Abraham paragraph in Sunday’s paper.

It was only the second homer for Ross in 96 at-bats against righthanded pitchers over the last two seasons. The other was against Texas ace Yu Darvish last season. So if you’re a well-paid Japanese sensation, the backup catcher of the Red Sox is coming for you.


Bruins await Jarome Iginla’s decision – Fluto Shinzawa has the Bruins hoping to retain Iginla, who is almost certain to receive more lucrative offers elsewhere.

Plenty of options on Danny Ainge’s table – Steve Bulpett assesses what the Celtics might be able to do this summer.

On Celtics Draft Night, No One Knows What To Expect

If you enjoy the unknown, tonight’s NBA draft promises plenty of drama and intrigue.

The Celtics currently hold picks 6 and 17, and many people will be disappointed if they just sit and make those picks.

There are a number of scenarios for tonight that have been rumored through various media outlets:

1) A trade for Kevin Love. After many declared a week to ten days ago that this was definitely happening, the chances of this move tonight seems to have slipped back significantly.

2) A trade of Rondo to Sacramento. This possibility re-emerged in the last few days, though the Kings have long held interest in the Celtics point guard. Could the Celtics hang onto their #6 pick and pick up the #8 pick in a Rondo trade? If they do, we’re in for another rebuilding season.

3) A trade up to the number one pick. Though this seems remote, A. Sherrod Blakely reported the other day that the Celtics have at least engaged the Cavs in talks for the pick. Would they take Parker or Wiggins there?

4) If Joel Embiid slips to #6 do the Celtics take him there? Especially if they pick up the 8th pick in scenario number two?

5) If the Celtics stand pat, and Embiid is not there, or they don’t pick him, who do they pick at #6? Gordon? Smart? Exum? Randle? Vonleh?

Of course, it could be none of the above.

The draft starts at 7:30 tonight on ESPN.

Help! We Don’t Know How To Talk Soccer!

That was basically the message I heard on both morning sports radio stations this morning, as they relied on callers for explanations and analysis of the  USA/Portugal World Cup soccer match yesterday.

Apparently Alexi Lalas was a little too fired up yesterday for the likes of Kirk Minihane as well, as the former Revolution defender was a target of the morning show.

Dan Shaughnessy got plenty of attention for his recycled and moronic  I’m choosing to ignore soccer column from yesterday.

Question: Are you really ignoring something if you’re writing an 800-word column on it in the region’s largest newspaper?

One thing is certain, Shaughnessy and his tomato can Globe editors were high-fiving over the reaction to the column, no matter how negative it was. The reaction is what matters. Effort, interest, prose, none of that matters.

A couple other notes:

Skip Bayless defended? A Q&A with head of ESPN’s First Take – An outstanding job by Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated in trying to get Marcia Keegan, the ESPN vice president of production to explain the appeal of the debate show.

Nick Cafardo wrote twice over the weekend saying that David Ortiz should have enough goodwill built up around Boston to get him through events like his complaints over the official scorer last week.  I agree. It seems ludicrous to me that Ortiz has so many detractors in this town, mostly on the airwaves. The emailers to Nick’s Saturday column (toward the end) are typical of the sort. They can’t wait until he’s gone. I don’t get that. You may not like him, but he’s done enough to earn some respect and some slack for when he does shoot off his mouth.

ESPN’s new SportsCenter set has gotten a lot of ink and attention over the last few days, but WCVB’s SportsCenter 5 OT also has a new look, and I thought it looked pretty good last night.

Where The Media Blows Yet Another Patriots Story Out Of Proportion

Greg Bedard didn’t expect this, even if he probably should’ve known what parts of his story some of his belly-crawling colleagues in the sports media would pick up and sensationalize.

In an profile of new Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine, the Boston-based Bedard painted a picture of Pettine as a hard-working, intelligent coach with a chip on his shoulder due to the fact that just 13 years ago he was coaching high school football.

About two-thirds of the way into the column, Pettine started to explain why he prefers to keep his initial playbook relatively thin and simple.


He then told a story about Tom Brady teasing one of the Jets coaches about having their playbook, and Pettine saying he wasn’t surprised because Rex Ryan gave out playbooks all the time, including to Nick Saban, who is a Belichick friend.

While Bedard thought the anecdote was innocuous, whoever laid out the page at MMQB saw the sensationalistic aspect to the statement, and thus created the pull-quote above.

Immediately Twitter and web headlines everywhere proclaimed the Patriots guilty of stealing playbooks and by extension – cheating.

Bill Belichick was asked about it at minicamp yesterday.

Rex Ryan was asked about it.

Nick Saban’s office was asked about it.

This didn’t stop the freight train. Bedard went onto CSNNE last night to try and set the matter straight, and said if he knew the extent to which the anecdote would be blown out of proportion, he’d have left it out, because it wasn’t important.

Bedard: Media misconstrued Pettine anecdote

Most people who know the NFL know that playbooks get passed around all over the league. Rex’s brother Rob worked for the Patriots – you don’t think he gave his brother one? You can download portions of the Patriots (and other teams) playbook on the internet.

Bedard is pissed that this has become the focus of his story, and I don’t blame him.


This was posted last night:

So when the Patriots are mentioned with anything, it is a huge deal. Stuff like this comes out, and it is completely ignored.


David Ortiz was wrong to have a tantrum over an official scorers decisions week. It’s not the first time he’s done, and it probably won’t be the last. He’s emotional – for better or worse – but that does not excuse his behavior.

That said, Boston sports radio needs to save their hand-wringing and outrage for other things. They love to tell us how Ortiz gets a free pass for everything in this town, and put on their whiny-baby voice while they say but he won us three World Series when mocking fans. We’ve heard it a million times already.


It was bizarro Felger and Mazz this week, as I tune in one afternoon to hear Felger saying he made a bet that the Patriots would be a top-five defense this year, and that he feels that this team is championship-built.

Tony Massarotti then stated that the Red Sox aren’t out of it yet, and can still make a run to the postseason.



Enormous changes coming to ESPN’s ‘SportsCenter’ – Chad Finn details the upcoming changes to the ESPN flagship show which has a new 194,000 square-foot studio. If you’re a fan of “show the highlights and get out of the way” the new SportsCenter may not be for you.

Bengtson has used the phrase “talent forward, content back” — one of those buzzy sayings that if you hear enough might leave you with a hangover the next day — to describe a more personality-driven approach to “SportsCenter.”


NESN’s Tom Caron brings out best in all analysts – Bill Doyle looks at the Red Sox host’s ability to work with varied personalities like Tim Wakefield, Steve “Psycho” Lyons, Jim Rice, and Dennis Eckersley


Finally, a minor request to my friends on the Patriots beat. Can we dispense with the whole habit of including Matthew Slater in with the wide receivers on the roster? Every time a reporter lists out the wide receivers who will make the team, they usually list six, but with the caveat that one spot is reserved for Slater. Ben Volin does it today, most of the other reporters do it as well. It is tedious.

Matthew Slater is not a wide receiver. Does Danny Aiken get counted as a tight end or offensive lineman? No, he’s a specialist, as are the kicker and punter. Slater is as much a specialist as those guys. List him as one.

Cup Fever Grips Hub

The World Cup continues to be a huge hit here in Boston, as last night’s U.S.A./Ghana match showed with a 7.0 overnight national rating for ESPN, (a record for them) but 10+ in Boston and Hartford.

Talking World Cup soccer is still something the local media is not well-versed in. Dalen Cuff of CSNNE did a nice job on the Felger and Mazz program yesterday afternoon, but he’s the exception to the rule. Most seem to still prefer to mock it as that is easier to do than actually trying to learn about it.


As the baseball world mourned Tony Gwynn yesterday, the media was almost unanimous in praising Gwynn as not just a great player, but a great person as well.

The exception, as always, was the aforementioned Felger and Mazz, with former baseball reporter Massarotti calling Gwynn “overrated” and Felger suggesting that the Padres star used steroids. Stay classy, guys.


Glad the Globe devoted front page space to a column on poor losers. You can guess who was lumped in with Richard Nixon and Whitey Bulger, cant you?

This must be what Kevin Paul Dupont is talking about when he rails on about how important newspapers and print journalism continue to be in our society.

Oh, and a rebuttal to that Globe piece?

Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser. – Vince Lombardi.


Patriots minicamp runs over the next few days. I’ve been finding myself heading over to the Boston Herald Patriots blog (The Blitz)  more often these days. It is straightforward and updated constantly.

While I still think Mike Reiss is head of the class, ESPN has absolutely destroyed his blog. It isn’t so bad during the offseason, as there isn’t as much Patriots news on the national front, but when things heat up and the Patriots are being talked about by the likes of Skip Bayless, I don’t want those segments jammed into the blog at me. Reiss doesn’t have control over that, and has himself expressed frustration at the arrangement, but it is still annoying having to weed through those posts.

With the The Blitz, you’re actually getting information from the Herald writers on the beat – Jeff Howe and Karen Guregian. The Globe no longer has a Patriots blog since the spin-off of The writers on Extra Points are a mixed bag. You might get Eric Frenz (good) or Zuri Berry (bad) or you might get someone else entirely.


A few good links from today:

Depth charge: The importance of Rubby De La Rosa (and friends) – Alex Speier on the contributions of a pair of 25-year-old pitchers for the Red Sox.

Thornton, Bruins will miss each other – Joe McDonald says Shawn Thornton will always have a place in the hearts of Bruins fans.

Shabazz Napier works out for Celtics – Baxter Holmes looks at the Roxbury native who would love nothing more than being drafted by his hometown team.

Kevin Love trade rumors 2014 – Jay King looks at Chad Ford’s suggestion that Minnesota is coming around to the idea that the Celtics could offer the best package for Love.

It’s convenient for NFL to cluck about Irsay now – Tom E Curran thinks the NFL should’ve checked in on the Colts owner before his incident.

How do sports reporters at newspapers adapt to the Internet? Often, grudgingly – So true.

Tito’s Still Upset, NESN Giving Time Off To Orsillo, Remy

The Red Sox got back on the winning side of the ledger last night at Fenway Park. Old friend Terry Francona was in the house, and like old times, made an appearance on the Dale and Holley show. He again said he has not spoken with John Henry or Tom Werner and isn’t sure he ever will again.

A few quick media notes this morning:

NESN will give Don Orsillo time off in July – Chad Finn looks at a memo from NESN this week that Orsillo and Jerry Remy would be taking vacation time this summer.

Like Chad, I find the Orsillo bit rather strange. NESN is known for their cryptic releases and this one was no exception. It stated “Jerry Remy and Don Orsillo will each get a week-long break this season, consistent with what many regional sports networks do for their MLB broadcast teams.” and then gave the dates.

It did note that Jon Rish will fill in for Orsillo while he is “on break.”

Join Eddie Andelman’s ‘Huddle’ on Boston Herald Radio – The sports radio pioneer will do a one-hour show this afternoon at 2:00 on Herald Radio.

Fran Quinn will get air time at U.S. Open – Bill Doyle looks at coverage of the U.S. Open, including of Massachusetts native Quinn, who had a strong showing on the first day of the tournament.

Random Thoughts:

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a broadcast trio as depressed as Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson were when the second half of last night’s Spurs/Heat game began.

One of the things that makes Dan Shaughnessy’s incessant trolling so infuriating is columns like this.

I’ve seen hang-wringing on Twitter and elsewhere over the comments of U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann that his team has no chance to win the World Cup. The media is a funny group. They demand honesty from the people they cover. But when they get it, the criticize the person for giving it. They’d rather have Rex Ryan’s yearly Super Bowl guarantees.

Early returns on the MFB: Not good. Gresh and Zo have little to worry about. Tim Benz seems to be of the Mike Salk school of painful teases – “There IS one star that I don’t think should be getting more heat from the media. I’ll tell you who when we come back.” Christian Fauria can’t complete a thought without getting distracted, or he comes out with a gem like “90% of the time he always does the right thing.”

Tony Massarotti spent a good chunk of time yesterday staring at the ceiling while trashing David Ortiz and his season thus far. His timing was perfect.

Jenny Dell Resurfaces as CBS NFL Sideline Reporter

Former NESN Red Sox sideline reporter Jenny Dell will be appearing on NFL sidelines this fall, as CBS announced its broadcast pairings for the 2014 season.

Part of the release noted that Tracy Wolfson would be joining the network’s top announcing team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms as reporter. Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts have been promoted to the 2nd team, and Trent Green will join Greg Gumbel, after the retirement of Dan Dierdorf.

The release also noted that  THE NFL ON CBS will utilize additional sideline reporters during the season including  Jenny Dell and Evan Washburn.

It’s a nice way for Dell to land on her feet following her departure from NESN which was made complicated and messy after she and Red Sox player Will Middlebrooks announced that they were dating.

CSNNE To Provide Nightly World Cup Updates

While soccer and the World Cup may currently be an object of ridicule on certain sports radio shows, there is still some interest locally in the biggest soccer tournament in the world.

Comcast SportsNet New England announced their coverage plans for the World Cup this afternoon.

Full Release:

Revs GM Mike Burns, Revs Players Chris Tierney, Darrius Barnes, and
A.J. Soares, and USA Soccer Legend Kristine Lilly to Headline Nightly “Cup Reports”
on Comcast SportsNet, Beginning Wed, June 11

Burlington, MA, June 10, 2014 – The 2014 World Cup is almost here and Comcast SportsNet, television home of the New England Revolution, will bring soccer fans nightly “Cup Reports” with opinion and analysis from some of the sports’ most knowledgeable experts, beginning Wednesday, June 11th and continuing throughout the entire competition.

Comcast SportsNet’s “Cup Reports” will be featured in the network’s nightly news show Chevrolet SportsNet Central and will include in-depth updates from the likes of Revs GM and two-time U.S. World Cup team member Mike Burns, current Revs players Chris Tierney, Darrius Barnes, and A.J. Soares, and US women’s soccer legend Kristine Lilly, among others. The robust team of soccer experts will provide fans with recap and opinion on prior games and a preview to upcoming matchups, providing unique daily coverage of the World Cup as it unfolds.

In 2010, Comcast SportsNet featured Revs goal record-holder TaylorTwellman on the network providing his expert insight and analysis on South Africa’s World Cup. Twellman, who started his broadcasting career with Comcast SportsNet New England, is now a national soccer analyst for ESPN and will play a significant role in the network’s coverage of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil., the online home of Comcast SportsNet, will offer an online version of the Cup Reports and will also provide real-time news and info on a dedicated World Cup page surrounding the tournament.

The World Cup is an international soccer competition contested by the Senior Men’s National teams of the members of FIFA, soccer’s global governing body. The Championship is awarded every four years and is a highly anticipated worldwide event.


Week Wrap – Just Another Week of Sports Media Trolling

Where do we begin?

It was a non-stop week of media trolling, which isn’t all that different from most weeks, but this week seemed to be on a different level.

We started out with the Brady isn’t an elite QB anymore – which somehow completely dominated almost all sports outlets at the beginning of the week. Given that it is the first week of June, many welcomed an NFL debate. Mostly from this viewpoint, it was another example of the blind allegiance to the stats of Pro Football Focus, which was the subject of the Wednesday column here.


The Kevin Love/Carmelo Anthony to the Celtics talk also generated a lot of discussion – it’s always great to hear TV and radio shows tease We’ll give you latest on Carmelo Anthony to the Celtics coming up… when you know there CANNOT be anything “new” on the situation, given as how free agency hasn’t started, trades can’t be made and the draft is still three weeks away. But still, they try to tease you into tuning in for the “latest.”

But you also know there’s something to it when Jackie MacMullan feels she has to rush in an throw cold water on everything: Kevin Love-to-Boston is no sure thing. Really? I thought the deal was already done? Didn’t they have the press conference already?

Jackie throwing the water on this ensured that she would get herself plenty of on-air gigs this week to talk about her column, in which she notes that when the Celtics acquired Kevin Garnett, the talks were between Danny Ainge and Kevin McHale who were BFFs. Now the talks will be between Danny Ainge and Flip Saunders who are not BFFs, so talks might not be “as fluid or cooperative as they were when McHale and Ainge were striking a deal.

Whoa. You can’t get that type of deep analysis just anywhere.


Then we had Patriots receiver Danny Amendola making the career-killing move of possibly hanging up on superstar radio host Adam Jones. At the very least he conveniently got disconnected and didn’t call back.

After Amendola did this to poor Jones, the media outlets of 98.5, CSNNE and (or was it “The Lodge”) immediately circled the wagons around Jones, rallying to his defense as if the guy had just come through some harrowing experience. On air CSNNE folks slapped him on the back and congratulated him for “busting his cherry.”

On Toucher and Rich, Fred Toucher described Jones’ show as a “straight ahead sports talk program.” Clearly, Toucher has never heard Adam Jones’ program, which is nothing but #hotsportztakes and “worries” and “concerns” and worst-case scenarios.

You also have to love Fred Toucher weighing in on the Amendola “hangup” after he himself hung up on Rick Pitino not too long ago, and has bragged about it ever since.

Then on, the “other” Adam, Kaufman weighed in with nearly 1200 words on the topic: Uncomfortable Questions No Excuse for Patriots’ Danny Amendola to Hang Up During Radio Interview.

Here are some gems from this hit piece:

Athletes, particularly those at the professional level and regardless of the sport, have a responsibility to the media.

Only the media thinks this.

Jones is an established radio talent in this market…

I’ll take your word for it.

Simple, logical, easy to answer queries from Jones for a veteran receiver with a high salary (he’s entering the second of a five-year, $28.5 million deal), high expectations, and an even higher likelihood of failing to make it through a full season unscathed.

So easy to answer he asked three times, and no, there’s no chance there was sarcasm behind any of it, just as in this sentence.

Those are just the facts and it’s his responsibility to live with that and, if necessary, be reminded of it.

Amendola needs to be reminded of it? I’m sure he forgot the time he almost died on the field. He has a responsibility to live with that, you know?

Truthfully, it’s unfortunate for Amendola because many people – and I am on that list – were expecting him to struggle to stay healthy before he ever put on a uniform.

But Kaufman has no agenda here.

Even so, if an athlete, any athlete, is permitted to cash his paychecks without performance, he can at least discuss the components of what prevented him from doing his job in years past.

If he’s going to get injured so much, clearly he should not be permitted to cash his paychecks.

But, in the future, he should realize answering challenging or unpleasant questions is simply part of the job, even if he’d rather focus his time and energy on how he’ll avoid being a disappointment and future cap casualty by the winter.

Zing! I’m so clever!

Does Kaufman reveal that he too works at 98.5? Could this also be a part of his motivation for writing this? I’m sure it isn’t. Really.

Then you get Tweets like this:

What? So an undrafted free agent who was cut by the Cowboys (publicly on Hard Knocks) and Eagles and bounced on and off their practice squads and then finally made the Rams, had some production, only to suffer a freak injury in which his clavicle pushed in and nearly crushed his his trachea and aorta and killed him, who then came back from that, and signed with New England and tore his groin in the first half of the first game of the season, and came back in that same game doesn’t know what adversity is? Not until Adam Jones asks him a few dumb questions?

Berry tried to then say this is the first time Amendola hasn’t been considered “great.”. Um, read the above paragraph.

Yes, these are the people paid to make their living talking about and covering sports.

Deadspin covered this Amendola story as well – Danny Amendola Draws Ire Of Insufferable Boston Media


Dan Shaughnessy doesn’t want to be left out of the action. So he launched another tirade at David Ortiz, again suggesting that Ortiz must be using steroids right now because his performance is so good at his age.

He also criticizes Ortiz for his profanity in the ceremony following the Boston Marathon bombings last year.

Adam Gaffin had the best take on this. Bitter old clown complains about David Ortiz’s post-Marathon comments

I realize Shaughnessy is the columnist equivalent of a vampire, who will quickly die without the fresh blood he gets by riling people up, and I guess he succeeded again, or I wouldn’t have gotten this far with this post, but, really, attacking Ortiz for helping to bring the city together after an event that, unlike anything Ortiz has ever done, truly was evil? Have you no sense of decency, sir?

No, he doesn’t.


This caught my eye  as well yesterday:

They are conditioned to this belief by the constant mouthings of as depraved a group of radio talk-show hosts as ever fouled the air. They do this with the massive second-guess whenever the Red Sox lose, which is always more than 60 times a year.

The minds of Boston fans are shaped by these instant baseball experts who, with an eye to their own ratings, have latched onto the Red Sox as the hottest topic in town.

Hey, that’s a pretty dead-on take.

Wait, that was Shirley Povich of the Washington Post writing in 1979 about the treatment of Don Zimmer in Boston?


Just another week in Boston, eh?

Rangers-Kings matchup a boon to NBC – Chad Finn looks at the ratings numbers that Stanley Cup Final should generate given the cities involved.

Dan Trant recalled in NBA TV special on 1984 Draft – Bill Doyle looks at the special, and the mention of the former Celtics draft pick who was killed in the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers.

Can Pro Football Focus Stats Be Blindly Trusted?

In this age of sports analysis and analytics, it can be fascinating to see how the media picks and chooses what analysis to run with and which to mock and ignore.

One fascination that I don’t get is the lock-step acceptance of everything that comes out of the company known as Pro Football Focus.

They’re cited endlessly and their stats are treated as the end-all. Football writers seem to love their stats, using them in their articles as ironclad proof.

I did an interview with the founder of Pro Football Focus back in 2011. Even then I was a bit leery of their methods and tried to express that in the “subjective angle” question.

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last couple of days, Pro Football Focus was on your radar as one of their writers, in an ESPN Insider piece wrote the following:

Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. The elite quarterback Mount Rushmore has been in place for a few years now, a comforting constant in an NFL of consistent turnover and change. But it might be time to wipe one of those four faces off our mountain of elite play. The Tom Brady of 2014 no longer belongs on that monument.

and in his concluding section, he writes:

but there is little doubt at this point that we are witnessing his decline in action. Brady is no longer an elite quarterback. He remains very good, but if the decline continues at the same rate, it won’t be long before that is no longer true.

This story took the sports media by storm, and has been easily the number one topic on sports radio, television, and on the internet. Everyone is talking about it.

The writer, Sam Monson, has made the media rounds talking about his opinion, so it’s a win-win for him, ESPN,  Pro Football Focus and the football media at large. An NFL discussion in the first week of June!

It almost – almost – feels like this piece was a response to the Peter King MMQB piece a week earlier which talked about Brady and his performance before and after the 2008 knee injury and how, in Brady’s words, “You know, you don’t have to suck when you get older.”

The point of this post however, is not to debate whether Tom Brady is on a swift decline or not. (I think that has been addressed by the likes of Tom E. Curran, Ron Borges, and Christopher Price.) It is to explore the dangers of blindly relying on data and conclusions that we have no idea if they are actually accurate and pertinent or not.

What Pro Football Focus Is (And What They Aren’t)

It is important to note what Pro Football Focus is. Actually, first we’ll define what they are NOT.  They are not taking raw numbers and data and crunching them into new and exotic formulas to provide a different sort of insight into player performance. This is not sabermetrics for football.

No, their methods are different. They are a UK-based company, who obtain games through NFL Rewind and sit and watch and grade each player on each play. Their dedication to this is admirable, as I can’t imagine sitting down and doing this kind of deep grading for every play, every game week after week.

I suppose there is some value in this data, in a big-picture sort of way. Stats on items like dropped passes, QB hits, things like that are likely extremely accurate. In my interview linked above, founder Neil Hornsby said that PFF’s value is this:

  • Who was on the field – in 2010 this was 99.83% accurate but we didn’t double hand most games then – this year we do so I’m predicting well in excess of 99.9%
  • What position they played (at a level which allows us to provide formation as well as package information)
  • What they generically did (block, pass route, cover, pass rush etc.)
  • A measure of how well they achieved what they attempted to do (obviously we don’t know their assignments so this is what we use)

The last part is the gotcha and this is where it is dangerous to put too much stock in the Pro Football Focus stats.

The Dangers In The PFF Method

Last August, Bill Belichick talked about the dangers of watching film and making conclusions based on it.

It might even look to us like somebody made a mistake but then we look at it more closely maybe somebody besides him made a mistake and he was trying to compensate. I think we need a little closer analysis a lot of times. Sometimes the play calls or what was called on the line of scrimmage might be something that we’re not aware of. That could happen in any game. You think a player did something that he shouldn’t have done but maybe he got a call, a line call or a call from a linebacker or he thought the quarterback said something so he did what he thought was the right thing or maybe it was the right thing but that call shouldn’t have been made or should have been on the other side. But yeah, I think we need to be careful about what we’re evaluating.

So sometimes even the team itself doesn’t know exactly where things broke down and who did what wrong. Belichick then went on to talk about watching opposing team’s game films and the impossibilities of knowing what happened:

But believe me, I’ve watched plenty of preseason games this time of year and you’re looking at all the other teams in the league and you try to evaluate players and you’re watching the teams that we’re going to play early in the season and there are plenty of plays where I have no idea what went wrong. Something’s wrong but I don’t…these two guys made a mistake but I don’t know which guy it was or if it was both of them. You just don’t know that. I don’t know how you can know that unless you’re really part of the team and know exactly what was supposed to happen on that play. I know there are a lot of experts out there that have it all figured out but I definitely don’t. This time of year, sometimes it’s hard to figure that out, exactly what they’re trying to do. When somebody makes a mistake, whose mistake is it?

Bill Belichick doesn’t have it figured out. But Pro Football Focus does? They can provide a grade on every play?

Another problem is that the NFL just recently added the coaches film to Game Rewind, so before that, the PFF graders could not even see the entire field. I don’t know if they currently even utilize the overhead game film, or just rely on the standard HD game telecasts. If it is the latter, they cannot see every player on the field for every play…so how can they grade what they can’t see? (And actually, the All-22 film doesn’t come out until mid-week, which is after PFF has posted their initial grades- so they’re not using it, at least in their first gradings.)

There HAS to be a subjective element in the grading process. They have to be making conclusions based on conjecture and assumption or what they “think” the player was attempting to do or was assigned to do on any given play.

On their own grading page, they explain their “rules” for making their grades:

• DON’T GUESS — If you’re not 95 percent sure what’s gone on then don’t grade the player for that play. The grades must stand up to scrutiny and criticism, and it’s far better to say you’re not sure than be wrong.

It is, however, crucial that this is not seen as an excuse to shy away from making a judgement. What we definitely do not do is raise or lower the grading because we’re not sure. Giving a grade of -0.5 rather than -1.5 for a player on an individual play because you’re unsure is the wrong grade to give. If the grader is 95 percent sure of the severe fault on the play, the grade is -1.5. If, however, the grader is unsure of his judgment, the correct grade is 0.

A couple things I don’t like here. How does the grader know whether they are 95% certain or just 90%? How many plays per game are going ungraded because a determination cannot be made?

Later, in the section which asks How subjective is the Grading?

Just like with the more mainstream statistics, there are occasions when the choice is difficult. But the difference on our site is this: If a guy is going to be upgraded or downgraded on a judgment call, we let it ride. We simply make the comment and then put in a 0.

Again, how often is this happening? It seems like it wouldn’t take many “0” grades to skew the data.

Lastly, I hesitate to bring this part up, but part of me wonders the qualifications for doing this work. It feels like me taking a job to to play-by-play film breakdown on the Premier League.  What are the football coaching or scouting backgrounds for these UK analysts making these grades? Is there anyone on staff with an NFL background?

Why Such Devotion?

From all of this, the national media are using PFF stats as gospel? Why? Are the simple +1.2, -0.7 ratings so damn attractive that they are accepted without question? Is it just an easy way for the media to rate players without doing a lot of work themselves?

Honestly, I don’t know. As mentioned above, I do feel there is some merit and value to the work that Pro Football Focus is putting in. I just don’t get the slavish devotion to their grades that I see when I read many NFL articles.

Again, this is not taking actual numbers and using them to come up with new stats to use in analytics. This is not taking passes complete and passes attempted and breaking it down into the various lengths of throws and spots on the field. This is sitting down in front of the monitor, forming an opinion and making up their own stats and advanced formulas based on stats garnered from what they think is happening on each play.

I believe the NFL media as a whole needs to be a little more judicious in how they use these stats instead of blindly accepting what comes out of the PFF factory.


Some worthwhile sites with NFL stats and analytics include:

Advanced Football Analytics

Football Outsiders