Pro Football Focus Interview With BSMW

Last winter, I had interviewed Neil Hornsby, founder of Pro Football Focus for a piece with Patriots Football Weekly. That column never ran. Here is the raw material from the session I did with Hornsby:

First, PFF has become really big in Boston. Just about all of the major outlets here have used statistics or analysis from PFF regularly this season. Is this indicative of all NFL markets, or has Boston been a little quicker to grab onto your information? Are you bigger in some markets than others?

Lots of people use our information but it is more used in certain areas. I would guess the other markets where we have better traction are New York, Chicago, Buffalo, Green Bay, Miami and Philadelphia. Boston is probably towards the top end of those areas.

What makes PFF different from other “statistic” sites, such as Football Outsiders and Cold Hard Football Facts? (Both Boston-area based, coincidentally)

I guess it’s the sheer amount of data we collect. We work with over a quarter of the NFL teams in one way shape or form and are usually flabbergasted by what we have. In summary:

  • 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)

In addition we clean up a lot of the problems in the base data provided by the NFL; idiosyncrasies between different scorers and inaccuracies in terms of tackles, assists, hits, passes defensed etc.

Any aspirations of latching on with a major media company/outlet such as what those sites have done? Or do you prefer to stay independent?

We do sell information to the media outlets but we don’t write content specifically for them. It’s nothing we’d rule out but if it stopped us from working with the teams and player agents I don’t think it would happen.

How do you view all the games – an NFL Sunday Ticket sub with lots of DVRs, or do you use the NFL.com GamePass – GameRewind?

We use Game Rewind. A number of people question how accurate we can be with this but I think 99.9% playtime accuracy pretty much obviates that criticism. In my own little world of innocence I still like to believe we are the reason the NFL changed it’s policy this year to allow teams to get playtime information directly after games (rather than having to wait to season’s end) but insiders tell me our work is more accurate on the first pass than the NFL’s before they clean it up later in the week.

One player question – Jerod Mayo, He’s got his critics in New England, who basically say he is all hype and no real contribution/production. Sure, he has a lot of tackles, but they’re all down the field. What do your stats say about this player?

Sam Monson has analyzed the most Patriots games so I asked him for his view on the next two questions. This was his response:

Before this season we might have agreed with you about Mayo.  Despite making a lot of tackles he was rarely a downhill, impact type of player and seemed more of a clean-up specialist than a linebacker really influencing the game.  In this regard he was not unlike the Jets’ David Harris.  This season though, the move to the 4-3 seems to have helped him be more of a downhill force.  He is making more of his tackles in the right area.  39 of his tackles have been defensive stops this season, a far better ratio than in previous seasons where he was aligned slightly further back from the line of scrimmage so that he could control both sides if necessary.  The hype for Mayo has always outweighed the real impact he has on the defense, but it would also be somewhat unfair to say that he does little of substance, as his contribution and reliability are not to be underestimated, and he does get involved in a lot of plays, even if it is almost always fewer than the generosity of the New England scorer would suggest.  The area where he still struggles the most is in coverage, where he has allowed 416 yards this season with 319 of them after the catch.  Only four other 4-3 OLBs have allowed more YAC than Mayo has this season and throwing into his coverage yields opposing QBs a 92.0 QB rating.

OK, I lied, second player question. Chad Ochocinco. Anything you can tell us about his lack of production/involvement in the offense? Is he doing things incorrectly? Is at least his blocking acceptable?

As for Chad Johnson the first thing to note is obviously what kind of small sample size we’re dealing with.  He has only played 331 snaps and been targeted just 31 times.  On those 31 passes he has obviously only been able to haul in 15 of them, which is a pretty poor catch rate.  He still runs some really good routes on occasions, but he doesn’t seem to have the sudden burst and change of direction that he once had.  Teams don’t fear his athleticism anymore the way they once had to, and he hasn’t really been able to get open consistently on the intermediate routes that the Patriots looked for him on.  You also still see a reasonable number of disconnects between him and Tom Brady regarding where he should ultimately end up on routes.  Part of what makes the Brady to Welker connection so great is that they are always on the same page when it comes to reading the coverage and adjusting the option route accordingly.  Ochocinco is still not where they would like him to be and you will still see Brady miss him because he didn’t make the adjustment to his route that Brady was expecting or wanted him to make.  There’s no reason why he can’t learn that going forwards if they keep him around, but it probably highlights the subtle complexities to the Patriots passing scheme that people don’t really appreciate.  As for his blocking, again we are talking small sample size, he has been on the field run blocking just 87 times, but he has certainly not disgraced himself and is a willing blocker if not exactly an accomplished one.  He at least deserves some credit for accidentally blocking two defenders in the Denver game on a pass that Aaron Hernandez was able to take for a big game because of Ochocinco getting in the way of the Broncos defenders.

An observation/question – it seems to me at times that there is a subjective angle placed on grades – I’ve seen cases where it seems like a better player gets graded tougher than an average player, is more expected of the star player? Or speculation about the player sneaks into the analysis “player X doesn’t seem right” – does that somehow finds its way into the grade?

No it doesn’t. The mantra is: grade the play, not the player and let the dice fall where they may. We have so many people still writing and saying “your grades must be wrong because  X is better than this” or “Y is worse than this” and we have to be able to provide an audit trail of our work – we have to be accurate and accountable. We might say (as I did earlier this week) “it was a shock Calais Campbell graded so poorly because he’s a had a great year but the grade stays and it’s that methodology that allows us to “discover” stars before anyone else; guys like Cameron Wake, Carl Nicks etc. Just because Evan Mathis isn’t a household name won’t stop us standing by the courage of our convictions and naming him our all Pro LG and if people want convincing we’ve got a whole database of plays explaining exactly why that’s the case.

Finally – you’ve got the individual statistics and grades down to a science, and I know you put them into cumulative team stats. Has there been thought or plans to trying to come up with more accurate team stats for offense and defense – we know that those units don’t always equal the sum of their parts?

First and foremost we are a player evaluation site and we are real sticklers for trying to completely nail something before we move on. We have an ethos of continuous improvement and I want to see maybe another year of getting better, talking to coaches, player personnel guys and the like to make sure we have our bread and butter down before we take on something new. That’s not to say I’m not proud of our information; it’s passed every test to date with flying colors and while new NFL teams come on board none have left.

Examining How Bill Belchick and Doc Rivers Talk With The Media About Injuries

They are both among the longest-tenured head coaches in their respective leagues. They have both won conference and league championships. They both seemingly manage to get more out of their teams than the roster talent would indicate.

But when it comes to dealing with the media, Bill Belichick and Doc Rivers could not be more different.

Or are they more alike than a surface examination would show?

Doc Rivers was recently named the recipient of the Rudy Tomjanovich Award – a honor given from the Professional Basketball Writers Association to the head coach considered the most accessible to the media.

Bill Belichick is never in danger of being awarded the Horrigan Award from the Professional Football Writers of America, which goes “to the person whose qualities and professional style helped the media best do its job last season.” Guess who won last year? (Professional style? Ha.)

(As an aside, how ridiculous is it that these awards exist in the first place? It seems a little self-important for the media to be honoring people who make their jobs the easiest.)

While their approaches with the media are certainly different, you can’t argue with the results.

Belichick does not give away information on the day-to-day operation of his team, whether it be about injuries, the opponent, or what color jerseys his team is wearing that Sunday. He will almost never criticize a specific player publicly, instead putting the blame on the entire team, including the coaches and himself. Belichick will, from time to time, speak at length about the history of a certain strategy, or about players of the past, or will acknowledge something in the personal life of a media member (as he did by noting Monique Walker’s last day on the beat this season.) His press conferences, especially after a game, can be painful. He doesn’t elaborate on anything, does not want to speak about certain plays or performances until he has a chance to review the film. His weekly radio spots with WEEI are a little more open and cordial, though he still does not give away much.

Rivers talks openly about injuries. (sort of, more on that in a bit.) He’ll be critical of his players publicly. His press conferences are informative, engaging and smooth. His weekly spots on WEEI are appointment radio.

Both are successful, showing that there is more than one way to do things.

Let’s get back to injuries. The Patriots policies on information about injuries can be infuriating when, as a fan, you want to know how hurt a player is, and what the impact, long and short-term is going to be. But after a few days, it becomes “out of sight, out of mind.” The injured players are “day-to-day,” with no timetable set on a return.  The focus is turned onto the players who are playing. In addition to keeping fans and media guessing, it also keeps opponents in the dark, which is the real reason for the policy. Injuries never become an all-consuming drama.

If I have a frustration with the Celtics, and Doc Rivers (and Danny Ainge) it is how they deal with injuries. They talk about them, but in reality, they’re not giving you much more than the Patriots do. The release last week about Paul Pierce’s MCL was a bit of a surprise, it was also obvious that Pierce had a knee injury. (Well, except to foil-hat Felger.) In general, the Celtics will give almost daily updates on injuries without giving you any information.

Let me give two examples: Kevin Garnett in the 2009 playoffs, and Shaquille O’Neal last season. In both cases, you got daily updates which told you absolutely nothing. With KG, every day there was talk about being day-to-day or getting “close” or wanting to play. First there was talk about whether he would be ready for the playoffs, which Ainge and Rivers said he would be. Then as each game went by, KG was said to be “close.

He never stepped on the court for the Celtics in the 2009 playoffs.

Last season, it was Shaq. Following the trade of Kendrick Perkins, Danny Ainge repeated said that the trade was made in part because they expected Shaq (and to a lesser extent, Jermaine O’Neal) to fill the center spot. We got daily and weekly updates on Shaq, and how close he was to returning. Rivers talked about it, but Shaq never really came back, making just a token appearance in the playoffs (2 games, 2 points total) and obviously never being a factor.

If you think about it,  in the end, the practices of Doc Rivers and Bill Belichick when it comes to information about injuries, really have the same endgame. They tell you nothing. They do it to keep people guessing.

Celtics ownership infamously joked/bragged that they were being Belichickian during the KG injury. They knew the severity of Garnett’s injury, but played the “day-to-day” game to keep opponents guessing. In the endgame, perhaps it was Belichick-like, but the method of getting there was about as far from Belichick as you could get.

The difference between the Rivers method and the Belichick method is that Doc Rivers is going to sit in front of reporters and talk about the situation, seemingly being helpful, yet saying nothing, while Belichick is not even going to bother playing that game. But Rivers is lauded and awarded for being “helpful” to the media, while Belichick is mocked, and reporters gripe about not getting any information from him.

I actually prefer the Belichick way of doing things. The KG and Shaq sagas were painful. Every day it seemed like the player was very close to coming back, yet it didn’t happen. Hopes were raised, the frustrations grew as the weeks went by. Had it been Belichick handling it, it wouldn’t have been the same huge topic. Focus would be on the players who were actually playing. If the injured players came back, it would be a pleasant surprise and a bonus, perhaps even a lift to the team.

While Doc Rivers is definitely more media friendly and is certainly always accessible, part of him is more like Bill Belichick than it would seem. Let’s keep this mind next time you hear Rivers praised for his accessibility and willingness to talk about injuries, and the next time a reporter dumps on Belichick for refusing to talk about injuries.

Season Ending Patriots Media Thoughts

Much like the Patriots season, the performance of the media covering the team this season was marked by highs and lows.

For the most part, the day-to-day coverage from the beat reporters was solid. It’s a veteran group, who understand how things work down in Foxborough, and have learned to make the best of what can be a challenging situation for the media.

Beat reporters generally stay away from the hysteria that often accompanies good or bad performance or controversial transactions. I’m lumping the “NFL Reporters” (Such as Greg Bedard) in with the “beat” reporters, because both are generally down at Gillette everyday. Here are a few thumbnails on some of the reporters who covered the team this season, in no particular order:

Tom E Curran
In addition to his work on the CSNNE.com website, Curran also hosts the weekly show Quick Slants. He brings a unique sense of humor to his job, while still maintaining solid reporting and analysis. Curran is usually good for one or two headscratchers a season, where he seems to deviate from the script a little bit. This year was no exception, as a couple of times during appearances on WEEI’s Big Show, he took a harder line stance against the team on a matter. Overall though, Curran is thoroughly enjoyable to both read and watch/listen to.

Ian R Rapoport
It’s a testament to Rapoport’s prolific output of Tweets and blogging that if you type “Rapsheet” into Google, his stuff comes up first. Engage him, he’ll respond, at almost any time of day. Like Curran, humor is a big part of his coverage, but he also is a very good reporter. He started doing weekly appearances on WEEI’s Dennis and Callahan this season, and while it took half the year for John Dennis to say “Rapsheet” instead of “RapReport,” Rapoport did a good job defusing many of D&C’s conspiracy theories and attempts at controversy. He tends to go off-track on his Twitter account from time to time, but he’s an entertaining follow, and does break his share of news, especially when it comes to injury reporting.

Mike Reiss
While he created much of the blueprint for how the Patriots beat is covered in the Belichick era, Mike is still at the top of his game, bringing endless bits of information to his blog and keeping a level head in chats with so-called “fans” of the Patriots. He’s expressed frustration at the level of negativity around the team, and you also get the sense he doesn’t always love the stuff that ESPN sort of force-feeds into his blog. He still does things no one else is doing, such as the offensive and defensive snap counts, which are used by almost every other media outlet in town – whether they give Reiss credit or not.

Greg A Bedard
A very good hire from Joe Sullivan. And no, I’m not intentionally damning with faint praise there. Bedard is knowledgable about the game, well-connected around the league, and truly objective in his coverage of the team. His weekly breakdowns of the previous game are must-read features, and his radio and television appearances are mostly informative. Bedard is also responsive on Twitter, and has set up meetings with Twitter followers on the night before road games. He’ll occasionally gripe about the lack of access/communication or compare things unfavorably with how things were run in Green Bay, but he’s kept this to a minimum this season. From a pure football standpoint, Bedard is probably the most knowledgeable on the beat.

Christopher Price
Another solid year for Price, who still utilizes the “10 Things” model that he brought over from his days at the Metro. Price is very good at breaking things down into an easy-to-understand and digest format. His on-air appearances on WEEI are solid, and the affable Price is truly one of the nice guys in the business. He generally stays pretty positive in his approach to the team, while still telling it like it is when necessary.

Shalise Manza Young
From a straight reporting and writing standpoint, Young is solid. She has gotten several scoops this season, mostly relating to injuries and transactions. Her stories in the Globe are well written and usually look at the subject in a personal manner. It’s when she gets on Twitter, or does the online chats on Boston.com that Young seems to go off the reservation a bit, and takes a different view of the team – complaining about access, making up strawman arguments about Patriots fans preferring to finish 13-3 and lose in the first round of the playoffs instead of going 11-5 and going to the Super Bow. Turns out you can go 13-3 AND go to the Super Bowl. Who knew?

Karen Guregian
A solid pro, Guregian and Rapoport are a solid team at the Herald. They crank out daily content in quantities surpassing the competition, and most of it good. Guregian usually takes the “larger picture” view of things, looking at how things are trending, good or bad, and also focuses on the individual players and their perspective.

Others
A few thoughts on some others on the beat: Mark Farinella is the ultimate trick or treat. One day he’s writing a very good story, the next day he’s accusing Bob Kraft of forcing the power company to kowtow to his demands to restore power to Gillette Stadium before residences in Foxborough. One day he’s done a great profile on a player, and the next he’s angrily blogging about self-appointed NH-based media critics. Ron Borges is now an afterthought when it comes to the Patriots. Perhaps he’s seen that his schtick has run its course or been done better by others and is plotting his next move. Curran’s sidekick Mary Paoletti is much more than the email girl on Quick Slants. She does solid player features and is a good follow on Twitter. Glen Farley does a solid job for the Gatehouse crew. Jonathan Comey is always an interesting read down at the New Bedford Standard TimesJeff Howe probably deserves more than being lumped into this paragraph, as he is down there every day, and I like his analysis on NESN.com and on NESN Daily. Nick Underhill at MassLive.com might be an up and comer, while Paul Kenyon at the Providence Journal is a solid vet, who did some very nice work toward the end of this season. I can’t leave out Hector Longo. I think he actually knows the game a little bit, but he’d be better off served not trying to get noticed by bashing Jerod Mayo in every single column. Monique Walker did a very nice job at the Globe before departing to Baltimore. She got the notice of Bill Belichick who acknowledged her last day on the job. The Patriots Football Weekly crew of Paul Perillo, Andy Hart and Erik Scalavino are all pretty good, their value seems highest during training camp when the full practice reports come out and the PFW ones are usually the most detailed.

On-Air

This is where things get crazy. Sports radio and television in so many ways is completely out of control. Here, it’s all about opinion, and having an edgy take. We’ll take a look here at things outlet-by-outlet, rather than personality or show.

WEEI
Starting the day off, Dennis and Callahan have some good guests during the season, led by quarterback Tom Brady. As the Globe is sure to tell you, this is a contractually obligated paid weekly appearance by Brady. The QB is unfailingly polite to the pair, and sometimes you wonder why, given the length and substance of some of the questions put forth. Some of the other guests – Mike Lombardi, Boomer Esiason, are also usually worth a listen. What happened to Adam Schefter? When not talking to guests, the show can get brutal, especially when the Patriots have dared to win a game by too many points. The mid-day show is just a disaster when it comes to the Patriots. This time slot used to be my favorite on the station. Now it’s the one I’d like to avoid at all costs if I could. Whether it is Lou Merloni screaming about the Patriots defense or the weekly appearances from Peter King, this show just doesn’t isn’t capable of talking about the Patriots in any intelligent fashion. Then we have the Big Show, which I’ve come back to somewhat, especially when the other station is simply screaming every five seconds about how something SUCKS. Glenn Ordway is still a good interviewer, though his opinions are still pretty awful. Michael Holley is an enigma. I like the guy – how can you not? His books are extremely readable. Yet, I feel like something is lacking. He doesn’t seem to provide the “inside access” that I, and I’m sure everyone else, really wants. Whether this is from wanting to not tell tales out or school or what, I wish he gave us more insight. I generally like when he feels strongly enough about something to challenge Ordway. Have we ever found out what happened to Tedy Bruschi on Patriots Monday? They promoted him big-time, and then all of sudden he wasn’t there any more. I can’t get comment on it, but the feeling seems to be that it was ESPN-related. In the evenings, Mike Adams can be OK sometimes. That’s about the best I can say.

98.5 The SportsHub
To their credit, Toucher and Rich acknowledge all the time that they are not the most keen sports commentators out there, though of the two, Rich is the superior in that regard. When it comes to the Patriots, they rely on guests, whether it is Albert Breer, Greg Bedard or Chris Gasper. It’s hard to really judge them too much on Patriots coverage as they don’t try to do much with it. They don’t sit there and try to analyze the games. Fred will come out from time to time and insult Bill Belichick, but that’s coming from a bitter Jets fan, so you take it for what it is. On the mid-days, the biggest surprise I’ve found this season was that I was listening to Gresh and Zo almost every day. I like Scott Zolak as a football commentator and analyst. Andy Gresh, when he keeps it reined in, is pretty solid too. The pair of them were very good in talking Patriots this season without going berserk on the same topics everyone else was pounding. Albert Breer was a weekly guest on the show, usually spending an hour or two with them, and they would challenge him on some of his blanket statements about things. I don’t need to say too much about Felger and Mazz which hasn’t been said already. Yes, we know the Patriots SUCK. The drafting SUCKS. The defense SUCKS, and the CAP is CRAP. You’re absolutely right, Mike. Rinse, repeat. You see Damon Amendolara on some of those NFL Films shows, and that tells you the guy has some NFL knowledge, too often though, I hear him falling into “storylines” and going with those rather than real analysis. Which, I know, is asking too much of any radio host these days, as the game is all about having a great take.

As far as actual game broadcasts – Chad Finn noted last week that Gino Cappelletti has likely done his last game in the booth, while Gil Santos may get another year. Finn says Zolak will be moved from the sideline to the booth for next season. I think Santos might capable of doing more than one more year, if he is given the proper support – better spotters, etc. He’s still got the voice, and paints the picture beautifully.

CSNNE
When it comes to the Patriots Sports Sunday and Sports Tonight are simply continuations of the Felger and Mazz show. Whatever storylines were being followed there will be brought up here, with added guests. Tom Curran can occasionally interject some realism into things, and Troy Brown and Ty Law are terrific, especially together. SportsNet Central is a nice highlights show with minimal commentary. The Thursday night football lineup of New England Tailgate, Quick Slants and Patriots Football Weekly is a nice way to transition into the weekend.

NESN
I actually found myself watching more NESN Daily as the season went on. Matt Chatham and Mike Flynn make a good duo for analysis from the former player perspective, and Shalise Manza Young, Greg Bedard and Jeff Howe keep their reports pretty business-like, with some good-natured ribbing amongst them. Max Lane, well, he tries.

WBZ-TV
I’ll admit. I enjoy Patriots All Access. Yeah, I fast-forward through quite a bit of it, but the segment leading off, with the sights and sounds of the previous game, and especially the locker room footage, is always a must-see. The Beli-strator segments are interesting and informative, and Lyndsay Petruny is a guilty pleasure on the show. I’m always intrigued by that little diamond she makes with her hands when she’s speaking on camera. The pre and post game reports – Game Day and Fifth Quarter are pretty generic, Steve Burton always brings unintentional comedy to whatever he is on, but Fifth Quarter is always a must-view for the post game interviews with Belichick, Brady and other key players. The preseason games draw outrage from columnists offended by Patriots golf shirts, but they are what they are. Don Criqui isn’t what he used to be on play-by-play and you hold your breath every time Randy Cross breaks out the telestrator, but we don’t really watch these games for the announcers.

Who did I miss? I know there are the TV anchors and reporters like of Mike Dowling, Joe Amorosino, Dan Roche, and Levan Reid, as well as columnists like Shaughnessy, Buckley, Ryan, etc, but I tried to focus more on Patriots-oriented types. There is Pete Sheppard and his Patriots.com radio show, which can be a nice alternative during the season as well.

From The PFW Archives – An Interview With Lesley Visser

This column originally appeared in the November 25th, 2009 issue of Patriots Football Weekly.

Visser no stranger to Pats success

By Bruce Allen

“Hi, I’m Lesley Visser, I know Will McDonough.”

With those eight words, Lesley Visser, the longtime CBS sportscaster voted this past summer as the No. 1 Female Sportscaster of All-Time, would approach players, coaches and officials during her first season on the Patriots beat. The year was 1976, and the 23-year-old Visser was working for The Boston Globe, yet was not allowed in the locker room, and her team-issued press credential flatly stated “No Women or Children allowed in the Press Box.” Oftentimes she would have to wait in the parking lot to interview players. There wasn’t even a ladies room available to her. Dropping McDonough’s name was the only “in” that she had until she could establish herself.

Despite her distinguished career, I sometimes feel that Visser isn’t always properly appreciated by the public for being the true pioneer that she is. In an age where more and more women are seeking careers in sports media, Visser set the standards by which they all measure themselves. Thus, having the chance to chat recently with the very gracious Visser was a great privilege.

Both her remarkable life and career began right here in Massachusetts. Born in Quincy MA, sports and football were in Visser’s blood from a young age. As a little girl, she dressed as Celtics guard Sam Jones for Halloween one year, and asked Santa for a pair of shoulder pads one Christmas.

In 1966, Visser attended her first professional football game, when the Patriots took on the Oakland Raiders at Fenway Park. The 13-year-old Visser managed to get down to the Raiders sideline where she saw future Hall of Fame center Jim Otto up close. “He was the biggest human being I’d ever seen,” she remembers, “and my eyes grew as big as his double 00′s.”

She had the goal of being a sportswriter when she grew up, and as an English major at Boston College, she obtained an internship at The Boston Globe through a Carnegie Foundation grant. Joining the paper full-time following graduation in 1975, she immediately started making her mark in a male-dominated field.

It started that bicentennial year of 1976, when Visser became the first woman assigned to an NFL beat when the Globe sent her out to cover Patriots on a daily basis.

“The first day of training camp, I think I brushed my teeth in the parking lot of Bryant college.” She recalls her biggest fear in those first days on the beat: “Working with people like Peter Gammons and Bob Ryan and Bud Collins, I was terrified I’d let the Boston Globe down with their historic decision.”

Dropping McDonough’s name became her “Magic Credential,” as she puts it. McDonough, the most respected football writer in the country, even spoke to Billy Sullivan on her behalf, telling the Patriots owner that she would work hard, and asking them to be forgiving of her mistakes.

Mistakes? She made a few, some of which pain her to this day. She recalls one incident early in her tenure when she was doing a story on Sam Cunningham, (Visser says that Sam was much more famous than younger brother Randall.) and included some notes at the end of the story. The Patriots were banged up along the offensive line, and she asked coach Chuck Fairbanks who would start at tackle, Tom Neville or Bob McKay.

In the Globe the next morning, Fairbanks was quoted as saying, “Neither one can play the position”. Visser relates: “I got a call at 6 am.  ‘Are you out of your mind?’” It was Fairbanks, shouting on the other end. “I said EITHER one can play the position!”  Visser still shakes her head at the recollection. “I wanted to move to Bimini. Instead, I flew down to Miami with the team – as all members of the media did back then. I heard about it the whole flight, and, OK, maybe the whole season. I think Dave Smith and Vince Doria, our legendary editors at the Globe, remind me of it to this day.”

All in all, she says that “The Patriots were great to me” and that first season in Foxborough was a memorable one, the team went 11-3 before losing a heartbreaking playoff game to the Raiders on the infamous Ben Dreith “roughing the passer” call on Sugar Bear Hamilton, the Patriots tackle who Visser says had watched game film with her that year, giving her an even deeper understanding of the game.

Though he was just a Patriots season ticket holder at the time, Robert Kraft had a big impact on Visser’s career even back in the 1970′s. Kraft owned the Boston Lobsters of World TeamTennis, and was the first person to let Visser into a locker room in any sport. She adds that Kraft “has been so supportive of women in this business, an advocate for more than 30 years. I’m happy to report that the struggles of Schaefer stadium are now the glories of Gillette. It’s no coincidence that the Patriots are the model, the envy of the NFL.”

With her history with the Patriots, it only makes sense that Visser’s favorite memory from her long career covering sports involves the franchise from Foxborough, MA.

“One of my most favorite memories in all of sports was Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans.” She proudly recalls “I was on the field when Adam Vinatieri drilled it through the uprights, and as the confetti came raining down, I remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe this is the team I grew up with, the team that gave me my biggest opportunity, and now I’m here for their most shining moment.’”

Visser had moved on to television with CBS in the early 1980′s, and made history there too, working almost all major sporting events the network covered, including the NFL, where she became the first woman to host the postgame Super Bowl Championship trophy presentation. She stayed at CBS until 1994. She then moved on to ABC/ESPN, where she become the first woman on the announcing team of Monday Night Football, as sideline reporter. She returned to CBS in 2000, and has remained there ever since. She currently is a reporter for The NFL Today, and writes a column for CBSSports.com. In July of this year, Visser was voted the No. 1 female sportscaster of all time by the American Sportscasters Association.

Also this summer, Visser became the first woman to serve as a color commentator on an NFL TV telecast, during a Dolphins preseason game. Visser says of the experience “It was an enormous challenge, but I was careful to stay within my experience. I’ve never been in an NFL huddle, so I never said anything I couldn’t possibly know -  I think that philosophy has helped me for 35 years. I don’t assume, I ask.”

Visser’s distinguished career covering the NFL led to the ultimate honor. In 2006 she became the first (and only) woman to be honored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame as recipient of the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award. Among those congratulating Visser that day was Jim Otto, “Pretty good,” he said, “for a little girl shivering on the sideline.”

Visser says that “Being honored as the first woman in the Pro Football Hall of Fame made me glad I went through all the ups and downs. I have a genuine respect for sports, I’ve always said it’s the most meritorious business in America. It doesn’t matter where your father went to college or how much money your mother has, if you hit the jumper or sink the putt or kick the winning field goal, it’s because of your talent, your will and your skill.”

Fittingly, talent, will and skill are all qualities that Lesley Visser possesses in abundance.

Why Were The Seymour Trade and “LateGate” Not Detailed in Belichick Film?

While there has been plenty of praise for the recent two-part NFL Films documentary on Patriots coach Bill Belichick, there has also been a few pockets of criticism, mainly because two of the biggest events from that 2009 season are not detailed in the film.

The preseason trade of Richard Seymour to the Raiders, a move debated to this day, was only mentioned in the context of the aftermath of the trade, in a scene in which Patriots management discusses the move in relation to how they will now approach re-signing nose tackle Vince Wilfork.

The late-season incident in which four players (Adalius Thomas, Derrick Burgess, Randy Moss and Gary Guyton) showed up late for a meeting and were sent home even though there was significant snowfall on the roads was another incident that season which received plenty of media coverage and outcry. This episode was not mentioned at all in the film.

The absence of these events from the film has led some to question the integrity of the production. Even Chad Finn on Friday wrote in the Globe:

But criticism that relevant developments during the season were glossed over if not ignored entirely are just. Patriots fans would love to have any insight on the machinations that led to Richard Seymour being dealt to Oakland. And if there was a reference to “LateGate,’’ when  Belichick sent four players home after they were late to a morning meeting because of weather conditions, it was brief enough to escape notice here. NFL Films said the Patriots did not request that anything be omitted other than some footage that included play-calling terminology. If that is indeed the case, shortchanging the Seymour story in particular was a glaring omission in an otherwise superb production.

As part of an article appearing this week in Patriots Football Weekly, I had the opportunity to interview the film’s director/producer, Ken Rodgers, and I asked him specifically about those incidents. Here’s how that part of the interview went:

Bruce Allen: I’ve seen some media gripes about two events from the season that were fairly big in nature, but in one case just briefly mentioned and in the other, not mentioned at all. The trade of Richard Seymour and the late-season incident in which four players were sent home after arriving late for practice. Did these things happen when the cameras weren’t around and rolling? Or in the case of the second event, was it just not the big deal that the media made it out to be?

Ken Rodgers: You’ve got it – we simply weren’t there.  While I was around for a majority of the season, we weren’t a Hard Knocks style crew covering every move the team or Coach Belichick made.  Since we were capturing history, covering every moment of this particular season wasn’t really the point – we were covering Coach Belichick and making sure we got all sides of him in all situations.  The Seymour trade happened on a random preseason day that we had no plans of being there (we did capture a meeting afterwards talking about the implication of that trade on the Wilfork deal) and I believe the lateness issue was during the Carolina Panthers week – and again, we simply didn’t shoot leading up to that game so we didn’t generate any material on it.  I can tell you that had I been there and captured anything on the subject that was good enough to make the film, it would have been in there.  My sense of it, however, was far more was made of that incident externally than what actually occurred internally.

Far more was made of the incident externally that what actually occurred? Shocking. I think the rumors at that time were that the increasingly disgruntled Adalius Thomas was the one who dropped the dime to the media on the LateGate incident, which propelled it into the spotlight.

So anyway, if you were among those wondering why these two events were not in the film, you now have an explanation from the ultimate source on it.

As time goes on, I’ll reveal some more of my interview with Rodgers, including his take on Mike Felger’s insistence that the original trailer to the film tried to revise history when it came to the 4th and 2 call in Indianapolis that season.

Note: If you use material in this post, including quotes, please give credit to BSMW and a link back to this article.

Jade McCarthy Is Leaving NESN

Chad Finn at the Boston Globe reports tonight that NESN Daily host Jade McCarthy has given her two week notice and will leave the network at the end of the month. According to Finn’s story, McCarthy’s husband has found a job in Philadelphia and they will move soon. Finn writes that McCarthy is seven months pregnant and NESN has been searching for a replacement for her maternity leave, but now that becomes a search for a new permanent host.

McCarthy had come to NESN in January 2010 after working at WCAU in Philadelphia. She originally anchored “SportsDesk” and then co-hosted the revamped show, “NESN Daily” with Uri Berenguer, but the chemistry did not work and he was let go shortly after the debut. McCarthy has been anchoring solo ever since.

NESN has issued the following statement from McCarthy:

“My husband was recently offered a new professional opportunity in the Philadelphia area. At the same time, we are expecting our first child this fall. It was a difficult decision, but we have decided it is best for our family to move back to Philadelphia. I want to thank all the people who gave me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work in my home town of Boston during such an exciting time. I will miss working with all the great people at NESN.”

NESN says it will begin searching for her replacement immediately.

In the interim, it’s expected that weekend NESN Daily anchor Randy Scott will be the host of the show.

McCarthy is the second departure from NESN that was announced today. On the Toucher & Rich Show on 98.5 The Sports Hub, Bruins studio host Kathryn Tappen made it official that she’s going to the NHL Network in the fall.

NESN’s Executive Vice President Is Out

Happening now, we’re just learning through Bill Doyle of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette that NESN’s Executive Vice President of Programming and Executive Producer Joel Feld is leaving after five years on the job.

Feld has overseen changes in game production with the Red Sox and Bruins as well as steering the channel towards some non-sports related programming including the horrible “Dirty Water TV”. More to follow as the news becomes available.

UPDATE, 8:35 p.m.: We have the official statements from NESN including quotes from Feld and NESN President and CEO Sean McGrail.

NESN Statement:
Joel Feld has decided to leave NESN after more than 5 years of service as the network’s executive vice president of programming and executive producer.

“Over the past five years Joel has made significant contributions to NESN’s growth and success,” said Sean McGrail, NESN’s President and CEO. “We are very grateful for the passion and leadership he brought to work every day and wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

Statement from Joel Feld:

“Leaving NESN is one of the most difficult career moves I’ve ever had to make. The talent and production team – behind and in front of the camera – are the best in the business. The standards and work ethic they bring to the office every day made my job a whole lot easier and more fun than I ever could have imagined when I came to Boston in 2005. I’m especially grateful to the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins organizations who provided me a professional opportunity that people dream of their entire lives. I will treasure the experience and good memories for the rest of my career and wish continued success for NESN and all the great people I’ve had the privilege to work beside.”

NESN says a search for Feld’s replacement will begin immediately. No word if anyone will fill Feld’s position in the interim.

The Sports Media’s Guide To Twitter

Sports reporters might make up one of the heaviest users of Twitter among media types. It can be a tremendous resource for both the reporter and for their followers. Right now, there simply is no quicker way to pass along information to your target audience.

On the other hand, the immediate ability to relay your thoughts isn’t always such a good thing. It can be easy to alienate your audience, or turn them off when you decide to push your own opinion or agenda too far. Combine that with way too much personal information and boring mundane details of everyday life, and it’s a sure formula to get plenty of people hitting the “unfollow” button.

Readers don’t generally care about your thoughts on Jersey Shore, where you ate last night, how bad your hotel room was, or multiple retweets of news that Adam Schefter has broken ahead of you. (Note to Patriots reporters - if someone is following you, there’s a good chance they’re also following Schefter, so they got the newsflash he broke at the same moment you did.)

A BSMW reader passes along the following advice/observation: 

Before hitting the tweet button, they should think, Will the random reader have any interest in this or am I just a clueless self-centered moron by sharing this? Instead, there seems to be a general feel that the followers view them as H.L. Mencken-types who are captivating figures worthy of great interest beyond the actual news and insights they’re supposed to be providing.

A little harsh, but accurate, I think.

Here are the biggest things I think sports media types should do/not do to increase their own value, and avoid turning off followers.

Keep two Twitter accounts – one for your professional life, and one for you personal life.

I’m frankly surprised that more news organizations don’t require this. If you’re Tweeting as a member of the media, you’re representing your employer, and that doesn’t stop when you decide to riff about Snooki, or reminisce about your college days with your buddies, or give us updates on your nephew’s basketball game.

Newsflash - Most people are following you because they want information and news from you. They really don’t care about you as a person, they care about you as an information source. Plain and simple.

Keeping two Twitter accounts seems like the ideal solution. You can have a professional one which is strictly your outlet for passing along information and opinions on the subject matter you cover, AND a personal one which is followed by your friends and family, where you can yak it up and tell them every detail about your life.

If two accounts seems like a hassle, there are plenty of Twitter apps that allow you to simultaneously manage multiple accounts. You can post to both right from the same interface. Even from your phone.

What’s even better is that you can make your personal  account private, only allow the people you want to see the Tweets see them, and say whatever the hell you want to.

Try to refrain from whining too much on Twitter.

Yesterday was a perfect example of this. In fact, it happens on the Patriots beat in particular all the time. Even though this is on-topic for the work you do, it doesn’t reflect well on you when you’re constantly complaining about your working conditions or lack of locker room access or that they’re serving pizza in the press box, again. Let’s keep it professsional, people. Think before you Tweet.

Limit the “in jokes” among your colleagues.

We all like to tweak the people we work with from time to time. Maybe you like to make references to past embarassments or experiences that are only known to people who were there. Even though this is “on the job,” it probably belongs in your personal Twitter feed. If your account is private and so is theirs, you can call Belichick every expletive in the book, and it will be perfectly fine. Your professional followers won’t have a clue, and will still think you’re a rational, objective journalist.

Boston Sports Media Must-Follows

These folks “get it.” They keep things professional for the most part, and are highly informative. One for each of the local professional teams:

@SherrodbCSN – One of my favorites on Twitter, A. Sherrod Blakely is informative, engaging and endlessly patient with those who want to know if Rasheed Wallace is coming back.

@PeteAbe – Peter Abraham is a prolific Red Sox Tweeter, both in game and during the day. He’s opinionated, but keeps things almost exclusively baseball.

@capeleaguer – Christopher Price has it right, I think. I follow him on both Twitter and Facebook, and he uses Twitter for Patriots/Professional stuff, and Facebook for personal. Good balance.

@HackswithHaggs – Joe Haggerty is a Twitter monster. Yeah, he occasionally goes off-topic, but his Bruins information is prolific.

Why Danny Ainge Made The Right Move

As 3:00 this afternoon approached, the biggest concern I had was that Danny Ainge might actually give up something worth a damn for Anthony Parker. Convinced that nothing was going to happen, I stepped away from my desk for a few moments only to return and look at my Twitter feed and see:

Genius me, I sensed immediately that something big had just gone down involving the Celtics. Something a little bigger than Anthony Parker. When things sorted out and the details came out – Kendrick Perkins had been traded along with Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic (and later, a first round pick) – all hell broke loose.

Celtics fans and bloggers immediately came down hard on the deal. Most questioning the sanity or intoxication level of Ainge (a Mormon, lest we forget). Many looked something like this:

That’s a polite one.

Then, as news came out that Semih Erden and Luke Harangody had been dumped to Cleveland for a second round pick, it began all over again.

Most fans were and still are out of their minds over these deals, saying that Ainge has given up on the season and thrown away the team’s hopes for a title. They’re pissed.

Let’s try and look at this a little more coolly, shall we? Let’s try to detach from the emotional attachment so many fans have for Perkins for a moment. Here’s why not only was this not a disastrous trade, but in fact it was a great move by Ainge.

Kendrick Perkins Isn’t Bill Russell.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of Perk and what he brings to the team. Ever since he showed up here as a doughy teenager way back in 2003, I’ve enjoyed watching him work and develop himself into a top-notch body-on-body low post defender. He has come so far you cannot  help but admire him. His teammates love him. His coaches love him. But…

There are number of circumstances which make moving him today the right move.

1) The Celtics weren’t going to be able to re-sign him at the end of the season. Perkins had reportedly recently turned down a contract extension offer from the Celtics. The deal was said to be close to or at the maximum that the Celtics could offer Perkins under the current rules. They were going to lose him at the end of the season, plain and simple. If they wanted any return on their investment, they needed to move him. Now. By sending him to Oklahoma City, they send him to a franchise in the Western conference that really wants and needs him, and will do all they can to re-sign him, hopefully keeping him away from the likes of the Miami Heat.

2) His game, while valuable, was extremely limited. There is a reason why Glen Davis has been closing out games with the starters this season, even after Perkins returned from his injury. Davis brings the physical presence on defense, despite his lack of height that Perkins does, while at the same time giving the Celtics someone who is not only not a liability on the offensive end, but someone who brings something to that end of the floor. Perkins is outstanding as that low post defender and is a good shot blocker, but that’s about it. He’s got hands of stone, his offensive game seems to have even regressed a bit, he can’t shoot foul shots, and he’s not a great rebounder. Are you going to hand out a huge contract to a guy you can’t even keep on the floor in the final minutes?

Both Perkins and Davis would be free agents. The Celtics couldn’t sign both. They probably hope to re-sign Davis, and this gives them a better chance to do that.

3) The Celtics did pretty well in the first half of this season without him. Perkins missed most of the first half of the season while recovering from the knee injury suffered in game six of the NBA Finals. The Celtics didn’t miss a beat. Granted they had Shaquille O’Neal for much of that time, and don’t have him at the moment, but they expect him to return, and also expect the “other” O’Neal to return, though if they get anything from him it will be considered a bonus.

So it became clear that if the team wanted to get something for Perkins, now was the time. This isn’t Bill Russell the Celtics just traded. They still have Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Glen Davis and Delonte West. In among all these moves they also hung onto first-round pick Avery Bradley, whom they like a lot.  Now let’s look at what they got in return for Perkins (and Nate Robinson.)

Forward Jeff Green. The 24-year old, 6-9 Georgetown product is a versatile, intelligent player, who has averaged 15 points a game during his career.  According to observers, he’s either a pretty good defender, or an awful one. He’s not the fastest player, but he’s very active. He gives you a guy who can play both forward positions, and depending on matchups, could play against someone like LeBron James in a Heat series, or Lamar Odom in a Lakers series. He is a restricted free agent after the season, but he is someone the Celtics can look to hold on to and become a cornerstone in the post-Big Three era. Ainge and Doc Rivers reportedly both loved his game coming out of school.

Center Nenad Krstic. As a center, Krstic is the anti-Perkins. He’s soft, not much of a defender or rebounder, but can shoot and score. At seven-feet, he’s at least a big, skilled body, he averaged 16 points a game back in 2007. He can foul – which might be needed against a Dwight Howard, or also stretch the floor a little bit with his shot.

A lottery protected first round pick from the Los Angeles Clippers. This could be another big building piece for the future, either with the actual pick (It is top-10 protected for the next few years) or as a trade piece.

Concerns people have.

There’s been a ton of angst out there among Celtics fans over losing Perkins. They worry that all of a sudden the Celtics can’t match up with Orlando, Miami or the Lakers. They say Perkins could lock down Dwight Howard single-handedly.

That hasn’t been the case all of the time, and especially of late. It’s become an absolute to some people that had Perkins not been injured in game six of the finals that the Celtics would’ve won the series. Without Perkins, Andrew Bynum still had only two points in both game six and seven, and wasn’t a huge factor. As for the Heat, they have no center. I’m not sure how not having Perkins has anything at all to do with how they play the Heat.

If the Celtics get Shaq back in time for the playoffs, and possibly Jermaine O’Neal, the Celtics will have more than enough big bodies to get through the postseason, where remember, there are no back-to-back games, and less travel.

The other moves.

In dumping Semih Erden and Luke Harangody, (and later, Marquis Daniels) the Celtics free up roster spots for potential buyout players. Semih had his moments this season, but you’ve got to think that any veteran that the Celtics can sign (Troy Murphy, for one) is going to be an improvement over those two. There have been a lot of possibilities floated out there as potential buyout candidates, and the Celtics are in a position to sign one as soon as they become available. (It’s worth noting that to make room for Erden and Harangody, the Cavs waived former Celtic Leon Powe, who I could love see back here.)

Ainge said this afternoon that the team would be aggressive in pursuing bought out players, looking for another wing player, a defender or front court help. There should be players available, and they’re bound to be better than Erden and Harangody. He also said they’re expecting Shaq back in a week.

Conclusion

So what Ainge has done today is give the Celtics a better chance of winning, both now and in the future. None of us like to think about it, but this team has a very short window. It’s this season, and perhaps next, and that’s probably it. By adding Green (the best player in the deal, who will contribute now) and the future first round pick from the Clippers, while also keeping Bradley, the Celtics have some assets and possibilities for the future.

Who Ordered The Jets “Sideline Wall?”

This goes a little outside the usual realm of this blog, but I’m not seeing much discussion of this in the media.

Check out this photo of the Jets sideline:

Note the blue line. As far as I know, that indicates the furthest spot that sideline personnel are allowed to stand.

I heard a WFAN  caller (the infamous incarcerated bob) claim that two Jets players said that the Jets were angry that the Dolphins gunner had been going out of bounds during kickoffs, and that this formation was done to stop that.

Should they have been there?

From the NFL Rulebook:

Rule 13, Article 5 Coaches and other non-participating  team personnel  (including uniformed players not in the game at the time) are prohibited from moving laterally along the sidelines any further than the points that are 18 yards from the middle of the bench area (i.e., 32-yard  lines  to  left and  right of bench areas when benches are placed on opposite sides of the field). Lateral movement within the bench area must be behind the solid six-foot white border

The rule book also contains a diagram:

So, Jets strength coach Sal Alosi and his cronies (practice squad players?) were standing the zone marked for “Coaches and substitution players only” and they were lined up as close to the edge – both to the playing field and edge of the bench area zone as humanly possible.

Definitely a planned lineup, no? Who had them do this?

I don’t think the plan was for Alosi to stick his knee out and knock the player down, but he was put into that position. By whom?

After the game, Rex Ryan professed to be unaware of the situation until the team’s director of media operations informed him.

So many questions here.

  • Did Rex Ryan order this formation?
  • Is it common to do this?
  • Do other teams do it?
  • Is it only a big deal because Alosi stupidly stuck his knee out?
  • Is this rule even enforced?

What Alosi did was a penalty:

Palpably Unfair Act (Non-Player)
Rule 13, Section 1, Article 8

Article 8 Non-player personnel of a club (e.g., management personnel, coaches, trainers, equipment men) are prohibited from making unnecessary physical contact with or directing abusive, threatening, or insulting language or gestures at opponents, game officials, or representatives of the League.

Penalty: Loss of 15 yards. (Unsportsmanlike conduct.) Enforcement is from:
a) succeeding spot if the ball is dead;
b) previous spot if the ball was in play; or
c) whatever spot the spot Referee, after consulting with the crew, deems equitable.

Should it be more?

Also see:

Legal Consequences of Jets assistant coach Sal Alosi tripping Miami Dolphins DB Nolan Carroll

Update:

[blackbirdpie url="http://twitter.com/Jay_Glazer/status/14471176218742784"]

Adam Schefter adds the details that he is being fined $25,000 and that it is the Jets who took this action, not the league.