Bye Week Randomness: More Steelers Pass D, 18-Game Schedule Stuff

A couple end-of-week, random things to help get you through Friday. (By the way, it could be worse … you could be me, who will most likely be shoveling snow as you read this. Upside: my three-year-old son “helping” by shoveling snow on the just-cleared parts of the driveway. Good times.)

Great news: apparently, the Steelers pass defense is improving! ESPN AFC North dude James Walker writes that “The loss to the New England Patriots in Week 10 was the turning point. Pittsburgh’s pass defense was carved up by quarterback Tom Brady, but responded well after that game.”

Walker’s wrong about getting Brady’d being a turning point — according to Football Outsiders, the Steelers ranked fourth in pass defense heading into the Pats game — but, hey, it’s progress.

Anyway, Adam has twice written about the misconceptions. I suppose we just all be glad that the mainstream folks are taking notice. Now here’s to hoping that they didn’t jinx anything.

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This post is tangentially related to the Steelers, and even then just barely. But the Steelers’ next game is a week off, and this gives me an opportunity to talk about Roger Goodell’s recent comments on player safety and the 18-game season, presumably while somehow managing to keep a straight face.

Back in October, shortly after the NFL decided that a $75,000 fine sounded about right for James Harrison’s hit on Mohamed Massaquoi, I wrote this:

“…Where’s the research that suggests that suspending players is some kind of long-term deterrent? I mean, if we’re serious about player safety and removing these types of plays from the game, shouldn’t we have some notion about whether a punishment works before we proclaim that we’re serious about it?

Not only that, Roger Goodell’s doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to punishments fitting the crime. If anything, his approach can best be described at haphazard. That might make for good PR (“He’s coming down hard on offenders!”) but again, there’s no proof that randomly assigning punishments actually reduces crime. Isn’t that sorta the point?”

I’ve said it countless times, but Roger Goodell is a mouthpiece for the owners first, which means that their interests are his interests. I get that. He’s a skilled politician, which is an important attribute to have in a gig that involves a lot of BS-ing. That doesn’t make him smart or good for the game, but those traits aren’t at the top of his job description, either.

So I was interested to hear his answer to the question that concerns everybody — fans, players, people who don’t follow football but understand the relationship between fat guys running into each other at full speed and the increased chance of injury — but Goodell and the old-timers he answers to.

Florio had Rog on PFT Live Tuesday and asked him about it. Pertinent parts cut-and-pasted below (the entire transcript is here.)

PFT: …How do you reconcile those two things, player safety concerns with the possibility of expanding the regular season to 18 games?

Goodell: I don’t think you ever compromise on player safety. You always do what is in the best interest of making the game as safe as possible for the players. I keep seeing that throughout the season with an emphasis on making sure we take certain behaviors and certain techniques out of the game that can lead to risk of injury for either the player doing the striking or the player being struck. …

What the fans very clearly stated and I hear this from the players also is that they do not like preseason games. Unfortunately, we have injuries in preseason games….

Rog conveniently left out the part about virtually every fan and player being against the 18-game season even though we all admit that the preseason is boring as hell. (Worth mentioning: I know some fans are cool with the schedule expansion. In fact, I think either Cols or countertorque said earlier this season they didn’t have any real problem with it. Duly noted.)

Whatever, James Farrior seemed to grasp the reality of the situation. “They want 18 games, and I know it is going to happen one way or the other,” Potsie told the Trib. “There is nothing we really can do about that. We can fight it all we want to, but it is going to happen.”

Florio then asked Goodell about the guys at the top of the depth chart being more susceptible to injury if the season is expanded, and Dear Leaders offered this response:

“That is part of what we are doing not only in our own analysis but also in the analysis with all of our football people. I also asked John Madden and Ronnie Lott to get involved on the player safety issue in creating an injury panel that will look at how we continue to take certain contact out of the game with respect to the offseason.”

I mentioned this back in October but, in general, “panels” are a waste of time. It’s an excuse for important people to get together and eat lunch on the company dime. And I think Goodell should make any injury analysis available to whoever wants to see it. I don’t expect that to happen, but it’s certainly a reasonable request.

Credit to Florio for actually bringing the topic up, but I’m still looking for somebody to press Goodell. The Larry King softballs are nice, but everybody understands the issue, and more than that, most people think it’s an idiotic idea. Seems like Rog should have to answer the tough questions. I’m not holding my breath.

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Speaking of FUBAR, I’m looking forward to the postseason overtime rules wreaking havoc.

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  • Gretz

    You don’t have to worry about the MSM jinxing us, we’ve already done that ourselves.

  • GlennW

    Count me among the supposed minority of fans who are in favor of the 18-game schedule. It’ll involve a negotiated bump in player pay proportional to the increase in league TV revenues (no problem), increasing roster size either explicitly or implicitly via more IR placements, and even giving key players some scheduled games off (the biggest drawback in the form of some slightly watered-down quaility of play). But overall, it’s more real football and less preseason nonsense. Bring it on.

    • Anonymous

      I agree with this. I also don’t think it’s actually at odds with the goals of improving player safety.

      What is it ad odds with is the line the league likes to give that all other considerations must defer to safety in all things. Look, football is a risky sport. There’s nothing wrong with wanting it to be safer, but taken to the extreme the game would become a camera watching a guy sitting alone in a padded room because anything else isn’t as safe.What they’re really trying to do (assuming full faith in their intentions and honesty) is within the general framework of the game of football provide the highest entertainment to risk ratio feasible. In that light an 18 game season doesn’t change anything. It’s 2 more games of entertainment and two more games of risk.

    • WarriorBlitz

      Pre-season is like foreplay. We (fans = guys) don’t really like it and quite honestly could do without it. But they (teams = ladies) need the games to practice at full-speed, evaluate talent, and get “ready” for the regular season (the main event).

      Can you have a regular season w/o the pre-season? Sure, but it will probably get off to a rough start, and the longer regular season may not end up being that satisfying for the players and then ultimately for the fans due to injuries, shorter careers etc…

      My attempt at a crude analogy. Tried to keep it at least PG-13.

      • countertorque

        I’ll never think of the preseason in the same way again…

        However, I think most people feel that game 4 of the preseason is not really about player evaluation, as most decisions have already been made. So, I’m not sure if it’s a huge reduction in evaluation time.

    • Randy Steele

      I agree with Glenn on all his points. Plus, I’d add that I think the player-safety argument is a bit disingenuous.

      Seriously, if player safety is the most important concern, those advocates should rightly be arguing to shorten the season to 14 games–or fewer. Heck, if the fundamental issue is really player safety, football shouldn’t be played at all!

      Despite the polls, almost all of which are unscientific, what fan wouldn’t want more football? Duh.

      This issue is all about compromise, and in the end there will be an 18-game season. It makes sense for everyone.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UR6KXGPFIFYZSVJNCXCJNHDQJQ Bob Costas

        Randy, I don’t think more games is always better. I’m a hockey fan and I think they would be better off with less games. Part of what makes the NFL compelling is that there are so few games. Every loss really matters. That’s not the case at all with MLB, NBA and NHL. A loss (or a win) just doesn’t mean as much in those sports and I think that has something to do with the popularity of these sports compared to the NFL.

        I’d go even further and say that the other main reason that football is so popular is because all of the games fall (for the most part) on a weekend. Because of the time slot and small number of games, fans can really invest in each and every game. Not possible with the other sports. I don’t have a enough free time to watch 3-4 three hour games a week (which is probably a good thing).

        I’m also curious how the schedule format will change with 18 games. I really like the neatness and balance of the current format. Everyone in the division plays essentially the same schedule with only two “bonus” games that tilt the schedule towards parity. What happens with the extra two games? Would they play two entire AFC divisions, plus their own division and a NFC division? Would that rotation even work?

        • Randy Steele

          Bob,
          Yes, you’re correct about the fewer games you play, the more important each becomes. But we’re no talking about a 50-game season. We’re talking about 18. Really, I don’t see what the big hoop-de-doo is all about.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UR6KXGPFIFYZSVJNCXCJNHDQJQ Bob Costas

            It’s true that 2 more games is not a dramatic increase but I’m still skeptical. Let’s look at what 2 more games could have meant this season. What would have happened for teams like Cinci and Carolina? Would losing two more games make the NFL more or less interesting. How about the Patriots? Would them lapping the field by even more games contribute to a better NFL? Maybe the NFC West would have been won by a team that didn’t have a winning recor… wait, scratch that one.

            I think two more games would definitely make the last couple weeks of the NFL season even more blah than it is now. Those two preseason games that people don’t like? We’d be seeing them in week 18 and 19 every year when the Patriots or Colts or whomever have already clinched the 1st seed in week 16. I’m not saying 18 games would for sure be a bad thing but I’m not convinced that it is definitely a good thing either. Minus some reactionary PR crap from the league office and I’d say the NFL has pretty much got the perfect system going. Why mess with it?

          • Anonymous

            You’re saying that the last 2 or so weeks aren’t interesting because playoffs are clinched in week 15. But with 18 games, those playoffs spots aren’t clinched that early.

  • eddie

    i think 18 games is stupid, and while trying to cite player safety as a priority, i think it’s completely hypocritcal.

    i get that many people disagree with this, and i understand the sentiment that preseason games are boring.

    however, i’m part of the small minority that likes watching the 4th and 5th stringers actually play after all the 6th round draft hype. the only chance they get is because of the preseason. i have no idea how the league expects teams to evaluate talent now. you cannot evaluate player talent unless in games. plenty of people can study and know the right answers, but cannot respond with 5 300lb-ers sprinting like DB’s trying to kill you.

    i am a firm believer that the league will be worse because of injuries partly, but mostly because coaches will lose valuable meters to judge whom to cut and whom to develop. nfl europe was a joke, but madden bemoaned the loss of a “minor league” which was a good developing ground for players AND coaches.

    • GlennW

      The talent evaluation thing is a fair point, but I figure that performance of scrubs-against-scrubs in a meaningless pre-season game isn’t exactly a great predictive barometer of potential NFL talent either. There are scores of examples of good/great players falling through the cracks in the current system anyway– just ask James Harrison. I figure that good coaches and evaluators will be better at grading talent based on practices and scrimmages than the poor evaluators, and that this will just become another part of the game (and not a major one at that).

      In any case (similar to Intropy) my biggest objection is to this notion of any “hypocrisy” around the 18-game schedule vs. the goal of player safety. That concept is a nice bargaining chip I suppose, but everyone should be fully aware by now that if the money is put on the table for the extra two games, the players will gladly take it (DeMaurice Smith has alluded to such as a reality). In any case, the league’s critical focus on “player safety” has been concentrated on hits that cause debilitating injury or permanent mental incapacity. Agree or not with the league’s execution towards that objective, it doesn’t really change whether there’s a 12, 14, 16 or 18-game schedule. If the requirement is that you sit for 1-2 games after a concussion, you sit for that long whether it’s Week 1 or Week 17.

      The undeniable downside to an 18-game schedule is that with increased playing time comes increased risk of injury or a shortened career, simply through the luck of the draw. The tradeoff is (or should be) increased pay and hopefully retirement benefits. As a fan, I don’t have a fundamental objection to that tradeoff. As a player, I might– but the players are in control of that decision.

  • countertorque

    Aren’t 3 year olds great? I’ll bet he insisted on using the brand new snow shovel and left you with the old crappy one too. My son is 4.5 now and for the first time this fall, he contributed (slightly) net positive value to raking leaves. He even let me take turns with the leaf rake this year, instead of making me do the whole yard with the garden rake.

    Make sure you take a ton of pictures. You know you’re going to miss it when he grows into a sullen teenager.