New Pro Bowl selection explainer

Pro Bowl rosters selected by Michael Irvin and Cris Carter:

Last year, the NFL did away with the AFC vs. NFC format and began using “captains” to oversee a fantasy draft to fill out the teams. In 2014, Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders were the honorary captains, with this year’s choices being Hall of Fame receivers Michael Irvin and Cris Carter.

In other words, they took the one thing fans can control about the sport, choosing the team in the game that means nothing, and gave that responsibility back to millionaires.

Besides the dozens of other terrible things about the NFL, this is the most NFL thing I’ve heard all week.

Sportsball Deciphered (II)

It’s Thursday. Sadly enough, this year, that means there’s football on. We’re far from peak football, but it’s getting closer. Prepare yourself, and tell your kids of the days when Sunday was a special day because no other day had real football. Now, on to more no-nonsense, jargon-free definitions of football jargon.

A Hail Mary is the most desperate offensive play. If you’re doing poorly, the end is near, and you need a miracle, your Hail Mary effort is the low-odds, high reward manuever to save the day.

You start executing your plan with the snap.

If someone inappropriately prevents someone else from doing their job, you could say they have committed pass interference.

If you’re not making progress forwards or backwards in your plan, and are instead moving laterally, you may have gone sideways.

If you want to commend a teammate for doing well, and you’re comfortable around them, you might give them an ass slap, but be careful; everyone watching will notice it and wonder things.

Coaching in the NFL is now sufficiently complicated that coaches often have a list of plays that resembles a laminated take-out menu in-hand at all times on the sideline. This is addition to the radio headset that makes them look like they’re working the drive-through at your local burger joint.

A strategy that involves taking medium-to-high reward, low probability chances all the time is not too dissimilar from always passing the ball. If you were instead going for lower reward but higher probability tactics, you’d be always running the ball.

If you run out of chances and don’t even succeed at a small incremental goal, you’ll have to punt. The other team will get a chance and hopefully you’ll get to try again, but your tactical progress will probably be reset.

A strategy that emphasizes protecting against big losses over smaller losses is not unlike a nickel defense.

If you fail to protect the leader, you have given up a sack.

For more, revisit Part I.

Sportsball deciphered

It’s September and football season is upon us. Thus, I will soon annoy the snot out of people who say “sportsball” and generally ignore sports. Some will be able to mute me on Twitter and avoid most of the annoyance. Others, however, work with me on teams and will have to put up with the times when I slip and work a football metaphor in to the process of software development.

What follows is a glossary of things I may say that are football and/or sports related and a simple explanation of what they are. I’ve omitted what the term means in football so you don’t have to learn any sportsball if you don’t want to!

Move the goalposts is when you change the rules so it’s easier for you to achieve your goal. It’s like how Captain Kirk solves the Kobayashi Maru test. (Ed. David Romerstein pointed out that moving the goal posts often means someone constantly changing the parameters of success such that it’s impossible to succeed. Beware!)

A lead blocker is someone who precedes a person trying to get something done and removes impediments to their goal.

If you start doing something before the official start time, or you start doing it and then have to stop and start over almost immediately, it’s a false start.

If you fully succeed in the task at hand, you have scored a touchdown.

A penalty flag, or just flag, is thrown when you break the rules.

If you force so many mistakes on your adversary that they run out of room to retreat, you have scored a safety.

If you’re doing really well, and you don’t mind giving up a few small victories to get closer to winning the overall game, you are running a prevent defense.

You might attempt to run out the clock if you’re winning and want to use a strategically conservative plan until the game is over and won.

A blitz is an aggressive plan to overwhelm by speed and force. Just like the blitzkrieg, but with less actual war.

The draw is about the simplest tactic you can apply on offense. You rely on one person to get the job done and everyone else supports them.

A read option is one of the most complicated offensive tactics where you prepare multiple different strategies and the leader choses which one to execute at the last possible moment depending on what they see in the situation they face.

More definitions coming soon! Leave a comment if there’s a sportsball term you’ve always wondered about and want a no-nonsense answer.

Jerry Jones: slightly human, mostly Faustian

The best thing you will read about Jerry Jones this year. Slightly humanizing, even. What Jerry Jones wants, he cannot have:

I’ve never wanted anything as much as I want to win the next Super Bowl.

The owner of the Dallas Cowboys is his own worst enemy. His general manager, Jerry Jones, is able to make decisions good enough to prevent the team from sinking too far. He is not, however, able to make the decisions needed to return the team to legitimate contender status.

If you somehow made it this far without knowing much about football, let me clarify. Jerry Jones is Jerry Jones. Owner and general manager. Everyone who has watched football for more than a few years knows that Jones’ ego is what prevents him from separating the wildly successful owner Jones from the wildly sub-par manager Jones. And yet: it never happens.

That said, it does sound like somewhat Faustian fun to hang out with Jones, as the ESPN reporter who wrote this piece did. On the one hand, it’s obvious that a billionaire is using his considerable resources to come off as a reasonable, alright dude. On the other hand, he stands on the side of not renaming the Washington football team, so you know that Jones is subtly awful in ways he can’t even begin to wrap his brain around.

Football rules: not hard, even for the defense

The NFL is going through an awkward transition from laissez-faire bloodsport to something…less bloodsport-y. Players-turned analysts often rush to the side of the “victimized” defensive players who are now faced with…rules. It’s pretty dumb, on both sides:

  • It’s not like these players learned different rules in high-school and college. Tackling is the same from age 12 onwards: you put your arms around a guy and pull him to the ground. Knocking a guy off his feet is just an impressive but dangerous form of bad tackling.
  • Defensive players already learn complicated blitzing and coverage schemes. To suppose they can’t figure out how to hit a guy only between the knees and shoulders is a bit cynical.
  • All that defensive players do is react. React to a block, react to a ball-carrier cutting, react to a pass. Adding circumstances under which you can’t clock another play is only a marginal increase to their rule-bound duties.
  • Football is always changing. New offenses, new defenses, new rules, new schemes, etc. Slightly changing how tackling works isn’t going to turn football into badminton.
  • Players know what they’re getting into in the short term: possible injuries. Not as many know what they’re getting into on the long term: the possibility of being a zombie.
  • Some former-players have gone on to lead productive lives. Others have not, and a few have taken their own life rather than go on with the one football left them. Survivor bias is not a reason for inaction.

I think football can turn into something less about violence and more about strategy and skill, but only if those on the outside help those on the inside instead of helping those seeking the untenable status quo.

Pass interference: can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

Bill Barnwell on revamping defensive penalties. Pass interference is tough business in the NFL. It’s one of the easiest calls to get wrong on the field (besides the myriad of missed holding calls), but the easiest to fix with a slow-motion camera. It’s too easy for both sides to game it as well. There’s some good ideas in here, but I think just making pass interference calls and non-calls is a simple first step.

Burpess and other intense workouts

What’s the Best Exercise?

But when pressed, he suggested one of the foundations of old-fashioned calisthenics: the burpee, in which you drop to the ground, kick your feet out behind you, pull your feet back in and leap up as high as you can. “It builds muscles. It builds endurance.” He paused. “But it’s hard to imagine most people enjoying” an all-burpees program, “or sticking with it for long.”

I’m having trouble deciding whether I should say good things about burpees. I only do a handful at a time, usually as part of a series of movements. They’re not so bad if you start with just a few and work up from there.

Burpees aside, it’s interesting to see opinions on what the most useful exercise movements are. I’m really glad I don’t need to start doing butterflies though.

Meditations on golf

We’re just wrapping up that nice time of the year in Texas. Technically, we get two nice parts of the year: the one after "winter" and the one after SUMMER. It’s nice in that you can sit outside with the dogs and just enjoy the air, the sounds and the fact you can sit idly without wishing you were in a climate-controlled environment.

This year I’m actually taking advantage of this part of the year by golfing. All the public courses are blooming: the fairways are green, the bunkers are as sandy as they’ll get and the greens are in peak condition.

My golf game is improving; a novel experience. I’m hitting some fairways, some greens and making the occasional nice putt. It’s like seeing an investment pay out. Hopefully I’ll finish the summer hitting under 100 on a regular basis.

Golf is nice, for me, because it’s as close as I get to meditation. I don’t think about code, politics, or finance. I just think about the previous shot and the next shot. In fact, the less I think, the better I do. Golf is my chance to attempt nihlism.

Golf is relaxing. It’s a little vacation. I sometimes see guys out with their wives. They’re doing it wrong. The point of golf is to spend some time away from everything. By this definition, professionals like Tiger Woods are doing it wrong too. Maybe I’m on to something here.

There’s a moment in my game, somewhere on the last three holes, where I realize I’m going to have to go back to being responsible. This moment is like hitting a bad shot; you think you can do better. On the other hand, it takes a long time to play eighteen holes, so getting back to responsibility is a good thing.

What would I do if I didn’t play golf? I don’t know. Golf, as lame as a lot of people think it is, does good things for my brain. Maybe that explains my obsession/addiction. Luckily, I’ve given up my Call of Duty 4 addition. This Old Republic game could prove troublesome though…