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Thursday Night's Alright For Fisking, Or: How To Fail At Football Analysis Without Really Trying

Not pictured: Vonta Leach.  Not needed on this play: Vonta Leach.
Not pictured: Vonta Leach. Not needed on this play: Vonta Leach.

The internet is a wonderful thing, generally speaking.  At the risk of sounding trite, we've never lived in an age where it was so easy to access information about literally anything you could possibly care to know.  Before the internet, it would have taken an enormous amount of effort if you simultaneously wanted to know what tomorrow's weather will be like in Eritrea, order some Thai food, pay your cell phone bill, and watch some lovely ladies get to know one another biblically.  Today, however, you can have all of that done in a couple minutes, without ever leaving your couch.  It is truly a golden age of erudition.

Like every great thing --- beer, women, football, sliced bread --- the internet has a downside: it provides an outlet for people like David Daniels.  "Who is David Daniels," you ask?  Well, according to his bio, he's a diehard Titans fan, an "English-Writing" major, and a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.  If you are unfamiliar with his work, allow me to point you in the direction of this piece, entitled "NFL Preseason: Don't Believe Hype Surrounding Overrated Arian Foster and Texans." 

It's been a while since I found something that was fisk-worthy.  What do you say we light this candle and take the article apart after the jump?  Sounds like fun, doesn't it?

Every NFL offseason brings free agency, the draft and predictions that the Houston Texans will finally make the playoffs.  Those predictions are then annually blown to smithereens as soon as they [sic] actually step on to the football field.  Houston is overrated and[,] like always, they won’t live up to expectations.

I am sure that David is going to back up his thesis with a fully developed, rational, and cogent explanation, his sloppy use of pronouns and punctuation notwithstanding.  Perhaps he will focus on the Texans' lack of depth in certain key areas, or maybe he will look at the Texans' tough early-season schedule and conclude that a young, untested team will likely struggle out of the gate.  Either of these would make for a decent, albeit flawed, article.  Let's see where he goes with this.

First off, no one in their right mind is calling Arian Foster the league’s best running back[,] because he isn’t. 

Little-known fact: to make the playoffs in the NFL, you have to have "the league's best running back."  Except, wait ... in 2010, Arian Foster WAS the league's best running back --- at least in terms of such antiquated metrics as rushing yardage, rushing TDs, carries resulting in first downs, receptions by a RB, total yardage, and total TDs --- and they did not make the playoffs.  I'd say there's a flaw in David's theory somewhere.

As for whether anyone, right-minded or otherwise, is saying Foster is the best RB in 2011, I'm gonna go ahead and call out the strawman here.  Whether the Texans make the playoffs or not in 2011 is not dependent in any way on whether Foster is the "league's best running back."  Case in point, the Green Bay Packers, who fared pretty well last season, did not have a running back with even 800 yards or even 5 rushing TDs.

If he equals his 2010 production, I’ll give you a dollar. 

Irrelevant to David's thesis, but, hey, a free dollar is a free dollar.  Sweet!

Not really, but he won’t[,] and here’s why:

Perfidy! Here I was all excited about the free dollar, and David rips it away from me.  Oh well, at least we now get to hear why Foster won't match his 2010 production.  (That David has not established that Foster's matching last year's production is a necessary precondition for the Texans' making the playoffs is somewhat troubling, but there's still time for David to bring this thing full-circle.)

Vonta. Leach.

Zuh?  Let me see if I'm following David correctly here.  The Texans will not make the playoffs in 2011 because Arian Foster is not the best running back in the league.  He is not the best running back in the league, as he will not match his 2010 season totals.  He will not match those totals because his lead blocker, Vonta Leach, is no longer with the team.

Forgive me if I am being obtuse, but, working backward here, if David's theory to this point were even remotely valid, one could logically assume that (a) having Vonta Leach, which (b) led to Arian Foster being the best running back in the league last season based on his statistical totals, would have (c) resulted in the Texans' making the playoffs.  Except they did not.  So ... yeah.

Discount the affect a lead blocking fullback has on the running game[;] go ahead. 

This sentence only applies to the Texans if you ignore the fact that they signed Lawrence Vickers and that James Casey is being converted to fullback.  Which is to say, it's a pretty meaningless statement in this post.

That will only leave you in disappointment when a chunk of Foster’s stats are shaved off because the best battering ram in the entire NFL isn’t leading the way for him anymore.  Lawrence Vickers isn’t bad, but it’s basically like the Raiders going from Nnamdi Asomugha to DeMarcus Van Dyke; it fills a need, but there will be [a] noticeable drop[-]off.

Yes, going from the best blocking fullback to a very good blocking fullback, in an offense where the fullback only played 38% of all offensive snaps in 2010, is EXACTLY like going from the best CB in the league to a rookie third-round pick who has never played a down in the NFL.  Those things are so alike that, if they were played side-by-side inside the back cover of Highlights for Children, you wouldn't be able to find ANY differences between the two pictures.

As for "a chunk of Foster's stats" being "shaved off," let's recap some things:

1. First, as Aaron Schatz told Lance Zierlein, " Believe it or not, [Foster] had more ypc with only one back in the game: 5.5 ypc with 1 RB, 4.7 ypc with 2 RB.  But part of that was the situation — he ran with 1 RB more often when there were more yards to go. When it comes to total efficiency, considering the situation, Foster was basically the same either way. It does make you wonder, though, if Leach is as worthwhile as people think."

2. Second, as bfd noted, according to ProFootballFocus, "almost the entirety of [Leach's] 2010 value is derived from the first Colts game," and "Vonta was awful in 2009."

3. Lawrence Vickers is a good enough blocker that he helped Peyton Hillis rush for nearly 1,200 yards last year, and Hillis is not anywhere as talented at setting up blocks and seeing the field as Foster is.

Their new 3-4 defense may look good on paper, but[,] as Texans fans know, the game isn’t played on paper.  As of now, the most important position in a 3-4 defense, the nose tackle, is being manned by Shaun Cody[,] who has never played the position during his time in the league. 

/marks "David Daniels" off the list of people who understand the differences between Wade Phillips' 3-4 and a traditional 3-4

We've covered this.  A lot.  I won't rehash it.  You can read about it here, here, here, here, or here.

Also, while David is correct that Cody has never played 3-4 NT in the NFL, Cody has played a one-gap DT role from the 0- or 1-technique during his time in the NFL, so it's not exactly like he's trying to learn something new.  More importantly, Earl Mitchell, who will be your starter come September 11th, has also played the one-gap DT role before.

Oh, you know who else had never played 3-4 NT (or, really, any DT role) at the NFL or college level prior to teaming up with Wade Phillips?  Jay Ratliff.  That seemed to work out all right.

The same goes for Mario Williams[,] who is now the heaviest rush linebacker ever at 290 pounds.

Little-known fact #2: Mario's weight is the determining factor as to whether he can transition to OLB.  Ignore that, at 295, he ran a 4.66 40 and posted a 40.5" vertical.  Athletic ability means nothing; it's entirely about weightspeed calculations.

What's that?  Mario has slimmed down and is currently more in the 275-280 range?  I see.  And you say that he came into camp visibly lighter, such that someone writing a post on, say, August 11, 2011, could have done ten seconds of research and known that Mario was not currently 290 pounds?  Interesting.

Also, expecting J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed to step in and contribute in year one is pushing it.  Watt was a one-year wonder at Wisconsin[,] and Reed wasn’t that high on anybody’s draft boards until he had a good 10-yard split and [sic] the combine. 

J.J. Watt played TE and DE in high school.  He received a scholarship from Directional Michigan, but they only wanted him to play TE.  After one year, he left CMU to return to Wisconsin and try to walk on to the Badgers' defense as a DE.  He redshirted in 2008, then won a starting job in 2009, beating out senior Dan Moore, Jr.  In that season, Watt finished second on the team in TFLs (15.5), pass breakups (5), and fumble recoveries (2), and third in sacks (4.5).  In 2010, Watt had 59 tackles (most on the team), seven sacks (ditto), two fumble recoveries, and an interception; won the Ronnie Lott Award; was a second-team All-American; and was a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award. 

Translation: he was not a one-year wonder; he was good in 2009, and he progressed to become very good in his second year as a starter.  More to the point, suggesting that Watt won't contribute much in 2011 because he was "a one-year wonder" at Wisconsin, even if it were true, does not prove David's thesis.  If Watt does struggle, Tim Jamison or Tim Bulman will take his spot.  Not that I see that being an issue in the least.

The ability of Kareem Jackson to remarkably improve and [of] Glover Quin to make a successful switch to free safety are also to [sic] huge ifs.

If Kareem Jackson were still penciled in as the starting CB1, this might be a valid point.  Currently, however, Jackson is looking like he won't even be the starting CB2.  Johnathan Joseph >>>> Kareem Jackson.  It's science.

Glover Quin's moving to safety is a "huge if," at least in the abstract.  In reality, though, the safety play was so bad last year that Quin is almost certainly going to be an upgrade.  The bigger "if" here, in my opinion, is whether Quin is enough of an upgrade at safety to make it worth moving the 2010 squad's best CB.  I think he is, especially with the other upgrades in the secondary.

Good news, though, at least David managed to bring up something that was almost a real argument!  No, it wasn't dispositive, and he's still yet to establish anything close to "Houston is overrated and[,] like always, they won’t live up to expectations," but baby steps, right?

People crowning the Texans AFC South champions are absolutely nuts.  Right now, Houston is nothing more than one giant question mark.

Ignoring for a second that David's conclusion (that the Texans have a lot of uncertainty) is not the same as his original thesis (that the Texans are overrated and will definitely miss the playoffs), here are some things we know about the Houston Texans and the AFC South:

1. The Texans' offense will be very good, both passing and rushing.

2. The Texans' defense, almost by definition, cannot be worse than last year's.

3. Adjustments in scheme and personnel have been made to improve the Texans' defense.

4. Wade Phillips has a track record of improving defenses upon arrival.

5. The Titans and Jaguars have much bigger holes, including QB questions, RB holdouts, Frank Bush being involved, Maurice Jones-Drew eventually wearing down, etc.

6. Peyton Manning is coming off neck surgery and is already listed as Questionable for the season opener.

Given all of that, it seems a little disingenuous to say that someone would have to be "absolutely nuts" to predict that the Texans will win the AFC South, and it seems completely asinine to suggest that the Texans will definitely NOT make the playoffs  (Though, to be fair, it's slightly less asinine than paying David Daniels to write about football is.)