I am not a bandwagon University of Oregon Ducks fan. I actively rooted for the Quackfest in the 1991 Holiday Bowl against CSU because at the time, their starting flanker was my cousin, Joe Reitzug. That’s the extent of big-time college football fame I enjoy, a maternal cousin who was a two-year starter and at 5’9″ could dunk a basketball (two-handed, mind you). The Ducks and their crazy Phil Knight uni’s are the toast of college football this year (thank you Cam Newton for helping everyone so quickly forget Jeremiah Massoli) and are in line to hold off TCU and Boise State for a chance at a national title.
If you don’t follow college football, you might not know about the Ducks brand of offense. It’s not called the hurry-up or the run-and-shoot. It’s three-steps crazier. It’s called The Blur.
The Blur is so interesting because as I wrote earlier about the launch of Pikes Peak Urban Living, there is something radically enjoyable amidst the disruption when the unicorn enters the balloon factory. The Ducks are that unicorn and everyone else is a quick-popping balloon. The Blur averages a snap in less than 18 seconds between possessions and unlike previous quick-strike offenses, it relies just as much on the run as it does the pass. Defenses have struggled to stop the Ducks from scoring 50 points a game in every contest this year and their ability to throw up massive points, fast, creates an emotional avalanche to opposing defenses. Even better as far as Oregon is concerned, it forces the other team to increase their tempo and not practiced in doing this, they tend to turn the ball over.
The Blur is so great because the Blur changes everything. It turns football into a track meet. It exerts the will of one team onto another team and forces that other team to compensate or change. The Blur reminds everyone that life is not fair, and that those that lead change, often get to harvest the first fruits. There are plenty of theoretical ways of stopping The Blur, yet no one has yet to put theory to action, and until they do, it is unstoppable.
Last year I wrote a post about how the Broncos need to exert their will on their opposition by changing the way they played. The way to do this was the hurry-up offense, I argued. Thinking conventionally, I attributed the 5280′ elevation as the ultimate home-field advantage and that the best way to utilize that advantage in warm weather or cold, was to gas the opposition with a blistering high-tempo passing game. Again, great example of conventional thinking ignoring other variables like cold-weather running teams and the Broncos propensity to give up 300 yard rushing games after December 1st. Well that’s basically what the Broncos have done this year and Kyle Orton is on a pace for 5000 passing yards, that is, with a couple exceptions. One, there is no quick tempo between plays, and two, Orton has the mobility of a dining room table. The painful exercise known as the Broncos running game shows the difficulties of one-dimensional passing and despite some gaudy numbers, a 20 point Bronco game is rare this year.
Enter Tim Tebow.
In business and in sports, allowing your competition to be comfortable is a sin. The Blur is so far a college phenomenon with no disciples in the pro game, but there are some similarities to be found in some of the class organizations in the league: In Indy, Peyton Manning effectively runs the Frustration Blur as he is the on-field coach and creates all sorts of weird looks for defenses to adjust to and then tests their patience with odd cadence snap counts that are sometimes fast and sometimes drawn out to the last millisecond. Even stodgy Pittsburgh has been one of the last outposts of old school trick plays, an every now and again wrinkle that keeps defenses guessing, a technique that allows the offense to sometimes be plodding, but just unpredictable enough to keep the defense from getting comfortable. point is that neither franchise has the running ability and power of a Tebow at quarterback. Tebow certainly is not as cerebral or accurate as Manning, nor as pocket aware and experienced as Roethlisberger, but then again, the run and shoot, the spread and the west coast all came out of the college ranks before making it to the big league. The reality is that The Blur changes everything. As a Bronco Fan, I’m happy to let McDaniels keep Tim on the bench until next year; as long as he is trying to work something like The Blur into the Broncos future. The Broncos “need to make their plumbing work” and the first way to do that is to re-engineer the system. If the talent level of the team (Thomas, Royal, Lloyd, Moreno, Tebow, Clady, Harris, no dominant tide end… so far, so good) allows you to do something really radical and really different… it becomes inexcusable not to use your talents, to their maximum. If not this year, the Broncos more than any other team in the league have the personnel and the need to adopt The Blur as their own.
It’s one thing to make a sports analogy and it’s another to execute the same thing in real life. I haven’t cared a lick about my investments since 2007 and haven’t paid attention at all to what they’re doing. Charles Schwab has decided to take me on as a project (or at least that’s what it felt like) and contacted my $16,000 uninvested cash position five different times by phone this month to help. That alone is amazing. What’s better is that the leading discount broker in America has a little tool that helps you assess your investment tolerance, gives you percentages in how you can allocate, and let’s you put any publicly traded information into it.
Of course I’m going to use this tool. I’m a measly little investor and they made me feel special. Game-changer number one. Their competition ought to feel uncomfortable right now on that fact alone. Schwab might as well be playing on a totally different field then everyone else as far as I’m concerned. Then they showed me a tool where I can put my entire retirement plan and measure it according to my goals, age and desires. It is so simple, it took 90 seconds to explain, but they didn’t even really need to explain it.
I’m sure other brokerages offer this. It’s pathetic if they don’t. But this is painfully simple and easy to use. But better for Schwab, most of those brokerages aren’t interested in me. Because of that, I’m not writing a blog about them. Schwab has changed the game as far as I’m concerned. I’m not as complacent today about my investments because they 1.) pursued me (which alone changed the game) and then 2.) made life easy for me (a cout d’etat in finance world).
Game-changers are worth talking about. Using talent to the maximum benefit is worth talking about. Tim Tebow should be given the option to run The Blur just as I should have the option of using one website to monitor all my investment information. I don’t care if Schwab sees what I have with Fidelity and Oak and Pimco and Edward Jones. They’re making things easier. In my world, making things easier is remarkable.
Onto picks. The focus this week is on quarterbacks and the over-used tendency to pan or praise the remarkable or unremarkable play at this position. It’s also my nice jab at ESPN’s John Clayton and his totally subjective “elite quarterback” rating system (65% efficient, 4000 yards annual passing, 4th quarter comeback ability). This is such a stupid compromise of minimal fantasy-metrics and Jon Gruden “intangibles” and way, way too many quarterbacks get the elite status. I will break the quarterbacks down in this manner, using a name to say “this is the maxed-out potential this guy has. They’re probably not as good as the body of work this guy embodied, but at their best, this is who they’re most like”:
Montana’s: I’d rather have Elway for entertainment value, but all Joe did was win, do it prolifically and act as Walsh’s catalyst to reinvent the game. A singular talent that would have won Super Bowls without his talented supporting cast. See Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, possibly Drew Brees and no one else. Brees has never had the deficiencies to play through that Manning and Brady have had on multiple occasions. Manning probably deserves his own category, but he really needs to win another Super Bowl to top Montana.
Elway’s: Always Entertaining, but not a singular enough talent to bring a team to greatness on his own shoulders. When he had talent around him, he made the most of it.
Marino’s: Prolific as anyone, often must-see TV, but no Super Bowl rings, so what?
Bradshaw’s: Destiny had a special place in her heart for his destination. Surrounded by superb players, his many deficiencies somehow were glossed over for a multiple championship career.
Fouts’: Just as prolific, but cursed with only slightly better than mediocore teams.
There’s a pretty big talent drop off after this. Because remember, this is as good as these guys can be at their best.
Plunkett: Really not at all responsible for winning it all, but had the ability to throw one or two big passes a game and had the intestinal fortitude to not cost his team a win. Required an awesome supporting cast and a team with attitude. There are a lot of guys that can get to this status. It should be remembered that the world was expected of Plunkett when he entered The National Football League. Plunkett left college football as the all-time leading collegiate passer and went to Stanford. He was a bust as a Patriot but surrounded with the attitude in Oakland (and later LA) made the most of his little. If anything, this moniker which is widely used is aspirational for most of the guys. Plunkett is one of the rare guys who had some talent, failed, and then found the rejuvenator one day.
Dilfer: the anti-Fouts, a fairly worthless journeyman who somehow sticks around for 15 years like a virus. The best thing you can say about him is that he doesn’t always get in the way. Not to be confused with
Kitna: also an anti-Fouts, but with a decent arm, who ends up surviving being a journeyman for 15 years in the league on teams that have given up as entire franchises. Would actually make a great commentator after he retires, but is too honest and humble and nice for TV.
Majikowski: The Majik Man’s fatally flawed career: felled by injuries and a ruthless back-up whose name shall not be uttered (but it kind of rhymes with “barf”)
Craig Morton: You’re really just a placeholder in the saga at quarterback, keeping things warm for Roger Staubach or John Elway to replace you.
Akili Smith: some talent scout grotesquely over-valued your stock so it’s not your fault you’ve been thrust onto a stage too big for you. See also Joey Harrington. Shoot, see Bill Musgrave and every Oregon quarterback ever since… Dan Fouts.
George: you are a loathsome, uncoachable, me-first guy designed for one-purpose: to undo entire franchises and fan bases.
Kurt Warners without the Glass Slipper: This is what happens when fate doesn’t intercede on a man’s life catapulting him from grocery clerk to Super Bowl MVP. This happens to teams like Carolina.
Winner picks are Bold Underline (last picks were two weeks ago, 10-4, 33-23 for the year).
TONIGHT: Ravens (Flacco = Plunkett) at Falcons (Ryan = Marino): The Falcons have a lousy last eight games to plow through, but Matt Ryan has lost one-time at home as a starter. I don’t know how you dismiss that stat in an age of parity. If Roddy White really is a man among boys, tonight will tell the tale. So far, so true.
Lions (Stafford = Majikowski) at Bills (Fitzgerald = Plunkett): The Lions sad sack ways continue with Matt Stafford now suffering his third major shoulder injury in less than 20 games in the league. Buffalo has been the most competitive mid-season winless team ever (they put up 30 on the Pats) and at home, this has to be their last best chance for a win.
J-E-T-S (Sanchez = Smith) at Browns (McCoy=Plunkett): How did Colt McCoy go three rounds without getting picked? He’s not a big-time stud and he’s too small to beat a team single-handedly, but name another quarterback in the last four years who was more like Drew Brees? Drew Brees is probably the uber-Plunkett, and that might be the perfect motivational handle for McCoy. It’s only been three games, but you can’t take lightly wins over New Orleans and New England.
Carolina (Moore, Clausen, doesn’t matter, = Non-Cinderella Warners) at Tampa There is No Bay (Freeman = Elway): Josh Freeman is the closest thing to Elway’s first two years in so many ways. Johnny 7 couldn’t get out of his own way fast enough the first 3/4 of his rookie season… kinda like Josh. Then he erupted late in his rookie year and lead the Broncos to 13-3 his second season when he started his role as a clutch, scrambling, cannon-armed fun-fest. So far, Josh Freeman has 7 come from behind victories. He’s been around for 23 games!
Houston (Schaub= Fouts) at Jacksonville (Gerrard = Dilfer): Matt Schaub can sure put up some gaudy numbers. Yet he seems destined to be saddled with a franchise that finds ways from achieving it’s own elite potential. David Gerrard can be Fouts-like, but only when playing the Cowboys.
Tennessee (Young = Elway or Smith, I’m still not sure) at Dolphins (Pennington = Plunkett): I love Tony Sparano as a coach. I love that this week he dumped Henne (George in the making) for Pennington (can’t beat anyone on his own, but gives your team that chip on the shoulder edge). I love Vince Young as a player way too much so just ignore my Elway comparison. It’s totally illogical.
I forgot on Thursday to put the best quarterback comparison game of the week in the post. Here is a Sunday morning revision: Minnesota (Favre=Elway) at Chicago (Cutler = George… and maybe Favre). Brett Favre will retire after this year with most every important quarterback record and all the network talking heads will start their debate in earnest if he was the best ever. He’s not. Not remotely. The amount of talent he’s been surrounded with most of his career has been significantly better than either Marino or Elway, and despite his prolific yardage, a single Super Bowl title (and a couple totally on-him Conference Title meltdowns) is fairly inexcusable. The real greats make everyone around them better. All Favre has ever done has allowed his team a chance. While it has lead to regular season wins, it has not mattered when it mattered most. Cutler on the other hand is clearly falling into Jeff George territory by the week, but the dirty little secret about George both he, and his contemporary Favre, have so many similarities in common. All three are me-first gunslingers who throw mind-numbing interceptions at critical junctures. Cutler lacks the talent around him to overcome this debilitating habit (much like George). The only difference between Cutler and Favre’s mannerisms is that Favre has had superior talent, on both sides of the ball. He’s remarkably fortunate to have played where he has. JC? Not so much.
Kansas City (Cassell = Morton) at Denver (Orton = Morton): C’mon, are either of these guys ever going to the Pro Bowl?
Dallas (Kitna = Kitna, Romo = Marino) at Giants (Manning=Bradshaw): Now that Eli Manning has multiple high-quality receivers (like Bradshaw) and the entire NFC is terrible, the similarities are getting spooky.
Seattle (Hasselbeck = Kitna because he’s a nicer guy than Dilfer) at Arizona (Anderson = Dilfer): Oh to be a quarterback in Sam Bradford’s division.
St. Louis (Bradford = Montana) at San Francisco (Smith = Smith): Yeah, he’s nine games into his career and already Sam Bradford looks like Peyton Manning, circa 2000 on the cover of SI: “So Good, So Soon.” Manning was 3-13 his first year. Bradford has him in wins already by one. Folks, the Rams are not a good team. They’re well-coached, but they have talent at three positions. They have four wins. They are over-achievers because they have a singular talent at the most important position in the game. I think they win this division.
New England (Brady = Montana) at Pittsburgh (Roethlisberger = Elway/Bradshaw): I can’t quite tell on Big Ben. Elway never had the kind of defense he’s been blessed with, and only late had a decent coach. Big Ben has had superb coaching and a team with a singular attitude his entire career. Not many guys outside of Bradshaw have ever enjoyed such fruits. The pick is because of the Pittsburgh Defense at home in a night game.
Washington (McNabb = ???) at Philadelphia (Vick = Marino). The Vick / Marino analogy is sure to infuriate plenty of diehard Dolphin fans, but consider: when Marino was on Monday Night, you tuned in. When Michael Vick is on his game, you tune in. They approach the game totally differently, but in the regular season at least, always gave their team a chance. The biggest win for Vick was a frozen playoff win at Lambeau. That might be the best he ever does. McNabb is a totally different wrinkle. He’s got some Fouts, he’s got some Plunkett… and he’s got Craig Morton in him. If he played in Kansas City for instance, he might have gone to one Pro Bowl. That isn’t to say he’s bad. But there’s a part of him that will always be a whisper of Jeff George (a rating no one gets this week because Cutler is on his bye), gassed down the stretch in the Super Bowl, pulled last week from a two minute drill. Who in this sport plays such a bad team game to ever be caught in that position?