The Answer Men isn't one to second-guess his editors at Buccaneers.com, seeing as job security is a favorite concept around the Answer household. Still, one has to wonder about the wisdom of asking me for a second mailbag column of the bye week while simultaneously sending me off on a three-day weekend.
That meant the Answer Man was working at home on this collection of questions, and that's a mixed blessing. On one hand, it's nice to leave the helmet and codpiece on the rack and hang out in my comfortable clothes; on the other, it's sometimes hard to concentrate with the Answerlings underfoot.
The Answer man found a way to cope: rearrange the selected questions into levels of difficulty and handle the meatier subjects after the little ones had gone to bed. Thus, for the first time in 14 columns, this group of questions will be arranged in ascending order of difficulty, beginning with the easiest queries and ending in the thornier issues. In effect, I polished off the appetizers in the afternoon and finished up the main course later in the evening.
Thank goodness for the Daylight Savings time change!
Anyway, here's what we've got from our second dip into the e-mailbag this week. And, by the way, it was not at all difficult to generate two lists of interesting questions in one week; there seems to be no end to the curiosity of the Buccaneers.com readers. That's my way of saying thanks, and keep the good e-mails coming.
And on to the appetizers...
Adrian Lado of Cumming, Georgia asks:
How many yards does Mike Alstott have, in total, throughout his career?
Answer Man: Stats questions like these are the easiest kind for the Answer Man to handle. As such, we're just going to lay out the hard data and pass on the chance to elaborate.
Mike Alstott, the top touchdown producer, second-leading rusher and seventh-leading pass-catcher in franchise history, has 6,603 combined rushing and receiving yards as a Buccaneer, through the 2004 bye week.
Alstott's total of 4,744 rushing yards is second only to James Wilder 5,957 in team history. He also has 284 receptions for 1,859 yards. Overall, Alstott, who has played in six Pro Bowls, the most by any offensive player in Buc annals, has scored 60 touchdowns.
Tim Minard of Masfield, Ohio asks:
Who was the Bucs' first-ever win against? Also, who took over for [Vinny] Testaverde after he was traded to the Browns. Thank you.
Answer Man: Tim, the Bucs' first win was at New Orleans on December 11, 1977. Tampa Bay returned three interceptions for touchdowns in a 33-14 win over the Saints, then returned home the next weekend and got its first win in Tampa, a 17-7 downing of the St. Louis Cardinals.
By the way, no Buccaneer team duplicated that feat of three interception-return touchdowns until Super Bowl XXXVII, when Tampa Bay scored on three picks off Rich Gannon in a 48-21 victory.
As for Testaverde, he was not traded to Cleveland. He departed as a free agent in the early stages of the league's current free agency system. Testaverde left before the 1993 season, with Steve DeBerg expected to be the starter that year. However, Craig Erickson took over the job early in the season.
Sharon Levy of Redington Shores, Florida asks:
Hi Answer Man! What happened to NFL 101 for women at "Ray J" this year? Eckerd usually sponsored it. It's social and the coaches' clinic is extremely instructional. Thanks bunches!
Answer Man: I left out the part where Sharon said she was 'peeved,' but you get the idea. It was a popular event.
Sharon, you speak kindly to the Answer Man, so we're not going to get touchy or anything, but we answered that question in Volume 10. The reason we're not getting smug on the issue is that the Answer Man archives were maybe not as helpful as they could have been.
If you visit that page now, you'll see an improvement: Each volume now includes a list of what topics were discussed therein. Pass off the crossbar? Volume 11. College scouting procedures? Volume 12. Retired numbers? Volume 5.
The Answer Man feels good about this improvement for Sharon's sake, but more importantly for the sake of a huge subsection of the population out there – those who want to know every nuance of the salary cap. Check out Volumes 7, 8, 13 and now this one for various discussions on the cap. Now, please, no more e-mails on the subject (he said, then had a good chuckle).
Bob Swanson of Sarasota, Florida asks:
I may have missed it, but I have never seen how the QB rating is calculated. What is the equation used to determine it? P.S. I really enjoy your very informative column.
Answer Man: Oops, did I forget to edit out that P.S.? My bad.
Anyway, Bob, I like your question even if it is pretty nuts-and-bolts. The reason this issue is of interest to the Answer Man is that, some years back, while taking a break from cleaning the locker room shower, I devised a formula in Microsoft Excel that calculates the passer rating, given the requisite data. I had grown tired of leafing through the NFL's booklet on the matter and plugging numbers into my Texas Instruments calculator.
Here's how that formula looks in Excel:
If you use Excel, feel free to borrow it. (C=Attempts; D=Completions; F=Passing Yards; G=Touchdowns; H=Interceptions.)
So, yeah, it's pretty complicated. In a nutshell, passer rating combines a quarterback's effectiveness in four categories: completion percentage, yards per pass attempt, touchdowns per pass attempt and interceptions per pass attempt. For those who would argue that it is an incomplete tool of quarterback evaluation, not taking into account a player's running prowess, for instance, remember that it is called 'passer rating,' not 'quarterback rating.'
The specifics of the formula are not really worth discussing. Just know that the maximum value for each of the four categories is 2.375. You can't go over that. So a completion percentage of 90%, for instance, is no better than one of 85%. The four category scores are added together and divided by a specific number to create a final score that is roughly in the 1-100 scale. By that I mean, a score of 100 is very good, though you can go over it. The highest possible score is, somewhat arbitrarily, 158.3.
What the Answer Man has always found funny about the system is that you can score in it without succeeding at all. The Answer Man himself could take a snap, drop one step and throw a pass at the feet of the nearest receiver (while screaming in terror at the defensive end headed his way), then retire, and have a career rating of 39.6.
Why is that? Well, look at the four categories and how I would have done in such a scenario. Completion percentage: Phfft. Zero percent won't get you anything. Yards per attempt: Another goose egg. Touchdowns per attempt: Yeah, right.
Ah, but there's still interception percentage. By firing my pass into the grass, where even Ronde Barber couldn't pick it, I would have compiled a career interceptions per pass attempt mark of 0%. And it doesn't get any better than that. I would get the maximum score in that category: 39.6.
Knowing all this, the Answer Man shares his favorite statistic from his many years with the Buccaneers: In 2002, Tampa Bay's defense allowed all of its opponents a combined passer rating of 48.4.
(Oops, looks like I need to follow the advice I gave Sharon above. The Answer Man used that same 2002 statistic in Volume 9. Maybe the editors shouldn't give me two columns in one week.)
Mark Ondrey of Clearwater, Florida asks:
Oh Wise Sage of Buccaneer Knowledge would you please answer this most difficult question for me? Who decides what color combination the players wear on the field. I personally prefer Red Jersey and White Pants! But what do I know? Thanks oh Wise One from Buccaneer Land.
Answer Man: Buccaneers.com readers have obviously figured out the power of flattery in getting one's questions read. I think I have to put a stop to that, before I compromise my integrity (right after this question). In fact, here's a challenge for next week: Be creatively and non-profanely rude to the Answer Man in your submission and I'll use that as an added criterion in picking questions.
Can't get too comfortable here.
Anyway, Mark, this is really just a slight gradation on the other uniform questions we've recently answered, so there's not a whole lot more to say. To recap: The home team in each game determines what jersey color it wears (dark or light), and the opponent has to wear the opposite. Pant color is irrelevant and left up to the team.
As to the combination, the Answer Man would say this: Insomuch as it is a question of strategy, it is left up to the coaching staff. That's why you see white jerseys in Buccaneer home games in the first half of the season. Beyond that, the decision is based on what the franchise believes its fans would appreciate.
The red-and-white combination has been used several times, as has the white-and-white. But every time Buccaneers.com has run a poll, the red-and-pewter combination has come out as the most popular. It is simply the most distinctive look the team can field, and that stands for something.
Robert of Holiday, Florida asks:
I've noticed on the sidelines during a game the players look at photographs, usually black & white, of the opponents and how they line up on the field and so forth. With the millions of dollars spent on the players and equipment, why are they still using photographs? Could they not develop an LCD touch screen, industrial of course, that would allow color pictures as well as video of these aspects of the game. Even in real time with wireless if needed? Are there any rules against using this technology?
Answer Man: Robert, that's a great question, and I don't say that exclusively because I was personally discussing this notion with the Buccaneers' IT director little more than a week ago. Seriously, I was. (You believe me, right?)
The short answer is: Yes, the other methods you discuss are specifically prohibited by league rules.
Let's start at the beginning for any fans who haven't noticed this sideline phenomenon, or at least had it register on their consciousness between the beer commercials and the "Booms!" of the color analyst. Every team has a little video setup either on the sideline or in the coaches' booth that allows it to take a quick still from the feed of the team's own video camera at any time. The person operating this machine generally takes one shot when the offense lines up and another just after the snap, to show where all the players are going.
These pictures, printed in black and white on flimsy photo paper, are then rushed to the sideline, where coaches go over them with their players, trying to decipher what the other side is doing with its formations and schemes. It's probably not the most important diagnostic tool a team has, but it can help.
Why are they in black and white? Simply because they print faster than they would in color. There wouldn't be any compelling advantage to a color shot that would justify the extra time it takes to print.
And why is this system used at all, instead of something far more sophisticated? Well, you probably would not be surprised to learn that the league's video directors discuss this very issue each spring at their joint meetings. So far, the NFL has chosen to stay with the current system and shoot down any more advanced ideas for what the Answer Man considers a pretty good reason: They don't want to start a technological arms race.
Robert, in the few seconds that it took you to compose your e-mail, you hit on several ideas that would probably deliver better and more rapid information to coaches. Think what a team's consultant could come up with over the course of a six-month offseason. Some team would eventually have a jack to plug video cable directly into their coaches' brains.
Do we want to turn football into a techie war? So far, the NFL says no. I agree. Robert, your feelings?
Ed Clark of Clearwater, Florida asks:
We often hear the more knowledgeable commentators mention a running play called the "counter tray" (not sure about the spelling). What is the "counter tray" play? How does it work? What's the blocking scheme? What does the "tray" part stand for? Thanx Answer Man.
Answer Man: Hey, Ed, we noticed a spelling error in your question: It's 'thanks,' not 'thanx.'
Just kidding. The main correction we need to make is to the word 'tray,' which actually is 'trey,' in this context. As in 'three.' We don't blame you; we know you were representing it phonetically.
Actually, the more important word in the title of the play is 'counter,' so included because the running back takes an initial step toward the 'weak side' of the offense (the opposite of where the tight end is) before cutting back to the strong side. In the meantime, both the guard and the tackle on the weak side are 'pulling' to the other side; that is, they are leaving their straight-up blocks and running behind the rest of the line and in front of the back to add extra blockers on the strong side. Another common name for this play is the 'counter gap.'
When one lineman pulls to the other side, that is called a 'double' in some coaches' parlance. Thus, when two linemen pull, it's called a 'trey.' Pull them in front of a back who is starting to the weak side then cutting strong, and you have a 'counter trey.' It's likely that some coaches' playbooks include the play without caring about the origins of its name. In fact, what the name conjures up in most minds is not a specific word etymology but one of the signature plays of the power-running Washington Redskins of the 1980s.
I guess the blocking scheme could change from one counter play to the next, but the basic idea is to overpower one side of the defense and get at least one or two offensive linemen blocking straight up on smaller linebackers or safeties.
Alan Veitengruber of Jacksonville, Florida asks:
I know you must be sick of discussing the NFL salary cap, but one aspect has yet to be touched on. I know that the practice squad players do not count against the salary cap, but how are they paid? How well are they compensated? And if and when they are signed to the roster, how is their salary adjusted? I think that is enough for you to work with.
Answer Man: Sick of the salary cap? Never! Campaign commercials on television? A wee bit sick of those, but I'll never tire of discussing cap conundrums. They're as refreshing as water straight from one of Florida's famous springs.
And just as cold, deep and endless.
Whoops, I think my personal pep talk went south there.
Well, anyway, the questions aren't going away, so we might as well take another bite out of the issue here. As I mentioned above, we've previously discussed other aspects of the cap in Volumes 7, 8 and 13.
Two things right off the bat, Alan. One, the practice squad players do count against the cap, but they have a negligible impact and the squad's overall cap space never changes unless the team is below it's limit of players in a particular week. Two, I'm sorry, but I'm not going to be able to give you specifics on those players' salaries. It is team policy never to publish the players' contract information; when you see that stuff in print, it has always been released by the agents or researched by reporters.
Practice squad players are compensated well, though obviously not on the same level as the players on the active roster. When a player is promoted from the former to the latter, as running back Earnest Graham was this past week, his practice squad contract is terminated by both the player and the team and he signs a new contract for the 53-man roster. He will begin drawing his increased salary that week, at a prorated level based on the number of weeks left in the season.
For that reason, practice squad players are always eager to get the call up to the active roster, not unlike a baseball player in Triple A. Of course, it's the opportunity for which they are most eager, a chance to prove that they can produce in the league over the long haul. Some current Bucs who cut their teeth on the practice squad include DT Chartric Darby, CB Corey Ivy and DE Corey Smith.
One note about the practice squad, which was expanded this year from five player to eight: Those players are under contract and yet at the same time they are free agents of a kind. That is, like a free agent, they are free at any time to sign with another team, provided it is to that team's active roster, and not the practice squad. A good example: In 1997, S Damien Robinson started the year on Philadelphia's practice squad. The Bucs signed him away, put him on their 53-man roster and let him sit there for the rest of the year. Not only could the Eagles not prevent it, they didn't even have to be notified until it was done. By 1999, Robinson was a starter in Tampa Bay.
And we can't forget...
Carl Kilcrease of Burlington, North Carolina asks:
**Answerman, how would you respond to this ESPN sportswriter's comments regarding Mike Vick and the Bucs defense...
"Alan Grant: Well, this strictly reactionary format aside, my particular perspective will not allow me to assess any player's ability on just one game. Sunday, football's version of the human highlight film was less than ordinary. And next week, against Denver, and a mildly improving defense, Vick might once again struggle. But after a bye week, the Falcons take on Tampa Bay -- a unit which spells relief for any struggling offense. I think then, we shall not even entertain thoughts of him being overrated."
I'm personally offended, but wonder how a person as knowledgeable as yourself might respond.**
Answer Man: I saved this one for dessert because I know I shouldn't have agreed to answer it, just like I shouldn't have had that piece of cheesecake while out with the Answer Wife last night.
This is the kind of opinion question that I vowed on Day One not to take on, and yet I find myself breaking that rule for about the third time. The Answer Man will approach it the way he has the others: Try to remain objective and stay away from anything inflammatory.
For instance, it would be inflammatory to say, "What in the world is Alan Grant talking about?!" So we're not going to do that.
We're also not here to discuss Michael Vick's talents. I think the issue that sent Carl to my inbox was the last two sentences about the Buccaneers' defense. It's hard to imagine why Grant would say that, but let's offer a few facts that might be relevant.
First, the Buccaneers' defense, which has ranked in the top 10 in the NFL every year since 1997 – a remarkable run, really – is once again in that elevated strata, ranking third after seven weeks. Tampa Bay's pass defense also ranks fourth in the NFL. (Interestingly, Denver's 'mildly improving defense' stands second in the league.)
In addition, the Bucs have had a good amount of success against Vick, head to head, with the possible exception of last December's matchup, which Atlanta won, 30-28. In that game, Vick completed eight of 15 passes for 119 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions and ran 12 times for 39 yards. He was not sacked. Those aren't overwhelming statistics, but Vick was much more elusive and in control on this day than he was in his previous two meetings with the Buccaneer defense.
Both of those games came during the 2002 season, Vick's first as a starter. The electrifying Falcon athlete had some marvelous afternoons in 2002, but they did not come at the expense of the Buccaneers. In the two Bucs-Falcons games of that season, both convincing Tampa Bay victories, Vick completed 16 of 37 passes for 162 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He was sacked five times and gained just 16 rushing yards on six carries.
Now, it's obvious even to the highly-partisan Answer Man that what happened two seasons ago is not terribly relevant to 2004, and that the Bucs' defense will face a significant challenge in Vick and the Falcons in Week Nine. Still, there is precious little evidence that Vick should have an easy go of it against the Buccaneers, which seems to be Grant's way of thinking.
Is that basically what you were looking for, Carl?
I should be clear, just in case I strayed from the righteous path of objectivity during the above answer, that I have no issue with Mr. Grant or his body of work as an analyst. But, as I think Carl hoped I would, I've come in defense of our defense after Grant's dismissive statement. That's all. Carry on. Nothing to see here.
Confidential to Todd Oehlsen:
Todd, I'm glad you enjoyed getting your question into a previous column, and I hope you don't think the Answer Man was actually irritated at your e-mail. I was just kidding around, and as I said that day, your clarifications had merit. And by 'missive' I meant 'letter.'
Just to show we're all square, I'm going to print your answer to my joke that you might be a Rams fan, since you call Anna, Illinois home:
"How would a Rams fan know about the 1993 Tampa Bay preseason roster? The Rams weren't even in St. Louis then. There weren't even any Rams fans in St. Louis until '99."
True, true. We're glad to count you among the Buccaneer faithful, Todd. And send a question any time.