Thursday's Buckeyes-Hoosiers game and the race case in which each side can claim revenge as a motive (but does it really matter anyway?). ... The Texans' defense was only good, not great, in 2016 (but how much does their self-perception help going forward?). ... On putting the Rangers-Astros files in the correct places.
The psychological part of sports performances is major; if the players and coaches were all robots, then stats would be enough -- but they aren’t. Today, we can bring that front and center with a couple pf prime examples, and to keep the focus on that target area I am going to break Thursday’s Ohio State/Indiana game down into two parts, the second one coming tomorrow. Part II deserves to be a standalone because it raises a rather fascinating question across the football landscape: What if Urban Meyer simply isn’t a very good offensive coach?
That topic is going to be a matter of football tactics, but for now the focus goes to energy and motivation for both in the Big Ten opener between the Buckeyes and Hoosiers, and also the matter of the Houston Texans' defense, which is not an easy group to properly power rate as the 2017 season approaches.
Who wins the mind game between Kevin Wilson and the Indiana players?
I believe the addition of Wilson as the OC for Ohio State may be one of the biggest coaching moves of this offseason, and I will detail much of that tomorrow, but first the rather juicy psychological components to an intriguing early matchup.
Wilson “resigned” as Indiana head coach last December after six seasons with the program, but in essence it was a forced resignation. Had the school fired him, it would have owed $2.5 million over the next five years; instead it amounted to $542,000 as compensation. This came after the university hired a prominent Indianapolis law firm to do an external review of the program, and it was found that there were some aspects of Wilson’s treatment of players that were troublesome.
Indiana AD Fred Glass laid it out this way at the press conference that announced the resignation: "There’s no smoking gun or single precipitating event that led to where we are today. I think it’s really a realization by myself and Kevin that we’re just not on the same page about some, what I view as key ways, the program needs to be led."
It now leads to the motivational aspect of Thursday’s game, which will become a target of much speculation – what carries more weight, Wilson wanting to get back at the school that dismissed him or the players having the opportunity to take on a coach who may well have mistreated some of them?
That is fun stuff to kick around, because I know that is what many sports bettors do, especially as these settings get overplayed across the Sports Mediaverse, but I only introduced the concept in order to come up with the fact that I do not believe there is a meaningful answer in this game.
The psychological aspects of any given event need to be put into a context, and in this one I wonder how important those motivational issues could be. These are young athletes playing their season opener in front of the ESPN cameras; wasn’t the energy level going to be at a frenzied peak anyway, regardless of any other factors?
Let’s go to Indiana senior LB Tegray Scales: “You don’t get this opportunity often. It’s one of the biggest openers in Indiana history. We embrace it and plan to take it head on.”
There is such a tendency among bettors to look for “One Stop Shopping” with an event, one single factor that can lead to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. There is a problem with that – rainbows don’t have beginnings or endings, and trying to reduce sporting outcomes to a simple equation is a danger zone for a bettor to be in. In believing in such things there is a false expectation being set, and there absolutely is a trap if games are graded in the post-mortem as though that single factor was the determining cause. By accepting the easy definition of an outcome, significant factors cab be missed.
Yet what will you read on Friday morning? If Ohio State’s offense rolls and wins big, it will be so easy for scribes to focus on the Wilson revenge angle; if the Hoosiers play well and hang around, they can focus on the team getting back at their old coach. Yet this outcome might not be all that much based on either of those emotions – I firmly believe that a team playing for a spot in the playoffs, and another hosting one of the biggest prime-time games in the history of the program, was going to have both sides at their emotional peak anyway.
There are indeed games in which psychological factors make a big difference, but those are settings in which there is motivation in play that might not otherwise be there. This game does not look like one to me, despite the attention that will be given to Wilson’s return to Bloomington. Wilson, however, could have a major impact on the Ohio State season, and that is where I will be heading when I get to Part II of the sequence.
Now we have to try to properly grade the Houston Texans' defense
One of the on-running stories on these pages towards the end of last season (though housed on a different platform), was a race that the Houston defense was on track to finish #1 in the NFL (it did in total yards). It could have been taken as an exercise in silliness from the standpoint of statistical integrity, because the Texans weren’t anywhere near being the best defense, but it was also a significant story in terms of the psychology of the sport. The fact that they believed they were competing for #1 made a big difference in their attention to detail and physical energy down the stretch.
Now it is time to make sense from that in terms of where the 2017 edition can elevate to now that J.J. Watt is back on the field. Just where is the starting point? How about this: The defense is not as good as what you will hear and read from the Sports Mediaverse, but because of their confidence level they are better than what some of the advanced metrics will show.
Let’s go to the statistical issue. One of the items I have already noted in the team-by-team tour is that the way the NFL has traditionally measured production, based on total yardage alone, has precious little merit, yet that is what most media outlets, and in particular the television broadcasts, run with. So here is the starting point for the Texans, comparing the NFL charts to those of the Football Outsiders:
2016 Houston Texans
NFL Total Defense #1
FO Adjusted Defense #11
Quite a gap, isn’t there? Yes, the Houston defense allowed fewer yards than any other team, which often really is an accomplishment, but there was more than just the quality of that defense in play in producing that:
Houston snaps 950
NFL average 1023
The Texans were on the field less than any other team, and it was nearly one full possession per game. That contributed greatly to that total yardage count, while the FO tables go much deeper into both the efficiency level.
But before downgrading too much, let’s go to what the psychological component means. There was a lot of talk coming from the Houston players and coaches down the stretch last December about how much finishing #1 was going to mean to them, a significant bond developing between Romeo Crennel and the guys on the field.
Now fast forward to 2017, and you have to be a little careful with some of the stats. When the Texans take the practice field each day they are not doing it as the #11 defense in the league, but may genuinely be practicing with the confidence and energy level of a group that was the best, and now with even more talent swagger as Watt returns.
There is also an additional psychological element in play, something that might not necessarily boost an offense because of the precision required for execution, but might aid a defense in terms of passion and aggression – the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
Coach Bill O’Brien set the tone for that: "We're going to dedicate this season to the city of Houston, the people of Houston. Houston is a strong community, neighbors helping neighbors. It's truly inspirational to watch. We're proud of the resiliency they've shown and the resilience they will show."
It could be easy to fall into a handicapping trap of calling the Houston defense overrated for the flukiness of some of those 2016 statistics. Their self-perception and swagger could have them playing a level above that, and it is something that I will focus in on closely in the early stages of this season, for signs of how good they believe themselves to be.
On charting the Rangers-Astros series in Florida
One of the other impacts of Hurricane Harvey will be on the statistics of the Astros, and for those who keep your own numbers it will require a little extra work. Most of the major stat services out there have automated processes, which means that all of the numbers generated in last night’s loss to the Rangers at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg get tracked as having been a “home” game. That is not the way that you want them in your databases.
If you have the ability to get creative, I would track the game result as a neutral field for the team, but all stats for the pitchers and hitters as a “road” game. A quick scan of some of the stat services out there already show Mike Fiers having been tracked as being at home for this start, and that is not the proper long-term tracking for that outing.
If you want to know when PB is ready to go each day, as well as following along for some of the most important Sports Betting news as in unfolds, make @Vegaspointblank a part of your routine.