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On free agency and pass protection

Here’s a free-agency preview of the AFC South from Pro Football Focus -- they give one target per team.

I think three out of four are pretty good. But I can’t see the Titans chasing Aaron Kampman. If they are letting their own aging, high-motor pass-rusher, Kyle Vanden Bosch, leave via free agency, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to court another if their prices are in the same ballpark. KVB is 31, Kampman is 30.

Here's Pro Football Weekly's thorough look at needs in the AFC South.

PFF has also done pass-protection research recently. They rank David Stewart and Eric Winston among the league’s best right tackles in 2009 with Eben Britton as one of the worst and Eugene Monroe and Duane Brown among the worst left tackles.

Part two covers guards and centers; Chris White and Jeff Saturday fared well and Brad Meester and Kevin Mawae did not.

These links bring me in a roundabout way to a different topic.

I am very intrigued by what Pro Football Focus tries to do in terms of player ratings. But I also have known many of the guys who do work for Football Outsiders and greatly respect their approach, opinions and pioneering work.

So I am compelled to include this link, where Stephanie Stradley has Bill Barnwell of FO commenting on the ratings process at PFF. I think Barnwell raises some interesting questions about PFF's methods while not striking a defensive tone. Quite frankly I'd welcome an expansion on this commentary from FO, though I know it would be a difficult thing to do.

It's important, whatever stats we sift through that go beyond what we get from the NFL itself, to consider what's doable, what's possible, what's reasonable to expect.

Here is a response from Sam Monson of PFF, which gets the final words this time around.

“We simply record what we see and the outcome of what each player attempted to do. In reality, since we don't have access to a team's playbook, we can't know for sure what each player's assignment was on a given play, and that does produce a potential margin for error, but as Bengals OG Evan Mathis was quick to confirm when we spoke to him earlier in the season, despite this potential error margin, our grading stacks up well with the detailed feedback he was receiving internally. This is the NFL, and players that make consistent mental errors don't stick around long. In the vast majority of cases the reason a play fails is because one player physically beats another and this is normally easy to see if you have the time - which most people don't. Other people don't do this not because they can't, but because they don't watch each play 5-10 times like we do and have the facility to track it over the course of a game, let alone an entire season.

“In regards to tracking results vs what we do, our information is about as accurate as you can be without knowing a particular assignment, but in our opinion is at least a step above what anyone could get by simply “tracking results”. Let me give you two examples:

• A CB is beaten badly on a post route and the WR drops the ball in the end zone. Tracking the result gives this as an incompletion against the CB (a positive) whilst we will mark this down as a significant negative.

• A QB throws a perfect strike over a LB to hit his open slot receiver on an out. Once more the WR drops the pass and it cannons off his chest to a Safety who catches the ball even though he’d initially made a bad job of the coverage. The QB gets a INT listed against his name and the FS gets an undeserved INT against his. How is tracking this result more accurate?

"Clearly there are limitations as to what is shown on TV. The biggest issue is that of not being able to see downfield coverages on untargeted defenders and we accept this introduces an inherent error in what we do. You can’t grade what you can’t see but neither can anybody else outside individual teams. So the question here is should we stop our “more accurate” analysis on the basis that it’s not 100% perfect?

"At the end of the day the vast majority of the feedback we've received has been overwhelmingly positive, and interestingly, most enthusiastic at the Professional level. We've had teams take and use our data, and current players tell us that what we do is 'light years ahead of most fans and media's understanding of the game.' Naturally we have also had a minority of negative feedback, but the majority of that comes because some of our data flies in the face of the conventional wisdom (How can you have Alan Faneca ranked so low when everybody knows he's a great Guard?). If anyone has issues with an individual player's game grade we are normally very amenable to providing the audit trail of play by play analysis behind it so people can check for themselves. Where people do this, those who come back to us invariably confirm our view and we have never had a single person who's taken that time and trouble criticize our methodology or overall results."