Forget the West Coast offense and the Steel Curtain defense -- Pacific Northwest football has arrived.
Dip a crumpet in your espresso, ride the Puget Sound ferries and go jogging in an old-growth forest. Kayak the Willamette River. Wear Nikes while using Microsoft to order from Amazon. Oregon and Washington state, known for being laid-back, are titans astride the football landscape. The Seattle Seahawks have football's best defense, while the University of Oregon Ducks have football's best offense.
A few days before Christmas 2012, Seattle held San Francisco to 13 points. Through the next five games, San Francisco averaged 33 points. Then the Niners met the Seahawks again on Sunday night, and Seattle held San Francisco to 3 points.
One of the league's storylines since Colin Kaepernick became the Niners' quarterback is that no one can stop San Francisco, whose offense has rolled over power teams such as the Packers and Falcons, plus gained 468 yards in the Super Bowl. No one -- except the Seahawks, who stop them cold. In their last two meetings, Seattle bested San Francisco by a combined 71-16.
Last season, Seattle allowed a league-low, Steelers-like 15.3 points per game. In this young season, Seattle is allowing 5 points per game. Seattle emphatically has football's best defense. How do the Seahawks do it? More on that below.
Over in Eugene, Ore., which like Seattle calls itself the Emerald City -- maybe it's Emerald City football that's taking over -- the University of Oregon is averaging 61 points per game. Hosting Tennessee on Saturday, Oregon had 59 points and 658 yards of offense at the end of the third quarter. The starters took seats and the Ducks stopped trying to score. Had Oregon kept pedal to the metal, the stats projected to 79 points and 877 yards gained.
Oregon hasn't faced a ranked team yet, so its production is likely to decline. Still, this is the fourth year of warp-speed yardage in Eugene. Initially the Blur Offense came as a surprise. Now there's plenty of film to study, opponents know what the Ducks will do, and the Blur keeps flying down the field.
Oregon's is hardly the only collegiate offense with Xbox numbers, but it's the most innovative. Every coach in football is staring at the Ducks and wondering how they do it, including how they signal in plays in mere seconds without the players seeming to look at the sideline or wristbands. And don't just watch the speed merchants! Oregon offensive linemen do a better job of working down the field for secondary blocks than any football team in years. The Blur Offense may or may not succeed in the NFL at Philadelphia, but is the most interesting offense around.
Perhaps all of football should study the Seahawks -- because broadly across the sport, the scoreboard continues to spin.
Alabama visited Texas A&M, the sort of pairing that traditionally would end 13-10. The result was 49-42. The Aggies and Crimson Tide combined for 1,196 yards of offense and 62 first downs, with Texas A&M gaining admission to TMQ's exclusive 600 Club of teams that gain 600 yards and don't win.
Impossible numbers are becoming the norm in NCAA football. Consider the University of California at Berkeley. In Cal's three outings so far, there have been 3,337 yards of offense and 237 points. That works out to an average of 556 yards gained and almost 40 points scored per team per game. You read correctly: in Cal games this season, both sides are averaging more than 500 yards. And who does Cal play next week? Oregon.
Prestige college programs with recruiting power are not the only ones going Xbox. Against Eastern Illinois on Saturday, Illinois State recorded what once would have been considered a fine outing, gaining 392 offensive yards. It's just that Eastern Illinois gained 739 yards. Against Old Dominion, Howard recorded what once would have been considered a banner day, gaining 465 offensive yards. It's just that Old Dominion gained 733 yards.
NFL average scoring per team per game has risen from 18.7 points two decades ago to 22.8 points in 2012. Football Bowl Subdivision scoring has risen from 20.6 points per game per team in 1972 to 28.3 points in 2012. Last season ended with 57 FBS schools -- nearly half the total -- averaging at least 30 points per game. The uptick continues; last weekend, all of FBS averaged 30.7 points per school per game, and 427 yards of offense per team per game. The average big-college football team exceeded 400 yards.
Structural differences between the NCAA and NFL accentuate offense in college, where the football factories have a huge recruiting edge over many opponents, and clock rules are somewhat different. In 2012, only three pro teams -- the Patriots, Saints and Lions -- averaged 400 yards or more per game. That year, 10 FBS schools averaged at least 500 yards.
But though college numbers are higher, offense is surging in the NFL, too. Sunday, in the San Diego at Philadelphia pairing, both teams exceeded 500 yards. Already there have been five instances of NFL quarterbacks throwing for at least 400 yards and no interceptions -- Philip Rivers and Michael Vick both did this Sunday at Philadelphia. Five times already by Week 2; six times is the most this has ever happened previously through a full 16-game season.
Last fall, TMQ parsed out the changes in rules and football culture that have led to runaway offense. Runaway offense shows no sign of slowing -- the rest of the column provides more examples.
And suppose your team was averaging 65 points a game yet its won-loss record was only 1-3, how would you feel? I don't mean your basketball team, I mean your football team. See more below.
In broadcasting news, next week ESPN's "College GameDay," which football-factory universities dream of hosting, will air from Fargo, N.D. Delaware State at North Dakota State, an FCS pairing, will be the day's featured contest. Go Bison!
TMQ has been on the North Dakota State bandwagon for some time, noting in this space a year ago that the banner of the Bison, not of the Crimson Tide, hangs in NCAA headquarters as college football champions. This remains true today, since North Dakota repeated. Because the FCS has a playoff and FBS does not, the NCAA considers the Bison the college title-holder. Hail to the Bison!
In other football news, in the entire 2012 NFL season there were four safeties. Already in 2013, there have been six. The league told players it was concerned about safety -- so the players produced safeties.
Stats of the Week No. 1: Baltimore has won 11 straight versus Cleveland.
Stats of the Week No. 2: Peyton Manning is 3-0 versus Eli Manning.
Stats of the Week No. 3: Cam Newton was 25-1 as a starter in college, and is 13-21 as a starter in the NFL.
Stats of the Week No. 4: At 7:08 Eastern on Sept. 15, the Jacksonville Jaguars became the final NFL team to score a touchdown in the new season.
Stats of the Week No. 5: San Diego, which won at Philadelphia, is now the favorite to win the Super Bowl. The Eagles' four most recent home-opener opponents, the Saints, Packers, Giants and Ravens, all won the Super Bowl that season.
Stats of the Week No. 6: In three games with the Bears, Brandon Marshall has 29 receptions against the Vikings.
Stats of the Week No. 7: At New England, Geno Smith's passer rating was 27.6, below the 39.6 an NFL quarterback receives if every pass is incomplete.
Stats of the Week No. 8: The Giants, who committed 21 turnovers in 16 games in 2012, have committed 9 in two games in 2013.
Stats of the Week No. 9: The AFC North is 2-6, with its sole wins when division teams faced each other.
Stats of the Week No. 10: Detroit, which just lost at Arizona, has not won a game in that state since 1993. Sunday the Lions travel to Washington, D.C., where they have never won -- 21 consecutive road losses versus the Washington team.
Sweet Play of the Week: Game scoreless, Kansas City had second-and-goal on the Dallas 2. Dexter McCluster, a running back who often lines up wide, came in motion right, then spun back toward the left; Alex Smith faked a handoff to McCluster going left; tailback Jamaal Charles went left to right behind the formation, hidden by the offensive line, and took a short pass, touchdown. Sweet.
Sour Play of the Week: Trailing Arizona 25-21 with 1:14 remaining, holding a timeout, Detroit faced fourth-and-4 at its 43. The Lions had just called a timeout to make sure they had the right play. Snap, and Matt Stafford threw super-short to Nate Burleson -- who pulled his pattern up short of the line to gain. Tackle, contest over. It's fourth-and-4 in the endgame, why is a $50 million quarterback throwing super-short? Why is a professional receiver pulling up short of the down marker? Hoover damn, the play was sour.
Sour Play No. 2: City of Tampa led New Orleans 14-13 with 24 seconds remaining, Saints ball on the Buccaneers' 40, New Orleans out of timeouts. Where oh where might the pass go? Maybe up the field! Yet Tampa had only one safety deep, as if expecting a power rush. Thirty-one yard completion to Marques Colston, game-winning field goal after a spike to stop the clock. Sour, sour defense.
TMQ noted in my NFC preview that weasel coach Greg Schiano plays his safeties too close to the line -- "Even after the Bucs were repeatedly burned deep in 2012, Schiano kept the safeties low, as if he were coaching an NCAA game." When the pass must go deep, drop the safeties! Drew Brees loves the sight of the City of Tampa secondary. Since arriving at New Orleans, Brees has thrown 32 touchdown passes against the Buccaneers.
Sweet 'N' Sour Play of the Week No. 1: Trailing Carolina 23-17 with 1:36 remaining, out of timeouts, the Bills took possession on their 20. Rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel drove the hosts to the Panthers' 2-yard line with 6 ticks showing. Touchdown to Stevie Johnson. Sweet.
Johnson lined up in the slot with Chris Hogan on his side. Johnson is a star; Hogan has never caught an NFL pass. At the snap, Carolina blitzed, meaning no safety near the Johnson-Hogan combo. Two defensive backs doubled Hogan, leaving no one at all on Johnson. Sour.
Sour bonus: before the winning drive began, Carolina faced fourth-and-1 on the Buffalo 21 with 1:42 remaining, hosts out of time outs. A conversion here ices the contest for the Panthers, who on the day rushed for 125 yards. Instead Ron Rivera sent out the field goal unit. Rivera's 13-21 record as a head coach includes 10 instances of the Cats unable to hold a fourth quarter lead, often with Rivera guilty of play-not-to-lose tactics.
Sweet bonus: as Buffalo kicked the PAT with 68,000 people roaring, flagship play-by-play announcer John Murphy cried in joyous excitement, "It's tied! The game is tied! The Bills have tied the game!" Actually they'd won the game.
Sweet 'N' Sour Play of the Week No. 2 Vikings leading 30-24 with 16 ticks remaining, Chicago faced third-and-10 on the Minnesota 16. Touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett, and the Bears win despite allowing the Vikings two return touchdowns. Sweet.
On the play, Minnesota rushed four and Chicago kept an extra blocker back. That meant the Vikes had seven men to cover four receivers -- and Bennett got open. Plus, Minnesota knew the play had to reach the end zone -- and Bennett got open almost at the end zone. Sour.
StubHub World: Late last week, 50-yard-line seats along the Texas A&M sideline were selling for $2,800 apiece. End zone seats for Wagner at Syracuse, kicking off about the same time, were offered for $12 apiece -- less than the shipping cost.
Fuel Politics No. 1: Average fuel economy of new cars and light trucks, a figure stalled for decades, has improved almost 20 percent in the last six years, a University of Michigan study just found, mainly because high-mileage hybrids and plug-ins are selling. That's good news. Total national energy consumption has been in decline since 2007, and the decline has continued as the economy improves, suggesting energy-efficiency technology is catching on. That's good news too. But with the car market now red hot, it's important to remember that not only is more improvement needed, public understanding of the miles per gallon must improve.
In theory, federal rules require new cars to average 30.2 mpg this year, and new pickup trucks to average 24.1 mpg, on the "combined" city-highway cycle. Though on paper that's the law, good luck finding anything other than hybrids and mini-cars that meet what's supposed to be the average for all new vehicles. The Ford F-150 pickup, the nation's No. 1 model by sales, posts 17 mpg, not even close to the official 24.1 mpg. The updated Chevy Impala, which is winning rave reviews in the auto press, posts 21 mpg in its six-cylinder version and 25 mpg with four cylinders -- not even close to the official 30.2 mpg. Your columnist bought a new car over the winter, and when shopping noticed that every model had a federal sticker whose fine print said new cars average 23 mpg. Yet officially, the average is 30.2 mpg. What gives?
One factor is that the federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy rating does not reflect actual fuel consumption, rather an elaborate mathematical formula involving sales figures, vehicle weights, manufacturing country of origin and such gimmicks as bonus points for vehicles that can run on ethanol, regardless of whether they really do. Protested both by environmentalists and market economists, the federal CAFE standard both imposes complex regulations on carmakers and misleads the public, by making the mileage performance of new cars sound better than it really is. The result is classic Washington unrealism. Politicians boast about American cars getting "30.2 miles per gallon" when the actual number is much lower; consumers pay less attention to fuel consumption than they should.
The University of Michigan study found the actual average mileage of the latest models to be 24.9 mpg -- a nice step up from 23 mpg, though still well below the official figure. In 2010, Congress enacted rules that require the official mileage of new cars to hit 54.5 mpg by 2025. If the future figure bears the same relationship to reality as current figures, by 2025, actual average mileage of new cars will be 45 mpg.
That would represent tremendous progress. Even assuming future growth in the car population and the people population, getting the new-car mpg average into the 40s, combined with increased domestic petroleum production, would enable the United States to kiss the Persian Gulf oil dictatorships goodbye, while restraining greenhouse gas emissions. ObamaCare and fiscal policy dominate political talk -- more-efficient fuel use may in retrospect be essential to President Barack Obama's legacy. Of course, much of the improved efficiency comes from better technology and buyers making voluntary choices. But the president gets the blame for whatever goes wrong, so he should get some credit when things go well.
Best Crowd Reactions: In Chicago, the home crowd was booing on the very first play, as Minnesota's Cordarrelle Patterson ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown. Then the home crowd was cheering wildly on the second play, as Chicago's Devin Hester ran the Vikings' kickoff back 70 yards.
In Philadelphia, the home crowd booed loudly as no one covered Eddie Royal of San Diego on his third-quarter touchdown reception -- made worse because the Nesharim rushed only three. Sure you just opened the season with a monster "Monday Night Football" victory, but what have you done for us lately? In Baltimore, the home crowd booed the defending champions as they jogged off the field for intermission trailing Cleveland 6-0. Sure you just won the Super Bowl. But what have you done for us lately?
Welcome to Yellowstone Park, N.M.: After your columnist said he liked the FX series "Justified" -- entertaining but unrealistic crime drama about a modern wild-west-style lawman -- many readers suggested the A&E series "Longmire," also about a modern wild-west-style lawman, but realistic. "Longmire," which just wrapped its second season, is thoroughly enjoyable.
The show follows the sheriff and his deputies in fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming. On television, geography is often scrambled: the action in the show seems to be occurring in the northeastern corner of the state -- the Montana border is nearby, as is Sheridan, Wyo. -- though the Absaroka Range of mountains is in the western part of the state, near Yellowstone Park. An awful lot of murders occur in the county on "Longmire" -- at least 25 in the episodes so far, which track a year of Walt Longmire's life. Twenty-five murders per year is the recent average for all of Wyoming, let alone a sparsely populated rural county.
"Longmire" redeems itself through sharp dialogue, dramatic scenery, a central character who is not a superhero, and avoiding Hollywood gunplay. Most actual law enforcement officers never fire their weapons in the line of duty; on TV, the cops are blazing away left and right. Not on "Longmire." The protagonist has pulled the trigger only a couple times. The 2013 episode "Tell It Slant," script by Tony Tost, was television writing at its finest. There were no fistfights or gunfire, rather a complex psychological riddle that Longmire had to solve by forcing himself to think like a schizophrenic.
Though extolling the beauty of Wyoming, "Longmire" is filmed in New Mexico, whose climate L.A.-based producers surely find more to their liking. Different angles of the same log-constructed modern house are used as different characters' residences, and the same river seems to flow past every location in the "Longmire" universe.
Since the setting of the series is lightly populated, this is a problem for a crime drama, as it suggests hardly anything other any petty crime would happen. So, though located 100 miles from Billings, Mont., the largest city of the northern Rockies, and 400 miles from Denver, the major metropolis of the Rockies, "Longmire's" fictional county has a huge gambling casino, an exotic-dance establishment staffed with women who appear to have flown in from a swimsuit modeling competition, and a championship-quality golf course.
In one episode, the sheriff is inexplicably driving a federal convict a long distance on remote rural roads to transfer him to some FBI agents who are inexplicably driving other federal convicts on a remote road. What is the purpose of this strange prisoner transfer? To set up an escape during a mountain snowstorm, the sort of crime only Walt Longmire could handle. In another episode, Walt goes to question the manager of a "natural gas drilling facility." In the background viewers see ... a cement plant.
Walt is a good detective but, like all investigators on crime shows, never takes notes. Few crimes would be solved if real-world law enforcement officers failed to take notes. Longmire always gets the killer to confess, but never records the confession nor has a witness present, nor first gives the standard warning against self-incrimination. Lots of police shows and movies end with the killer spontaneously admitting everything -- after all, the credits are about to roll -- yet the good guys making no effort to establish a confession that will stand up in court.
Concussion Watch: The NFL has suspended Dashon Goldson of the Buccaneers for one game for a helmet-to-helmet hit against New Orleans. This is a progressive step. Players don't like fines, but being small compared to an NFL income, fines don't seem to change behavior. A suspension not only represents a big chunk of money -- every football player knows that if he can't play, he may lose his job. Suspensions should go a long way toward making football culture safer.
Tick … Tick … Tick: TMQ's decade-long campaign against the name "Redskins" picked up a lot of support in the last few weeks, with Peter King of Sports Illustrated and NBC, the Washington Post, Christine Brennan of USA Today and Keith Olbermann jumping on the bandwagon. We need some sousaphones on this bandwagon!
Who was first in the sports world to go to mat against the name? Sportstalk radio figure Tony Bruno has been crusading against "Redskins" for two decades. When he was a newspaper columnist, Tony Kornheiser often complained about the name, though did not refuse to use it. Yours truly has been on the bandwagon since 2000, when Tuesday Morning Quarterback debuted.
TMQ gets credit for campaigning against R*dsk*ns on NFL.com itself. This column ran there from late 2003 through late 2005, and several dozen times referred to the Washington team as the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons. My first column on NFL.com, from Nov. 25, 2003, contained this explanation: "I think R*dsk*ns has no polite usage (except for potatoes), though surely neither the team nor its fans intend offense."
Of course neither the team nor its fans intend to offend. But the fact that an expression was used in proper conversation generations ago does not make it proper today.
Tick … tick ... tick. The clock is ticking down to the end of the R*dsk*ns name.
Forget the Name Issue, Maybe Washington Team Should Wear Disguises: Ye gods, the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons look bad. Robert Griffin III has regressed from superstar to average player. Did his injury change him, is it rust from skipping the preseason, or did he try to come back too soon? Whatever the explanation, RG III is struggling. Philadelphia and then Green Bay have blitzed him with impunity, knowing he lacks the quickness to get outside and make a defense pay for blitzing. A rushing threat last year -- Griffin ran for 815 yards and a 6.8-yard average -- RG III has been no factor on the ground this season. That means no zone read and no Washington offense.
The R*dsk*ns defense -- ay caramba. During the first half against Philadelphia and the first half against Green Bay, the Washington defense surrendered 695 yards. The Persons lack talent on defense -- which is the price of Washington trading three first-rounders and a second-round draft choice for Griffin. Washington has some promising defensive backs who are very green; cornerback David Amerson allowed a 57-yard catch when he made the high school mistake of looking into the backfield rather than guarding his man. In the front seven, Washington just lacks talent, with no defensive lineman drafted in two years.
Sweet 'N' Sour Player of the Week: Tennessee leading 17-16 late at Houston, on third-and-21, Matt Schaub threw a back shoulder pass intended for first-round draft choice DeAndre Hopkins -- who casually ran a go, waving his arm to say, "I'm open!" He was open because he was supposed to cut the route short. The ball was at that instant being picked off and returned for a touchdown. Sour.
Houston's goose seemed cooked, but the hosts scrambled for a touchdown and deuce to force overtime. In the fifth quarter, Hopkins caught the winning touchdown pass, making a difficult reception while getting his feet down inbounds. Sweet.
Book News: One week from today is publication day for "The King of Sports: Football's Impact on America," which can be purchased electronically on iTunes. Next week, I may be mentioning something about "The King of Sports" -- which just got a starred review from Library Journal. Yes, this is some chance that next week, I may be mentioning the book.
For the moment I commend to readers the important just-published volume "The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election" by John Sides and Lynn Vavreck. He, a political scientist at George Washington University, and she, a political scientist at UCLA, propose a moneyball approach to understanding a presidential election -- how stats, demographics and polls predict voting.
Pundits often pen tomes that boil down to, "I knew it all along, I just forgot to say so." Not Sides and Vavreck. In January 2012, when network touts were boosting Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry or Michele Bachman, the authors of "The Gamble" said a Mitt Romney candidacy was inevitable. In April 2012, they created this clever widget, which predicted Obama in the general under almost all circumstances.
With each passing year, statistical analysis of politics becomes more powerful. Once by zip codes, it's now block-by-block. And not just for moneyed Republicans -- the left receives devilishly accurate advice (for a fee, of course) from this outfit. The more polls and mathematics drive campaigns, the more superficial and gridlocked the national debate may grow. But political analysis is protected by the First Amendment, while the computer technology that fosters it cannot be put back into the toothpaste tube. Generations to come may find they hate stat-based politics. In "The Gamble," two super-smart thinkers lay out moneyball politics for anyone to understand.
How Does Seattle Do It? The short version of the success of the Seahawks' defense is good players who hustle, communicate with each other and wrap-up tackle. Contemporary NFL defenses are so plagued by players' desire for spectacular plays that make "SportsCenter" that blown coverages and missed assignments have become de rigueur. Seattle's defense almost never has a broken play. And those lads can tackle! Seattle misses fewer tackles than any NFL defense. Lots of wrap-up tackles where the runner gains an extra yard are better than a few spectacular hits for a loss, plus frequent missed tackles. Seattle defenders understand this.
The Seahawks play a conventional 4-3-4 with press corners -- none of the funky fronts or extreme blitzes that are popular. Thus the Seattle defense supports the maxim, "Classic never goes out of style." Seattle leading 12-0 late in the third, San Francisco reached third-and-goal on Seahawks' 3. No tricks, the Seahawks ran a four-man rush and tight coverage. Nobody was open. When the 49ers settled for a field goal, TMQ wrote the words "game over" in his notebook.
The front seven puts gap discipline above sack stats. The corners are tall and glued to their men. Just as Hawks quarterback Russell Wilson was "too short" for the NFL, corners Richard Sherman at 6-foot-3 and Brandon Browner at 6-foot-4 were too tall. Seattle has football's best defense -- and other than the gentlemen just mentioned, how many starters can you name without peeking?
The Seattle defenders are remarkable in being a collection of late draft picks and castoffs. Only safety Earl Thomas was a first-round choice by the team he now plays for. Defensive end Chris Clemons was let go by three teams; his understudy Michael Bennett, who started against San Francisco, was undrafted and let go twice. Browner was undrafted, and played in Canada. Linebacker Malcolm Smith was a seventh-round pick, safety Kam Chancellor a fifth-round selection. Unlike teams with lots of high-drafted defenders who spend their time complaining, Seattle has lots of hand-me-downs who spend their time working. That is a classic approach to success, and classic never goes out of style.
Unified Field Theory of Creep: Reader Josh Griggs of Indiana reports, "The Indiana bicentennial license plate is out. Right on the plate it says 1816-2016. Three full years of creep!"
Blur Offense Drops from Warp Drive to Impulse Engines: In Chip Kelly's very first NFL game, his trademark offense jumped to a seemingly effortless 33-7 lead on "Monday Night Football." Kelly may have thought, "Hey, this is going to be easy, just like in college."
It took exactly one week for the NFL to adjust. San Diego held the ball for 40:17, converting 10 of 15 third down situations and posting 33 first downs, to keep the Blur Offense off the field. Fast-snap offenses accustomed to flying down the field as spectators gasp become frustrated when they have to stand around watching the opponent, and the visiting Bolts quickly got the home Eagles frustrated. Maybe in retrospect, Philadelphia jumped ahead of Washington 33-7 in Week 1 for same reason Green Bay jumped ahead of Washington 31-0 in Week 2 -- the cover-your-eyes awful R*dsk*ns defense.
Maybe Kelly needs to work with the Philadelphia defense, which allowed 539 yards at home with crowd energy on its side. At Oregon, Kelly spent his time with the offense -- that was his trademark -- while assuming the Ducks' recruiting-power edge would lead to defensive success. But in the NFL, every team is loaded. Bolts leading 13-10 in the third quarter, San Diego faced third-and-7 on their 43. Straight defense here makes an incompletion likely. Instead Eagles' coaches radio in an all-out blitz, hoping for a flashy play. They got a flashy play -- Philip Rivers saw the blitz coming and audibled to a go route to Eddie Royal, for 21 yards. Later Eagles' defenders were blown off the field by a simple college-style hitch screen, and a fine block by King Dunlap, for a Royal touchdown that put San Diego in command. One of Kelly's first decisions at Philadelphia was to let Dunlap go. The football gods chortled.
Fuel Politics No. 2: The official CAFE standard is gimmicked by ethanol credits, though it's not clear that subsidized ethanol make sense either environmentally or economically. Ethanol subsidies benefit the corn lobby and Wall Street, but not average voters. Mandates enacted when petroleum scarcity was expected -- before the big domestic oil production increase in the Dakotas -- live on, since federal rules never die, causing refiners to pay what's essentially a hidden ethanol tax, then pass the cost along to drivers.
The CAFE standard is also gimmicked in that cars are tested for fuel efficiency using pure gasoline, though much of the gasoline sold in the United States is (by federal rule) about 10 percent ethanol. The common 90/10 blend has about 3 percent less energy value than pure gasoline. So the government tests cars with pure gasoline, then requires you to buy something less powerful. The Environment Protection Agency says car owners average 15,000 miles driven per year. At 23 mpg, the lower energy value of the federally mandated 90/10 blend fuel would cause the typical driver to purchase 20 extra gallons of fuel over 15,000 miles. That's a roughly $75 per driver per year hidden tax to appease the ethanol lobby.
Then there's the rise in new cars that require premium fuel. Once, premium was for sports and luxury cruisers, whose owners presumably didn't care about paying an extra 50 cents per gallon. When the Obama administration took office and asked for a rapid sign of rising mpg, many automakers realized an available quick-fix was to increase the compression ratio of existing engines. Typically raising the compression ratio and switching to premium adds about 1 mpg to the performance of a car. Automakers could boast of better fuel economy, Washington was happy, and who doesn't want 1 mpg more? The trouble is that premium costs more than an additional 1 mpg saves.
Suppose you drive 15,000 miles per year in a new car whose engineering for premium gasoline improved the mpg from 23 to 24. That avoids 27 gallons of gasoline purchased, saving you, at current prices, a little over $100. Nice! But the fact that you're buying premium will cost about $300 more than if you'd been using regular. You end up $200 in the hole, even though your mileage improved.
The car-buyer's site Edmunds.com estimates that a decade ago, only 3 percent of new vehicles purchased in the United States needed premium. Now 12 percent do, and the figure is expected to rise again with the 2014 model year. Re-engineering cars for high compression and premium fuel makes auto companies and federal regulations happy, but backfires on consumers. Who cares about them anyway?
Untouched Touchdown Of The Week: Seattle leading San Francisco 5-0 in the third quarter, the Bluish Men Group faced second-and-goal on the 49ers 15. Marshawn Lynch took a simple delay draw and ran left behind James Carpenter and Paul McQuistan, never touched by San Francisco's vaunted linebackers. It's pretty fun to run 15 yards for a touchdown on prime-time television when everyone in front of you has been knocked out of the way.
Franklin Pierce had no Middle Name, Luckily for Him: A minor TMQ hobby horse is the use of middle initials for person about whose identity there is no confusion. For instance, newspapers and historians invariably refer to the 36th president as Lyndon B. Johnson -- oh, so you mean that President Lyndon Johnson. The fun-to-visit aeronautics museum near Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C. is named for the financier who donated seed money. It's the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Oh, so you mean that Steven Udvar-Hazy.
Last week the New York Times ran an op-ed piece by Vladimir Putin, who was identified as Vladimir V. Putin. Oh, so you mean that Russian president Putin. As Stephen Colbert observed, "He's so Russian that the V. stands for Vladimir."
Manning Bowl a Snoozer: Are the Broncos that good or the Giants that bad? Denver reaching the Jersey/A 2-yard line in the third quarter, Wes Welker -- the player most likely to get the ball -- did a simple down-and-in. Not only did no Jersey/A defensive back jam him, no one covered him, two defenders half-heartedly jogging behind Welker as he caught for six. From the early third quarter on, the hosts began dogging it. Jersey/A's signature tactic under Tom Coughlin -- pressuring the passer with a conventional four-man rush -- was not on display. Peyton Manning had enough time in the pocket to film a television commercial.
Denver leading 38-16 in the fourth quarter, Eli Manning threw into the end zone on fourth-and-10 from the visitors' 45. Rather than knock the pass to the ground -- fourth down, knock it down! -- Rahim Moore intercepted and knelt for a touchback. This cost Denver 25 yards of field position but got Moore a pick for his stats at contract time.
Now Jersey/A is 0-2. It's been five seasons since the Dolphins opened 0-2 and rebounded to make the playoffs. Since then no 0-2 team has come back to earn a postseason invitation letter. Hear that Browns, Bucs, Giants, Jaguars, Panthers, Persons, Steelers and Vikings?
Looking Terrible Doesn't Come Cheap: Fashion Week just concluded in New York City, and as usual, the glitterati jockeyed for front-row seats to watch emaciated female models pretend to be zombies in expensive outfits no woman will ever wear, while metrosexual male models strutted in expensive outfits that would embarrass a 6-year-old.
This year a Fashion Week trend was extremely expensive fashion styled to suggest workmen's coveralls -- a cruel joke on average people with unemployment at 7.3 percent. The Wall Street Journal reported that $40,900-per-person package of plane fares, premium hotel rooms and access to the runway shows quickly sold out.
The 500 Club: Membership is conferred on any college or pro team that gains at least 500 yards on offense and loses, or any high school team that scores at least 50 points and loses. (Yardage stats at the prep level are unreliable.) On Saturday, Troy gained 614 yards versus Arkansas State, and lost. Monmouth gained 517 yards versus Lehigh, and lost. Utah gained 539 yards at home against Oregon State, and lost. Valparaiso gained 521 yards at home, and lost to Division II William Jewell. Bowie State gained 522 yards against Johnson Smith, and lost. Missouri State gained 578 yards against Murray State, and lost.
West Alabama gained 565 yards versus McNeese State, and lost. Trinity of Texas -- school that in 2007 ran the greatest football play of all time -- gained 541 yards versus Texas Lutheran, and lost. Grambling State gained 515 yards against Lincoln of Missouri, and lost. Maine Maritime gained 539 yards against Anna Maria -- 532 yards rushing, 7 passing -- and lost. In the NFL, Chip Kelly's Blur Offense put up 511 yards at home, and lost.
Last week I asked readers for examples of 500 Club members I might have missed. I expected a few replies. Instead, a deluge:
• Reader Matthew Clark of Norwich, N.Y., points out Colgate gained 586 yards against Albany, and lost.
• Bryon Kohls of Woodway, Texas, reports Salado High School scored 67 points against Lorena High, and lost. Curtis Payne of Evansville, Ind., reports North Oldham High of Kentucky lost to Evansville Central 66-50. Garrison Stephens of Lake Oswego, Oreg., reports that in 2012, Lakeridge High scored 63 points and lost by three touchdowns. Thomas Tyner, now with the University of Oregon, rushed for 643 yards for the winners.
• Joe Kissel of Fort Mill, S.C., reports that Forestview High scored 56 points against Nation Ford High, and lost. Tom Cammalleri of Simi Valley, Calif., reports St. Bonaventure High scored 55 points and lost by two touchdowns. Brent Hassemen of Springboro, Ohio, reports that in Dayton, Thurgood Marshall scored 55 points against Chaminade Julienne and lost.
• Dustin Cunningham of Crawfordsville, Ind., was among many readers to note that against Perry Meridian, Decatur Central High of Indiana gained 875 yards, scored 78 points and lost. Decatur Central also has lost 58-50. Last Friday night, Decatur Central notched its first victory, a 64-40 win over Martinsville in a contest held at Lucas Oil Stadium. Decatur Central is averaging 65 points per game, and is 1-3.
• Spencer Moe of Portland reports that Portland State "is a perennial member of The 500 Club." In 2012, Portland State gained 515 yards versus North Dakota and lost, then gained 587 yards versus Southern Utah and lost. This season, Portland State gained 553 yards versus Cal, and lost.
• Meredith Heller of Oakland, Calif., notes that Cal gained 503 yards at home against Ohio State, and lost by 18 points. Cal gained 549 yards at home against Northwestern, and lost by 14 points. On the season, Cal is averaging 556 yards gained and 34 points scored, and is 1-2.
The 600 Club: A more exclusive members-only fraternity. Reader Eric Fournier of Ottawa reports the University of Alberta gained 618 yards and lost to the University of Manitoba. Many readers including Matt Kipper of Laramie, Wyo., noted Wyoming gained 602 yards against Nebraska, and lost. Troy gained 614 yards against Arkansas State and lost. Southern Oregon just missed membership, gaining 599 yards against Sacramento State and losing. Many readers including Erin Kiel of Birmingham, Ala., noted Texas A&M gained 628 yards at home against Alabama, and lost.
The 700 Club: Super-exclusive – where the elite meet. Merrimack gained 729 yards against American International, scored eight touchdowns, and lost. Prairie View A&M gained 772 yards versus Southern, scored eight touchdowns, and lost.
Wacky Food of the Week: Recently your columnist was handed a menu in Chicago. On the menu was a CBC shake -- chocolate ice cream, bacon and chili. Chicago must be at the cutting edge of milkshake technology: super-trendy Antique Taco makes a horchata shake.
Trendy Good Stuff Eatery of Washington, D.C., makes shakes in red velvet, strawberry and soursop, Vietnamese coffee and toasted marshmallow, the latter topped with marshmallows that have been heated as if over a campfire. Trendy chef Mario Batali suggests this high-tech shake: blend vanilla ice cream and skim milk with black pepper and a shot of amaro. Pour into glass and float a second shot of amaro on top, plus half a teaspoon of sea salt. Sip without a straw.
'Tis Better to Have Rushed and Lost Then Never to Have Rushed at All: TMQ thinks the Falcons' allergy to rushing stands between this strong team and the Super Bowl. Hosting Les Mouflons, Atlanta jumped to a seemingly insurmountable 24-3 lead. But the stats showed a weakness -- at intermission, Atlanta had 237 yards passing and 1 yard rushing. Yes, Steven Jackson left the contest hurt, but he has understudies: it's not that Atlanta lacks running backs, it's that Atlanta lacks run-the-ball psychology. The hosts would hold on to win, with 45 called passes and 16 called rushes. Inability to advance the ball on the ground prevented Atlanta from controlling the game tempo in the second half.
As for Les Mouflons -- trailing by 21 points, coach Jeff Fisher sent in the field goal unit on fourth-and-5 from the Atlanta 11. Victories don't come in the mail, go win the game!
More Indication of Offense Gone Wild: The Colts gained 448 yards at home, and lost. Three sacks and constant pressure on Andrew Luck by the Dolphins' stacked front seven was the key. Indianapolis was playing with fire by having only six offensive linemen active for the game, and then sometimes playing all six at once.
Adventures in Officiating: During the Washington-Philadelphia "Monday Night Football" opener, while the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons defense was gasping for air at the Eagles' pace, Kedric Golston dropped with an "injury," necessitating a stop in play. On the next series he re-entered the game, miraculously cured. Perhaps Persons' trainers keep a bottle of the waters of Lourdes on their sideline. Reader Thon Morse of Austin, Texas, suggests a rule change -- instead of an injured player being required to sit out the next play, he should sit out till the end of the quarter. After all, if a player is injured, time to rest and be examined should be required.
Tuesday Morning Quarterback has complained before about the automatic first down for defensive holding, regardless of the down-and-distance for the offense. This foul is just too generous. Carolina leading 7-6 at Buffalo, the Panthers punted on fourth-and-18. Buffalo was called for a five-yard defensive holding before the kick was away; first down, Carolina. Rather than Buffalo ball, it was Panthers' touchdown on the possession. Defensive holding should be five yards and offense replays the down.
New Orleans leading 10-7, defensive end Adrian Clayborn of City of Tampa sacked Drew Brees, who fumbled, Bucs recovery. Clayborn was flagged for unnecessary roughness, negating the turnover. Speaking as someone who's both adamant about safety rules and critical of Bucs' penalty-prone aim-for-the-head style of play under weasel coach Greg Schiano -- the hit looked clean to me. Clayborn aimed for Brees' chest, exactly as defenders should do for a clean hit. The instant before contact, Brees leaned his head Clayborn's way. But only the Flash would be fast enough to adjust to that.
San Francisco versus Seattle scoreless, the Bluish Men Group lined up to punt. Several Seahawks stood up, as if officials had stopped the play. False start might have been called; it wasn't, and the Niners blocked the punt. Pete Carroll complained that a whistle from the crowd had made his charges think zebras stopped play. Perhaps, but if so the call would have been against the home crowd -- game-inference calls against the crowd are rare but possible. San Francisco would have declined the penalty and taken the play in any case.
Seattle leading 2-0, Russell Wilson handed off on a zone read action, then was hammered by Ahmad Brooks of the 49ers. Carroll screamed for a penalty. When a passer in a passing stance has just released the ball, he can't be hit. But Wilson was executing a rush fake: if the point of the zone read is to confuse the defense about whether the quarterback has the ball, the defense can't be penalized for hits. The no-call was correct. Note: Carroll has a self-promotion website that promises those who sign up will "win forever", which is more than most religions promise.
Sweet Play in an Otherwise Forgettable Game In driving rain at Foxboro, the Patriots and Jets played a 13-10 contest reminiscent of the old days -- the teams combined for 24 first downs, less than the Flying Elvii usually post on their own. There was one sweet play. Game scoreless, New England had a 8-yard rush to create third-and-2. The Patriots put six offensive linemen and two slot backs into the game, forming an old-fashioned power rush set. New England came to the line to quick-snap; all Jets defenders choked up; then Tom Brady play-faked and threw deep to rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson, who had lined up as a slot back. No one from Jersey/B covered Dobson, touchdown.
Fuel Politics No. 3: For years, TMQ has pounded the drums for the clean diesel engine. If you've heard bad things about Detroit-built diesel cars of the 1970s, the problems those models had are history. You wouldn't refuse to buy a gasoline-engine car because you heard Model Ts were hard to start. Don't shy away from diesels owing to glitches solved decades ago.
Common in Europe, clean diesel cars are about 30 percent more fuel-efficient than gasoline engines yet run smoothly, provide the same power curves, start exactly like gasoline cars. Unless someone told you that you were driving a clean diesel, you wouldn't realize it. Hybrids have virtues, but cost so much more than conventional cars that you'd need to motor to the Moon and back to come out ahead on fuel saved. All-electrics have virtues, but also range limits and price extremes. With current technology, the clean diesel is the option that reduces national petroleum consumption, saves the driver money, and allows for cars that perform in the traditional manner.
Finally the market is catching on. Volkswagen now sells several attractive clean diesel cars. The new Chevy Cruze turbo diesel model has a 33 mpg "combined" rating -- in a 15,000-mile year, a driver will save enough gallons to come out ahead even with diesel costing about 25 cents a gallon more than regular gasoline. Cadillac, Chevy's big brother, which has gone from stodgy to cutting-edge, is about to roll out clean-diesel models. Audi, Volkswagen's big brother, just hired Claire Danes for an ad campaign promoting diesel cars as having sex appeal. Diesel's market share should increase steadily in the coming decade. This is a positive development.
Stop Me Before I Blitz Again! Seattle leading 12-3, the Seahawks faced third-and-4 on the San Francisco 7 early in the fourth quarter. The Niners, who usually play straight defense, blitzed seven; Marshawn Lynch took a short pass and walked into the end zone for his second untouched touchdown of the evening.
Obscure College Score of the Week: University at Buffalo 26, Stony Brook 23 in five overtimes. The game featured not one but two scoreless overtimes. The University at Buffalo bears this name though nearly all its campus is in Amherst, N. Y., 10 miles from Buffalo. Gotta have that prestigious Buffalo address!
Obscure College News: TMQ started the Obscure College Score item years ago, after beholding the game between Indiana of Pennsylvania and California of Pennsylvania. This month IUP's longtime coach, Frank Cignetti, made the Division II Hall of Fame. Cignetti was 182-50-1 as a small-college head coach. If only there were an Obscure College Hall of Fame!
Next Week What if the Harbaugh brothers coached the Manning brothers?
In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback for ESPN, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of "The King of Sports" and eight other books, and is a contributing editor of The Atlantic. His website is here and you can follow him on Twitter here. Every Tuesday during the football season, at 3 p.m. Eastern, he will answer questions on Twitter about that day's column.