Welcome to the fourth installment of the Made-Up Mailbag. I decided to field a couple of more specific questions this week. I got a bit riled up answering them, but rest assured gentle reader, I’ve excluded the worst of my rantings and ravings below.
Without further ado, this week’s Made-Up Mailbag:
Q: What gives with Le’veon Bell this past weekend? I was expecting a bigger game from the Steelers’ running back against the Jaguars.
A: You, me and everyone else in the football community (real or fantastical). Bell is the highest paid running back in the league this year, and most would agree he deserves it. Playing behind a quality offensive line and facing the league’s worst run defense heading into the week, Bell was a no brainer to go off. Not only that, but the Jaguars were the league’s best pass defense heading into the week. This double incentive to run the football is what Pro Football Focus’ Pat Thorman dubs a ‘reverse funnel’, and the Jaguars are the top reverse funnel in the league. Armed with this knowledge — that even casual fans were aware of — how then did the Steelers decide to throw the ball 55 times and hand it off to Bell only 15? I have no freaking clue!
The Steelers cannot use the excuse that they were trying to play catch-up, for they had the lead nearly 40 minutes into the game. What caused that to change? Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throwing pick-sixes on back-to-back possessions. Roethlisberger would go on to throw five interceptions on the day against the Jaguar’s elite secondary. It is inexplicable that the Steelers would attempt this game plan. The New York Jets — a team many thought could go 0-16 — beat the Jaguars just last week by running the ball 32 times for 256 yards with much worse personnel than the Steelers.
I was not in the Steelers’ meeting rooms, and perhaps there was some unknown factor that led the Steelers’ to take the approach they did, but it reeks of unadulterated obstinance on the part of quarterback and coach. It seems the team decided to ignore nerdy wastes of time like statistics and common sense.
As you grow up, you learn that there is no handbook for life. For those who make it to the top, there is no one telling you what to do or how to do it. Those successful people generally like to continuing doing whatever got them there. They’ve also gained a great deal of confidence from their repeated victories. Roethlisberger has put together a hall of fame career leading prolific aerial attacks under offensive coordinator Todd Haley, and they believe they can throw on anybody. I submit to you this as the cause for the Steelers’ pitiful showing: plain arrogance and refusal to self-examine. I know it may be arrogant for someone like me to question someone who’s (ostensibly) among the 32 best offensive minds on the planet, but it’s foolish to think that anybody has it all figured out or is immune to spells of idiocy like we saw Sunday.
Q. Clemson has the best resume of any team in college football right now and are defending national champions, why aren’t they ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll?
A. Thank you for this question! I was beginning to worry I was the only one wondering this. Alabama certainly has passed the eye test to possibly be the best team in college football, but so has Clemson. Clemson has beaten three teams ranked in the top-15 at the time of play while Alabama has beaten one. Two of the three such teams Clemson beat have remained in the top-15 of the rankings while Alabama’s sole such opponent has fallen out of the top-25 entirely. Alabama has zero wins versus currently ranked opponents, yet a team with a better resume to this point which beat them the last time they played is ranked behind them.
The reason this happens is because voters have informally given Alabama a special exception for years. As long as they don’t lose, they won’t be passed by teams with the same record. I won’t deny that if any team has earned this exception, it’s Nick Saban’s always dominant Crimson Tide. I think it’s absurd anybody would get this treatment. It introduces unnecessary bias into the poll — which, luckily, does not determine the College Football Playoff.
I have no problem with moving Alabama back up as they accrue quality wins, but until then, the team with the best resume right now should be treated as such. Otherwise, their early season wins are taken for granted by voters who have seen them “behind” a team for weeks.
One could argue pre-season rankings are the bigger problem, which the College Football Playoff Committee thankfully avoids, but those are never going away. They make for fun debate before the season begins and are usually fair enough. The unwillingness to change them unless a team loses is the most frustrating source of unfairness.
Thanks for making it through another Made-Up Mailbag, and see you next time. Also, if you’d like to make the mailbag slightly less made-up, send me questions at email@example.com or @Nschlete on Twitter.