The Answer to ‘How Did You Become a Writer?’

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A question I get fairly regularly is ‘How did you become a writer?’ or ‘How do I do what you do?” There are very simple answers that I generally give, but they’re not really good answers. I’m not anywhere at this stage in my career. I still need to earn a better weekly salary to live a proper quality of life. But even just getting to this point has taken a very long time and has seen more failings than victories.

After secondary school(or high school as most of you reading this will call it), I studied Journalism in college for three years. This is the simple answer you give to people when they ask how you become a writer.

I did earn my degree and I learned some academic things during my time in college, but I question how valuable my degree has really been to my career so far. I wasn’t a good student. I spent my time just doing enough to get by and enjoyed college live more than focused on getting to classes on time. Even when I did pay attention fully and make as much effort as I possibly could, I didn’t feel like I was benefiting.

Maybe I’d actually be a much better writer and have a full-time job by now if I had got better grades and made more of an effort, but not once over the last six years have I been asked about a college degree by a potential employer or asked to show proof about what kind of grades I earned. The only things I ever had to provide were writing samples and proof of my knowledge of the sport I was applying to cover.

My physical degree is in a drawer somewhere in my house. I haven’t ever needed to take it out so I couldn’t even tell you where it is right now. Continue reading »

Mike Shula versus the Minnesota Vikings – PRE SNAP READS FAVORITE PLAYS OF THE 2013 NFL SEASON

Play callers in the NFL are always the first to be blamed by fans when things go wrong on the field. It’s easy to blame the play caller because he’s never a celebrated figure on the field, but rather an often unknown face who acts from the sideline. It’s also easy to blame the play caller because he carries out a role that many believe they could easily do better.

It takes a special fan to believe that he could play quarterback or cornerback better than the players on the field. The physical differences are generally obvious and limiting. The play callers don’t offer obvious physical differences. Calling plays is theoretically very easy, even though the determining factor in whether your play is successful or not is never something that you can control.

Any criticism of play calling must be cautious criticism. You can’t judge play calling by the result of the play, because 22 players executing and one other play caller on the other side of the field will all have as big an impact on whether the play is good or bad. Instead you need to understand situations, strengths and weaknesses. Continue reading »

Alex Smith to Anthony Sherman – PRE SNAP READS FAVORITE PLAYS OF THE 2013 NFL SEASON

One of the most impressive passing attacks in the NFL last season belonged to that of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Quarterback Alex Smith threw for 23 touchdowns, seven interceptions and 3,313 yards in an offense that focused more on being efficient than explosive. With Jamaal Charles averaging five yards per carry and almost 10 yards per reception, the passing game in Kansas City was primarily seen as a complementary piece for most of the season.

There’s no doubting that the Chiefs had the second or third best offense in the AFC West, never mind when stacked up against the rest of the NFL. However, an offense doesn’t have to be overwhelmingly explosive or particularly powerful to be impressive. Instead, it can be so creative that it masks the flaws or limitations of the talent running it on the field.

Smith is celebrated as a smart quarterback. A player who always makes good decisions and doesn’t throw dangerous passes. However, sometimes the smart thing is to throw the dangerous passes. Sometimes, not being aggressive turns an intelligent quarterback into an overly cautious quarterback. Continue reading »

Russell Wilson to Golden Tate – PRE SNAP READS FAVORITE PLAYS OF THE 2013 NFL SEASON

Recently I wrote a piece about the Seattle Seahawks offense moving forward and how Russell Wilson was already one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. One of the main arguments against Wilson being one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL is how often he is asked to throw.

Wilson has 800 career attempts spread out over two regular seasons. For the sake of comparison, Andrew Luck has 1,197 over that time, Ryan Tannehill has 1,072 and Robert Griffin III has 849 despite missing four games. Matthew Stafford attempted 634 passes last season alone, with an incredible 727 the previous year.

It’s very easy to argue that Wilson is just a game manager who relied on Marshawn Lynch’s running game to carry the offense. However, Wilson didn’t attempt fewer passes simply because the offense ran threw Lynch. As explained in the piece linked above, it was rare that the Seahawks were playing from behind later in games, so the Seahawks were less inclined to throw the ball for four quarters.

More important than the number of passes attempted, is the kind of passes that were attempted. Continue reading »

Tony Romo to Terrance Williams – PRE SNAP READS FAVORITE PLAYS OF THE 2013 NFL SEASON

An undrafted player who works behind the scenes for years to earn a place in the league, before blossoming into a starting quarterback for arguably the biggest franchise in the whole world. Someone who wasn’t a first overall pick who everyone saw coming. Someone who instead went through stages of development to become one of the best players at his position in the league.

Someone who we should all admire because he is an exceptionally bright bulb fixated to a broken fuse that simply cannot work.

That’s not the way Tony Romo is usually described.

The now 34-year-old starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys is probably the most polarising player in the NFL. Yes, the same NFL that features Richard Sherman and will soon feature Michael Sam. The Romocoaster that has perennially and gloriously crashed into the final stop each season will always haunt Romo until the Cowboys can at least reach the Super Bowl.

That is because the Romo narrative has everything. He fits the high profile, somewhat glamorous player with the personality to instigate hatred from some sections and hilarity from others, while his fascination is born out of something that we can watch develop on the field so the constant suspense and threat of him overcoming the negativity can always be felt. Continue reading »

Cam Newton to Brandon LaFell – Pre Snap Reads Favorite Plays of the 2013 NFL Season

Cam Newton isn’t just a freak athlete

2013 proved to be a big year for Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers.

He was once again a very productive, all-around player as he finished the season with just under 4,000 total yards, 30 total touchdowns that included his most ever passing touchdowns, 24, and just 14 total turnovers.

Recognizing Newton’s ability now and focusing less on the manufactured negatives about his character is a popular action. However, that is primarily because his Panthers made the playoffs and his Panthers made the playoffs because of a vastly improved defense.

The additions of Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short along with unexpected improvements from vested veterans allowed the defense to become one of the best in the league. According to Football Outsiders DVOA metric, they were the third best unit in the NFL after being the 11th best in 2012.

It’s easy to point to the defensive side of the ball and suggest the Panthers are only good now because of a better defense and not because Newton is a good quarterback. That is the wrong angle to look at this young quarterback and his franchise.

The real question is why were the Panthers bad during Newton’s first two seasons. He has always produced statistically and been ahead of the curve in terms of his development. A limited supporting cast on offense and an underwhelming defense simply held the franchise back from team success.

Now that the team is good and the nonsensical P.R. attacks based on body language have been eradicated, we can really focus on what Newton is.

Newton is a developing quarterback who is quickly becoming one of the best in the NFL at his position. Last season, he affirmed that idea by becoming less of a risky playmaker and more of a refined quarterback.

Statistically, he may not have run for 14 rushing touchdowns like he did during his rookie season, but he did complete a higher percentage of his passes, average fewer yards per attempt, take more sacks and attempt fewer passes than he had in previous seasons.

Some of those things are technically negatives, but that’s only if you take them in a vacuum. Continue reading »

Keenan Lewis: The Numbers, The Tape, The Verdict 2014

After four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, cornerback Keenan Lewis entered the 2013 free agency period hoping to benefit from the breakout season he had just enjoyed. Lewis had only started 17 regular season games during his time in Pittsburgh, but his play as a starter during the 2012 season was enough to encourage teams to invest in him.

His former team seemingly had no interest in retaining him, which allowed the New Orleans Saints to sign him on a relatively cheap deal.

The Saints were desperate for better secondary play. The previous year they had clearly the worst secondary in the NFL, with inadequate starters at each safety spot and both cornerback positions. Lewis and that year’s first round pick, Kenny Vaccaro, began what would prove to be a dramatic change for Rob Ryan’s defense.

Since signing Lewis and drafting Vaccaro, the Saints have brought in cornerback Champ Bailey, free safety Jairus Byrd and retained restricted free agent Rafael Bush to completely revamp their coverage on the backend. Byrd is probably the best player in the unit, but it’s possible that Lewis may become the most important.

Lewis is a peculiar player because he has the build of a press-man cornerback, but he played in Dick LeBeau’s zone-heavy scheme when he was drafted. When PSR looked at Lewis last season, he proved to be a very effective man cornerback for the Steelers.

On the onset, it appears that Lewis continued to be that very effective and somewhat versatile starter for the Saints last season. However, digging deeper into the tape could potentially reveal more warts to stain his reputation. Continue reading »

Dissecting Pittsburgh Steelers Defensive Coordiantor Dick LeBeau’s Ability to Adapt

Since the 2004 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have ranked either first in points allowed or first in yards allowed on six occasions. Five times they ranked in the top two of both categories during that span.

Not coincidentally, the 2004 season was Dick LeBeau’s first as the team’s defensive coordinator.

LeBeau built his 3-4 defense from the front. Nose tackle Casey Hampton, defensive ends Aaron Smith and Kimo van Oelhoffen set the tone by shutting down the opponent’s running game, while linebackers Larry Foote and James Farrior flowed to the football. Joey Porter was the disruptive force off the edge, while Clark Haggans was a reliable all-rounder.

During the 2004 season, the Steelers ranked third in run defense DVOA. That metric, via Football Outsiders, is the best way to measure LeBeau’s scheme because it measures efficiency on first, second, third and fourth down. LeBeau’s defense was built on the idea of winning the early downs by shutting down the running game to take the pressure off of his secondary on the latter downs.

LeBeau used various disguised rushes and exotic blitzes to attack the passing game on latter downs, primarily relying on zone coverage behind those chasing the passer. Continue reading »

Byron Maxwell: The Numbers, The Tape, The Verdict 2014

After Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond were suspended last season, the Seattle Seahawks were forced to turn to Byron Maxwell as their second starting cornerback across from Richard Sherman.

Maxwell appeared to seamlessly slide into the starting lineup of a defense that would eventually dominate the Denver Broncos in a Super Bowl victory. Even once Thurmond returned to the field, he was limited to playing in the slot and behind Maxwell in base defenses.

The 6’1″, 207 lb 26-year-old is expected to enter the 2014 season as the starter, partly because both Browner and Thurmond have moved on but primarily because of his play. Continue reading »

Appreciating the Excellent Work of Chicago Bears GM Phil Emery

Phil Emery became the general manager of the Chicago Bears in January of 2012.

Emery was taking over a franchise that had just seen its team go 8-8 after reaching the conference final the previous year. With the decorated Lovie Smith instilled as the team’s head coach, Emery had little to do in terms of rebuilding the roster immediately.

In many ways, this was a good landing spot for Emery. He wasn’t taking over a team with no obvious talent and he wouldn’t have to rush any search for a new head coach. Smith wasn’t going anywhere for another season at least.

However, it was also a tough situation to be inserted into. Continue reading »