Football Outsider Bill Barnwell talks Redskins and the NFC East

Reader(s) are well aware of my obsession with Football Outsiders and their unique NFL metric (DVOA, DPAR, etc.). The work they do is some of the most interesting and creative in the NFL internet world and is a daily read for me. The added bonus is that so many of the Outsiders, despite having regular gigs writing obsessively about my favorite sport for a living, are extremely accessible to the likes of me. Bill Barnwell, for instance, very graciously agreed to answer a few of my preseason questions (sent out around a week ago). For those who don't know him:

BILL BARNWELL is FO's first homegrown product and its resident fantasy columnist, writing Scramble for the Ball each week during the season. After starting as an intern for FO in 2005, Bill worked his way up the ranks, writing Scramble with Ian Dembsky in 2006 while seeing his research cited in The Boston Globe and The Wall Street Journal. After graduating from Northeastern University that May and spending a year fumbling through semi-employment, Bill moved to San Francisco, where he currently serves as the Sports Editor for IGN.com. He also contributes weekly to >Patriots Daily and Rotoworld.

The feather in FO's cap is really the Pro Football Prospectus or what we'll just call the NFL Bible (released annually). I've already ordered my copy on Amazon for about $18 dollars after shipping. Reader(s) will be inundated, whether they like it or not, with content I glean largely betwixt the covers of that book. Here's the blurb, that doesn't really do the book justice:

The most authoritative and innovative guide to professional football is back for an all-new season with more cutting-edge statistical analysis, obsessive film study, and trademark humor.

Building on a winning record of accurate predictions, the 2008 annual includes comprehensive coverage of all 32 NFL teams, analysis of off -season personnel changes, and exclusive forecasts for where each team will finish the 2008 season. With statistics for more than 500 skill players along with commentary and KUBIAK projections forecasting their 2008 fantasy football numbers, Pro Football Prospectus is an outstanding and reliable resource for fantasy players, Monday-morning quarterbacks, and die-hard fans everywhere.

Whatev, just go buy the damn book. I am dramatically poor right now and I sofa-cushioned the money together to purchase the book, so let that be my strongly worded acted endorsement of the PFP.

Enough about me, now on to Bill Barnwell. I shot him 5 questions (with a bonus) regarding the Redskins and the NFC East. We did the same thing this time last year and I enjoyed his answers then so much I decided to bother him again. Actually, if you're reading this Bill, I'd have you on here once a month if you'd find the time to do so. Encourage him in the comments.

Enjoy:

Hogs Haven: It's still early enough that this is ludicrously unfair but we're deep enough into the preseason -- and into called plays and drives -- that I don't feel awful for asking, but what's your take on Jim Zorn thus far? If we have learned anything about the Redskins new head coach during this young fake season, what is it?

Bill Barnwell: This is sort of a cop-out, but there are two things I've learned about Zorn that are positives. First, he's masking his plays and running very basic schemes, which means that he gets the point of installing an offense in preseason -- get your guys the proper reps in practice without revealing too much in the fake games. Just because guys need to get up to game speed doesn't mean you need to be revealing your route packages.

More importantly, the fact that Zorn's able to do this means that he's confident (or stubborn) enough that the team knows the playbook well enough to hide everything. That's a bigger plus -- if he was uncomfortable with how the offense is growing into the scheme, they'd have to actually run out more of their offensive sets than they have.

HH: Last year around this time you projected Jason Campbell as a 3300 yard, 18 touchdown, 15 interception type player. Over 13 games he was 2700 yards, 12 touchdowns, 11 interceptions. That's 207 yards a game, .92 touchdowns a game, .84 picks a game. Prorate his stats over the course of a full 16 game season and he would've been something like: 3312 yards, 15 touchdowns, 14 picks. Not bad Mr. Barnwell. Since you're apparently the man in the know when it comes to predicting Jason Campbell, where is he at by year's end, statistically?

BB: It's way more difficult to project Campbell this year. We don't know how he'll adapt to the new scheme over the course of the season. We don't know who his wide receivers will be by the end of the season. We don't know whether Chris Cooley will be able to go out for passes as frequently as Zorn might want him to. It's much more of a shot in the dark, so let's say...3300/18/15. It worked last year! Campbell will take a huge step forward at some point during his rookie deal; it just might not be in 2008.

HH: You got all mixed up in your NFC East predictions (Eagles first, Cowboys second, Giants last?) but you at least pegged the Redskins accurately -- this is a trend, you're rooting for the wrong team. In any event, where do the 'Skins shake out in the NFC East in 2008? Are we a playoff bound team?

BB: We had a good year for projections last year -- that is, except for the NFC East. Statistically, the Cowboys defied a lot of expected regression -- take third-down performance on offense. The Cowboys were significantly better on third down than they were on first and second down in 2006; 95% of the time or so, that means that the team will be worse on offense in 2007 when the third down performance regresses. Instead, the Cowboys' first and second down offense improved to match its work on third down.

We're still ebullient about the Eagles. We discuss the reasons why in the book, but their weak schedule makes me believe that they'll actually win the NFC East again despite last year's record. Remember -- the difference between the Giants and the Eagles in the regular season was exactly one David Akers field goal that hit the upright.

I'll go 11-5 Eagles, 8-8 Redskins, 7-9 Cowboys, 7-9 Giants. And probably be wrong.

HH: I have a question about Tom Coughlin... every year I listen to people talk about him being on the coaching hot seat, and every year, at least consistently for the past three, he's managed to sneak into the postseason in what many bill as the toughest division in football. Certainly the toughest division in a mediocre conference. And now Coughlin won a Super Bowl against perhaps the greatest football team ever to step onto a field in my short lifetime. What the monkey shit? Am I the only one taking crazy pills who maintains that Tom Coughlin might be one hell of a good NFL coach? What does this guy have to do to avoid heated seating? Is his success an indictment of the New York media or am I just reading into this too heavily?

BB: What the monkey shit indeed. Coughlin really impressed me last year. For a guy who really had struggled to adapt to his team and recognize what he had, Coughlin mellowed out. He didn't fine Michael Strahan for being on time to meetings. He put more trust in his veterans to manage the locker room and played his young guys when they were the better players. The job he did in restoring the confidence of Corey Webster is impressive; five years ago, maybe he just benches Webster for the entire year and doesn't have a cover corner to turn to when the playoffs roll around. He's not Vince Lombardi, but Coughlin deserved a contract extension even before the playoff run.

HH: Redskins went from the 32nd ranked DVOA defense in the league circa 2006 to the 6th in 2007, which appears to be about the biggest turn around I've ever witnessed on Football Outsiders (Titans from 24th to 1st is comparable). With the abandonment of Gregg Williams, do the Redskins have the personnel to maintain top 10 DVOA defensively under new DC Greg Blache?

BB: Hard to say -- they have the starting 11 to do so, without a doubt. Their third down defense should improve again this year, but they need to stay healthy. The Redskins' defense ranked 11th in our Adjusted Games Lost metric (which tracks injuries over the course of the season) for their defensive starters in 2007, which suggests a slight regression to the mean. The place we expected that was at defensive line, where the Redskins featured the healthiest front four in football last year. Phillip Daniels' injury sure fits our expectations for the year.

BONUS: Is there some reason the Giants were so bad at home but so damned good on the road last year? Ditto 2006? Or is that just me overinterpreting random statistical noise? Because it's really odd for a two time playoff contender and one time Super Bowl champ to be 6-10 in their own stadium over the course of two years. Personally I don't see the Giants going 7-1 on the road, again, in 2008, so if/when they make the playoffs they'll need to take care of business at the Meadowlands. Can you explain this recent phenomenon?

BB: The bonus question is actually answered in the Giants chapter in the book -- have you gotten a copy yet?

[Ed note: That's some mighty fine literature plugging. Go buy the book (mine arrives, hopefully, tomorrow), and reader(s) need to attempt to answer the BONUS in the comments.]


Again, many thanks many times over again to Bill for taking the time to answer this and my apologies for using up some sweet time getting this posted. If Mr. Barnwell was so inclined, I'd have him here more often.

I am also returning to regularly scheduled posts somewhat this weekend and really ramping up next week, as my last day of work was yesterday. Once I complete a weekend of tomfoolery (another wedding) I'll be in the mix posting far, far more frequently. For brevity's sake: I'm back.

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