NFL players are constantly reminded by their coaches to watch what they say to the media. This task has become more and more difficult in an age of social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and other Internet blogging sites. Every coach tries, however, because he ultimately fears that that one of his players will give the opponent an advantage by saying something.
The advantage doesn’t usually come from giving trade secrets. No player is dumb enough to say “here are our first 15 plays that are scripted for the game tomorrow”. Rather, coaches fear that one of his players will unknowingly motivate the other team by saying something inflammatory that might be taken as a slight or an insult. This is the classic “bulletin board” material that is often focused on by the media.
The effect of the 24-hour information cycle, of which the previously mentioned social media is an aspect, has created an interesting phenomenon; the media occasionally is the source of the bulletin board material. Such is the case with Michael Lombardi and the Houston Texans.
Michael Lombardi is a former personnel executive in the NFL who now holds the ambiguous title of “analyst” for the NFL Network. The football analyst is a position created in the media somewhat recently by the ever growing popularity of the NFL and the hunger for more and more coverage that goes with it. Fans spend inordinate amounts of time following the game, so much so the league not only has a network solely dedicated to itself, but it does quite well in the ratings.
I say that the title of analyst is ambiguous because there are many types of media professionals performing this job. Greg Cosell is an example of one who I would consider to be analytical. His process of evaluation involves hours of film watching and intentional boycotting opinions of others in order to determine his own assessment of players.
The result is fascinating commentary because when he states an opinion he has empirical evidence to back it up. That does not mean that his word should be taken as gospel, but it is at least thought provoking to hear the process by which he came to his conclusion.
I would consider Lombardi on the other end of the spectrum of analysis as Cosell…at least as it pertains to the Texans. I do not say this because I am a fan of the team and because he has predominantly negative things to say about it. Both are true, but what I find maddeningly frustrating is his lack of analytical process in delivering that criticism.
For those not up to date in the recent negative focus that Lombardi has had for the Texans, let me give a quick synopsis.
—In late July, right tackle Eric Winston claimed that the new practice rules under the CBA would not adversely affect the team because they had only had around 17 padded practices last year (the CBA now mandates a maximum of 14 per year).
—On the NFL Network, Lombardi used Winston’s words to emphasize what in his mind is the quality that has kept the Texans from winning; the team is soft.
—Eric Winston responded that Lombardi is entitled to his opinion, but he felt the fact that the Texans had the league leading rusher in 2010 contradicted that opinion. The Texans fanbase erupted toward Lombardi, who quickly became the whipping boy for Texans fans on Twitter.
To his credit, Lombardi accepted the invitation of Lance Zierlein to come on the radio in Houston to explain his claim. In doing so though, he provided few facts to support his opinion. He stated things such as “No one who watches the Texans that knows anything about football would think that the Texans are not soft.”
He further claimed that the zone-running scheme is not a physical system and that Arian Foster’s rushing title was not evidence of physical play. It is apparent that he is intimating that Foster’s success was the result of a gimmicky blocking scheme and not physical play.
Lombardi’s latest negativity toward the Texans came on Around the League a show which aired Sunday night on NFL Network. Lombardi claimed that now that the Colts would be without Peyton Manning for some time, the Titans should be considered favorites to win the AFC South.
Again, it is not the opinion that bothers me, it is his rationale. He claimed later in the show that continuity was the key for success in the NFL. So by this reasoning, the Titans who feature a new quarterback, new offensive and defensive coordinators and a new head coach have the edge over the Texans?
Admittedly, the Texans have a completely revamped defense, but they returned 10 starters and complete coaching staff to the third ranked offense from 2010. As to the notion that the zone scheme is not physical; no matter how you choose to block, you still have to keep NFL caliber defenders from tackling the ball carrier. The Texans did this well enough to average 4.8 yards per carry for the year.
It is interesting to note, however, that Lombardi doesn’t seem to always be so down on the Texans in the same manor. In fact, he not only picked Foster to repeat as the league’s leading rusher, but he believes J.J. Watt will win the defensive rookie of the year award, according to NFL.com. To do so as a defensive linemen would probably require a certain measure of physical play. He also believes the Texans are a wild-card team.
The accuracy of Lombardi’s opinions or the reasoning for them isn’t the biggest issue here though. The only thing that can keep talking heads like Lombardi from attacking the franchise is the team by performing on the field.
For all the positivity surrounding the Texans heading into the season, it is important for the fans and the players alike to remember that nothing is won yet. In a way, I value people like Mike Lombardi for this reason. He is the constant reminder that despite the optimism, the only way to truly gain respect is to win.
And if I’m Gary Kubiak, I’d make sure my players heard every word of Lombardi, or print them on a bulletin board.
Have questions or thoughts about this issue? Leave them in the comments or let me know on Twitter (@JakeBRB).