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Guest Blog - Jess

Jess, a reader who knows her stuff and does some great stuff, wanted to pass along an interview she did with Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders, and, at the risk of getting all kissy-face with everyone, I just want to say that Football Outsiders rocks and you guys should check them out as much as you can.

Anyway, here's Jess's interview:

I recently had the opportunity to interview Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders. They publish the Pro Football Prospectus, which is an innovative stats trove for football fans. These guys track every play in every game and have created stats that measure a player against how other players, on average, performed in a similar situation in terms of down, distance and field position. You can read their weekly observations at their web site here.

Q: How important are special teams to winning and losing?

A: About as important as people think, except that people have a skewed idea of what parts of special teams are important. Our research shows that the overall quality of a team is 3/7 offense, 3/7 defense and 1/7 special teams. But field goal kicking is seriously overrated, while kickoff distance and both kick and punt coverage are really underrated.

Q: How do you assess the Redskins personnel decisions, in general and this year?

A: The general theme of the Redskins' personnel moves in well-known. For the most part, they eschew draft picks to sign big-name, expensive free agents. When you use this strategy, you don't have depth, and you end up going into each season saying, "if we can only avoid injuries, we will win." In the NFL, you can never, ever count on avoiding injuries. The Redskins learned last year what happens when a team with no depth has not just a regular number of injuries but a ridiculously large number of injuries. This year, if they have a regular number of injuries, they'll have enough talent to compete for a playoff spot, but they won't be a Super Bowl contender unless they can go through a season without injuries, and that's simply not possible.

However, the Redskins made one of the worst trades in recent years, the Bailey-Portis trade. The problem was not the trade of those two players, it was tossing in an extra second-round pick on top of Bailey.

Q: The Skins this offseason got rid of a linebacker coach who alienated fan favorite LaVar Arrington and sent him into motorcycle destruction. That coach is now gone, and this year Rocky McIntosh is a stud, though the LB coach last year relegated him to ST despite him being a first round draft pick. Do you have a view on how much bad coaching versus bad players was a factor in the Redskins D being ranked 31st last year?

A: This is really a question better asked of someone like Jason LaCanfora. The is how that I get my information about the personnel issues between players and coaches in the same way that everyone else does, by reading the work of other journalists.

Q: Do you have a view as to whether screaming stern coaches, a la Coughlin, are more effective than the coaxers a la Dungy?

A: No opinion. I just want to point out that you don't need to be an Evangelical Christian to be a kind players' coach, despite what Tony Dungy may want you to believe.

Q: Are free agent acquisitions better than draft picks?

A: No, normally you are getting players post-peak and for more money than a draft pick would cost-- except maybe for those absurdly expensive top few picks.

Q: Your new third down conversion rate stat as being an indicator of improvement is a great new use of stats. How does that apply to the Skins?

A: They had the worst third down pass defense we've ever measured, going back to 1996. Their defense was below average on first and second down too, but nowhere near as bad. If you consider a rebound effect after they were good in 2005, and then the effect where performance on third down tends to bounce back to be the same as first and second downs after an offseaon, the Redskins are almost guaranteed to have an above average defense this year. Maybe not as good as two years ago, but above average. And so far, they do.

Q: How does Jason Campbell stack up against his draft class?

A: At quarterback, it isn't even close. Alex Smith is still very young-- he was 21 as a rookie-- and has potential but right now Campbell is the better player. He's way better than Charlie Frye or Kyle Orton, and we have no idea about Aaron Rodgers because they guy can't get on the field. If you look at the 2005 first round, it really was an amazingly good first round draft class with a couple of major exceptions (let me know when Matt Jones and Mike Williams wake up, not to mention Antrel Rolle). Campbell certainly fits in.

Q: What do you recommend that the Skins do to reclaim the Super Bowl?

A: Build depth.

Q: Do you think that there is any chance of glory if Dan Snyder still owns the enterprise?

A: Sure. Hasn't George Steinbrenner kept the same manager now for something like 12 years? People change.

Q: Your article comparing last year's Redskins to the Super Bowl winning Colts was fascinating. Last year they slaughtered us. Do you think that we could beat them this year?

A: Absolutely, if they are decimated by injuries when you play them and the Redskins aren't. You should link to the thing I wrote about the Colts in the preseason (link here). Unlike most Super Bowl champs, nobody is out there trying to build a team like the Colts. If you build a team like the Colts without having Peyton Manning, you end up with the Redskins. It's usually better to have depth than a few stars and a lot of scrubs, but Peyton Manning is enough to cover up a lot of depth problems-- and even still, the Colts went 1-3 last year when Dallas Clark was injured.

By Jason La Canfora  |  October 18, 2007; 7:00 AM ET
 
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