March 27, 2014

Jared Allen signs with Chicago, Vikings fanbase in denial

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:19

We all knew that Jared Allen’s time as a Viking had come to a close, as he was at the end of a massive contract and the team had already designated Everson Griffen to take his spot on the defensive line (and given him a big contract). He’d been rumoured to have offers or outlines of offers from several teams and we all expected to see him playing for Seattle or Denver this year. Seattle was the obvious choice for Allen, and not just because of the unwritten NFL rule that says all former Vikings must sign with Seattle, so yesterday’s announcement took everyone by surprise. Arif Hasan, who is making a strong case to take Tom Pelissero’s place as the top writer in Vikings coverage, was uncharacteristically dour:

Someone named Jared Allen signed with the Chicago Bears today to a four-year deal, worth $32,000,000. The structure of the deal is of course important with a player at Allen’s age (31), and it can be voided to a three-year, $24,000,000 deal. $15,500,000 is fully guaranteed — which comes from a base salary guaranteed fully in the first two years and a roster bonus he will receive next March.

On a per-year basis, this is a lower deal than the one he “missed out on” with the Denver Broncos when they offered him and DeMarcus Ware identical, $30,000,000 deals over three years, but it is similar amount of guaranteed money.

This of course means that Allen will play against the Vikings twice a year, an interesting set of circumstances that sees him paired up against his practice sparring partner, Matt Kalil.

This could also imply that Allen’s desire to play was balanced against his desire to go to a contender, as he had choice offers from the Seattle Seahawks and the Dallas Cowboys as well, the first of whom could give him a much better shot at a ring, but less playing time. The Cowboys, short on cap space, were likely in a much more difficult spot in terms of the type of contract they could offer him and the flexibility they had to give him a good deal.

Jared Allen #69 of the Minnesota Vikings looks on before the game against the Detroit Lions on December 29, 2013 at Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

December 20, 2013

The NFC North and the inexplicable Detroit Lions

Filed under: Football, Humour — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

Remember that highly accurate cartoon Draw Play Dave Rappoccio drew a few weeks ago, showing the true state of the NFC North:

DrawPlayDave - The NFC North

He’s got an expanded version of that up at his site as a full strip, and provides this additional information:

The NFC North is like wacko world these days. The Bears lose Jay Cutler, have a terrible Defense, and then Josh McCown opens up the McOWN ZONE and suddenly the Bears are on top. The Packers lose Aaron Rodgers for the year, tie with Minnesota, have a terrible defense, trot out the likes of Scott Tolzein and Matt “around the league in 80 games” Flynn and they have managed second place and have a chance for the division. The Vikings are a pile of trash with an aging defense and no good option at QB. Yet they just blew out the Eagles. And AP wasn’t even playing. Not even Toby Gerhart was playing.

But the biggest WTF has been the Lions. When Rodgers and Cutler both went down and the Vikings being bad and the Lions in first place, it was like the football gods visited Detroit and said “Here. I’m sick of those cheese mongers in Green Bay. Chicago is overrated. Nobody wants to live in Minnesota. Here Detroit. You never have nice things. have the division. On us. Silver Platter. All you gotta do is win a few games”

And Detroit was like “Nah, I’m good”, then took a big steaming dump and started rolling around in it. They were basically handed the division and are now in third with 2 games left. How can a team with as much talent as the Lions have just crap the bed like this? I know, I know, “Lol lions, lol Detroit” but step back and look at them. They have the best WR in the game. They have a very competent though not elite QB in Stafford, who has stayed healthy. Their defensive line is absurd. Reggie Bush has been doing things. How did this happen?

December 2, 2013

Vikings win in overtime against Chicago

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:20

The second game in a row that went to overtime against a divisional rival, but unlike last week’s game, the Vikings somehow came away with the win. Christian Ponder started at quarterback, but left the game with concussion symptoms and Matt Cassel stepped in to bring the team back from a 10-point deficit and force overtime. Poor Rhett Ellison was the goat not once but twice on what would have been game-winning plays: allowing an interception at the goal line and then committing a facemask infraction on a field goal attempt.

ESPN‘s Ben Goessling:

Ponder had completed just 3-of-8 eight passes for 40 yards before being examined for a concussion in the second quarter on Sunday, and had been sacked twice. The Vikings trailed 20-10 entering the fourth quarter, but Cassel directed two scoring drives to send the game into overtime. He rebounded from an interception that negated another scoring drive when Rhett Ellison couldn’t handle a would-be touchdown pass and the ball wound up in Bears linebacker Khaseem Greene’s hands. In overtime, Cassel marched the Vikings down the field twice more — once for a missed field goal after Ellison’s facemask penalty negated Blair Walsh’s would-be game winner, and another time for the 34-yard kick from Walsh that ended the game.

Cassel finished with 243 yards passing and a touchdown, hitting 20-of-33 passes in relief of Ponder. And while his success might have been due to the fact the Bears hadn’t prepared for him, he might have also put himself back in the race to start next Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, especially if Ponder can’t play.

Frazier has talked on several occasions this year about not considering Cassel as one of his starting options, preferring to keep him in reserve in case of situations such as Sunday’s, and Cassel showed again how much value he has as a veteran backup. But the Vikings also have been hesitant to go back to Freeman after he went 20 of 53 in his one start against the New York Giants, and if Ponder isn’t cleared in time to return, Cassel might get his second start of the season.

At the Star Tribune, Jim Souhan sings the praises of Adrian Peterson, who passed the 10,000 yard career rushing mark during yesterday’s game:

He begins his carries with the upright bearing of Eric Dickerson, and finishes them with the pugilistic mien of Jim Brown. Adrian Peterson bulled and sprinted into the company of legends again on Sunday, passing one of those round-number milestones so rapidly that he again made all of his outlandish goals seem attainable.

Peterson is chasing Emmitt Smith and other fast men now, and like all fast men he will find time to be his most worrisome enemy. At 28, Peterson on Sunday rushed 35 times for 211 yards to reach 10,000 yards faster than any backs in history other than Dickerson, who did it in 91 games, and Brown, who did it in 98.

Smith rushed for an NFL-record 18,355 yards, and while logic and history suggest Peterson will slow to an unsustainable pace long before he challenges that mark, logic has yet to constrain him, and history speaks well of him.

In the first 694 games in Vikings history, one back rushed for 200 yards in a game — Chuck Foreman gaining exactly 200 on Oct. 24, 1976. In his first 101 games, Peterson rushed for 200 yards or more five times.

In NFL history, only one player has had more 200-yard games than Peterson — O.J. Simpson, who had six. Peterson is tied for second with Tiki Barber.

September 16, 2013

Bears score last-second TD to beat Vikings 31-30

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:47

I didn’t watch yesterday’s game, as we were busy with Maggie, our new dog. The Vikings haven’t won many games in Chicago this century, but yesterday’s game was tantalizingly close to being a win. The Bears scored the winning touchdown with only seconds to spare.

1500ESPN‘s Jeff Dubay and Judd Zulgad react:

July 7, 2013

Trying to prevent another “flash crash”

Filed under: Business, Economics, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:57

Tim Harford discusses high speed trading and its potential problems:

“High-frequency trading” is a rich environment of algorithms, of predators and prey, all trying to make money by trading financial products at tremendous speed. But the basic proposition is simple to state. When the price of a share rises in New York, the price of related contracts will rise in Chicago just as soon as the news arrives. But if everyone else gets the news on the regular cable, and you’re renting space on the faster cable, you can see into everyone else’s future by (say) 0.7 milliseconds, plenty of time to buy soon-to-rise assets and then, less than a thousandth of a second later, to sell them again.

You don’t have to be a socialist to find this kind of thing discomfiting. There are three concerns. The first is that scarce resources are being spent on high-speed connections that have no social value in what is at best a zero-sum game. The second is that high-frequency traders may be making money at the expense of fundamental investors. The third problem is that such trading appears to introduce systemic risks. The “flash crash” of May 2010 is still poorly understood, which should ring alarm bells — especially since the need for speed means most high-frequency algorithms are simple and therefore stupid.

What, then, should be done? Rather than trying to slow down the algorithms, why not slow down the market? Most financial exchange markets run continuously, effectively assuming that traders can react instantaneously, withdrawing out-of-date offers and replacing them with up-to-the-picosecond prices. It’s this flawed premise — that all trades could be instantaneous — that means that no matter how fast the computers get, there will always be an incentive to go faster still.

A simple way for an exchange to improve matters would be to run an auction once a second, batching together all the offers to buy and sell that have been submitted during that second. Unsuccessful bids and asks would be published and would remain on the books for the next auction, unless withdrawn. One auction a second ought to be enough for anyone; it would deliver a stream of well-behaved data to regulators — currently unable to figure out what is going on — and it is plenty of time for a computer to weigh its options.

December 29, 2012

Here you go, Chicago Bears fans: your temporary Green Bay Packer fan application

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:16

Courtesy of Bear Goggles On, a fan publication for Chicago Bears fans.

Packer Fan Application Form

For those not following the NFL playoff picture, Chicago needs help from Green Bay — in the form of a win over the Vikings — to qualify for the last NFC wildcard spot.

December 10, 2012

Vikings keep slim playoff hopes alive in win at home over Chicago

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:10

It certainly wasn’t a pretty game, but Minnesota’s defence covered well for the deficient offensive passing attack with an interception returned for a touchdown and another interception that left the Vikings within a few yards of the Bears’ goal line. The Vikings also caught a lucky break in that the Bears placeckicker, Robbie Gould, hurt his leg during pre-game warm-ups so Chicago had to use their punter for kick-off duty. It also meant that the Bears had to pass up chances for long- to medium-range field goals.

Adrian Peterson was his usual amazing self, posting his seventh consecutive 100-yard rushing game (he’s also only the 12th player in NFL history with multiple 1,600-yard rushing seasons). Brandon Marshall was also his usually effective receiving threat for the Bears: the Vikings had him triple-covered and he’d still haul in the catches.

Tom Pelissero and Judd Zulgad wrap up after the game in a super-heated press box at the Metrodome:

November 26, 2012

Chicago is a tough place to play football

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:32

This game was so out-of-hand by halftime that Fox cut away to the Atlanta-Tampa Bay game. What I did see was not encouraging, as both teams showed lots of errors but Chicago was able to capitalize on Minnesota’s errors to a much greater extent than the Vikings could with Bears mistakes.

With Percy Harvin still recovering from his ankle injury, the other wide receivers failed to step up. Jarius Wright saw more action and wasn’t bad, but Jerome Simpson gave more than enough evidence for why Cincinnati was willing to let him walk after last season — ball drops are bad at any time, but when combined with a lack of effort they’ll shorten your playing career as a receiver. Daily Norseman probably spoke for a lot of Vikings fans with this tweet:

Among the few Vikings who played at a high level was Adrian Peterson, who tied a team record (held by Robert Smith) with his fifth consecutive 100-yard rushing performance. On the downside … two fumbles on the day (although one of them will go against Christian Ponder’s record instead). Ponder didn’t have a good outing, but his receiving corps made it even tougher:


October 15, 2012

A “violence tax” that would only fall on the non-violent

Filed under: Law, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:40

Steve Chapman on a recent proposal that will penalize the non-violent for violence in their community:

For urban politicians, gun control is like the bar in Cheers — a place of refuge they can seek out whenever things aren’t going well. Things aren’t going well on the crime front in Chicago, with homicides up 25 percent this year. So what else can our elected leaders do but promise action against guns?

Action against the possession and use of guns by violent felons would be a good idea, but the proposal offered by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is something else: a penalty on nonviolent citizens who bear no blame for the carnage.

Preckwinkle suggested a tax on sales of firearms and ammunition, with the goal of defraying the costs that gunshots create for the county hospital and jail. Her spokesperson couldn’t say what the tax rate would be or how much revenue it would yield but said the fee would be “consistent with our commitment to pursuing violence reduction in the city and in the county.”

[. . .]

The levy was dubbed a “violence tax,” which is exactly what it isn’t. It would not target criminals who have malice in mind, but would fall entirely on the law-abiding.

Anyone convicted of a felony, after all, is ineligible for an Illinois Firearm Owner’s Card, which is legally required to buy guns or bullets. Under federal law, felons are barred from owning guns. So ex-con gang members would not pay the tax, because they make all their purchases in the illegal market. It would hit only those gun owners who have used their firearms responsibly.

July 2, 2012

Alex Tabarrok on the slow rail and infrastructure bottleneck

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Government, Railways, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:58

Writing at Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrok wonders “Why haven’t the $500 bills been picked up?”:

High speed rail, especially California’s project, looks to me to be monorail economics, a costly boondoggle whose appeal lies not in rational calculation [...] but in the desire of some politicians (and voters) to feel visionary and sexy. In theory, CA HSR might work but the inevitable reviews, delays, lawsuits and special interest payoffs make the prospects of a beneficial project look dim, demosclerosis kills.

Slow speed rail, however, i.e. freight transport, isn’t sexy but Warren Buffett is investing in rail and maybe we should as well. In particular, there are basic infrastructure projects with potentially high payoffs. Congestion in Chicago, for example, is so bad that freight passing through Chicago often slows down to less than the pace of an electric wheel chair. Improvements are sometimes as simple as replacing 19th century technology with 20th century (not even 21st century!) technology. Even today, for example:

    …engineers at some points have to get out of their cabins, walk the length of the train back to the switch — a mile or more — operate the switch, and then trudge back to their place at the head of the train before setting out again.

In a useful article Phillip Longman points out that there are choke points on the Eastern Seaboard which severely reduce the potential for rail:

    …railroads can capture only 2 percent of the container traffic traveling up and down the eastern seaboard because of obscure choke points, such as the Howard Street Tunnel in downtown Baltimore. The tunnel is too small to allow double-stack container trains through, and so antiquated it’s been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973. When it shut down in 2001 due to a fire, trains had to divert as far as Cincinnati to get around it. Owner CSX has big plans for capturing more truck traffic from I-95, and for creating room for more passenger trains as well, but can’t do any of this until it finds the financing to fix or bypass this tunnel and make other infrastructure improvements down the line.

May 27, 2012

Looking back at the start of the Christian Ponder era

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:07

I know it’s still very much the off-season, but I thought this analysis of last season’s week 6 game between the Vikings and the Chicago Bears was very interesting. It starts off with the end of the Donovan McNabb experiment:

We all suspected that McNabb was done after he flatlined in Washington with the Redskins, but how little he had left in the tank was, frankly, shocking. By this time it was like watching an extraordinarily slow train wreck.

In the first five games, he averaged 169 yards a game. In his first game he threw for 39 yards. I actually had to go back and double check the stats on that game to make sure I had that right.

[. . .]

Even early on, McNabb was inconsistent and off. The Bears came in with absolutely zero respect for him, choosing instead to focus on shutting down Adrian Peterson.

The Bears’ Defense stacks the line vs an obvious run, with one safety deep just in case (footage courtesy NBC)

You can see in the attached screen caps that safety Major Wright isn’t even pretending to back into coverage — very clearly he’s coming for Peterson.

Eventually, after three quarters of futility, McNabb is pulled from the game and rookie Christian Ponder is sent in to replace him:

So you’re a rookie, being thrown into the fire against one of the better defenses in the league (and playing like it for once) with minimal snaps because you were a backup.

Christian Ponder, welcome to the NFL.

In one quarter, Ponder amassed more than half the yards McNabb threw for in three.

[. . .]

This allowed Ponder to do one thing McNabb was definitely not capable of anymore — scramble. Ponder broke off several good runs, one a bootleg and one a collapsed pocket.

Then he started completing passes and the defense started backing off the run and stacking the line. They fell into more of a basic base set, dropping players into coverage and rushing four or five guys most of the time.

Unlike McNabb, Ponder was able to find some open seams and complete some passes.

While people hack on Ponder for some of his accuracy issues, he actually did a fair job on short notice, of getting the ball where it needed to be for his receivers.

While it’s become cliché, the Vikings are tied to Ponder’s development for the 2012 season and beyond. Now that they’ve drafted Matt Kalil as their left tackle for the next ten years, and restaffed the receiving corps, they have to hope that Ponder will continue to improve from the brief flashes he was able to show in the catastrophe that was the Vikings’ 2011 season.

May 7, 2012

Chicago and the everlasting rail bottleneck

Filed under: Economics, Railways, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 15:36

Chicago is where rail traffic goes to get delayed:

When it comes to rail traffic, Chicago is America’s speed bump.

Shippers complain that a load of freight can make its way from Los Angeles to Chicago in 48 hours, then take 30 hours to travel across the city. A recent trainload of sulfur took some 27 hours to pass through Chicago — an average speed of 1.13 miles per hour, or about a quarter the pace of many electric wheelchairs.

With freight volume in the United States expected to grow by more than 80 percent in the next 20 years, delays are projected to only get worse.

The underlying reasons for this sprawling traffic jam are complex, involving history, economics and a nation’s disinclination to improve its roads, bridges, and rails.

Six of the nation’s seven biggest railroads pass through the city, a testament to Chicago’s economic might when the rail lines were laid from the 1800s on. Today, a quarter of all rail traffic in the nation touches Chicago. Nearly half of what is known as intermodal rail traffic, the big steel boxes that can be carried aboard ships, trains or trucks, roll by, or through, this city.

October 17, 2011

The Vikings’ litany of mistakes, miscues, and brain farts yesterday

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:52

Vikings stink up Soldier Field, losing 39-10 to the Bears

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:11

The difference between this loss and the earlier losses is that the Vikings were never in this game. Chicago jumped out to an early lead, and never looked back. The normally great first-half defence didn’t show up tonight, and the offence was its usual anaemic self.

The Vikings had done well to avoid injuries so far this season, but lost several players to injury over the course of the game, including safety Jamarca Sandford, offensive tackle Phil Loadholt, and centre John Sullivan. With two offensive line starters out, Donovan McNabb was running for his life back there.

On the good side of the ledger, after a quiet start, Jared Allen got a sack and stripped the ball from Jay Cutler. The Vikings turned that into 6 points on an Adrian Peterson run. Late in the game, Christian Ponder took over at quarterback for Donovan McNabb, and showed some nice situational awareness (avoiding the pass rush) and good accuracy and distance downfield. Other than that, there wasn’t much for Vikings fans to cheer.

After the game, coach Leslie Frazier was careful not to commit himself about who will start next Sunday’s game, but Andrew Kulha at Bleacher Reports is sure that we’ve seen the start of a new quarterback era:

It may be time for former Philadelphia Eagles star, former Washington Redskins mistake and current Minnesota Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb to take his curtain call.

It’s been a great run for McNabb, but it’s probably best to stop digging while he still has a chance to get out of the hole that is the latter stages of his career.

Christopher Gates at the Daily Norseman agrees:

Statistically, if you look at Donovan McNabb’s line from Sunday night, it doesn’t look like he played all that badly. . .he only threw five incompletions on the evening, and put up 177 passing yards. However, as the fourth quarter started at Soldier Field on Sunday evening, Minnesota Vikings’ head coach Leslie Frazier decided that the time had finally come.

And, with that, the Christian Ponder era got underway in Minnesota.

Sure, by the time that Ponder got into the game, the Vikings only had five healthy offensive lineman. . .Phil Loadholt was out of the game with an (as of now) undisclosed injury, and John Sullivan suffered a concussion early in the second half. As the Vikings only had seven offensive linemen dressed on the evening, another injury probably would have seen Jim Kleinsasser lining up at tackle or guard. However, despite that, and despite spending most of the evening running for his life, Ponder was not sacked once in 18 pass attempts, and completed 10 of his passes for 99 yards in his quarter of work.

Update: Tom Pelissero sums up the brief (about a quarter) appearance of Christian Ponder:

Ponder made his NFL debut with 14 minutes, 43 seconds remaining in Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears, who led 39-10 and sacked starter Donovan McNabb five times.

“I don’t see it ending like this, as you say,” McNabb said. “But it’s tough. You’re one-and-five at this particular point. I felt like we did a lot of great things (Sunday). But I guess we’ll sit down to talk, but I still expect to be in there next week.”

Ponder was 9-of-17 passing for 99 yards (52.9%) and a 70.5 rating over two drives, both ending with fourth-down passes caught short of the first-down marker. But the rookie first-round picks’s skills were on display as he repeatedly escaped pressure and made several rhythm throws into tight windows.

He scrambled for 8 yards and a first down on his second snap. His first throw was a swing pass to Adrian Peterson for no gain and his second a touch pass to Percy Harvin for 20.

“I thought he did a good job under the circumstances,” Frazier said. “We’ll go back and look at the tape and fully evaluate it. But it seems like he moved around pretty good.”

Ponder was 5-of-10 passing for 58 yards on his first drive, which went 69 yards in 12 plays before a fourth-and-10 throw to Visanthe Shiancoe gained only 9, stalling the Vikings at the Chicago 12-yard line. The Vikings’ next drive went 40 yards in eight plays before stalling at the Chicago 30.

“I was very grateful for the opportunity that Coach let me go in,” Ponder said. “I thought I made some plays, thought I missed some plays, missed a couple throws. But I definitely had fun. It’s always hard to have fun when you’re losing that bad, but I was grateful and I definitely had fun.”

Update, the second: In his column at the Pioneer Press, Tom Powers suggests it’s time for a fire sale:

Vikings for sale! Vikings for sale! Cheap!

Not the team, but individual players. Hey, all you NFL general managers out there, get your very own Minnesota Vikings player. Take him home to play with your kids. Let him tend to the petunias in the garden. Have him wash the car. All we ask for is a seventh-round draft pick in return. And, of course, you take over paying his salary.

The NFL trade deadline almost always passes unnoticed. It’s not a big deal the way it is in other sports where there is a flurry of last-minute activity. The Vikings desperately need to change all that.

The 2011 deadline is Tuesday. It should be a very big deal. There ought to be balloons, parades and free hot dogs at Winter Park if Rick Spielman, the Vikings’ Invisible Man, can partially salvage a lost season by dumping veterans for draft picks. Even very low draft picks would be swell. So would a bag of Doritos.

June 11, 2011

Redefining “high speed” as 45 mph

Filed under: Economics, Government, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:12

This is very amusing, unless you’re a taxpayer:

The latest in lunacy in high-speed rail lunacy: at Joel Kotkin’s newgeography.com Wendell Cox reports that the U.S. Transportation Department is dangling money before the government of Iowa seeking matching funds from the state for a high-speed rail line from Iowa City to Chicago. The “high-speed” trains would average 45 miles per hour and take five hours to reach Chicago from Iowa City. One might wonder how big the market for this service is, since Iowa City and Johnson County have only 130,882 people; add in adjoining Linn County (Cedar Rapids) and you’re only up to 342,108 — not really enough, one would think, to supply enough riders to cover operating costs much less construction costs.

The federal government must be getting desperate to find some state willing to take this deal . . .

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