Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Defending Mike Sellers

Steinberg at the Sports Bog mentions that "a lot of fans have gotten over their previous infatuation with Mike Sellers, who might not qualify as `fan favorite' any more."

The shift in the public perception of Sellers was amazingly fast, and seems to all go back to the confrontation between Sellers and Portis in early October, which led to a lot of close examination of Sellers' performance. Shortly thereafter, in the Panthers game, Portis was tackled for a safety and color commentator Brian Billick excoriated Sellers. Here is my comment from that play, taken from the game review:

"Color commentator Brian Billick rips Mike Sellers on this play (on his note cards due to the Portis-Sellers spat from earlier in the week), saying the fullback’s responsibility on a goal line play is to punch a hole through the line rather than move laterally to try to get to the corner. But my read is that Sellers was never able to get forward momentum because Stephon Heyer was getting thrown backward into his face. If Sellers hadn’t dodged him and tried to get to the outside, I think Portis would have been flattened under Heyer’s and Sellers’ bodies and Peppers wouldn’t have even needed to tackle him."

And here is my comment from the play that led to Portis' well-publicized consternation:

"Jumbo package with Davis and Yoder on the right and Cooley on the left. We run left. Guess who gets beat to allow the defense to penetrate and stuff Portis. Cooley has always been known as a mediocre blocker, but I don’t remember him being quite this awful last year. Has he gotten worse? And why the hell would we run behind him in a power situation? Sellers was lead blocking, but Cooley’s failure neutralized Sellers by not giving him a gap to lead through."

Sellers' job is leading through the hole and taking out LBs - if the hole is never opened or if he has to dodge his own linemen to get there, there's not a whole lot Sellers can do. In my opinion Sellers is a very good fullback but not a perfect one - and I think I mentioned in one of my post-review wrap-ups without Sellers the Redskins might not have any running game at all.

Sellers has always been a little overrated by the Redskins fan base. But overrated doesn't mean he was lousy. He was, in general, a devastating lead blocker but was widely acknowledged to have a tendency to whiff on occasion. And yet the same fan base that once adored him unconditionally turned on him with a vengeance simply because Brian Billick told them to. Within a matter of days, Sellers was constantly being referenced as one of the primary culprits in the offense's collapse. Almost overnight he went from slightly overrated to horrendously underrated.

Maybe Sellers should have been more decisive at times this year - and maybe on the plays referenced above there was more he could have done to ensure a positive gain. But after Cooley I have a hard time finding a player on this offense who has performed more consistently, although if you look closesly enough you can find flaws in anyone's game.

Remember - just because someone says something on TV doesn't make it true. And even if it contains kernels of truth, it doesn't need to be immediately accepted as religious truth.


  1. I love Sellers. Got to watch him in the CFL and also with the Redskins. He's a good player. For what it's worth. :) If you prefer more objectivity, ProFootballFocus rated 29 fullbacks -- and Sellers is #13. He's #2 if you sort by receiving. 10th by running. 15th by blocking. His big fault, according to their site, is that he's oft-penalized. He is in a three-way tie for last (27th) -- which isn't worrisome since it's only two. :)

  2. And remember. Just because you have a blog does not mean you know football.

    Sellers was crap on that play. Video evidence proves it.

    Football isn't won by blindly following diagrams. Regardless of how the play was drawn up, players must USE THEIR BRAIN to recognize situations and adjust.

    I watched the play a dozen times and captured photo evidence. While BEHIND the goal line Sellers STOPPED and then ran sideways AVOIDING Peppers. He then let Peppers go right past him to tackle Portis.

    Portis and his propensity to not use his own vision and instead blindly follow his lead blocker made the play even worse.

    The botom line is that a fullbacks job is to run forward (NEVER STOP IN THE BACKFIELD) and play battering ram. It is NEVER OK for a fullback to dance around in the backfield.

    The coaches seem to agree.

    In our victory last week, Sellers was not used one single time as a lead blocker. Even when he lined up at FB, he shifted to a TE spot on the line every single time. We ran single back instead. (a change no one - not even the press has picked up on yet).

    On the tourchdown run, Sellers was lined up at TE and it was Todd Yoder who ran the lead block as FB.

    Sellers still has his place as a pass catcher from the TE position and he seems to be doing well at that position, but as lead blocker, he's out untill further notice.

    Anyone who wants to challange me on my analyisis of Sellers failure on the the safety is welcome to contact Mad Mike on Extremeskins.com where I will be glad to share visual evidence of his horrible non blocking.

  3. This would never happen, but I would love to see Billick as the next Redskins coach, should managament fire Zorn. I have met the man on a number of occasions and he is one of the greatest football minds I have ever met. (he will be one of the first to tell you). Given the fact that he is a proven, Superbowl winning coach, and has seemingly broadcasted every Redskin game, I think he would be an awesome fit in DC. Unfortunately, I think he is smart enought to turn down the job under the circumstances. Although, he does love a challenge.

  4. Bobisimo - The PFF rankings are interesting, mostly because they don't really align with my (totally unscientific) evalutation of Sellers. My subjective and non-quantified judgement of Sellers would be:
    - Good run blocker
    - Poor pass blocker
    - Very good receiver
    - Lousy short yardage runner

    Given that there are only 32 teams in the NFL and not all of them use a fullback consistently, I think 15th would make him pretty low-ranked as a blocker.

    If I recall correctly PFF bases their scoring (and I'm sure I'm oversimplifying) on a basis of +1 for exceeding responsibilities on a given play, 0 for doing your job, -1 for failing your assignment. Given that there are only 32 teams in the NFL and not all of them use a fullback consistently, I think 15th would make him pretty low-ranked as a blocker.

    On principle, I like that they are trying to really measure performance based on close observation. However, their methodology seems to leave a lot of room for the accumulation of subtle biases and for players to be penalized for the failures of their teammates (such as a FB not completing his assingment because the line collapses in front of him).

    Mad Mike - You've clearly done your homework on this and you make some good points. However, I would argue that rather than "avoiding Peppers," Sellers was avoiding Stephon Heyer, whose primary job is not to be moving backwards on a running play. Also, Sellers lining up at FB and motioning to TE has been a conspicuous feature of the Zorn offense from the beginning. In fact, all Zorn's TEs and FBs seem to fulfill a more general H-back type role. I haven't yet reviewed the second half of the Broncos game, but I assume you're right when you say Sellers didn't play out of the FB position even once. If that's so, given that motioning him to TE is nothing new, it seems quite possible that this is more of a schematic adjustment against the Broncos 3-4 defense. Sellers has been playing FB professionally since 1995 (in the NFL since 1998) - I doubt he could have pulled that off if he didn't understand the basics of the position. And I'm not a blind defender of Sellers - I think I have pointed out a number of occasions where his performance was lacking - but I think rather than a regression in his performace we have seen an increasing tendency to focus on the negatives. Is Sellers making more mistakes, or are we noticing them more? I stated above that he had been overrated in the past - nonetheless once Portis and Brian Billick gave fans license I think we started looking for every play where we could have asked for more out of him. When sentiment changes like that, selection bias is natural. I could show you film of Peyton Manning throwing 10 interceptions, or Albert Pujols striking out 10 times, that doesn't mean they're bad at their jobs.

    Jeff - I'll admit I've never been a big fan of Brian Billich, but that's probably based more on his personality than a real judgement of his football expertise. But given Billick's high opinion of himself, I doubt Dan Snyder would want to share the team with such a strong personality. But you never know.