Shutdown Corner - NFL

This is Jim Schwartz. He is evidently not the kind of man who chooses the easy path in life.

He could be an elephant proctologist. He could be a Malaysian sweatshop laborer. He could be heavily invested in the future of the typewriter maintenance or photo-developing businesses. He could be Pacman Jones's publicist.

Any of those jobs would present fewer challenges than the job he has willingly accepted: head coach of the Detroit Lions, the worst NFL team that has ever existed.

Schwartz spent the last eight years as defensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans, and at first glance, his resume doesn't look like anything spectacular. The Titans have had an outstanding defense over the last two years, but that hasn't always been the case under Schwartz's watch.

The more interesting thing about Schwartz is that he embraces an advanced statistical approach to the game. He's worked with Aaron Schatz and the gang at Football Outsiders, the leading authority in non-traditional football statistics designed to tell you how good a team or player really is.

Schwartz's statistical interest has been written about in the New York Times and at Slate.com. As an example of his reliance on stats, here's a snippet from the Slate piece:

When reviewing game film, Schwartz uses a simple grading system: He gives a plus (positive impact), a minus (negative impact), or a zero (no impact) to each player on each play. "You take those and then you can push them into an equation," he says. "You basically have an 11-variable equation and the result is yards gained. Over the season, over 1,000 plays, you can isolate a variable." Schwartz hopes to use his data to make personnel decisions: If a minus play by a defensive lineman costs the team on average more yards than a minus play by a linebacker, then perhaps linemen should be more of a priority in the draft or free agency.

Perhaps it's not conventional, and perhaps it's a little too far removed from the "three yards and a cloud of dust" old-school football romanticism. But these are the Detroit Lions we're talking about. It's time to try something new, right?

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