The San Antonio Spurs’ dynasty is a blessed one. Tim Duncan’s longtime brilliance and the twin discoveries of Tony Parker and (particularly) Manu Ginobili, both draft picks that had no business turning into Hall of Famers,5Parker was taken 28th overall in 2001; Ginobili went 57th (!!!) in 1999. are the kinds of gifts that, while not guaranteeing championships, certainly set a team up for them. And perhaps the biggest blessing of all is Gregg Popovich, the greatest coach of the NBA’s modern era — Phil Jackson included.For his article about LeBron James’s potential free-agent destinations, FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver created a projection system using my Statistical Plus-Minus (SPM) metric that predicted how well each player would perform in the upcoming 2014-15 season. We can also apply the projection process to previous years, using SPM data that would have been available at the time6While still using the players’ actual minute totals from the season in question. to form “retro predictions” for historical teams dating back to the 1979-80 season.If we compare coaches’ records to the ones we would have predicted for them, Popovich’s greatness becomes clear. No coach since 1980 has exceeded preseason expectations like Popovich has.Not only has Popovich outdone the computer by 117 wins over his 18 seasons at San Antonio’s helm — 33 more than second-ranked George Karl and nearly 62 more than the oft-extolled Jackson — he’s done it in far fewer games than his coaching peers. While it took Karl and Don Nelson around 2,000 games to add 83 extra wins apiece, and Jackson more than 1,600 games to beat expectations by 55 wins, Popovich racked up his excess victories in far fewer: just a shade more than 1,400 games.7In the chart above, coach games and wins above expectation were pro-rated up to account for years where the schedule was less than 82 games per team.The 2013-14 NBA champion Spurs were a classic example of Popovich coaxing superior performances from his roster. In addition to Duncan (age 37) and Ginobili (36) cheating Father Time, Kawhi Leonard’s and Patty Mills’s respective games grew at an accelerated rate, while Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw, Cory Joseph and Jeff Ayres all played much better than their previous track records suggested they should have. Of San Antonio’s core players, the only one who had a down year relative to expectations was Parker, whose SPM fell to +0.1 from +2.5 in 2012-13.The aforementioned SPM projections think the Spurs will suffer a decline in 2014-15. They call for Duncan and Ginobili to finally show their age, and for the supporting cast to regress to the mean. But Popovich’s bunch have also exceeded those same expectations in every single season since 1997-98. The good money’s on them bucking the odds yet again this year. — Neil Paine The Rockets’ season may come down to whether Trevor Ariza, coming off a career year in Washington and beginning his second go-around in Houston, can be a better fit than Chandler Parsons. Parsons is a versatile offensive player, but in Houston his value came largely from his ability to work around Dwight Howard-James Harden pick-and-rolls, either spacing the floor or driving to the basket with well-timed cuts. Ariza is a more limited offensive player, particularly off the dribble, but he is great in transition and can be effective providing spacing around pick-and-rolls. No player made more corner threes than Ariza last season, and he shot 45.0 percent from that location, among the best marks in the league.But Ariza’s real value is his defense. While Parsons was capable, Ariza is a near elite defender. ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus estimates the effect Ariza has on defense as +1.04 points per 100 possessions, nearly twice that of Parsons. That’s an important difference when playing alongside Harden, whose defensive inadequacies are well documented.Ariza has a specific defensive talent that makes him such a great fit for Houston. Over the last two years, he is in the 90th percentile of all NBA players in his ability to affect an opponent’s turnover percentage, according to NBA stat blog Got Buckets’ adjusted Four Factors Ratings. Parsons ranks in the 61st percentile. Forcing turnovers has an effect on both offensive and defensive performance, as steals often lead to fast breaks. The Rockets’ preference for an up-tempo, transition attack is well known and it works well for them — last season they had an effective field goal percentage of 66.0 percent after forcing a steal, compared to just 52.8 percent overall.Ariza may not bring as much offensive versatility as the man he’s replacing, but the quality of his defense may end up being much more important for a team already rich with offensive players. — Ian Levy Basketball strategies come in and out of fashion, and last year the Trail Blazers might as well have been wearing dad jeans. In the post-“Moneyball” zeitgeist, long 2-point shots are verboten; it’s nearly always better to shoot a 3-pointer than a long, 2-point jump shot because the former has a higher expected number of points per attempt.But as with any fashionable tactic, there are those deploying countermoves. And the Trail Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge is that movement’s leader.Below is a plot of the top 100 players by the number of shots per game they attempted from 17 feet to 22 feet last season.2The NBA 3-point line ranges from 23 feet, 9 inches at its maximum to 22 feet at the corners. So the attempts plotted here do not include any 3-pointers. And look at Aldridge, up on a peak by himself:Aldridge took more of these types of shots than any other player in the league — 489 in 69 games, nearly two attempts per game more than the next-closest player. Carmelo Anthony and Dirk Nowitzki, two superstars also known for long 2s, attempted 4.5 and 3.6 such shots per game, respectively.And Aldridge made a lot of them. He ranked 25th in long jumpers made, at 45 percent. Anthony shot marginally better than Aldridge (at 46 percent), while Nowitzki hits at a ridiculous rate of 52 percent. But Aldridge is taking many more of these shots than either Anthony or Nowitzki.Shooting this well at distance allows for greater offensive spacing for other players. With Aldridge, Portland has an invaluable asset: a great player whose talents run counter to the prevailing trends in the league. — Andrew Flowers For the past few seasons, the Mavericks’ offense has been composed of Dirk Nowitzki and people paid to play well with Dirk Nowitzki. Making people play nice can be hit or miss. In 2011, it hit, with the Mavericks beating the Miami Heat to win the NBA Championship. Other years, the strategy has usually been enough to get the Mavs a playoff berth, but rarely out of the first round.Dallas went through significant roster changes this summer and this year’s group of supporting specialists may be the team’s best yet. Judging by the decisions they made, the Mavericks sought out supporting players who possessed a few specific skills — breaking down the defense, creating shots for others, making open 3-pointers and finishing around the basket.The table below shows the better part of the Mavericks’ roster for this season and includes statistics on those offensive specialties, several of which come from the NBA’s SportVU Player Tracking statistics. For a glossary of what each term means, check out the footnotes4Drives are defined as any touch that started at least 20 feet from the basket and was dribbled to within 10 feet. Assist opportunities include all assists, as well as passes that led to shooting fouls and passes that would have been recorded as assists if the shot had been made. Catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts are those where the player held the ball for less than 2 seconds and shot without dribbling.:For a central offensive player, Nowitzki is remarkably flexible — comfortable in the post, at the elbow or behind the 3-point line, and willing to score, pass or act as a decoy. Depending on the matchup, the Mavericks may want to surround him with shooters, drivers, creators or finishers. Looking over the roster for this season reveals a wealth of options in each case.This table shows the number of players last season who met some elevated benchmarks in these categories, against the number of players currently on the roster who met those benchmarks:It’s Nowitzki that makes the Mavericks’ offense great. Having this array of subtly interchangeable offensive parts could make them into something even more this season. Just don’t ask about the other side of the court. — Ian Levy Across the entire league, the percentage of shot attempts that have come on 3-pointers has been increasing by about 1.5 percentage points per season over the last three seasons. Last year, for the first time in league history, more than a quarter of the shots taken were 3-pointers.That revolution has not yet reached Memphis.Last season just 16.9 percent of the Grizzlies’ shot attempts were 3-pointers, lowest in the league for the second consecutive year. Over those two years, the Grizzlies have attempted nearly 500 fewer 3-pointers than any other team. This strange, against-the-grain trend is a mix of design and circumstance, but the circumstances might be about to change.One of the reasons 3-point attempts have been going up around the league is that more and more big men are venturing out to the perimeter. The Grizzlies don’t have the personnel for that. They play a tough, interior style built around Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, neither of whom has 3-point range. Their focus on defense also means a significant number of minutes have been given to wing-stopper Tony Allen, who doesn’t have 3-point range either.But this year, the team gets back its best 3-point shooter from 2012-13, Quincy Pondexter, who missed all but 15 games last year with a stress fracture in his foot. (Tayshaun Prince took most of Pondexter’s minutes and had a disastrous shooting season.)Going into this season, small-forward minutes should be going to a healthy Pondexter and Vince Carter, who was signed to replace the departed Mike Miller. You can see from the table below that Pondexter (whose 2012-13 numbers are shown) and Carter are both excellent 3-point shooters, and together they are much more active behind the arc than the Miller/Prince combination was.The Grizzlies likely aren’t going to be breaking any 3-point records this season. Their offense will still be run through Randolph on the low block and Gasol in the high post; defense will still be given priority in most rotation decisions. However, this season the Grizzlies should have just a little more 3-point talent than they’ve had in the past, enough to add some much-needed variety to their scoring attack and to make them that much more dangerous in the Western Conference. — Ian Levy The Oklahoma City Thunder had one of the best draft runs of all time in recent years. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka — major, franchise-defining pieces all. And yet no NBA title. Harden was (infamously, in some quarters) traded, Westbrook has been hurt for significant parts of the past two seasons, and now Kevin Durant is out indefinitely with a foot fracture.Given the outsize role Durant has filled, using more than 30 percent of the Thunder’s possessions and playing virtually every important minute over the past five seasons, analyses of how the Thunder will fare without him will be imprecise, to say the least. And while Durant’s health will be the most important factor in determining whether the Thunder can win an NBA title this season, that, too, is currently outside the realm of statistical analysis.3At least for us plebeians in the public domain.And so, in the absence of a Durant analysis, let’s talk Reggie Jackson. Jackson’s third season was his best as a pro, and his emergence in the playoffs, including a 32-point performance in a vital win over the Memphis Grizzlies, gave the Thunder some hope that he could be a major piece going forward.His most valuable asset is his ability to attack off the dribble. According to SportVU, Jackson averaged 0.22 drives per minute last season, putting him 23rd in the league. He shot 48 percent on those drives, above average for a point guard, and generated more points for his teammates on drives when he did not shoot (0.74 per drive) than Kemba Walker and Jeff Teague, two other young starting point guards. Jackson’s ability to create for his teammates is not at an elite level, but it is improving; his assist rate increased to 23 percent last season.He’s an above-average defender, ranking as the 12th-best guard by Real Plus-Minus last season. But that likely overstates his ability; his length and speed help him match up well against point guards, but he gambles too often and doesn’t defend larger shooting guards well.Jackson is clearly the second-best guard on Oklahoma City’s roster, but he is not a natural two-guard. Scott Brooks may elect to start a better shooter, like Jeremy Lamb or Anthony Morrow, as a shooting guard, using Jackson off the bench. But in crunch time without Durant, a Westbrook-Jackson backcourt likely gives the Thunder the best chance to succeed. — John Ezekowitz The NBA season, like a Stockton-Malone pick-and-roll, always arrives on time. To prepare for the next 1,230 games (All-Star festivities excluded), we took each player’s projected Real Plus-Minus and wins above replacement, calculated a total for each team, and ran 10,000 simulations of the NBA schedule to divine likely records and championship odds.1The rosters we used came from ESPN.com’s depth charts, and were current as of Monday, Oct. 20. We’ve split the teams into the lower and upper tiers in each conference; these are the eight teams that will likely make the playoffs from the West. (We previewed the West’s lower tier here.) So fill that Kevin Durant-sized hole in your heart with the stats, x-factors and regressions that could help determine the West’s pecking order. Last season DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers’ 26-year-old center, led the NBA in rebounding — by the conventional statistic of rebounds per game. Which is impressive! But in the advanced-stats age, few stats are as they seem. Just because Jordan pulled in a lot of rebounds doesn’t make him a good rebounder — assuming, that is, we know what a good rebounder is in the first place.A better statistic than rebounds per game is Total Rebound Percentage.8This statistic and the data plotted come from Basketball-Reference.com. This measures the percentage of all rebounds a player grabbed while on the floor, which means it adjusts for how many rebounds were available to be gathered. That can vary by the pace of play, the team’s shooting percentage and other factors. By this measure, Jordan grabbed 21.6 percent of available rebounds, making him third in the league last year, behind Andre Drummond and Omer Asik, who gobbled 22.3 percent and 21.7 percent of available rebounds, respectively.But even this “advanced” metric, while an improvement, is still flawed. A truly good rebounder should not just grab a lot of rebounds, but rebounds above and beyond what his team would get otherwise. In other words, he shouldn’t be a rebound cannibal.Luckily, we can measure this form of cannibalism. From the basketball stats blog Got Buckets, we have plus-minus statistics that tell us how much a player steals rebounds from teammates when he’s on the floor.9I ran a regression between a player’s offensive rebounding percentile (which measures how well the team rebounds when the player is on the floor, after controlling for teammates and opponents) and his offensive rebounding rate (which measures only the player’s own rebounds grabbed) to determine the relationship between the two aspects of rebounding. (I also repeated the analysis for defensive rebound percentile and defensive rebounding rate.) For the entire population of NBA players, it’s a strong relationship, so there isn’t usually much difference between a player’s actual percentile and what we would predict from his individual numbers. However, some rebounders help their teams more or less than you would think from their own rebounding stats. With this data we can test whether prolific board-grabbers actually improve their teams in that category, essentially identifying “selfish” and “unselfish” rebounders.On the offensive boards, Jordan is a slightly unselfish rebounder, with his team ranking about three percentiles higher than you’d think given the share of offensive boards he grabs. (In the charts below, the unselfish players are above the lines, and the selfish ones below.)On defense, however, Jordan is a hungry cannibal.Even though he’s one of the most prolific defensive rebounders in the league (taking nearly 30 percent of available boards), the Clippers are 24 percentile points worse in this category when he plays, relative to what you’d think given how good Jordan is.Drummond is even more of a cannibal with the Detroit Pistons, however. The real winner seems to be Asik for the Houston Rockets, who, for a player in the top three in rebounding rates, still seems rather unselfish.Jordan is a good player, and a great rebounder. But don’t take his raw rebounding stats as gospel. — Andrew Flowers Very few first-time NBA coaches are lucky enough to inherit a team as talented as the one Steve Kerr has in the Golden State Warriors this year. Last year, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson shared one of the most remarkable offensive seasons any starting backcourt has had in the NBA since 2000. Together, they averaged a 55 percent effective field goal percentage10Effective field goal percentage accounts for the additional value of 3-point shots. The formula is (FG Made + 0.5* 3-Pointers Made)/FG Attempted. while combining to take 38 percent of the Warriors’ shots. That is the best eFG percentage for any backcourt that took more than 35 percent of its team’s shots since 2000.Kerr also inherits a defense that finished fourth in the league in defensive efficiency last season. Golden State’s defensive prowess, built on holding opponents to 46 percent shooting from inside the arc, the third-best mark in the league, was masked by its frenetic pace. The Warriors were sixth in the league in tempo last season, which meant that they actually gave up only the 10th-fewest points per game.Much of Golden State’s defensive success can be attributed to the signing of Andre Iguodala, perennially ranked by advanced metrics and scouts alike as one of the best wing defenders in the league. But drafting Draymond Green also helped. Green was the afterthought of the Warriors’ 2012 draft; Harrison Barnes, drafted seventh overall, was supposed to be the star. But Green quietly had a breakout campaign last year. He had the best defensive rebounding percentage (19.3 percent) of any small forward who played more than 15 minutes per game, and also was in the top three in block percentage and steals percentage. Green averaged only 21 minutes per game last season. He deserves more under Kerr.For Golden State to break through to a Western Conference finals appearance (or beyond), Kerr and associate head coach Alvin Gentry will have to maintain the team’s defensive record. Neither has ever presided over a top-10 defense in the NBA. They will also need the three veterans over 30 years old — Andrew Bogut, David Lee and Iguodala — to remain healthy, something that has not happened in recent seasons. The Warriors’ core is not getting any younger, and the elite in the West are not getting worse. But that’s for Kerr to worry about next year. For now, he needs to capitalize on his roster’s head start. — John Ezekowitz
A few years back, my colleague Ben Morris wrote a piece for FiveThirtyEight called “Ndamukong Suh Is Cursed.” The basic premise was that huge contracts for non-quarterbacks in the NFL are usually doomed to failure, because of a couple factors: First, the team that “wins” the bid for a player is often the one who overpaid the most; beyond that, tying up a huge percentage of the team’s salary cap in one player can hamstring a roster even if the individual contract ends up providing fair value. Ben’s example of Suh, whose highly paid tenure with the Dolphins ended in March, wound up being a perfect case study — not only was the defensive tackle much less productive after the deal, but Miami also played worse after signing Suh.That still hasn’t scared off teams from investing heavily in non-QBs, though. Last week alone, the record for defensive contracts was broken twice — first, when the L.A. Rams extended defensive end Aaron Donald for six years and $135 million; then, when the Chicago Bears traded for DE Khalil Mack and gave him a six-year, $141 million deal. In terms of guaranteed money (the only thing that really matters in NFL contract talk), each contract ensures the player an amount equal to about 50 percent of the current salary cap, a colossal number for any player, let alone one who doesn’t throw the ball. (The QB record is Matt Ryan’s 56 percent mark, set in May; the previous non-QB record of 45 percent had belonged to Broncos LB Von Miller from his 2016 deal.) So are teams still dooming themselves, or can these new deals possibly be worth it?Generally speaking, it’s a bad idea for a team to tie up a bunch of guaranteed money in any single player, simply because it limits the rest of the team’s flexibility to build a competitive roster under the salary cap. This isn’t the NBA. Research shows that teams built on depth — rather than a few stars plus a bunch of scrubs — tend to do better, partly because injuries are inevitable in the NFL. Megadeals make deep teams harder to build. Maybe that’s why, according to data from ESPN’s Stats & Information Group, only three1Ben Roethlisberger, Marcell Dareus and Cam Newton, all in their 2015 deals. of the 16 players who signed a deal worth at least 40 percent of the current cap in guarantees since 2000 saw their team play better (in terms of its Simple Rating) over the following three seasons than it had in the three years prior. There’s a reason the Ravens and Seahawks were Super Bowl teams while paying Joe Flacco and Russell Wilson peanuts but haven’t had the same success once their QBs got paid.The expectations for a player to produce after signing one of these huge guaranteed deals can escalate quickly. According to Stats & Info’s salary data2For players who signed deals guaranteeing at least 10 percent of the cap at the time, since 2000. and Pro-Football-Reference.com’s Approximate Value (AV) metric for estimating player value, a player needs to produce an extra point of AV in each of the next three years to justify every 6 additional percentage points in the ratio between his guaranteed money and the current cap. For Mack and Donald, that means needing to hit an average of about 13 AV per season over the next three years just to break even. They’ve done it before — individually producing 15.2 AV per year since 2015 — but sustaining that level of performance is a tall order. Since 1960, there were 795 defensive players who, like Mack and Donald, produced between 35 and 55 points of AV over any given three-year span. Of those, just 116 (15 percent) reached the 13 AV average that Donald and Mack will need to break even over the next three seasons, and only 82 (10 percent) ended up matching their own established AV from the preceding three seasons. On average, this group of players lost 41 percent of its value from the previous three seasons to the next three years.And merely breaking even on one of these contracts usually isn’t enough to help a team win, anyway. Since the NFL is a salary-capped league, paying players exactly what they’re worth will buy you an 8-8 record, all else being equal. The real value is in having players who outperform their salaries. We can see this in the relationship between big contracts and how they affected a team’s overall performance. Among established veterans who earned deals guaranteeing at least 30 percent of the current cap and met the three-year AV expectation implied by their contract, their teams still tended to decline by 1.2 points per game of Simple Rating on average over the following three seasons, with only 40 percent seeing their teams improve.Just to reiterate: That was among the success stories, players who ultimately lived up to their contracts — in theory, the best-case scenarios for these kinds of deals. More often than not, though, it didn’t matter how well they played, because their salary figures made it hard to build up the rest of the roster. Quarterbacks can make up for this some by the fact that even top-tier QB deals are still probably paying them less than their true value. But for non-QBs such as Mack and Donald, it becomes very difficult to win championships while pulling in a guarantee worth nearly 50 percent of a whole season’s salary cap.There are exceptions, of course: As part of their plan to build from the trenches, Philadelphia won it all last season with DT Fletcher Cox playing on a deal that guaranteed him 41 percent of the cap. Kansas City has also been competitive during LB Justin Houston’s 37 percent deal. And if you look back even further in history, as Ben did in his story, Reggie White and Deion Sanders were unqualified triumphs for big-ticket defensive free agency early in the salary-cap era. It’s possible the Bears and Rams can capitalize on their relatively cheap quarterback situations (with young signal-callers Mitch Trubisky and Jared Goff, respectively) to leverage Mack and Donald’s defensive production into boatloads of wins, too.But it is perhaps telling that, in ESPN’s data (since 2000), the five-time champion New England Patriots have only guaranteed one player more than 25 percent of the cap in any contract they’ve signed: quarterback Tom Brady, who maxed out in 2013 with a deal paying him 46 percent of the cap. (Next-highest behind Brady is guard Logan Mankins, who was guaranteed 25 percent of the cap for the deal he signed in 2011; cornerback Stephon Gilmore inked the Pats’ most expensive defensive contract at 24 percent in 2017.) The Patriots understand fungibility better than maybe any other franchise in pro sports, and they do not commit huge sums of cash to anybody other than arguably the greatest quarterback in history.Still, their rivals are trying to create a new paradigm. As my ESPN colleague Lindsey Thiry pointed out after Los Angeles inked Donald’s extension, the Rams have now committed nearly $239 million in guaranteed money since the 2018 league calendar began — and none of that was to Goff. As a result, their window to win a Super Bowl might be open for only two seasons before they have to start shedding talent to stay under the cap. Obviously, if L.A. ends up winning a ring anyway, it would lend plenty of validation to the strategy, perhaps spawning copycat paydays for defensive anchors. But until then, history says these deals usually just make championships harder to come by.
This is in no small part a function of the Bears’ new $141 million linebacker. Khalil Mack, who became the highest paid defensive player in NFL history after the Bears traded for him last month, is tied for fifth in the NFL in sacks (five) and tied for first in forced fumbles (four). In terms of pressure applied, Mack is ahead of the pace he set in 2016 when he was named defensive player of the year. In Week 3 of this season, during the Bears’ 16-14 win over Arizona, the Cardinals went as far as tasking three men with containing Mack. Late in the second quarter, after Mack beat every last one of those Cardinals, his teammate Akiem Hicks swooped in for the sack.Mack is not only a transcendent talent capable of getting to the quarterback on seemingly every snap; his play has also raised the performance of his teammates. Mack, Hicks, Danny Trevathan, Aaron Lynch and Roy Robertson-Harris have accounted for at least 1.5 sacks apiece this season. “Those boys inside can raise so much hell, it’s outrageous,” said hell-raiser Richard Dent, a Hall of Fame defensive end and a member of the vaunted 1985-86 Bears defense, in an interview with The Athletic.Blitzing requires a defensive player to eschew coverage in favor of pressure. Like so many other aspects of football, the blitz is a risk-reward proposition. Get to the quarterback quickly enough, and the play is over — and you may have even created a takeaway. Get to the quarterback a step late, and he will likely find a target in the hole you’ve left.Leaguewide, blitzing is trending down, largely because the game has gotten faster and offensive efficiency continues to skyrocket. It seems that defensive coordinators are content to send fewer pass rushers at the quarterback and instead rely on their secondary in coverage. In four consecutive seasons, the number of blitzes faced by quarterbacks has dropped, according to data from ESPN Stats & Information. Opposing quarterbacks saw a 17 percent decrease from 2013 to 2017 in total five-man blitzes.Long a proponent of blitz-scarce schemes, Fangio oversees an optimal situation in Chicago, where the Bears largely abstain from blitzing — yet they still manage to get to the quarterback.“I think the ideal thing is you’d like to pressure when you want to and not feel like you have to,” Fangio told The Athletic. “If you can get to that point, then you feel pretty good.”Fangio was well ahead of the trend of blitz-less defenses. He has held an NFL defensive coordinator role each season since 2011, when he took that job with the San Francisco 49ers, and over that stretch, his defenses have always been among the league’s most blitz-reluctant outfits. Other teams have used this formula before. Most notably, Jacksonville last season was able to get to the AFC championship game and field one of the best defenses in football while ranking second in sacks and last in blitzes. Chicago’s defense is 7.6 points better than average this season, according to Pro-Football-Reference’s Defensive Simple Rating System. That’s the franchise’s best mark since the 1985 and 1986 campaigns, when the Bears went a combined 29-3 and won a Super Bowl.Blitz-less defenses aren’t always dominant; the 2006 Indianapolis Colts blitzed the least of any team for which data is available and were the fourth-worst defense in the AFC. But Chicago’s defense is dominating, leading the league in Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average,2DVOA is a statistic that “measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent.” while ranking no lower than third in pass and rush defense.This weekend, Chicago travels to Miami to take on a Dolphins outfit missing several offensive linemen, setting the stage for more defensive highlights from the Bears. A franchise long synonymous with hard-nosed defense and strong play from the linebacker corps has re-established its identity under Fangio.Check out our latest NFL predictions. When Vic Fangio was named defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears in 2015, he took the helm of a ship that was essentially already at the bottom of the ocean. Not only were the Bears mired in a four-season playoff drought, but Chicago was also coming off consecutive seasons in which it fielded arguably the worst defense in franchise history.“We obviously aren’t a good team,” defensive end Jared Allen succinctly put it in 2014 after the Bears allowed consecutive opponents to pile up 50-plus points, a feat that had no precedent in modern professional football.Now, Chicago is under the direction of head coach Matt Nagy, atop the NFC North and in the midst of a three-game winning streak for the first time since the beginning of the 2013 season. But seemingly all anyone can talk about is Fangio’s defense.In its most recent victory, Chicago dismantled Tampa Bay’s then-league-best offense in a 48-10 bloodletting. Chicago’s front seven had Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston, who made his season debut, running toward the nearest airport.Fitzpatrick and Winston haven’t been Chicago’s only victims, though.When it comes to getting at the quarterback, the Bears are off to the third-best start in franchise history. Even though the team had a bye in Week 5, its 18 sacks rank second in the league, one shy of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 19. One-fourth of Chicago’s 16 best single-game sack performances since 2015 came in the first four weeks of this season. At 4.5 sacks per contest so far, Chicago is on pace to tie the NFL single-season sack record of 72, a record the Bears set in 1984.Chicago’s 11.6 percent sack rate1Sack rate is the number of sacks of the opposing quarterback divided by the quarterback’s total dropbacks, including passing attempts and sacks. is 1.5 percentage points ahead of the next-best team. If the Bears can maintain that pace, they would set the the fifth-best mark since 1980, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com. Chicago’s defense is collapsing the pocket better than perhaps any team.But here’s the remarkable thing about the Bears: They are racking up the sacks despite hardly blitzing.The Bears rank last in the league in blitzing, defined as sending five or more pass rushers at a quarterback who’s dropping back to throw, with 5.0 per contest, according to data from ESPN Stats & Information Group. If Chicago maintained its blitz average for the rest of the season, it would be the sixth-lowest rate since 2006, the first year for which data is available.
As we’ve written and discussed, the first and second rounds of the men’s NCAA Tournament offered plenty of excitement. But can the madness continue through the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, and are we that surprised to see these 16 teams still standing? In the video above, we probe the FiveThirtyEight tournament model to see if the field remains as tightly packed as it was before the tournament started. Plus, a look at the teams that saw the biggest gains in their probability of reaching the Final Four.Check out FiveThirtyEight’s 2016 March Madness Predictions.
OSU defensive end Jalyn Holmes recovers a football during the first half against Indiana on Oct. 8. Credit: Mason Swires | Assistant Photo EditorOhio State football fans now know what time and how to watch their team will play its first two games of the season. The Buckeyes’ season opener against Indiana is set to begin at 8 p.m. on Aug. 31 in Bloomington, Indiana, the school announced Thursday. OSU’s home opener against Oklahoma will kick off at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 9.The Buckeyes’ first game will be televised by ESPN, while the second game is set to air on ABC. The time and network of OSU’s third game of the season, against Army, will be announced before May 31, the Big Ten announced. The conference will also reveal the time and network for the Buckeyes’ homecoming game.Any games scheduled for a prime time kickoff, starting with Week 4, will be announced 12 days prior to the game, according to the new Big Ten media rights agreements. Networks may not select the rights to a game prior to that 12-day period. The release says that there will be more primetime games on ABC/ESPN and FOX this season than in years past.
Women described “humiliating and degrading” experiences, and being left to feel like they were on a “conveyor belt” which saw them being seen by a succession of different midwives.A number of women described being left to feel like “cattle” or “a machine.”The report, which warns of a national shortage of 3,500 midwives, found that 17 per cent of women did not get one-to-one care from midwives while they were in labour. One said: “I wasn’t treated as a human. I was just a product on a conveyor belt. I was not respected and my birth has left me suffering post traumatic stress disorder.” It was humiliating and degrading. I wished I could have fought to get better careMother, report by NFWI and NCT Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. Half of women in childbirth are being put in danger, with many saying they are made to feel like “cattle” in understaffed maternity wards, a major report warns.New mothers said they had been left alone in labour, with long delays for pain relief, stitches and even to be washed after giving birth. The study by the National Childbirth Trust and the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI) found 50 per cent of new mothers had experienced “red flag” events during labour. The report warns of a shortage of 3,500 midwivesCredit:PA The definition is used by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to describe specific “warning signs” of potential midwife shortages.These include women in labour being left without a midwife, waiting more than half an hour for pain relief, or more than an hour to be washed or receive stitches after labour.The study is based on a survey of 2,500 women who have given birth since 2014. Another described “robotic” impersonal care, while others said they were left frightened, alone and in pain.One mother described being left left having contractions for eight hours in an antenatal ward as there was no midwife available to provide care in a delivery suite.“It was humiliating and degrading. I wished I could have fought to get better care but I could hardly get out a sentence between contractions,” she said. Nine in ten women had never met any of the midwives who looked after them during their birth before the day.Some 31 per cent of women who required or received pain relief experienced a delay of 30 minutes or more, and 15 per cent said there were delays in their immediate post-birth care.Women described being left unwashed or without crucial medication for hours after giving birth.One said: “After giving birth I was left for 12 hours in the bed I gave birth in without being washed because I needed surgery. I was told there was not enough staff which is why I had to wait.” Mothers said the consequences of failed care had stayed with them.“The person giving me the stitches made it clear to me how busy she was and botched the stitches. One and a half years later and that piece of tissue is still sore,” one said.Marylyn Haines Evans, chairwoman of public affairs at the NFWI, said: “The findings from this report show that chronic midwife shortages, an estimated 3,500 in England alone, continue to undermine the delivery of high-quality care for women and their families.”Half of the women we spoke to reported red-flag events during their care, suggesting that staffing levels are at crisis point.”Elizabeth Duff, senior policy adviser at the NCT, said: “Our research has exposed a crisis in maternity care. No women should have to suffer a red flag event when bringing a baby into the world. Severe staffing shortages must be acted on so that every family receives an acceptable level of care.”Louise Silverton, director for midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said the report should be a “red flag event for this Government”.She said: “The fact that half of women have experienced a red flag event is hugely worrying. It is a sign of services under too much pressure, with too few resources and not enough staff.”This ongoing shortage of midwives and underfunding of services is not delivering the service that women and their families need, and it is storing up health problems for the future that could be prevented.”A Department of Health spokesman said: “We want the NHS to be one of the safest places in the world to have a baby. There are over 1,500 more midwives on our maternity units since 2010, and more than 6,300 currently in training, with our changes to student funding creating thousands more training places by the end of this parliament.”An NHS England spokesperson, said: “It is safer than ever to give birth in this country and the vast majority of mothers report that they received great NHS Care.“We are now working to implement the recommendations made by Better Births across the NHS including providing better postnatal care and access to a small team of midwives for continuity throughout the pregnancy, birth and postnatally ensuring all women receive the best possible care.” After giving birth I was left for 12 hours in the bed I gave birth in without being washedMother, NFWI and NCT report Inspectors recently found chaos at maternity services at the Royal London HospitalCredit:Warren Allott for The Telegraph Our research has exposed a crisis in maternity care. No women should have to suffer a red flag event when bringing a baby into the worldElizabeth Duff, National Childbirth Trust
Mr Justice Mann had analysed competing arguments at a preliminary High Court hearing in early May and has announced his decision in a written ruling.The judge has said BBC bosses must provide a “proper answer” to the question Sir Cliff had asked about whether the source came from “within Operation Yewtree”.Sir Cliff has sued the BBC over coverage of a raid at his apartment in Sunningdale, Berkshire, in August 2014.Lawyers representing the singer say he has suffered “profound and long-lasting” damage.BBC editors have said they will “defend ourselves vigorously”.A spokesman said the BBC had reported Sir Cliff’s “full denial of the allegations at every stage”. The BBC must provide a proper answer to the question posed.Mr Justice Mann Sir Cliff Richard has won the latest skirmish in a High Court battle with the BBC.A judge has told BBC bosses to give the 76-year-old singer more information about how a journalist learned that he was being investigated as a result of a sex assault allegation.Mr Justice Mann has ruled that BBC bosses must tell Sir Cliff whether the source of information was someone working on a wider Metropolitan Police inquiry into sex abuse allegations, an investigation codenamed Operation Yewtree.Lawyers representing Sir Cliff wanted more detail about the source.BBC bosses said they should not be forced to reveal more information. Mr Justice Mann said the singer wanted to know whether the BBC’s source was from “within Operation Yewtree” or someone who had obtained information from Operation Yewtree.He said he had weighed Sir Cliff’s rights to a fair trial against journalists’ rights to protect sources before reaching a decision.”There is no real risk of the answer leading to the identification of the source,” said the judge.”If [Sir Cliff’s] privacy rights have been invaded, he has a good case for saying that he needs the information in order to vindicate those rights.”The judge added: “A fair trial, with the benefit of being able to argue that which can legitimately be argued, requires that the question be answered.” Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. Metropolitan Police officers had passed the allegation to South Yorkshire Police in July 2014.Sir Cliff had denied the allegation and in June 2016 prosecutors announced he would face no charges.Mr Justice Mann has overseen a number of preliminary hearings.Any trial is expected to take place next year.Sir Cliff had also sued South Yorkshire Police.The judge was last week told how that dispute had settled after the force agreed to pay the singer “substantial” damages.Sir Cliff has alleged misuse of private information, infringement of his human right to respect for private life and a breach of data protection legislation. Sir Cliff RichardCredit:David Davies He went on: “The BBC must provide a proper answer to the question posed.” A BBC umbrella outside the Charters Estate in Sunningdale, Berkshire, where Sir Cliff Richard has an apartmentCredit:Andrew Matthews Lawyers have told how in late 2013 a man had made an allegation to the Metropolitan Police, saying he had been sexually assaulted by Sir Cliff at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane football stadium, in Sheffield, when a child in 1985.
Clubbers inhale laughing gas Credit:Christopher Pledger Chroussis pleaded guilty last month to possessing nitrous oxide with intent to supply when he went to the Boundary Festival in Brighton last year.He was stopped by security staff as he entered the festival and was found to have 245 nitrous oxide canisters, a dispenser and 250 balloons used to administer the gas.After changing his plea to guilty, he was given a six months’ suspended jail sentence and ordered to do 50 hours community service.He claims he was persuaded to plead guilty by his legal team to avoid a jail term, but insisted that he had no intention of selling the gas, but merely “drew the short straw” among friends and so had to carry the gas into the festival for them all to take.“As university students we smoke a little cannabis, and about 80 per cent of students have inhaled laughing gas – it’s not cocaine or heroin. We are just having fun,” he continued. “When I finish my degree I will have about £50,000 of debts and now this criminal conviction will probably affect my career prospects and ability to pay that off.“In court, there was confusion about the actual class of the drug. My lawyers didn’t know how to fight it. It was a mess from start to finish.” Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. However, David Raynes, of the National Drug Prevention Alliance, insists that the Act needs a simple tweak, adding that it has rid the high street of so-called “Head Shops” which sold ‘legal highs’ and drug paraphernalia.“This man probably could win an appeal on a technicality,” he said. “But, people are not going to festivals with large amounts of this laughing gas to administer it for medicinal reasons. They are trying to sell it commercially, about £5 a balloon, and that’s what needs to be stopped.”Leesa Davies, whose 21-year-old son, Jordan Guise died after inhaling nitrous dioxide three years ago, called for clarity on the classification of laughing gas to send a clear message of its danger to youngsters.“They’ve now made nitrous oxide illegal, but to turn that around would give the wrong message to young people,” she said.Release, a drugs charity campaigning for the decriminalisation for personal possession of drugs, and Fair Trials, a human rights organisation, will back Chroussis’s appeal or civil case.Jago Russell, Fair Trials chief executive, said: “Whatever you think of Britain’s drugs policy, there is an obligation on the Government to make sure the law is clear. The new laws surrounding psychoactive substances needs to be reviewed. There is too much uncertainty, which isn’t good for the police, prosecution services or the members of the public who need to know whether or not certain activities are legal or not.“Also, it appears Nicholas pleaded guilty because he feared prison. It can’t be right that he now has to live with a criminal conviction for something that’s probably not a criminal offence at all.”Kirstie Douse, Head of Legal Services at Release, said: “Nicholas is not alone in being affected by the uncertainty created by this legislation. The law surrounding psychoactive substances needs to be urgently reviewed, before more people are arrested and prosecuted unnecessarily.” An undergraduate who became one of the first people to be convicted for selling laughing gas or “hippy crack” is to launch an appeal after similar court cases collapsed over confusion surrounding the law.If successful, Nicholas Chroussis, 22, could force the Government to redraft laws meant to criminalise psychoactive substances once known as “legal highs” raising the prospect it could again become legal.Last year, a new Bill was introduced banning the sale of mind-altering products, including nitrous oxide or laughing gas, popular among youngsters who inhale it to get a short-lived high.It has now emerged two court cases recently collapsed after a judge and the Government’s own expert witness said the gas was “exempt” because it is also a painkilling medicine and so it was not illegal to supply it.Campaign groups said the law was “flawed” and called for a review of the legislation, forcing the Home Office to insist the drug remained illegal under the Act.Last night, Chroussis, a geography student at the University of Bath, said his conviction was “unfair” compared to those whose cases collapsed and he needed to test the law.“I will fight it because it is unjust that I’ve been convicted when others have not,” Chroussis, from Wood Green, North London, said. “The law should be clear and consistent.”
“We are pleased that the CCG finally recognised this and agreed to review their policy so that other same-sex couples will not face an unfair disadvantage over heterosexual couples in the same situation.” A lesbian couple who wanted a baby were discriminated against over their sexuality after being denied access to funded IVF treatment which would have been given to same-sex partners.Laura Hineson and Rachel Morgan were told by their local NHS Clinical Commissioning Group they would have to spend £6,000 on six rounds of intrauterine insemination due to unexplained infertility.However, under Barnsley CCG’s policy, a heterosexual couple with similarly unexplained infertility would not need to undergo the same procedure before being granted access to IVF treatment.The couple enlisted law firm Leigh Day to look into claims of unlawful direct discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 on the grounds of their sexuality.They argued there was a “clear inequality” in treatment between same-sex and heterosexual couples which impacted on their finances and the delay in conceiving.A review by Barnsley CCG found consultants were relying too heavily on the policy, rather than the individual circumstances of the case, and that changes had been made so there were no longer unfair advantages.In a statement, the couple said: “For us, this is about fighting for LGBT equality. We should have equal access to IVF treatment and a family, irrespective of the gender of the person we fall in love with.” The couple ended up spending an extra £6,000 on treatmentCredit:Eve Hopkinson Rosa Curling, solicitor at law firm Leigh Day, said: “It was clear to us that Laura and Rachel had faced direct discrimination due to their sexuality. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.
She told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme: “Let’s stop obsessing all the time about when we might get the chance to vote on independence again. Instead, let’s engage people in the substantive arguments. Let’s address people who still ask the question why should Scotland be independent.” Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. The First Minister claimed Scotland would still have “options”, even if a new vote did not take place by March next year, when the UK leaves the EU. She plans a statement on the timing of indyref2 in the autumn, and it was suggested… Nicola Sturgeon has told independence supporters to “stop obsessing” about when a second independence referendum will take place, while appearing to admit it may not be until after Brexit.