Tuesday, November 29, 2016

December Movie Preview

            As the calendar gets ready to turn from November to December, it’s time for the next installment in our Fall movie preview series. Some of the big winners of November included Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which unsurprisingly made Warner Brothers a boatload of money; Arrival, the thinking person’s sci-fi movie starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner; and Moana, the latest Disney princess movie that featured Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson and songs by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda. This week we’ll be looking at all the movies that will come out in December. This includes perhaps the biggest release of the year: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

December 2
Jackie: If this isn’t Oscar bait, then I don’t know what is. Let’s run down the list shall we? Oscar winner Natalie Portman (check—want to win an Oscar? It helps if you’ve already won one) plays Jackie Kennedy (famous historical figure—check) in the aftermath of her husband’s assassination (historical event meant to appeal to the Academy voters who tend to be old and white—check). The film details Jackie Kennedy’s efforts to deal with the aftermath of her husband’s death, define his legacy, and raise her young family. The question is how much will director Pablo Larrain interrogate the legend of the Kennedy White House. Will it be a nostalgic look back or will the film reveal what lay just beneath the myth of the Kennedy Camelot?  

December 9
La La Land: The trailers to La La Land suggest that the movie is an old-fashioned throwback to the big-time Hollywood blockbuster musicals of the 1940s and 1950s. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone (both of whom would have fit right into that era) play a jazz pianist and an aspiring actress trying to get their big breaks in Hollywood whilst in love. The film has an upbeat score and energy from director Damien Chazelle who previously directed Whiplash, a movie about an aspiring jazz drummer and his brutally harsh mentor. The curiosity factor alone is worth the price of admission.

December 16
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: In case you hadn’t heard, there’s a new Star Wars movie coming out. Only this one isn’t telling the story of the Skywalker family, instead it’s about the group of rebels who steal the plans to original Death Star. Set just prior to the events of A New Hope, Rogue One is a bit of a risk for Disney. Will movie goers turn out for a standalone Stars Wars movie? Will it have the same cultural staying power as the adventures of Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewy? Did all those much rumored about re-shoots transform Rogue One from a war movie into a more family friendly adventure? We’ll see on December 16.

December 23
Passengers: Passengers seems to be flying under the radar a little bit despite the fact that it stars two of the biggest names in movies right now: Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. Taking a break from their franchise related duties, Lawrence (X-Men, Hunger Games) and Pratt (Marvel) play two passengers on a space ship on a 90 year journey to a distant colony who wake up early. While Passengers is a sci-fi drama, the buddy comedy potential of Lawrence and Pratt cannot be underestimated. Both have serious comedic chops—Pratt from his time on Parks and Rec and Lawrence in movies like American Hustle. Passengers is worth seeing just for the pairing of these two supremely talented actors.  

Assassins Creed: This Michael Fassbender staring vehicle is based on a series of video games about a man who discovers that his ancestor was the member of a secret society of assassins and through some fancy time travelling mumbo-jumbo goes back and relives their experiences. The best parts of the game involved traipsing around on rooftops of medieval cities and jumping off of church spires and other heights into conveniently located piles of hay. Why anyone thought this would be a good movie is beyond me.  

Patriots Day: Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg reteam for their second based on a true story movie of 2016 (following September’s Deepwater Horizon). In their third collaboration where Mark Walhberg plays a competent everyman (the first was Lone Survivor), Walhberg plays a Boston cop caught up in the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013. Using his natural Boston accent, Walhberg offers sterling bits of dialogue like, “We gotta find these guys before they do this to someone else.”  The film follows the FBI investigation of the bombing and the manhunt that followed. The manhunt material in the trailer suggests that there might be a good movie somewhere in Patriots Day, but the film’s focus on wringing every last bit of emotion out of a domestic terrorism attack threatens to undermine it.  

December 30

Live By Night: Ben Affleck’s first directorial effort since 2012’s Argo is a prohibition era story about a gangster and his efforts to rise to the top of Boston’s criminal underworld. While Affleck stars in the movie, he has populated Live by Night with a stable of strong character actors including: Chris Cooper, Brendan Gleason, Titus Welliver, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana, and Elle Fanning. Affleck also penned the screenplay based on a novel by Dennis Lehane. Lehane  also wrote the novel Gone, Baby, Gone that was Affleck’s first film as a director. Other Lehane novels that have become films include Mystic River and Shutter Island, he also wrote several episodes of the HBO series The Wire. All of this talent is just enough to pique our curiosity. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Saints Special Teams in Review

            The New Orleans Saints special teams have had some spectacular disasters this year. They have had three kicks blocked that have resulted in points for opposing teams. These have included a field goal returned for a touchdown against the New York Giants, a blocked extra point that the Denver Broncos returned for 2 points, and another field goal that resulted in a touchdown by the Carolina Panthers. And in last Thursday’s game against the Panthers, the Saints fumbled a kickoff return out of bounds at their own 1 yard line. In light of these noteworthy failures, we decided to take a look at the history of the Saints special teams in the Sean Payton era. The results are not pretty. 

            Below is a chart detailing the Saints special teams since 2006 by Football Outsiders DVOA (defense adjusted value over average), a metric that compares the result of every single play to the league average result of that play. Special teams DVOA is then broken down into five different components representing the five different areas of special teams play. Those values are expressed based on an expected points model (based on field position and game situation).    

DVOA (Rank)
Kick Return
Punt Return
0.6% (14)
-4.3% (25)
-0.9% (22)
-3.4% (28)
-1.5% (21)
1.0% (12)
-2.3% (24)
-2.5% (24)
1.6% (11)
-3.2% (26)
-3.3% (24)

            A few things immediately stand out.  First, the Saints have never finished in the top 10 in special teams DVOA since 2006.  Their average finish is 21st. In only three seasons, New Orleans has finished with a positive special teams DVOA: 2006, 2011, and 2014, but those positive years were just barely above league average at 0.6%, 1.0% and 1.6%. The one area of special teams where the Saints seem to consistently excel is punting. Since 2010, the Saints have added between a field goal and two touchdowns worth of value based on their punting alone. That success is attributable to punter Thomas Morstead,, who apart from a difficult rookie season, has been the Saints standout special teams player. Morstead also handles the team’s kickoffs and while the kickoff ratings have not been as good as the punting ones, some of that is attributable to the play of the Saints coverage team. The other thing that stands out is the woeful performance by the Saints kickers. Since 2006, the Saints have had 10 different kickers. Their performances are listed below.
Saints Kickers Since 2006
John Carney
2006, 2009-2010
85.4 %
Olindo Mare
Martin Gramatica
Taylor Hehlaff
Garrett Hartley
John Kasay
Shayne Graham
Zach Hocker
69.2 %
Kai Forbath
Wil Lutz
*FGM=Field Goals Made. FGA=Field Goals Attempted
^XPM=Extra Points Made. XPA=Extra Points Attempted

            The Saints have alternated between average and horrendous play by their kickers.  After allowing John Carney to leave after the 2006 season, New Orleans shuffled through a serious of terrible kickers until they settled on Garrett Hartley in 2008.  Hartley made some decisive kicks in the Saints Superbowl run in 2009, but also dealt with injuries, suspensions, and bouts of inconsistency. The Saints finally replaced him in 2013 with veteran Shane Graham, a competent but unspectacular place kicker.  New Orleans let Graham leave as a free agent, hoping to get younger at the position, signing kicker Zach Hocker.  The Saints released Hocker mid-way through 2015 and signed Kai Forbath who did no better.  Wil Lutz, Forbath’s replacement in 2016, has similarly struggled.

            In contrast to the constant turnover at the defensive coordinator position—5 coordinators in 11 seasons—the Saints have only had two special teams coordinators since 2006.  John Bonamego coordinated the special teams from 2006-2007 and his former assistant Greg McMahon has been the coordinator since 2008.  Although McMahon’s history suggests he’s worthy of scrutiny, head coach Sean Payton has refused to blame him for this season’s struggles. These special teams failures cannot be laid solely at the feet of the players.  After so many seasons of mediocrity, it’s time to shift the focus to those evaluating and coaching those players. And maybe that means replacing the people making the decisions in the first place.