Monday, December 05, 2016


Watched the first half and part of the third quarter of that sad Carolina Panthers game last night versus the Seattle Seahawks. Carolina beat Seattle twice last year, including in the playoffs, but injuries and other roster changes have left the team a shadow of last year’s self, unable to compete with a quality opponent such as Seattle.

Team games like football, basketball, hockey, and soccer are endlessly curious in the way they challenge individuals to communicate with one another in a variety of ways. I’m referring not just to verbal communication, but also to what might be called “complementary physical action” that enables players to gain an advantage over opponents by their positioning, passing, and collective attempts to score. You know, teamwork.

Baseball demonstrates the same kind of communication, though often the relationship between, say, all nine players on the defensive side is less overt, with the communication more often occurring between pairs or groups of three. Meanwhile any given football play (for example) has all 11 on either side being forced to work together constantly, which is a lot harder than it looks sometimes.

As a result, whenever a given line-up endures turnover thanks to injuries or other changes in personnel, that presents a new test for those who remain. The coaches who manage them exert an important influence over how well the new groups of individuals interact, but so, too, do the players bring more or less ability in this regard. That is to say, over and above their individual talents, each has a certain skill set evoking that category by which many of us were evaluated starting back in grammar school -- “works well with others.”

The Panthers aren’t working so well with one another, leaving them 4-8 at present when they were a gaudy 12-0 at this point a year ago. And it seems clear enough that all the individual parts aren’t nearly as in harmony as before -- the “teamwork” thing isn’t working.

Football is like poker insofar as skill matters but luck likewise affects results. Take forced fumbles, for instance. Last year opponents fumbled 24 times against the Panthers during the regular season (1.5 times per game), and Carolina recovered 15 of them (62.5%). This year Carolina has caused 13 fumbles (just over one per game), but have only recovered five of them (about 38%).

Being able to force fumbles at a higher clip would suggest greater team defense (skill), but recovering them more often involves a combination of skill (being faster to the ball) and luck (being in an advantageous position when the ball pops out).

But truthfully, that hard-to-measure skill of “team chemistry” is more important than a few balls bouncing the wrong way. Being able to jump higher, run faster, and outmaneuver opponents physically is important, but being able to work together has an even greater influence on a team’s results.

Image: Seattle Seahawks Russell Wilson..., Jack Kurzenknabe, public domain.

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